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.