Author’s daughter inspired character; now she chats with fans in that role

By Mary Ann Albright, Columbian Staff Reporter

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On the Web:

Interact with the character Bailey Flanigan, as interpreted by Kelsey Russell, at: http://on.fb.me/i6FX4T

Russell also can be seen in the trailer for “Leaving,” the first book in the new Bailey Flanigan series written by Russell’s mother, best-selling Vancouver Christian-fiction author Karen Kingsbury. The trailer is on the Bailey Flanigan Official Facebook page, on YouTube and on Kingsbury’s website: http://karenkingsbury.com

“Leaving” was released on March 22. The second book, “Learning,” will be out on June 21, followed by “Longing” this fall and “Loving” in late spring 2012.

On Facebook, more than 10,200 people “Like” Bailey Flanigan, the central character in a new series by best-selling Vancouver Christian-fiction author Karen Kingsbury.

Readers turn to the site to weigh in on Bailey’s adventures and seek advice about everything from dating to faith to friends and family.

Bailey may be fictional, but the advice and support her fans receive is real and comes from someone deeply connected to the character.

Kelsey Russell, Kingsbury’s daughter and the inspiration for Bailey, spends between 30 minutes and two hours each day interacting with fans on the Bailey Flanigan Official Facebook page (http://on.fb.me/i6FX4T). The page makes it clear that Bailey is not a licensed counselor, but is “a good listener and a super great friend.”

The Facebook presence began in early September as a way to build excitement for the four-book series, which launched March 22 with “Leaving.” It follows Bailey as she moves away from her close-knit family and her hometown of Bloomington, Ind., to pursue a career on Broadway. But the Facebook page quickly became more to Russell than a promotional tool.

“I love it,” said the 21-year-old, who currently lives at home in Vancouver and studies theater arts at the University of Portland. “I definitely think that it’s a ministry opportunity. I think a lot of young girls in high school and college are looking for that role model figure, and I feel very honored that I get to play the character of Bailey.”

Bailey may be a product of Kingsbury’s imagination, but she’s rooted in and inspired by Russell.

“Kelsey has always been a very rare girl, the sort of daughter a mother could only hope and pray for. Through high school she refused to go with the crowd, and instead became very close to me and to our family,” Kingsbury said. “My relationship with Kelsey through her growing-up years inspired the character of Bailey Flanigan.”

Bailey was first introduced as a secondary character in Kingsbury’s “Firstborn” series, and readers followed her through the “Sunrise” and “Above the Line” series. In “Leaving” and the three Bailey Flanigan books to succeed it, the character takes center stage. Russell’s picture appears on the cover of “Leaving,” and will be on the covers of the third and fourth books, as well.

Russell relates to much about Bailey’s character, including their shared passion for musical theater. Russell grew up singing, dancing and acting, and participated in Christian Youth Theater and Portland’s Northwest Children’s Theater and School. She hopes to pursue acting as a career.

The 2008 Skyview High School graduate studied at Clark College for two years before she, like Bailey, left home to pursue the arts. Russell spent a semester studying theater arts at Azusa Pacific University in California.

“I can relate to leaving everything you know and experiencing a new journey,” she said.

Russell decided Azusa Pacific wasn’t the right fit for her, and transferred to the University of Portland in January.

The similarities between her and Bailey extend beyond career aspirations. Both Russell and Bailey are committed to their family, and both have five younger brothers.

“Bailey is super-close to her family and best friends with her mom, and that’s how my mom and I are,” she said.

Their Christian faith is also central to both women.

“My faith in God helps me every day,” Russell said. “It’s a daily relationship. It’s something you have to pursue with your heart. Bailey does the same thing.”

Despite the similarities, the books are fiction. Bailey, for example, has a love interest named Cody Coleman who is a longtime family friend. Russell says there is no Cody in her life.

Cody does, however, have a Clark County connection beyond Kingsbury. Solomon Rexius, a 26-year-old Eugene, Ore., native now living in Camas while he attends Western Seminary in Portland, was selected to portray Cody. Rexius’ photo will be featured on the cover of the second book in the series, “Learning,” and he appears in a video on Kingsbury’s website introducing the character (http://karenkingsbury.com).

Russell also is featured in a video on the site that serves as a trailer for “Leaving.” The video can be found on YouTube and on the Bailey Flanigan Official Facebook page, as well.

Filming the trailer was exciting for Russell, who wants to move into television and film acting. Kingsbury said there’s talk of developing a television series featuring Bailey. If that comes about, Russell said she’d like to audition for the part.

For now, though, Russell is enjoying her mentoring role as Bailey’s Facebook voice.

“I think it’s a gift if you get to be in the public eye, and that gift can only come from God, and it’s how you use that platform,” she said.

Mary Ann Albright: maryann.albright@columbian.com, 360-735-4507.