We met author James Patterson at his publisher’s offices in Manhattan recently. He has written so many books for adults and kids. One of our favorites is “Pottymouth and Stoopid” (Little Brown), which he wrote with Chris Grabenstein.
Where did you get the idea for the book “Pottymouth and Stoopid”?
I wanted to deal with a tough subject, which is bullying. We know physical bullying. You know what the word “bullying” means too, but physical bullying used to be a big thing when I was a kid because there’d be more pushing kids around and punching kids and something like that. It’s not as big a problem as it used to be. The word “bullying,” especially with the internet now, people are just saying mean things about people. And sometimes when somebody says something, they make something about you, or they give you a little nickname, it stays with you forever. So these kids, one kid gets his name, “Pottymouth.” And it’s a real little kid. And the other kid gets “Stoopid.” They start calling him Stoopid when he’s a little kid. When he’s 12, 13 years old, they still have those names. And as you know, those names just stick with you and really diminish a person and can make you angry. It can really screw up your life forever. So I thought that it was really important to write about that. I wanted to write it in a way so that people can read it and feel OK with it. It can be amusing to read about, even though it’s not an amusing situation. I like to tell a story people want to read so that at the end of it, they actually get something to think about.
Growing up, were you “Pottymouth” or “Stoopid”?
I was neither. But I had kinky hair — it was curly hair. Back then I had more hair. And so they would call me The Kink. I didn’t like that too much. And Floyd Patterson was the big heavyweight champion, so they would say, “Was Floyd Patterson your dad? With the kinky hair?” So there were things like that. And my mother was a teacher. So I had a mother who was a teacher in my school. That was another thing for kids to pick on. And I was first in my class. That was another thing kids would pick on. So there’s always stuff.
Do you prefer writing for adult-based novels or children-based novels?
I like telling stories. I’m more passionate right now for telling them through kids, consciously for the kids, because I think it is so important for kids to read, more than they are. I think it’s important for kids to read well and to read more broadly. And that there are really a lot of ways to learn good things. They learn different kinds of views people have. Somebody might see the world this way. You might see the world this way. You become more tolerant of what other people think.
Was the first book, at least the first book of “Jimmy Patterson: Laugh Out Loud,” your true experience writing a kids’ novel?
Jimmy has been around for a while, a couple of years I guess. And I thought it would be kind of cool to create a fictional Jimmy, a little kid. The idea of “Laugh Out Loud” is to get kids to think about dreaming big. Why couldn’t a kid start a book company? It might be a very small book company, but why not? Why couldn’t a kid do one in their school, where it would be a very small short story and everybody in the school would do a short story? So just the idea of a kid creating a company, and having to convince [readers that] every kid can do that. Why not dream big? So what if I did Amazon, or I could start Facebook, or I could start a book company? It’s fun.
What made you come up with such great stories and characters?
I hope you’re right and that I have come up with that. You know, I just have a big imagination. Some people do, some people don’t. I have produced a lot of ideas and a lot of, and I grew up in Newburgh, N.Y., which is up in Hudson, about 60 miles. And I grew up, when I was a little kid, my family lived out in the woods. So we didn’t have many kids to play with. I used to wander around. I used to make up stories. And I just got in the habit of making up stories. And then I remember when I went to graduate school at Vanderbilt, which is down in Tennessee. And I remember I would drive down there. It was like 26 hours to drive. So I’d be driving, and my imagination would just be going crazy, thinking something silly. And I never wrote it down. I don’t even know whether they were any good or not. But I’d be singing all these show tunes. And my voice had that kind of imagination. And I could sit and write a story about this, I can do it. I can write a novel about this group, if I put my mind to it.
When did you start writing children’s books, and how is it different from writing adult books?
I don’t think it’s different in a sense that — look, people, a lot of people, condescend to kids when they write books. And I don’t because kids are smart. They just don’t have as much experience as adults do. They might not have all the facts that adults do. But they’re smart and in some cases smarter because they haven’t let their brain go to sleep.
What was your inspiration to the book “Witch & Wizard”?
Oh, that had to do with the idea of a government that was very repressive to the people. And taking the magic, it involved magic of the boy and girl to combat this very repressive company. So let’s say Nazi Germany, and fascism in Italy, some of the things that are going on now as being repressive and in a symbolic way use magic to overcome the oppression.
Who is your favorite author?
It depends on the kind of book. You know, real literary, I love James Joyce. In terms of kids’ books, I love a book called “The Book Thief.” That is one of my favorites. I don’t think it is necessarily a book for kids but a book for everybody. There are certain mystery writers I like a lot. I’m lucky because I like a lot of different kinds of stories. I like nonfiction where there is a story involved, as opposed to just a litany of facts.
When did you start writing books?
I started probably when I was around 18 or 19. Started with at least the ideas, and writing a lot of short stories. I started a novel when I was in graduate school. So I was around 21 or so. And I was very lucky that I got published when I was 26 or 27. That’s pretty young, so I was really lucky.
Are characters in your story based on real people?
Usually not. Occasionally there’s some carry-over. I generally write about things that are a little larger than life. So there’s nobody quite like Jimmy. There’s nobody quite like Greg. So for the most part they’re not real characters. But they relate to, there’s something in it that makes it relatable to people. Good question.
What is your favorite song, and also what is your favorite band?
I can’t say that I have favorites. I mean, I can say, but I have so many. I’m a big Led Zeppelin fan. I like the Rolling Stones. More recently I like a lot of what Lorde has been doing. I like melody and I like a surprise, and then I like to hear where it goes. That’s why I like the Lorde things because it goes where I didn’t expect it to go. I don’t like it when I can almost predict like the next note. I’m like, OK, I know where this is going.
Why do you partner with so many authors? For example, you worked with Chris Grabenstein for your “Middle School” series.
Well, Chris Tebbetts. I only do people whose first name is Chris. Chris Tebbetts, we did the “Middle School” books. Gabrielle Charbonnet, we just did “Crazy House.” That was a lot of fun. The second one is going to be even cooler — we are just doing that one now. It’s interesting in a weird way.