Today we are welcoming Robert Liparulo to share with us a peek into his mind. Are you ready? Let’s go!
If you could spend the day with one spec fic character, who would it be?
Robert Neville from Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend. That’s the novel that made me, at age twelve, want to be a novelist, as opposed to a writer of other things. And Neville is simply a fascinating character, someone who had to learn to live and survive in a world of monsters. He struggles with loneliness, grows empathetic toward the creatures who want to kill him, and ultimately comes to realize—and this blew me away as a kid—that in a world changed overnight, he had become the monster. The story is right up there with Lord of the Rings in terms of using speculative fiction to convey deep truths about the human condition, our strengths and flaws. I would love to pick his brain about his thoughts on the meaning of being human, the hope that gets him through each day (all of my stories are, at their core, about hope), about his appreciation for the simple things in life (a family a picnic, a child’s laughter) after they were taken away. I’m glad you said, “spend the day with one spec fic character”; the vampires in Neville’s world come out at night.
If you could visit anywhere in the world, where would you go?
I would return to the Azores Islands, where I spent a number of years during my childhood. It’s such a peaceful, beautiful place. I had campouts on wooded mountains, participated in the Portuguese version of “running with the bulls,” attended service in a church Christopher Columbus visited on his way to America, tipped over cows, scuba dived, caught a shark, wrote my first published article, almost blew my hand off with firecrackers. . . . great stuff! I learned to ride horses there, and got my front tooth knocked out by one, which has cause a lifetime of dental problems. I still wouldn’t trade a single day there—even that one—for anything in the world.
What is your favorite TV show?
Right now, Elementary. I love the obscure facts that solve the crimes, and how the characters’ personalities are woven into the plots. I was recently invited to submit a script for the show, so I’m binging on all the seasons. Such meticulously written episodes.
You have a free weekend. What do you do with it?
I haven’t had a free weekend in quite a while. So many things like to catch up on: camping with my kids, shooting at a range, reading for two days straight, having a get-together with my friends . . . sleeping. Of course, most writers I know—including myself—are always working, whether mentally writing, jotting down observations or that perfect sentence, or, at minimum, being too anxious to get back to the current story to enjoy any free time.
Would you rather live in Middle-Earth, Tatooine, or aboard the Starship Enterprise?
Oh, Middle-Earth, definitely. What a vast landscape of adventure! And the people I’d meet. Yeah, I’d probably step out of my house and get an arrow in the chest, but the other options don’t seem any less dangerous. I’d have to gather my own fellowship for protection. How cool would it be to explore Rivendell!
What was your first novel about?
Comes a Horseman is about two FBI agents tracking a serial killer, who turns the tables and comes after them. We learn that he’s not so much a serial killer, as a hired assassin. His much nastier boss is out to prove he’s the antichrist. I’d read about people suffering from delusions of grandeur, most of whom believe themselves to be famous, omnipotent, wealthy, powerful. Some think they’re a famous figure, such as Jesus Christ or Napoleon. I thought, why not the antichrist? My research uncovered an organization waiting for—preparing for—the antichrist. (A late-night telephone call threating me to stop looking into this group cut my research short, but that’s another story.) My antagonist wants recognition and help from this group. It was an interesting, truly fun story to write.
Why do you write?
I’m sure you’ve heard this before: I can’t not write. I was wired before birth to be a storyteller. When I was eight, I wrote poetry on rocks and broken asphalt and went door-to-door selling them. I’m sure my neighbors bought them only to get me off their doorsteps, but all it did was encourage me to write more and return (a trait that continues today). I sold my first article when I was ten, and kept writing short stories and articles for the next twenty years. I love crafting stories, creating interesting characters, and getting lost in their adventures. I believe everyone should do what they love, regardless of outcome, of income. Somehow, if you’re passionate enough, determined enough, the money will follow. Doesn’t matter if it’s dentistry or plumbing, if you love it, do it. For me, that’s writing.
Why do you write speculative fiction? What draws you to it?
Obviously, all fiction writers (and many non-fiction writers) are highly creative people. In my mind, speculative fiction is the epitome of creative thinking. Not only do speculative fiction writers create characters and plots, they often develop whole new universes, languages, races; they describe possible futures, manipulate time, ponder “what ifs” without limitations. If I love something, I want to be extreme about it, explore it and live it fully. If I were an archeologist, I’d be Indiana Jones. If I were a mountain climber, I’d attempt Everest. I’m a writer, a purveyor of imagination, so it makes sense that I’d be attracted to speculative fiction. Don’t box me in with concepts like “reality”; don’t limit me to things that can be, or ever have been, touched or seen or experienced. Our creativity comes from God. I believe we’re to use it the way He does: boundlessly.
Is there a step in the writing process that you dread/loathe/wish you could throw over the side of a cliff with a mill stone tied around its neck?
Starting—putting those first thousand words on the page—is painful to me. Maybe it’s knowing how much work lies ahead, or that I’m really enjoying not working, I don’t know. I’m a linear writer, crafting my story from beginning to end, so priming the pump by writing a scene I’m excited about, but which will occur later in the novel, doesn’t work. Besides, the scenes I envisioned always change significantly, based on the characters and the way they’ve informed the story up to those scenes. Once I start, I’m invested, I go for it. I put in twelve-, fifteen-hour days until it’s done. But starting? Agh! It’s probably why my novels start off with a thrilling teaser. The fast-paced, intriguing hook that grabs readers, also grabs me; it pulls readers into the story, and it gets me writing it.
What is one piece of writing advice someone has given you that actually helped you?
David Morrell (creator of Rambo and a slew of brilliant novels) told me, “Everything is about character.” Plot doesn’t matter if we don’t care about the characters, and what is plot without compelling characters guiding it, living through it? He told me this when I sought his advice in finishing my first novel, Comes a Horseman. I went back and re-wrote the 70,000 or so words that I had on paper at the time (it went on to become a 135,000-word story). The deeper, more interesting characters completely changed that story. I’ve come to embrace the belief that every story is character-driven. Thrillers are often defined as plot-driven, but it’s not true. I usually have an idea of the story I want to tell, but I don’t know the details, the finer points that make it interesting, until I know the characters, and let them loose into the world of that story.
What are you doing/teaching at Realm Makers?
There’s probably a more detailed description floating around the Realm Makers site, so I won’t bore you reiterating it here. Suffice to say, I’ll be exploring how writers need to use their uniqueness, their strangeness, to craft stories that stand out from the usual fare. And how to use their weirdness to get their stories finished. It’s time we “Embrace the Strange”—not be embarrassed by or apologetic for it. Doing so will make us comfortable with our peculiarities, and ultimately lead to publishing success.
Best-selling novelist Robert Liparulo is a former journalist, with over a thousand articles and multiple writing awards to his name. Four of his critically acclaimed thrillers—Comes a Horseman, Germ, Deadfall, and The 13th Tribe—were optioned by Hollywood producers, as well as his “Dreamhouse Kings” series for young adults. He is currently working on the third book in the “Immortal Files” series, the seventh “Dreamhouse Kings” book, the adaptation of Deadfall for Mandalay Pictures, and on a screenplay of a political thriller with director Andrew Davis (The Fugitive, The Guardian). Recently, he helped create a television series called Threat, which is slated to air in late 2017. He lives in Colorado. Visit Robert on the web at robertliparulo.com, Twitter (@robertliparulo) and on Facebook at facebook.com/LiparuloFans