Robert, you’re known for writing creepy and intense books. There’s usually a spiritual idea contained in the book, but it’s not always overt. Is The 13th Tribe different?
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 adult 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—to me, a very special story that marks my first foray into what many people call “Christian fiction,” though I like to think of it as a faith-filled supernatural thriller.
Wow! I’m challenged by the way you fast and pray over your books. What a great way to dedicate your writing to God. How did you get the idea for this 13th Tribe (which I thought was brilliant!)?
Thank you. 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 Tribecan 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.
I think that’s what struck me most about the premise…the way the 13th Tribe spent eternity trying to earn their way back to God…twisted as it was. What do you hope readers will experience in your novels?
I hope readers will see a little of themselves in the characters, and perhaps grow with the characters—I know I do as I write them. I hope readers of The 13th Tribe, for instance, will realize that the Tribe’s desire to earn God’s acceptance isn’t so far away from what a lot of us struggle with—despite knowing that as believers we already have it. On the flip side, I hope that they feel the Tribe’s deep yearning for something many of us take for granted, God’s love. If a single reader comes to truly appreciate what he or she has in God, it’ll be worth the year and half I put into writing it.
But I also want to entertain people. I want them to be caught up in the story and enjoy the time it takes it read it. If they aren’t entertained, totally engrossed, then they’re not going to care about the characters or the adventure or deeper meaning may lie beneath.
I think that’s the key to a good book. Weaving in those deeper threads that leave me as a reader thinking about the premise after I close the cover, yet still entertaining me. It’s a challenge as a writer to strike that balance. Robert, you started as a journalist. How did you make the transition to writing? What do you miss most from your journalism days?
I had some author friends who knew I wanted to write novels, not continue writing magazine articles. So they’d call me and ask if I would be happy as a seventy-year-old having never even tried my hand at novel writing. With their prodding, I finally wrote Comes a Horseman.
What I miss most about journalism is the quick turnaround time from writing a piece to seeing it published. From the time I start a book to the when it’s published is often eighteen months or so. With articles, it was anywhere from a few days to a few months. It’s nice to see your work put out there so soon. But then again, articles are impermanent. They’re there and gone too fast. The longevity of novels is worth the longer time to publication.
What is the hardest part of your job?
Discipline: The will to write no matter how tired you are, how many doubts you have about your hard work paying off, how many distractions are dancing around you, chattering for attention. It’s really easy to think of reasons not to write when you’re existing on four hours of sleep a night, when your kids are hoping you’ll attend the school play they’re in (usually I’ll go, then get an hour or two less sleep that night), when there’s no one but yourself to hold you to a schedule, a word quota.
Boy, do I know what you mean. Balance and discipline are a challenge — especially when we’re in the deadline zone. I’ve found that God always teaches me something through my writing. What did you learn as you wrote the 13th Tribe?
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.
Colorado is God’s country. What’s your favorite part of living there?
I love Colorado’s unlimited opportunities to have fun in the great outdoors. Hiking, climbing, white water rafting, skiing, boarding—I even scuba dived down the Arkansas river once. It was a wild ride. Everywhere you look, God reveals Himself in nature. It’s inspiring.
That’s one of the reasons Colorado is such a special place to me. I can’t spend time in the Rockies and not see God’s fingerprints everywhere. Anything else you’d like to tell us about The 13thTribe?
You know, I hate to say something like, I think we’ve covered it, because honestly, I could talk about it all day. But I suppose we have to wrap it up sometime.
Where can people find out more about you and your books?
My website is www.robertliparulo.com. Thank you so much for talking with me about The 13th Tribe. Wonderful questions!
Thanks so much for joining us!