Father of three and husband of one, R. L. Copple has done many things in life, from cooking at Wendy's to pastoring a church. He's been published in several on-line/print magazines and has several novels out, which you can preview on this site.
Or another title could be, "Everything You Wanted to Know About Me But Were Too Lazy to Ask."
I've given a few interviews in the past, and certain questions pop up frequently. So, for your convenience, I'll just interview myself here. Because I know you want to know! And I know the best questions to ask myself, because I know where all the skeletons are hidden.
What was the first book you ever read aside from "Dick and Jane"?
Yes, I remember reading "Run Dick, run. See Dick run," in third grade. Really gripping stuff. But it wasn't until fifth grade that I became interested in reading for myself.
My fifth grade, homeroom teacher was Ms. Birdwell at Pecan Springs Elementary in Austin, TX back in 1970. Like a lot of teachers, she had a time each day where she read from a book. I really don't recall being all that interested though it was okay. But one book she read captured my attention and imagination: Charlotte's Web by E. B. White. I so enjoyed the reading of that story that after she finished, I went to the school library, checked it out, and read it for myself. That was the first time I ever purposefully read a book because I wanted to.
I kept reading after that. Ended up reading most of the Detective Brown books. In seventh grade, I read my first science fiction book, The Runaway Robot by Lester Del Ray (though I later found out that was ghost written by another person). I loved that book and from then on I was a science fiction and fantasy junkie. By the time I graduated from high school, I'd read every science fiction novel in the library, at least the ones I knew about. Asimov, Heinlein, Lester Del Ray, Bradbury, and others.
Once in college around 1980, my attention turned mostly to religion, my major. And the professors gave me more than enough reading, so that my science fiction and fantasy reading fell away to nothing. My interest in things what many call speculative fiction dimmed due to my focus on religious topics. My reading tended to focus on theology and bible studies. It wasn't until 2005 that my interest in this genre returned, riding on the back of my renewed interest in writing it.
Tell us about your journey to become a writer.
I started creating and "writing" stories in sixth grade. And really, I have a girl named Elaine to thank for getting me going. She at that age could draw amazing pictures of horses. They were so realistic. She would draw comics about a horse. She inspired me to do the same, so I drew my own horse and created comics about him. Except my horse wasn't realistic. The back legs bent like the front legs, and he had a big hump for a nose. I created little short stories for him, and showed them to Elaine.
At first, she just acknowledged my feeble efforts. But one day she grew angry with me. As the class was leaving the room, she walked by my desk with a picture of my horse on it and said I was copying her, and that my horse was stupid and dumb. I was devastated. For the first time I can recall, I bawled at my desk. The teacher and others came back over to me in an attempt to comfort me, and another girl attempted to say my horse was cute. But I now knew how she really felt, and I felt crushed.
I'm sure for a time I didn't draw anymore horses or write any more comic stories. But that wouldn't last for long. By the time I entered seventh grade, my brother Dave and I had developed a whole line of characters and superheroes. Some comics were starring my stuffed toys. But some were more "realistic." My brother and I had a complete cast of superheroes and villains. Ones I specifically remember was my favorite, "Monkey Man" (had the strength and acrobatic skills of a man-sized monkey with a human brain) and Magnet Man (suited up like Iron Man but his stick was he could control magnetic forces including gravity).
At one point, my brother and I decided to submit our characters to Marvel. I think we hoped to get a letter back with a giant check. But we never heard back from them. I wasn't aware of Magnito, and the similarity with Magnet Man probably didn't inspire them much.
Dave and I wrote several comics, inked and colored by ourselves (with crayons). We even sold some of them. One particular story my brother wrote became popular in my seventh grade class, and he had to draw, ink, and color at least two or three copies of one particular story about "Detective Todo" (a stuffed monkey he had).
But writing out individual copies each time was slow and time consuming. Making copies was at least ten cents a page, which would have made the cost of a book well over one dollar when the going rate back then was around twenty to twenty-five cents. And Al Gore hadn't invented the Internet yet in the 1970s (that's a joke, son.) So we mostly ended up writing comics for our own enjoyment.
One time in eighth grade, I did write a comic for a class assignment. I don't even recall what the assignment was about, but I drew one of my all time favorite comics, which I've forgotten the title of, but the main character's name was Timothy, who owned a racing car and participated in various races, and a side-kick mechanic named Roger. It was essentially a Speed Racer knock off (because I loved that show). I received an A+ on it, though, and I recall she specifically commented about how well I did the perspective with a tire in the foreground and the car smaller in the background (as if that was an art class). But I'd never taken any art classes, I just instinctively knew it should look that way.
In high school, I wrote a few stories. One was a class project. Our English Lit. class had been studying Shakespeare, and there were several different projects I could do as an assignment. But none of them appealed to me, so I went and asked the teacher if I could write a Shakespearian style play instead. Her mouth dropped open and she said, "Of course!" So I did, a complete four act play. Needless to say, I received an A+ on it. My only regret is I don't still have a copy of that today. I would very much like to read it.
The other specific story I recall writing in high school wasn't for any class assignment. Just a funny spoof I wrote called "Little Red Riding Hood." Very much not politically correct by today's standards, but it was about a little Indian girl who rode on the hood of a car.
But that was to be the extent of my speculative fiction writing until after the year 2000. Between high school and 2000, my writing focused primarily on sermons, bible studies, and devotionals. People really liked how I did those. But one day in 2000 I had an idea for a short story allegory and wrote it. My interest in writing stories had returned, but I really didn't know where to go with it. So I played around with that story. Nothing else really happened, and as it turns out, the story wasn't that good. I had no idea where to send it, I'd never done anything like submitting to a magazine and didn't have a clue where to start or even who to ask.
Then in October of 2005, everything changed. My wife, who had a habit of reading a book to our children as we rode in the car, had been reading The City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau. The story caused me to come up with an idea of my own, based on the general concept but in much different circumstances and for a much different reason. So I sat down and wrote out the first chapter about October third. I showed it to my wife and daughter, and they loved it. Only, they asked, "So where's chapter 2?" So I went to work on chapter two the next evening after work. They loved that one and asked where chapter 3 was. So the next evening after work I wrote chapter 3. It continued that way all through the month of October. By October thirty-first, I had a ninety-four thousand word novel on my hard drive.
To put that in perspective, people every year in November gather at the "National Novel Writing Month" web site to encourage and challenge each other to write a fifty thousand word novel, as a goal. I had almost done twice that amount! I didn't know it was supposed to be hard. It simply came out. I wrote around three to four thousand words a night...after I got off a full days work.
But it didn't feel like work. As a matter of fact, by the end of that month, my wife had started reading my story in the car, and my sons were amazed that their dad could write something that sounded like a real book and novel story! After I finished writing that, I was ecstatic. One, I'd attempted to write a book before, religious in nature, and never could seem to get off the ground with it. Now, in one month, I had written a large novel. I'd never done anything like that before in my life.
But more than that was the sense of destiny I felt about it all. For I'd been in limbo about what God wanted me to do with my life since resigning my last pastorate in 1996. I'd done bookkeeping because I was good at it, not because I enjoyed it. It was a temporary thing to keep a roof over our heads and food on the table. But I didn't see that as what God wanted me to do with the rest of my life. But after writing this story, I felt in my heart very strongly that God wanted me to write speculative fiction as a Christian writer, to help in some way counter the secular influence in many of these genres. My job was to be a light to the world in a subtle way that God could use to draw people to Himself.
As it happened, I had come to know a famous writer in my religion. She put me in contact with a group of other writers on a Yahoo group. From them, I discovered the Christian fandom list, and signed up for that. I introduced myself, and Johne Cook, who then managed the webzine "Dragons, Knights, and Angels," emailed me and introduced himself and the zine, and encouraged me to submit. I found it, and submitted that short story I'd been working on for the last few years. Other ideas came to mind. I wrote those stories and submitted them.
In the meantime, I became acquainted with fellow writers and ended up in critique groups, and learned a lot working on the first story I wrote that was destined to be my first published story: Dragon Stew. I must have edited that story twenty-five to thirty times between when I first wrote it (January 2006) and when it finally went to print (August 2006) at Dragons, Knights, and Angels, managed then by Selena Thomason.
However, despite that being my first published story, it wasn't my first accepted story. The first flash fiction challenge I did at an online critique group I had joined, Notebored.com, resulted in a story that ended up being a favorite among my readers, titled "The Call of Nature." Ray Gun Revival, where Johne Cook had moved to, along with several other "Overlords," accepted that story in June of 2006. However, they didn't publish it until February of 2007.
During the first few months of 2006, I also became acquainted with several of those who ran the Double-Edged Publishing, Inc.'s group of magazines. In March of 2006, Bill Snodgrass, the president, asked me to be a slush editor at The Sword Review, the other speculative fiction webzine run by them along with Dragon's, Knights, and Angels. After some thought and prayer, I accepted. By May of 2006, Bill intended to start up some more magazines, including a mainstream literary fiction webzine. In a small private critique group I was a part of, Rachel Marks had been pegged to become the managing editor of it, and enlisted my along with some others to form the starting editors of what became known as Haruah, which is Hebrew for breath of life, or breath of the spirit. Eventually Rachel stepped down and I became the managing editor. And though I still retain that title to date (1/16/2010), I don't really do the work of one. The other editors have taken up the slack as my schedule precluded me from doing a lot, namely Rochita Loenen-Ruiz for several months and currently Steven Rice.
But the summer of 2006, unknown to me, started what would eventually become a series of stories, and then a series of books. The writers at Notebored decided to do a group challenge. A magazine was running a contest for summer around the theme of "hot." We decided we would write stories as a group that we could submit for that contest. First we would judge them among ourselves and vote. Then we would submit them to the contest and see if any of us placed.
I wrote a short story that I titled "Steamy Realities." (Between that title and the "Call of Nature" people probably began to wonder about me.) The story revolved around a steam house in a village that had mystical properties in that those who entered it, the character hidden in their souls, whether good or bad, would be manifested in concrete ways. And for the village, it had become a rite of passage into adulthood. The story followed Sisko, a thirteen-year-old boy, into the steam house. He exits with a ring giving him the miracle power to be his "brother's keeper."
The story did all right in the Notebored voting, but didn't win. Nor did the magazine place it in the contest. With that rejection, I sent it to the Sword Review, and they accepted it. The webzine published it in their December 2006 issue and in their print magazine.
One would think that was the end, but nay! That winter the Sword Review had a short story contest, and I decided to enter it with a sequel to "Steamy Realities." The theme was hope, and I wrote a story, jumping to the time when Sisko proceeded to travel about to find those he needed to be a "brother" to with his ring. After working on a plot, I submitted it to their contest, and didn't place. But Bill Snodgrass actually wrote back to me with a full critique of the story, saying he really thought the story had promise, and simply needed to be tuned up. His interest and encouragement prompted me to complete an idea I had in mind.
The idea arose due to the theme of the contest. I thought it would be cool to write a series of these stories illustrating the themes of faith, hope, and love. I had the hope one written, I only needed to write the other two. Which I promptly did. Once I finished, had them critiqued, I submitted all three stories as a series the Sword Review could do. The editors accepted right away the new ones I'd written on faith and love, but wanted more rewrites on the hope one. As I contemplated their comments, even though no one had mentioned it, it dawned on me what the story was missing. In short, my main character never did anything. The outcome never depended on his input or actions. Everything happened to him, or he watched from the side. So I changed the story so that he would have a more direct and active part in how it played out. The result? They accepted that one too. I was relieved, because it wouldn't do to have faith and love, but leave hope out of the picture! I had to have all three.
With that behind me, Bill had hinted when I told him my plans to write this series, that if the magazine accepted them, that he would seriously look at making this series into a published book. Upon contacting him once they were accepted, he said he wanted to do it. So we planned and worked to get the book ready when the series would be published later in 2007. The stories ran in the Sword Review September through December, starting with a reprint of "Steamy Realities." The book came out in November 2007. But, in the course of putting the book together, I created a couple of extra, not published on the web, sections for it. One, I added an additional short story where I introduce Sisko's friend, Josh in a story dealing with wizards, and Sisko's attempt to control the ring and his own passions which I titled "Undesired Realities." To date, the only place you can get that story is by buying my book, though I believe the sample at Smashwords includes that second chapter.
I also wrote an article on why I as a Christian write fantasy fiction. I wrote it in part because there were those who see such endeavors as unchristian. It was to be my apologetic why I not only believe as a Christian that we can write fantasy, science fiction, and other such fiction, but that it can be a way to fulfill the calling of God and illustrate truth in ways that "real life" non-fiction can't. Some of the reviews on the book ended up liking that article as much if not more than the stories themselves.
I thought I was done with the Reality series. But no! As November drew near in 2007 and I prepared to write a novel for National Novel Writing Month, Bill suggested that I consider writing a sequel. I had already mapped out a plot for what I intended to write, but on October thirty-first, I made the decision to switch from what I planned to write to do a sequel. So I spent the first few hours of November plotting out another novel instead of writing one. Despite that, I still racked up around sixty-four thousand words that month, and the sequel to Infinite Realities was born, titled Transforming Realities.
That book was edited and published in March 2009. But in November of 2008, I wrote the final book in the series, The Reality, which I'm still editing and has yet to be printed as of 1/17/2010. Now, you think that would be the end of it. If so, you'd be wrong. In November of 2009, I ended up writing a spin-off book in the same world but with new characters called The Magic Within. And it is clear there could be more series of that book, once I figure out where it should go from there.
Meanwhile, 2006 and 2007 proved to be my most productive years getting short stories and flash fictions published. I also ended up publishing several poems, one even garnering an honorable mention in a contest. 2008 had a few stories published as well, but as writing and editing novels took over my writing time, 2009 proved to be a lean year in that department, only publishing a couple of stories, neither of which was actually written in 2009, excepting for the Christmas story in December of 2009 that I posted on my blog, and TeenAge wanted it as their Christmas story.
I've also written other novels. Mind Game in 2006, a science-fiction in the space opera variety, and its only sequel, Hero Game, half written in 2006 and half written in 2009. The first novel I wrote in October 2005 I'm currently rewriting. The story idea was good but the execution left something to be desired being I didn't know anything about how to write good fiction when I wrote that.
That currently puts me with two published books, a novella and a novel, six novels in various stages of editing/rewriting, and at least three others on the drawing boards awaiting their turn. That doesn't count the likely sequels to The Magic Within that I'm sure to write.
So the story/journey goes on. And I can see it will go on until I can no longer write a story due to death or my mind goes. Whether I ever "make it" in the writing world and become well known, and earn decent money from my books, isn't the issue (though I wouldn't turn it down if it comes). But the bottom line is I have to write because that's what I know I have to do. I enjoy it and will continue creating stories to entertain, enlighten, and inspire. I look forward to the stories ahead yet to be written.