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December 10, 2013

A Conversation with Preston and Child

Posted by emily

Preston & Child know a thing or two about co-writing a successful thriller. They’ve written 20 books together, 14 of which feature Special Agent A.X.L. Pendergast. The latest in the Pendergast series, WHITE FIRE, is hardly what they would call a “nice, heartwarming Christmas book,” but that doesn’t mean they don’t have plenty of spirit. In this Holiday Author Blog, Preston (Doug) & Child (Linc) use their natural chemistry to their advantage in a conversation in which they discuss everything from the inspiration behind WHITE FIRE to writing about the things that frighten them most.

Doug: Happy holidays to everyone! Linc and I have just published a new novel, WHITE FIRE, featuring Special Agent A.X.L. Pendergast. It sports a cover showing a winter wonderland of snow-covered fir trees with some footprints in the foreground. It looks like a Christmas book; it was published right before Christmas; and it takes place at a ski resort at Christmastime. So Linc, would you call this a nice, heartwarming Christmas book?

Linc: Hardly. That is, unless you consider a man-eating grizzly bear, a sadistic homicidal arsonist and raving lunacy to be your idea of holiday cheer. We wanted WHITE FIRE to be a fast-paced, brutal, un-put-downable, stand-alone thriller that set Agent Pendergast down in a town where he’d be spectacularly out of place: a Colorado ski resort named Roaring Fork, where conspicuous consumption and a nouveau riche mentality reign supreme. It all makes him exceedingly uncomfortable --- but we had a great time writing the novel.

Doug: Pendergast cuts quite an absurd figure in his black vicuña overcoat and trilby hat jammed down over a woolen cap. Being a gentleman from New Orleans, he has a deep loathing of cold and a disdain for the vulgar rich. On top of that, Bordeaux wine carried up to 8,000 feet of altitude does not fare well, so he is further deprived of the solace of a glass of fine wine of an evening. In every way he is a fish out of water.

I’ll never forget, Linc, when you called me on the phone some two years ago and proposed the idea for the novel. Tell everyone how you got the idea.

Linc: I was reading a biography of Oscar Wilde when I reached a passage describing how Wilde once had dinner with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in London’s posh Langham Hotel. I couldn’t imagine a more disparate pair than Wilde, the flower of English decadence, and the rather conservative Doyle. What could they have talked about? Was it possible that each one influenced the works of the other? It seemed evident to me that, in books written after this meeting, Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes was subtly different, more reserved but at the same time more sensual (he developed a taste for cocaine, for one thing). And Wilde wrote THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY after the meeting --- perhaps he’d picked up ideas about mystery and police-procedural traits from Doyle? What I knew for certain was that there was a Pendergast novel somewhere in all this. So I called Doug to discuss it. And within minutes he had the perfect idea for linking the past of Wilde and Doyle with the present of Agent Pendergast.

Doug: Many years ago, while on a backpacking trip to Glacier National Park, I picked up a book called NIGHT OF THE GRIZZLIES. It was the true story of how two grizzly bears in different areas of the park killed and ate campers in the same night. It was one of the most frightening books I’d ever read --- and, needless to say, I spent many a sleepless night cowering in my tent on that trip. So I introduced the idea that 150 years ago, 11 miners in Roaring Fork had been killed and eaten by a rogue grizzly bear. Now, their remains have been dug up to make way for development and are being temporarily stored in a ski warehouse. A student of forensic criminology is studying the bones and makes a hideous and truly gruesome discovery…and that’s what launches the story.

We seem to write about those things that frighten us the most --- being eaten by a grizzly bear and burning to death in a fire. Maybe being a little neurotic is a pre-requisite to writing macabre thrillers…

Linc: Amen to that, brother. And again: Happy holidays, all!