Karen Kingsbury's 'A Thousand Tomorrows' TV Series a Good Reminder to Cherish Each Day

Colin Ford, Rose Reid in ‘A Thousand Tomorrows”

Authors frequently get asked where the inspiration came from for their latest story. For some, it was something they experienced in their own life that was so unique and interesting that they felt it needed to be shared with a larger audience. For others, perhaps a flair of creativity allowed them to conjure up a story from their own imagination. For New York Times bestselling author Karen Kingsbury, the idea for her latest project came from a random encounter she had on an airplane.

In the new six-episode Pure Flix mini series, A Thousand Tomorrows (available now), which is based on Kingsbury’s novel of the same name, she found herself sitting beside a professional bull rider on a cross-country flight. He not only educated her about the sport, but also confided the precarious nature of his rough and tumble profession that could destroy his life in an instant.

Thus the seeds for a new writing project were planted. In what would eventually become a three-book series, A Thousand Tomorrows is about Cody Gunnar (Colin Ford), a nationally-known bull rider who stands apart from his peers, mainly because he has rejected everything about his past – family, friends, and anything not associated with the rodeo. But then Ali Daniels (Rose Reid), a fellow rodeo competitor enters his life. Together, they discover that God only knows how many tomorrows they will have together.

I recently sat down with Kingsbury, and her writing collaborator son, Tyler Russell, to discuss the process for adapting a novel into a television series, the vital importance of sacrifice and forgiveness in our lives, and the realization that God only knows what our tomorrows hold.

As a writer, you have ideas and concepts floating through your mind for stories all the time. Where did the idea for A Thousand Tomorrows come from? I don’t picture you as someone being deeply involved in rodeo circles.

Karen Kingsbury: No, I’m not. My husband grew up in Santa Maria, California, and he loves rodeo. So he would take me and kids and we would go. I had to watch bull riding like this. I would have to cover my eyes because it’s so scary. Anything could happen. But what happened for this story, I was talking to a friend and she was having a really hard day, and she told me that it had been the one year anniversary of her daughter-in-law’s passing. And she went on to explain that the daughter-in-law had passed from cystic fibrosis. And then she added another layer. She said, “Not only that, but my son gave her one of his lungs.” And I said, oh my goodness. He gave her a lung and it didn’t work.

And she said, “No, it actually did. It worked. And they always said it would only bother them for three years.” So then I couldn’t get that thought out of my head. Three years? So, for A Thousand Tomorrows it was like that you would love someone so much that you would give them a lung for a thousand tomorrows. And I knew I needed to write that story somehow. I didn’t know where it would end up. And then I shared a flight with one of the top rodeo bull riders in the world. He was decked out in his gear. And I ended up just kind of talking to him and interviewing him about what that was like, and how could you get on a bull and get through those eight seconds? It was so fascinating.

And when I got off the plane, it was like the Lord said, “There’s your guy. You have to write about a bull rider.” And so of course, a girl with cystic fibrosis who would be a barrel racer would mean that she was embracing life, knowing it would be less than a number of days in the quality of what I was calling her to do. So, there’s the angry bull rider who had some issues with his dad and the sick barrel racer. It became this love story that became one of my favorite ones I’ve ever written about.

The initial book for this series came out in 2005 with Just Beyond the Clouds and This Side of Heaven following that.  What does the process look like for adapting the written page to a television series?

Tyler Russell: I think the process is going back to the source material. I spent a lot of time in the original novel, which I was very familiar with because I grew up with the writer. Having a mom who’s such a great storyteller, I got to read and reread the book. And then we sat down and outlined it. From that point we thought now we have a series. We have six one-hour long episodes to tell the story. So, that meant we could keep a lot of the novel in there. And then it became fun to see, well, how does this episode end? And how does this one begin and how can we tell this story over almost six hours? And once we felt good about the outline together and where we were going to go, then I just took it and wrote the episodes. When they were finished, we got back together and read through them together. We almost did like a two person table reading and read out all the characters and all the stage directions. And then, she would critique it or just kind of bring a little bit back to the story. 

Karen Kingsbury: One of the things Tyler’s so good at, and why I trusted him, is I knew he would stay true to the message. He would stay true to the content. But also he’s funny. So, he was able to bring in some quirky characters. I could have a scene in a book where two people are sitting on the couch and it could be gripping. It’s not gripping when you’re watching television. Tyler’s really good at knowing when we need some humor here and when to bring in a kind of quirky character here. I was blown away at how he was able to do that. And so, yes, sometimes it would be let’s get back a little more to the story. His first draft was amazing. 

As you have mentioned, you are a mother-son team working on this.  Does that make the process more difficult for you or do you have this certain shorthand (on the same wavelength) that makes the process easier?

Karen Kingsbury: I feel like there are moments where there’s going to be a disagreement of how we see things, but I guess when it comes down to it, I fully respect Tyler as a writer. He is a writer in his own right. If I had to pick somebody to collaborate with, I would’ve chosen him. So, because I respect him, if I just learned to listen a little bit better, he’ll make what we have stronger. So, I think that’s helped. I wanted to make sure that I didn’t come into it thinking I have more experience than you. I come into it saying, you have your giftings and I’m thankful to have you here, so let’s get to it. Let’s serve the story like we said. And I think because we’re family, we’re not going anywhere, right? Even in a disagreement, the Lord’s brought us together as family and we’ll figure it out if there’s a disagreement. Mostly we just want to serve the story. And so, it’s helpful to say, all right, I think this is a better idea, but I trust you and that you want to serve the story. So let’s go with it. And usually, in prayer and in unity, the best version of the story in collaborating comes to the surface.

The basic theme for A Thousand Tomorrows is that God only knows how many tomorrows we have left. And especially in the competitive rodeo world this concept is only intensified by the violent nature of the sport. Why is it so important to express this theme through the lives of your lead characters Cody and Ali?

Tyler Russell: For Cody, he has all this anger and I think it keeps him really at bay for people who love him and care about him. And definitely his relationship with the Lord is impacted because of his relationship with his earthly father. And he learns through seeing how Ali lives, how she takes a hold of her one life that God’s given her and lives it to the fullest. He sees that anger doesn’t help. It’s only hurting everything. Forgiveness is powerful. And if we really do only have today, then let’s love well, let’s forgive well, and make the best of the time that we’re given. We just don’t know. You don’t know how many days you have. You might have a thousand tomorrows, but you might not. You may have more, you may have less. You don’t want regrets like carrying around bitterness, anger, and rage. That’s definitely one of the themes here. Just let that go. Let’s see what God’s going to do with your life next.

There are so many important themes in this story, the ones that quickly come to mind are sacrifice, faith, and devotion. Of these three, which one do you see as the most vital in capturing the essence of A Thousand Tomorrows? 

Karen Kingsbury: I would say God has called us to this deep relationship with Him through a day by day walk. Don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. But in this day, let go of the rage, the bitterness, the unforgiveness, and embrace the love that He has right in front of you. We’re living in a very divided time, so I really feel like A Thousand Tomorrows, when it airs on Pure Flix, is a story for our times. We are being called to let go of those things that divide us, go above it with God’s grace, and find love again because you don’t get to do it over.

After people have watched an episode of A Thousand Tomorrows, or hopefully the entire series, what would you like your audience to get out of the viewing experience? What is your greatest hope for the series?

Karen Kingsbury: With Pure Flix, we have created six 10-minute teaching videos, one per episode. And then they’ve created a study guide that goes with that, with questions and some Bible verses. I hope that people come together. We are a bingeable society that binges our programming. I think it’s a show that needs to be shared. Whether you’re watching it with groups or you’re re-watching it with your Bible study group or your neighbors, it’s something that needs to be talked about. We all have wounds and fears, and feel isolated in different ways. So, this is a show that really sparks conversation. And with the Bible study that Pure Flix is providing, I think it provides a great opportunity to pray for healing, to talk about forgiveness, and to not just consume it, but to take it in so you can share it with others. I hope people will say this show impacted me. I believe it can change the trajectory of your life and your heart.

Watch a Trailer for A Thousand Tomorrows: