James Patterson by James Patterson
How did a shy, introspective kid from a struggling upstate New York river town who didn't have a lot of guidance or role models go on to become, at thirty-eight, CEO of the advertising agency J. Walter Thompson North America? How did this same person become the bestselling writer in the world?
That's just not possible. But it happened.
Starting out my review stating that I've never read a James Patterson novel in my life. I have, however, seen the adaptation of Along Came a Spider, starring Morgan Freeman. I do remember it quite vividly from growing up. My mum and dad are both big fans of Patterson's novels, and I have memories of them stacked on their nightstands when I was a young.
When I heard of James' memoir, I was curious. As a man who takes up so much shelf space and always seems to have a book at the top of the New York Times bestseller list, I wanted to know more about him. And as a writer myself, I was hoping for some insight into Patterson's writing process. How does an author turn out so many great books in such a short amount of time? In the vein of Danielle Steel, who I once read sometimes stays up for twenty-four hours at a time writing her bestselling novels.
I'm also drawn to memoirs, stories about the lives of others.
James starts out with tales of his time at McLean hospital — well known for housing patients like James Taylor, Robert Lowell, and Susanna Kaysen. Having read and watched Girl, Interrupted, I'm well aware of Susanna's story. I found it interesting hearing of his time at McLean, and also how he started reading while working there. He talks of the books he read on the ward, the ones that inspired his writing in his early years — Mrs. Bridge and Mr Bridge by Evan S. Connell. Also, Jerry Kosinski's Steps and The Painted Bird.
“During the time I worked at McLean Hospital, I read everything (except bestsellers, God forbid) I could get my hands on.” Then James started to write his own short stories. The beginning of the end for him.
He continues to reflect on his youth and upbringing in Newburgh, which felt quite charming. He attended Manhattan College with a full scholarship. “I have to say, to this day, I look at the world through the lens of a blue-collar kid who grew up in Newburgh. It’s a blessing. I think that’s why I’ve never been too full of myself or too impressed with bestseller lists. It’s probably why I’m kind of a working-class storyteller. I just keep chopping wood.”
“Growing up, I had zero interest in being a writer,” James states in the book, with his friends assuming he’d be a big shot doctor or lawyer. He had no interest in mystery novels when he was younger.
He eventually attended Vanderbilt and studied English. Talking about his days at the university, he says, “I looked like a little hippy, because I was a little hippy. I had long hair, a beard, wore bell bottoms and flip flops.” It was there he started to gain confidence in his writing for the first time.
Patterson then started out his career as a junior copywriter at J. Walter Thompson in New York, an advertising agency. He began work on his first novel early in the morning before his Man Men job. Although starting in a low position, James worked his way up to CEO at Thompson North America while continuing to work on his novels morning and late into the night.
I was surprised by how short and snappy the chapters were, each one telling a tale from some part of James' life. I found him to be very funny. He did jump around a lot, from moment to moment, year to year. It did feel a bit manic at times. He explains that his brain moves faster than his pencil.
Almost right away, I took a liking to Patterson, exuding a warm and welcoming feeling from the book. His prose is quite conversational and casual. Humbling, and down to earth. I can definitely see the appeal with James' writing and why he's so popular. Whether he approaches his fiction the same way, I'm not sure. But he's a wonderful writer, and able to connect very well with the reader.
A chapter called writing 101 spoke to me on many levels. James returns to when he started writing short stories at McLean. “People ask me what they should do to become a writer. I usually tell them if it’s meant to be, they won’t have a choice. The writing just takes over everything.” It’s true, I think about writing from the moment I wake up, until I go to bed at night. Another interesting part of the book was learning of Patterson's writing process. It was fascinating to hear that he drafts each novel with a pencil, writes a fifty-to eighty-page outline for each book, and three-four drafts of every outline. He doesn't use a computer at all.
His memoir is rich with humanity, beautifully written, and is an absolute stand out from the crowd. I moved through it at a rapid speed, and with each turn of the page I felt like I was getting to know James on a deeper level. I never knew what the next page would have in store for me.
To conclude, Patterson has had an incredible amount of successes, and has so many wonderful stories to share. I loved that Norman Mailer and James Baldwin made an appearance in the book. Imagining a young twenty-six-year-old James at his first literary event attended by those two made me feel all kinds of emotions.
James has lived such a splendid life to date. I definitely recommend picking up a copy of this, another five start read from me. It was absolutely fantastic. Finishing his memoir, James closes it out with, “like a lot of things in this crazy world, I find it more than a little funny, and also a little sad, that I’m the bestselling writer in the world.”
|Courtesy of James Patterson's Instagram|
James Patterson is the world’s bestselling author, best known for his many enduring fictional characters and series, including Alex Cross, the Women’s Murder Club, Michael Bennett, Maximum Ride, Middle School, I Funny, and Jacky Ha-Ha. Patterson’s writing career is characterized by a single mission: to prove to everyone, from children to adults, that there is no such thing as a person who “doesn’t like to read,” only people who haven’t found the right book. He’s given over a million books to schoolkids and over forty million dollars to support education, and endowed over five thousand college scholarships for teachers. He writes full-time and lives in Florida with his family.