If you missed my review of their latest, WHITE FIRE, please be sure to check it out after the interview.
Q: Thanks for taking the time to stop by today, gentlemen. As a long-time fan, it’s great to have the opportunity to host the two of you. For those who haven't yet had the pleasure of reading an Agent Pendergast adventure – and I can’t understand what they’re waiting for – can you give us a brief introduction?
[Linc]: Agent Pendergast is probably the most unusual, and certainly one of the most capable, FBI agents around. He is wealthy, eccentric, faintly misanthropic, well educated, and possessed of a dry and mordant wit. There are a great many skeletons in his family closet. He manages to keep getting involved in dark, complex, Gothic cases. He is famous—or infamous—for the very low number of perpetrators he catches who survive long enough to make it to trial.
[Doug]: He is a man out of his time, in a way, a gentlemen from New Orleans who lives by an outdated code of conduct. He is very pale, tall, and dresses in black suits. At a crime scene he is often mistaken as an undertaker.
Q: Agent Pendergast has always had something of a Sherlock Holmes quality to himself, particularly in his aloofness and his strength of personality. What was your experience writing a novel in which both characters play such an important part?
[Linc]: It was a really wonderful experience. As you say, Pendergast is often compared to Holmes—though of course the two are very different in many ways—and so it was nice to see them on the same virtual stage together, so to speak.
[Doug]: It was fascinating to get into Holmes’s mind as we wrote the Sherlock Holmes story, and then switch and go into Pendergast’s mind in the very next chapter. They have their similarities, but Pendergast is a darker and more twisted character than Holmes.
Q: In writing an “official” Sherlock Holmes story as part of WHITE FIRE, you collaborated directly with the Conan Doyle estate. What was this process like to be writing in the name of such a well-revered author from literary history?
[Linc]: I felt a great responsibility writing the first draft of that story. Holmes is like the Everest of crime fiction. There are lots of thinly-veiled and unauthorized pastiches written about the great detective’s escapades, many of them—frankly—second rate. Once we got the go-ahead from the estate to write this short story, I spent a week doing nothing but reading Conan Doyle’s tales and immersing myself in the mindset, time, and manners of speech and description.
[Doug]: The estate, that is Conan Doyle’s authorized descendant, had to read and approve the story in order for it to get the imprimatur of the family. Fortunately, they loved the story.
Q: Did you ever have any concerns about ‘interrupting’ the main story for a Sherlock Holmes adventure, or were you confident that enough groundwork had been laid to justify its inclusion? Similarly, were you at all worried that Holmes might overshadow the contemporary story?
[Linc]: I don’t think that was ever a concern of ours. The Pendergast novels tend to be multi-layered and complex, and subplots can be very useful in taking some of the narrative heat off the main storyline. Our only concern going into the story was how we should make the Holmes story relevant—what information it could divulge that would help solve the contemporary crimes being committed—but Doug nailed that almost right away with a really brilliant thread to link the past with the present.
[Doug]: Our readers love and expect complexity, twists, and depth in a Pendergast novel. We have wonderful readers in that sense, that we don’t have to worry if they’ll lose patience or somehow get lost in the story.
Q: WHITE FIRE, of course, marks your thirteenth Agent Pendergast adventure together, and your nineteenth collaboration overall. How did you first become writing partners, and what is it you feel the combination of your talents brings to the story, as opposed to in your solo works?
DINOSAURS IN THE ATTIC. We became good friends during the process, and somehow it just seemed like a natural next step for the two of us to write a thriller set in a natural history museum. That became our initial joint novel, RELIC.
Watching Doug take an outline I’d written for him and turn it into a full-blown chapter, I learned a great deal about the writing process that I hadn’t absorbed during my youthful attempts at fiction. And I think that by seeing me edit and revise his material, Doug learned how to write more concisely and effectively.
[Doug]: As an editor at St. Martin’s Press, Linc had to read a lot of manuscripts submitted to the publisher for consideration. Some of them, he tells me, were really bad. He became sensitized to what didn’t work, and when I write something that doesn’t work, he pounces on it. Ouch. But it’s made me a better writer.
Q: Coming off The Helen Trilogy (Fever Dream, Cold Vengeance, and Two Graves), was it something of a relief to sort of take a step back with a standalone novel, or do you prefer the challenge of the longer, more complex story arcs?
[Doug]: All the Pendergast novels are complex, some more than others. But, yes, it was a relief not to have to keep ten balls in the air, only three, with a standalone novel. The long, complex story arcs have their own charm and interest for us, but a crisp, self-contained novel, like WHITE FIRE, which could be read by a reader who had never heard of Pendergast, also is very satisfying.
Q: Your collaborations have, at times, dabbled in everything from supernatural horror, to science fiction, to contemporary thriller. How would you classify your work, particularly the Agent Pendergast novels, for someone not familiar with it?
[Doug]: We can’t really classify it. We know that bookstores have a lot of trouble deciding where to put our books, but that’s fine with us. We like busting genres. There’s nothing expected or normal or usual in a Pendergast novel. Readers who are looking for a smooth, predictable read may not like our novels. But readers looking to be drawn in, taken for a ride, and staggered and surprised by the ending, will probably like a Pendergast novel.
Q: Sometimes, it seems as if characters can take on a life of their own, pulling the story in directions you hadn't originally anticipated, especially when they’re pulling upon two different creative forces. Have there been any twists or turns in your writing that surprised you both, or that forced you to sit down and challenge your original plans?
[Doug]: This happens to us all the time, almost with every novel. It isn't just Pendergast who pulls a novel in an unexpected direction, but also some of our other characters, especially Corrie Swanson, who is an unpredictable person to begin with. She’s one of the driving characters in WHITE FIRE, and she is almost as important in the story as Pendergast.
Q: In terms of reader reactions, either to your collaborations or to your solo work, what is the strangest or most surprising reaction that you've encountered to -date? Has a reaction ever left you a bit bewildered, or perhaps even a little frightened?
[Doug]: About five books ago, one of our most beloved characters, who had been with the series since RELIC was killed. We knew there would be a strong reaction but we did not expect the outpouring of grief and anger. We wanted to signal to our readers that anything can happen to any character in one of our novels—that no one is safe. Not even Pendergast. We like keeping them on edge. And we had killed important characters before. But this one particular character was especially beloved, and it gave us pause. We don’t particular want to play God with our characters.
Q: Before we let you go, what can we look forward to from you next? Is there another Agent Pendergast or Gideon Crew novel in the works, or perhaps a solo work or two on the horizon?
[Linc]: The next Pendergast novel is WHITE FIRE, to be published on 11/12/13. Here’s a link for those who would like to learn more:
The next Gideon Crew novel is slated for late summer 2014 publication. The title is THE LOST ISLAND.
Once again, a huge thanks to the guys for stopping by today. If you haven't read them yet, then check out my review of WHITE FIRE, as promised, HERE. Fair warning, you will become a fan!
Readers can sign up for The Pendergast File, a monthly "strangely entertaining note" from the authors, at their website, www.PrestonChild.com, and on Facebook