White Fire by Preston and Child Taps into Universal Fear – 2014
An exclusive Authorlink interview with Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child
Columnist Anna Roins
| White Fire (Pendergast)
by Douglas Reston & Lincoln Child
Buy this Book
Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child have been writing thriller novels together for nearly 20 years and are quite possibly the finest suspense-writing partnership in fiction.
White Fire (Pendergast) (Grand Central Publishing, 12 November 2013) is the stand alone book of the Pendergast series which reached number 3 in The New York Times Best Seller list on its first release on December 1, 2013 for the Combined Print & E-Book Fiction category.
In White Fire, Agent Pendergast is re-united with Corrie, who fans will recognise from Still Life with Crows (2003). Corrie has now moved on from her troubled past and attending the John Jay College of Criminal Justice working on her thesis. This brings her, and eventually Agent Pendergast, to the town of Roaring Fork, Colorado to investigate the mysterious deaths of several miners over 100 years ago. Their deaths lead to many disturbing discoveries while, at the same time, the townsfolk are at the whim of an unpredictable arsonist that is ravaging the town.
White Fire is a crisp, self-contained novel for the reader who has never heard of Agent Pendergast, who wants to be taken for a ride and then surprised by a staggering ending.
|“Nothing could be more random than the way in which ideas come to me.”
AUTHORLINK: Gentlemen, thank you for joining us for this interview about White Fire, your thirteenth Agent Pendergast novel, and your nineteenth collaboration overall. We thoroughly enjoyed White Fire, and especially the unexpected plot twist at the end!
We understand this book came about when Mr Child read somewhere that Oscar Wilde and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle once dined together in a London hotel. After a mutual brain-storm, you agreed on the basic outline of White Fire and started to write the chapters in your usual collaborative way. Is there a pattern in the sources of inspiration you have, or are they randomly in reference to your particular likes and tastes?
PRESTON: Nothing could be more random than the way in which ideas come to me. It could be while I’m trying to go to sleep, reading, daydreaming, working out, or sitting by the fire with a glass of wine.
CHILD: I agree with Doug, although I do find that I frequently get inspired by reading contemporary non-fiction, whether it be on-line articles or technical journals.
AUTHORLINK: That’s interesting. When reading about Pendergast in the book, an image formed in my mind of Benedict Cumberbatch. Then much later I saw a reference that Mr. Preston was struck by this idea too. When a character of a book seems to fit an actor, do you just send them a courtesy copy with a covering note, or is it a lot more formal than that?
PRESTON: When I saw Star Trek Into Darkness, I was really struck by how much Cumberbatch resembled my inner vision of what Pendergast would be like, not just in looks but in mannerisms and aura. Of course, he would have to have paler features, blond hair and a honeyed New Orleans accent, but I have no doubt Cumberbatch could pull it off. The thing is, Paramount Pictures controls film rights to the Pendergast character, since they made the film THE RELIC. Unless they make the film, it ain’t gonna happen.
CHILD: People are always asking us who we think should play Pendergast. Every few years, the candidates get reset. But Cumberbatch is definitely a current favourite of our readers.
|“We like to joke that I write most of the passages from the perspective of the “evil” characters, but the fact is we both write our share.”
AUTHORLINK: He is a favourite, that’s for sure! Mr Preston, you said once that you still hadn’t read chapter 11 of White Fire, which is the most gruesome chapter in the book. Have you read it now and if so, what do you think of it? Mr Child do you have any techniques or routine to help you source this kind of evil crime writing?
PRESTON: I still haven’t read it and I probably never will. I just can’t bear it when young people are killed in a book. You may ask why, then, put something like that in your own book? My answer is, in many of our books, that which we fear the most are often the most important elements in our stories. We thrust our own phobias on to the reader.
CHILD: We like to joke that I write most of the passages from the perspective of the “evil” characters, but the fact is we both write our share. It’s a challenge to put yourself in the mindset of, say, a homicidal maniac. But it’s an interesting kind of challenge. I have no special technique for doing so, except to draw on the centuries of other such depictions in novels and short stories, written by my betters. And I’m energized by the fact that, frequently, the antagonists in novels are more interesting than the protagonists.
AUTHORLINK: That’s good to know. White Fire includes a complete Sherlock Holmes story ‘lost’ for over a century, which turns out to be at the heart of the mystery of the book. The Sir Arthur Conan Doyle Estate not only approved this remarkable pastiche, but they loved it! Mr Child, how difficult was it to get into the mind of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and how did you manage to capture his voice?
CHILD: It was quite intimidating, because I was determined to do as good, and as credible, a job as possible, knowing how many bad Holmes pastiches are out there. My own great appreciation for the Sherlock Holmes stories helped. I spent about a week immersing myself in the Canon, reading tale after tale. And then I sat down, Conan Doyle’s prose swimming in my head, and wrote out the first draft of our Sherlock Holmes story.
|“. . neither of us “own” characters, but often we are individually responsible for the way certain characters (male and female) develop. . .”
AUTHORLINK: It was impressive. There are strong female characters in this book, like Corrie, Stacy and even the female security guard. How important is it for your readers to see a balance between the sexes in your novels, given that this type of genre might sometimes be over-populated by ‘macho men’?
PRESTON: The genre is over-populated by macho men—or should I say the same macho-man type—and I find that extremely tiresome. In some ways, I feel more attuned to our female characters than male. My daughter Selene, when she was eighteen, helped me develop Corrie. She cut a CD of music for me, and went over with me what kind of clothes she would wear, where she would get her clothes, and how she would talk and relate to others. Stacy was based on a female Captain I met in Iraq during the war, who was in charge of a team that used robots to defuse IEDs. Of course, Linc added his own unique touches to these characters as well.
CHILD: To riff off what Doug said: neither of us “own” characters, but often we are individually responsible for the way certain characters (male and female) develop and mature before they appear on the printed page. As Doug says, he’s mostly responsible for Corrie and Stacy Bowdree. I on the other hand can claim Constance, Wren, and Mime (in his final form, at least). Other characters, like Smithback, are indivisibly joint creations.
AUTHORLINK: That’s really interesting (and refreshing). The books that you have written together have been described as “techno-thrillers,” but they’re really in a genre of their own. Do you think it’s necessary to classify books with a genre anymore, or is this simply a marketing tool?
CHILD: I think it’s less necessary now than it was when we were starting out. When we wrote Relic (1995) and were asked what genre of book it was, we found it hard to pigeonhole the rather eccentric, sprawling novel. In some ways, “techno-thriller” did the job, but it was and still is an imperfect branding.
PRESTON: I wish we could all get beyond the idea of genre. For example, what genre is the Odyssey? Here is a story with sex, violence, witches, monsters, battles, and storms. Sounds like a thriller, right? The idea that somehow literature can be carved up into genres, even into “commercial” and “literary” is reductive, unhelpful, and inaccurate.
AUTHORLINK: Yes, that’s very true. We understand that Pendergast is owned by Paramount Pictures in perpetuity when they bought your first book Relic (1995). What is happening with that “high-level” producer who wants to get Pendergast on to the screen with your book Still Life with Crows (2004)? Has he come any closer to making this a reality?
PRESTON: Nothing is happening. Pendergast is as far from the silver screen today as he was in 1995, when they cut him from the RELIC script.
CHILD: It’s ironic, really. It seems that everyone would benefit from seeing Pendergast in a film. But meanwhile, we’re still waiting for something to come together.
AUTHORLINK: That is so frustrating. Not only for you but for your fans. Your website www.PrestonChild.com is packed with entertaining information about your books and about you both. We also love The Pendergast File on the website; an interesting, offbeat, monthly newsletter. Last month the gift was a temporary link to the very last chapter of White Fire not available anywhere else. We also like how you interact with your readers on Facebook.
How different was marketing when you started out, compared to nowadays (as enjoyable as it appears to be for you). Are there enough hours in the day for this aspect of writing a novel in this day and age?
CHILD: Hugely different. When we started out, “radio satellite tours,” where you sit in one place and do twenty or forty or more brief radio interviews with various stations across the country over the course of several hours, was the pinnacle of marketing technology. Today, we’re doing book signings over the Internet via Skype. As for hours in the day, I find that, as a writer, there have always been a great many things to do beyond working on the latest project. Answering emails, updating our web page, fine tuning the next newsletter, posting on Facebook, reading the copyedited manuscript of the prior novel, brainstorming future projects…at times, one longs for the (perhaps apocryphal) days of the lone writer, sitting in his garret with only parchment and a quill pen for company.
PRESTON: We used to do a lot more touring, which is a good way to meet our readers. And we do love interacting with our readers. Now, we can reach our fans through Facebook and our newsletter. Instead of promoting ourselves, we try to entertain and give our newsletter readers fascinating information and details that they can’t get anywhere else. We try to keep our online presence balanced with the lonely offline hours we must spend writing our books.
|“I don’t think Clooney needs to research my personality. God forbid what he might find! A great actor like Clooney brings his own unique talent. . .”
AUTHORLINK: That’s a lot of juggling there for you, but admittedly, it’s great fun reading your Facebook page and newsletters! Mr Preston, your last book of non-fiction, was The Monster of Florence (Grand Central Publishing, 23 April 2013) about the serial murders in the province of Florence, Italy, between 1968 and 1985, which had rave reviews. We understand that this is going to be turned into a movie and that George Clooney is going to play you. How does this feel, and what do you think will be his approach in researching your character?
PRESTON: I don’t think Clooney needs to research my personality. God forbid what he might find! A great actor like Clooney brings his own unique talent and viewpoint to creating a character, and that character he ends up playing may or may not resemble me. That’s not important. What is important is for the character to be compelling and vivid, and with Clooney I have no doubt he will do a wonderful job with the character named “Douglas Preston,” whoever he is. I’ll tell you how I feel when I’m sitting in the movie theatre watching Clooney run around as “Douglas Preston.” My wife asked me if Clooney might have a wife in the movie playing her and if perhaps there would be a romantic scene between them… I was aghast.
AUTHORLINK: That’s very funny! Yes, I’m sure Mr Clooney will provide an academy award level performance (as usual). Mr Child, the last (solo) novel that you wrote was, The Third Gate (Anchor Books, 26 February 2013) which also received great reviews. Do you still want to publish an anthology of ghost and horror stories one day?
CHILD: Well, back when I was a book editor, I published five such anthologies, but I do find that I still have a desire to edit that perfect anthology of ghost and horror stories – not necessarily the longest or most authoritative volume, but the one that collects the very, very finest tales in the genre. Perhaps some day.
AUTHORLINK: That would be so great to read; we hope you find the time soon. Mr Preston, we understand you recently submitted a new (solo) novel called The Kraken Project. Tell us a bit about that and when do you think it will be published?
PRESTON: It will be published in May of this year. I have a phobia, or perhaps a superstition, against talking about this novel. I really don’t know why. Suffice to say, much of the action takes place in Half Moon Bay, California, and it involves surfing, a robot, a NASA mission to Titan, and algorithmic trading on Wall Street.
AUTHORLINK: That sounds so interesting! We’re looking forward to reading it. We understand that there is another Preston/Child Gideon Crew book called The Lost Island due late summer this year? Tell us briefly about this.
PRESTON: The novel opens with Gideon Crew stealing a page from the famous manuscript known as the Book of Kells. The page he takes has a medieval map hidden under the illumination—a map, not to a treasure of gold and silver, but to something far more extraordinary. Gideon sets off on a boat to find the island depicted in the map—and recover the “treasure.”
CHILD: There’s a reason Doug refers to the “treasure” with quotation marks.
AUTHORLINK: That sounds brilliant – the Book of Kells element is also fascinating.
Mr Preston, Mr Child, thank you so much once again for your time. We wish you every success in the future, off and on the screen.
PRESTON & CHILD: Thank you for your interest.
|About the Authors:
The thrillers of Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child have been said to “stand head and shoulders above their rivals” (Publishers Weekly). Preston and Child’s books have been chosen by readers in a National Public Radio poll as being among the “greatest thrillers ever written”, and their first book Relic (1995) was made into a number-one box office hit movie. Co-authors of the famed Pendergast series, Preston and Child are also the authors of Fever Dream, Cold Vengeance, and Gideon’s Sword. Preston’s acclaimed nonfiction book, The Monster of Florence, is being made into a movie starring George Clooney. Lincoln Child is a former book editor who has published four novels of his own, including the huge bestseller Deep Storm.
Readers can read more about the authors on their website www.PrestonChild.com, and on Facebook and even sign up for The Pendergast File, a monthly “strangely entertaining note” from the authors.
|About Anna Roins:
Anna Roins was a Senior Lawyer with the Australian Government Solicitor before she embarked in a career in writing six years ago. As a freelance journalist, she has contributed to numerous articles on social and community issues. She has also edited a number of books, websites and dissertations, as well as continued studies in creative literature with the University of Oxford (Continuing Education) and the Faber Academy, London. Anna is currently writing her first novel and is a regular contributor to Authorlink assigned to conduct interviews with bestselling authors.