By Jane Wollman Rusoff
City & Shore Magazine
The world’s highest-paid author is, according to Forbes’ annual list, thriller novelist James Patterson. The Madison Avenue adman-turned-suspense scribe holds The New York Times record for the most best-selling hardcover fiction – 74 books, including 16 consecutive No. 1’s.
This month Patterson releases Cross the Line (Little, Brown), the 23rd in his Detective Alex Cross series. It’s about a savage murder wave, and all the victims are criminals.
Several of Patterson’s books have been made into feature films, including one released in October, Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life. A CBS-TV series based on his sci-fi thriller, Zoo, returns next summer for a third season.
A major promoter of kids’ reading competency, Patterson donated $1.75 million to school libraries last year. He has also given millions of dollars in teacher scholarships to 29 colleges, including Florida Atlantic University and the University of Florida.
The prolific author, 69, has made his home in Palm Beach for 16 years.
City & Shore: Have you ever visited an actual murder scene?
James Patterson: I’ve been to scenes within a day or two of when the murders happened. They tend to be a little seedier than a lot of the fiction I write.
C&S: You write on legal pads. What type of pen do you use?
JP: I use a pencil because you’ve got to be able to erase all the mistakes.
C&S: You mean ‘revisions’?
JP: Yeah, revisions. We’ll go with revisions.
C&S: How many New York Times No. 1 bestsellers have you written?
JP: I’ve stopped counting. It’s not a big ego thing with me. If a book comes out and it’s not on the list, I don’t say, ‘Oh, my God! I can’t believe it!’ I’m very lucky. I try not to let my head get swollen. I don’t know how to change a tire on my car.
C&S: What do you like best about living in Palm Beach?
JP: Pretty much everything about it is beautiful. It’s a gorgeous area between two bodies of water. The houses are handsome. It’s one of the few small towns that hasn’t been overrun and built up. People don’t get in your face too much.
C&S: I’ve read that your home has 12 bathrooms.
JP: Oh, I don’t think so! [laughs] I don’t know where that came from.
C&S: What room do you write in?
JP: I can write anywhere. In my office, I’ll generally write at either a big round desk in the middle of the room or one by the window, which has ocean views. Sometimes, in the attached bedroom, I’ll sit in bed and write.
C&S: You grew up in modest means in Newburgh, N.Y. Are you frugal?
JP: Very frugal. I’m not a phone person, but I keep one with me when I’m on the road because the idea of making a local call in a hotel and being charged, like, $9, is silly. I rebel against silly stuff.
C&S: Before you sold film rights to your first Alex Cross novel, Along Came A Spider, you had an offer from a studio that sought to change Cross from African-American to Caucasian.
JP: They said, ‘We want to make Alex Cross a white man.’ I said, ‘Oh, just that little change? No!’ Hollywood is always funny.
C&S: Have you ever written the scripts for movies based on your books?
JP: I wrote the first screenplay for Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life. It got us a deal. But of course, when the new screenwriters came in, they threw out most of it. I expected that. That’s the way Hollywood works. It’s fine.
C&S: Interesting match-up, you and Bill O’Reilly co-writing Give Please a Chance (JIMMY), a kids’ picture book due this month. You write best-sellers for young adults and middle-school students, but why a book about etiquette for ages 2 to 5?
JP: It’s the idea that children should have a little respect for that human being who’s giving them a cookie and learn to say, ‘Please.’ Then we’ll work on ‘You’re welcome.’