Robert Liparulo

Robert Liparulo is a former journalist with over a thousand articles and multiple writing awards to his name. Readers of his action-thrillers were not surprised when his visual storytelling style caught the eye of Hollywood producers. Currently, all three of his novels for adults are in various stages of development for the big screen: the film rights to Comes a Horseman were purchased by the producer of Tom Clancy’s movies; and Liparulo is penning the screenplays for Germ and Deadfall for two top producers. He is also working with the director Andrew Davis (The Fugitive, Holes) on a political thriller. Novelist Michael Palmer calls Deadfall “a brilliantly crafted thriller.” Liparulo’s young adult series, Dreamhouse Kings, debuted in May 2008, with House of Dark Shadows and Watcher in the Woods. The third installment, Gatekeepers, was just released. March 2009 will see the publication of Deadfall’s follow-up Deadlock. He lives with his family in Monument.

Better the Devil You Know Than the Devil You Don't

I can identify the primary ingredients that keep me putting them together.

Hmmm . . . why do I like grilled cheese sandwiches? Okay, I suppose that’s not what you want to know, but the answer to the question of why I write scary stories is the same: I don’t know. It’s the way God made me. I can look back over the course of my life and see His hands shaping and forming me every step of the way:

• The first book I remember truly loving as a child: Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are

• The first full-length book I ever read: Washington Irving’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

• The book that made me want to be a novelist (when I was twelve): I Am Legend by Richard Matheson

• The book that showed me how big stories can be: The Stand by Stephen King

• My favorite movie: Jaws (and don’t let anyone tell you that’s not a horror story)

DreamHouse KingsSee the pattern? I have always been attracted to stories that thrill. For much of my youth, the biblical story of Samson captivated me the most. Think about it. Here’s a guy who wipes out a thousand Philistines with the jawbone of an ass. The woman he loves betrays him. He’s captured and has his eyes burned out. In the end, he brings a temple down on himself and his captors. Bind it into its own book and don’t say where it came from, and Barnes & Noble would stock it next to Stephen King, Dean Koontz, and James Patterson.

So when it came time to tell my own stories, is it any wonder that they took the form of thrillers? My novels for adults (Comes a Horseman, Germ, Deadfall, and the upcoming Deadlock) involve average people facing human foes whose intent and actions are a hair’s breadth this side of a nightmare. My series for young adults (The Dreamhouse Kings) introduces a more fanciful element (time travel), but retains the theme of pretty decent people challenged by seemingly insurmountable odds and bad guys aligned against them.

While I can’t tell you exactly why I write such stories, just as why I like cheese sandwiches, I can identify the primary ingredients that keep me putting them together. Besides a propensity for heart-pounding adventure (did I mention my fondness for scuba diving, skydiving, and talking to auditoriums of middle-school kids?), I have a keen desire to know what makes people tick. Take the average Joe, someone who may never have been in a fistfight, who spends his days behind a desk and coaches little league; a guy who’s gone through his life believing in civility and the general goodness of people: How does he handle a life-or-death situation hurled at him by a murderous psychopath? What does it take for him to stand up for what’s right? Where does he find the strength? The skills?

I’ve always believed a person’s true character comes out when the heat’s on, when the wrong move leads not to an unemployment line or a brief visit to the ER, but to a cold, steel table at the morgue. At heart, is he (or she) a coward, or a hero? Is he so out of shape or witless about anything other than balance sheets or spark plugs that he couldn’t enter the

arena even if he wanted to? Watching someone reach deep to find what he needs to survive, to save someone else—bravery, endurance, that part of his brain he hasn’t used in two decades—that’s interesting. That’s what drives me to hurry up and write it!

And what about the bad guys? Why do they choose that shadowy path? Do they even know they’re as awful as they are, or do they believe they’re simply more enlightened than the rest of us? Writing fiction lets me peek inside their heads. A psychologist friend once suggested that it was my way of exploring my own dark desires. Fortunately, no one’s found his body yet. No, really, I don’t think that’s it. I never wished a poodle bite on a door-to-door salesman, let alone dreamed of hunting humans with wolf-dogs, as one of the killers in Comes a Horseman does. But that he does it is fascinating.

A proverb says “Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t.” The principle behind this is worlds away from the voyeuristic theory of why people enjoy reading about villains (that it’s akin to craning our necks at an auto accident and aren’t we glad that bloody mess isn’t us?). Instead, it suggests that we have a better chance of prevailing over evil if we know what we’re facing.

The French philosopher Albert Camus put it another way: “The evil that is in the world almost always comes of ignorance, and good intentions may do as much harm as malevolence if they lack understanding.” Could it be that knowledge of good—of God—is only part of what it takes to combat evil? Might we be better warriors if we understood just how terrible bad can be, if we at least knew what it looked like? I don’t mean to play Martin Luther here, but maybe that’s why the Bible is so full of villains. They not only vividly contrast against godly men and women—the darkness that makes the light that much brighter—but they show us what not to do, how not to think, and they teach us to recognize their villainy. Perhaps even more important, biblical heroes and their contemporary thriller-fiction counterparts show us how to stand up to evil, how to dig deep and find what it takes.

In the Dreamhouse Kings, when the twelve- and fifteen-year-old protagonists must face challenges they’d rather not, they quote Deuteronomy 31:6: “Be strong and courageous!” There would be no need for such advice if the world wasn’t frightening and at times horrific.

So there it is: why I write scary stuff. I’m reminding myself—and I hope my readers—that bad guys exist. But they don’t have to win; their evil is not tougher than the wisdom and strength God gave Samson and David . . . and me. All I have to do is see past the papers on my desk, the TV remove in my hand, and the cheese sandwich on the grill.