Writing for James Patterson
Read an interview with The Exiled author Christopher Charles about working with James Patterson.
Posted on April 17, 2017 in Behind the Scenes
Tags: Christopher Charles, James Patterson, The Exiled
How did you get started writing for James Patterson?
I really lucked into it. The Exiled was published in the US by Mulholland, an imprint of Little, Brown, and James Patterson is one of Little, Brown’s titans. Mr Patterson was in the process of launching BookShots around the time The Exiled was acquired. My editor knew his editor, and after a two-chapter audition, I was hired.
Can you describe the process? Was the premise already in place when you came on board, or were you involved from the ground level?
The basic scenario – a sniper with insomnia is terrorizing New York City – was already in place. Mr Patterson gave me a plot summary to start with (actually, he gave me a couple to choose from; Night Sniper appealed to me because I’ve had my own struggles with insomnia), and from there the process was pretty straightforward. I’d make monthly submissions, and he’d give me feedback. It all went very smoothly.
What was it like working with someone else’s idea?
I found it energizing me in ways I probably wouldn’t have anticipated. It was kind of like playing with my toys again. As a child, the dolls or stuffed animals or action figures you play with aren’t your creations, but the narratives you build around them are. So writing Night Sniper felt surprisingly like a return to my roots – to the kind of make-believe that led me to fall in love with writing in the first place. The fact that the process continued to feel that way throughout is a testament to Mr Patterson and his team.
Were you asked to write in a particular style?
The only mandate was that the style shouldn’t be intrusive – it shouldn’t get in the way of the story. It’s the story that matters; words are just a mechanism for delivering the story. Readers shouldn’t be pulled out by flashy word choices or a sudden burst of alliteration. Ideally, they should be so caught up in the story that they forget they’re even reading.
What is the most significant difference between writing your own work and writing for someone else?
Practically speaking, I had to quit second-guessing myself, or at least keep it to a minimum. You don’t have time to get in your own way when there are deadlines and people depending on you. I found this strangely liberating: the external pressure allowed me to stop pressuring myself and just write.
It’s also helpful to get feedback as you go. You always know where you stand. You aren’t looking over your own shoulder, thinking: Will anybody but me want to read this? The publishing piece is taken care of in advance.
Do you feel that you were able to put your stamp on Night Sniper?
Yes, in part because Mr Patterson was very supportive of my contributions, and in part because writers can’t help but leave a trace. The ‘Wherever you go, there you are’ cliché is doubly true for writers. Some bit of your personality or experience or worldview is going to end up on the page whether you’re writing an informational pamphlet or an epic novel.
Will you be working with Mr Patterson again?
Yes! I’ve worked on two more BookShots since Night Sniper. I’m very excited, though I think I should probably hold off on talking about them for now.