James Patterson says checked egos are key to co-author success, hints at big actor collaboration.
Let’s be direct here: James Patterson is more of a writing machine than an author.
If it weren’t for the fact that he’s unmistakably human, one might contend that James Patterson is, in essence, the human version of ChatGPT, albeit with considerably superior storytelling skills. Just feed the James Patterson 8000 machine a story concept, and like magic, a bestselling book with intricate plot twists materializes.
However, the secret to his astounding success, which includes approximately 200 books and a reported net worth exceeding $800 million, is actually quite straightforward. Apart from indulging in early morning golf sessions with his wife Sue, he prefers to be seated at his laptop, diligently crafting words.
“I came across a quote recently that relates to us all, which is, ‘My time here is short, what can I do most beautifully?’” Patterson says during a conversation with USA TODAY. “For me, that is telling stories. And there are different ways to do that. And I do think I’m a good partner in that pursuit. I don’t bring a big ego to it.”
Writers are not commonly linked with collaboration. Most of them favor the solitary and sometimes painful endeavor of honing their craft with words. As legendary sports writer Red Smith once described the act of writing, it’s often seen as simply sitting at a typewriter and letting one’s inner thoughts flow onto the page.
Patterson is open to collaboration, having co-authored books with nearly twenty individuals, including professional writers like Maxine Paetro and Michael Ledwidge, as well as well-known figures such as former President Bill Clinton and Dolly Parton. Moreover, he will soon drop a new book with a “wonderful actor who everyone loves” but remains tight-lipped about further details. (Many are speculating it might be Tom Hanks, whose debut novel, “The Making of Another Major Motion Picture Masterpiece,” demonstrated his ability to breathe life into characters on the page as skillfully as he does on the screen.)
For Patterson, collaboration is an innate human inclination. The concept emerged back in the mid-1990s when he and his friend Peter de Jonge wrapped up a game of golf, started discussing a story concept, and before they realized it, they were penning “Miracle on the 17th Green.”
“So much good stuff comes from collaboration, most TV shows and movies are all collaboration,” he says. “And if we’re going to save the planet, that’ll take collaboration.”
Patterson’s latest: ‘12 Months to Live’ collab with Mike Lupica
Patterson’s most recent collaborative work is the first installment of a planned trilogy with Mike Lupica, titled “12 Months to Live.” This series follows a determined criminal defense attorney with precisely one year to live. They have already completed “8 Months to Live” and are now diligently crafting “4 Months to Live,” approaching their writing with the same intensity as if they, too, had the Grim Reaper looming nearby.
“We have a great writers’ room over the telephone Mike and I, we talk six or seven times a day,” says Patterson. “That’s how we work, and we’ve become best friends along the way.”
When inquired about the genesis of their ideas, Patterson shares a tale so unbelievable that it must be rooted in reality. He recounted a recent book tour in New Jersey with Lupica, during which they were caught in an unexpected downpour while out for a walk. Rushing back for cover, they encountered an elderly man braving the rain on a bicycle.
“I saw the guy, I waved, and a word came out,” he says, not sharing what word. “I went inside and wrote five pages, and that’s going to be our next book together. I’m not sure if that’s a gift or a curse.”
Although Patterson’s collaboration with Lupica, a decorated sportswriter turned author, is characterized by its harmony, the same cannot be said for his partnerships with everyone.
Without naming names, Patterson is frank. “Disasters? Yes, in the last two years I’ve had three books where I had to rewrite the whole thing,” he says. “I’m seeing drafts every few weeks and suddenly you see, it’s not happening.”
President Bill Clinton, Dolly Parton lend real experiences to Patterson-fueled fiction
However, the majority of collaborations do come to fruition successfully. He mentions that his collaborations with Clinton, including their co-authored works “The President Is Missing” in 2018 and “The President’s Daughter” in 2021, went smoothly. The author, based in Florida, would send chapters to the former president in New York.
Patterson commends Clinton, stating, “He’s very smart and a good writer. Often a writer is making things up, but in this case, I didn’t have to wonder what the Secret Service would do, I could ask him.” Clinton frequently returned chapters with extensive feedback, and the two effectively synchronized their writing styles to ensure the final product felt cohesive.
In collaborating with the iconic singer and actress Dolly Parton on their 2022 release, “Run, Rose, Run,” Patterson once more drew inspiration from his co-author’s own life narrative to craft a story centered on a young singer-songwriter ascending to fame while fleeing her past.
“For her, it came from the heart,” he says. “But besides that, we have very similar work ethics, although she gets up at 4 a.m. and gets to work, she’s crazy. I gave her an outline, and two days later she had notes and seven songs written. That was the spirit of that thing.”
In a general sense, Patterson describes his approach as follows: He typically devises a story concept, shares it with his collaborators, and welcomes their input and ideas. Subsequently, they collectively develop an intricate and vital outline, a step that holds immense significance in Patterson’s creative process.
When it comes to the actual writing process, it varies depending on the collaborator. Those who possess significant writing experience receive less supervision, while newcomers necessitate more of Patterson’s time and attention to work on the manuscript.
But he has no complaints. Patterson explains that he has been working seven days a week since his teenage years and finds nothing more fulfilling than spinning tales, whether on his own or in collaboration. He’s not a fan of big cocktail parties, finding them too insincere; instead, he favors the intimacy of a night out conversing with another couple.Then there are the early morning rounds of golf with Sue, sometimes starting so early that the course’s maintenance crew is still at work. “So we just pick up our balls and walk on,” he says. “We’re back home by 8 a.m.” And then it’s back to the keyboard.
“I don’t have writer’s block, I have writer’s diarrhea,” jests the individual who has written countless words. “But every time I start something, I am always hoping that the next book is the best thing I’ve ever done.”
Source: USA Today