Catching up with prolific author James Patterson

May 20 2012 - 7:36am

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James Patterson
James Patterson

In the publishing landscape, James Patterson is a titan, holder of the Guinness World Record for most entries on The New York Times best-seller list. More than 240 million of his books have sold worldwide.

It's easy to lose track, but Patterson writes multiple series for adults (psychologist-detective Alex Cross, NYPD detective Michael Bennett, San Francisco-based Women's Murder Club) and young-adult readers ("Maximum Ride," "Witch and Wizard," "Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life"). His bibliography includes more than 30 stand-alone novels, including the just-released "Guilty Wives."

Patterson is passionate about fostering literacy among the young ("It's the right thing to do"). He sponsors www.readkiddoread.com, where parents can find book choices for their children, and he awards scholarships to college students "who want to become leaders in education."

He lives with his wife and their 14-year-old son in Palm Beach, Fla. Visit him at www.jamespatterson.com.

Younger fans will be happy to learn that the "Middle School" sequel -- "Get Me Out of Here" -- will be out in May, followed in September by "Confessions of a Murder Suspect," a new teen detective series. He talks about life and work:

Q: What were your own middle-school years like?

A: There are a lot of similarities between my years in Catholic school (and "Middle School"). I was a good student, but I can't say I loved it. What we did like was being with our friends and playing sports.

Q: Isn't there a third middle-school-age-specific title coming up?

A: "I Funny" is about a kid who desperately wants to be a standup comedian and has learned every comedic bit there is. In the first chapter, he's at a local comedy contest, but he's choking. He can remember all the punch lines, but he can't remember any of the jokes. In the second chapter, he says, "I hate to pull a twist on you this quickly ...," then reveals he's in a wheelchair.

It's a very funny book, but also very touching. I try to make the kids' books fun for them, but there's always something I'm trying to get at. Not so much to lecture them as to get them thinking.

Q: Coming up are two more Alex Cross thrillers and another Michael Bennett, plus the 11th Women's Murder Club. That's a lot.

A: I'm not a machine; I'm just very unusual. Somebody said you're lucky if you find something you like to do in life, and it's a miracle if somebody will pay you to do it. That's sort of what I have here. I love to tell stories.

Q: You're known for your writing collaborations with dozens of lesser-known writers, sharing your bylines on book covers. They do much of the work, but under your close supervision.

A: I compare that to the movie business. In the real world, Steven Spielberg can direct only one movie a year. But he's a man with a very active imagination and wants to do more, so he produces and writes and is involved in a lot of projects. It's the same for me. I'm not a factory; it's just that I have a lot of stories I want to get out there. I have a 5-inch-thick folder of (story outlines) I haven't gotten to yet.

Q: Your specialty is the thriller. Why is that genre so popular?

A: People like to solve the puzzle and be in suspense, especially if they know there will be a solution. Another part of it is the "getting there" (to the conclusion). John Grisham, for example, is more fun getting there than when he gets there. Some writers are better at the endings; some are better at the process.

Q: Which are you?

A: My strength is pacing and creating characters you care about one way or another. A weakness is, I could spend more time polishing the prose.

Q: After so many books, some overlap must be inevitable.

A: I don't like to be predictable, which is why I've tried so many things -- fiction, nonfiction, historical, sci-fi, fantasy, kids' books, funny books, serious books. I want to grab you and surprise you on a constant basis. That's partly to keep myself interested.

Q: Are you easily bored?

A: Yeah, I am. My wife and I went to the Masters golf tournament and stayed with (legendary golfer) Gary Player, who was so engaging. I was a little nervous going in, because we didn't know the Players that well. Sometimes I'm afraid I'm going to get bored, but that wasn't the situation (there). Though I did bring pages with me to work on, just in case. And I did work a bit in the early mornings, before anybody else was up.

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