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Talking with author James Patterson

Author James Patterson in Manhattan with Kidsday reporters

Author James Patterson in Manhattan with Kidsday reporters Lindsey Galligan, left, Lillian Musso, Isabel Connolly and Faith Cairo. Credit: Newsday/Pat Mullooly

We met author James Patterson when he was in Manhattan recently. We love his Jimmy Patterson books and his TV series "Kid Stew."

Why did you decide to start writing kids books?

I started to write kids books primarily because our son wasn’t a big reader. He was very bright, but he wasn’t a huge reader. I was always first in my class and I wasn’t a big reader either. I just found a lot of this stuff that they gave us to read really boring. I wanted to write books that kids would go to and love. And with Jimmy, the imprint that I have, our mission is when a kid finished a Jimmy book, he’ll say "give me another book," as opposed to "I don’t like to read."

A lot of kids have never read a book they liked. And that’s important that we think about those kids. Because ultimately, you guys will all go to good colleges and continue to work hard. And that’s great. But just as important and maybe more important is that a lot of these other kids, we figure out a way to get them reading so that they have more chances in life.

How are you able to go from kid books to adult books?

I write a kids book the same way I write adult books. I always try to pretend that there’s one person sitting across from me and I don’t want them to get up until I finished the story, ideally. I’ve always felt kids were absolutely as smart as adults they just don’t have as many experiences. And sometimes, they don’t have enough attention span. But adults are getting bad there, too, as far as experience. They have a thing now that the average attention span of a human is like 8 seconds. And the average attention span of a butterfly is 9 seconds.

Are there any places where authors inspire you to write?

 Sometimes, I’ll read something or go to a movie that gets me even more pumped up where I’ll go: "That’s so good." And I just get excited. That happens sometimes. I just go “eww.” I want to do something great today. I just get emotional.

Does past knowledge from working in advertising company to help sell your books?

 A little bit, only in terms of ... the big lesson from being in advertising is just there’s an audience. You need to talk. You need to communicate. And it’s important. And publishers, they’re hit and miss with this, but if you buy somebody’s book, I mean when we buy somebody else’s book for Jimmy, and I really try our best to make sure that we’re going to do the best possible job we can. Having been through it as an author, I know. We’re going to make sure that the cover, and I always am telling people in publishing, go walk through an indy bookstore. Walk through Barnes & Noble. Look at all. You’ve got to stand out somehow.

How is writing with another author?

Terrible. They’re so untalented compared to me. No, it’s great and it’s a real combination. I just did a book with President Clinton. We became pretty good friends. And it was very respectful for both of us. He respected that I had written a lot of books and written fiction. And I respected one that he had written, a very good memoir. He had all this experience. So a lot of mystery novels aren’t necessarily all that authoritative. But everything that’s in that book, if that happened, it could happen like this. So Clinton would supply you with ideas if it happened, or if you’re in the White House, here’s what this feels like. That was great.

What type of book do you enjoy writing the most?

I think my passion right now is more for kids books because I think it’s really important that kids read and in Florida now, the percentage of kids who read at grade level is 43%. But the best in the country is Massachusetts which is only 62%. In New York I don’t know what it is, but it’s below 62%. So it means an awful lot of kids in New York and on Long Island are not reading even at grade level. That’s really bad.

How old were you when you wrote your first book?

I was really lucky I published my first book when I was 26. Because that was really lucky. But the weird thing is it was turned down by 31 publishers. But then when it was named best mystery in America. I thought to myself, how can it get turned down by all these publishers and then be like good enough to win a pretty big award? I don’t get that. So that was tough. Rejections are not fun.

Do you have any advice for young writers?

You know it’s good to read a lot. But, then again, don’t. The reason is you start writing like that writer. Try not to do that. I mean, you’re going to do it in the beginning. But as you get better, you want to have your own voice.

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