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Photo: Jason Pear
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Photo: Jason Pear
The Baxter family is like any other living in Bloomington, Ind. Dr. John Baxter works at Bloomington Hospital, and most of the family attended Indiana University. Daughter Ashley has sold a few of her paintings to the Wandering Turtle Art Gallery. And when anyone in the gang is hungry, you can find them having an intimate conversation at a local restaurant.
The only difference is the Baxters are fictional — the creation of best-selling Christian fiction writer Karen Kingsbury.
“Bloomington was the perfect place,” she says of the setting for her Baxter family books. “I looked all over the country and I really wanted a location that wouldn’t be defined by a specific culture. So I didn’t want eastern seaboard, or East coast. I didn’t want southern, I didn’t want West Coast. I wanted it to feel like a place everyone could relate to.”
Kingsbury lives in Washington, but searched the country looking for the best setting for her book, one that had boutiques, the feel of a university, a lake, and nearby farmland.
“And really, Bloomington had everything,” she says. “And on top of that, I loved the name.”
Nineteen of Kingsbury’s books are set in Bloomington, and recently she decided to bring her fans here too.
More than 1,000 fans attended Kingsbury’s Red Carpet Book Party in late June to celebrate the release of her latest book: “Take Four.” Kingsbury treated the crowd to a preview of a new movie and two of Kingsbury’s six children sang for the attendees. Actors played the roles of famous characters from the Baxter books, much to the joy of the fans.
The day after the Red Carpet Book Party, more than 800 of Kingsbury’s fans gathered in Dunn Meadow for what was billed as the Baxter Family Reunion.
Kingsbury addressed the crowd before signing autographs and taking photos with her fans for more than two hours in the intense summer heat. “Just be real careful because it’s real hot,” she tells everyone. “I asked God for a breeze and I know he’s gonna give us one.”
The overwhelmingly female crowd ate picnic food and participated in games like gunny sack races and a cotton ball contest. Daniel Goombi drove his wife nine hours from Holton, Kansas for the Kingsbury events, even though he hadn’t personally read any of her books.
“You know, I’m here for my wife, so, she enjoys it and I want to support her and she enjoys Karen Kingsbury,” says Goombi.
Michelle Garrison of Danville, Ill. brought her three best friends with her to Bloomington for a girls’ weekend. They wore show choir dresses to the Red Carpet Book Party, and matching blue shirts with the four Baxter sisters’ names on their backs to the Family Reunion.
“I am on Karen’s Facebook page, she has a fan page and I was on there,” says Garrison. “And when she reached 80,000 fans she was giving away tickets. And so she asked the question who would you bring and why, and so I sent in an email and I won tickets for me and three of my best friends to come with me, so we came.”
“I love the books, I read all of them the day they came out. I own every single one of them. It’s just compelling, it’s compelling stories. You know, you’re drawn into the stories and you really do feel like people become real after a while.”
Even before the Bloomington activities commenced, Kingsbury used the Internet for promotional purposes. She asked her Facebook friends to buy her latest book. Throughout the day of the book’s release, Kingsbury and her publicist happily watched the book rise on Amazon.com’s best-selling books list.
As of mid-July, “Take Four” had risen as high as fifth on the New York Times Bestseller List for Paperback Trade Fiction. A previous Kingsbury novel has reached second on the list in the past.
Kingsbury used some of her time in Bloomington to make a non-virtual connection to the place that has helped her sell novels, including meeting Mayor Mark Kruzan on the B-Line Trail to donate a new park bench to the city.
“I have readers that just seriously will go out of their way on their summer vacation and they’ll come to Bloomington just to see it,” says Kingsbury.
“And when I announced the first ever Baxter Family Reunion many of them wrote to me and said I didn’t even know that was a real place. So I thought you know this would be a way I could connect to the real people who live in Bloomington and say here’s a park bench from me, from my readers and let it be there so that you know someone passing by or coming in to look at the places that inspired these nearly 20 books would have a spot where they could sit and just take in the incredible atmosphere and feeling of Bloomington.”