One of many great interviews with authors that you can find each month in The Big Thrill!
Perhaps best known for his collaborations with Lincoln Child, Douglas Preston is also the author of a series of bestselling thrillers that he writes by himself. His latest one, Impact, begins with an amateur astronomer watching a meteorite fall off the coast of Maine and deciding to try and find it on one of the barrier islands. Throw in Preston's recurring character, Wyman Ford, hired by the government to travel to Cambodia in search of some apparently not-from-earth gemstones, and you have all the makings of another fascinating thriller.
Preston pulls his ideas from disparate sources. "I got the idea many years ago when I was listening to an NPR report about the U.S.'s worldwide network of seismic sensors." They were mostly used to test for clandestine nuclear bomb tests; about twenty years ago they picked up the seismic signature of what looked like a nuclear test in the Australian Outback. "The interesting thing about the seismic signature of a nuclear test is it looks a lot like a meteorite impact." They didn't find anything, but what made everyone nervous at the time was that the site of the seismic event took place on an enormous ranch owned by the Aum Shinrikyo cult best known for releasing sarin gas on the Tokyo subway.Preston took that idea and combined it with a story he'd read in Scientific Americanabout "two unusual seismic events in late 2001 or early 2002. It appeared to scientists that it might have been caused by a particle striking the earth, passing through it, and coming out the other side. They thought this particle might be what is called a 'strangelet' or strange matter, or quark matter--a very strange kind of matter."
In addition, Preston had traveled to Cambodia in the 1990s for a story for National Geographic in search of undiscovered temples that had been uncovered by foliage-penetrating radar on the space shuttle. "I went along, but the problem was, the temple was in Khmer Rouge-held territory. Not only was it very difficult to get to--there were no roads or anything like that--but we had to bring an army with us. It was very exciting."
When asked how his writing process is different when writing novels by himself versus his collaborations with Lincoln Child, Preston says, "It's very different. It's a much lonelier process. As a writer you feel kind of isolated, you have no one to bounce ideas off, really; you are unsure whether you're going in the right direction or not. I would say it's stressful and lonely, but at the same time it's rewarding because it's your own work, for better or worse."
But fear not, Preston/Child fans, the next collaboration featuring Special Agent Pendergast, Fever Dream, is scheduled for May 11, 2010. Of their partnership, Preston says, "Of course, Linc and I complain together. We complain about everything and we congratulate ourselves on what fine fellows we are. It's nice to have a partnership like that."
He described their mutual process as basically one person writing something, then the other person saying how bad it is, then the two of them getting into fights until the publisher demands the manuscript. "When he calls me up and says this chapter really sucks, after I cool off and stop telling him what an idiot he is, I think, this is why we have a writing partnership, to speak the truth to each other. He rewrites and makes me furious, and I rewrite him, and that makes him furious. So he rewrites me and we go back and forth like that getting madder and madder at each other until the publisher starts demanding the manuscript. But for some reason that process works. We end up with something that's better than each of us could have written solo."
To which this writer says, "Mmmmm, maybe." Because both writers' solo novels are awfully damned good. And Impact will demonstrate that, no doubt.
Mark Terry is the author of the Derek Stillwater thriller series. His newest thriller, THE SERPENT'S KISS, is available in stores and online.