10 Questions for James Patterson

The prolific novelist's latest book, Private , is out June 28. James Patterson will now take your questions

  • Rankin

    How do you write so many books in a year and not get confused with the story lines?

    — Delores Underwood, PRINCETON, ILL.
    I can't remember anybody's name, but I have no problem remembering the plotlines. One of the nice things about working on a lot of projects at the same time is there's no such thing as writer's block. If I'm writing and a chapter isn't coming, I just move ahead.

    What's the greatest number of books that you've worked on simultaneously? — Marlene Jones, AMESBURY, MASS.
    In my office in Florida I have, I think, 30 manuscript piles around the room. Some are screenplays or comic books or graphic novels. Some are almost done. Some I'm rewriting. If I'm working with a co-writer, they'll usually write the first draft. And then I write subsequent drafts.

    When did you know that you wanted to write novels? — Susan Levans, KELOWNA, B.C.
    I worked my way through college. I had a lot of night shifts, so I started reading like crazy. Then I started writing. And I found that I loved it. When I was 26, I wrote my first mystery, The Thomas Berryman Number , and it was turned down by, I don't know, 31 publishers. Then it won an Edgar for Best First Novel. Go figure.

    What's the most important element in writing a successful murder mystery? — Linda Kenworthy, JENSEN BEACH, FLA.
    If the laws of real estate are location, location, location, for me it's story, story, story. My style is colloquial. It's the way we tell stories to one another. My favorite books are actually very complicated — One Hundred Years of Solitude, Ulysses . But my own style — we just tell a story.

    Why are your chapters so short? — Alex Joseph, KANSAS CITY, MO.
    It's the style that I've adopted. It began with a book called Midnight Club . I started thinking of books with very short, effective chapters like Mr. Bridge and Mrs. Bridge by Evan Connell Jr. and The Painted Bird and Steps by Jerzy Kosinski. That's what I do.

    When writing a book, what part of the story do you find to be the hardest to write? — Fanice Thomas, MINNEAPOLIS
    The end is always the hardest for me because you've built up expectations. What I do, it's very emotional. I have to feel it. And if I get to the end and I'm not satisfied, then I don't feel like I enjoyed this dinner somehow.

    As an African American, I'm impressed by how well you write Alex Cross and his family. How did you develop these characters? — Constance Smith, ANAHEIM, CALIF.
    My grandparents had a small restaurant when I was a little kid, and there was an African-American woman who was a cook there. I spent tons of time with her and her family. I always kept them in the back of my head, and the aura of that household is part of what drove me to create the Cross family. So it's not just Alex.

    Why did you cross over into young-adult literature? — Kellee Moye, ORLANDO, FLA.
    When my son Jack was 8, he was a good reader, but he wasn't really involved. The best way to get kids reading is to give them books they'll love, and they'll read more. So we got Jack the Percy Jackson and Warriors [series], and by the end of summer, he had read a half dozen books that he really liked. When he read the first of my Daniel X series, he said, "Dad, you finally got one absolutely right." So I thought, No matter what the editors say, Jack says it's cool.

    What do you do when you're not writing? — Debra Lou Lane, HEBRON, OHIO
    I'm a big family person, so I really enjoy my wife. And I really enjoy Jack. We travel a bit. And — this is probably my greatest flaw — I golf.

    What do you say to critics like author Stephen King who say you are not a great prose stylist? — Andy Williams, AUGUSTA, GA.
    I am not a great prose stylist. I'm a storyteller. There are thousands of people who don't like what I do. Fortunately, there are millions who do.