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The Author Speaks

Interview With James Patterson

Best-selling writer talks about his new books, career changes and how to get a child to read

Mega-best-selling author James Patterson is known as a tough guy who plays by his own rules. He got the reputation as an ad agency executive, and it carried over to his second career as a prolific writer of best-selling mystery thrillers — including the well-known Alex Cross series that started in 1992 with Along Came a Spider, which later became a movie.

See also: Excerpt from Middle School.

Interview with James Patterson best-selling author

Author James Patterson discusses his second career. — David Levenson/Getty Images

But at a recent luncheon in Manhattan, Patterson, 64, was genial and amusing. He said he only became an agency copywriter after failing to find work as a cabdriver (his hair was too long). And the height of his career so far, he insisted, was an appearance on The Simpsons.

Patterson also showed a deeply emotional side. In his prepared remarks, he told the story of an early love, a woman named Jane Blanchard, who died of a brain tumor in the 1980s. Here, Patterson's voice cracked and his eyes filled. "Very strange," he told his hushed audience, "that it still affects me the way it does."

Regaining his composure, he explained that after Blanchard's death, "I threw myself into advertising … I didn't want to have any time to myself." He rose to be creative director, then North American CEO, at the global agency J. Walter Thompson. But he never really liked the business, and he began to write novels.

According to his publisher, Patterson has sold more than 220 million books worldwide, which have grossed some $3 billion. Readers range from "people in trailer parks to presidents," Patterson says.

Patterson is publishing 11 — yes, 11 — new books this year, including the latest book in the Women's Murder Club series, 10th Anniversary, and a stand-alone novel Now You See Her, which is out this month.

But in the last several years, he has gravitated to another genre — young adult novels — generating such high-profile series as Witch & Wizard and Maximum Ride. His new title, Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life, also comes out in June.

He spoke with the AARP Bulletin about why he writes for a younger crowd, his future plans and which writers he's reading these days.

Q. You've said you're obsessed with writing young adult books now. Why?

A. I don't get a chance to be funny with the thrillers. I like to be funny, and I think I am really funny. So with Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life, it was fun to let loose. Hopefully, the book can help kids get through middle school and realize that they're not alone in terms of being afraid and nervous, or being an individual and having to deal with bullies.

Next: What can adults do to get a child to read? >>

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