Teen Read Week was October 16th through the 22nd, but here at The Hub, we’re celebrating all month long with 31 Days of Authors. On each day in October, we’ll bring you exclusive author interviews and profiles plus reflections on what YALSA-recognized books have meant to us. Today we feature James Patterson, whose book Angel: A Maximum Ride Novel is #7 on this year’s Teens’ Top Ten list.
James Patterson has written a lot of books. I mean, a lot of books. But crazily enough, until the Maximum Ride series, I hadn’t read any of them. What I discovered in the stories of Max, Fang, Angel, and the rest of the Flock was lots of action, crazy plot twists and surprises, and great stories told in a riveting way.
I was absolutely delighted to have the opportunity to chat with Mr. Patterson over the phone about his writing, Angel specifically, encouraging reading, and what we can expect with the next (and final!) installation in the Maximum Ride series.
A demanding schedule
In an interview with The Telegraph, Mr. Patterson said that he writes for six to eight hours a day, seven days a week. I was really impressed that he was able to keep up with such a demanding schedule, but he says he loves it. “Some people say you’re lucky if you find something you like to do in life, and it’s a miracle if somebody will pay you to do that–and that’s what I have. And I really don’t have to do anything I don’t want to do: I don’t have to write things that I don’t want to write, and that’s very liberating.”
Even when he was young, he’d make up stories one after another and tell them to people. He didn’t take it seriously at the time, but after he started writing them down, he received positive feedback about what he was doing, and in graduate school at Vanderbilt, he was permitted to write fiction for his master’s thesis. But he still points to that childhood of telling stories and “scribbling them down” as what shaped him into who he is now: “it all helped to create this storyteller that has all these ideas and tries to get as many of them down on paper as possible.”
Everybody loves Angel
I asked Mr. Patterson what it was that he thought made Angel (and the Maximum Ride series in general) so popular–popular enough to make the Teens’ Top Ten list! He reported that he hears about this a lot from kids, who cite the way the stories move along quickly and how the characters are engaging and do unexpected things. He also points to the birdkids’ powers: “Everybody pretty much has this fantasy about flying. It’s actually, I think, the most popular fantasy that people have.”
He also thought that his fast-paced, colloquial storytelling would appeal to teens: “It’s the way we tell stories to one another verbally. We don’t put in an inordinate amount of detail, or the other person would just walk away from us. It’d be terrible if every story were written that way, but I think it gives me a style and a uniqueness.”
Mr. Patterson said that especially in writing for teens, he respects his audience. “I try not to condescend to readers. People sometime act like kids aren’t ready to be thinkers, but I don’t do that. I really try to respect the intelligence of the readers. To some extent, they’re smarter than we are because they haven’t gotten lazy and they’re more open to certain things.”
I mentioned that his books are often enjoyed by people who wouldn’t necessarily identify themselves as readers, and that part of that is that the action is fast-paced and pulls us to the next page, and then the next, but Mr. Patterson resisted being boxed in: “I don’t know that I necessarily agree, at least based on my own experience with kids that I meet. I think a lot of kids who are quite bright and are big readers read my stuff. I hear that, and I don’t think it’s accurate. I even hear it from the publisher, but it’s just not accurate in terms of everything that we’ve seen. On the other hand, I love that we’re also getting reluctant readers. I have them in mind when I write.”
Finding the next great thing
Mr. Patterson really is interested in encouraging kids to read and helping them find the next book they’ll enjoy. An article he wrote (which was originally published on CNN’s website) recently appeared as a full-page ad in the New York Times, encouraging parents, various sectors of media and culture, and teachers to model reading, to make books available for kids, and to let kids choose what they read.
His newest initiative is ReadKiddoRead.com, which was created for parents especially, but also for anyone who recommends or buys books for kids, to find books that will engage kids and get them excited about reading. There are categories for readers ages 0-8 (illustrated books), 6 and up (transitional books), 8 and up (pageturners), and 10 and up (advanced reads). Mr. Patterson said, “We’re less interested in reviews than in laying out what the stories are, what the content is.” He said that this would be a great resource, especially as YA and middle grade lit continues to grow. “There’s just so much to read out there, but the nice thing about that site is it makes it a little easier to decide what you’re going to try to read and what you’re going to recommend.” He suggested that parents look at the website with their children to work together to find good books.
His own reading
When I asked him what young adult and middle grade books the he himself enjoyed, he quickly responded that he loves Brian Selznick–and that his books (The Invention of Hugo Cabret and Wonderstruck) were, in fact, what inspired him to write Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life and to combine pictures and text.
He also said that he loved The Book Thief. Although he thought the beginning was a little slow, “once you get into it, it’s that kind of wonderful writing that just makes everything so vivid for the reader in an almost flawless way. You just feel the adjectives, somebody’s who’s really delivering truth on the page.”
Romance, strength, and softness
In addition to wanting to know about his writing process and reading habits, I also had questions about specific things in Angel that Mr. Patterson answered for me.
In Angel, Max is torn between Fang, with whom she’s developed a relationship naturally, and Dylan, who was created to be Max’s perfect “other half.” Mr. Patterson declined to reveal whom she’ll pick–darn!–but did offer some advice: “My advice about romance is always the same: you follow your heart and your head. You’re going feel certain things, and then after you’re done feeling, you just need to think things through. It’s some feelings and it’s some logic.” And about Max specifically: “She’ll ultimately have to think about each of these boys: how do I feel about them, what’s the past history, what do I like about the person, what do I not like about the person?”
I was also interested in exploring Max’s character. Despite being Max’s clone, Maya is softer and more vulnerable, according to Fang, who thinks Max is strong and hard. Mr. Patterson said that that strength is certainly an asset, since Max has to be able to lead the Flock through some pretty tough stuff, but that she’s still young and that she needs to grow and live through more experiences. He pointed out that she’s never really been in a position where she’s allowed to let that softer side out, although she does feel maternally toward some of her flockmates.
He also said that as much as he finds the fantasy and adventure aspects of the series interesting, he’s also intrigued by the realities of their situation: “These are kids who have to take responsibility for their lives and for the lives of those around them.”
Manga and movies
While Mr. Patterson isn’t much of a comics reader (he read them when he was young but doesn’t now), he has read the graphic novel versions of the Maximum Ride series and enjoyed them, finding the illustrations good and the storytelling clear and coherent. And, he said, “unlike Hollywood, they actually stick to the story!”
So then I just had to ask about the Maximum Ride movie (currently scheduled for some time in 2013) and how it was coming along. Mr. Patterson is no stranger to movie adaptations: they shot an Alex Cross movie this summer that will come out next year, and he said that a director has been attached to the Witch and Wizard movie. He’s been given some creative control in those films, but not as much in Maximum Ride. “I’m hopeful,” he said, though, and suggested that there might be some good news in the next few months.
Nevermore is next (and last)
Try as I might, I just couldn’t get Mr. Patterson to spill specific details about the next and final book in the Maximum Ride series, Nevermore, which comes out in 2012. He did say that all loose ends would be tied up (“some people are going to love it and some are going to hate it”), and that readers should catch up with the story as much as they can before the final page is turned.
“I’m sure that people are going to be surprised,” he said. “And I hope in a good way!”
I’m so very grateful to Mr. Patterson for his thoughts and his time and to the folks at Little, Brown for coordinating our interview.
— Gretchen Kolderup, currently reading How to Say Goodbye in Robot by Natalie Standiford
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