James Patterson On Writing All Those Books The claim is this: that nobody has his name on more books than James Patterson. If you've read a best-seller list or visited an airport bookstore, you've probably run across his name.
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James Patterson On Writing All Those Books

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James Patterson On Writing All Those Books

James Patterson On Writing All Those Books

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.


And I'm Michele Norris. And here's the claim: nobody has their name on more books than James Patterson. If you've read a bestseller's list, you've likely seen his name on it. His publicist told us that he has nine books out this year. Now, sure, Patterson is the author, but he's also more than that. He is an industry. And he joins us now from his home in Palm Beach, Florida, to explain how he does this.

Welcome to the program.

Mr. JAMES PATTERSON (Prolific Author): Hi, there. How are you?

NORRIS: Nine books.

Mr. PATTERSON: Ah, yeah. That's what they tell me.

NORRIS: You must have smoke coming out of your keyboard.

Mr. PATTERSON: Well, you know, it's interesting. This office, right now, I'm staring out of a workspace across from where I'm speaking. And there are, right now, 29 manuscripts sitting there in some degree of completion. It's a lot of material, a lot of stories.

NORRIS: How do you keep the titles straight?

Mr. PATTERSON: How do I keep…

(Soundbite of laughter)

How do I keep them straight in my head, I guess, is the larger question. And so far I've been able to do that.

NORRIS: Now, as I understand this, you are the author of these books. But in order to turn this many books out in such a short period of time, you have a little bit of help.

Mr. PATTERSON: Yes. I have co-writers on several of the books. The process basically is I will do an extensive outline. I remember one of my agents saying that with this outline, she could write the book. And I will get back a first draft, and then I may do anywhere from two more drafts to, in some cases, eight or nine drafts.

NORRIS: Is it a team of co-authors who work with you?

Mr. PATTERSON: No, I mean, it's just co-authors. You know, people, because it's a little unusual in books, they get a little flaky about it.

(Soundbite of laughter)

If you think about it, almost all television shows, some of which are quite good, are done by teams of writers. So, it's not as unusual as people think it is.

NORRIS: Tell me where you write. I ask this question because I'm always fascinated about, you know, how and when a writer writes and what they have to be surrounded by when they write.

Mr. PATTERSON: Yeah. Well, I write, I can write anywhere. I'll have to get on a plane this afternoon and I will write in the airport and I will write on the plane. I'll just sit among the passengers in the airport lounge and I'll be scribbling.

NORRIS: Scribbling, so you're doing this longhand.

Mr. PATTERSON: I do. I write everything longhand.

NORRIS: Really?

Mr. PATTERSON: Yeah, Mm-hmm.

NORRIS: I imagine that over time people have encouraged you to move to computers.

Mr. PATTERSON: They, you know, people, it's not like we have a volume problem.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. PATTERSON: So people pretty much let me do what I want to do. I have an assistant who types everything. And then once it's in, I get things triple or quadruple space and then I write between the lines. And when I go through what I wrote, I only read what I just wrote. I don't read the whole thing.

NORRIS: You also create a strong sense of place and a sense of action in your books. Do you have to travel to the place that you're writing about?

Mr. PATTERSON: If it's Hawaii, I like to sort of do the research myself.

NORRIS: Mm-hmm.

Mr. PATTERSON: If it's a crack house in the Bronx, sometimes I'll have somebody else go for me, take notes.

NORRIS: Now, Alex Cross is an African-American.


NORRIS: And you are a White man.


NORRIS: One of the things that's so interesting is in your characters, you're able to get inside the head of someone who's very different than you; in the case of Alex Cross, to get inside the head of a Black man and think about the things that he might think and how life - how he experiences life.

Mr. PATTERSON: One of the interesting things about the Alex Cross books, when it was initially, when the first book came out and the second book, all the reviewers thought that I was African-American, which is interesting. But I grew up in a - my grandparents own a small restaurant. The cook was an African-American lady. And when I was around four, she was having problems with her husband. And just the way my family was to say, well, move in with us.

And I spent an incredible amount of time with her, with her family. And I think that's one of the reasons that I was stimulated to write about the Cross family.

NORRIS: Is there a teacher whose voice still lives inside your head, who offered early encouragement or maybe...

Mr. PATTERSON: My grandmother.


Mr. PATTERSON: Totally. For example, she said, you are a good high school basketball player. You're not going to go to the NBA so get that stupid fantasy out of your head.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. PATTERSON: But there are a lot of things you can do. So she was very positive about it. And, you know, when I started scribbling she was, you know, she said if you want to do that, you can do that.

NORRIS: You still hear her voice?

Mr. PATTERSON: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah, totally.

NORRIS: James Patterson, it's been a pleasure to talk to you.

Mr. PATTERSON: Well, thank you.

NORRIS: That's author James Patterson. One of his new novels is called "Swimsuit."

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