Robert Liparulo Interview
This interview was originally published at RelzReviews.com
I’ve really enjoyed Bob’s thrillers and I knew my book club loves to challenge their regular reading habits so I was keen to share this one with them. The book gave us plenty to discuss, ponder and wrestle with!
Bob, being the great guy he is, agreed to be questioned by a group of women and I’m thrilled to share his responses with you.
**Please be aware there are spoilers below**
The 13th Tribe
Their story didn’t start this year…or even this millennium.
It began when Moses was on Mt. Sinai. Tired of waiting on the One True God, the twelve tribes of Israel began worshipping a golden calf through pagan revelry. Many received immediate death for their idolatry, but 40 were handed a far worse punishment—endless life on earth with no chance to see the face of God.
This group of immortals became the 13th Tribe, and they’ve been trying to earn their way into heaven ever since—by killing sinners. Though their logic is twisted, their brilliance is undeniable. Their wrath is unstoppable. And the technology they possess is beyond anything mere humans have ever seen.
Jagger Baird knows nothing about the Tribe when he’s hired as head of security for an archaeological dig on Mt. Sinai. The former Army Ranger is still reeling from an accident that claimed the life of his best friend, his arm, and his faith in God.
The Tribe is poised to execute their most ambitious attack ever and the lives of millions hang in the balance. When Jagger’s wife and son are caught in the crossfire, he’ll stop at nothing to save them. But how can one man stand against an entire tribe of immortals?
BLGs: There is a fascinating mix of history and science in The Thirteenth Tribe. What sort of research did you undertake for this book?
Bob: I travelled to many of the locations, read books and talked to experts about immortality, biology, theology, weapons (like flame throwers) high-tech military inventions (such as invisibility suits), relics, archaeology . . . I filled half a dozen thick binders with notes, maps, and photographs. I used to be an investigative journalist, so I tend to research a lot, and I have no qualms about asking the leading experts in their fields for interviews and throwing tough questions at them. I try to find the little gems that either stun readers or make everything in a scene feel just right.
I believe the only way to make such a wild concept as immortality palatable and entertaining to readers is to make everything else in the story as factual and real as possible. All the locations are real, and I hope detailed enough for readers to get a true feel for each place. And one way the immortals are traced through history is through actual art—such as the Spinario or Boy with Thorn and Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres’s Apotheosis of Homer. I did a lot of research into biblical events, such as what really happened at the gold calf, and studied extra-biblical stories, such as the Apostle John being tortured by putting him into a vat of boiling oil. Many of the historic events described—a Civil War massacre, Rasputin’s death— really happened.
A lot of times, science eventually “catches up” with God’s miracles and we can explain them in human terms—which doesn’t make them any less miraculous, but shows that God often uses the incredible things He created for us on earth to facilitate His will. I wanted that to be the case with the immortals, so I explain how every cell in the human body has telomerase genes—called immortal genes—which allow cells to replicate forever, which would result in the cessation of aging. Trouble is, they are “switched on” in only a few cells. I posit that God activated all the telomerase genes in the immortals, so there’s both a biological and a supernatural reason for their immortality.
What drew you to writing suspense rather than any other genre?
It’s what I’ve always read, and it incorporates things that interest me. Besides being an adrenaline junkie, I have a keen desire to know what makes people tick. Take the average Joe, someone who may never have been in a fistfight, who spends his days behind a desk and coaches little league; a guy who’s gone through his life believing in civility and the general goodness of people: How does he handle a life-or-death situation hurled at him by a murderous psychopath? What does it take for him to stand up for what’s right? Where does he find the strength? The skills?
I’ve always believed a person’s true character comes out when the heat’s on, when the wrong move leads not to an unemployment line or a brief visit to the ER, but to a cold, steel table at the morgue. At heart, is he (or she) a coward, or a hero? Is he so out of shape or witless about anything other than balance sheets or spark plugs that he couldn’t enter the arena even if he wanted to? Watching someone reach deep to find what he needs to survive, to save someone else—bravery, endurance, that part of his brain he hasn’t used in two decades—that’s interesting.
Are you a writer who plans your stories extensively, or do you begin with an idea and let the characters tell you what’s going to happen?
Somewhere in-between. I want my characters to lead me through a story. If I outline to extensively or too far ahead, then it’s me, as an author, who is forcing my characters to behave the way I would behave in those situations. When I create compelling characters and set them free, they develop what seems to be personalities and behaviors all their own. They start to do things I never would have dreamed they would. They respond differently from the way I thought they would when I thought through the story. But I do have certain points in the story that I know have to reach; I just prefer to let the characters tell me how to get there. Typically, I know about three days in advance which scenes are coming up. That helps me stay on track without being too overbearing on my characters. It’s the best of both worlds.
Did you always want to be an author or is it something you came to on your way to something else?
I knew I wanted to a writer—any kind of writer—since I was eight, and specifically a novelist since I was twelve. I’ve written short stories, celebrity profiles and interviews, screenplays, movie reviews, travel and business articles, even a printer manual . . . anything I could to keep writing avoid getting a “real” job.
Looking at your website – you obviously love the thriller genre. What are your favourite movies/books/authors?
My favorite author is Richard Matheson (his I Am Legend is my favourite book). I also like Elmore Leonard, Dean Koontz, Thomas Perry, F. Paul Wilson, Tess Gerritsen, Michael Crichton, James Rollins, David Morrell, Steve Berry . . . it’s a long list. Some of my other favorite books are Koontz’s The Face, Perry’s Sleeping Dogs, as well Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game, Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, James Dickey’s Deliverance, Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash, and Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose. My favorite movie is Jaws, followed closely by Lord of the Rings, Heat, and Ronin.
In the “13th Tribe” it was scary to see how twisted the logic was within the “tribe”, how they justified their cold blooded killing – still trying to “pay” for their own sin. Was it always your intention for the character of Beth to reach one of the Tribe members?
Going into the story, I wanted one of the Immortals to find salvation, and I wanted Beth to have conversations with the Immortals—mostly to show put their way of thinking up against more logical, or proper, Biblical interpretations. I wanted to see the two sides contrasting with one another. But it wasn’t until I was well into the interactions between Beth and Ben than I realized one scene would lead to the other.
Do you know someone like Beth, who would find God in the midst of such pain and be able to minister to such as these?
My family has a dear friend who is similar to Beth in that way. I may have made Beth a bit more resilient—I’m not sure anyone would be quite as tolerant of the Tribe’s ways as Beth is, but this woman we know is close.
Jagger was a great character, a very tortured soul. His love for Beth and his own doubts seemed to have given him the motivation to leave his former life in the tribe. After the car accident, there were many hurdles between him and God. What do you think was the largest and most difficult to overcome?
Despite his anger at God for taking the lives of his best friend’s family, the anguish at losing his arm, and the guilt over surviving the crash, I think having the live with Beth and Tyler’s loyalty to God was actually the hardest thing to deal with—but it was also what he needed most to recover, to find his way back to God. When you’re crushed, you just want to wallow in your despair, to give into it at least for a while. Jagger couldn’t embrace his own pain as he wanted to because he had a family who not only depended on him, but who also loved the God Jagger wanted to hate. It’s the basis for something he has to deal with in the third Immortal Files book.
In some personality types there is a heavy sense of justice that can create a vigilante mentality – as Christians, how do you think we can deal with this both within ourselves and within our so-less-than-perfect world?
I really think the only way we can reconcile our need for justice with a world in which justice doesn’t always seem to prevail is to understand that God is in control. Somehow, someway, He will set things right. We may not see it in our lifetime, and it may not be the sort of justice we think is right, but God will always balance the books, even if it means offering grace to someone we don’t think deserves it. None of us do. We have to trust that God has everything covered.
In our “God is love” modern day Christianity sometimes we cannot relate to or reconcile the God who punished entire groups of people, including women and children, in the Old Testament. How would you explain this to a young adult/teen?
Again, I’d have to fall back on the idea that God’s ways are higher than ours. Our concept of what love is isn’t necessarily God’s idea of love. I think to God justice is love. He didn’t simply forgive us our sins; He offered His son to die for us, to pay for our sins. If you don’t accept that gift of someone else assuming the punishment for our sins, then you must pay for them yourself, and that can be devastating to behold. If God’s wrath wasn’t horrible—if the price of sin wasn’t death—then Christ’s sacrifice wouldn’t be as wonderful as it is, it wouldn’t be the huge act of love that it is.
Where do you go to research all the gadgets, weapons, and technology in the novel?
I know people at DARPA, the U.S. government’s research and development division, and I maintain relationships with people who are experts in weapons, firearms, high-tech gadgetry. Usually, I’ll call the developers of some technology I want to use and interview them. The most important question I ask is, “Where do you think this technology will be in five years?” Then I put their answer into my story.
Owen being revealed as the beloved disciple John was unexpected as I had originally thought him to be another member of the tribe who had turned away from their theology. What inspired you to use this idea in your novel?
You know, I honestly don’t recall the moment I decided to use a Biblical figure in the story. I just remember thinking someone from the time of Christ needed to play a role in the novel. I started researching people from the Bible, with the biggest criterion being that Scripture couldn’t explicitly say that he or she had died; I couldn’t contradict the Bible. John’s life—what we know and don’t know about it—fit perfectly.
Your depiction of what happened at the base of Mt Sinai with the golden calf was an intense scene that seemed to be encouraged by the spirit who had inhabited Gehazi. This brings to mind the idea of “the devil made me do it”. Spiritually – do you believe we are more susceptible to this kind of thing in the western world where spiritual matters can be reduced to a “hobby or activity” almost, where people fit their religion to their lifestyle?
I was aware of the danger of suggesting Gehazi’s possession as a factor in instigating what happened at the golden calf. I knew it could be construed that the Israelites weren’t really responsible for their own actions, but that’s not what I wanted to say. For me, it was symbolic of our human reluctance to embrace God, even when He’s standing right before us. I saw the Israelites behavior as similar to the way Adam and Eve turned away from God in the garden; the spirit at the gold calf was, in a sense, like the serpent.
How do you find writing a screenplay different to the original novel, particularly when you have written other books since?
Screenplays are challenging, in that the story unfolds visually and through dialog. You have to find more creative ways to get inside a character’s head than simply doing it, the way you can in a novel. Typically, with a script, you need to cut secondary storylines and merge characters because the story needs to be condensed down from its novel form. That’s the toughest part, figuring out which storylines and characters to cut.
Do you have difficulty deciding where to draw the line in your writing between your research and imagination?
Not really. My imagination is working while I’m researching; the two go hand-in-hand. I’ll imagine something first, maybe something vague, like, “Wouldn’t it be cool if these guys had a way of getting into the monastery without being detected?” Then I’ll start researching to see what would allow that. Something presents itself, but I’ll have to change a story element to use it. Ok, I can do that, but can I nudge the research a little bit to make it even cooler? So it goes back and forth like that with my imagination and the research feeding each other. They become inseparable.
Did you have a vivid imagination as a child?
Oh yeah. I was always telling stories, and going on and on with what-if scenarios. We’d see a movie and on the way home, I’d rambled about what the filmmakers could have done differently or where the story could after the end of the movie. I think I drove my family crazy.
Sometimes in researching or writing with a particular theme, new insights or personal life-questions arise. After completing this book, are there any questions you would ask God if you could?
I’ve always been fascinated by time. I’d like to know what God had in mind limiting our earthly life to seventy, eighty years—why not longer. . . or shorter? What’s the deal with everyone having such vastly different lengths of time to live? Babies die and some people live to be over a hundred. I’d also like to know how each life throughout time affects other lives, maybe centuries apart. I believe there’s an interconnectedness between all lives; I’d love to see that, somehow.
Your previous novels are “clean” thrillers without overt Christian themes – The 13th Tribe is different with strong spiritual themes. Did you approach it differently?
Before embarking on each new story, I’d spend weeks fasting and in seclusion, praying for Divine guidance. And then I wrote the stories I believe God wanted me to tell in the way He wanted me to tell them. As I prayed about the next adult thriller after Deadlock, I sensed God’s telling me it was time to go another direction, to take a new, bold stance in proclaiming His sovereignty in everything that happens. To rip down the veil and show His inextricable presence in all we experience—unreservedly and unapologetically.
I’ve always prayed before beginning my day of writing, and that didn’t change. Really, the only thing that was a departure was my delving into Scripture and theological books as part of my research. I enjoyed the merging of these two great passions of mine—writing and God.
What do you hope readers take away from The 13th Tribe?
I hope readers will see a little of themselves in the story and realize that too often we are still striving to earn God’s acceptance when, as believers, we already have it. I hope that they feel the Tribe’s deep yearning for something many of us take for granted, God’s love. If a single reader comes to truly appreciate what he or she has in God, it’ll be worth the year and half I put into writing it.
But I also want to entertain people. I want them to be caught up in the story and enjoy the time it takes it read it. If their not entertain, totally engrossed, then they’re not going to care about the characters or the adventure or deeper meaning may lie beneath.
Please share something of your own spiritual journey
I believe I’ve heard God speak to me audibly twice in my life. The first time was a few years into my marriage. We were going through a rough patch and the possibility of getting a divorce came up. I went up to my office (it was in our house) and started praying. I asked God why this was happening, and I heard Him say, “Because I’m not in your lives.” It was true: I’d fallen away from religion before meeting my wife, and Jodi was raised agnostic. I went back to Jodi and said, let’s go talk to a pastor. She thought I was crazy, but she agreed. Within a week, we were back in love and couldn’t remember why we’d even talked about divorce. We’ve been committed Christians ever since. (The second time I heard God’s voice was when I started writing novels, but that’s another story.)
How do your lovely wife and kids contribute to your writing?
Jodi and Anthony are wonderful early readers. They read the chapters as I write them and give me feedback. Sometimes, we brainstorm as a family, and I’m always pleasantly surprised by the crazy and fantastic ideas that come out of these discussions. The family totally gets me and the stories I’m trying to tell.
What’s up next in your writing pipeline?
The second Immortal Files book—called The Judgment Stone—released in May, and I’m really excited about it. It’s sort of a Frank Peretti meets Tom Clancy story. And I’m finishing the third book in the series now. Then I’ll jump into another YA series. After that, I have an idea for a trilogy of books based on the police sniper from the story I wrote for James Patterson’s anthology called Thriller. And sometime during all this, I’m committed to write two screenplays.
A number of your novels have been optioned for films ~ any progress in that direction?
All of the movies are progressing, but very slowly. The Dreamhouse Kings and Deadfall are the most promising right now, but often the activity level will dip on one as it increases on another for a time, so it’s hard to predict which will hit the screen first—if any. It’s a crazy business, Hollywood. There are some really talented people working on them, so I’m hopeful.
My daughter and niece would not be happy if I didn’t ask this – will you be writing another DHK novel anytime soon?!
Yes, the Kings will return.
The next series is not about the Dreamhouse, but I think fans of Dreamhouse will like this one as well. It’s called Hunter, and will tell the story of two teens, a boy and a girl, who are trying to survive in a world in which most of mankind has been wiped out by a virus. They have to find the cure before it mutates and kills everyone else, and before a band of bad guys finds it. Of course, it’ll have a lot of adventure and suspense.
Each Hunter book will include a Dreamhouse Kings short story, and then, after Hunter, I’m planning on writing another Dreamhouse series.
About the Author
Best-selling novelist Robert Liparulo is a former journalist, with over a thousand articles and multiple writing awards to his name. His first three critically acclaimed thrillers—Comes a Horseman, Germ, and Deadfall—were optioned by Hollywood producers, as well as his Dreamhouse Kings series for young adults. Bestselling author Ted Dekker calls The 13th Tribe “a phenomenal story.” Its sequel, The Judgment Stone, was released in May, 2013. Liparulo is currently working with director Andrew Davis (The Fugitive, The Guardian) on the novel and screenplay of a political thriller. New York Times best-selling author Steve Berry calls Liparulo’s writing “Inventive, suspenseful, and highly entertaining . . . Robert Liparulo is a storyteller, pure and simple.” Liparulo lives in Colorado with his family.
To find out more about Robert and his books visit his website, www.robertliparulo.com.
Also, be sure and read Robert’s article, Soundtrack of Suspense, where he talks about the role of music in his reading.