Saturday, July 17, 2010
A Visit With Robert Liparulo
I started out in college as a motion picture production major. I was comfortable with the screenplay format and all of its limitations, as compared to novels. With screenplays, everything has to be shown, not told, which is a good rule-of-thumb for novel writing anyway. The story is pared down to its core, with fewer digressions, backstories, and internal motivations—again, it’s a good place to start as a novelist, as well. I’m a very visual storyteller, and a lot of reviewers have commented on the fact that they could “see” my scenes as though they were watching a movie. For me, switching from writing novels to screenplays isn’t much different from reading a book, then watching a movie. It seems natural to me.
When and why did you decide to write for young adults? Tell us briefly about your Dreamhouse Kings series.
After my third novel, Deadfall came out, some schools started reading my second novel, Germ. I got a chance to speak to high-schoolers and middle-schoolers about it. I thoroughly enjoyed addressing these kids. They didn’t care a bit about the business of writing—how to get an agent, how much money you can make. But they were passionate about story—why characters did certain things, how the plot turned this way instead of that way. For them, it’s all about the love of stories, which is exactly why I wanted to be a writer.
About this time, my publisher called and asked if I’d ever consider writing for young adults. Of course, I jumped at the chance.
In the Dreamhouse Kings series, a family moves to a small town in northern California, so Dad could take a job as principal of the local middle and high school. They move into a run-down Victorian home, where they find a hidden hallway of doors. Each door leads to a portal to a different time in history. But not only can they go from the house to the past, people from the past can come through into their house. Someone does—and kidnaps Mom, taking her into some unknown place in the past. The family—primarily brothers David and Xander—begin a quest for Mom, which takes them to all sorts of dangerous and fascinating places throughout time. We slowly learn that the Kings are in the house for a very specific purpose, and they must do much more than “simply” find their mother.
The entire story—less some details and where in history the Kings go—came to me in a dream when I was eleven years old.
What do you enjoy more, writing novels or screenplays? And why?
Each has its own pros and cons, but overall I like novel-writing better. I like exploring characters’ thoughts and delving into their motivations and backstories in greater detail than screenplays allow. There are those who’d argue with me, but I believe you can create a much richer tapestry with novels than you can with movies. There’s a reason most people who’ve read a book and seen the movie based on it will tell you they like the book better. It doesn’t mean the movie was bad, typically; it’s just that they enjoyed the depth of the novel and partnering with the author through their imaginations to tell the story.
I also like the control a novelist has over his story. Editors make suggestions, but in the end, it’s the author’s story, if not 100%, then 99% or 98%. Filmmaking, on the other hand, is a collaborative effort. The movie that hits the screen may be, at most, 50% of the original writer’s vision. The rest is from other writers brought into the project, the director’s interpretation, even producers’ demands for changes based on what they think the audience wants to see, what best suits the market.
Why did you decide to incorporate supernatural elements into your thriller novels?
I’ve felt nudged in that direction for the very beginning. Comes a Horseman has hints of the supernatural—things that may or may not end up being supernatural. Readers really responded to that. But at the time—and through the writing of Germ, Deadfall, and Deadlock—I wanted to stay true to what I thought of as a pure thriller story: suspense set in a solidly real world in which the events could actually happen.
When I conceived of The 13th Tribe, it was like that, a thriller set in the real world. Then I realized I could explore its theme—which is primarily vigilantism, frontier justice—even better if I stretched reality just a bit. It opened up all kinds of storytelling possibilities that I think readers will find entertaining and at the same time intriguing and thought-provoking. I’d already written the Dreamhouse Kings, which showed me just how fun a tinge of fantasy could be (through the family’s time traveling). Readers made it a bestselling series, so I knew my fans would follow me into that genre, as long as I gave them the other elements that make up a Robert Liparulo story—lots of action, adventure, and realistic characters who fight and love and have strong emotions.
It was never my intention to use the supernatural as a gimmick, as a way to circumvent quality storytelling. I strove to create a character-driven story with an interesting plot and a visual, active writing style. The supernatural element simply adds another layer, another color I could use to paint my story.
Tell us about your latest film project and your latest novel.
I think for worst aspect, it’s a toss-up between the subjectivity of storytelling and the “business” of writing. There are so many ways to spin a tale, I think most writers are constantly asking themselves, “Is this right? Will this entertain and communicate my message in the best possible way?” It’s the infinite possibilities that keep writers guessing, and sitting down to choose one, to commit it to paper, can be both exhilarating and terrifying.
How do you go about defining your characters in a new novel? Do you write brief bios of each one before you start?