Lincoln Child
 

 

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A Conversation with Thriller Author Lincoln Child

Lincoln Child is part of a collaborative writing team.  Together with
Douglas Preston, they have produced several bestsellers, including RIPTIDE, THUNDERHEAD, RELIC (made into a movie starring Linda Hunt), MOUNT DRAGON, and RELIQUARY.  Their last, THE ICE LIMIT, was about an unusual meteorite collected from an island off Chile.  Their new title is THE CABINET OF CURIOSITIES, on abridged audio from Time Warner Audiobooks.

JONATHAN LOWE:  Many bestselling authors are teaming with lesser known writers in order to produce more books these days.  This includes Clancy, Cussler, Clarke, and even Ludlum.  You are an exception, as you write all of your novels together, as equals.  How did your partnership come about?

LINCOLN CHILD:  We met in the mid-80s, when I was an editor at St. Martin's Press in New York.  I was fascinated by the American Museum of Natural History and was looking for someone to do an armchair tour / history of the place.  I noticed that Doug Preston, who worked for the museum, wrote interesting historical columns for their magazine.  So I took him to lunch at the Russian Tea Room and pitched the idea to him.  He'd always wanted to write a full-length book and the project appealed to him.  That was the
beginning of a non-fiction title called DINOSAURS IN THE ATTIC, which he wrote and I edited.  Over the course of the project, we became friends.  Afterwards, he sent me an idea for a murder mystery, set in a museum.  I responded that murder mysteries were hard to do well, and (in my opinion anyway) a dime a dozen.  But why not a techno-thriller, set in a fictitious natural history museum?  It seemed the ideal place for one.  And why not
write it with me?  I was in the process of leaving the publishing industry by that time and my own nascent writing interests--which had more or less dried up while working so closely with other people's manuscripts--had begun to reassert themselves.  That was how RELIC got started.

LOWE:  How does the collaboration work in terms of outline, first draft, editing?

CHILD:  Although there are exceptions, the way we have generally
collaborated is this: first, we brainstorm extensively, sometimes over the phone, sometimes in the form of letters faxed or emailed back and forth.  Next, I put together a rough outline of an upcoming series of chapters, based on our discussions.  Sometimes we toss this outline back and forth, adding things, removing things, posing questions, pointing out problem points.  Then Doug writes a rough draft of those upcoming chapters, based on the outline.  I then revise those chapters.  Sometimes my revisions are relatively light; other times, they significantly rework Doug's originals.
At one time, I used to do a final pass over the entire manuscript--the
literary equivalent of a Zamboni machine--to give the manuscript a uniform feel.  But over time, I think our individual styles have really begun to approach each others--I've picked up traits from Doug, and Doug from me, and so when we're working together on a book that last pass of mine is no longer necessary.  We both look at the finished manuscript, add our individual bits of polish, and that's it.

LOWE:  Do you ever argue vigorously over which way to go?

CHILD:  Of course we do!  As Doug once put it in an interview, "sometimes we argue like an old married couple."  In the early days, we were extremely diplomatic with each other.  But now, we've worked together long enough that we can put forth our ideas, or critique what the other has done, in relatively blunt tones, without fearing (usually) for bruised egos.  Our arguments and discussions are healthy things, however.  With two minds at work, there are twice as many ideas to choose from.  And with somebody else
looking over your shoulder, you are less likely to slip unconsciously into self-indulgent writing, or to travel down some dead-end path in the story.

LOWE:  The dust jacket says your background is in story anthology editing.  Who are some of the writers you've published, and have you written short stories for magazines yourself?

CHILD:  Actually, most of what I edited was novels, by both American and British authors.  I edited several hundred books while an editor at St. Martin's, primarily mysteries, thrillers, and historical novels, but also non-fiction books as diverse as the notation of Western music and a certain armchair tour of the American Museum of Natural History by one Douglas
Preston.  I've been involved with the work of such authors as James Herriot (ALL CREATURES GREAT AND SMALL) and M. M. Kaye (THE FAR PAVILIONS).  I wrote several short stories in my callow youth, and submitted one or two for publication, but they were never printed.  Since high school, I really haven't thought much about short story writing.  I do have an idea for a
really chilling short story, but I've been so involved with novels I haven't had time to put it on paper!  Some day, I do hope to publish another anthology of ghost and horror stories.  If that ever comes together, perhaps I'll write that story of mine for inclusion.

LOWE:  Describe you new novel, if you will.

CHILD:  Our seventh thriller, CABINET OF CURIOSITIES, has what we think is a great hook: a developer is razing a group of old tenements in lower Manhattan to make way for a new high-rise tower.  They break into an old subterranean chamber, and a workman goes in to investigate.  He finds what is basically a charnel: the walled-up remains of dozens of people, killed brutally.  It appears to have been a New York Jack the Ripper, working unsuspected in the late nineteenth century.  These ancient crimes become even more grisly when it turns out the murderer
appears to have had the skill of a surgeon, and he was attempting in his fiendish work to find an elixir of life prolongation.  And then, in modern-day Manhattan, similar killings begin to surface.  Is it a lunatic, copycat murderer...or did the diabolical "surgeon," in fact,
succeed?

LOWE:  An interesting twist on the old serial killer theme.  Almost like a combo horror/suspense with a historical perspective.  So, these cabinets referred to are like minature museums which used to be displayed, right?  How did you research them?

CHILD:   As you know, Doug Preston worked for several years at the American Museum of Natural History in NY.  He did quite a bit of research on the old cabinets of curiosity for his first book, so we were able to tap into his expertise for our new novel.  I believe that some of today's natural history museums helped get their start by buying up the old cabinets, too.

LOWE:  Actor Rene Auberjonois does a great job with the narration.  It sounds as though one is listening to a museum curator, with his delicate and precise diction.  Of course he's best remembered for Star Trek:  Deep Space Nine.  But I wanted to ask you about sequels, considering that a sequel to your last book, THE ICE LIMIT, might explain some things.  Do you not plan
on writing any more sequels, or is the ending to that novel a suggestion to the reader or listener to use his or her imagination for closure?  Perhaps just a final chilling question mark?

CHILD:  We are not planning to write a sequel to THE ICE LIMIT.  With each book we write, Doug and I try to bring something fresh and new to our readers.  That's what keeps things interesting for us, and hopefully for our readers as well.  The one time we wrote a sequel -- RELIQUARY, the sequel to RELIC -- we found it very difficult.  We refused to succumb to "sequelitis," the kind of tired retread of an original story that neither Doug nor myself
can bear to read.  We had to make sure RELIQUARY was a unique and interesting book on its own, and that was challenging.  There were lots of technical problems, too, such as balancing the needs of returning RELIC readers with those readers who had not read RELIC -- how to bring them up to speed without boring the "old" readers?  We also think, as you yourself suggest, the conclusion of THE ICE LIMIT is more effective if we leave that chilling question mark hanging for the reader/listener's own imagination to
answer.  However, I will say that, in a rather interesting if subtle way, what ultimately happens in THE ICE LIMIT has an impact on Nora Kelly, the hero of both THUNDERHEAD and our new novel.

LOWE:  Interesting, and I agree with you on sequels . . . I generally hate them too!  Now, audiobooks are increasing in popularity as more people simply can't find the time to read print books.  Do you ever get fan mail from people who've heard your audiobooks as opposed to having read your books in print?

CHILD:  Yes, we get a lot of fan mail from listeners, as well as from
readers.  Personally, I think that audiobooks are a great way for people to enjoy "reading" -- whether it's popular fiction, literature, poetry, biography, or whatever.  I have a friend who has listened to the complete works of Patrick O'Brien on tape, in unabridged form, while commuting to work.  It makes so much sense: why just stare out the window of a train or car when you can be enjoying a book?  But it goes far beyond commuting, of course.  For someone who does not have the time to read, or for some other reason prefers tape to print, audiobooks are an invaluable resource.

LOWE:  What's next for you?  I hear you have a new solo novel about to be released, something along the lines of West World or Jurrasic Park?

CHILD:  I've long been fascinated by today's first-rank theme parks.  The way they employ all sorts of subtle psychology to manipulate guests and keep them happy; the way they micro-manage all the various details of the experience of visiting a park; the way cutting-edge technology is used in everything from designing rides to tracking visitor flow.  I wanted to write
a thriller that would lift the curtain that's been carefully placed between the park that guests see and the behind-the-scenes park they're never allowed to see:  the offices, labs, workshops, tunnels, security areas.  The more a park becomes computerized, I thought, the more vulnerable it becomes to a sophisticated penetration.  UTOPIA is about a group of high-tech hackers who hold an ultra-modern theme park hostage and demand an outrageous
ransom.  It's also about the man who designed the park's robotics... and who is the only man who can stop the villains.  Stopping them is especially important to him because his only daughter is at the park that day, and as such is in grave danger.  The book is due out in December from Doubleday.

LOWE:  Sounds like movie material to me.  I look forward to reading or hearing that.  Thanks much for your time, Lincoln, and good luck.

Jonathan Lowe is a novelist and an audiobook reviewer for several
publications.

{Novelist Jonathan Lowe also reviews and interviews for AudiobooksToday.com
and CrackerBarrel.com}