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The Five Spot : James Patterson

Few American writers have mastered the art of storytelling as well as James Patterson. He is, for starters, the world’s bestselling author, known mostly for crime series such as Alex Cross and The Women’s Murder Club, which later became films and TV movies. He’s the first author to have No. 1 new titles simultaneously on the New York Times adult and children’s bestseller lists, and he just co-wrote a mystery with former President Bill Clinton (The President Is Missing, out June 2018) And he’s an indefatigable cheerleader for reading: he’s given over 1 million books away to school kids, over $40 million to support education, and endowed 5,000-plus college scholarships for teachers. These days, he’s co-writing and hosting a six-part TV series for ID, James Patterson’s Murder Is Forever. Each hour-long episode features a mystery ripped from the headlines corresponding to one of Patterson’s paperbacks. B&C managing director, content Mark Robichaux caught up with Patterson by phone in Palm Beach, Fla. An edited transcript follows.

By now, you’ve seen many of your books go to the screen. What’s the toughest task going from books to video?
You have less than an hour. So, a lot of it really has to be condensed in terms of the story. And yet some of the on-screen stuff is very slow moving sometimes. And some of the cable stuff really builds slowly. And my material is very fast paced. With Murder Is Forever, I pretend there’s somebody sitting right across from me, and I’m telling him a story and I don’t want him to get up until I finish. There are an incredible number of scenes you could have telling any story. And the trick is you know picking the dozen or 20 scenes that really tell the story in the most compelling way.

Often writers (not to mention audiences) are dissatisfied with how books end up on screen. What’s your record on adaptations?
The kids’ movie (Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life) turned out quite well. I thought that was funny. I thought the first two Cross movies (Kiss the Girls and Along Came a Spider) were pretty good. I mean, you can’t lose with Morgan Freeman. He could read the phone book, you know? The worst was the Women’s Murder Club series we had on ABC.

Discovery ID knows how to do true crime. You have to put the hook in and keep surprising people. It’s about suspense.

Is that why crime is such a perennial popular genre on TV?
That’s a piece of it. I think the other piece of it is, you know, in life we don’t seem to resolve a lot of these [crimes] in ways that we’d like. … And I think people want resolution. And generally speaking, they get that with crime stories. More often than not, good overcomes evil, which doesn’t always happen in the real world.

What are you working on at the moment?
It’s a book commissioned by the Einstein estate to introduce children around the world to the theories of Einstein. The character’s name is Max Einstein … and Max is a girl. And the trick is to deal with Einstein and his theories in a way that kids will want to read. And we’re trying to continue to break through that women are our great at math and great at science. We should have more mathematicians and scientists who are women and so that’s important thing to do, and in the end it’s very useful to society.

I read that you write every morning, no matter what.
Somebody once said that you’re lucky if you find something that you like to do in life, and that it’s a miracle that somebody will pay you to do it. And that’s my gig. I do not work for a living, I play for a living. Making up stories. Seven days a week.

Wow, that’s discipline.
Not really. It’s obsession — and fun.