In the last few months I have been reading novels again. I read the first three of the Dune series; Dune, Dune Messiah and finally Children of Dune. I was surprised by the third installment and found it quite a bit more compelling than the first two had been for me. This post isn’t really about the Dune series though. This is the about the Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child Pendergrast novels. I’ve now read several of their books; Reliquary, A Still Life of Crows, White Fire, Cemetary Dance and The Cabinet of Curosities, and I am just now beginning to read Brimstone (the first in the Diogenes trilogy).
I thought that The Cabinet of Curiosities was fantastic. It kept me guessing right up until the end, the pace was enjoyable, the characters had heart. The experience of reading it was a pleasure. And yet, what I find most fascinating is that it was nothing exotic. The characters were attainable, the environment was not extravagant, and the names were (mostly) common. They didn’t have to create intercontinental political systems (G.O.T.) or a myriad of new kinds of creatures and experiences (H.P.), or a carefully constructed theology and thick plot (L.O.T.R.).
Preston and Child took the pieces of life we already experience, and simply looked at them in a new way. Maybe you could say that is what all authors do anyway. Relationships, values, virtues, vices…all those things we are already familiar with we look at from a new perspective when we read. Even so, I thought it was impressive that they could tell a good story in The Cabinet Of Curiosities without ever getting too exotic.
Further, I don’t know authors maintain the multitude of elements in their stories, and yet remain consisent. I have tried to organize my daydreams into an acceptible form for a novel, but they have always seemed to fracture and splinter within my mind, creating a plethora of frayed-strands and disjointed fragments.
Maybe it is the memory trip that Agent Pendergrast so often relies on. What if Preston and Child are actually telling us about their creative process when they describe Pendergrasts deep meditation.
When they weave the novel together, with the feints and intertwined characters, do they let Pendergrast himself show them the way the story unfolds?
Finally, the question that I have often asked myself. In the creative process, how much effort should I place on structure and method, and how much should I “let the block of wood tell me what it should be carved into”?