Recently, Karen Kingsbury, the prolific author crowned the queen of Christian fiction by Time magazine, will celebrate the publication of Leaving, the first book in her four-part Bailey Flanigan series.
But she won’t be celebrating alone.
“I created the series because the reader friends asked for it,” Kingsbury says in a phone call from her home in Vancouver.
“Whenever I wrote about the Flanigans, the reader friends wrote back and asked for more Bailey. Then I introduced Cody, a kid with problems, and readers just loved him.” Now, fans will get what they’ve been asking for in a series that will finally complete the Bailey/Cody love story.
In Leaving, 20-year-old Bailey prepares to leave her childhood home in Bloomington, Indiana, headed to audition for a Broadway musical in New York City. But Bailey’s heart is heavy as she leaves for what may be the opportunity of a lifetime. If she gets the coveted role on Broadway, it means leaving family and friends for an extended period of time—and that includes Cody Coleman, the love of her life back home. Cody has suddenly disappeared from Bailey’s life, taking a coaching position in a nearby small town to be closer to his mother, who has been jailed on drug charges. Bailey is always on his mind and in his heart, but Cody doesn’t think he’s good enough for her. Complications arise, as they always do; for Cody, it’s the presence of lovely Cheyenne, the widow of his best friend who was killed in Iraq; for Bailey, it’s the possibility of a whole new life in New York—and a deepening relationship with her handsome movie star friend, Brandon Paul.
Since the Flanigan family is loosely based on Kingsbury’s own family (which includes husband Donald, one daughter and five sons—three of whom are adopted from Haiti), she didn’t have to look far for inspiration.
“It was crazy, because while I was writing scenes in Leaving about Bailey packing up to move to New York, my daughter Kelsey suddenly decided to go to college 1,500 miles away from home. It certainly added an emotional intensity to my research.”
But where does Bailey end and Kelsey begin? “My daughter has the same courage and conviction as Bailey, but God’s plan for her life is still unfolding, and that takes a lot of patience. Kelsey and Bailey are both enrolled in college and interested in musical theater, but Kelsey hasn’t starred in a movie, or been offered a spot on Broadway. And she doesn’t have a Cody or Brandon in her life.” Yet.
One thing that stands out in Leaving is that two of the characters—Bailey and Ashley Baxter Blake, whose husband is facing health issues—repeatedly, consciously choose to live in the moment. When asked about that choice, Kingsbury says, “In the past, I was vaguely aware of the concept of being fully in the moment, and I might have mentioned it at a women’s seminar or at a conference, but it wasn’t a principle that I had put into daily practice.”
Then in January 2010, her husband Donald had a stroke, followed by successful surgery in March to close a hole in his heart. “After the challenges of last year, I learned to appreciate every moment, and I do my best to savor and enjoy each experience.”
One of her favorite times for making memories is Easter. “When I was growing up,” Kingsbury says, “I had three sisters, so there were always plenty of pretty dresses and the usual Easter eggs, baskets and bunnies—symbols that we associated with the renewal of life.”
Easter was always full of light and hope in Kingsbury’s childhood, especially compared with the somberness of Good Friday. “Even as a young girl, I really grasped the sadness of Jesus on a cross. It always made Easter so much better. The sun always seemed to be shining on Easter morning—a reminder of God’s promise after the darkness.”
These days, one of Kingsbury’s favorite Easter traditions is talking with her husband and children. “Each Easter Sunday, we gather and share about how we’re doing so far in the new year. We talk about what’s going on in each of our lives, our hopes and dreams, and how the Lord is working among us. Always we’re amazed at the miracles of God around us.”
Surely Kingsbury has already fulfilled many of her hopes and dreams. With 54 books (and counting), millions of copies sold worldwide, her name on USA Today and New York Times bestseller lists and honors galore, she has become a mainstay in Christian fiction. And she’s certainly not going anywhere anytime soon. Next in the Bailey Flanigan series is Learning, followed by Longing and Loving.
In Leaving, Kingsbury delivers an entertaining story with memorable characters and a powerful message about the only things that last—faith, love and our connection with God. As she says, “Jesus stays.”