Fifteen Minutes

A Novel

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About The Book

From the #1 New York Times bestselling author Karen Kingsbury, known for her “signature mix of melodrama, formula, and genuine emotional punch” (Publishers Weekly), a dramatic story about character, compromise, and the cost of having it all.

Zack Dylan has a dream. He wants to sing on the biggest stages, for the biggest crowds, and he’ll do whatever it takes to make it come true. But Zack also made a promise to his college sweetheart when he left Kentucky to compete on the popular TV show Fifteen Minutes: If he made it, nothing would change him or his faith in God.

Overnight, Zack becomes the nation’s most popular contestant, a country singer comparable to a young Tim McGraw. As his star rises, Zack is often asked to compromise and quiet his beliefs. Just as he’s on the verge of winning it all, his choices lead him to the brink of personal disaster. Meanwhile, a former Fifteen Minutes winner is searching for meaning amidst her own private losses. Can she warn Zack about the real price of fame? Or will Zack lose everything he loves for his fifteen minutes of glory?

From America’s favorite inspirational novelist, Fifteen Minutes explores the cost of fame and celebrity set against the backdrop of America’s favorite singing competition.

Excerpt

Fifteen Minutes

chapter 1
Zack Dylan held a steaming mug of black coffee in one hand and his Bible in the other. He stood on the wraparound wooden porch of his parents’ farmhouse and watched a pair of Arabian horses run through the Kentucky bluegrass. The hundred-acre horse farm had been in the family for six generations.

He breathed deep the sweet July air and set his things down on the old wooden table. Four metal-back chairs made up the seating. Zack took the one with a view of the horses. This had been his routine lately. Taking his coffee out here and reading his Bible. He loved Jesus more than his next breath. He could feel Him close as skin. But these days he needed all the wisdom he could get. His girlfriend, Reese Weatherly, would be here in half an hour.

Their last chance to hang out before he left for Atlanta.

The Arabians stopped as if they could sense something changing, something big about to happen. Then like the wind they took off again, flying through the grass, a song in motion. Zack leaned his forearms on the old table and watched them run. His great-great-grandfather had raised thoroughbreds and in 1934 the Dylans’ horse farm had produced the winner of the Kentucky Derby. A sketch of the champion with a bouquet of roses formed the farm’s logo.

Dylan Champion Horse Farm.

A farm doomed to foreclosure if something didn’t change.

Zack let the history hit him again. Sometime in the 1950s the family stopped raising costly thoroughbreds and switched to Arabians. Now dressage riders boarded their horses here and rented time in one of the three arenas. Faith, family, and Southern horse farming. Danville, Kentucky, born and bred. The problem wasn’t the business. It was the tornado that had come through and damaged the barns and stables in January.

The damage didn’t touch the house, but the insurance didn’t cover the barns and stables. Liability, yes. Storm damage, no. The operation was too tight to justify that sort of insurance. Especially when six years ago a different tornado had done similar damage. Back then the family’s insurance had been comprehensive. After the claim, covering the outbuildings against storms wasn’t possible.

From the moment the storm passed, Zack and Duke, his fifteen-year-old brother, had worked alongside their dad to fix the damage. They needed additional lumber to replace the roofs on the outbuildings. Tens of thousands of dollars in supplies. Without that, the buildings had stayed in disrepair and most people had moved their horses to other facilities. The Dylans spent more money than they made and the tension around the kitchen table grew every day.

On top of that Zack’s sister, AJ, had been sick. She had Down syndrome and juvenile arthritis, an especially severe kind. A host of other complications had left doctors convinced she wouldn’t live another ten years.

Zack exhaled, feeling the weight of his family’s troubles. Regardless of the broken buildings and dwindling bank accounts, this was his family’s horse farm. Sure Zack had other dreams, songwriting, even singing. Those were tangents, really. Hobbies. More than anything he wanted to see the farm up and running, wanted to bring in new Arabians and even Derby contenders. Put the Dylan Champion Horse Farm on the map once more. Horse farming was supposed to be his and Duke’s legacy. The fabric of their past, the lure of their future.

A creaking sound made him look over his shoulder. The door opened and Grandpa Dan stepped out, most of his weight on his black cane. “Zack.”

“Sir.” He pushed his chair back and stood.

His grandpa’s steps were slow, Parkinson’s disease stealing a little more of his freedom every week. A smile lifted his weathered face. “Beautiful morning.”

“Like a painting.” Zack waited.

The porch boards protested with each step. His grandpa reached him and put a shaky hand on his shoulder. The old man had lived in the guest house out by the largest arena before the tornado hit. Now he stayed in the guest room on the main floor. He spent most of his time here, on the porch overlooking the farm, staring out at images from decades gone by.

The old man struggled to his seat, exhaled slowly and leveled his gaze at Zack. “You’re leaving. Is that what I hear?”

“I am. Yes, sir.” Zack leaned closer, took his grandfather’s black cane and rested it against the porch railing. He sat back down. Neither of them said anything for a while, the morning breeze warm and easy between them.

Zack broke the silence first. “How are you?”

“Wonderful. Never better.” The old man’s eyes looked deep and full. “Good Lord gave me another day. Got nothing to complain about.” His look grew serious. “AJ’s coughing more. I’m worried about her.”

“Me, too.” Zack studied his grandfather. Stoic, strong. A throwback from another era. Complaining wasn’t an option. He could be drawing his last breath and he’d be more concerned with those around him.

“I hate when she’s sick. She can’t get on a horse coughing like that.”

Zack patted the man’s leathery hand. “She needs a different doctor, someone from Louisville.”

“Yes.” The old man eyed him, sizing him up for a long moment. “You have some time?”

“Yes, sir.” Zack had expected this. Dreaded it.

His grandfather looked deep into his eyes, right through him. “The audition. Fifteen Minutes.”

“Yes?”

“You know how I feel about it.”

“I do. Daddy told me.” Zack took a swig of coffee. His father’s words rang in his heart constantly this past week. I believe in you, son. No harm in trying out. But you know your grandfather. Dylan men don’t chase fame . . . they tend the farm and keep up tradition. They get a second job and buy the wood and fix the buildings. They find a way.

Zack forced his dad’s words from his mind. He respected his father, but still he was going to Atlanta. He couldn’t be afraid of success. The idea was ridiculous. He sipped his drink more slowly.

His grandfather gazed back at the front door, his eyes a steely reflection of some yesteryear. Gradually he found Zack again. “Why are you going?”

“What if I’m supposed to go?” Zack felt his heartbeat quicken. He set down his coffee and leaned back in the chair. His words came measured, unrushed. “Maybe God could use me better on a stage somewhere.” He tried to smile. “I could pay off the farm. Daddy wouldn’t have to work so hard.” Zack paused, feeling the weight of the situation. His father had looked older lately, constantly worried. He thought of something else. “We could get better doctors for AJ. Duke could go to college like he wants to.”

“A lot of good men get lost on a stage.”

“Not me.” Zack folded his hands on the table and studied his grandfather’s eyes. “You know me, Grandpa. If I make it . . . I won’t get lost. Not ever. God loves me too much for that.” Nothing stood more certain in Zack’s mind. He watched the Arabians flying across the Kentucky grass. Why was his grandpa so worried? He would go with God’s blessing, sing for His glory, and one audition to the next he would walk only through the doors that the Lord Himself opened. If singing on Fifteen Minutes got in the way of him and God, he’d pray to be sent home.

It was that simple.

His grandpa watched him. “You’re a Dylan, and you’re a good boy.” The old man searched his eyes, processing. “But if they keep you, it’ll change things, Zack. Fame always does.” He hesitated, his tone kind. “God-fearing men . . . we live a quiet life.”

Zack didn’t argue. He respected his grandfather’s opinion but nothing would change his mind. He had prayed for God’s will and he was going to Atlanta. Besides, was he supposed to go his whole life untested? What good was his faith if it couldn’t see him through whatever lay ahead?

“What troubles me”—the old man drew a shaky breath, and for the first time a flicker of fear showed in the lines on his forehead—“is your motive, son. What do you hope to gain?” He waved his hand around. “Yes, you want to pay off the farm. Rescue your tired father. I admire that, Zack, I do.” He let the moment breathe. “When I was your age I worked two jobs. Three, even. You could do that, son. Why the show?”

“I need an answer.” Zack didn’t blink, didn’t waver. He breathed deep, the certainty of a lifetime filling his heart. “God gave me my voice, Grandpa. I have to at least try.”

“You sing at church.” Sincerity softened his eyes. “With the teens. They love you.”

“Yes.” Zack stared out at the far reaches of the field, at the Arabians standing alert now in a tight herd. “It’s just . . .” He turned to the old man. “What if I could shine brighter for God on a bigger stage? In front of the whole world?” A growing passion filled his tone. “Country music, Grandpa. That’s as big as it gets. People will see my faith and they’ll want Jesus. They will.”

His grandfather stayed quiet, his eyes never leaving Zack’s. “God doesn’t measure big the way people measure big. Jesus had just twelve followers.” He blinked a few times. “Fame is a demanding mistress.”

Zack hesitated out of respect. Most people he knew were excited for him, wishing him well. But his family hadn’t gotten behind him. He swallowed his frustration. “I’m twenty-three. I’ve waited a long time to try this.”

“Just remember the Derby days.” His grandpa’s eyes narrowed, more serious. “Some people never find their way back home.”

Zack had heard the story often. One of his great-grandfather’s friends had owned Kentucky Derby winners also. Only the guy had gotten caught up in a party crowd from New Jersey and lost his life to a heroin addiction. It was the only brush with fame Zack’s grandpa knew about and it hadn’t ended well. Which explained his warning. But that didn’t apply to Zack. He patted his grandpa’s hand. “You’re assuming I’ll make it.” A slow, nervous laugh slipped through his lips. “A hundred thousand people will try out for the show.” He paused. “I could be home by Monday. If so, I’ll get another job. I promise.”

His grandpa studied Zack and a certain knowing filled his expression. “You really believe that?”

Zack thought about the hours he’d prayed, the conversations he’d had with Reese and his parents. The people who had heard the EP he made last year and told him he should get a manager or move to Nashville. He was the next Keith Urban, everyone said so. Year after year he had resisted the desire to audition. Now he could almost hear the clock ticking, almost feel his chances slipping away. Here when his family was facing financial ruin, it was as if God Himself were telling him to go for it.

His grandpa was waiting. “You believe you’ll be home by Monday.”

Zack didn’t think he’d win. But he had a chance. He had to believe that. He shook his head. “No, sir. I guess I don’t really believe that.”

“Me either.” The man angled his head slightly. He took his time with the next part. “You’re the best country singer I ever heard.”

Zack felt the compliment to the depths of his heart. “Thank you.” He took another drink of coffee and felt himself relax. His grandpa wasn’t here to talk him out of leaving. “What you said . . . it means a lot.”

“It’s true.” Concern darkened his eyes. “That’s why we’re talking. The family needs you here, son. You make it on that stage and . . .” He looked out across the farm. The Arabians were running again, the sun warming the bluegrass. “You could lose all this.”

Reese’s car appeared on the horizon. Zack weighed his words. “I have to try. It might be the answer for all of us. God’s plan.”

Together they watched her pull in to the long winding drive and head slowly for the house. “Remember this, son.” Grandpa stared at Zack, like he was willing him to understand. “If it gets crazy, come home. While you still can.”

“Yes, sir.” Zack put his hand over Grandpa’s. “Thank you.” His family was worried over nothing. No matter what happened, Zack wasn’t going to change. He had his faith, the promise that God was with him. Jesus was his helper; what could man do to him? That was right out of the Bible, after all.

The old man watched Reese climb out of the car. “She loves you.”

“I love her.” Zack caught her look from across the way, her dark brown hair swished around her pretty face. “I’m going to marry her. As soon as we get the farm on its feet.”

“She’ll always be special to me. You know that.”

“Yes.” Zack and Reese’s journey was intertwined in a love story that came with the most beautiful history, as if all their lives had led to the single moment in time when their eyes first met. Zack wouldn’t do anything to hurt what he and Reese shared.

His grandpa looked concerned. “How does she feel about this?”

“She believes in me.” Zack looked at his grandpa, deep into his eyes. “Same as you.” He moved to the spot beside the old man and crouched low as he put his arm around his grandpa’s thin shoulders. “It’ll be okay. You know me.”

“I’ll pray.” In a move that told Zack the depths of his concerns, his grandpa rested his head against Zack’s. Reese walked up the porch steps slowly, her eyes on the two of them. Zack remained where he was, his arm still around his grandpa. “I’ll be fine.” He gave the man his black cane and helped him up. They walked together back to the house.

His grandpa stopped at Reese and took both her hands in his. “I prayed for you today.”

“I count on that.” She smiled at him, her eyes shining.

The two of them hugged and Zack’s grandpa looked from Reese to Zack. His eyes said what his words did not as he nodded, turned, and headed back in the house. When the door shut behind him, Zack turned and faced Reese, looked deep into her pale blue eyes. If for some reason he became crazy successful on Fifteen Minutes, that would be fine. God’s will. Because nothing—absolutely nothing—would ever get in the way of what he had here. The farm, his family. And the girl standing in front of him.

The one he loved with all his life.

ZACK TOOK THE spot next to her, the two of them leaning on the porch rail. Her eyes shone with a trust he didn’t take for granted. But something was different. As if already she were protecting herself from the imagined storms ahead.

“Let’s walk.” He held out his hand. “When do you go to work?”

“I have an hour.” They walked down the steps toward a path that wound through the estate to the barns and beyond. “How’s AJ?”

“Sick.” Zack eased his fingers between hers. The closeness of her, the touch of her skin against his, the familiarity of it—the sensation was always special. Today he felt more aware of her, the gift of her in his life. Of course he did. He was leaving tomorrow. He stopped when they were out of sight from the front windows.

“We miss her at the center.” Reese was an equine therapist. For the last three years AJ had been one of her students.

“She can’t wait to get better. She misses you and the horses.” He stopped and took her other hand, facing her. She was the most beautiful girl he’d ever seen. Her beauty worked its way out from her heart, through her eyes. But today her joy didn’t shine as brightly. “Hey . . .” He studied her, reading her. “You’re sad.”

“No.” She worked one of her hands free and ran it over her hair. “Nervous, maybe. Not sad.” She smiled, and their connection felt stronger than ever. “I’m proud of you, Zack.”

“Why are you nervous?” He searched her eyes.

“I don’t know. Everything feels . . . up in the air.” She squinted in the sun. “Unsure, I guess.”

“Baby.” Zack took a step closer, breathing in her perfume, the nearness of her. “Nothing’s going to change. You and my family . . . Give me more credit. Even if something crazy happens and I make it through, nothing will shake me. Nothing ever could.”

“How do you know? You’ve never done anything like this.” She smiled. “And you will make it through. You’re the best.” The sweetness of her tone told him more than her words could. No one believed in him more.

Zack pulled her close, swaying with her beneath the summer sun. When he drew back he found her eyes again. “You said you wanted to talk?”

She slid her hands in the pockets of her dark shorts. “It’s nothing bad.” A hint of nervousness flashed in her expression. “I got a call today. From a woman in London.”

“London?”

“Yes.” She looked to the distant parts of the property and then back to him. “She runs a horse farm. She wants me to help bring equine therapy to her center. Maybe get the program established in the UK. She talked about teaching it to three of their instructors. Which could take a while.”

Zack’s mind raced. “You mean like . . . move there?”

“For a year, maybe. Yes.” She hesitated. “Eight students and their families have already signed up. They can’t find a program without a several-year waiting list.”

“Wow! That’s amazing.” The sun shone higher in the sky, the heat and humidity heavy around them. Reese moving to London? What was happening? This talk was supposed to be about the show, about his audition. He should be assuring her that he’d be home soon and nothing would change. He blinked a few times and tried to clear his head. “How . . . how did they hear about you?”

She started to explain. Something about the woman knowing Reese’s boss here in Kentucky, and how Reese came highly recommended, one of the best therapeutic horse instructors in the South. And how the London stable wanted someone with experience, someone from Kentucky with a history of horse sense. Her sentences ran together and Zack found himself stuck back at the beginning.

She’s moving to London?

They’d been dating since their freshmen year at University of Kentucky. Zack had been an animal science major and Reese competed on the Wildcats dressage team. Double major—special education and equine therapy. Only one thing in all the world was more beautiful than seeing Reese ride. Seeing her help special-needs kids find their way on a horse. Kids like his sister AJ.

Zack used to tease her that if he could ever get her off the back of a horse, he’d marry her. Four years had flown by, and a month ago they graduated. Zack had never loved her more. Their beautiful history—the history they didn’t realize until after they started dating—the way she made him laugh, the very deep beauty of her heart. Her love for special-needs kids and horses and him.

They hadn’t talked about an exact date. But he’d figured that if the farm were solid again by Christmas, he’d buy her a ring. This was the year he’d been waiting for.

“Zack?” She moved closer. “Did you hear me?”

“You’re moving to London?” His mouth was cotton balls and sawdust. He led her into the shade against the side of the house so he could see her eyes. Straight through them. “For a year?”

“I’m thinking about it.”

“Why?”

She allowed a single laugh, one that held her usual grace. “I’m good at it.”

“I didn’t mean it like that.” Zack’s mind raced as fast as his heart. “No one’s better at what you do.” His mouth felt dry. “I mean . . . why now?”

“They need me. The kids there . . . they have no one.” She stared at the spot between their feet for a moment before looking at him again. “Maybe it’s God’s timing. You know, with you auditioning.”

“A whole year?” Zack brushed his hand against the side of her face. If only they could stay in this moment. Without the audition or this crazy London idea. He looked deep into her, all the way to her heart. “You can be good at it right here in Danville.”

“So can you.”

Her tone remained kind, but her words took his breath away. “Okay. So you’re serious.”

Her smile was tinged with sadness. “It’ll be hard to be apart. But right now, I don’t know. Our dreams are maybe taking us in different directions.”

“London?” He released his hold on her and took a slight step back. “Sure. I mean, I’m happy for you. If your dream is to live in Europe for a year.” The feeling that he’d been hit by a truck lingered. The news had him dazed and off-balance. “I guess . . . I didn’t know.”

“Right. Like I didn’t know you were going to try out for Fifteen Minutes.” She folded her arms tight in front of her, almost as if she were cold despite the morning heat. “Look, I want you to go. I’ll be your biggest fan, Zack. But you’ll be busy with the show. The whole thing, the audition, the process . . . the tour. It could take a year.” She reached up and touched his cheek. “Maybe then we’ll know what’s next.”

“The tour, Reese? Really? I haven’t even made it past the first round.”

“Maybe the timing is part of God’s plan.” Her words didn’t come all at once. She took hold of his hand. “It sort of seems that way.”

He tried to keep control of his frustration. “What?”

“Don’t get mad.” Her smile softened things for a few seconds. “Just . . . you know, sometimes being apart is good. So we can be sure who we are. Before . . .”

He ran his fingers through her windblown hair. “Before I marry you.” He brought his face closer to hers. “That’s what you mean, right?”

“Yes.” Her voice was barely a whisper. Her smile touched his soul. “Maybe that.”

“Baby . . .” He wanted her so badly. “I’d marry you today if I could. You know that.” He stepped back and searched her eyes. “I have to audition. It could mean . . . saving this farm. It could change life for my family.”

“I know.” Her smile touched his soul. “If I move to London it could change things for those kids.”

“Look.” He kept his voice steady and worked to control his warring emotions. “I need you. Whether I make it or not. Please . . . don’t move to London.”

His words seemed to hit their mark. A few seconds passed and she took his hands. “I haven’t said yes. It’s just an option.”

“Crazy girl.” He put his hands around her waist and drew her close. “London’s not your dream. And New York’s not mine.”

“No?” Gradually the shine returned to her eyes.

“No.” He could breathe again. They had found their way back to normal. He eased his hands from hers and gently framed her face. Then he kissed her the way he’d wanted to since she arrived. “This is your dream, remember?” His voice fell a notch.

“You?” She giggled, brushing her cheek against his. “Zack Dylan? You’re my dream?”

“Not me.” He kissed her again and when he pulled back, he felt the humor leave his expression. “Us.” He searched her eyes, making sure his place in her heart remained. Untouched. Like before he’d made his decision to audition for Fifteen Minutes. “We’re the dream. Okay?”

“Is that right?” The corners of her lips lifted and she rested her head on his chest, the two of them swaying in the warm summer morning air.

“Yes, baby. That’s right. This is the dream.” The words he’d said to his grandfather came back and he repeated them. “I want to marry you, Reese. I’ll audition and then I’ll come home. Please don’t go. Not for a year, anyway.”

“It is a long time.” She smiled up at him as they started walking. “Hey, Toby’s doing better. He’s talking in sentences.”

His pride for her work welled up inside him. “I love that boy.”

“He loves you.”

Zack listened, loving her heart, the way she cared for her students. They checked the one small stable that hadn’t been destroyed in the storm and walked back to her car. The show didn’t come up until he took her in his arms again.

“Zack, I’ve known you since you were eighteen.” She allowed some space between the two of them. For a long while she said nothing, only looked out at the land, at the horses. Finally she drew a deep breath and stared at the sky. “You said singing at church was enough. You were never going to try out.”

“We need the money. You know that. Singing’s the only other thing I can do and—”

“Let me finish.” She put her hand on his shoulder, a fresh depth in her eyes. “Please, Zack.”

“Sorry.” He shifted, waiting.

She paused as if having this part of the conversation with her own conscience. “You were going to be a songwriter. You’d spend your life here and continue with your family’s farm.” Her words came slowly again, like the passing white clouds. “That’s the Zack I fell in love with. You said the fame thing, singing on a stage, it wasn’t for you.”

“Reese . . .” He raked his fingers through his thick dark hair. They’d been over this.

“That’s what you said.” She turned her eyes to his again. The defeat in her tone turned to sadness. “Remember?”

“Try to understand.” He searched her eyes. “The music, the songs . . . they live in me. I have to try. Sure I want to write, but if I can sing, if I can do something I love and help my family, shouldn’t I try?”

“I know.” She nodded, never breaking eye contact. Her fight was gone. The finality in her tone told him she had accepted his decision. Even if she had doubts. She took a step toward her car door, her eyes still on his. “I want you to go, Zack. You’re amazing. I think you could win the whole thing.” Her smile didn’t hide the hurt in her eyes. “But you have to know . . . if you win, that could change things. It could change us.”

“Not in a million years.” He was sick of this, of the doubts from people who should’ve known him best. “Not ever.”

“Okay.” She smiled despite the shadow of sadness in her eyes. “As long as you’ve thought it through.”

He didn’t respond. Couldn’t say anything in light of her heartfelt reminder. Whether he liked it or not, she was right. If he went far, if he won, there might be no way back to the life they shared here. Now.

“You need answers.” Her tone was kind. “Your family needs money. I get it.” She kissed him more quickly than before. “I need to go. We’ll talk tonight.”

“What about your song? You haven’t heard it.”

She giggled. “Later. You’re busy.”

“But you want to hear it, right?”

“Of course.” She placed her hands alongside his face. “I can’t wait.”

He felt the minutes slipping away. He planned to leave at sunup. “I’ll play it tomorrow. Before I go.”

“Okay.” She tilted her head, like she couldn’t say exactly what she was feeling.

“I’ll be home soon.”

She shook her head. “You won’t.”

“Reese.” He wouldn’t argue with her. He was grateful she believed in him. He said the only words that mattered. “I love you.”

“I love you, too.”

She took a few steps back, her eyes still lost in his. But then she turned around, climbed into her car and drove off. He watched her go. She was worried over nothing. If his parents were about to lose the farm that had been in the family for over a hundred years, then he needed to find a way to make money. Other than working with horses, singing was all he knew.

That and the saving power and love of Jesus Christ.

God would see him through wherever the ride took him. Of course he had to audition, had to pray for a chance. If by some miracle he made it, he would have a platform to share his faith and the money to pay off the farm. Then he would marry Reese—the way they’d planned all along—and Grandpa Dan could die happy.

As he walked up the stairs to the old farmhouse peace spread from deep inside him. Whatever happened next he would be home soon. Reese would stay in Kentucky and they’d be engaged by Christmas. He was sure.

Before he turned in that night he found his guitar and played her song, the one he’d written for her. He called it “Her Blue Eyes” and the verses talked about a girl who saw beauty in the life of a handicapped child and joy behind the counter of a homeless shelter. As he fell asleep, the chorus stayed with him.

Of all I see through her blue eyes

What gives me my direction

Is always seeing my reflection

There in her blue eyes.

I always want to see me there

Under a Kentucky sky

There in her blue eyes.

Lost in her blue eyes.

Reading Group Guide

This reading group guide for Fifteen Minutes includes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Karen Kingsbury. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.


Introduction

Zack Dylan had a dream—to make it to the big stage as a singer. Even though life on the horse farm in Kentucky was somewhat idyllic, with his college sweetheart and family closely connected, the farm’s financial future was hanging in the balance. Zack saw a chance to save the farm, fulfill his dream as a singer, and proclaim his faith in Jesus Christ all at once. Fifteen Minutes? would change his life in ways he never imagined, but would the chance of a lifetime end up costing him more than he bargained for? Fifteen Minutes? is a cautionary tale about fame, fidelity, and faith, and the journey of discovering where loyalty will land when the chips are down.  

Topics & Questions for Discussion 

1. What did you enjoy most about Fifteen Minutes? Which character was your favorite? What was it about him or her that drew you in?
 
2. Do you watch television talent competition shows? What are your thoughts about the opportunity for people to advance from “unknown” to “celebrity” throughout the course of a television season? Do you think it is a positive or a negative?
 
3. When we first meet Chandra Olson, she is walking through a cemetery contemplating how much fame has cost her. Like Solomon, what was she chasing in the wake of her great loss? Have you ever experienced a time in your life when you achieved a goal or realized a dream, but learned you didn’t have the fulfillment and meaning you thought would come with it? How did you respond?
 
4. Zack Dylan’s grandfather tried to persuade him to stay on the farm instead of pursuing his dream of singing on Fifteen Minutes. Do you think Zack should have heeded his grandfather’s advice? Why or why not?
 
5. On page 14, Zack says: “What if I could shine brighter for God on a bigger stage? In front of the whole world?” Compare this “big stage” strategy of witness with the ministry of Jesus. Why do you think Jesus chose not to use a “big stage” strategy?
 
6. Grandpa Dan warned Zack that “fame is a demanding mistress.” What were some of the things that fame demanded of Zack as he made his way into the spotlight?
 
7. Describe your impression of Zack and Reese’s relationship before he left to audition for Fifteen Minutes. What qualities did you admire? What advice would you have given them on the eve of Zack’s departure?
 
8. What were some patterns in Zack’s growing friendship with Zoey that set the stage for unfaithfulness in Zack’s heart? Name each person who suffered as a result. Discuss your observations about the chances Zack had to change course before his choices became patterns. Are there ways your observations provide insight into your own patterns of relating, especially with members of the opposite sex?
 
9. What words would you use to describe Kelly Morgan when you first encounter her in chapter 5? What are the things she is most concerned about? Do you think you would have enjoyed working with her? Why or why not?
 
10. Describe the role Chandra Olson played in Zack’s life throughout his time on Fifteen Minutes. How did Zack respond to her counsel? Is there someone who has played a similar role in your life—praying for you, speaking into your life, challenging your beliefs and assumptions? How did you respond to their input?
 
11. Compare how Kelly Morgan and Zack Dylan both change throughout the novel. How are their journeys of transformation similar? Different?
 
12. What did you feel when Reese made the choice to move to London? Do you think she was reacting to her hurt or responding to God’s calling for her life? How can you discern the difference between running from a hurtful situation and following God’s leading?
 
13. How did the scripting of the love story between Zack and Zoey by the producers of Fifteen Minutes impact you? How did you feel about the way Zack and Zoey responded to the demands being made of them? Have you ever been in a situation where you acted in ways contrary to your true values in order to advance or gain the approval of others?
 
14. One of the themes throughout Fifteen Minutes is the impact that small, seemingly insignificant choices can have over the course of time, especially in the midst of competing values and priorities. How does scripture speak to this struggle? Can you think of an example from the Bible when someone took small steps that ultimately resulted in a significant distance in his or her relationship with God? What are some “small” things you tolerate (that are not consistent with God’s ways) that may be slowly creating distance in your relationship with God?
 
15. How did you feel about the way the story ended? How did it compare to the ending you anticipated?
 
16. In what ways does the title Fifteen Minutes reflect one of the primary messages of the book?

Enhance Your Book Club

1. Read the story of Saul in I Samuel chapters 12 and 13. Compare the pattern of Saul’s choices with the pattern illustrated throughout Fifteen Minutes of small choices leading to significant consequences. What did Saul value more than loyalty and obedience to God’s commands? At your next book club meeting, discuss the things that you are tempted to desire more than your relationship with God and some possible ways to feed your desire for God.
 
2. Read Timothy Keller’s book Counterfeit Gods. At your next book club meeting, discuss the contrast between a passionate pursuit of dreams and goals and making the dream or goal an “ultimate” thing.
 
3. If you know someone who has achieved a level of fame or prominence, invite him or her to come to your next book club for a Q&A about navigating the temptations and costs of being well-known and admired.
 
4. Watch a season of one of the current television talent competition shows. Pick one person on the show to follow, and each week take note of what changes you observe about them.   
 

A Conversation with Karen Kingsbury 

1. What prompted you to write about the temptations and costs of fame in Fifteen Minutes?  

Our family doesn’t watch much TV, but we do watch American Idol. We’ve watched it from the beginning. Over time I found myself remembering not so much the singers as their stories. Some flashed bright and burned out, others shone for Christ in their newfound fame, and some seemed better off before they ever auditioned. The latter intrigued me and caused me to begin dreaming up a fictitious show with fictitious judges and characters. A few years ago I outlined Fifteen Minutes, and as soon as my schedule was clear I wrote it.

2. Are you a fan of television talent competition shows like American Idol, The Voice, etc.?  

Yes, I love these shows—but, again, more because of the stories than the singing. There’s something compelling about a person who had a very normal life by the world’s standards before virtually overnight having throngs of paparazzi capturing his or her every move and hundreds of thousands of fans. How does a person deal with that sort of fame? What happens to their relationships back home? And what about those young people who were better off before they auditioned? These ideas compelled me to write Fifteen Minutes.

3. Did you visit the set of an actual talent competition show prior to writing Fifteen Minutes?  

No, I never did. I have several friends who were successful on American Idol or The Voice and some who auditioned and made it many rounds before being cut. All of them have a similar story to tell about the pace and demands of the experience. It’s crazy busy, intense, and surreal—and always a little difficult to transition back into real life. Those who were most grounded going in tend to do the best in their lives post-show. I don’t know this for a fact, but there seems to be a wistfulness among the winners that the fame and success comes at a cost. For some it is a very great cost indeed. That much we know. My characters are not based on any real-life singers or competitors on these shows. But there is no doubt my years of watching Idol influenced my decision to take a fictional look at the phenomena of singing competitions.

4. Which character was the most enjoyable to develop?  

That’s a toss-up between Zack Ryan and Chandra Olson. Zack is wide-eyed and innocent, believing that he can take the trek to audition and remain unchanged no matter what happens. Chandra has seen the cost of fame and experienced it at a painful level that sets her apart even in a world of celebrity. Both are searching for purpose and meaning, for God’s leading and for His voice in what’s next. These two—more than anyone in Fifteen Minutes—are living, breathing people to me.

5. As a popular author, how have you handled some of the temptations illustrated in the book related to fame and the pursuit of “the big stage”?  

Authors have it a little easier than other public people at the top of their field. For the most part we go unrecognized and—at least for me—I make my life around those things that have nothing to do with me being an author. You can find me in the stands at our son’s high school football game or serving up spaghetti for our other boys’ soccer team. Someone might come up and say, “I loved your last book!” and it’ll take me a few beats to remember, “That’s right . . . I’m an author!” Seriously. I credit that to a couple important things. First, I write for God, for His purpose and His glory. So any good that comes of my work gets credited to Him. That pretty much settles the question of ego. Also, my dad told me a long time ago when he was still with us something I will remember always. He said, “Karen, there will be no autograph lines in heaven. Remember . . . you are only meeting people and making friends along the way.”

6. Are there safeguards and/or practices you have in place that help ground you in relationship with God rather than in the approval of your fans and readers?  

Again, words of wisdom from my dad have provided the best safeguards. He told me there will always be someone who will not like your work, and there will always be someone who does. Neither voice matters as much as God’s—who called you to write in the first place. When I write, I have an audience of One. His leading and approval are all that really matter. When I release a book, I pray it will touch hearts and change lives. Something only God can do. I feel grateful to be even a small part of that process.

7. What was the hardest part of writing this story for you?  

Treading carefully with the concept. Fifteen Minutes is entirely fiction, as are all the characters. But I was super aware of the real-life stories that have come from shows like American Idol and The Voice. Many people do well on these shows and go on to make a great impact on the world for God. This story wasn’t about the good that can come from a singing competition—but the cost it takes to find a place so quickly on such a big stage.

8. What advice would you give an “unknown” Christian author who wants to “make it big”?  

Hmmm. I smile at this question, because the question—in and of itself—is flawed. As a believer in Christ, our goal needs to be to make His love and salvation “big,” not ourselves. Any marketing I do, any publicity, any ideas meant to expand the number of readers who know my work, must first be rooted in ministry. I love my readers. I care about their hearts and lives and families. God puts a story in my heart, but He has their hearts in mind. When I pray for this to expand—it’s so that others might see Him at work in the stories. If they see that, then they are more apt to see Him at work in their own stories. My advice would simply be, “Write for Him.” Write the story He is calling you to write. The more keyed in you are to that calling, the more likely you’ll reach a lot of readers. If your goal is to “make it big,” most likely you won’t. Early on, when I first started writing novels, I would scan the bestsellers list every week hoping to see my name. I literally felt God convict me of that. He made it clear that my motives were wrong. I gave up looking at bestsellers lists, and I’ve stayed away from them ever since. Sure, I hear that a book has made the list, and I hear about sales. But I don’t seek out the information, and it’s not what drives me. The purpose needs to be rooted in His purpose. Only then will the books become all they can be. That’s been my experience.

9. Would you like to be a judge on a show like Fifteen Minutes? Why or why not?  

I would love to be a judge on such a show. I would be the compassionate one, the one encouraging people to keep searching for their passion, the thing God is calling them to do and be. It’d be super fun to see firsthand some of the talent that will one day reach the world. I’d love to be a voice of reason and direction for those singers—helping them stay grounded and to never believe the fame. Once you believe it, you’ve lost what matters most.

10. What kind of television shows do you most enjoy watching?  

We watch football and basketball, and beyond that we watch American Idol and Duck Dynasty. The endearing qualities of those shows resonate with our family and bring us together. But part of what makes our family special is that most of the time the TV is off.

11. The ending of the book is left to the reader’s imagination. How would you like to see Zack and Reese’s story end?  

I don’t think the answers will come easily for them. There’s lots to work out, lots to talk through. Reese has reason to doubt Zack now. Not just the mistakes he makes along his run of Fifteen Minutes, but also the motives that led him there in the first place. Still . . . that said . . . I see them together. Right? Don’t we all see them together eventually? Hmmm. Might have to write a postscript at some point ?

12. What can we expect from you next?  

I pray God allows me to continue writing a big novel each year, maybe two, depending on the season of life. Also, I will be writing a Bible study series soon. It’s called “Heart of the Story,” and it will be four books over four years. Each will feature short novels on the characters in the story of Jesus. The first focuses on the Family of Jesus, then the Friends of Jesus, the Followers of Jesus, and the Firsthand Encounters of Jesus. I’m partnering with our pastor at church—Jamie George—who is one of the great storytellers for Jesus of our day. He will write the teaching part, while I provide the short novel on each character. The goal is to make people fall in love with scripture, with the great story of the Bible, so that we would each see that we are a part of His story, more than we are a part of history. I also have another series stirring up in my heart. Beyond that there will be movies on many of my books, and for the first time I’ll be screenwriting—playing a major part in bringing the stories to life on the big screen.

About The Author

Photograph © Dean Dixon

Karen Kingsbury, #1 New York Times bestselling novelist, is America’s favorite inspirational storyteller, with more than twenty-five million copies of her award-winning books in print. Her last dozen titles have topped bestseller lists and many of her novels are under development as major motion pictures. Her Baxter Family books are being developed into a TV series slated to debut fall 2019. Karen is also an adjunct professor of writing at Liberty University. She and her husband, Donald, live in Tennessee near four of their adult children.

Product Details

  • Publisher: Howard Books (April 2014)
  • Length: 400 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781451687460

Raves and Reviews

“Inspirational fiction superstar Kingsbury considers the cost of fame [in] a tale that is sure to cause tears”

– Publishers Weekly

"Bestselling author Kingsbury (The Chance, 2013) drives straight to the heart of her characters as always in this
excellent tale of desire and faith, digging beneath the surface of her plot to fuel an emotionally driven story set within the exciting world of reality TV."

– Booklist

"Kingsbury has produced a new riveting page-turner of relatable characters and situations and the best ways to hang on to our faith in a world that no longer sees its value."

– CBA Retailers + Resources

"Christian novelist Kingsbury offers a faith-based look at an American Idol–style show and the inherent spiritual risks placed upon the contestants."

– Kirkus Reviews

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