Six Questions with Douglas Preston: New York Times Best-selling Author
As author of numerous best-selling books, Douglas Preston is well known for providing readers with captivating adventures. Some of these tales, like Relic (which was later made into a motion picture), have been written with co-author Lincoln Child. Others, Preston has written solo. Mr. Preston has worked for the Museum of Natural History and is currently Co-President of International Thriller Writers. Along with his novels, he continues to write for such publications as the New Yorker, Smithsonian, and National Geographic.
I have to admit, while I was excited for the opportunity to ask a few questions to Mr. Preston, I was also a bit intimidated. But, as is seen from his heartfelt answers below, I need not have worried. He was a pleasure. Like his books, Preston’s replies encourage readers to explore, imagine, and most of all, to think. I hope you enjoy.
- Q1) One of your earlier books, Cities of Gold (1992), accounts your remarkable retracing of Coronado’s 1540’s exploration. Next spring will mark the 25th anniversary of this daring journey across the Southwest. What would you say is one of the most memorable moments about the trip you have today?
When we topped the Mogollon Rim in Arizona, after a late May snowstorm, we climbed a firetower and looked back over what Coronado called the “despoblado,” the wilderness, layers and layers of blue mountains stretching as far as the eye could see. It was a great moment, realizing we had ridden across that country, which everyone had told us was impassible on horseback and would surely kill us. We could really appreciate what Coronado had done in a way that we never could from reading history books.
- Q2) A few of your books, like the before mentioned Cities of Gold, share actual experiences from your life. The Monster of Florence is another such example, and although nonfiction, is currently being made into a movie because of the extraordinary events involved. It would seem the story could have easily been seen as a work of fiction. Since you write both, I was wondering, which do you enjoy writing most; fiction or nonfiction? And why?
Both fiction and nonfiction have their challenges. When writing fiction, sometimes I wish for the structure and hard ground of fact. And when writing nonfiction, sometimes I wish I could just toss these inconvenient facts and make something up. Both are a relief from the other. But I would have to admit, my preferred books—my favorite children, so to speak—are some of my nonfiction books.
- Q3) You have traveled, explored, and written about many fantastic places; both here in the states and overseas. Where would you say is one of your most favorite locations? And what would be the reason?
My little ranch in Youngsville, New Mexico, at the base of Pedernal Peak, is one of my favorite places. It’s sandwiched between a 500,000 acre National forest and a 9,000 acre cattle ranch, so it is isolated. You can look out over a thousand square miles and see only a few little lights. It’s off the grid and we live in a Cheyenne tipi, cooking over an open fire.
- Q4) Being a friend of Mr. Forrest Fenn, I am sure you are aware of the ‘thrill’ he has caused across the country with his hiding of treasure. One of your books, The Codex, was the result of him telling you about this idea. What are your thoughts about Mr. Fenn’s hunt, and have you any desire to create a story which leads to an actual treasure hidden by yourself?
I think what Forrest has done is amazing and unique. He is a man with a wonderfully creative approach to life, which I personally find inspiring. I remember he once said to me, “You only go by the banana tree once, so you better grab all the bananas you can.” His autobiography, The Thrill of the Chase, has got a lot more in it than just clues to a million dollar treasure. It’s got million dollar advice and stories on how to lead a fulfilling life.
Linc and I have discussed burying a treasure or doing something like what Forrest has done, but the problem is we don’t have the million dollars lying around…
- Q5) In Cities of Gold, I was intrigued by the conversation about the changes happening to the Southwest over the last hundred(s) of years, and really the whole country. It was mentioned the deep appreciation for the land and the closeness of families has become lost or extremely diminished. Do you feel this continues to be lost and do you feel there are other things being lost by our ‘modern ways?’
Yes, so much has been lost by our modern world. Human beings have an almost biological or genetic attachment to the land, which E.O. Wilson has called the Biophilia hypothesis. But you can’t become attached to the land, you can’t experience that deep fulfillment of the wilderness, if you don’t venture out there into the land. Many people today have never slept on the ground or climbed a mountain. I find that sad. Honestly, it’s like living life without ever experiencing sex. People just don’t know what they’re missing.
- Q6) I especially enjoy reading your books, because you weave history and facts into your stories and much can be learned. Was there something you researched, while writing a book, that continues to captivate your interest? Or is there something you would like to research and write about next?
I’m working right now on an amazing discovery in Honduras, where a group of scientists discovered a lost city in the mountainous jungles of Mosquitia, using a plane carrying a powerful new scientific instrument that can peer through the foliage and map the ground.
Thank-you for your thoughtful answers and the taking of time to share them, Mr. Preston. Your ranch sounds like a quiet corner of paradise. It’s wonderful to imagine peaceful places like this, and know that they still exist in this busy world.
I will be looking forward to reading your next book. And, I must encourage you to go ahead and write a ‘hidden treasure novel.’ It would be fantastic! I feel there can never be too many treasures to try and find. For those who love the search, the value of the treasure is in the challenge and not always monetary.