Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child are an incredibly productive writing duo. On February 22 they will launch the first in a new thriller series, Gideon's Sword. The book has already been optioned by Paramount. For Preston & Child's full list of collaborative novels, go HERE. For their solo novels, go HERE.
Before We Got Caught by Douglas Preston
My first job out of college was as a writer and editor for the American Museum of Natural History in New York. I wrote a pokey little column in the magazine Natural History. An editor from St. Martin's Press, who had been reading my pieces, called me up and asked if I wanted to write a history of the Museum. I said yes -- and that became my first book, Dinosaurs in the Attic. After the book was published, I gave the editor a tour of the Museum – late at night, because I was afraid of getting caught showing an unauthorized person behind the scenes. I showed him all the best places in the Museum to which I had access--the dinosaur bone storage room, the collection of 30,000 rats in jars of alcohol, the whale eyeball collection, the preserved mastodon stomach with its last meal inside, and a lot of other unusual things. We ended up in the Hall of Late Dinosaurs around 2:00 a.m., with only the emergency lights on, the great black skeletons looming in the darkness around us--and the editor turned to me and said: "Doug, this is the scariest damn building in the world. Let's write a thriller set in here." And that was the birth of Relic. That editor, of course, was Lincoln Child. We both discovered we shared the same kind of sick, twisted view of the world.
And so began our long and fruitful collaboration which, 14 best-sellers later, has produced GIDEON’S SWORD, the first book in a brand new series starring a rather sketchy character named Gideon Crew.
In order for our partnership to work we have to trust each other. When Linc tells me something I've written is pure crap, I have to believe him. (But not after roundly denouncing his execrable taste, hideous judgment, and deplorable illiteracy.) This trust is the only thing that can make a writing partnership like ours work. We are not prima donnas who think that every word that trips off our pen is a precious pearl to be treasured and endlessly polished. Linc slashes away at my work and I do the same to his, and in the end, despite getting serious bent out of shape with each other, we end up with something that is, I believe, better than what we could have written on our own.
The idea for GIDEON’S SWORD came about when I was researching potter’s fields. I learned that New York City maintains the largest potter’s field in the world, on an uninhabited island situated in Long Island Sound. Called Hart Island, almost a million bodies are buried there, in mass graves, dating back to the Civil War. When I read this, I was astounded; I immediately called Linc and we brainstormed. A half an hour later we had the basic plot for GIDEON’S SWORD worked out, along with the determination to use this fabulous setting to the fullest in the novel. Because Hart Island isn’t just a burial ground—it is covered with amazing ruins: of a boy’s workhouse, a tubercularium, a yellow fever quarantine, an abandoned Nike missile base, and (most wonderful of all) an overgrown baseball field with the very bleachers taken from the legendary Ebbets Field, home to the old Brooklyn Dodgers.
My wife Christine and I rented a boat and made a guerrilla landing on Hart Island, to photograph the place for the novel. Before we got caught (that’s a story for another day) Christine, who is a professional photographer, got off some good shots. Here’s one of them. Enjoy!
Writing Together by Lincoln Child
I edited Doug Preston’s first non-fiction book, Dinosaurs in the Attic. This was an armchair behind-the-scenes tour of New York’s American Museum of Natural History and the various real-life Indiana Joneses who worked there over the years. In the process of writing and editing this book, Doug and I became friends.
A few months after the book’s publication, Doug sent me the opening chapters of a new book he wanted to write: a murder mystery, set in the Museum. I called him up and told him that good murder mysteries were quite hard to pull off, and that—unless your name was Agatha Christie—they didn’t always sell all that many copies. I suggested instead that he write a thriller, set in a fictitious natural history museum—and that he write it with me.
And so RELIC was born. In the beginning, I sent Doug chapter outlines and he fleshed them out into complete chapters, which I then revised and edited. (I would write occasional chapters myself, but early on Doug wrote the lion’s share.) We began the book as a lark, really, and its progress was sporadic and slow. But over the course of writing it, an odd thing happened. Watching Doug bring my outlines to life, I became aware all over again of just how the creative process works. (I’d written short stories and even novels in high school, but working as an editor had, perhaps perversely, sapped my own interest in writing.) And as Doug watched me take his first drafts and polish them, tightening here and rewriting there (this was a process I likened to taking a lump of coal and, under extreme pressure, transforming it into a diamond), he learned how to streamline his own prose even more.
Over the next several books, I began to shoulder more of the writing process, and Doug more of the revising process. And then another odd thing happened. The more joint books we wrote, the more our styles blended, until there came a point where it was difficult for an outside reader to know who had written which paragraph.
Doug and I have both written solo novels as well as joint ones, and we can attest that the processes are very different. Writing by yourself can sometimes be a lonely affair. You come to a fork in the road, and you are never quite sure—until the book is successfully finished—that you’re taking the right turn. You wonder if, half a dozen forks later, you’ll realize you zigged when you should have zagged. In a joint book, there’s always somebody else you can ask for advice, somebody you can fall back on if your imagination is flagging or if you’ve written yourself into a corner. Naturally, solo books are wonderful things—you can take a unique pride in having written them, and there’s no co-author to fight with over what’s going to happen in the next scene—but in certain specific ways, I’ve found that a writing partnership can be an even more rewarding creative experience. But then again, I would always have rather been one of the Beatles than Bob Dylan…