by C.J. Darlington
Robert Liparulo Interview
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strove to tell a story in which every thread was crucial: pull one
away—the supernatural, the faith, the high-tech weaponry, the
love of family—and the whole thing would unravel."
-- Robert Liparulo
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, released in April 2012, “a phenomenal story.” 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. Twitter @robertliparulo, facebook.com/LiparuloFans, robertliparulo.com
I just love the premise of The 13th Tribe! Where did the idea come from and how did it develop?
The story stems from an idea that’s been brewing in my mind for years: the concept of vigilantism. I’ve always thought that if our justice system was powerless to stop or punish a child molester, for example, that I’d step in and do something about it. But the more I thought about it, I realized there’s a reason frontier justice is against the law. What if a vigilante misinterrets the evidence and goes after the wrong person? And what individual has the right to determine which crimes deserve capital punishment? (Of course, I’d still try to stop molestation or a bank robbery or some other obvious crime, but I’d try to do it without violence.)
That got me thinking about God’s grace, how all of us deserve death, but through Jesus Christ He forgives us: What does that look like on a human level, the way we treat other people? But then scripture is full of humans seeking justice and God honoring that. In The 13th Tribe, I mention Phinehas, who killed a fornicating couple, which broke the plague caused by the Heresy of Peor, and for which God praised Phinehas and made him a high priest. Could people use this example to justify killing sinners? That’s a story.
In my stories, I tend to take situations to their extreme in order to examine character qualities or a particular concept. If I want to look at where hope comes from when it seems that all hope is gone, I’ll put a character in an extremely hopeless position. It was this tendency that got me thinking about immortals, people who developed a twisted theology that harded in their hearts over an incredible length of time.
You’ve been a Christian author for some time now, and yet The 13th Tribe is being called your first Christian novel. Could you tell us about your recent change of direction for this book?
“What’s Christian about it?” is a phrase I heard a lot as each of my novels came out. And while my answer—“I am”—should have put the matter to bed, the challengers’ point was clear: My previous adult thrillers were heavy on action, adventure, and the fight between Good and Evil—but light when it came to acknowledging God’s influence in the world and in the lives of my characters. That was fine with me: 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 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. The result is The 13th Tribe.
When you came at this story, did you have the spiritual message in mind, or did that come about as you wrote the story?
Originally, I had a central theme in mind: You can’t earn heaven. God’s grace is given to us, and all we have to do is accept it. It’s a basic tenet of Christianity, but I think a lot of us struggle with it because it’s counterintuitive to our sense of cause and effect. As Ben says in the story, when asked why he thinks people obey God, “Don’t kid yourself. You might say, ‘To thank God for what he’s already given.’ And people might believe that, but deep inside, they’re thinking, ‘If I don’t do this or if I do that, I will lose my favor with God.’” I wanted to address that.
Then, as the story developed, other themes presented themselves, primarily, our struggle to grasp God’s holiness and how even our good intentions can be twisted when we insist on abiding by our own limited logic instead of God’s righteous wisdom.
All of my novels also deal with the power of hope, hope that things will work out, that God will come through. Call it optimism or faith or whatever, to me it’s an incredible force in getting people though the toughest situations. In The 13th Tribe, it’s my protagonist’s burden to bear that message.
How did your experiences growing up impact the plot and characters?
All fiction is autobiographical to some degree. Every character does possess a bit of my personality, for better or worse. There was a time when I was younger when I believed in God but wasn’t so sure he was benevelent. Because of a horrible accident, that’s where Jagger is at the start of The 13th Tribe. His reasons for feeling that way, and his guilt over it, is similar to what I’d experienced.
There are a lot of psychological similarities between me and my characters, personality traits; probably most of them I’m not even aware of. But some less-etheral things do come through. My father was an Air Force officer, for instance, and we lived and traveled all around the world. I remember when I was ten finding an old stone church in the Azores islands, and under the alter, steps leading to laberithine catacombs. The way I explored that area (and honestly, a dozen other strange and ancient sites when I was a kid—including vast archaeological sites and isolated monasteries) was very much like the way nine-year-old Tyler in the story explores St. Catherine’s Monastery and the way Jordan makes the most out of living in the Catacombs of Paris, which I toured as well, but later in life.
I also think my childhood made me appreciate world travel, yearn for it, and not be intimidated my foreign cultures, customs and people. That may explain the global nature of The 13th Tribe—Egypt, Paris, London, the U.S.
What surprised you most in your research for this story?
There were so many fascinating things I learned—about St. Catherine’s Monastery, its history and the stunning manuscripts, artifacts and relics in its archives; the invisibility suits; how vulnerable war drones are to hijacking; the biology of aging and our advancements in stemming that process; what happens psychologically when someone looses a limb; how deeply grief can penetrate a soul. But what struck me hardest was how far from God we can fall when we start believing in bad theology. Our potential for evil is sickening and limitless—but also inevitable. We simply cannot be good without Him. In researching the Israelites, there is a lot of evidence that they didn’t just grow impatient for Moses to return from the top of Mt. Sinai. They became utterly corrupt. They committed terrible atrocities. Here were people who had seen God’s graciousness, who had seen him manifested as a pillar of fire, who’d witnessed miracles firsthand, and yet they still turned away from Him, quickly and completely. Never had the line, “But for the grace of God go I” mean so much as it did when I was researching this book.
What was the hardest part about writing the The 13th Tribe?
Two things, but I think they're related: Making the fantasy elements (such as the immortality) feel viable, making them as believable as the rest of the story; and making the theology an organic part of the story. I didn’t want any of the faith elements to feel forced or tacked on . . . I didn’t want readers to feel preached to. My goal was to make a story that felt so real that the supernatural and faith elements were simply a part of the ride. I strove to tell a story in which every thread was crucial: pull one away—the supernatural, the faith, the high-tech weaponry, the love of family—and the whole thing would unravel.
How would you describe this story in one sentence?
Oooo . . . I hate this kind of thing, but here goes: To save his family and an entire city, one man must take on a group of immortal vigilantes determined to win God’s favor by killing sinners.
Will there be more novels from you in this vein?
The 13th Tribe is the first of at least three books featuring the immortals and Jagger. The second book, tentatively titled The God Stone, delves deeper into the supernatural and spiritual. I’m really excited about it. I think it’ll cause some heads to spin, and when you're talking about action thrillers with spiritual overtones that’s a good thing.Portions of this interview first appeared as an article in the Mar/Apr 2012 issue of FamilyFiction Digital Magazine.
C.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.