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Interview With Chris Coppernoll

He's the author of six books, the founder and host of Soul2Soul Radio, has interviewed many prominent Christian artists such as Casting Crowns, Michael W. Smith, and Max Lucado, and has created a fund raising ministry using his first fiction release, Providence, as a way to help families facing liver and kidney transplants to raise funds. Chris Coppernoll kicks off our New Year here at ACFW with much to share about how he's taken publication to a whole new level, and his latest release, A Beautiful Fall.

Chris, in your first fiction release, Providence, you set a theme of how people can help meet the needs of others and created the Providence Cares Foundation. Can you give us a glimpse of this journey and how (or if) your latest release, A Beautiful Fall, will be a part of this ministry as well?

Providence Cares was my response to watching friends grapple with the overwhelming costs of catastrophic illness when their daughter became sick and needed a liver transplant. Like many of us, I believed their health insurance or a state agency would cover the treatment costs for health issues such as organ transplants, and all the aftercare medications that followed--but that isn't the case. Families are overwhelmed with the burden of raising tens of thousands of dollars themselves each year. Providence Cares gives families another means of raising support for transplantation and aftercare. When asked, I travel to the family's city bringing my first novel, Providence, and the child and I sign copies at a Providence Cares event. Their friends, co-workers, and family members make donations and the parents receive 100% of the money that's raised. It's a simple idea that just makes sense. For ten years, advances and royalties from all of my writing, including A Beautiful Fall, has flowed back into ministry which is where my heart is.

Reflecting back, what do you see as most significant to your publication journey thus far and at what point did you see your writing as a path to ministry?

From the very beginning I viewed writing and having a book I'd written published as a gift. I became a published author when a good friend of mine, publicist Brian Smith of Turning Point Media in Nashville, asked if I'd ever considered writing anything. Brian represented CCM artists like Third Day, Natalie Grant, and Michael W. Smith at the time, and also a few authors. Brian's work included meetings with then literary agent, now president and CEO of Thomas Nelson, Mike Hyatt. To be completely honest, I hadn't thought about writing before. My professional universe at the time was wrapped up in ministry and writing music. But I prayed about it, and met with Mike to pitch a non-fiction idea that centered around interviews with the Christian artists I'd worked with through my radio show, Soul2Soul. Mike green lighted the concept, his team gave it their endorsement, and within a few weeks we had a contract from Word Publishing.

You're a speaker, talk show host, interviewer, a deacon, and an author. And those are just the simple highlights! How do you keep a balance between all these areas AND find time to write?

You forgot the most important one - I'm single! :) A typical day starts at 6. I brew coffee, read Oswald Chambers and the Bible, and usually get into my office by 6:30 or 7. I like to write in the morning because it's my most creative hour. I go until about 11, break 30 minutes for lunch, and devote my afternoon to office and business responsibilities. I usually knock off late in the afternoon around 4 or 5, and then start up again at 8 and work until 11. Fortunately, I love what I do and recognize how special the gift of life is. Balance is a real struggle because no matter how powerfully I feel drawn to ministry and creativity, I still need lots of time with people. I'm pretty disciplined about work, but I have to draw myself away from it too. I have to spend time with friends and family, and take time for recreation. Those things are absolutely essential.

You have a tremendous platform, which seems to be neatly meshed and connected to each area (speaking, talk show host, author, etc.). Which came first, how did you approach this early on, and how do you maintain it?

God directed my journey. I had no radio experience except for being a volunteer at my local radio station which was something I just did in obedience (funny how God asks us to be faithful with small things). That lead to meeting Mike Becht, my broadcast partner, and getting the idea to launch Soul2Soul, which grew into an internationally syndicated radio show that airs in 800 places in 20 countries. I had no broadcast experience, so God made me a radio host. Then I had no writing experience, so God made me a published author. My experience is evidence to me of how God has a plan for our lives. I think one of the lessons I had to learn was how to surrender my life. My dream was to write and sing great songs, but God never blessed that dream. I worked as hard as I knew how, and there were crumbs along the way that I followed for a long time, but that path wasn't God's will for me. Once I surrendered those old dreams, He delivered me from myself and is making me into the man He had in mind all along.

What would you describe as your biggest obstacle in writing and how do you overcome it?

The biggest challenge for me is time. Writing isn't just writing. It's promotions and marketing, speaking engagements, book store signings, tours, and travel. I love all aspects of publishing, especially meeting readers and book store owners, but obviously it all starts with the writing. I have to allow myself time to break away from everything else and simply write.

What do you consider the highest moment of your writing/publishing/speaking career?

I've been fortunate to be awarded and given accolades in my life. It's one of the ways God shows His love for us. In 2001, my small town high school bestowed their "Distinguished Alumni Award" on me. I doubt there could be a higher moment for me since it was evidence of God's power to change my life. I'd been such a lackluster high school student. On my computer, I also have the recorded message from my literary agent, mentor, and friend, Chip McGregor, telling me that David C. Cook wanted to publish my first novel. That was a moment. I'd been writing Providence for over three years never knowing if it would be published or not. I'd had three non-fiction books published, but everybody told me getting a fiction contract was a whole other incline. Again, I just recognized God's direction in my life and world. I'd believed He would make Himself real, and He did. And when He moved, the experience was powerful.

Who/What is your greatest inspiration to write? Where do your story and character ideas come from?

My novels come to me in a flash of inspiration. I see the entire story as a shape in my imagination. It's vague, but it's usually all there. So when I sit at my Powerbook, as I did this morning in a very cold house, I'm communicating a story as much as I'm writing it. The novel is like a house I'm building. As a writer, I'm going room-by-room describing everything I see and all the people inside. Readers are the ones who are ultimately going to live there. At first, they may come through the door like strangers to a place where everything is unfamiliar. But if it's good, they move in and the story world will become like a home to them.

I come from a music background which I think is why my writing has been called lyrical. When I started in music, I found myself getting frustrated at times by what I wanted my lyrics to say. I kept feeling the need to expand the medium until it was larger than what music really was meant to carry. When the door opened for me to start writing books, suddenly I felt at home with a new artistic medium I'd never considered before. If God made me to be a writer, I always figured that's what I should be doing. This inspires me, and so does exploring the topics of God's love for us, and a man's love for a woman, those two themes that consume my novels.

What do you think makes your style of storytelling unique?

My readers say it's the realism of my characters and a compelling story. I get bored really easily so I write my stories to go places. I want my heart and my brain to be engaged at all times. So every scene, description, and figure of speech has to matter to me. Sometimes I test a story by flipping randomly through the printed manuscript and wherever my eyes land, I ask if that graph is important. I have the compulsion to write, think, and feel things simultaneously in my work. I think my readers have a desire to experience magnificent life moments too. They want to be swept up in a story that's bigger than real life, and yet feels like the extraordinary is the most normal thing there is. As Christians, that's actually true. God's love is great, and true love between men and women is extraordinary. When I write a fiction novel, those eternal truths are fictionalized, but they're merely captured in a creative yarn. My novels condense the weeks, months, and years of a story until it fits snugly into a 300 page arc. It's takes about 10 hours to read one of my novels. Readers tell me they start and finish the book in a day or two. Hopefully, that speaks to the way readers interact with the story.

Finish this question. For me writing is:
The creative outlet I was always searching for, but never knew it.

Any parting words for up-and-coming writers?
Be courageous, be brave, be honest, and above all, be yourself. Get your story on paper, and if it means something to you, it will mean something to someone else.

Thanks for sharing with us, Chris!
Thanks for the honor of being profiled by ACFW!

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