James Patterson: Superstar and Nice Guy

James Patterson

James Patterson autographing books

Are you a James Patterson fan?

If you are, you have lots of company. Patterson has sold more than 350 million copies of his books since his first novel in 1976 — a few more than me — and he holds the record for the most #1 NYT best sellers, with nearly 70 — which by the way, is his age. His specialty, of course, is crime fiction, but he’s also written non-fiction, romance novels, and children’s books.

In June he’ll release a crime novel co-written with former president President Bill Clinton, titled (I think) The President is Missing. (I’ll be standing in line.)

Last week I was fortunate to hear James Patterson speak at the Library Foundation for Sarasota County annual luncheon, and I was so impressed–as well as filled with fabulous food. Not only is he a writing superstar, but he seems to be a really nice guy. His generosity is inspiring. He and his wife have established more than 400 teaching and education scholarships at universities and donated thousands of books to libraries and military overseas. And he mentions that fact with a great amount of modesty, glossing over this accomplishment as if everyone would do the same in his shoes.

Patterson’s wish is to help children learn how to read and learn to love reading. He believes that teachers and librarians save many lives by teaching children the reading skills they need to survive and thrive. I find this delightful because the next week I got two calls from my grandsons. The two year old called first, with a little help from his dad, and sang me the ABC song. And then a few days later the kindergartner called to read me the Paddington “I Can Read” book I’d sent him.

Does anything turn you to mush faster than having a little boy sing the alphabet or read you a bedtime story?

Another fact from Patterson had everyone in the room moaning. In some states, third grade reading skills help determine how many prisons will be built in the future. Chew on that for a while.

Not every child is as lucky as my grandsons. We all need to encourage early reading skills. Our future as a nation might depend on it.

It was a joy to hear Patterson speak. He told stories of his childhood and of becoming an author, with lots of humor and a gentle, self-deprecating style. He ended his speech with the touching story I mentioned on Sunday about rescuing a whale.

He also offered some useful hints on writing.

  • Outlining  books in detail is an absolute necessity for him. (Me, too.)
  • Changing from writing sentences to writing stories transformed him as an author.
  • Writing every chapter as if it’s the first chapter and the last he’ll every write encourages his best writing.
  • Patience is key. Patterson’s first novel was turned down by 31 publishers — I bet they’re still banging their heads against their desks.

How refreshing to get a glimpse into the life of one of the most successful authors of our day. What a way to spend an afternoon. 


  1. Terry Guerra on February 14, 2018 at 1:53 am

    I love his wish! And he is so generous! A co-worker at the bookstore I work at part-time was one of 300 bookstore employees from across the country to win the American Booksellers Association James Patterson holiday bonus award in 2017.
    Reading to my nieces and nephews as they grew up meant the world to me. And being a Reading Buddy for young children at our local library brings me so much joy!

  2. Dell Martinez on February 15, 2018 at 3:11 pm

    Loved your comments on James Patterson. Yes, he is a favorite of mine too.
    I also share your passion for kids reading. I volunteered to be trained as a literacy tutor back in the 70s, when it became obvious that 1 out every 5 ADULT CITIZENS could not read beyond the 3rd or 4th grade level.
    Before I was done I had taken over the program in our locale and was finding non-readers, training tutors and soliciting funds to continue the project. I burned out and found another person just as excited about literacy as I had been to take up where I left off.
    My proudest accomplishment.
    Now, I support RIF (Reading is Fundamental) and buy my great grand-children Barnes and Nobel gift cards for birthday and holidays.

    The sad thing is that the statistics have not changed. One adult citizen out every five still cannot read beyond the early grade school level.

    • Emilie Richards on February 15, 2018 at 3:27 pm

      And it’s not just “one of those” problems. If you can’t read, you probably can’t work at a higher paying job. You can’t help your children with their schoolwork, read the teacher’s notes to you, read about candidates to make an informed decision–never mind the ballots. It goes on and on, doesn’t it. Bravo to you for your hard work.

  3. Elsie Kimbrell on February 18, 2018 at 12:30 pm

    I️ volunteered as a book buddy for ten years in Arlington Va., students were mostly English as second language learners. Mostly were so eager and interested. Hoping social media does not interfere with this enthusiasm. These were first graders.
    Have not read James Patterson but will now! Thanks for telling about him.

  4. Laurie I on February 19, 2018 at 8:19 am

    How exciting!!
    I saw the movie Suzanne’s Diary for Nicholas and cried my eyes out! I loved it so much I looked it up and found that James Patterson wrote the book. I was shocked that this man could write such a wonderful romance story.

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