Please Welcome…Christopher Hopper
(*Originally posted December 2007)
What a joy to have Christian author Christopher Hopper as our interview guest at WhereTheMapEnds.com.
Christopher is the author of two Christian fantasy novels, Rise of the Dibor and The Lion Vrie (both by Tsaba House). He is a youth pastor, blogger, entreprenuer, and musician who loves life and lives it to the fullest (which is, he says, another way of saying he can be a workaholic).
He has dedicated himself to preaching the gospel at home and abroad. He says he loves the Lord above all and his wife and children next, with, we suppose, writing coming closely behind.
Christopher was the fourth Musketeer on the Fantasy Four fiction tour in the summer of 2007, along with Bryan Davis, Sharon Hinck, and Wayne Thomas Batson, all of whom have been intereviewed here on WhereTheMapEnds.
And now, the interview.
WhereTheMapEnds: Catch us up with what’s going on in your life.
Christopher Hopper: Our church is undergoing a massive surge of growth, including the youth group, which has gone from about 20 to well over 100. As a result I’m training up about 30 youth leaders to “do” the work of the ministry. The church itself is preparing to move from an 1820s stone building to a renovated movie theatre in the middle of Watertown, NY. Needless to say, this is a massive undertaking from all those on staff.
In September we launched a two-year discipleship training school called DIBOR, so I’ve been busy helping that get off the ground. So far it’s doing very well having attracted students from all over the world with only word of mouth advertising and a small web presence.
Business-wise, I’m opening a new pizza buffet franchise in our city this winter as a “Kingdom business,” where the profits are used to fund missions locally and abroad as well as to start more businesses in the hopes of teaching churches how to have a role in the marketplace.
Artistically, I’m mixing my ninth music album, a live CD recorded back in June at a fabulous coffee house called The Lyric in Clayton, NY. It’s a guitar duet project with virtuoso Paul Rohling from Michigan. I’ve wanted to do a live acoustic CD for a long time, and that time finally arrived this year. To be released this winter, the album also includes a number of guest artists, who I’m thrilled said yes to appearing with us.
Having said all that I’m sure people are asking, “Where does he find the time to write?” The honest truth is that right now I don’t. Even stealing a few precious moments away early this morning, just to work on this, I already hear my restless son, Luik, shaking the crib. That will soon stir my daughter, Evangeline, and then we’ll be off wiping noses and cleaning diapers.
My hope is that once the DIBORSchool has a little more momentum of its own and my managers kick into full gear with the restaurant, I’ll have some more time to dedicate to finishing my third book.
WhereTheMapEnds: Wow. You’re a busy guy. So what is your favorite speculative novel of all time (Christian or secular) and why is that your favorite?
Christopher Hopper: Without a doubt: The Song of Albion trilogy by Stephen R. Lawhead.
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.
[Cue sound of Jeff looking up Christopher’s old teachers’ addresses…]
My genuine desire to read was further repressed as I went through high school. The only thing I remember reading was Lord of The Flies, which left me feeling quite disturbed.
It wasn’t until I was eighteen that my best friend handed me Mr. Lawhead’s books and 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.
WhereTheMapEnds: You didn’t like Lord of the Flies, eh? It’s disturbing; no argument there. But I found it incredibly invigorating. But…you’re right: pretty disturbing. So, Chris, was it the Lawhead books that made you want to write Christian speculative fiction?
Christopher Hopper: That’s right. I remember finishing The Song of Albion series and immediately thinking, “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.
Last year, 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.
WhereTheMapEnds: That’s awesome, Christopher. How great to get to speak with him. Back to your writing: how was your first idea for a Christian speculative novel received (by anyone: spouse, friends, parents, agent, publisher, readers, reviewers, etc.)?
Christopher Hopper: The idea for The White Lion Chronicles came from a dream my mother had back in the mid 90s. After dwelling on what she told me in her dream, about a perfect world that knew no sin, I eventually thought it would make a great story. I remember sharing it very reservedly, telling only one or two friends at first. But everyone I told thought the idea was very original and clever—which was obviously encouraging. So I started talking about it more, liking the feedback I was receiving.
That was, until one day when I told a man named David Bellin, a former professor and author himself. He leaned in close to my face and said, “If I were you, young man, I wouldn’t speak of it again until you have it written, for that is good enough to steal.”
That one comment sent me to our family’s Apple computer (an SE 30, I think) and I started writing. As anyone who has followed my work knows, I lost the book three times on hard drive crashes over a span of almost 9 years! (All on PCs by the way! I now own multiple external hard drives and only Apple computers).
When book one was nearly complete I randomly joined an online publishers’ forum in the hopes of learning about self-publishing (figuring, who would want publish me?). Within a week of joining I received an e-mail from a company in California that was interested in my work.
They said they would be accepting manuscripts again in four months, so I wrapped things up and met their application guidelines. A week after sending in the package I got a phone call from the CEO personally saying they were interested in publishing my book…and the next two as well.
Unlike my dear friend Bryan Davis, who carries around a stack of over 200 rejection letters when he speaks at writer’s conferences, I have zero. But I also know that it’s legends like Davis that paved the way for guys like me. I am forever grateful.
WhereTheMapEnds: Yeah, that doesn’t seem quite fair, does it? Want some of my rejection letters? Hmm. Oh, well. So what is your favorite speculative genre to read? To write? If they’re different, talk about that.
Christopher Hopper: I am really a guy stuck in two worlds. On one side I love reading Lawhead, [George] MacDonald, and [C.S.] Lewis. But then there is this James Bond fanatic in me who loves Cussler, Ludlum, and Crichton!
I’m laughing at myself as I write this. I love the romantic hardships of an age gone by, where valiant sword-toting warriors pledged their lives in defense of a pillaged people, only to set off on an epic journey that would make history. Yet at the same time I love the rogue CIA operative trapped in a clandestine organization trying to outwit his Cold War counterpart with a myriad of gadgets and guns, planes and boats!
I’m a true adventure-aholic I suppose.
WhereTheMapEnds: First a workaholic and now this. Is there a trend here? [grin] How would you characterize the current state of Christian speculative fiction writing and/or publishing?
Christopher Hopper: In motion.
Christian speculative fiction has been around for a lot longer than the liberal media would like to give it credit. Think about such greats as G.K. Chesterton, and George MacDonald, who himself inspired Lewis, Tolkien, and L’Engle. And these were not fly-by-night one hit wonders. What Christian-family-raised child hasn’t had at least one Narnia book read to them in the last 50 years? We’re talking enduring giants here.
I say in motion because there is definitely a “revival,” as some would call it, especially with The Lord of The Rings and Narnia films hitting theatres. But the need for the reawakening of the genre is not really the liberal media’s fault. It’s the Christians’.
Am I allowed to get a little controversial here? I’m promise it will resolve well, how’s that?
WARNING: The writer is about to step on some toes.
[Disclaimer duly noted. Proceed.]
Other than This Present Darkness and maybe a scant few others, the world of Christian fiction, picking up where Lewis left off, has been relatively quiet up until now. And the main culprit, at least in my mind, was not the secular world saying “stop writing”—it was the Christian community that perhaps, just maybe, began to grow skeptical of the imagination. And why not? The human imagination is a powerful thing!
I can’t necessarily tell you all the reasons, and I don’t think they are all bad, mind you, but the Christian fiction author stopped writing, or at least stopped looking to be published. Likewise, Christian publishing in the last three decades began concentrating on self-help books, probably stemming from all the junk my parents’ generation had to work itself out of. Perhaps it is that people were tired of “stories” and needed some concrete facts to base their lives on.
WhereTheMapEnds: I think part of it was rise of New Age philosophy. The New Agers were claiming imagination, including meditation and guided imagery and all kinds of flights of fancy, as their territory. As a result, some Christians got fearful of anything having to do with the imagination, afraid that it might be inadvertantly leading people into New Age. Like you said, some of the junk of our parents’ generation.
Christopher Hopper: How tragic that some of the strongest foundations can be had only by the childlike, fed in the spoon of parables.
But my study of Christian history shows that whatever we as Christians back away from and abdicate, the secular world will move in and pick up. While we’ve been busy trying to improve ourselves, looking inward, the world has been looking outward. When has there ever been a lull in secular fiction?
What did we as Christians do? First, we shunned words like “fantasy” and “fiction,” and then we marked people that liked such works as outcasts, nerds, and probably those active with the occult.
We should have been writing better art to begin with, art that perhaps they’d rather be reading! The only reason there is a hole for the secular world to fill is because we as the Bride of Christ haven’t been filling it.
As I look around, far beyond my own skill and aptitude, I see amazing authors who are showing what true Christian speculative fiction is all about. And publishers that are willing, though maybe not fully understanding yet, to invest thousands of dollars to see them succeed.
I see a growing community of bloggers devoted to the advancement of the genre. I see a vast, awe-inspiring sea of readers who are asking for something more. And above all, I see a God who is unspeakably imaginative, desperately searching for those that would linger in His presence a little more so as to write the stories of His heart for His creation.
WhereTheMapEnds: Amen. Be sure to send that entire awe-inspiring sea of readers over to Marcher Lord Press, okay? It is for them that I am launching that publishing company. Okay, next question. What have you seen that encourages you about Christian speculative writing and/or publishing?
Christopher Hopper: Plenty, especially in the last two years! First off, I’d say it has to be the readers. If there was any doubt that there is a viable, commercial (what a sterile word) playing field for Christian speculative fiction, it’s gone now (at least to anyone who has eyes to see).
This past summer I was honored to join with legends Wayne Thomas Batson, Bryan Davis and Sharon Hinck as part of the first-ever Fantasy Fiction Tour. The hope was to raise awareness for the genre and to support one another’s works. We toured up the East Coast from Georgia to New York to put on a tour for the fans of our books. But we were wrong. The fans put on a tour for us, one that showed how staggering the audience is for Christian fiction.
The thing I remember most was how many parents came up to us and said, “You are not writing enough books to keep my children satisfied.” What an amazing statement! The fact is we don’t need fewer Christian authors and publishers to support Christian speculative fiction, we need more! A whole lot more!
Heading out on that tour was one of the most encouraging things I’ve seen to date. And we know the publishers took notice. While they are still giving a few of my friends a very hard time with how the books are being branded and marketed (scared to use the terms Popular Fiction, Action/Adventure and/or Fantasy), they are aware that there is a need. And if they can’t see it in the spiritual realm, then maybe they at least see it from the dollar realm. It’s just good business!
WhereTheMapEnds: That’s very encouraging. What would you like to see changed regarding Christian speculative fiction writing and/or publishing?
Christopher Hopper: I long for the day when a Christian publisher puts as much effort, marketing dollars, and energy into a work of speculative fiction as they do a self-help, personal betterment book.
I long for the day when we have a multitude of parable writers emulating their master, Jesus, by feeding a proverbial and literal sea of readers through the power of the Holy Spirit.
Next to the written Word of God, Christian speculative fiction is the most powerful form of writing in history because of its ability to actively incorporate the imagination into the creative working power of the Holy Ghost.
WhereTheMapEnds: Double amen there. There’s something spiritual at the core of fantasy fiction. So what do you think Christian speculative fiction writing and/or publishing will look like in three years? Five years? Ten years?
Christopher Hopper: My sense is that we are in the midst of an upward trend, climbing a mountain that has been ours for the taking for a long time. Though I will be the first o admit it’s an upward, laborious struggle, I think Christian speculative fiction will continue to gain popularity, especially among the young adults, who will, in turn, drive the market as they become adults.
We are in a season of history where culture is craving stories again as opposed to statistics. There is a genuine love for the fantastical adventure. If Christians, both publishers and writers, will continue to step up to the plate, I believe there will be no end to this trend, as it is our God-ordained right to lead in service.
WhereTheMapEnds: What advice would you give to someone who aspires to write and publish Christian speculative fiction?
Christopher Hopper: Once you become a “published author,” something amazing happens: everyone around you tells you about the book they want to write. And don’t get me wrong, it’s quite a privilege to have people share things with you from their hearts. I’m convinced that many times no one else even knows about their desire to write. I’m also convinced that many times their ideas are better than mine, and that this person is probably a better writer than I am. But there is one singular difference between them and me: I wrote my book.
God can’t use what you haven’t created. You can want to a whole lot. You can have a great idea. But the main difference between the person getting published and the one who isn’t is that the former took a large chunk of his life and wrote something. I always love the story about one of the world’s most famous pianists. Following a concert a woman approached him and said, “I’d give my whole life to play like that.” The pianist replied, “Madame, I have.”
The second piece of advice is to study. A good author refines his or her craft. I have learned more about writing after my first novel was published than I had in all the years combined before it was published.
This might sound sacrilegious, but one of the best books out there is On Writing by, you guessed it, Stephen King. The first half is an autobiography. But the second half is all of his tips on writing. And they are invaluable. He certainly is a lost man, but he’s also a genius.
I’ve also gleaned a lot from other published authors, friends, online forums, and classes (mostly audio recordings of seminars).
But by far, the most valuable piece of information I can give when it comes to learning how to write is to read. I read more now than ever before. And when I read I ask active questions. “Why did he write that sentence that way?” “What is she not saying there?” “How did he develop that entire paragraph?”
Finally, spend time in the presence of the Lord. Take walks, sit under your favorite tree, go for a drive, go in your “cave” and get alone with Him. If we are going to write the next great American novel, we as Christians must search after Him.
And why not? We have a distinct advantage over the rest of the playing field: We are connected to the Creator. There is no more creative person than He. And I believe He desires to disclose ingenious ideas far more than we are desirous to receive them. By far my greatest ideas are not my own; He plants them in my spirit, they grow in my heart and then blossom in my mind. And after all that He let’s me take credit for them, as if they were mine. But I know the secret.
WhereTheMapEnds: What’s the best part about writing and publishing Christian speculative fiction?
Christopher Hopper: Well, holding that first copy in your hands is pretty amazing, I have to say. But every Christian author knows it’s the lives that are touched. To ever think that you could inspire, challenge, change, or better yet, lead someone to Jesus through your writing is a high like no other.
I try to respond to every e-mail and letter I ever receive (something C.S. Lewis did, and which his son Doug las Gresham does now). Each letter I get is not merely a piece of mail, it’s a message from a soul. And souls are important.
Hearing how a young Tyler made a bet with his mom that if he liked Mr. Hopper’s books he’d burn all his books on the occult. (He liked mine). To hear from Ann that she is reading Rise of The Dibor to her children for the third time because they love hearing about what God intended for our lives to be like without sin is awesome. And to have Pam weep through an entire chapter as God convicted her about 20-year-old fears that she was holding onto, only to become completely free, makes it all worth it.
WhereTheMapEnds: Very cool. And humbling. So what writing project are you working on now?
Christopher Hopper: I’m just getting back into Book III of The White Lion Chronicles. I started it back in November of 2006 and haven’t been able to touch the manuscript in about four months due to the activities I mentioned above. Though I’ve missed two deadlines, my publisher isn’t nearly as upset over it as I am. In fact, they are way too flexible, wanting a book to be “done right” as opposed to “done on time,” something I obviously appreciate. I anticipate the final installment to hit shelves in late 2008 or early 2009.
I have a number of ministry-related books in the works, too, but my heart is really focused on my next fictional story, something I’m really excited about. In fact it’s so “in me” right now I’m having a hard time thinking of anything else, including Book III of TWLC.
WhereTheMapEnds: Excellent! What’s a cool speculative story idea you’ve had lately?
Christopher Hopper: To quote David Bellin, I can’t tell you because it may just be good enough to steal.
WhereTheMapEnds: What’s the best speculative story (Christian or secular, book or otherwise) you’ve encountered lately?
Christopher Hopper: I’ve just started to get into Austin Boyd’s Mars Hill Classified series. I learned about him through the CSFF Blog Tour, and in the midst of helping promote his work I actually really liked what I was reading on a personal level, not just the “I’m a fellow Christian author helping out my friends” level. Great premise, thick characters, and the man’s knowledge of aviation and space are first-hand.
WhereTheMapEnds: That’s cool. Austin is a friend of mine. I’ve had the privilege of helping him with a number of his novels. Good stuff. Okay, Christopher, what else would you like to say to the readers of WhereTheMapEnds.com?
Christopher Hopper: If you’ve read this far I’m really honored. My time is very important to me; I assume it is to everyone else. So for someone to spend this much time reading what I have to say I see it as an investment of time he or she could have spent elsewhere. That means a lot to me.
I’m really grateful for those that lurk here. It is you who perpetuate the guiding fires of Christian speculative fiction.
That’s All for This Time
Another great interview! Thanks again to Christopher Hopper for spending time with us. Be sure to visit him online.