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Robert Liparulo Interview

by C.J. Darlington

"I’m a bit schizoid about food. I’m one of those people who’ll order a Big Mac and a Diet Coke."
-- Robert Liparulo


Robert Liparulo is an award-winning author of over a thousand published articles and short stories. He is currently a contributing editor for New Man magazine. His work has appeared in Reader's Digest, Travel & Leisure, Modern Bride, Consumers Digest, Chief Executive, and The Arizona Daily Star, among other publications. In addition, he previously worked as a celebrity journalist, interviewing Stephen King, Tom Clancy, Charlton Heston, and others for magazines such as Rocky Road, Preview, and L.A. Weekly. He has sold or optioned three screenplays.

Robert is an avid scuba diver, swimmer, reader, traveler, and a law enforcement and military enthusiast. He lives in Colorado with his wife and four children.

C.J.: When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?

Robert: I was in fifth grade when I knew I wanted to be a writer. I wrote an article about the first flight on the Concord. It had stopped on Lajes Field, in the Azores Islands, where my father was stationed. My teacher sent it in to the Air Force publication, without telling them my age, and they bought it. I didn’t know I wanted to be a novelist until I was about twelve. That’s when I read Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend; I immediately knew I wanted to tell stories like that.

Were books a big part of your life growing up? If so, what books would you say influenced you most as a child?

I’ve been a voracious reader for as long as I can remember. After the Dr. Seuss years, it was the classics, like The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and The House of the Seven Gables. Then Shirley Jackson’s stories—The Legend of Hill House, “The Lottery.” It seemed that there were great stories propelling me along every couple of years—Peter Straub’s Ghost Story, Stephen King’s The Stand, Thomas Perry’s The Butcher’s Boy, David Morrell’s Testament. I’d read a lot between these, but these are the ones that reinforced my determination to write novels.

Talk to us about your latest novel Germ. Where did the idea come from?

Germ is about a designer virus. Its creator encodes a virus with a bit of human DNA. The virus them travels from person to person until it finds the DNA that matches the code within it, then it turns into Ebola and kills that person. It’s sort of like an assassin-germ. A few years ago, I read about someone who claimed that the government was trying to create a virus or chemical that attacked only specific races. I thought, well, why stop at a specific race, why not a specific person? With gene splicing and manipulating viruses to attack cancer cell, the technology is there for a malicious, assassin-germ.

How far away are we from actually seeing an Ebola-like virus that can be manipulated to target specific people?

Biologists are already altering the genetic makeup of viruses. At John Hopkins, they genetically engineered a virus that tricked muscle nerve cells into manufacturing a growth protein that could cure ALS—Lou Gehrig’s disease. Another biotech firm found that an altered herpes simplex virus-1 attacked only cancer cell, without harming healthy cells. I believe we already have the technology to create a malicious, assassin-germ..

What was the hardest part about writing Germ?

Incorporating the research into an exciting story. I didn’t want to slow down the pace to give the reader information, especially the dense biological stuff I had researched. I made the decision to keep a brisk pace at all cost. I think I was able to build the characters and impart the scientific information readers need to know, and still keep everything moving at rollercoaster speed.

Germ by Robert LiparuloAnything you discovered in your research on viruses that particularly surprised you?

Just how malleable viruses really are. If scientists aren’t piggybacking some good virus on another virus to get it to the part of the body they want to effect, then their cutting into them and changing their genetics. It’s amazing stuff.

You’ve thrust your characters into many harrowing experiences. Where do you draw the line in portraying violence/adult situations in your novels?

I don’t want to be gratuitous or voyeuristic. I want to convey how violent the result of sin can be. I believe it doesn’t help us fight sin when we downplay its results. But I don’t like the “splatterpunk” style of dwelling on violence and tragedy. I used the movie Gladiator as a model—it cut away from violence a few seconds sooner than most movies. That kept a lot of blood off screen and let the viewer’s mind fill in what was missing; it was actually more impacting because of what it did not show, as opposed to what it did show.

Would you call yourself a Christian fiction writer or a fiction writer who happens to be a Christian? Why?

I'm an author who is Christian. My answer shouldn't have any bearing on how my books are published or marketed. Any reader, Christian or not, should have an opportunity to read my -- or anyone else's -- stories. My books end up in the mystery or general fiction sections of most bookstores. I don't believe there ought to be a "religious fiction" section in bookstores. That's not a genre. Fiction, written by a Christian or someone else, usually falls into well defined categories: romance, historical, suspense, mystery. An author's beliefs shouldn't come into the equation at this point. Where an author's beliefs matter is when they flavor the writing and an individual consumer has an opinion about it.

That said, I do understand the need for Christian retailers. It’s convenient for Christians to be able to go to one place and know they can trust that whatever they find there comes from a Christian perspective. Fiction is a bit different, in that fiction authors aren’t supposed to be teaching as much as they are supposed to be creating art. Art is universal, it should be found everywhere.

What motivates you to head to your keyboard every day?

The desire God put inside me. Of course there are practical considerations—I have deadlines to meet, mouths to feed. But ultimately, I believe God gave me the gift to write stories, and it’s a gift that is not meant to bless me as much as it is meant to bless others. If I don’t do it, I’m withholding blessings meant for other people. I don’t want to be responsible for denying God’s blessings to anyone. I write because God created me to write.

Any news on your books being turned into movies? I hear you’re writing the screenplay for Germ?

Mace Neufeld, who’s producing Comes a Horseman, is still trying to get a good script. My understanding is that they’ve rejected two scripts by two prominent scriptwriters. If that means they’ve set the bar high, I’m happy about it. Red Eagle Entertainment, a relatively new, but well positioned production company is making Germ. Right now, they have Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time in production. They’re putting something like $100 million into it—nothing to sneeze at. They said they want to put Germ on the same track. I’m still considering whether I want to write the screenplay. I do, but I have other books to write and I’m not sure if I have the time. I’ll make a decision in the next month or so.

Are there any authors or books you consistently turn to for inspiration?

For me, inspiration comes from talent, from reading good writing.Comes A Horseman by Robert Liparulo

Ever had any embarrassing moments while performing research, traveling, speaking or doing a book signing?

I like that question, but, you know, everything has gone incredibly well. Recently I did a signing with Tess Gerritsen, a very popular best-selling thriller writer. I thought I would feel like a fifth wheel, that I didn’t belong there with her. But she was so gracious about talking with me and deferring to me during a question-and-answer session that I felt right at home. It helped that some people had actually shown up to see me. It was a great experience and I thank both Barbara Peters of The Poisoned Pen bookstore and Tess for that. I was an investigative journalist before turning to novel-writing, so I’m very comfortable doing research. I don’t mind asking stupid questions and I don’t mind pushing for more information than someone initially wants to give. I’m sure something’s going to come up that makes me want to run and hide, but so far, it’s been good.

Of all your characters, who’s your favorite, and why?

Wow, what a question. You know, authors tend to become very attached to their characters. Your question is sort of like asking a parent which child he or she loves best. I relate most to Brady, the protagonist in Comes a Horseman. I’m probably proudest of Olaf, a really bad guy who has a big heart; we understand his motivations so it’s hard to dislike him as much as we should. It’s a balance that’s difficult to achieve in novels, but I think for some reason, Olaf works really well. I think Stephen in Germ is someone I’d like to know in real life. He’s this big, monster of a guy, who’d do anything for you. One interviewer told me he was stunned by the balance of good and evil in Karl Litt, the main antagonist in Germ. The guy was despicable, but you understood him. I think that’s very human — though I hope we come down on the side of good, we are more grey than black or white. I’m always pleased when I can achieve that hue in my characters.

What kind of story would you love to write someday but haven’t yet?

I tend to write exactly what I want to write at that point in my life. I don’t know what the future will bring. I think I would like to write a huge epic on the scale of Lord of the Rings, but that’s probably what all writers dream about.

What’s next for you?

Right now, I’m finishing up Deadfall for publication next October. It’s a action-suspense story that takes place entirely in the Canadian wilderness. I can’t say much more about it just yet, but people who liked Comes a Horseman and Germ will get a kick out of it, I’m sure, even though it doesn’t encompass the globe, as those stories did. It’s more intimate, but every bit as scary and breathtaking.

The book after Deadfall had an interesting genesis. Mike Medavoy, who used to run Universal Studio and started both Tri-Star and Orion (he now heads up Phoenix Pictures) read Comes a Horseman and apparently liked it. He called my agent and set up a meeting with me. He explained that he’s had an idea for a political thriller for years, but couldn’t get it off the ground as a screenplay. He asked if I’d write a novel, based on his idea. It was literally a one-line premise; that gave me lots of latitude in developing the story and characters, so I agreed. I’ll start writing it in February for a July, 2008, release. Phoenix Pictures has pre-purchased the movie rights to the novel.

Robert LiparuloWho is Robert Liparulo?

Father, son, husband, brother, child of God, writer.

What are two things people might be surprised to know about you?

I’m fairly unpredictable. I might decide to take my family on vacation at a moment’s notice. And because I write such dark things, people are surprised that I have a sense of humor, laugh and smile a lot, and am very passionate about people. I’m a sucker for a hard luck story or a child’s tears.

When you’re not writing, what do you enjoy doing?

Spending time with my family—playing a board game, watching a DVD, reading to my nine-year-old son, chasing my one-year-old daughter around the house, helping my older son fix his car. I read a lot, books and magazines. I take walks, go to the Y, swim.

What have you eaten in the last 24 hours? (Come on, be honest!)

I don’t keep those kinds of things in my head very long, especially when I’m on deadline, which I am right now. Arby’s sandwich, bagel and cream cheese, clam chowder... that’s all I can remember. Oh, a couple of Milk Duds my son gave me.

Three things always found in your refrigerator:

Cheddar cheese, mayo, yogurt — I’m a bit schizoid about food. I’m one of those people who’ll order a Big Mac and a Diet Coke.

You’re next in line at Starbucks. What are you ordering?

Venti white mocha or a plain dark roast, depending on if my sweet tooth is awake or not.

What’s left unchecked in your “goals for life” list?

Pilot a plane, walk my daughter—now daughters—down the aisle.

What’s currently in your iPod?

Kill Bill II soundtrack, Pink World by Planet P Project, Da Vinci Code soundtrack, Third Day.

Anything else you’d like to share with TitleTrakk.com readers?

If anyone wants to keep up on what’s going on with my work—upcoming releases, movie news—they can sign up to receive my e-newsletter at www.robertliparulo.com. On March 15, I’ll select five random names from my mailing list to receive autographed copies of Germ and one person will receive an iPod Nano.

And for the writers reading this, I want to encourage you to never stop pursuing your dream. God does not frustrate us. He would not put the desire to write in you if He wasn’t going to see it through. He doesn’t simply pick us up and put us in the territory He’s staked out for us. He makes us walk to it, sometimes through terrible wilderness, but always for good reason. If you keep walking, you’ll reach it.

C.J. DarlingtonC.J. Darlington is the award-winning authof of Thicker than Blood, Bound by Guilt, and Ties that Bind. She is a regular contributor to Family Fiction Digital Magazine and NovelCrossing.com. A homeschool graduate, she makes her home in Pennsylvania with her family and their menagerie of dogs, a cat, and a paint horse named Sky. Visit her online at her author website. You can also look her up at Twitter and Facebook.