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Rich Christiano

Interview: Christopher Hopper

[Photo of Christopher Hopper] Christopher Hopper is the author of Rise of the Dibor and The Lion Vrie, published by Tsaba House (2006 and 2007), and one of the members of the 2007 Fantasy Fiction Tour. He joined Christian Fandom for an interview in January 2008. Questions were asked by Shannon McNear, and here is an edited version of the Q&A sequence.

SM: Christopher (do you prefer Chris ... ?), welcome to Christian Fandom. Here's the first round of stock questions, just to get things started. Tell us about your background, birthplace, where and when you grew up, what your childhood was like, etc.?

Thanks for having me! Great to be here. And I prefer Christopher, but I don't get in a tizzy if people forget (although my wife has a much different mind on the matter).

I was born in Ithaca, the gorgeous Finger Lakes region of Central New York. Most people think of Cornell University and Ithaca College. I think of sailing Cayuga Lake and hiking with my old three-legged dog MacGyver.

Childhood for me was a tremendous experience, surrounded by loving, God-fearing parents who were passionate about God, His people and the creative arts. I was raised in a church called Love Inn (eventually Covenant Love Church & School). It was basically a huge Christian commune full of post-60's hippies who met Jesus (no, really). It was big into loving God, loving people and using your gifts for God. People like Phil Keaggy, Scott Ross, Bob Mumford and others came out of there. It had its negatives, too, like the "Shepherding movement" birthed out of Columbia, which, sadly, hurt a lot of people. But my parents somehow were successful at shielding me and my sisters from the junk for the most part.

In turn, I was brought up in a home, church and Christian school that were filled with music, painting, photography and dance all incorporated into almost every aspect of life, including Sunday morning church services. I still remember the first time I attended a "more orthodox" church service with a friend as a 10 year old. I asked, "What's wrong with everyone?"

Since then I have come to love the various expressions of the Christian faith across the world, thinking of them like flavors of ice cream (am I a heretic for saying that?): some just ain't my flavor, but it's still ice cream. And I've really come to love the Bride of Christ as a whole. It's easy to point fingers and accuse. But I have to remember that the Church was not my idea. It's the Father's. And He seems to think pretty highly of her, blemishes and all.

As my dad was one of the pastors of the church, as well as a business owner (still owns and operates a multi-million dollar recording facility outside of Ithaca...and pastors at Reach Out For Christ Church), I had three resulting loves birthed in me: a love for music and recording, a love for preaching the Word and a love for business. But more on this in a second.

Grade school led into fours years at a large public high school. And contrary to what many people may think, I wouldn't trade those four years for anything. It gave me a love for perishing teenagers that fuels what I now do, primarily my work as a Teen & College Pastor (my day job). It was the first time my faith was tested, and the first time I made faith-based goals--one of which being that I made a vow that by the time I was a senior, everyone in my school would know I loved Jesus more than anything else, and that He loved them. To this day I still have high school friends look me up for advice. All glory goes to the Lord for that.

SM: Educational background? What did you take, and why?

This is probably one of the most interesting, humbling and quite frankly HARD aspects of my life. If I were to ask you what majors you would select in college for the following, please let me know: youth pastor, restaurant franchise owner, counselor, worship leader, record producer, international conference speaker, discipleship school president, author, artist management director, film company owner, and last but not least husband and daddy.

My theory was that while most people were learning about how to do something over four years, I would already be done doing it. A fairly immature statement to make as a sub-humanoid-teenager, but not entirely without merit.

So my form of "school" was much different (that's an understatement). While I had a number of full-ride scholarships to some major Ivy League schools, I turned them all down. I say that with no pride, just an understanding that God had something different for me. And trust me, it took many years for that "something" to develop (shucks, it still is!). I was waiting tables, cleaning up beer, selling cell phones and mowing lawns before I got my first invitation to preach at a church outside of my own.

My parents, God bless 'em, knew, too. Rather than scold me for "an irrational and irresponsible" decision to turn down "higher education," they knew that God had a Higher education for me. Not better. Just particular to me as an individual. It was around 21 that God began to open doors. And when He opens them, He goes big. In a matter of months I was flying to South Africa, Holland and France to preach, teach and lead worship. And to learn. This little country bumpkin from Freeville, NY was suddenly on stages around the world challenging young people to live passionately for Christ.

That love and passion has never died. Now, I use any means I can to affect the lives and the culture of young people. From music and writing to preaching and raising money (as all our businesses are Kingdom businesses), we want to see Jesus made famous in and through the lives of students. I feel like the most unqualified person in the world to be doing half of what I'm doing (and less so for the rest!), but God is faithful. He uses the foolish things of this world to confound the wise. I guess you could saying I'm a walking confounder.

Boy, that doesn't sound good.

SM: What is your family situation? (Married? Kids? 1.7 dogs?)

Married to my beautiful Jennifer Lee, and father of Evangeline Mae (almost 3) and Luik Christopher (just turned 1).

Four horses (Quarter Horses and Paints only!): Silas, Grehta, Gus & Toby

If you got this far, thanks for reading a little about my life. I'm honored that you'd make such an investment with your time. May you drawn closer to Jesus for it.

SM: How did you get started writing?

Well, I think a better question is, first, "How did you get started reading?"

I was marked as a "slow reader" in grade school, so that naturally turned me off to reading. If my English teachers only knew how many of my book reports I bulled my way through. I was creative enough (and attentive enough) to pick up in class what the books were about and then I'd deliver some snazzy report with music or art and get an "A" on every project. The fact was, I didn't even read the first page of the first chapter.

My genuine desire to read was further repressed as I went through high school, the only thing I remember reading being Lord of The Flies, which left me feeling quite disturbed. (Cool story, just not the most positive thing ever written).

It wasn't until I was eighteen that my best friend handed me The Song of Albion Trilogy by Stephen Lawhead relentlessly hounded me saying, "Bro, you have to read these. Trust me." I begrudgingly sat down and forced myself to read the first page, and then the second. Within two or three weeks I had them all read and I had discovered the amazing world of books.

I remember finishing those books and immediately thought, "If I ever write something, I want to write like that." Needless to say Lawhead is a master. But I was connecting with both his ability to inspire the imagination as well as his love for the ancient and his ability to bring the archaic to life. And it was more than apparent he was a Christian. In that moment a seed was planted, one that, above all, said, "You can write." It was God, really. He was stirring something in my heart.

I started writing with the aim to draft an actual book about two years after high school. But I lost the manuscript 3 times in the following 8 years. (As I'm typing this, my new iMac is backing up to my LaCie external hard drive automatically). <chuckle> Finally, in the summer of 2004 during a lull in our touring schedule, the Holy Spirit really impressed upon me to finish Book I which was later published as Rise of the Dibor in 2006.

After my first book was published, I wrote Mr. Lawhead and thanked him for being used by the Lord to inspire me. As a result I've had the privilege of striking up a small friendship with him, conversing from time to time, and count it a deep privilege to be able to communicate with one of my heroes in literature.

SM: What works have you had published? (not restricting yourself to SF/F titles) Articles, short stories?

My proudest two works, and the "most legitimate," would have to be Rise of The Dibor (Tsaba House, 2006) and The Lion Vrie (Tsaba House, 2007), books one and two of The White Lion Chronicles (TWLC). I've also had some brief stints writing for Christian newspapers, blogs and most recently for our church newsletters and websites. I try and keep my own blog regularly stocked with text; how inspiring it is remains to be seen.

SM: Of your works, which one is your favorite? (including works in progress)

I'm currently 42,000 words in to Book III of TWLC 9(about a third of the way through). After a year of inactivity on it, I have finally delved back into the swing of writing it on January 1st. Accordingly, I think it's the best work yet (which I think all authors would hope for: that their latest work is their best work). But I am also working on a new concept (currently in the outlining stages) which I'm really pumped about. Not at liberty to discuss it right now as I'm under some strict contract parameters. But as soon as I can, I'll be announcing it on my site.

So, that's the first set in the bag. Thanks for reading!

SM: Christopher, thank you so much for the thoughtful responses to the first set of questions. Here's the second set (you may have partially answered many of these!). Who are your influences as a writer, and why?

My pleasure. Sorry for taking so long to get back to the list on the second set. We're pretty busy right now.

In fiction, as I mentioned before, Stephen Lawhead is a big one. I admire his pace and his love for Celtic folklore. I also enjoy Robert Ludlum for his pioneering work in the modern spy-thriller. Matthew Riley, because he's a young buck like myself, and loves gratuitous action sequences and knows a thing or two about guns (even though he's Australian...where guns are, for the most part, illegal). Classics, I like George MacDonald, Tolkien and Lewis because they could say more with one sentence than most people can in a whole chapter.

Non-fiction, I like the classic writings and sermons of John G. Lake, William Carey, Wigglesworth, Spurgen and Edwards. Growing up, my father performed a full-dressed verion of Jonathan Edwards' "Sinners In The Hands of An Angry God." You could say that inspired me toward those works. I also like more modern writings by John Eldredge and Donald Miller; I find them creative and, while not the best examples of "true literary works," I do find them compelling with regard to communicating to my generation.

SM: What was the first exposure you can remember having to SF/F as a genre?

I remember attending Christian grade school and our teachers read Tales of The Kingdom and The Chronicles of Narnia to us. The stories captivated me to this day (and I'm about to buy some old copies of Tales of The Kingdom simply for posterity...and to read to my children).

SM: What is your personal all-time favorite SF/F work, and why?

Wow...that's really a hard question. I'd really have to refer to the last set of responses and say The Song of Albion Trilogy. It's what sparked the desire to write in me--I don't know how I could ever separate myself from that.

SM: What is your faith stance, and how does it affect your writing?

For the risk of being offensive to those who don't agree with my terminology, I'm simply providing you with a disclaimer before you read the following sentences: you'll probably be offended. But I still love your guts and hope you love mine, too.

I'm a born-again, Bible-believing, spirit-filled, tongue-talking, pentecostal raised in a charismatic church. I'm pretty outspoken in persona and public setting and believe that a Christian's love for Jesus should be naturally contagious.

Whether the subject matter of my writing is overtly Christian or on a topic of a political or artistic nature, I doubt there's little you could separate from my faith.

Interestingly enough, I'm working on a book with absolutely no direct reference to God or religion (really), writing for a completely modern- secular audience, but stands as a loud parable of the Church's view (or lack thereof) toward the perishing world, and calls for a "type" of repentance on both sides.

I am grateful for my publisher, Tsaba House. Because we share much of the same theology, they printed portions of my books that I know more theologically conservative publishers would have cut. Those things are important to me as they're tenants of my faith. Just wanted to give them a little shout out.

SM: What Christian book(s) (fiction or non-fiction) have had the greatest impact on your thought and writing?

I think C.S. Lewis and his step-son, Douglas Gresham, have had the biggest impact on my writing and thought life. Jack is a master, especially in his works of non-fiction (Mere Christianity is a force). And Doug's influence, of both his own works and his personal friendship to me and my family, especially through times of crisis, have been invaluable.

SM: What NON-Christian book(s) (fiction or non-fiction) have had the greatest impact on your thought and writing?

Stephen King's On Writing. While the first section is a lot of his life's story, the second section is his personal tip tool-box, if you will. For anyone serious about writing a book, this falls into my "must read" file. While I think the man is in deep physical and spiritual need of a touch from Jesus, he is a genius and a proven success. I think any author would be mistaken not to at least entertain his wisdom.

SM: Okay, third set of questions ... :-) When you write, have you ever come across theological "puzzles" you had to sort through to your own satisfaction before you could continue with the story?

Sure! And they're not always solvable. Some of the most basic ones, a number of them being the premisses for my entire first book series, are fundamental debates on the nature and fall of man. Was man inherently evil (the desire already in him) or did he choose to be evil (allowing it to come into him)? Does it make a difference? Can you escape from the love of God or, if you do, were you really "saved" to begin with? Are you an Armenian or a Calvinist? Do you like soft tacos or hard shell?

I certainly have my own leanings, my own opinions, if you will. Obviously these questions are age old and I'm certainly not going to raise my hand and say I'm smarter than all those who have gone before me. "Ooh, pick me! Pick me!" I'm far from qualified. But, using at least the foundations of shared truth, I hoped, with my first books, to create a story which did one thing: focused on the Savior. I love theology and a good debate. But sometimes we get so caught up in the particulars (many of which I believe we'll simply never know) that we forget about the intent; that a perfect God would forfeit his own life for that of His Creation. If our notions and musings ever take away from that simple, life-altering, eternally contingent truth, than they have served a horrid purpose of distracting us from the most important Truth.

On a lighter note, other things did pop up. The most interesting was when my publisher asked me why, in Dionia, the sun rises in the West and sets in the East (the opposite of earth). Because of the amount of theological reference to the happenings in the East (from the Tabernacle and its East entrance to Jesus returning in the East), a question was raised if I was being a heretic. Certainly, no one was actually accusing me of this, but it was a topic for discussion. The concept in my writings was not just something I was trying to do to be creative, it actually had deep significance, significance which the reader would understand until the third book. Because it hadn't been written at the time of the first one (when this discussion was being had), I had to outline the concept to the CEO. Once she heard it, she said, "Ah, I see. Go with it." It taught me a lesson. Sometimes we see something that appears to be foul or off base in art, but many times it's because we don't clearly understand the intention of the artist. The whole East-West concept in Dionia serves one purpose: to show how all-inclusive the birth, death, resurrection and return of Christ are. (To understand, you'll just have to read my books!). ;)

SM: What do you do when you aren't writing?

Husband, daddy, pastor, musician, speaker, restauranteur, record producer. Please refer to the first set of questions.

SM: What sorts of things stir the pot of creativity for you? Music, artwork, certain films, etc.

I love the film medium. Powerful. I like movies that are shot beautifully (good cinematography) and have a unique score. I tend to like music that's off the beaten path. This probably stems from growing up in a recording studio. My tolerance for the "Top 40" is about the same as it if for having my finger nails pulled out. (Sorry, no comparison; but you get the picture). Most of the music I like is from musicians that you'll never hear about on records that you probably can't ever buy. Having seen thousands of musicians walk through my father's studio doors, I was convinced early on that the best performers and writers will never be heard on the radio. That's because the "industry" is based on money and "who you know," very rarely is it on the caliber of musician you are.

SM: Do you have a favorite place for writing?

My home, actually. For some reason I love to sit right in the kitchen, surrounded by activity, and create. I know that's crazy. But I'm just not inspired in my office. I like my PJ's, sweatshirt and pot of coffee. Sure, sometimes it gets too chaotic and I steal away into a quieter room. But just as long as I'm home.

SM: Do you try to work each day until you're "done," or do you have certain hours, or daily word count goal?

I'm a dyed-in-the-wool morning person. When I'm working on a book or under a deadline, I'm up at 6am and shoot for 3,000 by 11:00 am. Sometimes I write 4,000 and it's 12 noon. Sometimes it's 9:30 am and I have to go into work with only 1,200 words in the can. But, as a rule of thumb, I like the early morning hours and my personal goal is 3,000 words.

SM: Do you tend more toward outlining, or do you work with just a general idea of where the story is going, and the characters just tend to take over on the details?

Bryan Davis writes completely by the seat of his pants. Amazing. Wayne Thomas Batson is an outlining fiend. Equally amazing. I'm somewhere in the middle. I write an initial outline in both story form and list form (bullet points of events). Then I keep a running log of characters, events, place names and key descriptions are spontaneous points of foreshadowing. Having a Mac with Expose helps a lot as I normally have four or five Word documents open at a time.

SM: Also, you wrote: "Interestingly enough, I'm working on a book with absolutely no direct reference to God or religion (really), writing for a completely modern-secular audience, but stands as a loud parable of the Church's view (or lack thereof) toward the perishing world, and calls for a "type" of repentance on both sides." This is intriguing. :-)

Thanks. It's been a real "Spirit Inspired" concept. God gave me the idea while driving home late one night on Rt. 81 north. Maybe too much coffee, maybe too little sleep. But either way, I got the entire story, from start to finish "deposited" into my spirit in about an hour (for lack of a better term).

SM: Could you tell us more about the trilogy you're working on? Your vision for the story, the response to it? And what are your plans for after it's finished--more fiction, or not?

I'm halfway through Book III (not yet named). Certainly it's the most poignant of the three and the most fun to write. Sadly it's also the one I've had the least amount of consistent time to put into. The story has developed far better than I had hoped for. The Lion Vrie (Book II) is "more favorite" than Rise of The Dibor (Book I) which is always what you want to hear (Book III being "the best!"). And the word-of-mouth, grass-roots marketing of the book has really begun to take off. I always hoped for a big national marketing campaign (who doesn't?), but the loyalty of my readers you can't buy with money. I feel so blessed to be a true "recommendation." That means a lot.

And when it's finished? I have 9 new book ideas, most of which are fiction, from Sci-Fi to modern thrillers. The remaining are books for helping youth ministries in small towns (something I'm very passionate about).

SM: Christopher, thanks so much, again, for the thoughtful answers! The last question is this ... what 3 bits of advice would you give new (or not so new) writers?

1.) Read. After all the tips are given, after the writer's conferences are over and all your personal study is exhausted, the best thing you can do in terms of strengthening your writing is to read. I've never read so much as I have after I was published. Books have not only become friends, but teachers in their own art.

2.) Don't give up. Bryan Davis carries around a stack of over 200 rejection letters when he speaks to audiences about writing. 200. Yet he's by far the most successful Christian author I know personally. If the Lord is inspiring you, be faithful to not give up on His Word. After all, He's not giving up on you anytime soon.

3.) Make Your Family Your First Book. We writers tend to spend a lot of time stuck in front of a finger-smudged computer monitor. That's a lousy waste of time when all is said and done. I'm busy writing stories that I hope change, challenge and inspire people. Maybe even see them into paradise. But the most important story is the one I'm writing with my wife and my children. And God will hold me accountable to how I authored it long before He holds me accountable to how I authored a vaporized bundle of paper back novels.


Christopher Hopper

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[Karen Hancock][Miles Owens][Robert Liparulo][Bryan Davis, part 2][Chris Walley][Kathryn Mackel][Gene Wolfe][Sharon Hinck][Wayne Thomas Batson][Lars Walker][Christopher Hopper][Jeffrey Overstreet]

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