At the end of a long, one-lane dirt road in Bristol is a hill sloping like a cliff on Muscongus Bay. Perched there is the house Doug Preston lives in, an idyllic haunt for the New York Times bestselling author, and outdoorsman, to write his popular thrillers and nonfiction work.
He was born in Cambridge, Mass. Preston’s grandparents owned a farm on Route 32 in Round Pond where he and his family used to spend summers.
“There’s no place like Maine. I’ve been all over the world and Maine is a really special place,” Preston said.
In 2004, Preston moved to property his grandfather owned year-round with his wife, Christine, and their two children after spending four years in Florence, Italy.
Preston’s connections with Italy began, not quite on a whim, but a dream he put together while reading a book by Gerald Durrell called “My Family and Other Animals.” In the book, Durrell wrote about his family living in London. At a certain point in the novel, Durrell’s family just picked up and went to Greece.
“And I thought, ‘I’d love to do that someday with my family and move to foreign countries,’ so my wife and I picked Florence,” Preston said.
Before his international adventure, Preston lived in New York City, where he worked as a journalist. His transformation into a thriller writer was facilitated by Lincoln Child.
Child, the former editor of the St. Lawrence Press, reached out to Preston in the late 1980s while Preston was working in New York City as the managing editor for Curator, the American Museum of Natural History’s journal.
Child apparently had been following Preston’s writing for the museum and liked the way he distilled complex science issues to be more palatable for the general reader.
“I get this phone call from someone identifying themselves as the editor for St. Lawrence Press and they were inviting me to lunch at the Russian Tea Room to discuss a potential book,” Preston said. “I was totally blown away. I had to run out and buy a suit coat just so they’d let me into the restaurant.”
Child became the editor of Preston’s first book, a nonfiction work called “Dinosaurs in the Attic,” which was published in 1986. The book was about the history of American Museum of Natural History and “all of these crazy amazing things” it collected.
One night, Child asked Preston for a tour of the museum after it closed. It was during that spooky tour he said to Preston, “This would make the perfect setting for a thriller!”
“I told him I didn’t know how to write thrillers,” Preston said. “But he said he had some idea what to do from reading so many rejected manuscripts.”
This laid the groundwork for the collaboration to come between Child and Preston. The two authors have since published over 30 books together as co-authors, many of which are bestsellers.
Their first, “Relic,” was turned into a film by Paramount Pictures in 1997 and has been selected by a poll by National Public Radio as one of the 100 greatest thrillers ever written.
To say that Preston transformed into solely a thriller writer isn’t entirely accurate, however. During his thriller-writing career he has maintained his work as science journalist, contributing for the New York Times, The New Yorker, National Geographic, Smithsonian Magazine, and The Atlantic.
“My advice to anyone looking to write is to have a deep knowledge of other things,” Preston said.
Preston has taught nonfiction at Princeton University and The College of Santa Fe and hosted workshops with various writing organizations, including the International Thriller Writers organization.
“It’s very difficult to teach writing,” Preston said. “I used to think that teaching writing was pointing out what was wrong about a piece and working that out, but I learned that it’s the opposite. By leaning into what the writer is doing well, you help them develop. It’s so easy to discourage someone.”
Preston wrote his very first book with a friend when he was 10 or 11 called “Animal Valley,” a story about animals going on adventures. While the story was terrible, according to Preston, something stuck with him about the process, and during his long writing career, the wonder of that 11-year-old version of him is still there.
“I guess I’ve been living a long time, but the 11-year-old me is still reading these books,” Preston said. “A lot of them are thrillers and adventure stories. Even the nonfiction ones like ‘The Lost City of the Monkey God’ or ‘The Monster of Florence,’ they’re adventures as well, and they’re true.”
“The Monster of Florence” is a novel about a famous string of unsolved murders in Florence, Italy. While he wrote the book, the Italian government charged him with obstruction of justice and, according to Preston, he is no longer allowed in the country.
“The Lost City of the Monkey God” is another adventure of Preston’s where he accompanies documentary filmmaker’s efforts to find a lost city in the Honduran rainforest. The book was on Time Magazine’s list of notable books of 2017.
Preston may have developed his own depth of knowledge at Pomona College in Claremont, Calif., where he earned his degree in English literature.
“I went to college without knowing what I was going to do,” Preston said. “I wanted to be a biology major and then I thought I’d major in astronomy (or) astrophysics. It was all about being a science major.”
According to Preston, he found himself in an advanced physics class and realized he may not be cut from the right cloth to grasp the material.
“I realized that I wasn’t smart enough to be able to contribute to these fields at a high level,” Preston said. “So, I thought, ‘well, what I really want to do is become a science writer.’”
Preston’s senior thesis was on the theory of the novel, which Preston suggests there is an evolutionary basis for, even in non-literary cultures.
“Storytelling plays a central role in every culture on the planet,” Preston said. “The amount of pleasure people derive from hearing stories is phenomenal. Whether it’s computer games, movies, or books, we are all addicted to stories.”
Having stories, according to Preston, is a way to pull people together, “to transfer values down through generations to provide stability. To tell us who we are, so that when we’re in trouble, when we’re in war, in a fight, whatever, it provides a really important Bulwark.”
These days the family spends part of the year in Santa Fe, N.M., where they enjoy hiking in the nearby hills and skiing when the opportunity presents itself. Part of the draw to New Mexico and Maine for Preston is the abundance and accessibility of nature.
“There’s a spiritual connection between the two,” Preston said. “Even though the two places are very different, they’re beautiful and have access to the wilderness.”
Preston loves to cross-country ski and says the best place to do so it right out of his front door in Bristol.
“The most fantastic cross-country skiing is right here,” Preston said, gesturing to the property. “Skiing along the ocean in wintertime is absolutely great.”
Preston is also a certified open water diver, enjoys camping, hiking, and the occasional long distance horseback ride.
Preston said it was while he was living in New York City that he realized he was never going to be a city person.
“It’s dirty. It’s noisy. There’s no nature. There are too many people. There are too many cars,” Preston said. “I don’t really care about fancy restaurants or the symphony. Those are nice things, but I can live without that stuff. What I can’t live without are trees, forest, mountains, I can’t live without that.”
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