James Patterson holds the New York Times best-seller list record, with 46 titles overall. He has sold more than 170 million books worldwide and is the only author to occupy the No. 1 slot on the New York Times Adult Fiction and Children's Chapter Book best-seller lists at the same time. "Maximum Ride," Patterson's first young adult novel, spent 12 straight weeks at No. 1 on the New York Times Chapter Book best-seller list and, as a series, has now spent more than 90 weeks on New York Times best-seller lists. His latest adult novel is "Swimsuit" (2009), and "Daniel X: Watch the Skies "(2009) is his latest for young adults. His ReadKiddoRead website is "dedicated to making kids readers for life."
Previous National Book Festival Appearances
- 2009 Book Festival Webcast
- 2009 Book Festival Webcast
- 2009 Book Festival Audio
- 2003 Book Festival Webcast
From the 2009 National Book Festival
James, can you tell us about your writing career?
I started writing—scribbling, really—while I was at McLean Psychiatric Hospital outside Cambridge, Massachusetts. And no, I wasn’t a patient, I worked there! The singer James Taylor was a patient, so was the poet Robert Lowell. They based the movie Girl, Interrupted on the place, though I have some doubts about how much of the film was actually nonfiction. But that’s where I worked my way through college.
I started to voraciously read fiction while drinking cup after cup of coffee through the night shifts. And the more wild things I witnessed there, the more I said to myself I really need to write this stuff down.
The day it started to be fun and my writing began to click was the day I stopped writing sentences and started writing stories.
You have written many successful adult suspense novels. What inspired you to write your first young adult novel – Maximum Ride?
One of my biggest regrets is that I didn’t have the sort of books that would turn me on as a reader when I was a kid. My son Jack started to face the same kind of problem so I went out and picked some books I knew would work for him. Then, I started writing books that I knew he’d love.
Tell us about your newest book, Daniel X.
The idea for Max and the Flock came out of a notion I think every kid wonders about: what would it be like to fly? In Daniel X, I wanted to write about the greatest human super power – the power to create. Daniel X can create people and things with nothing but the strength of his mind. And Jack loved it. He actually said, “Dad, you finally got it right.”
For me, nothing is more satisfying than when people come up to me and say, “you got my son reading” or “you got my husband reading again.” My goal is to entertain and engage people with great stories. Finding joy in reading at a young age is especially important. It’s why I write for younger readers and will continue to do so.
What tips or advice can you share with young students who hope to start writing?
Outline, outline, outline! This is the one trick I’ve found essential in crafting a good story. Then fill in the rest. Every story I write starts with an outline. Also, don’t give up. My first novel, The Thomas Berryman Number, was rejected by thirty-two publishers before it was finally published by Little, Brown. Then it went on to win the Edgar Award for Best First Mystery – go figure!
Can you suggest a fun writing topic to get them started?
I think it’s important for people to write about what they love. Jack has had fun getting started as a writer. He’s already written three novels, actually. The first one he wrote at the age of seven, and called it Death of the Butterfly Catcher. Here’s the story: The Butterfly Catcher gets on a plane, travels half way around the world; doesn’t catch a butterfly. He gets on a boat and travels another half way around the world; still doesn’t catch a butterfly. He gets on a train, catches the butterfly, steps off the train, isn’t looking and gets hit by another train -- death of the Butterfly Catcher, butterfly flies away. He dismisses it now, though, as a minor work from his early years.
The point is, Jack took elements from what he already loved—trains and travel, for example—and ran with them. It’s a lot easier to start if you’re writing about something you’re genuinely interested in or are good at. Like, for me, I read all the classics – James Joyce, Gabriel García Márquez, etc. – and realized quickly my own strengths and weaknesses as a writer. It started me thinking about what type of story I could tell really well.
What is your list of favorite children or teen books?
There are so many children’s books out there, it can be tough for parents to wade through them all and choose the best books for their kids. I’ve started a website called ReadKiddoRead.com that lists a good, manageable number of terrific kids’ books. My favorites are the kinds of books that new readers will finish and say, “okay, I could get into this reading thing.” I’m hoping my upcoming Witch & Wizard series will do just that. I love the Wimpy Kid books by Jeff Kinney. One book that I feel is particularly inspired is The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick.
What is your advice to parents for passing the joys of reading on to their children?
Parents—don’t sit and watch! There are a lot of easy ways to encourage the reading habit. Read out loud to or with your kids, no matter how old they are. Seriously.
I told Jack he could stay up an extra hour at night if he’s reading. Tell your kid he doesn’t have to mow the lawn if he starts a new book from the shelf. Take your kids to the bookstore or the library and let them browse around. Give books as gifts! It almost sounds too simple, right?
There are thousands of children’s books out there, so choosing the right ones is key. If you find yourself not knowing where to start, ReadKiddoRead.com has some great selections and more tips from other authors and celebs about how they got their own kids reading. Parents and grandparents have to take this responsibility into their own hands and play an active role in turning the kids they love into readers for life.
Are you working on any new projects for young readers?
My next series for kids, Witch & Wizard, is about a brother and sister who discover they have magical powers. They have to use them to fight an oppressive dystopian government called the New Order. Imagine waking up to find that all of your freedoms have been taken away. Good times, right?