English—no surprise there. I’d known since third grade that I would be a writer, and sold my first published article when I was in fifth grade, so it comes naturally. By that, of course, I mean it comes from God. For a time, I was editor of my high school newspaper. I used to enjoy writing the essays that most of my classmates hated doing. But I wasn’t a geek about it. I played several sports and had my share of detentions for pulling practical jokes like wedging a VW Bug in the front entrance alcove and setting off the fire alarms. Naturally, I’d write about those things later.
I couldn’t stand math—you know, calculus, trigonometry, those insanely impractical mathematics. Maybe it’s a left-brain/right-brain thing. Unfortunately, my math teacher was also my football and swimming coach. Every poor test score meant a tougher practice. I was dumb as a stone when it came to math, but I could have competed in any Iron Man competition that came along.
It’s interesting that I was ambivalent about history. When I dove back into history for the Dreamhouse Kings books, I realized that it wasn’t history that stopped me cold, it was the textbooks we used. I think one of the requirements of writing for history textbooks was the ability to make even fascinating events dull and lifeless. When I finally got around to finding my own books to learn about history, it all came alive to me. Now I love reading about the past. Too bad those school books couldn’t have been more dynamic; I might have written Dreamhouse a lot sooner.
If you could bring any character from one of your books to life, who would it be and why?
It may be cheating, but John Hutchinson—Hutch—from Deadfall and Deadlock already is alive for me. I modeled him after my best friend since high school, Mark Nelson. He’s the game warden for Cheyenne, and one of those guys who live to be outdoors. If you dropped Mark in any wilderness in the world with just the clothes on his back and maybe a paperclip, he’d find a way to survive and make it out. Along the way, he’d build a mansion out of tree bark and moss. He’s also a good Christian. He and I have a similar approach to the Scriptures. Like C.S. Lewis, we attack them logically and debate the finer points of theology. Ours is really an iron-sharpen-iron sort of relationship.
The story of Deadfall came about because I wondered what Mark would do in a hopeless situation, in which he was isolated from the outside world and facing a bad guy who was terrorizing a small town with vastly more powerful weaponry than Mark had. Yeah, that’s the way my mind works. He would have to tap into both his survival skills and his sense of right and wrong. When I was writing about Hutch, I was really writing about Mark.
Your question is a tough one, because I think all writers fall in love with their characters. It’s hard to choose a favorite. If I could pick one to hang around with for a while, I think it would be David from Dreamhouse, but you’d have to throw in his brother Xander too. Not only do these kids help me remember my own youth, I’d love to talk about their adventures through time, and how they managed to be so brave in the face of all those dangers. They have an internal strength and a love for people that startles me. I’d ask them about that.
You have the chance to spend the day with any character from one of your favorite books. Who would you choose and why?
It’s have to be Robert Neville from I Am Legend by Richard Matheson. It’s been my favorite book since I was twelve. None of the movies based on it has done it justice, but they’ve been good movies in their own right. Neville is a guy who’s learning to live in a world that’s violently different from the one he grew up in. He has no friends, no human companionship at all. He has to know himself really well, and he ponders all the things about mankind that is both glorious and awful. He has to survive attacks from the creatures that now inhabit the world—and the concept of survival, of finding skills and traits within yourself that you wouldn’t have known existed without an extreme situation drawing them out fascinates me. In a very real way, all of my stories explores this. Neville probably wouldn’t have very strong social skills—most likely, he’d be a downright drag, but I’d still to hang with the guy for a while.
A group of teens ask you the best way to become a published writer. How do you answer the question?
Read everything you can get your hands on and finish every writing project you start. Reading exposes you to people and things outside your own little world. It helps teach you about the way other people behave and think and talk. It gives you glimmers of other places and ideas—all things you can incorporate into your own stories. On top of that, you learn what works and what doesn’t in storytelling.
“Finish things” is simple to say, but not so simple to do. Discipline is essential to all writers, but as creative people, we’re easily distracted, often by other stories we want to tell. But if we get in the habit of finishing things, then we have products to show agents, editors, and publishers when the opportunity comes up. The ability to finish is a big question people in the publishing business has for wannabe writers. They’ve seen so many people with great ideas who either can’t finish a story or can’t execute it well. Prove you can right off the bat. It’s the first topic I wrote about on my website of tips for writers, getitonthepage.com.
What is the one book you wish you had written and why?
Is Lord of the Rings too obvious? Besides the adventure, characters, and Christian allegory, I love the way Tolkien structured the story. It takes a while to really get into it, and the level of detail is almost painful to trudge through, but it mirrors real life so that before long, the fantasy world he created feels as real as our own. By weaving real emotions and bits of things we can relate to, he makes us forget we’re not only reading fiction, but pure fantasy. The amount of made-up detail Tolkien put into this story—from the languages to the outfits each race wears—amazes me. I wish I could spend years crafting a story the way he did. Maybe someday.
If that one’s too obvious, then I’d go for Jaws. It’s a great thriller that struck a chord in almost every reader. It changed the way we think of sharks and being in the ocean. It’s permeated our culture for decades; how cool would that be? Peter Benchley said Jaws being his first novel was both a blessing and a curse. The curse was that he spent the rest of his life trying to top himself, and he never could. But I think that’s a problem I could live with.
Do you have any pets? If so, what kind. If not, why?
Logan—named after Wolverine—is a border collie/sheltie mix. He’s a great dog. I’ve taken to calling him B.S. I like the look people give me when I call him that, but it stands for “Bear Slayer,” because he chased a bear off my property. I wish I’d gotten a picture of him nipping at this huge bear’s legs while it was scrambling to get away and snapping at him. David and Goliath of the animal kingdom. I finally pulled Logan back and the bear lumbered away, pretty ticked off.
We also have two ball pythons and a turtle. The turtle doesn’t do much more than eat, poop, and swim. But the snakes are great for ridding ourselves of guests who stay too long. Neither of them has bitten anyone, but we don’t tell people that.
You can visit Robert online at: www.DreamhouseKings.com.
That’s not all! Check back tomorrow for Part 2 of my interview with bestselling novelist, Robert Liparulo.