An Interview with the Authors
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This interview was conducted shortly after RELIC was published. In it, Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child describe how their partnership began, how they work together as a team, and what inspired them to write a book like RELIC.

 

Q: How did you two meet in the first place?

Lincoln:
Several years ago, I got a behind-the-scenes tour at the New York's American Museum of Natural History. I'll never forget it. The curator brought a group of us down these narrow hallways and into a vast, dimly-lit storage chamber. It seemed to go on forever, cabinet after cabinet stretching from floor to ceiling. And every cubbyhole of every tier of every cabinet was filled with butterflies, some of them fabulously rare, some extinct. I was told of other, even more fabulous places: the dinosaur bone storage room in the basement, the greatest dinosaur graveyard in the world. Grinning teeth, claws that could rip an elephant in half. That's when I thought: this place would make a really great book. Since I was a book editor at the time, I got to be friends with Doug Preston, who wrote a column about the museum in Natural History magazine, and asked him to write an armchair tour of the behind-the-scenes museum, the museum few if any visitors ever see. He wrote the acclaimed Dinosaurs in the Attic and I edited it. It's still in print.

Douglas:
Lincoln took me to lunch at the Russian Tea Room. You know these editors and their expense accounts. He proposed the book and I loved the idea. So I spent the next year prowling in the deep inner recesses of the museum, the catacombs and tunnels underneath. I saw and wrote about things you wouldn't believe--a lady who raises scorpions, tarantulas and giant cockroaches in the museum; carnivorous African beetles; vast rooms full of mummies; vaults filled with the plaster faces of dead people.

 

Q: Carnivorous African beetles?

Douglas:
That's right. There really is a 'bug room' room at the Museum where they throw in dead animals. These beetles swarm all over them and reduce the carcass to a skeleton. Nice, neat, and articulated. There are enormous vats where they rot animals like hippos and giraffes to get their bones. There is a room filled with whale skulls, each as big as a two-story building. There are vaults crammed with priceless gems. There are gorillas in vats of formadehyde. There are frozen elephants in a gigantic freezer. We didn't make this stuff up. Places like that exist.

 

Q: And how did you start out actually working together? It seems a unique arrangement.

Douglas:
You've heard of bi-coastal romances; we're a bi-coastal writing team. Initially, Linc and I hammered out the plot over numerous glasses of single-malt scotch. But that was the last time we worked face-to-face for years. I moved to Santa Fe and we live two thousand miles apart. We did everything by computer modem and fax.

 

Q: Didn't that put a crimp in your work on RELIC?

Lincoln:
Not at all. We communicate through our computers several times a day. We protect our chapters, using strong encryption, then pass files back and forth across the continent at extremely high speed.

 

Q: Describe the way you work together.

Douglas:
First, Linc and I work out the plot. Linc sends me an outline of the chapters, I write the first draft, then Linc polishes it. As you can see, I do most of the work.

Lincoln:
(Laughs.) There are lies, damned lies, and writer's exaggerations. I take the coal Doug gives me and, using tremendous force, press it into a diamond.

Essentially, we wrote RELIC without ever seeing each other once. The first time we got together since that day we first brainstormed about the idea was to have our author photograph taken just before the book was published.

 

Q: Don't you ever argue?

Lincoln:
Are you kidding? We argue about every detail. That's why RELIC is so tight. Nothing gets by unless we both like it. Have you ever read a novel and said to yourself, 'How did that clunker get through?' Well, with us, it doesn't get through. That's also why we're two thousand miles apart. Less chance of inflicting bodily harm on each other. (Laughs.)

 

Q: But aren't your styles different? In RELIC, I couldn't tell where one writer left off and the other picked up.

Douglas:
That's because Lincoln takes a final pass over everything more or less by himself. When we're done, there are no rough edges, no burrs sticking up from the surface. The kind of wry, eccentric, slightly tongue-in-cheek style of RELIC is a style that we developed jointly. It belongs to both of us.

Lincoln:
We both love to read thrillers. But so many thrillers you read and say, yeah right, that could never happen. They fall apart in the end. We tried to make RELIC just the opposite. And we love surprise endings. All the reviews have said the final scene of the book is a mind-blower.

Douglas:
Our goal is to write good, believable, literate thrillers. Like Eye of the Needle or Silence of the Lambs.

 

Q: Writers tend to be partial to their own prose. Don't you two ever quarrel over the details?

Douglas:
Like he said, we quarrel over everything. But seriously, we respect each other's judgment. As an editor at St. Martin's Press, Lincoln specialized in thrillers and mysteries. He started their mass-market horror line. Here's a guy who--I'm not kidding--knows how to scare the living hell out of you. And I've published several books myself. So when Lincoln says to me, Doug, that's a piece of crap, I listen.

 

Q: RELIC is full of fascinating museum descriptions. Douglas, you worked in the American Museum of Natural History for several years. Is this really an accurate depiction of the Museum?

Douglas:
Although the museum in RELIC is our own invention, it is a good portrait of how museums work. You can't believe the politics, the intrigues and rivalries that go on in museums. I've been to scientific meetings where curators scream at each other. I've heard gossip that would curl your hair. These are not slope-shouldered scientists with coke-bottle glasses, but brilliant, powerful, and passionate people. Mixed with a variety of bureaucrats of course. Quite a combination.

 

Q: Are any of the people in RELIC based on people you knew in the Museum?

Douglas:
Absolutely not. There is no character in RELIC that remotely resembles anyone in the Museum. What do you think I am, crazy?

 

Q: As one reviewer pointed out, the real hero of RELIC is the natural history museum itself. What makes this museum--or any natural history museum--so fascinating?

Douglas:
It's the building. The catacombs of Rome are a cakewalk compared to natural history museums after midnight. For example, my journalistic work took me all over the American Museum. I used to work late, and sometimes I walked through the halls at night, when only the emergency lights were on. The Dinosaur Hall, with the black skeletons throwing crazy shadows across the floor, their teeth gleaming in the dimness. Or the dark cases of the African hall, the masks leering at you. Or the dire wolves and saber-toothed cats. And the Museum is incredibly vast. It's physically larger than the Empire State Building. Nobody knows how many rooms there are in the Museum. Even after working their eight years, I still got lost. The place is a treasure trove of the bizarre. For example, there are twenty thousand skeletons in the Museum. One curator covered the entire wall of his office with skulls. Another has all four walls of his office lined with jars of dead bats.

Lincoln:
Doug and I used to explore the Museum together. Because he was writing about the Museum, he had the run of the place. I remember him telling me about these five steel pillars going up through a basement hall that were holding up the largest meteorite in the world. It was so heavy, that without these pillars it would simply drop through the museum. It's an amazing place.

 

Q: How do you get ideas for your stories?

Douglas:
There are lots of ways, because there's so much material out there! For example, some of the scariest things happening today are taking place in science laboratories deep inside museums and research facilities. The public doesn't hear about them. So Doug and I paw through medical and scientific journals, looking for really gruesome, frightening stuff. Reality is always more terrifying than fiction, you know. We talk to the scientists who are working on the cutting edge. And we've come across stuff that would scare the pants off you. Scientific discoveries that, if you knew about them, would really make you nervous. So our job is to make you very, very nervous.


2018 Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child