An Interview with Preston & Child
by Liz Gatterer
KN: City of Endless Night is the 17th book in the Pendergast series. How do you plot out such a long-running series? Do you plan the next book(s) in advance, or are they conceived one at a time? How do you keep the storylines straight?
Doug: We conceive them one story at a time. When we wrote RELIC, we thought it was going to be a one-off and didn’t think that Pendergast would be (or should be) the main character. He took over the books on his own. We didn’t know his first name until four books later. As for keeping the storyline straight, we often find ourselves re-reading our old books and taking notes, to make sure we’re picking up the right threads. Sometimes we even consult our most passionate fans about various arcane details we ourselves have forgotten. I recall once wracking my brains trying to recall what Pendergast thought of Italian opera, and finally consulted a fan who said, “He hates it.”
KN: The first two novels in the series, Relic and Reliquary were published two years apart–1995 and 1997 respectively. The third novel, Cabinet of Curiosities, came along 5 years later in 2002 and since then you have averaged a new Pendergast novel every 12.5 months with each novel comprised of an average of 417 pages. Keeping up that pace is amazing–especially when you take into account the research that goes into each book, the fact that you have written over 2 dozen other books (collaboratively and individually), have book tours, speaking engagements and families that I assume like to see you occasionally. How do you manage it?
Linc: We’re pedaling as fast as we can! Joking aside, it really helps having a writing partner on the case—Doug and I have both written numerous solo novels as well as our joint books, so we know. Also, the fact that we now are so familiar with the Pendergast universe—although not necessarily with Pendergast himself—means that the foundation for new novels is already well in place. But the bottom line is that we love what we do: writing about Pendergast and his various adventures remains always fresh and exciting to us both.
Doug: Linc does the pedaling; I stand behind him and bark out orders like the coxswain of a rowing crew. Seriously, it is great having a writing partner whose taste and intelligence you trust implicitly, and who thinks like you do.
KN: You excel at blending the natural and supernatural in your books. Which comes first? Is the supernatural a bridge between the events you want to happen, or are the natural events a product of the supernatural? Is there a secret to finding the balance?
Linc: This was perhaps particularly evident in the earliest books of the series, RELIC and RELIQUARY, although it’s been a factor in numerous Pendergast and non-Pendergast books of ours as well. I’ve always been a fan of ghost stories, and when I was an editor at St. Martin’s Press I put together numerous supernatural anthologies. The idea of trying to mix a straight-ahead thriller with potentially supernatural elements (although with a fair amount of science underpinning everything) was more revolutionary when RELIC first appeared than it is today. In fact, at the time our publishers and booksellers weren’t quite sure what genre to classify it as. Ultimately RELIC was called a “techno-thriller,” but I’m not sure even that quite encompasses it.
Doug: We have always been attracted by the hints of the supernatural, because it adds a certain mystery and Gothic flavor to the series. Too much mystery has been taken out of the world and we want to put a little bit back in.
KN: As a fan, I LOVE that in City of Endless Night Pendergast returns to NY and teams up with Detective D’Agosta again. And (I don’t want to give anything away) the Epilogue really warmed my heart. However, these events hint at a certain amount of closure for Pendergast which terrifies me a bit (and not in a fun way). I am almost afraid to ask, but, are these harbingers of an end to the Pendergast series?
Doug: Not at all. We’re quite fond of Pendergast and hope to see him in many books to come, provided he doesn’t get killed along the way. (Nobody is safe in our books.) We plan to launch a new series starring Nora Kelly, in which Pendergast might, from time to time, make a cameo appearance—if he’s still alive by then.
KN: You have been quoted as saying that you try to write thrillers that you yourselves would like to read. This aligns well with the Killer Nashville mission to help writers write books that we would like to read. Do you have advice for new authors on how to accomplish this feat?
Linc: I can only speak from my own experience, but with that proviso: I’ve found that writing a book about a subject that I personally find fascinating, either that I know something of already or would like to learn more about, not only makes the research and writing process more enjoyable, but it results in a more compelling and credible story. Readers can tell the difference between a book written from the heart and one written simply in hopes of selling lots of copies. Also, writing a novel can be a difficult and at times even disheartening process—it’s not uncommon to have to rewrite passages or even whole sections of prose along the way, especially when starting out—and writing about a subject of great personal interest can sometimes make that easier.
Doug: I couldn’t agree with Linc more. It’s a huge mistake to think you can figure out the formula and write a bestselling book. The “formula” in my opinion is to write about what fascinates you, populate it with characters that you know and love (or hate), and set it in a place you know well.
Many thanks to Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child for taking time from their book tour for City of Endless Night to answer our questions and to Caitlin Mulrooney-Lyski from Grand Central Publishing for facilitating this interview.