Pat­ter­son shows his softer side

James Pat­ter­son turns his hand to a love story, in­spired by his own tale of love and loss. Han­nah Stephen­son chats to the mul­ti­mil­lion­aire thriller writer

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He has made a for­tune from his taut, tight thrillers, most no­tably those fea­tur­ing ex-FBI agent and psy­chol­o­gist Alex Cross, – played by Mor­gan Free­man and, more re­cently, Tyler Perry in film adap­ta­tions. But now best-sell­ing nov­el­ist James Pat­ter­son has em­braced a new genre in his lat­est book, First Love, based in part on his very own love story.

He says, “It’s closer to who James Pat­ter­son is than the thrillers. I’m not very vi­o­lent at all. I just found that writ­ing thrillers was a way to make a good liv­ing. So there is a softer side. My life is much more fam­ily-ori­en­tated,” says the 66-year-old New Yorker and for­mer ad­ver­tis­ing guru.

“As you get older, the idea of first love be­comes more in­ter­est­ing. You like to go back and hang out there for a while and re­mem­ber how it was.”

The story, co-writ­ten with au­thor Emily Ray­mond, charts

the ad­ven­tures of two young­sters who take a road trip across Amer­ica and fall in love, but a sad twist in the tale leads to a tear-jerk­ing fi­nale.

It was in­spired by the heart­break­ing story of his own first real love, Jane Blan­chard, when he was in his 20s. He was with her for seven years. “We were in one of the post of­fices on Broad­way one day when she col­lapsed,” he re­calls. “She’d had a seizure. Then we found that she had a brain tu­mour and a limited amount of time to live.

“The way we chose to get through it was to take the at­ti­tude, ‘Isn’t it lucky you didn’t die that day? We have to­day’. She was a ter­rific per­son.

“When she got sick, she was bald half the time. I was in love with a bald woman. That teaches you some­thing about love and the fact that the vis­ual thing isn’t as im­por­tant as we think it is.

“We all know that we’re go­ing to die some day, but in this case, it made it very con­crete and we had to deal with it. She went on liv­ing for an­other two years and it was a very spe­cial time.”

They both lived their lives in the present for those two years, he re­flects. “We tried to make ev­ery day count. If we went out for a walk – and a lot of the time I was push­ing her around in a wheel­chair – there was some­thing spe­cial about it.”

Pat­ter­son adds that she would wear a dif­fer­ent goofy hat ev­ery day as she didn’t want people to be de­pressed.

He was with Jane to the end in hospi­tal and vividly re­calls the fateful day she died. “I re­mem­ber sit­ting there hold­ing her hand and whis­per­ing to her and she whis­pered back to me to have a life. She didn’t say, ‘Move on’, but she did say she wanted me to be happy.”

But noth­ing helped him cope with her death.

“I can re­mem­ber cry­ing al­most ev­ery day from the day she got sick and maybe a year or so af­ter. I was a bas­ket case,” he re­calls.

His ther­apy was to throw him­self into work at top US ad­ver­tis­ing agency, JWal­ter Thomp­son.

“I didn’t want to be by my­self at all. I could not go on a va­ca­tion. That’s when I threw my­self into ad­ver­tis­ing. Be­fore that my pri­or­i­ties were Jane and writ­ing books.

“I went from copy­writer to cre­ative di­rec­tor to chair­man in about three years. I didn’t write any books for a cou­ple of years.

“It was heavy-duty grief. I’d come home at night and sit play­ing four or five songs that were spe­cial to us. It was in­sane.”

Many years later he mar­ried Sue, an ad­ver­tis­ing art di­rec­tor 10 years his ju­nior, with whom he has a 15-year-old son, Jack. They live in a Dh40-mil­lion colo­nial-style house

over­look­ing the ocean in an elite part of Palm Beach, Florida. Ni­cole Kid­man, Gwyneth Pal­trow and the Kennedys have sum­mer homes nearby.

He works seven days a week out of a two-room of­fice suite there. The com­mu­nity around them is a so­cia­ble one but they live a fairly quiet life, he says.

“We have fam­ily and good friends we’ve made down here but other than the oc­ca­sional char­ity, we will not go out to big so­cial events. It just doesn’t ap­peal to us.”

He gets up at about 5am to write, will walk nine holes of the golf course and then write some more.

All the hard work has paid off, thanks to his pop­u­lar Alex Cross, Women’s Mur­der Club and Michael Ben­nett se­ries, along with his Young Adult and chil­dren’s ti­tles. Last year he was the sec­ond high­est-earn­ing au­thor (af­ter Fifty Shades phe­nom­e­non EL James), mak­ing a stag­ger­ing $91 mil­lion (more than Dh330 mil­lion), ac­cord­ing to Forbes mag­a­zine.

One out of ev­ery 17 hard­cov­ers sold in the US is his, and with his Max­i­mum Ride and Witch & Wizard se­ries, he’s in­creas­ingly as much a force in the young adult mar­ket as adult thrillers, his main­stay. He has sold more than 275 mil­lion copies of his books world­wide.

Pat­ter­son grew up in New­burgh, on the out­skirts of New York, the son of an in­sur­ance ex­ec­u­tive and a teacher. He be­gan writ­ing de­tec­tive books while work­ing as an ad­ver­tis­ing copy­writer.

He wrote his first thriller at 25, The Thomas Ber­ry­man Num­ber, which was ini­tially re­jected by 26 pub­lish­ers but which even­tu­ally won the pres­ti­gious Edgar best first mys­tery in the US, while he was still in ad­ver­tis­ing.

Part of the rea­son for his mas­sive sales may be down to the fact that he brings out so many books ev­ery year

‘I’d like to see more of my work out there. I haven’t loved the movies so far’

– it’s usu­ally in dou­ble fig­ures, he says. He cur­rently has 25 manuscripts and screen­plays in his of­fice that are works in progress.

Un­sur­pris­ingly, he has em­ployed an army of co-writ­ers for some time.

“The way the co-writ­ing works is that I will write the orig­i­nal out­line and then the co-writ­ers (who don’t live nearby but work re­motely) write the first draft and then I write all the sub­se­quent drafts.”

More film adap­ta­tions may be on the cards – but Pat­ter­son wants more con­trol over the fin­ished prod­uct than he had with pre­vi­ous movies Along Came A Spi­der, Kiss The Girls and more re­cently Alex Cross.

“I’d like to see more of my work out there. I haven’t loved the movies so far. Mor­gan Free­man is great and the movies were OK, but the last Alex Cross wasn’t that good.”

He has his eye on Bri­tish ac­tor Idris Elba, star of Nel­son Man­dela: Long Walk to Free­dom, for fu­ture Alex Cross films. “I’m much more in­volved now be­cause I didn’t like the process in the past.”

De­spite his mil­lions in the bank, he has no thoughts of re­tire­ment.

“You re­tire from work but not from play. For me, this is en­joy­able.”

The au­thor has em­ployed an army of co-writ­ers to help him keep up with de­mand

Pat­ter­son’s new novel tells the tale of two young­sters fall­ing in love on a road trip


Pat­ter­son wrote his first thriller at 25 and

has since sold more than 275 mil­lion copies

of books world­wide

The au­thor was not happy with the last Alex Cross adap­ta­tion

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