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Rich Christiano[Jeff Gerke]

Interview: Robert Liparulo

[Photo of Robert Liparulo with his family]Robert Liparulo is the author of the suspense/thriller novel Comes A Horseman, a November 2005 release by WestBow Press. He is shown right with his wife, Jodi (round with Isabella), and children Melanie, Matthew, and Anthony. He took part in the list during June 2006. Shannon McNear, Tim Wise, and Jo Grove asked the questions, and here is an edited version of the question and answer sequence.

SM: Tell us about your background, where and when you grew up, what your childhood was like, etc.?

My father was an officer in the Air Force, so I was a military brat. Actually born at West Point. I don't know how that happened. Traveled all over. My favorite place and the place I remember the most – the place I feel I grew up – is the Azores, a group of islands 900 miles from Portugal. We traveled into Europe a lot, and my life on the island of Terceira was idyllic. I owned a horse and got to go by myself to the movie theater and into the towns of Praia and Angra, where you could buy packs of firecrackers for 10 cents and a steak sandwich for a nickel. There were cobblestone roads, whitewashed churches that Columbus had prayed in, and the streets were lined with flowers and stone walls. My bedroom window looked out over the cliffs to the Atlantic Ocean and a rock that waves constantly splashed over. It was great. After that, my father's last assignment was in Utah and then we moved to Colorado. Except for college, I've been here ever since, either in Denver, Littleton or Colorado Springs.

SM: Where did you go to school, what did you take, and why?

I started at University of California, as a motion picture production major. I loved the movies (still do) and wanted to do something in that field. I was mostly interested in directing (duh) and editing. I soon learned that writing was a great way to get your foot in the door, so I started working with other people on their scripts and slowly developing my own. Unfortunately, finances forced me to go to a less expensive school, so I ended up at Weber State University in Utah. My brother also lined me up with a job in a steel-fabrication plant. I majored in English, because by that time, I knew that I wanted to write more than direct.

SM: What is your family situation? (Married? Kids? 1.7 dogs?)

It's the old "Married with Children" thing, but my family's a lot less dysfunctional than the one in the sitcom; at least I think it is. My wife is Jodi, and we'll celebrate our twenty-first anniversary this year. We have four kids: Melanie (18), Matthew (17), Anthony (9) and Isabella (9 months.) We have a very fun household.

SM: How did you get started writing?

I started writing poems when I was about eight. I went door-to-door selling the poems for pennies. My neighbors were very kind. (At that age, you just do what strikes your fancy, so I guess it's what God designed me to do. My nine-year-old is constantly writing stories; it must run in the family.) I started a novel when I was thirteen. Published my first article in a newspaper when I was fourteen. Started writing short stories for magazines, and when that market dried up, switched to nonfiction articles-celebrity profiles, movie and book reviews, investigative pieces. Right after college, I edited an entertainment magazine in Colorado, so I got a chance to hang out backstage and interview a lot of rock-n-roll greats: Bruce Springsteen, The Who, Chicago, etc. I wrote several screenplays, about half of which sold, but never got off the ground.

SM: What books have you had published? Articles, short stories?

Comes a Horseman is my first novel. It came out last November. I have a short story in Thriller, which just released a few days ago. The story in it is about a SWAT sniper named Byron Stone. Byron is the protagonist of a trilogy that will be out in 2008. My second novel is Germ. It will be out in October. It isn't a sequel to Comes a Horseman, but has the same action-suspense feel to it. It's about a designer virus and some people who are trying to stop it from being released. Before writing Comes a Horseman, I wrote thousands of magazine articles. I covered everything from employee morale to Steven Spielberg. It was fun, but I love writing novels.

SM: Of your books, which one is your favorite? (including works in progress)

Since I have only one out so far, that's easy.

SM: Well, you could have included Germ. ;-)

Okay... Germ is very cool, as well, if I can say that about my own book. It was fun to write and I'm hoping readers will have fun (and be scared) reading it.

SM: Who are your influences as a writer, and why?

I lean toward horror, psychological suspense, and action, so I think the authors who really shaped the way I approach writing and my writing style are: Richard Matheson – his I Am Legend shocked me in a good way when I read it at eleven. It showed me how powerful stories can be. Stephen King's The Stand and Tolkien's Lord of the Rings showed me that there are no limits to the size and scope and majesty of novels, and Peter Straub's Ghost Story proved that "little" stories can be "big." Thomas Perry's The Butcher's Boy helped me fine-tune what I liked about thrillers and taught me about irony. David Morrell's Testament introduced me to the horror that can spin off of real life. James Dickey's Deliverance is about as perfect a novel as can be written. I loved the literary classics, as well: The Turn of the Screw, The House of the Seven Gables, Moby Dick, Great Expectations, The Last of the Mohicans. As diverse as this list seems, really they primarily fall in two genres: action or suspense (except Great Expectations,) and that's what I write.

SM: Normally I ask this from the slant of SF/F, but since you write suspense, what was the first exposure you had to that genre?

See above. I've always read that genre. Lots of Morrell, Straub, King. Since you mentioned SF/F, I should say Ender's Game is one of my all-time favorite novels. I'm a big fan of the Dune series, as well.

SM: Comes A Horseman is billed as suspense/thriller. Is this how you'd slot the story, and why/why not?

Oh, yeah. It contains a lot of suspense, edge-of-your-seat stuff. And I hope it thrills. I think of a thriller as a story that makes readers feel like they're on a rollercoaster ride. Sometimes it's the ratcheting up to the pinnacle that's so exciting; sometimes, it's the breathtaking plunge. I hope that's what I accomplished with Comes a Horseman. I also hope that I went a little deeper with the characters, their motivations and backgrounds, than a lot of thrillers do. I've heard that thrillers are supposed to be plot-driven, but I think Comes a Horseman is character-driven. Germ will be more like the "standard" thriller, with a lot of plotting, but even with it, I like the characters a lot.

SM: What is your personal all-time favorite suspense/thriller work, and why?

Jaws. That book has been dropped into a lot of genres by various people, but it is the epitome of suspense/thriller in my opinion. It taps into our everyday fears and scares us to death. It's so well plotted and written. Peter Benchley spent the rest of his life trying to hit that sweet spot again and just couldn't. Lord of the Rings is a very close second, for obvious reasons. Tolkien's ability to transport his readers to Middle Earth, to make them feel they were actually part of the fellowship, is amazing.

SM: What is your faith stance, and how does it affect your writing?

Jesus Christ is my Lord and Savior. Without Him, we'd all be on a hell-bound train. My gifts and skills as a writer come from Him. They are not for me or my own benefit, but given to me to bless others. I want to honor Him by doing the best job I can do. I trust that He is in everything I do, even if I'm not conscious about "putting" Him there.

SM: What Christian book(s) (fiction or non-fiction) have had the greatest impact on your thought and writing?

Definitely, Mere Christianity and several of C.S. Lewis's other books (such as The Great Divorce and The Screwtape Letters.) My Utmost for His Highest. I love daily reminders of Who God Is. Madeleine L'Engle's Walking on Water, which addresses how faith influences art. Do I need to say The Bible, or does that go without saying?

SM: What NON-Christian book(s) (fiction or non-fiction) have had the greatestimpact on your thought and writing?

All those books I mentioned earlier. The Writer's Journey by Christopher Vogler is probably the book that every writer should read if he or she could read only one book about writing. It examines the structure of story, dating back to ancient myths, and why certain structures work and others don't.

SM: When you write, have you ever come across theological "puzzles" you had to sort through to your own satisfaction before you could continue with the story?

Wow, great question. I think all of the themes that intrigue me enough to incorporate them into my writing entail theological puzzles. In the sniper trilogy coming up, for example, I'm exploring the nature of violence and how it gibes with the teachings of Jesus, who was the Prince of Peace. Similarly, in Lunatic Fringe, the novel after Germ, I examine justice, human justice and Godly justice. Sometimes the two don't seem to go hand-in-hand. In Comes a Horseman, a father knows he must get back to his son, he knows it's his duty; but he also must do something that will jeopardize his ability to fulfill that duty. He's in a dilemma over two seemingly conflicting things he knows are the right things to do. He has to work it out. I think we have to work through theological puzzles every day. If we really thought about all of our decisions, we'd see faith conflicts everywhere (not that they really do conflict, just that our understanding or misunderstanding of scripture creates seeming conflicts.) The stories I write reflect this.

SM: What do you do when you aren't writing?

I love to work around the house, read, swim, travel, go for drives, spend time with my family, play with my children, watch movies, tinker on the computer. I like to walk through trees and listen to the wind. Pinecones dropping to the ground is one of my favorite sounds. Love almost anything to do with water: scuba, jet ski, sailing, swimming, fishing... just watching water, a river or an ocean. I'm just starting to get back into bike riding and camping. I used to dirt-bike. I'd like to do that again.

TW: It looks, based on your website, like you've had a very interesting and successful writing career thus far with the celebrity interviews and so many articles, and that WestBow is treating you well with the marketing help. I'm curious about how much marketing an author is responsible for and how much is handled by a publisher. You have an attractive website and endorsements from some of the best Christian authors in the field. How much of that did you arrange yourself and how much did your publisher set up? I've had author friends who were primarily responsible for their own publicity while others seem to have received a lot of help.

Tim, thanks for the questions. Most authors these days do spend quite a bit of time and money on their own marketing and publicity. Some authors refuse to do that – and I do understand why – but if you believe in the things you want your publisher to be doing in terms of marketing, then you should understand that it's an investment. So really it means investing in yourself.

Typically, a publisher has a very well defined marketing and publicity budget for each of its authors. So if I invest in, say, my own website (which I did), then WestBow can use that money elsewhere. It's not like you're allowing your publisher to not spend money on you. When an author contributes to his or her own marketing, he/she is adding to the pool. The nice thing about doing it is you can spend it on what you want.

WestBow has been very supportive. It had some wonderful ideas for getting my name out there, for putting Comes a Horseman in front of readers and booksellers. That included a six- or seven-city book tour. In addition, I paid for hitting several cities myself. Not only did that get me out there more, it showed WestBow that I believed in that form of publicity, enough to invest my own money in it. Another place many authors put their money is in conventions. Sometimes a publisher will pay to get you there, other times they won't. Those times they won't, you may want to consider paying for it yourself (which isn't cheap: usually, it costs $1,000-$1,500 to attend a short convention, with airfare, hotels, rental cars, attendance fees.) But if you think you can advance your brand (and every author is a brand) by attending (either by networking or visiting media), then you should try to spring for it if you can. If you don't think it will advance your brand enough to warrant the costs, then why should your publisher pay for it either? I know a lot of authors who simply will not attend a convention if their publisher does not pay.

To answer your question about endorsements and who gets them – usually, it's the author. The publisher will help by sending advance reader copies. It's common for a specific number of them to be allocated for endorsers. If an authors wants to send out more than the allocation, the publisher may simply send the author a box of ARCs for him/her to send out. Most authors cultivate relationships with possible endorsers. I knew a lot of authors from my early days as a short story writer and a writer of celebrity profiles. I also knew quite a few from organizations I belong/belonged to and from conferences I attended, usually as a faculty member. A few of the endorsements I received came from my contacting authors I admire and asking them. Most were very gracious; all of them actually read the book (from what I can tell in our conversations.) Getting yourself out there, in front of your peers helps. Being a finalist for a Christy this year will make it easier for me to approach Christian authors in the future; having a short story featured in the anthology called Thriller, edited by James Patterson, will help me get endorsements from writers of suspense fiction.

TW: Do you see Christian fiction as a complement or an alternative (i.e. Christian-specific replacement) to secular fiction? I think I viewed Christian media more as an alternative in my younger years, but view it more as a complement to a lot of good but not Christian-specific work in the secular market.

The whole secular-Christian thing is a can of worms. I do believe that Christian books complement the secular market, but I sometimes wonder why we have such distinctions in the first place. I realize that it's nice for readers to know where an author is coming from, that his or her books are "safe." But why not lump everything into one big "book market," and let magazines and reviewers and word-of-mouth point out those distinctions. Why can't we say, "Hey Clive Barker has some really wild stories and in interviews he has displayed hostility toward the Christian faith. Ted Dekker has some wild stuff, too, but he's coming at it from a Christian author's POV. Oh, by the way, they have the same publisher." (They don't, but I'm making a point.) This way, Dekker has the same distribution channels as Barker, ends up in the same section in the bookstores as Barker, and in the same magazines that review that genre, but readers then can choose one over the other. Why not let Dekker decide what he can and cannot say, according to his faith, instead of depending on the publisher to censor him (not that they do, but by delineating CBA from ABA, we have assigned that role to CBA publishers.) We are Christians by what we believe and, by extension, by what we say and do, not by where we live, what we look like, the colors we wear, where we work, with whom we publish. So, obviously, I'm an advocate of the "fiction by a Christian author" approach, as opposed to "Christian fiction."

JG: I read Comes a Horseman about a month ago, and enjoyed it. I'm not sure I have any intelligent questions to ask (or even unintelligent ones...<G>), but I just wanted to drop in and say "Hello." :-) Well, OK, maybe one...do you plan to revisit the characters from Comes a Horseman in a future book? I especially liked the neo-Viking dude. Well, OK, perhaps "like" isn't the best word choice.... LOL!

Thanks for saying "Hello." Glad you liked Comes a Horseman. I know how you feel about Olaf, the neo-Viking dude. I liked him, too, though I'm not sure he was all that likeable. Something about his love for his family, I think. I would like to write a sequel to Comes a Horseman – the idea I have for it will blow readers away, I think – but I'm not sure when I can get to it. Germ comes out in October. Lunatic Fringe in 2007. The sniper trilogy in 2008. Maybe early 2009 would be a good time for a Horseman sequel (Comes Another Horseman? Just kidding..)

SM: So are you writing full-time now, and how do you work writing around family life?

I am writing full-time. I've been a full-time writer of something (magazine articles, screenplays) for twenty years. Now, I'm working full-time writing novels... and I'm loving it. A few years ago, I found myself distracted by a busy household and rented an outside office. I'm just now moving back into a home office. I hope I'll be better at managing the distractions. If I set very specific times to write, my family is pretty good about letting me work uninterrupted. It's when I try to work just any ol' time that gets tough for me and for my wife and kids.

SM: What sorts of things stir the pot of creativity for you?

Good books, good movies, good conversations, but mostly good music. I primarily listen to movie soundtracks.

SM: Some specific favorites? :-)

In books, I tend to look for a strong sense of atmosphere and good writing. I love anything from Richard Matheson (especially I Am Legend and Hell House,) Peter Straub (Ghost Story, Koko,) Elmore Leonard, though his language does tend to get rough (Tishomingo Blues and Hot Kid) Lee Child (any Jack Reacher story), David Morrell (Creepers and Testament,) Umberto Eco (Name Of The Rose, Foucault's Pendulum,) and of course Jaws. I'm sure there are dozens of other authors and books I should name that I'm drawing a blank on now.

When I watch movies, I like strong dramatic tension, good acting, technical expertise. Some of my favorites are Heat, Last Of The Mohicans, Jaws, The Lord Of The Rings, Enemy At The Gates, Changing Lanes, Ronin, Night Watch (a recent Russian horror film...very well done...watch it with the original Russian and English subtitles.) I started out in college as a motion picture production major before switch to English, so I have a sort of cinematic perspective on things.

My tastes in music are eclectic: Journey, Pink Floyd, Eric Clapton, Bob Seger, Bruce Springsteen, Mark Knopfler, Neko Case, Eagles, Travis Tritt, Evanescence, Three Doors Down, BNL, Train, Damien Rice. My favorite soundtracks are Last Of The Mohicans, Lord Of The Rings, Braveheart, Dragonheart, Kill Bill (II more than I), Master And Commander, Gladiator, The Red Violin, Spy Game.

When I write, music often helps me get into the mood for a particular scene. So when I'm writing a fast-paced action scene, that's the sort of music I like to listen to. Paul Oakenfold is a good one. Sometimes, I'll watch a movie that has a similar feel to the one I'm trying to create – a foreign horror film for something moody or a testosterone action flick for heavy action.

SM: Do you have a favorite place for writing?

My office, either the outside one (for a brief while longer) or the home office. I've tried to make an environment that's both comfortable and productive. If I don't like where I'm at, I want to leave, then I'll get nothing done. So my workspace has a comfortable, ergonomic chair and a fat leather recliner and lots of bookshelves for my research books. Occasionally, I work out on my back deck, which looks out into woods. It's peaceful and gets me thinking more philosophically than I otherwise would. I try to translate some of those thoughts to my characters.

SM: Do you try to work each day until you're "done," or do you have certain hours, or daily word count goal?

I tend to work during specific times. I usually start early, say 6 AM, and end around 3 or 4 PM, when my kids get out of school. That way I have the evening to spend with the family. However, by nature I'm a night person, so I sometimes get back to work about 10 PM and work till about 2 AM. About half my time is spent actually writing; the rest is spent on research, answering emails, doing something in the marketing realm (website, book tour, etc..)

SM: Do you tend more toward outlining, or do you work with just a general idea of where the story is going, and the characters just tend to take over on the details?

I outline, then let the characters change it as they see fit. With thrillers, I think you have to be pretty sure where the story's going. You have to set up plot twists, character motivation, those ah-ha moments.

SM: Could you share something of how you came to write Comes A Horseman, and your journey toward this first book being published?

Comes a Horseman came from my reading an article in, I think, Psychology Today about people who thought they were someone else – Jesus, Napoleon. I thought, Why not the Antichrist? It seems he would be desirable to some people. He would be powerful, able to perform miracles, and so on. But I hadn't heard of that particular psychosis. I thought, what if someone was able to convince people he was the Antichrist, what would that look like. What if he got in so deep, he had start faking prophesies that he could "fulfill"? And it went from there.

Getting to publication was one of those God things. I'd written some radio dramas for kids, once upon a time, and a friend suggested me to his editor at Tommy Nelson. She contacted me about writing a kids novel, but then the series it was to be part of fell through. About a year later, she called me to say she had moved into the adult division and wondered if I wrote for adults. I showed her some chapters of a book I was starting to write (Germ, actually), and she liked them. We worked out a few other ideas (one of which was Comes a Horseman) and they signed me to a contract.

SM: And what three bits of advice would you offer to new writers?

1. To paraphrase Winston Churchill: "Never, never, never give up."

2. Develop your own style. Don't try to mimic someone else's and don't let an editor mess with it. At the end of the day, style is really all you bring to the table. Stories and plots are a dime a dozen. Style is what makes you different for all the other writers out there.

3. Understand that the craft of writing is only half of what it takes to be a published author. The other half is working with editors, meeting deadlines, marketing your books and yourself, and all that other stuff that feels like garbage because it's not writing.

If anyone wants to contact me later, feel free to visit my website at robertliparulo.com or email me at robert at liparulo.com. I love hearing from readers.

Thanks for the questions! - Bob

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[David R. Beaucage][Kathy Tyers][James BeauSeigneur][Jefferson Scott][Walker Chandler][Alton Gansky][Ray Hansen]

[Emily Snyder][Randall Ingermanson][Theodore Beale][Steve Laube][Laura Lond][Frank Wu][Donita K. Paul][Brenda W. Clough][Bryan Davis][John Granger]

[Karen Hancock][Miles Owens][Robert Liparulo][Bryan Davis, part 2][Chris Walley][Kathryn Mackel][Gene Wolfe][Sharon Hinck][Wayne Thomas Batson][Lars Walker][Christopher Hopper][Jeffrey Overstreet]

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[David R. Beaucage] [Kathy Tyers] [James BeauSeigneur] [Jefferson Scott] [Walker Chandler] [Alton Gansky] [Ray Hansen] [Emily Snyder] [Randall Ingermanson] [Theodore Beale] [Steve Laube] [Laura Lond] [Frank Wu] [Donita K. Paul] [Brenda W. Clough] [Bryan Davis] [John Granger] [Karen Hancock] [Miles Owens] [Robert Liparulo] [Bryan Davis, part 2] [Chris Walley] [Kathryn Mackel] [Gene Wolfe] [Sharon Hinck] [Wayne Thomas Batson] [Lars Walker] [Christopher Hopper] [Jeffrey Overstreet][Rich Christiano][Jeff Gerke]