Bestselling Author Karen Kingsbury Writes the Scripts for A Thousand Tomorrows Series with Son Tyler Russell
Bestselling author Karen Kingsbury, along with her son, Tyler Russell, have adapted the novel, A Thousand Tomorrows, into a six-episode series from AFFIRM Originals and it’s streaming now on Pure Flix. New episodes will drop every Friday so fans can follow along with nationally-renowned bull rider Cody Gunnar, and barrel racer Ali Daniels as they navigate romance and the rodeo.
We sat down with Kingsbury and Russell to talk about the new series, upcoming projects, working together and the Baxter Family.
Interviewed for Risen Magazine
Risen Magazine: I love it when family can work together. My kids have been in TV segments, premieres with my husband. My parents have gotten involved, so it’s great. So Karen, obviously an established bestselling author. Tyler, her son, getting to bring those stories to life on screen. What it was like developing A Thousand Tomorrows?
Karen Kingsbury: So it was a fun thing. It’s a year and a half ago when Sony Affirm came and said, “We would love to see A Thousand Tomorrows as a TV series, an original on Pure Flix.” And I said, “That sounds amazing.” And I said, “I really only trust myself to write it, but I don’t have any time.”
Truly, Tyler is such a gifted writer and director. He didn’t get to direct A Thousand Tomorrows, but I knew that if I could get him to be the screenwriter and I respect him so much as a screenwriter, then we would have a great show. So he said yes, and he actually did all the six one-hour scripts, they were 360 pages of screenwriting, and he would bring them to me one at a time. We’d kind of table read them. Yeah.
Tyler Russell: Yeah. I mean, I think it was great because I know the book so well. It came out in 2005, and so I grew up with the book and loved the book. It’s a great love story. So I got to get re-familiar with it as an adult, and I just love the story. And so getting to work together to have the outline and then also those scripts. It was just an incredible opportunity.
KK: Tyler, what’s really fun is we’ll outline a project like A Thousand Tomorrows, and then we agree on the outline and we agree on the beats because Tyler’s super … he’s so visual. He’s very talented at understanding the energy it takes. Whereas I might write a story about … a chapter might be two people having a conversation on the sofa and it’s gripping because you’re in their hearts and heads. You can feel every heartbeat. That’s not entertaining on TV. So Tyler knows how to take those kind of emotional beats and turn them into really snappy, important moments on film.
We’d agree on the outline, what has to be accomplished, and then he would bring me the episodes one at a time. We would read through them almost like a table read, put some music on and try to imagine it and see if we’ve hit it. And then we would edit it together and there we were.
RM: Well, so talk to me about that, because visually you’re correct, storytelling is so different, right? And especially when you already have this devout following for a book where they’ve created these characters and know them. Tyler, talk to me about what went into the decisions as to where to stay true, where to stray, and then also you’re throwing bulls and horses and all kinds of things in the mix.
TR: I think what worked at our advantage was that we had six episodes to tell the story. So normally, I adapted her book, Maggie’s Miracle, into a movie for Hallmark, Maggie’s Christmas Miracle. And we had to cut some things because you can’t tell everything in the movie. But we had almost six hours to tell this story. And so we got to keep most of the story intact. And in fact, she let me add some characters.
I felt like in that world of the rodeo, I wanted some competition for Cody and maybe friends for him, and ways that it just breathed more life into it. And so that was really fun to live in that rodeo world, to give that visceral, dusty, competitive nature and give Cody people to sort of bounce off of, talk to, people like Trey and Dalton, Kenny. Those were characters that we created for the series. And I think that that’s where this works in our advantage is that we can tell this beautiful story in more time than we would just a movie.
RM: Karen, as a mom, I’ve got to think it’s such a gift to be able to work creatively with your child. How do you balance that mom hat versus the co-writer hat? And then also, when did you recognize his skill and talent?
KK: Well, Tyler won a writing competition in grade school. I think he was in fifth grade and it was What I Believe or something. And it was just like he was so talented. So I knew that it was kind of my gift, my husband and myself, my blessing to be able to shape that. And so that meant encouraging him along the way. But the very first thing we really ever collaborated on was a book called Best Family Ever. It was a chapter book for kids eight to 12. There are now five books in that series and the fifth one just came out yesterday called Being Baxters.
So anyway, the first time that we did this, there was some struggle there. I felt like there was … If it’s not going to be fun, just don’t do it, because it’d be much more fun just to play tennis and watch TV as a family and not have to work together. Tyler was so willing to take correction and learn so quickly. He was already talented. But when it came to doing an actual novel or now a screenplay, honestly, he’s the one that brings giftings to that, and I’m learning from him on that. So I feel like he has always been … He’ll be the writer-director one day. I feel like people are going to say, “Oh, you must be the mom of that famous director, Tyler Russell, because he’s so talented.”
And our first film with Karen Kingsbury Productions, Someone like You, that comes out later this year, and he gets to direct that. And he’s a phenomenal talent. So that makes it easy, right? It’s fun because he’s bringing things to the table that I wouldn’t have had, and I really truly would choose him to work with.
RM: I love that. I love that you have a project that is upcoming that you directed. And then you mentioned Being Baxters, the fifth book in that children’s book series that you have that’s coming out. Tyler, maybe talk to me a little bit about where we see that family.
TR: The Baxter family. Yeah, I mean, we love the Baxter family. Mom’s written probably over 30 books about the Baxters, and I just said, “Well, let’s go back and tell the story about when these Baxter adults were kids.” And so we got to go and tell this timeless story of these five siblings growing up. And the difference here is there’s not smartphones and video games and Netflix. It’s like they’re going outside and building forts and playing basketball and tag and learning life lessons at school and what it means to be a good friend and be true to who God made you. So we’ve had the best time telling these stories.
KK: Oh my goodness. Tyler is so funny. And I think he’s drawing from your own childhood as well. It’s so fun. It’s so fun. Adults are loving reading these books too, because they’re such fun read-alouds or you just find yourself laughing. Ashley is hilarious and their experience growing up is very endearing. You definitely need a tissue as well, I think. But people are loving them.
TR: And what I love about the Baxter Family Children’s series and things like A Thousand Tomorrows on Pure Flix is that it’s content that lasts and it’s content that makes an impact. So, God willing, long after we’re gone, the books will still be available, the show will still be available. And it speaks to the heart, right? It’s speaks about forgiveness and sacrificial love and seizing the day that God gave you. And so it’s beautiful that we get to work together, but more so that we get to help create things that can hopefully and prayerfully impact people’s hearts and lives the way that the books have and the way that we know A Thousand Tomorrows is going to.
RM: Karen, I got to ask you too, you have this amazing ability to not only come up with great storylines, but then also to have them be told in such a way that you can’t put it down. And we’re not just talking one after another. We’re talking bestseller, 25 million copies… I guess the question here is, how? I mean, you’re amazing. Will you share a little bit of your process or where the inspiration for the stories come from?
KK: Well, I always say I’m kind of a detective of the emotions. So if I’m out and about, whether I’m hearing a conversation or in one or I’m watching something on TV, if something is making me cry, I need to write about that. And that’s just something God has put in my heart. So he first gives me stories like a movie in my head. So it’s very fun to be on this side with Karen Kingsbury Productions to go full circle and then give you the movie that’s in my head, which nobody could do but me. And I’m only one who could put that team together, who sees it the way I see it in my head.
So for me, there are some tricks. If a book is 75,000 words, I outline and never write a book without outlining, and I alternate points of view. So I want to be deep in Ali’s point of view, and then I’ll be deep in Cody’s point of view with A Thousand Tomorrows, coming out on Pure Flix. So when I write a story, when I get to the end of that chapter, there has to be a hook. There needs to be something that will say, “Oh, okay, I got to turn the page.” Because it’s got to be fun. I always say, if you can read a chapter and put it down, then just…
RM: So true. I like it, binge reading. We’ve been doing it with you for so long. Now we’re just doing it on a screen. That’s why I like that Pure Flix is only releasing a couple at a time. That’s for me, so I can’t just blow through them all.
TR: Exactly. And I think it’s such a great strategy too, because this is the kind of show that you want to watch with people to talk about with people, because it does deal with … I mean, yes, it’s a beautiful love story, but it deals with some serious things, anger and forgiveness and family wounds and fear of the unknown. And you did a beautiful Bible study series with this too.
KK: Pure Flix is a unique platform in the sense that they wanted me to do a Bible study that was an ancillary piece that goes with each episode. So there’s a 10-minute video piece, a teaching piece from me. Then they hired a pastor to write an actual devotional piece that you can download off of Pure Flix. So the whole thing might take you an extra 30, 40 minutes, but it gives you a chance to not just consume, but to really ingest it in your heart and to share it with the people around you, Bible study, family group, whatever. It takes the experience to an entirely different level.
RM: Such a pleasure. So much fun. I’m thrilled to see the family success and then all the content that you’ve put out so far, and I can’t wait for people to get to see A Thousand Tomorrows. So thank you so much.
A Thousand Tomorrows Now Streaming on Pure Flix and Karen Kingsbury Bible Study and Discussion Guides
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