** Contest Announced at the End of the Interview**
Normally, I do introductions first before getting into the Q&A, but today I’m flipping the script. I really enjoyed Liam’s book trailer for his new novel, The Y Factor, so today I’m serving dessert before dinner—so to speak. Check this out, you guys. This trailer is so way cool.
Huh…was I right, or was I right?
Without further ado, please meet my guest, Liam Roberts.
Liam experienced a mountain-top conversion at a Young Life camp in the Colorado Rockies as a teenager. This single event shaped his life as no other. He pursued a career in four industries following undergraduate and MBA degrees and has taught college Economics.
Liam and his wife Marsha have three children. Their daughter is an accomplished chef. Their sons are graduates of the Naval Academy. One is a Navy SEAL, the other a Navy pilot.
“The Y Factor was spawned from my interest in genealogy,” Liam says, a descendant of thirteen Mayflower passengers. “The application of DNA analysis to genealogy has great political consequences.”
Liam, when I read the overview of your novel I loved the premise and immediately wondered how much research was required to build the story world. Can you start by describing your research journey to us?
My interest was originally piqued in January, 1988 when a Newsweek cover article caught my eye, “The Search for Adam & Eve.” I’ve attached a copy of the article for your review.
At the time of the article, DNA analysis held great promise in establishing familial relationships. This was one of the first reports of DNA analysis as it relates to the descent of the human race. According to the Newsweek article, a new breed of anthropologists had constructed a DNA map of the human family that inexorably led them to conclude all women alive today are descended from a common ancestor they called Eve, who lived approximately 200,000 years ago.
At the time, I was dubious of the 200,000 year-old date for Eve’s existence, but it was a far cry from the evolutionary model. I particularly enjoyed the reaction to the research by evolutionists, who, “…refuse to accept this interpretation of the genetic evidence. They think our common ancestor must have lived much farther in the past, at least a million years ago…”
In the absence of any scientific training at the time, I embraced the young Earth interpretation of Scripture and looked forward to further refining of the research. Particularly intriguing was ending of the news story, which noted,
“They’re already trying to expand the Eve theory by finding Adam. Researchers in England, France and the United States have begun looking at the Y chromosome, which is passed along only on the male side. Tracing it is difficult because it’s part of the DNA in the cell’s nucleus, where there are many more genes than in the mitochondrion. This Adam will be the one lucky father whose descendants always had at least one son every generation. He may have been hunting and gathering while Eve was, or he may have lived at another time (though it would cast doubt on the Eve hypothesis if the time and place of his birth were too distant). The researchers hope to get an answer within several years.[emphasis mine]”
Either the writers of this article were unusually prescient or they had a glimmer of early research results from the Y chromosome studies. In the years hence, this is exactly what has been determined.
The basis of the research is that the human genome includes mutations that occur at a fairly predictable rate. Once a mutation occurs, it is inherited by all descendents of the individual in which it first appeared. Therefore, the relative (no pun intended) closeness of any two groups of humans may be determined by examining their respective genomes to determine how many mutations they share. With a comprehensive database having been developed over the past twenty years, scientists have been able to extrapolate backwards to determine the point of convergence in the human family tree.
In the years that followed the initial research, two patterns have emerged. First, the date for Eve’s existence continued to be reestablished as much later. I’ve seen estimates as recent as 75,000 years ago. Second, the date for the common ancestor of all living men today has consistently been set at a much later date – as late as 35,000 years ago, as cited in Hugh Ross’ book, The Genesis Question: Scientific Advances and the Accuracy of Genesis (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 1998), page 111.
Secular science has been unable to offer a satisfactory explanation for this discrepancy. But as Hugh Ross pointed out on the next page in the article:
In Noah’s day, the mutations in the Y chromosome would have been as diverse as the genetic variations found in women. But if the Bible is to be believed, only the particular Y chromosome shared by Noah and his sons survived the flood. Therefore, the diversity found in all of their descendents is much narrower than that found in women today, who descend from one of the genetically-diverse wives of Noah’s sons.
I thought about this concept for quite some time, and have stayed current with research in the field. By the way, the research continues to debunk evolution, which thrills me. I mention in my book the fascinating research on Neanderthals. Scientists have been able to extract viable genetic material from Neanderthal remains and have confirmed that there is no genetic connection to homo sapiens. This has forced anthropologists to redraw their ridiculous chart of the evolution of our species once again. Obviously, they need to refine it further…
I’ve often heard the saying, “A lot of years go into the making of ‘an overnight success’”. How long had you been writing before your first novel was published? And where do your story ideas come from and how do you cultivate a germ of an idea and grow it into a novel?
As noted in my bio, I have pursued a business career for many years. Being involved in my church and raising three talented children consumed most of my free time. It wasn’t until my last child was in his third year at the Academy that I was able to carve out some time for writing.
In early 2006, I shared my (Hugh Ross’) conclusions about how the story of the Flood might be written in our DNA with a friend. She asked me if I would draft an explanation of the science of DNA from a biblical perspective. She wanted to share it with her home-schooled grandchildren so they could understand an alternative theory to evolution.
After I finished my taxes in April of that year, I sat down one Saturday morning and began to collect my thoughts. Needless to say, the topic was pretty dry. I realized it needed to be more readable and I thought of Josh McDowell, whose books are the epitome of dry reading. I had recently read a short paperback by him entitled, The DaVinci Code: A Quest for Answers. It had been much more readable than his earlier work.
The book was a rebuttal to the wildly popular book by Danial Brown. With the imminent release of the movie, there was great concern in the Christian community due to the historical revisionism that fostered so much intolerance for our faith. Many Christian apologists wrote lengthy rebuttals, but I had found Josh McDowell’s to be surprisingly more effective. I realized what had made his work more readable was the insertion of characters. He included protagonists and antagonists in dialog with each other. The give-and-take of their interchanges allowed him to set up straw men that could then be effectively dismantled.
I decided to adopt his approach to what I was writing about genetics. By the time I had achieved my objective, I had grown fond of my characters and realized I had stumbled into the makings of an intricate plot.
After a couple of weekends, my wife came into my office and stood opposite my desk. She asked what I had been doing for the last couple of weeks. I confessed that I was writing my novel. I printed the first fifty pages and asked her to read it. It was a go-no go moment. She gave me a thumbs-up.
Due to my full time job, my writing was limited to weekends and evenings. My wife believed in the work and took on all aspects of managing our household so I could focus on writing. By November of that year I had finished the first draft of the book.
I submitted a synopsis and sample chapters to The Writer’s Edge service in Wheaton, Ill, and simultaneously submitted my manuscript to Strang Communications for consideration. My manuscript passed two review boards with Strang, but was ultimately turned down by the acquisitions team in December.
On January 2nd, I was contacted by Ramona Tucker of Capstone Fiction (later renamed OakTara), who extended a contract, and eventually published The Y Factor in July, 2007. This was a Print-on-Demand company that some would call a self-publishing firm, although they did not charge me fees.
After the book languished for a year, an ironic set of circumstances unfolded. I gave a copy of my book to a friend, who liked it. He passed it on to his father, who is the president of the American Evangelistic Association. He liked the book so much that he contacted a personal friend about it – the president of Strang Communications. He noted, “Liam Roberts is the Tom Clancy of Christian Authors,” which evidently created an interest in the book.
The Strang staff member who had turned me down the year prior was no longer at Strang. In addition, during the ensuing months I had adopted a pseudonym, so there was a disconnect between the submission of my original manuscript and the published book. Evidenty, the staff did not realize they were looking at the same work.
Shortly thereafter, Strang reestablished contact with me, which resulted in a two-book contract. The Y Factor was republished under their Realms banner, and the sequel will be published next year.
What’s your approach to self-editing? Do you prefer to edit as you go or wait until the end of the first draft and then edit during revisions or is your method someplace in the middle?
I like to get a significant segment of the storyline written, then go back and flesh it out with scene and character development. During this phase I try to visualize what the characters are seeing, hearing and feeling, then incorporate that into the story.
I also like to fill in information that adds a cultural context for the reader who may be unaware of how different people from other cultures think and act. This is especially important with Islam. American Christians are very ignorant of the tenants of the most formidable Antichrist influence in the world today.
I should add that I do a horrible job at self-editing. In my zeal to copy & paste I often overlook tense and pronoun changes. It’s amazing how blind I can be to the simplest errors during extensive editing. It’s like my mind is skipping ahead to the next idea and I read the edited text without really seeing it. He who has eyes…
I was quite happy that the republishing of The Y Factor included the services of a line editor. I don’t recommend publishing a book without the benefit of an editor who has the ability to separate him/herself emotionally from the story and can recommend hard choices for the author.
What advice would you give to unpublished writers who are looking to write thrillers?
Read a lot! In a way, I’m glad my writing career got such a late start. Over the years, I have read a lot of secular fiction, starting with Doc Savage pulp fiction in high school. I began to tire with that after entering college and graduated to a variety of best selling authors such as: Alistair MacClean, Jack Higgins, Robert Ludlum, Ken Follett, David Balducci and Tom Clancy. I also broadened my interests and enjoyed medical thriller authors Robin Cook, David Palmer and Tess Gerritsen and above all, Michael Crighton. In the military genre, I recommend Patrick Robinson, James W. Huston and Vince Flynn to be the most authentic.
Regarding Christian fiction, Frank Peretti’s Darkness trilogy is the best. The first couple of Left Behind books were readable, but were seriously lacking in the latter books. Ted Dekker is the new darling of Christian fiction, but I find him pretty dark at times. Now that he’s adopted ghost writers…
I highly recommend joining a writer’s critique group. In Central Florida, the best one for Christian authors is Word Weavers, co-founded by Eva Marie Everson. The experience has been invaluable for me in developing my craft. I did not have any formal training in writing, so I have absorbed as much as I can during the critique sessions. I learn as much from participating in the critique of other writer’s work as having my own work critiqued. This takes discipline. There are many times I’ve wanted to skip a meeting in order to write. After the meeting, I always appreciate the experience and reflect upon what I learned.
I have not attended any of the national writers conferences, so I cannot speak from experience as to their value. Many of my writer friends encourage them highly.
I think the ability to construct thrillers that will hold your reader’s attention will become second nature once you have acquired a wealth of reading experience.
A phenomenon I have observed over the years is a growing impatience with published authors, many of whom were at one time my favorite authors. I believe this is part of the process that bears fruit when you begin writing your own material. You will develop that sense for what works and what doesn’t.
As you know, Liam, my blog is a humorous storytelling blog. With this theme in mind, can you tell us one of the most fun or funniest moments you’ve experienced as a writer?
Yes. I’ve learned to not take myself too seriously! I’ve participated in two book fairs, one of which was with my Word Weavers critique group (more than a dozen members have been published). We set up tables and displayed the materials for sale. After hours manning the table and trying to engage those browsing for a good book, I sold zero copies while those who wrote non-fiction sold dozens. I have come to realize that there’s a built-in aversion to fiction in much of the Christian community. People will buy endless self-help and road-to-spiritual-maturity books, but hesitate to buy fiction. They probably don’t dance or go to movies either.
I’ve begun to see the events of life as fodder for writing (to quote Eva Marie Everson). Although my primary interest is writing thrillers, I have documented my family experiences over the years. Many of those experiences have been hilarious. Perhaps someday I’ll compile them into a book which will have to be self-pub’d because I’ll only be able to sell them to immediate family.
Here’s a true story that happened over a year ago. It doesn’t directly relate to my writing, except that it occurred during the time I was editing my first manuscript.
Twelve weeks ago I volunteered to be one of the mentors in Northland’s (my church) Marriage 9-1-1 class and was matched up with John Andrew (last name has been changed), a 72 year old, lifelong Catholic. John had been married for 22 years, to his first wife, who tragically died of a brain tumor. After a few years, he married Lillie, a feisty native of France who had lived in America for quite a few years. They’ve now been married 21 years.
John & Lille had attended the Church of the Annunciation Catholic Church for many years, but recently became bored. They decided to visit other churches and started with Northland last November. They’ve been there ever since.
One Sunday, Lillie noticed the Marriage 9-1-1 class listed in the church newspaper and decided they needed to attend the class due to the habitual bickering between them.
John is a bit eccentric. He’s very opinionated, is comfortable with his worldview, and didn’t think he needed a marriage enrichment class. The only reason he agreed to it was to keep Lillie from constantly pestering him.
John and I met each week for the past twelve weeks and it has been very entertaining. There’s been quite a remarkable transformation from the guy I sat across from twelve weeks ago in the Northland Café.
For our first meeting, I arrived 1½ minutes late. We introduced ourselves, shook hands, and John’s first comment was, “You’re late, Bill.” I did my best to be on time for the remainder of our meetings…
During that first meeting, we were supposed to discuss the course content. I assumed that John was a believer, but decided to test the waters to be sure. So I made a reference to our shared faith. In what I was to learn was a characteristic gesture of his, John held his hands up, cupped his fingers and swatted the air, symbolically pushing me away. He clarified, “You should know, I’m not a religious guy, there, Bill.”
I replied, “Is that informational, John, or are you drawing a line I shouldn’t cross?”
“No, no, Bill!” he said. “I wouldn’t be coming to Northland if I wasn’t interested,” he said a bit testily.
John repeated often that his marital troubles were minor in comparison to some of the people in the group, each time raising his eyebrows, and/or rolling his eyes dramatically behind coke-bottle glasses. “Some of them tell stories of adultery and drug abuse,” he would say, cocking his head with a scowl for emphasis. “Compared to them, our problems are nothing!”
John often expressed irritation with Lillie’s intensity, waving dismissively when speaking of the things she was passionate about – especially when he hadn’t seemed to hear her correctly. “I don’t know why she gets so worked up about these things!” he would complain. One example I recall was when she had asked him to run a load of laundry. As he relayed the story, he confessed complete confusion with the process – a chore he had absolutely no interest in ever mastering. There was no doubt the task was an imposition; the roll of his eyes and wag of his head confirmed it.
I clearly understood the tactic. If he demonstrated inadequacy and performed badly enough, his penance was to suffer an intense, and hopefully brief tirade from Lillie. When the storm passed, there was a good chance she’d never ask him to perform the chore again, and he’d be free to resume working on the more important things that interested him. She would give up in exasperation and do the piddling deed herself. Problem solved.
I began to realize that John’s gestures were well-rehearsed and mentioned that body language is a powerful means of communication. I asked if he demonstrated the same dismissive gestures during arguments with Lillie. He shrugged his shoulders, cocked his head, his mouth drawn into a tight line. I took that as a yes.
Hazarding a guess, I asked John if Lillie often repeated herself. Not surprisingly, John assured me that she does (and seemed amazed that I’d discerned that on my own). I gently guided John in a technique I thought would be helpful. I suggested that during their next confrontation, he should avoid all body language while affirming Lillie’s giftedness in running their household. Further, he should validate her feelings that important household tasks be done correctly. “Confess that you don’t share her passion, but at the same time, assure her that you recognize your household would be a disaster if it weren’t for her attention to the details.” John liked my idea and wrote it down in his workbook.
I decided a bit of vulnerability might help. I told John that, like Lillie, my wife often repeats herself. I finally realized she often isn’t trying to win an argument, or even to persuade me. She often just wants to be validated. By not providing feedback, I leave the impression that I haven’t understood – or worse – I haven’t even heard her. My conclusion: women will repeat themselves until they are satisfied that we “got it.” I also shared one of my flippant responses that hadn’t worked so well. “Yes, dear. I heard you the third time…” I emphasized, “Warning: do not try this at home.” John liked that.
I told John about one of the heroes of the faith that helped me as a young husband and father. Howard Hendricks used to say, “God has a great sense of humor. Did you ever notice that he puts opposites together? There’s a purpose in that. If you and your spouse were the same, then one of you is unnecessary! So you need to appreciate the differences.” John wrote that one down too.
One of the homework assignments was to read a Proverb every day. When I asked John how his readings were going, he replied, “Well, to tell you the truth, there, Bill, I’m not sure where to find Proverbs.”
“Oh,” I replied, “The Proverbs are in the Old Testament. Do you have a Bible?” I asked.
“No, no I don’t. Where can I get one, Bill?”
“The Northland bookstore has plenty of them,” I replied.
“Which one should I get – the Old Testament or the New Testament?” he asked, quite seriously.
“Well, Northland has a two-for-one special going right now,” I laughed.
In preparation for the next meeting, I found an old Bible we bought my daughter Lindsay during her high school years. It happened to be a large print edition of the Life Application Bible. She hadn’t used that particular Bible in quite a while (it’s three inches thick), so I took it to our next meeting. Although it looked like a teenager’s Bible, complete with a three-inch holographic happy face sticker and balloon lettering that pronounced Jesus’ love, it was better than nothing. As I had anticipated, John hadn’t purchased a Bible yet, so I let him borrow it. It was quite humorous to see John carry his new Bible with the shiny happy face sticker on the cover. Several weeks later I introduced him to Lindsay. He thanked her for letting him borrow her Bible and she replied that he could keep it.
John was unfamiliar with the conventional method of referring to Scriptural passages by chapter-and-verse. As he did his homework assignments and came across a verse that interested him, he would write the page number of the verse in his homework manual, and mark the position with a Post-it stuck between the pages. During our meetings, he would peer at his workbook and say, “I wanted to ask you about the verse on page 1245, Bill,” as he flipped to the appropriate Post-it Note. By the end of the course, John had hundreds of Post-it Notes that flapped in timing with his stride.
John was anxious to learn about the context of the verses he was reading and we often strayed from the homework to expand his understanding of the Scriptures. In one of our meetings he asked, “Say, there, Bill, what’s the difference between the Old Testament and the New Testament?” Unfortunately, we only had an hour. I asked if he would like the long or the short version. He was okay with the short one, so I started with Abram and Sarai. The Lord used the opportunity to open His plan of salvation to a man who had spent a lifetime reading but not seeing, listening but not hearing. At the end of it, John’s response was, “Say, there, Bill. my head is spinning. That was quite interesting.”
The next week, John’s first comment was, “Say, Bill, my head is still spinning from everything you said last week. You’re quite the Bible scholar!”
I laughed, “No, John, I just want to know as much as I can about the Lord and how I can become more Christ-like.”
During one of our lunch meetings, I drew a triangle on a napkin. I put GOD at the top, John’s name at the lower left and Lillie opposite it on the lower right. I shared an insight learned long ago. “The Bible tells us that we should seek the Lord and make him a significant part of our life – and marriage. Think about the triangle as representative of that. As you and Lillie each approach the Lord, you move up, along the sides of the triangle. As each of you becomes more Christ-like, the distance between you becomes less. John, there is nothing that compares with the intimacy of a marriage that honors God.” John was very impressed with that insight and tucked my diagram into his Bible.
It soon became clear that the Lord brought John and Lillie to the Marriage 9-1-1 class for a greater purpose. In spite of John being a very opinionated guy, his interest in spiritual matters grew weekly. Considering he was a life-long Catholic, and had had an extensive career working with religious broadcasters, his complete lack of Biblical knowledge was breathtaking.
Half way through the course, he asked, “Say, there, Bill, what’s all this stuff about being Born Again?” Once again, we diverged from the homework assignment to discuss a more pressing issue.
Four weeks ago I presented a clear Gospel message and asked John to pray about it. The next week, I asked him if he’d given it any thought. His response was remarkable. Looking me straight in the eye, he said, “Well, Bill, I realize that I’m a man of the flesh. And I want to be a man of the Spirit.” Wow. Quite a difference from his dismissive gesture during our first meeting.
During our last couple of meetings, John indicated that he and Lillie decided they were going to make the “Big Decision” together. But she was leaving for two month trip to France to visit her family, so they’d probably wait until she returned at the end of the summer. I continued to impress upon John how important it was to not put the decision off and shared some scriptures to augment the point.
During my time with John, the Lord used me to till the soil and plant the seeds, but as He instructed us, others may be called for the harvest. That’s exactly what happened. It seems that Lillie’s seamstress is a Christian and her husband Sal runs a small Italian restaurant in Altamonte Springs called Il Paradisa. Sal is also a Care Pastor at Calvary Assembly, a local Charismatic church. John and Lillie had dinner at the restaurant and John was very impressed with something that was printed on the first page of the menu…
John called me the other night to share what had happened. “It was a very nice restaurant, Bill. And there was a Bible verse printed right on the menu. Here – let me read it to you.” John had evidently taken a menu home with him as a momento. “Here it is… It’s from Jeremiah 29:11 and says, ‘For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’ The Care Pastor is quite a remarkable fellow, there, Bill. So, he got Lillie and I saved.”
John caught me off guard with the matter-of-fact way he’d said it. It turns out that Sal had come out from the kitchen in his chef’s coat, sat down, and prayed with John and Lillie right at their table. I told John how excited I was for them. I was so happy they hadn’t put off the decision until after their trip.
John replied, “Well, we really wanted to get saved at Northland, Bill, so maybe we’ll do it again there.”
I laughed, “No John,” I said. “Once you’re in, you’re in. Or as you’ll hear often, ‘Once saved, always saved.’”
John laughed. “Is that right? Okay, Bill, you know best. You’re my spiritual guide.”
So, Lillie heads to France today and John will be studying his Bible – the Happy Face Version.
p.s. Sal is a bold witness for the Lord. He’s led nine people to Christ, right at their tables, just like John and Lilly. By the way, since I began sending out this email and introducing people to the restaurant months ago, I am aware of over 100 guests who have taken my recommendation – and many of them have been back multiple times!
The owner, Sal, is a hoot. He was born in Napoli (Naples), Italy and came to America as a young man. Sal is a faithful man of God and has poured everything into his restaurant. Sal’s also a vocalist. While you’re enjoying his excellent food, you may notice the Italian music playing in the background. The songs are traditional Italian music, but with Christian-themed lyrics. Sal wrote the lyrics himself and has recorded five CDs that he sends back to the land of his birth with the hope that the Gospel message will have an impact.
Contest time! Leave a comment on my blog and you’ll be entered in the drawing to win The Y Factor. The contest ends August 24th, and the winner will be announced on August 25th.