James Patterson, Author (updated)

James Patterson HeadshotImage via Wikipedia

Today’s New York Times Magazine has a long piece about thriller potboiler author James Patterson. Patterson, who started out as a major mover and shaker in advertising at J Walter Thompson, has been transforming an old established publishing house like Little Brown. I do admire his insight that people buy the name (like Crest toothpaste or dog food), and buy it more often than the older houses assumed. It’s also interesting and unusual that he works closely with the publisher in branding his books and approving design and cover. His stable of “co-authors” (who fleshout his detailed plot summaries and who he in turn revises) sounds like grist for scholarly mills some day. And yet, I found it all quite disturbing–how the new head of Little is nearly sychopantic towards him, how one of the people there compares him (implicitly) to Dickens (!).

And then I did some research on the Times’s website.

There was this article about a first solo novel by the first of Patterson’s co-authors, Peter de Jonge, who says of Patterson, “What I learned from him is that you can’t be self-indulgent. Even the most literary book has to be a page turner. You’re not accomplishing anything by writing something that’s hard to read.” That’s not bad. He was also Patterson’s first co-author and met him at JWT. And it’s interesting that Patterson’s comment on the book and its author is about author economics, “He knows how to keep it bubbling, which keeps you out of the poorhouse.”

THEN there was this article about his investing. In 2004 he made $40 million from his books. And how does he invest? 65% bonds with enough interest to cover his expenses. It also mentions his commitment to literacy and looking into giving at least half of his estate to charity.

Here’s the Times on Patterson’s new young adult books.

And finally, there was amazing poison pen characterization by Patrick Anderson, thriller reviewer for the WaPo, wrote this of Patterson: “the absolute pits, the lowest common denominator of cynical, skuzzy, assembly-line writing. He keeps things not just simple but simple-minded. He writes short sentences and short chapters and deals in stereotypes. He teases his readers with soft-core sex. He telegraphs who are the good guys and who are the bad guys — a man with a scar on his face is a bad man, a girl who doesn’t wear makeup is a good girl. He panders to ignorance, laziness and prurience. More than any other megawriter, Patterson embodies the belief that you can sell books the way you can sell dog food.” (Extract from the Times, December 3, 2006)

Update 2/7/2010: Letters to the Times about the James Patterson feature in the Magazine: predictably, Pro, Con, Other, and Yawn. (No one really worked with his advertising/marketing connection, the deep implications of team-written [?] books, or the coarsening effects these themes have on us emotionally or spiritually.)

I’ve never before been so moved to start writing something in a blog, but I had to write this post. Perhaps my first and last or not.

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Published by Paul Romaine

Paul Romaine is a grant writer and independent curator in New York City.

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