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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

Q. How did you get started with young adult books?

A. I wanted my son, Jack [who's now 13], to be a good reader; he's a smart boy, but he wasn't terribly interested in reading. So when he was 8, that summer my wife, Sue, and I said, you have to read every day. You don't have to mow the lawn, you do have to read. By the end of the summer, he'd read six or seven books and loved three of them.

Q. What can adults do to get a child to read?

A. It's our job – as parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles — to find books our kids are going to like. And for a lot of kids, it's not going to be Charles Dickens. If they taught movies in school, and they started with Ingmar Bergman movies, we'd all go, uh, I don't really like movies. And that's what happens in a lot of schools.

It's crucial that we get books to them, whether it's Diary of a Wimpy Kid or Percy Jackson or Harry Potter or the books I'm writing.

Q. Suggestions?

A. On my website, we now list 300 to 400 books in categories: for 1 to 6 years old; then 6 to 8, and so on. But you can't use just age, because reading ability is all over the lot.

Q. What books made an impression on you growing up?

A. Actually, comic books got me to be fairly proficient as a reader. In those days, comic books were everywhere … in the drugstore, in the supermarket. Superman, Scrooge McDuck, Donald Duck. …

I didn't care for most of the books I was being asked to read in school. I started reading like crazy right after high school when I got a job in a mental hospital. I was working my way through college, and I did a lot of night shifts, and there was nothing to do. So I read like crazy, serious stuff, all the classics.

Q. Who are your favorite writers now, and what are you reading?

A. My favorite serious writers are James Joyce and Gabriel Garcia Marquez. I just finished The Paris Wife [a novel written in the voice of Ernest Hemingway's first wife, Hadley], which I thought was pretty good; Moon Over Manifest, a kid's book, which won the Newberry Award; Swamplandia, by Karen Russell, and I'm also slogging my way through The Pale King by David Foster Wallace. I just read the new book by George Pelecanos, the best of all of us mystery writers.

Q. You read these books simultaneously?

A. I'm all over the place. And I've always got something going in the car; I have a Jeffrey Deaver book on audio.

Q. Does your son read your young adult books and critique them?

A. Yup. He never shuts up. "That's the wrong title." "The beginning was a little slow." But he loved Middle School.

Q. To what do you attribute your success as a writer?

A. I'm a very good storyteller; I have a lot of compassion for people. That's very useful for a novelist. A lot of novelists are snots. They're just mean people. I'm not a terribly skilled stylist, nor do I want to be. I want a lot of people to read one of my stories and go, That was pretty cool.

Next: Advice for changing careers in midlife. >>

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