Written by Emilie Kefalas
The 10th annual Savannah Book Festival opened Thursday evening with a lecture from critically acclaimed author James Patterson at the Trustees Theater. Patterson addressed the nearly sold-out crowd with stories from his pre-writing origins and first book to celebrity encounters and his proudest “Hollywood” moment.
“Hello, I’m Stephen King,” Patterson said upon taking the podium. “I was at a little party with some of the donors earlier and one of the ladies said, ‘You know, you look much taller in your book jackets.'”
Patterson holds the Guinness Book of World Records for the most New York Times bestsellers, having sold more than 325 million copies of his work internationally. An outspoken advocate for reading, Patterson expressed his approval for the Book Festival’s mission and Savannah’s embracement of the arts.
“I was talking to someone before about what a very special city this is, and how much of the culture of the city is wrapped around the arts, books, movies, visuals arts, etc.,” Patterson said.
“That’s very special, and I’m sure you all feel that, but I think it’s particularly important with books. There’s a lot of research on this, because reading makes better citizens. It makes better spouses, better children, which is hugely important, because readers are more compassionate, partly because we’ve read a lot about a lot of different people. We’re more considerate, and let’s face it, we’re prettier.”
Patterson gave a brief overview of his roots in Newburgh, New York and his education at Manhattan College for his B.A. and Vanderbilt University for his M.A.
“The advice I got at Manhattan . . . the professor said, ‘You write well enough. Stay away from fiction,'” Patterson said. “I was in the Ph.D. program at Vanderbilt, and that professor said, ‘Write fiction.’ So I listened to that professor and wrote fiction. Next came a stint in advertising in J. Walter Thompson. I was in advertisement, but I’ve been clean for over twenty years.”
Patterson said he pitched his first novel, “The Thomas Berryman Number,” to 30 different editors before it was published in 1976. His first bestseller, “Along Came a Spider,” released in 1993 and immediately placed at number six on the New York Times bestseller list.
“There was a large Barnes & Noble in New York City, and what we writers do is we count [our] books. The other thing we’ll do is if you pick up [our] book, we’ll watch you. And I still do this. If you buy the book, it makes my day. If you put it down, it really depresses the hell out of me.”
To this day, Patterson composes all his material from an outline, and he said he writes in longhand with a pencil. Last year alone, Patterson said he wrote over 3,000 pages of outlines, all of them at least four or five drafts. He explained that the day writing started to be more fun for him was when he stopped worrying about writing sentences and started writing stories.
“I will rewrite a book half a dozen times if I’m doing a book myself,” Patterson said. “I try to write each chapter like it’s the first chapter. I write for a single reader, and I don’t want them to get up until they’ve finished.”