Monday, June 25, 2012

Robert Liparulo - The 13th Tribe Interview

Robert Liparulo is a man I've known about for a long time, as he's known in certain circles to be an amazing author. I met him last August at an event and received an advance copy of his book The 13th Tribe. I read it and was amazed. I haven't since read any more of his novels, but recently he was willing to let me send some questions his way about The 13th Tribe, and here are the results.


Reuben Horst: How have you and your family been recently, Robert?

Robert Liparulo: We've been well, thank you. My son Anthony is in his first year of high school. He's a soccer nut. My youngest daughter is in kindergarten and taking dance lessons. My oldest son is embarking on a 7,000-mile hike along the Appalachian, Great Divide and Pacific Coast trails. And my oldest daughter is now living in Santa Fe. We're all having a blast.

RH: What exactly gave you the idea for this story?

RL: Some time ago, I started thinking about vigilantism, frontier justice. I think most of us would say we'd do something to stop, for example, a child abuser, even if we have to go outside the law to do it (assuming all other recourses have failed). But what are the ramifications of that . . . to society? To our souls? It's a scary door to open. The best way to examine a topic is to exaggerate it, or look at how it functions under extreme circumstances. I wanted to look at vigilantism that way: an exaggerated reason to be a vigilante . . . how far could you take it . . . what do you become if you practice it over a long period of time?

You can't think too deeply about taking the law into your own hands, about hurting people before they can hurt others, without eventually getting around to thinking about the nature of forgiveness and grace. So now there's God, filing off the edges of my story, shaping it into something bigger than it was before.

The 13th Tribe can be summed up in two words: Immortal vigilantes. But, really, it goes much deeper. It explores our struggle to grasp God's holiness; our stubborn belief in "earning" God’s favor, though we know better; 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 this in a story filled with action, cutting-edge technology, and complex characters—the kind of story I like reading myself.

RH: How much research is involved when writing a novel like The 13th Tribe? Are there any specific places you went or things you did to help you with research for the book?

RL: I traveled to many of the locations, read books and talked to experts about immortality, biology, theology, weapons (like flame throwers), high-tech military inventions (such as invisibility suits), relics, archaeology . . . I filled three six-inch binders with notes, maps, and photographs. I used to be an investigative journalist, so I tend to research a lot, and I have no qualms about asking the leading experts in their fields for interviews and throwing tough questions at them. I try to find the little gems that either stun readers or make everything in a scene feel just right.

I believe the only way to make such a wild concept as immortality palatable and entertaining to readers is to make everything else in the story as factual and real as possible. All the locations are real, and I hope detailed enough for readers to get a true feel for each place. And one way the immortals are traced through history is through actual art—such as the Spinario or Boy with Thorn and Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres's Apotheosis of Homer. I did a lot of research into biblical events, such as what really happened at the gold calf, and studied extra-biblical stories, such as the Apostle John being tortured by putting him into a vat of boiling oil. Many of the historic events described—a Civil War massacre, Rasputin's death— really happened.

A lot of times, science eventually "catches up" with God's miracles and we can explain them in human terms—which doesn't make them any less miraculous, but shows that God often uses the incredible things He created for us on earth to facilitate His will. I wanted that to be the case with the immortals, so I explain how every cell in the human body has telomerase genes—called immortal genes—which allow cells to replicate forever, which would result in the cessation of aging. Trouble is, they are "switched on" in only a few cells. I posit that God activated all the telomerase genes in the immortals, so there's both a biological and a supernatural reason for their immortality.

RH: How long did it take you to write the novel, from initial concept to final draft?

RL: About eighteen months, including the beginning convolutions from a book about vigilantes to a Christian story about immortal vigilantes. Most of the time was spent researching and deciding how to merge a solidly Christian story into my style of action-adventure-thriller.

RH: How much change did the story go through during that time?

RL: Other than that first big change, going into both the paranormal and Christian fields, it didn't change much from my initial concept. But I don't outline, so there’s not that much for my stories to change from.

I don't outline because I want my characters to lead me through a story. If I outline too extensively or too far ahead, then it's me, as an author, who is forcing my characters to behave the way I would behave in those situations. When I create compelling characters and set them free, they develop what seems to be personalities and behaviors all their own. They start to do things I never would have dreamed they would. They respond differently from the way I thought they would when I thought through the story. But I do have certain points in the story that I know I have to reach; I just prefer to let the characters tell me how to get there. Typically, I know about three days in advance which scenes are coming up. That helps me stay on track without being too overbearing on my characters.

RH: Who was your favorite character from the novel?

RL: Just because I spent so much more time with him than the others, I'd have to say Jagger. But Nevaeh's confused passion to please God intrigues me. Owen personifies my desires to know God better. Even Tyler endeared himself to me. When I finished the manuscript, I missed all of them.

RH: How did writing the novel impact your life?

RL: I've always studied His word, always sought deeper understanding, but now, writing about it, I'm learning so much more. To make these stories work, to make faith integral to the plots, I have to excavate theology like I never have before. What struck me more while writing and researching The 13th Tribe is that at every turn, I'm awed by His love for us, his tolerance and grace. We are so unworthy, but still, there He is, arms wide open.

RH: Without giving too much away, can you tell us something about The Immortal Files #2?

RL: We're back at St. Catherine's Monastery with Jagger, Beth, Tyler, and the monks, when a group attacks. We find out there is another group of immortals, called the Clan. These guys are really nasty. They don't care for God at all, and their only goal is to grief God by hurting his children. They get their hands on an artifact that allows them to peel back the curtain between our world and the spiritual realm. I had a great time writing it.

RH: Do you know the title of The Immortal Files #2 or approximately when it will be released?

RL: We're playing with a few titles now—The God Stone, The Vision Stone, or The 7th Vision (in keeping with the ordinal theme from The 13th Tribe). It should be out early 2013. I'm hoping for the third in the series to come out later that year.

RH: Are you currently working on any projects other than the Immortal Files series?

RL: I've started the third Immortal Files book, but I've decided to try something I haven't done before: I'm also working on the first book of the Hunter series, a YA series that should be out next year. A lot of writers I know keep several stories going at once. That way, if one isn't flowing or they’re waiting for research, they can switch over to another story. I've always written one at a time, but I think Immortal Files 3 and Hunter are different enough that I can give it a try. So far, I like it.

RH: If someone hasn't read any of your books, which would you recommend they read first, The 13th Tribe not included?

RL: That's always a tough call to make. I usually suggest that teens give Germ a try, probably because a lot of high schools have picked it up and I get a lot of emails from teen readers who like it. If readers like twisty-turny, I suggest Comes a Horseman. For more straight-up thrillers, try Deadfall, then Deadlock. Of course, if they're young, I suggest Dreamhouse Kings.

RH: What’s your favorite soft drink?

RL: Dr. Pepper.


Once again, thanks to Robert for his time, and also thanks to those of you who submitted questions for me to add to this interview. Check out Robert Liparulo's website here.


  1. Thank you for the interview, Reuben. Great questions.

  2. Nice interview! I thought The 13th Tribe was amazing. :]