Most weeks, avid readers scanning the best-seller lists are likely to find at least three James Patterson books on them — some solo projects, others collaborations with other writers. They're thrillers, children's graphic novels, middle-grade fiction and nonfiction, including his current big hit Walk in My Combat Boots: True Stories From America's Bravest Warriors, cowritten with Matt Eversman and Chris Mooney.
Patterson, 74, is the world's best-selling author by many accounts, and he's now conquering a new storytelling format with The Coldest Case, an audio-only Audible Original story that Patterson describes as a “movie for your ears.” It's a prequel to his 2017 best seller The Black Book (written with David Ellis) — whose sequel, The Red Book, is out in print today — and the first of a slate of at least five audio projects he has planned with Audible. Characters in the four-hour-long story are voiced by Breaking Bad's Aaron Paul, Krysten Ritter, Nathalie Emmanuel and Beau Bridges. (Subscribers can download it at Audible.com.)
It won't surprise anyone who is familiar with Patterson to hear that he has lots more in the works, including a second thriller, The President's Daughter, cowritten with former President Bill Clinton, out in June. He's also continuing his longtime, devoted support of independent bookstores (he recently donated $500,000 to help them survive the pandemic) and children's literacy.
"I'm staying busy,” he says, matter-of-factly, during a phone interview from his Palm Beach, Florida, home.
More from the interview:
'The Coldest Case’ is ‘very cool’
It's a prequel to The Black Book, which is my favorite of my books. And they did a great job with sound design and original music. ... It has some similarities to the way they used to do radio a long time back, only the production values are much better than they were back then. And it has a great cast: Aaron Paul plays Billy Harney, who, in addition to being a detective, does stand-up comedy in Chicago at a cop bar.
Writing an audio story is different than writing a book
You have to pace it out. For each episode, you want to end it with a little bit of a bang. And you have to keep using the [characters'] names so people can keep track of who's who, which makes it a little awkward, but it's doable. I like doing new things.
He thinks we'll love his next Audible Originals story too
In the fall we have a great one, The Guilty, with John Lithgow and Peter Gallagher. It's about a murder that takes place at the premiere of big Broadway play, on stage. The story goes back and forth between the police interrogating everybody in the audience and cast members.
Don't ask how many projects he's working on now
They're all around my office here… The last time I counted there were around 30. Some of them are screenplays…several books and some kids books. I think one young adult book, three or four younger kids’ books. And then the novels …. And an autobiography.
What inspired an autobiography?
COVID. I was trapped in my house, and at some point, I just started scribbling and I said, “Yeah, this might even work."
People might be surprised to learn that ...
I'm not impressed with myself at all. I'm really down to earth … My father grew up in the Newburgh, New York, poorhouse, called “the pogey.” And his mother was sort of the equivalent of a charwoman there — she cleaned the bathrooms and the kitchen.
Does he have a title for the autobiography?
I do. But I'm not telling.
The making of a cowritten project
I will always do a 40-, 50-, 60-page outline… Some of the people I've been working with for quite a long time, like Maxine Paetro has been doing the Women's Murder Club [books] — but it's the same thing: long outline, and then we talk every week or two.
His favorite cause
Getting kids reading in particular, and making sure that books are important to people — that we keep reading. One of the only good things about the COVID thing is people are reading more. I hope that habit persists. And grows. That would be a good thing.
Growing older is of no concern
I've been lucky. I don't have a lot of aches and pains and my brain seems OK — other than [remembering] people's names, which I was always awful at and now I'm worse. But for the most part, I'm pretty alert, have pretty good energy. I think part of it is I'm doing things that are interesting to me. I'm not bored.
On whether he really works seven days a week
Oh, absolutely. Yeah. I don't work. I play for a living. Who wouldn't want to play on Saturday and Sunday, if it was play, you know? I love this. I love telling stories. I love it. With the autobiography, I'm just going to tell story after story after story.
Christina Ianzito covers travel, books, health and other topics for aarp.org. She received a 2020 Lowell Thomas Award for travel writing.