An Interview with Chris CoppernollIn Screen Play, Harper and Luke get to know each other long distance through the online dating site, LoveSetMatch.com, text messaging, and emails. In the spirit of Screen Play, best-selling author Christa Parrish (Home Another Way, Watch Over Me) and Chris Coppernoll dialogued with one another through email on the themes, message, and meaning found in Screen Play.
CP: Screen Play is your third work of fiction. Why is this novel so important to you?
CC: Screen Play is important because it comprises all the themes that inhabit my novels: isolation, singleness, sudden and unexpected fame, and God’s mysterious hand working on our behalf. I like this story. I love how Harper’s this beautiful, young woman who, at the time she finds herself crossing the line from her twenties to her thirties, goes through a bewildering series of circumstances that leave her friendless in Chicago. Her acting roles have dried up. Her best friend, Avril, is gone, and her boyfriend, Sam, abandons her for his new life without her in Los Angeles. The story basically opens with Harper emerging from an unsettling year alone. An acquaintance we never meet in the story, Bella, has invited Harper to a mission outreach church in the city, and she’s given her life to “the Rescuer.” In God’s perfect timing, Harper’s phone finally rings, and she’s invited to join the cast of a Broadway revival in New York. For me, that could be the entire story, but I wanted to tell a story about how quickly God can change our circumstances, and everything can change for the good.
CP: Chris, did you find it difficult to write Screen Play from a woman’s perspective? What were some of the challenges? Some of the surprises?
CC: Yes. The biggest surprise was that I did it. :-) I think Screen Play had to be written from Harper’s viewpoint because we need to hear her tell the story. I wanted readers to sit on those hard subway seats and feel the emotions Harper feels at the Carney Theatre and everywhere else her journey takes her. Harper is one of the most complex characters I’ve ever written. Writing in her voice was the most challenging part of the novel and the decision I questioned most (because it was a stretch), but it was the truest way to tell the story. I think God gives most novelists an affinity for understanding people, the way an attentive actor watches someone famous and then imitates their character on screen. I worried about whether readers could accept Harper’s voice, knowing it came from a man, or if they’d be distracted. I had to trust that readers could be swept up in the story and it wouldn’t be an issue.
CP: At one point, Harper writes to Luke, “It’s part of bigger story God’s telling in my life. Sometimes I feel as much a spectator as a participant.” Why did you choose to write that? Do you ever feel this way?
CC: Sometimes life feels just that way. We say, “What will be will be,” or “If it’s meant to happen, it will happen.” Writing Screen Play occurred at the same time I was experiencing changes in my personal life that felt God-orchestrated, like God was involving me directly in His plans. Some of my personal experiences influenced Harper’s story because there’s a parallel.
CP: Harper remembers the loss in James’s life and thinks, “I wondered if he felt like God had suddenly realized He’d dealt him too many blessing cards and decided to take one back.” What would you say to someone who also felt this way when his or her life has been touched by pain?
CC: It’s easy to write pat answers when life deals a difficult blow, but all of us go through challenging times. I’ll simply tell you what my experience has been. Everything painful in my life has come from one of three sources: someone’s sin against me; the consequence of my own sinful choices; or God’s providential decision to change me through trying circumstances. Whatever life challenges we face, God can reveal the goodness inside when we turn to Him.
CP: “It struck me how in a city the size of New York, those I was getting to know best I was connecting with through a computer screen,” Harper thinks. How do you see technology playing a role in the fellowship of believers? Are you ever concerned it can be a replacement for true community?
CC: As icky as the two words sound when used together, community and technology can work together. I’m thinking of the Twitter community—a Web site that allows people you’ve selected from anywhere in the world to exchange their brief thoughts online––and how friends where I live in Nashville were recently able to mobilize hundreds of believers to pray for someone in an emergency. Social networking sites like Facebook work like a small-town newspaper. They provide only the news our community chooses to post whether they are the community next door or a community far from home.
CP: In Screen Play, we see the ups and downs of trying to find “the one,” from Harper’s relationship with Luke to Avril’s relationship with Jon. As someone involved in singles’ ministry, what advice would you give to the millions of people navigating the world as single people but desiring to have a partner in life?
CC: Wait upon the Lord. Should God have someone for you, He will make it clear to the both of you.