This reading group guide forFifteen Minutesincludes 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.
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.