Author Chris Coppernoll Discusses Challenges to Writing Christian Fiction
Written by Mike & Paula K. Parker
(Originally published on www.lifeway.com, Oct. 28, 2008)
Many know Chris Coppernoll as the host of the popular radio talk show “Soul2Soul.” An accomplished interviewer, Chris has shared his microphone with everyone from Amy Grant to Max Lucado. Although he had previously written a number of successful non-fiction titles, Chris felt the creative need to express his faith though the medium of fiction, which proved more difficult to break into than one might expect given his stature in the industry. His persistence paid off, however, when his first novel, Providence, met with both critical and commercial success. His second novel, A Beautiful Fall, has just hit the shelves. Mike and Paula K. Parker recently chatted with Chris about the challenges of writing Christian fiction.
Mike & Paula K. Parker: It’s been barely a year since Providence was released, yet here you are with a new novel. Things are happening pretty quickly.
Chris Coppernoll: My publisher wanted me to take 18 months to turn in the second manuscript, but that just felt like a long time between books to me. I asked them if I could write it over the fall of 2007 and get it to them in January of 2008, so it could be on the shelves by the fall of 2008. For the life of me I don’t know why they agreed, but they did. I wrote the book over a 12-week period. At the same time all the promotional stuff for Providence was kicking in – I was doing interviews and speaking at colleges, I had house guests come in, and of course it was the holiday season. It was a pretty intense time in my life. I turned the manuscript in at 11:59 p.m. on the due date. I got it in by the skin of my teeth.
Parkers: A Beautiful Fall is your second novel, but not your second book. You also have several non-fiction titles to your credit. How does being a novelist differ from writing non-fiction?
Coppernoll: With non-fiction you are teaching, encouraging, and coaching people to think in a new way about something they may have never considered before. With fiction you are telling a story that you are making up, in a setting that you are making up, with a past, present, and future that you are making up, all so that people get swept up into the story but walk away with something that gets sunk deeply into their hearts and hopefully changes their lives.
Letters that I got from my non-fiction books were all head stuff. With the novels I get full page letters. Their minds and hearts are completely absorbed by the story. The world goes away when you read a novel. Along with movies, the novel is one of the most powerful art forms we have.
Parkers: What challenges did you encounter switching from non-fiction to fiction?
Coppernoll: It took a long time to get published. Honestly, I didn’t know if my first novel would ever get published. It seemed good to me, but you never know because every author is in love with his own work. I went through a series of contacts before I finally was introduced to my agent. He sent the novel out and within a week I had an offer.
Parkers: There is a criticism of Christian fiction that goes something like this – “I have an agenda and I will wrap a story around it to get my point across.” As a result, a lot of Christian fiction, quite frankly, is just not very good literature. What is your philosophy when it comes to writing fiction?
Coppernoll: A novel is first and foremost a story. Because I am a person of faith and conviction it naturally shapes my creative process. I can tell when I feel like it its time to say something deep and spiritual. But if you try to fit that square peg into a round hole, it just doesn’t work. You have this rhythm as a writer when you know when things work.
My writing is always about my faith. It is always about how I think about people and relationships. It has many redemptive qualities. A Beautiful Fall in particular is all about home and lifelong friendships. It’s about the quaint town square where everyone knows and cares about each other. It’s about neighborhood and community. Growing up in a small town, it is an environment I am familiar with.
I’ve said before that in Christian fiction the characters feel like they are made of gingerbread to me. They are not flesh and blood people. I want my readers to be able to identify with the struggles that even the good people have in my books.
Parkers: You’ve written two novels in the contemporary fiction genre. Do you feel any need to burst out of that and try something totally different?
Coppernoll: I’ve got 50 more of these! (laughs) Once you start the creative process it is like firecrackers going off. I’ll get six or seven chapters into a book and I’ll get an idea for another story. I’ll have to fight the temptation to stop writing this one and start writing the next one. I’m 14,900 words away from being finished with the first draft of my third novel and I’ve already got the idea for the next one.
Parkers: What does it take to successfully promote a novel?
Coppernoll: Every author, agent, and publishing house is asking that question and nobody knows. Even successful authors have to get out and talk with people about their books. You have to have the mindset of the guy who sells his novels out of the trunk of his car. Banner ads on websites are not going to cut it. You have to touch lives, and that means getting in front of people.
Parkers: You established a charity that tied in with your first novel. Can you talk about that a bit?
Coppernoll: It’s called Providence Cares and it helps raise money for families when their child needs an organ transplant. It is a fundraising event that been very successful the times we have done it. I’m very committed to it and I’d love to have more opportunity to do that for families in need.
For more information of Chris Coppernoll or Providence Cares visit http://www.providencebook.com/
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