As a journalist, I thought I had learned what I needed to know about the Five Ws and the H — Who, What, When, Where, Why and How — the essential building blocks of writing a story.
A conversation with New York Times best-selling novelist Karen Kingsbury taught me things I never knew — both about writing and about faith.
Famous with fans for her Baxter Family series of novels, Kingsbury is a powerful literary force. Yet from the moment she appeared on my Zoom screen, she seemed to be a person full of humility and wonder.
Her latest book, A Distant Shore, tells the story of a young girl caught within the grips of a sex trafficking operation. It’s not her typical Baxter Family fare, but it highlights the mystery and wonder she can create within a character.
“One of my favorite things about writing this book was that I got to take a step away,” she said. “I set this book on the beaches of Belize. When everything lifts, I want to travel to Belize.”
In this book, as in her better-known series, Kingsbury understands the “who” of her writing. She clearly knows who she’s writing about and who she’s speaking to through her writing.
She knows her purpose in life is to lead a movement of readers not only to embrace her work but also to embrace their own sense of calling. She believes we can do nothing without Christ and knowing his purpose for us.
“The Lord puts a story on my heart, and he commissions me to write it,” she said. “And I feel like Jesus, when he was walking this earth, when he wanted to tell you something straight, he would just tell it to you straight. When he wanted it to make a point, he would turn over a table. But when he wanted to touch your heart, he would tell a story. So when I’m writing, I ask the Lord to put me in the place of the person whose reading my stories.”
“The Lord puts a story on my heart, and he commissions me to write it.”
The “when” and “where” of her life got complicated as she became a parent while writing up to three novels a year.
“My husband and I raised six kids,” she said. “Three adopted from Haiti in 2001; they were 5- and 6-years-old when we adopted them. I look back at the years that I was writing a lot of these books. I mean, I’m still writing two books a year, but back then, I was writing three novels a year, and all I can picture when I look back at those years is me sitting in the stands, watching my kids play soccer, or sitting on the front row while they were performing. But somehow the Lord let me be able to be there for my family and write multiple novels at the same time.”
“How” she did all that, she isn’t sure. But she remembers something “very profound” she once read from the missionary and author Elizabeth Elliot. “It was how you are, how you handle it all, how you kind of do it all is you ask the Lord to show you what is the next most important thing and just do that thing.”
As for the “why,” Kingsbury turns to Ephesians 2:10, which she believes “makes it very clear that we are his handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good work. As Christ followers, we have been given our ‘why,’ which is to live out his calling in our lives.”
She believes that whatever we do, it should be done with God’s glory in mind.
“I give myself over to the Lord and to the Holy Spirit, and I ask him to fill me and to give me the words he wants me to say, so that a year from now, I’ll hear from someone who will say, ‘I read A Distant Shore. I couldn’t put it down. It changed my life. And now I know that I need Jesus and he’s got a plan for my life, no matter what I’ve been through.’”
That, for her, is definitely the “why.”
Maina Mwaura is a freelance writer and communications consultant who lives in the metro Atlanta area. A native of Orlando, Fla., he earned a bachelor of science degree in communications from Liberty University and a master of divinity degree from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.