virtual escapade across the country. I imagine it will take a couple days on the road.
Jake (my dog)-check.
First stop, Colorado.
Having received my very first assignment as an interviewer, I’m wondering if I should have learned short-
hand… although I doubt it would make this any easier.
I’ve felt edgy and a bit apprehensive since finding out I had the ‘scary-story-telling’ author to interview. I
knew he wrote, ‘sit on the edge of your seat’ thrillers and being a scaredy-cat at heart I speculate, will this
change my dreams into nightmares?
My mythical meandering across the U.S.A. to Colorado fared well, however the thoughts of the meeting still
had me a bit anxious. I wanted this to be great. My mind played games as I visualized the scenario.
I’m picturing myself… first my mind going blank, then… I’m speechless?
Bill reassures me, “That’ll never happen.”
I sneer at hubby, “funny.”
I say a little silent prayer; “Please God, Help! This is my big chance… I’m going to earn credits as an
author, on my own journey up the publishing world ladder.”
God miraculously hears me.
My unjustified jitters disappear, as Bill, Jake, and I are greeted with warm smiles, and friendly hellos. Mr.
Liparulo and his family are gracious and kind. Their hospitality calms any nervousness, and after a
refreshing green tea; I’m eager to get to work.
The author shows me to his office. He offers me a seat on a beautiful leather sofa, which faces an old dark-
wood desk. I glance around as he gathers his papers together and I think to myself… this looks so author-
Shelves filled with books, lots of wood accents, a table-top replica of Michelangelo’s Moses and an old hour
glass; elegant pieces that adorn his study. I hear a familiar melody softly playing from the sound system and
I am eased by the charming surroundings. A large window overlooks the treed yard and I see my ‘boys’
have found a relaxing place to rest while they wait.
“This is delightful. I have so many questions.” I glance at my paper work, fumbling for my glasses; I take a
breath, smile at him and ask, “May I begin?”
* * *
Valerie: How do you personally relate to characters in your stories? For example: Luco Scaramuzzi from
Comes a Horseman.
Robert: When I write from a character’s point of view, I am that character. Even when I'm not actually
writing, I sort of live that character: at a restaurant, I may think, “What would so-and-so order?”; when I’m
just hanging out with my family and friends, I tend to think the way the character thinks. So, I argue points
from a position I normally wouldn’t take, necessarily. I try to get inside that character’s mind. “Method
writing” I call it. Fortunately, my friends and family know this about me, and they give me lots of grace.
When I was working on my young adult series, and the point-of-view character was a twelve year old, I
drove my wife crazy. I wanted to take the kids for ice cream just about every day, go to the Six Flags
amusement park in Denver, watch adolescent movies . . . all the stuff a twelve-year-old boy would do.
With Scaramuzzi, who’s a bad guy to the highest order, I got pretty dark. Since his thinking was
diametrically opposed to my own, I found myself in a funk whenever his scenes came up. I did understand
him, somewhat. Bad guys don’t think they’re bad; only that they’re more enlightened than others. I hope
that I infused in him a humanity that his actions didn’t reflect, but his thinking did. Now, from the
perspective of several years since I wrote about him, I hope I don’t have any of the greed and delusion that
were part of his character, but I’m sure on some level I do. Writing about characters both good and evil
helps me explore my own strengths and weaknesses. As a writer, I’m interested in how some of us turn
toward the light and some go the other way. I think all of us have it in us to go either way. But for the grace
of God . . . And I mean that literally.
Valerie: How did you come up with his name?
Robert: I have no idea. I do tend to come up with sharp-sounding names for antagonists. Scaramuzzi, Karl
Litt in Germ. In Deadfall, I broke down and named a secondary bad guy “Bad,” but that was more of a
product of the youth and video game culture I was examining in that story. Someone pointed out that in
Deadfall, my bad guys have unusual names—Declan, Bad, Kyrill—while the good guys were Tom, David,
Laura, John, who everyone called “Hutch,” a shortening of his last name. Maybe it’s a subconscious thing, I
don’t know: good is normal; evil is unusual. I’m probably thinking too much about it now.
There’s a clue in Comes a Horseman involving Scaramuzzi’s name. A character says “scary movie,” and the
protagonists, who’ve administered sodium amytal—so called truth serum—to this person, have no idea why
he would be repeating that. We learn later that he was saying “Scaramuzzi.” That idea came when I told my
wife over the phone that I’d been writing about Scaramuzzi. She said, “Are you saying ‘scary movie’?” It
seemed to fit.
Valerie: Comes a Horseman and Germ are going to the big screen. Have you thought about who could play
your characters? Are you excited about the possibilities, wondering if they’ll meet your expectations? Have
you ever acted?
Robert: I didn’t have anybody in mind while writing the stories, so my ideas of the “perfect” actors for the
characters shift with the Hollywood winds. I hear that producer is after a particular person or an actor
expresses interest, and I think, “Yeah, I can see that.” There are so many things in Hollywood that factor
into who might take on a role—scheduling, money, who else is involved—that it’s a revolving door of
possibilities. In college, I started out as a motion picture production major, before switching to English, so
having so much interest in my stories from producers is definitely exciting. I don’t write with movies in
mind, but I tend to write cinematically. I acted some in high school, but quickly realize that wasn’t my
calling. I directed some theater, a discipline I think helps me describe scenes, but I can’t see myself ever on
stage or in front of the camera.
Valerie: You have a large family. What sort of bedtime stories do you tell your children? Have the kids been
frightened by them?
Robert: I tell them stories about my childhood, and I embellish the facts to make the events sound more
dramatic than they were—they know I do that, it’s a running gag in our home. I used to live in the Azores
Islands, for example, and attended a running of the bulls, Pamplona-style. In my story, the bulls won: They
gored and trampled everyone in the street, then jumped on boats and sailed away. And I have a nasty habit
of adding scary bits to even the stories I read. They do get mildly frightened, and that’s my intention. All in
good clean fun. Now, my eleven-year-old writes stories, and I have to tell you, they are pretty scary. Not in
a disturbed way, but I sometimes think, “Wow, this kid knows how to build suspense. Where did that come
Valerie: Have you or your family ever experienced ‘creepy’ feelings while traveling? Motels, hotels… feel
like you need to be checking around corners, because of your vivid imagination?
Robert: My family, no. Me, yes. I am constantly hopping out of bed, checking on noises and into shadows.
You can’t always turn it off. I like to write late at night. Sometimes I catch movement in the corner of my
eye and jump, only to realize it was a passing car or my own reflection in the window. My stories often
involve a family member in jeopardy. I think that’s a fear of mine that plays out in my stories. My sister died
young in a car accident. At the time, I had just started a family. My first two children were babies. I
remember going into their room the day my sister died. I just looked at them sleeping, and I realize bad
things could happen to them at any time. I just wanted to embrace them and never let them go, to protect
them forever, but of course we can’t. We have to pray for them and do the best we can, but we have to let
them venture into this big, scary world. Letting go, releasing that embrace, involves hope. All of my stories
have a central foundation on hope. Valerie: Do you have experience with your weapons of choice, in
your novels? Are you a hunter, yourself?
Robert: I try to shoot all of the weapons my characters use. I have friends who are in the police department
and others who are firearms collectors, so I have incredible access to weapons that aren’t normally available
to the average person. Sometimes, I have to rely on research. I never handled the China Type 64 used for an
assassination in the first chapter of Comes a Horseman, but a weapons expert told me that would be the
ideal pistol for that situation, because it’s the quietest handgun ever created. On a philosophical level, I’ve
always been fascinated by weaponry in general, how it can be used in either good ways or evil ways. It’s
analogous of a lot of things available to us—sex, wine, money. I am a bow hunter, but I don’t get out as
often as I’d like to.
Valerie: Do you feel like the protector of your family? Have you ever been in a scary situation, and then
used it in your writing?
Robert: I’ve had friends compliment me on how protective I am of my family, but I sometimes think I’m
overprotective. It’s that letting go I mentioned earlier. I’ll give you an example of a time I caused a scary
situation. The first thing I did when I set out to research the possibility of an actual organization like The
Watchers (that’s the name they go by in Comes a Horseman) is call some theologian/researchers I know.
They said they’d heard rumors of such an organization, but the best they could do was refer me to people
who knew more about the subject. I’d call them and they’d send me to someone else. Pretty typical stuff
for a journalistic investigation.
The hope is that each person you talk to brings you closer to the “inner circle,” the truth. Eventually, the
people I called became rude, telling me to mind my own business or simply hanging up on me. One night, at
about three in the morning, I got a call from one of the early researchers I’d spoken to. He told me I was
getting too close, that I had to stop the research. The next day, there was a message on my office voice
mail. The caller had used a voice-changer to electronically disguise his voice. The message was, “Stop... or
else.” If I were writing nonfiction, I’d have continued the pursuit. But this is fiction and between the two
calls, I guessed whos ever toes I stepped on was ticked off and serious about stopping me. I didn’t want to
find our cat nailed to my front door, so I stopped looking for The Watchers. In the book, I used the
information I had gathered to that point, and I also had one of the characters get called by someone using an
electronic voice-changer, so all was not lost.
Valerie: In the beginning of your career, you wrote short stories and articles. What made you decide to
write your first novel?
Robert: At heart, I’ve always been a fiction writer. I love telling stories. When the short story market dried
up—magazines started caring less about the story than the names that would draw readers to them: Ray
Bradbury, John Updike—I turned to whatever would put bread on the table, and that was non-fiction
articles. I got caught up in making a living and wrote as a journalist for many years. I became good friends
with James Byron Huggins, an extraordinarily talented novelist, and he learned of my “first love.” He
prodded me relentlessly to try my hand at fiction again, particularly novels. After a year of enduring his late-
night calls to see if I’d put any storytelling on the page, I finally started doing it. I’d get up at three or four in
the morning and write on a novel idea until eight or nine, when I’d have to get working on my articles.
Eventually, I wrote enough to show some agents and publishers.
Valerie: Do you feel your faith played a role in where you are today?
Robert: I was a freelance article writer for years. It’s not always a profitable endeavor. I knew—knew—
God made me to be a writer, so I’d keep writing. There were days when I considered going into accounting
or advertising or anything that seemed more stable. But I’d always come back to what I was designed, or
wired, to do, and that was to write. So, through feast and famine, that’s what I did. I always thought if I
died broke, at least I did what I believed was my calling to do.
When my novel writing took off, I faced a different dilemma: Do I try to infuse spirituality into my stories,
or do I write what was in my heart to write, whether it was obviously spiritual or more subtly so? My goal
was to match the craft and entertainment value of best-selling mainstream authors: Lee Child, Jonathan
Kellerman, Michael Crichton, John Grisham, James Lee Burke. I wanted a reader to experience the thrill of
an interesting story well told. Usually, for the secular reader, the big turn-off of “Christian fiction” is the
preachiness; while for Christian readers, secular novels contain too many things that fly in the face of their
Even so-called “clean” secular novels often have salty language and things like the main character living with
a boyfriend or girlfriend, without that bad behavior ever being addressed. I think there’s a way to show
good as good and evil as evil without offending God or His children and without being preachy. I believe
there’s a way to satisfy both worlds, so that secular readers get what they’re missing from “Christian
fiction” — God’s righteousness — and Christian readers get what’s often missing from faith-based fiction
— topics that are edgy, nonstop pacing, and an emphasis on entertainment. God’s at work on every page of
Comes a Horseman, Germ, Deadfall and my young adult novels—a series called Dreamhouse Kings. I’m
sure of that. But He doesn’t need me to invoke His name on every page, any more than mountain peaks need
to have His name carved into them for people to see Him there.
Valerie: Could you imagine yourself doing anything else with your life? You look like a country singer, or a
builder, or an actor; you look like you could do anything. Is writing your only goal?
Robert: It is. Writing is it. Maybe something in the movies or television, as a writer, director, or creator, but
I think any of those still fall into the “storyteller” field. I once wrote some songs, which wound up on a
struggling band’s album. I can see maybe writing a song or two in the future, but not performing. The only
things I ever thought I’d like to do other than storytelling, was child psychiatry or teaching. I love kids and
would love to help them find their place in this world. Maybe God is showing me how to do that, and still
stay in the field for which He designed me, by putting the Dreamhouse Kings story in me. It has all the
excitement and action and thrills young people love—it’s about a family that stumbles on a house that has
portals into the past—but ultimately there’s a positive message about finding your purpose.
Valerie: Last, I know you have been asked so many questions during your career, but I was wondering… is
there any one thing you would like to share with your fans? Something they haven’t asked but you think
they would enjoy hearing?
Robert: Wow, that’s a tough question, mostly because there are so many things . . . . Probably, more than
anything, I’d want to talk about the stories themselves. Not where the ideas come from, or the mechanics of
how I write, or how to land an agent, or all those “business of writing” questions I hear a lot. Let’s talk
about story, about the passion necessary for a story to take flight. Why this story? Why now? What’s it
about? Wherever it came from, you have to want to tell a story so badly that it’s all you talk about, all you
think about, to put in the hours and days and months it takes it tell it, to tell it just the way you were meant
to tell it—whether people “get” it or not.
I think if you have a story worth telling, one that people want to read, one that touches them, it will find an
audience. But even that shouldn’t be your primary concern as a writer. You need only to want to tell a story
that resonates with you. We’re all experiencing much of the same things it means to be human—in general
and specifically in this time we find ourselves living in, so a writer needs to have faith that what resonates
with him or her will resonate with others. It doesn’t matter that some people don’t like the way you told it,
or whatever. In fact, if everyone likes your stories, they probably aren’t edgy enough or profound enough to
touch anyone deeply.
So . . . the question I’d like to hear is, “What makes you so passionate about this story?” For Deadfall it’s
that I wanted to explore the idea of doing what’s right, even if it meant losing your life doing it. What makes
a hero? Could I be heroic? Could I face an overwhelming enemy and not run away, when others will perish
because of my cowardice?
For Dreamhouse Kings, it’s that it says a lot about the meaning of family and what we’d do for the ones we
love. It’s everything I feel for my family—and even beyond them, to what I feel for my friends, for my
neighbors, for my fellow humans. Do I love you enough to face danger and to put aside my own interests to
save your life, your dreams? I hope I do . . . and that’s a story I wanted to tell.
* * *
“Wow!” Was this all I could say. Mesmerized and awed, I knew this interview was great. With confidence I
stood up and offered my hand. “Mr. Liparulo?”
His grip expressed sincerity. “You may call me, Robert.”
“This has been a remarkable experience for me, and I appreciate your input. I know for myself and all the
reader’s it’s been a pleasure getting to know you. Thank you.”
|Valerie Anne Faulkner
interviews Robert Liparulo
Christian Fiction On-line Magazine, July, 2008