Thursday, February 17, 2011

Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child: Partners in Crime

Partners in Crime: Authors who Collaborate. I'm happy to continue this series here on Mystery Fanfare with Guest Posts by both Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child.

Be sure and check out other guest posts by Partner in Crime writing partners: Guest Posts from Mark Zubro, Bill Crider, Charles Todd, Mary Reed & Eric Mayer, Max Allan Collins, David Corbett, Michael Stanley, Jeffery Deaver, Reed Farrel Coleman, and Charlotte Elkins, and Eric Beetner & JB Kohl and Hailey Lind.

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…


Mark Terry said...

Terrific post and I'm looking forward to reading Gideon's Sword. And Doug, my thought upon seeing that photo was, "Now that's a perfect setting for a Preston/Child novel."

bhaktinstella said...

I have always been a bit jumpy when wandering around the Naural History Museum in New York, so i can only imagine the place at night in the dark when they got that great idea! When i read Relic, i was totally enthralled. Thanks to Doug and Lincoln for many pleasurable hours in their books.

Marco Michele said...

hi there from italy!
i'm totally prestonchildaholic ;)

i love their characters, descriptions, settings... they're fantastic with thriller, awesome with horror situations.
...and i really love (i'm so proud!) how they write about and illustrate italy... i know well the volcano in which diogenes ***spoiler*** (i live near many volcanoes ;) and i also own summer house in eolie eheh)

i read doug & linc also because i admire the universe that they have created and i am very very very attached to it.

sorry for my bad english,
thanks for your beautiful article,
best regards,

ps: se mai mi leggeste... ciau linc, ciau doug ;)

Rai Aren said...

Great interview! I'm an avid thriller reader, especially ones with a paranormal aspect to them. I'm definitely a fan of these two - I just read The Ice Limit, by the duo, and Deep Storm, by Lincoln Child, and read Blasphemy by Douglas Preston some time ago - all were fantastic reads - highly recommended! I have a whole bunch more books by these two on my bookshelf, which I am eager to read.

I also co-authored an archaeology adventure novel, called Secret of the Sands, and we are in the process of finishing the sequel to it, Destiny of the Sands. I have three solo novels in the works - it is a much different process and feeling. I echo many of things said here about the process and experiences of co-authoring. It's been extremely helpful to me as a writer, and together, we created something that was more than the sum of the individual parts we brought to the table. It's a very rewarding experience to create something together and can teach you a lot about yourself and your writing style. I've learned so much through it, especially how to take constructive criticism ;)

Thanks for sharing! This was very interesting.

Rai Aren, co-author of the award-winning mystery novel SECRET OF THE SANDS

clearbrook said...

Have read all the joint books. Am really disappointed by newest Gideons Sword, read like it was thrown together and no one was really trying. Bring back Pendergast I can wait years if that is how long it takes to write a new book about him.