Finally, at long last I am able to present to you the long anticipated (by me) and the long delayed (again by me, sorry) interview with one of the co-authors of three excellent novels that have appeared in Starfire Reviews over the months since this site's origins, one of which spawned a movie featured in the Galactic Theater.
Mr. Douglas Preston--who with Mr. Lincoln Child wrote The Relic, Reliquary, and Riptide--kindly consented to do an e-mail interview with me, and now here is the transcription of those responses! So please, read on and find out more about Mr. Preston and his thoughts on the novels he has to his co-credit!
The interview that follows comes from e-mail messages sent back and forth between myself and Mr. Preston. I've filtered the interview down somewhat, but all with his approval. Enjoy!--XS
XS: May I assume "Douglas Preston" is your real name?
DP: "Douglas Jerome Preston, Esq." is my real name.
XS: Have you ever considered writing under a pseudonym?
DP: I, or should I say "we" [Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child--XS], almost considered using a nom de plume for Relic. For example, Lincoln Preston or Preston Child or Douglas Child.
XS: Well, any of those would have worked. But how about you individually? Have you ever considered writing under a pen name?
DP: I might write under a pseudonym if I had something quite horrible or controversial to say.
XS: Er...okay, I can see where that might be necessary or desirable. Now, correct me if I'm wrong, but do you live in New York? If you don't mind my asking, that is.
DP: I moved to New York after college for eight years, but now I live in the mountains of northern New Mexico.
XS: Where were you born and raised?
DP: I was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts and grew up in Wellesley, Mass.
XS: What was your family life like as you were growing up?
DP: My father is a lawyer, my mother a professor of Art History. My brother is, of course, the famous and talented Richard Preston, author of The Hot Zone, The Cobra Event, and other excellent books.
XS: I'm embarrassed to admit I've never heard of your brother, but the synopses at Amazon.com make me want to.
DP: My younger brother, David Preston, is a very fine doctor working in rural Maine saving people's lives. Our dinnertime conversations were lively, to say the least, ranging over a number of topics that would send my mother from the table retching in disgust.
XS: Hmm. Sounds interesting, I don't think that's ever really happened in my family. Well, anyway, what are your fondest memories of your childhood?
DP: We terrorized the suburban town of Wellesley and were often in the newspaper in the "Police Notes" section. My brother was an expert in building rockets, mechanical and pyrotechnical devices. Of course, today we would be considered abnormal and given some kind of mental diagnosis and put on Prozac or some other drug.
XS: Well, considering today's society, that does seem likely. What is your family life like now?
DP: I have a wife, Christine, and three children, Selene, Aletheia, and Isaac.
XS: And I know you call northern New Mexico home.
DP: We live on a small ranch outside of Santa Fe. I used to have horses and did a lot of riding.
XS: "Used to" and "did?"
DP: Now I like to play with my kids and go camping.
XS: A good trade off, I'd say. Now I know you went to college--you told me so yourself--so what educational level did you achieve?
DP: After being expelled from nursery school--
DP: I finally got a BA in English Literature from Pomona College.
XS: Good major!
DP: I later taught Writing at Princeton University.
XS: What drew you into writing?
DP: I love telling stories.
XS: How did you learn to write creatively? Did you take classes or are you entirely self taught?
DP: Creative writing is, almost by its nature, self-taught. I did take creative writing classes but I'm not sure if they didn't do more harm than good. You learn by reading and writing.
XS: I guess that depends on your perspective. I personally feel CW classes were beneficial to me, but I know some of my classmates didn't like them very much. But anyway, who are the biggest influences on your craft? Or more specifically, who are the biggest influences on your chosen writing genres?
DP: Strangely enough, I don't read many books in the genre I write in.
XS: That is sort of strange.
DP: I read mostly non-fiction, biography, and history. I am a great reader of 19th century literature. Wilkie Collins is one of my favorite writers, as are Tolstoy, Dickens, M.R. James, A. Conan Doyle, etc.
XS: That's a lot. Where do you draw your inspiration for writing subjects from?
DP: Mostly from my personal experiences and my non-fiction writing. I write for the New Yorker, National Geographic, Smithsonian, and other magazines, and much of my fiction has grown from non-fiction stories or books that I have written.
XS: Interesting. What genres do you feel you right in? In my reviews I classified The Relic and Reliquary as horror, but Riptide and--or so I believe--Mount Dragon are more science fiction, aren't they?
DP: I wouldn't classify them as either horror or science fiction, really. Horror implies the supernatural, which we don't employ in our books. Science fiction is more speculative than the science in our books.
XS: What would you call them, then?
DP: I might call them "techno-thrillers" for lack of a better term.
XS: How about "scientific horror" or "speculative science horror?" Anyway, what genres would you like to write in that you haven't already?
DP: I've often thought of writing a children's book. I've written in most genres so far, fiction, non-fiction, literary fiction, etc. My best book (aside from my work with Lincoln) is Cities of Gold.
XS: What do you find easiest about writing?
DP: Easiest? I suppose going to work in the morning, since I love what I do.
XS: How about most difficult?
DP: Most difficult? After the book is done and is about to be published--waiting to see how the world will receive it.
XS: I guess that could be a difficult time, couldn't it? What do you feel to be your greatest strength?
DP: My greatest strength is a vast fund of arcane and useless knowledge in my brain.
XS: Personally I don't think there is such a thing as useless knowledge. How about your greatest weakness?
DP: My greatest weakness is, perhaps, getting too convoluted in my plots.
XS: Not from what I could tell. What kinds of problems have you encountered since you began writing?
XS: Ouch. Well, do you believe in "writer's block?"
DP: I've never really had serious writer's block. I think writer's block is basically a fear of failure.
XS: Well, how do you overcome it? I mean, it isn't always easy to face one's fears.
DP: The way I've overcome occasionally bouts of it is to simply write through it, to keep writing, even though you know what you're working on is crap, and eventually you get through it to the other side.
XS: That makes sense. Do you get a special feeling each time you see one of your books in print?
DP: I get a very special sick and apprehensive feeling. This it the worst moment for me in the writing process. I wonder who in the world could possibly find this book interesting.
XS: Well, I'm sure you have fans that will always find your works interesting, including me. If you don't mind, though, I'd like to talk a little about the novels you did with Mr. Child. And the movie, if that's okay.
DP: Sure. Shoot.
XS: What drew you to craft The Relic? Or, what was the inspiration behind this novel?
DP: I worked at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, one of the creepiest buildings in the world. Linc and I thought it would make a great setting for a novel.
XS: I was there once as a tourist, and it is sort of creepy, isn't it? I imagine both books required a great deal of time and research. Did working in the AMNH make the research easier or more difficult?
DP: Much easier. I knew the place so well. And there were a number of fossilized bureaucrats in the museum that I had fun murdering. In print, of course.
XS: Oh, of course. Is the AMNH really so labyrinthine Could something like the Mbwun creature really live there undetected for so long?
DP: Yes. It is everything in Relic and more. Truly, it is an amazing place. Read my book Dinosaurs in the Attic for a more complete description of this astounding museum.
XS: I think I will. Now, a personal comment, if you don't mind. In Reliquary you reunited the old gang (as it were): D'Agosta, Pendergast, Margo, and Smithback. I understand why Frock and Kawakita were excluded from the "team" so I was wondering why Sergeant Hayward, who, like the two scientists, had her own area of relevant expertise, didn't play a more "active" role in the descent into the tunnels. Instead, she seemed almost peripheral to the main goal of reaching the Astor Tunnels.
DP: We really liked Hayward and in retrospect I wish we'd given her a more active role.
XS: So do I. But I guess you knew that already.
DP: We're currently planning a book that will feature Pendergast and Hayward will also make an appearance.
XS: Oh, I'm definitely going to watch for it! Now about the movie. I've seen The Relic several times, and the one thing that confuses me is why they chose to relocate it from New York to Chicago. First, did you have any say in the production process of the movie?
DP: Interesting question. They tried to get the museum in New York to agree to film there, offering them over a million dollars as a fee.
DP: I understand the museum's reaction was along the lines of: "we hate that book Relic, we hate Preston for writing that terrible book, and there is no way in hell you will film that movie in our museum, so take your money and walk." The filmmakers thus had to go to Chicago.
XS: With that kind of reaction, I'm surprised the museum in Chicago didn't reject the idea, too. Was the movie version of Mbwun at all the way you imagined it to be?
DP: No. It was good, but I imagined Mbwun to be more human in appearance.
XS: I'll be honest, I imagined it to look more like a cross between a Tasmanian devil and a lynx with a human or at least a chimp's face. I noticed that the cover graphic for the paperback version of Reliquary seems to have something modeled after the movie creature. Is this the way you imagined some of the older (earlier) Wrinklers to look, like a cross between a humanoid and a reptile, or did you picture them as looking more like the aliens from V?
DP: Yes to the former.
XS: Well, that answers that, then. On to Riptide. It took me by surprise. The synopsis' offering of "unimaginable evil" confused me because it quickly became obvious that the "evil" couldn't be something monstrous like the Mbwun or the Wrinklers. May I ask for your reaction to this statement?
DP: Flap copy hype, basically.
XS: I kind of came to that conclusion myself. I seem to recall reading about a treasure pit that no one could reach the bottom of. Was this the inspiration of the novel?
DP: Yes. The Oak Island treasure off the coast of Nova Scotia was the inspiration. Some years ago I spent a few weeks on Oak Island doing a story for Smithsonian Magazine.
XS: Perhaps I've been watching too many monster movies and giant squid documentaries lately, but I truly expected the whirlpool that formed by Hatch's boat to be the entrance of an Architeuthis or another kraken-like thing. I mean, all those gulls suddenly taking off sure made it seem that way. All the more so since, if I recall correctly, there was a 19th century giant squid attack in those latitudes.
DP: Interesting idea. We never considered it.
XS: Well, if you write a book about it I hope you'll mention me. Just kidding. One last thing about Riptide. Was there, or is there, really a St. Michael's Sword?
DP: Only in mythology.
XS: Thanks for answering all those questions. So, what projects are you working on now, and what are your plans for future projects?
DP: We're working on a book called The Ice Limit, about an expedition to Tierra Del Fuego to retrieve a rather unusual object for a new museum...
XS: Oh, boy, might this involve another Mbwun? No, don't answer that. Is there any chance you might tackle a project involving giant animals (in the tradition of Charles Wilson's Extinct, Peter Benchley's The Beast, or the movie Anaconda)?
DP: Probably not, but anything's possible.
XS: Like the squid. Well, I'll keep my fingers crossed. Any parting comments?
DP: Good questions. You should be doing this professionally.
XS: Well, thanks, but I have my sights set on becoming a teacher. And a writer. But thank you for your time. I really appreciate it.
DP: Thank you.
Well, there you have it. I enjoyed learning more about this terrific author, and I hope you did, too. If you have a comment or question of your own for Mr. Preston, I'm sure he won't mind hearing from you at email@example.com. Also, please take a look at my reviews of The Relic (the book), Reliquary, Riptide, and The Relic (the movie). And don't forget to read those and others of his works!
Comments? Suggestions? Just click here to send me e-mail.
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