On this day in 1947, James Patterson, one of the world’s top-selling novelists, is born. Best known for his thrillers, Patterson, the creator of the Alex Cross detective series and the Women’s Murder Club series, among others, has written books in a variety of genres, from historical fiction to young adult. His novels have sold an estimated 220 million copies around the world.
Patterson, who was raised in Newburgh, New York, graduated from Manhattan College in 1969 and later dropped out of Vanderbilt University’s graduate program in English literature. He moved to New York City and worked as a copywriter at an advertising agency while writing his first novel in his spare time. After multiple rejections, that book, a thriller titled “The Thomas Berryman Number” was published in 1976. It won an Edgar Award for best first mystery novel by a U.S. author; however, sales were modest.
Patterson continued to publish novels, with limited commercial success, until the 1993 release of his breakout hit “Along Came a Spider,” featuring African-American detective and psychologist Alex Cross. Patterson had another best-seller with 1995’s “Kiss the Girls,” also featuring Alex Cross. In 1996, Patterson, then a top executive at the J. Walter Thompson advertising agency, retired to write full time. That same year, he published the novel “Miracle on the 17th Green” with the assistance of a co-author. Patterson eventually began collaborating with a team of co-authors on almost all his books, allowing him to publish multiple best-sellers each year. He typically comes up with the idea for the book, pens a detailed outline then revises the chapters his co-author drafts. In 2010 alone, Patterson released nine titles, including his 17th Alex Cross novel as well as books in his “Maximum Ride” young-adult fantasy and science-fiction series, his “Witch and Wizard” children’s supernatural series and his Michael Bennett detective series.
Whatever their genre, Patterson’s books are known for being fast-paced with short chapters and little back story or description. Critics, including author Stephen King, have skewered Patterson’s writing. In 2010, Patterson told Time magazine: “I am not a great prose stylist. I’m a storyteller. There are thousands of people who don’t like what I do. Fortunately, there are millions who do.”