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James Patterson: 'Suzanne's Diary for Nicholas'

James Patterson  

James Patterson is one of the world's top-selling novelists. He won the Edgar Award for the best first mystery novel, which he published at the age of 27. Since then, he has written numerous mystery best-sellers. "Suzanne's Diary for Nicholas: A Novel", published by Little, Brown & Company, is his first love story.

CNN: Good morning James Patterson. Welcome to We're pleased to have you with us today.

JAMES PATTERSON: Hello, everybody! This is the kinder, gentler James Patterson.

CNN: Tell us a bit about your new book, "Suzanne's Diary for Nicholas: A Novel."

PATTERSON: This is James Patterson meets "Bridges of Madison County" meets Nicholas Sparks meets "The Horse Whisperer" meets Nora Roberts. I tried to combine a page turner and a love story, a book you can't put down, but that also affects your emotions.

CHAT PARTICIPANT: Mr. Patterson: Do you have a background in psychology or forensics?

PATTERSON: I do, and I worked for a long time at a mental hospital.

CNN: You are a well known thriller writer. What prompted you to write this love story?

PATTERSON: I have a three year old. My wife is keeping a diary for Jack, and a powerful story came into my head, and I couldn't get it out. I thought it would be helpful to anyone who has ever loved somebody, lost them, and tried to find love again. I went into the publishers one afternoon, I wasn't planning to write the book yet, but I told them the story. These were two tough New Yorkers, and they both started to cry. Everybody cries when they read this book. I had an email from a bookseller. Booksellers get early copies, and this was a man, and he wrote, "I'm an Irishman, and I do not cry. I never cry. I read "Suzanne's Diary for Nicholas," and I cried for the first time in 20 years. Thank you."

CHAT PARTICIPANT: Do you feel love can be suspenseful?

PATTERSON: Yeah, absolutely. I think "Gone With the Wind" was pretty suspenseful in parts. I think that it can leave you with questions that you want to have answered, or must have answered. What's going to happen to the two of them in "You've Got Mail?" What will happen to the couple in "Bridges of Madison County?" My book is two stories. A woman, a book editor, falls in love for the first time in her life. She falls hard. Then inexplicably, this man Matthew tells her that they can't be together. A few days later, he sends a note and Suzanne's Diary for Nicholas, a diary that his wife wrote for their infant son. He says that parts of the diary may be painful for her to read, but if she reads it, she'll understand. And the diary is really a love story between this man Matthew, Suzanne, and Nicholas. The suspense comes in a lot of ways. One is, how can we reconcile these dual love affairs, what's going to happen to Katie and Matthew, and what will happen to Suzanne, Matthew and baby Nicholas. I don't know if that's suspense per se, but it definitely keeps you turning the pages. I hope. :)

CHAT PARTICIPANT: What writers (modern or old) have influenced you the most?

PATTERSON: I didn't read a lot. I was a good student, but didn't read much. I guess the books they gave me in high school just didn't appeal. I still don't like Silas Marner. I started reading a lot when I had a job at a mental hospital. I was working my way through college. The writers who influenced me to write were very unusual ones -- Jean Jenet, Beckett, Ionesco, John Rechy -- these are just writers that woke me up as a human being and as a reader.

CHAT PARTICIPANT: Since this is a love story, did you feel you wrote it from the heart and it reflects a lot of your feelings?

PATTERSON: Yeah, there's a big piece of me in here, things from my life in here. I was deeply in love with a woman in New York City for a little more than five years. One Saturday morning, we went out, stopped at the Post Office, and she just fell over in there. We both thought she was dying. It turned out that she had a brain tumor, and a limited amount of time to live. The story we told one another, and this story is the basis for parts of "Suzanne's Diary for Nicholas," was "Isn't it lucky that you didn't die that day in the post office, and we have this beautiful day for a walk?" or whatever we were going to do that day. That made the nearly two years that she had left to live the most precious years of my life. As I said, "Suzanne's Diary" is dedicated to people who have loved and lost, and who have been brave and lucky enough to find love again.

CHAT PARTICIPANT: Have you worried about getting locked into a particular genre? Is this a way to expand yourself as an author?

PATTERSON: I've always written stories that moved me emotionally. I am really caught up in the Cross family, much more than the Kellers. I'm interested in what happens to the Cross family, and interested in the four woman in First to Die (the next one will be out next year), and I'm very interested in what happens in the characters in "Suzanne's Diary for Nicholas." I was on the "Today Show" today, and I was mobbed in the green room, and it was people who had read Suzanne's Diary, and were affected by it.

CNN: What are some of the destinations on your tour for this book?

PATTERSON: We're in Birmingham on Tuesday, Books a Million in the Wildwood shopping center, Atlanta on Wednesday, at the Barnes and Noble around 7 on Cobb Parkway. Thursday, I'm in Charlotte at the Barnes and Noble on Rexford Road. Friday, Greensboro, North Carolina, at a Barnes and Noble on Northline Avenue. Friday night I'm in Carry, North Carolina. Saturday and Sunday I'm in Charleston and Savannah. Wednesday the following week I'm in Washington DC. This is all on my website.

CHAT PARTICIPANT: Do you use a computer, a typewriter, longhand, or other when you write your first drafts?

PATTERSON: Longhand. I do all my drafts in longhand. Actually, I get back the first draft triple spaced, and write between the lines. When I go through it a second and third time, I just read between the lines, and only deal with what I've written that draft. I do six or seven drafts. With "Suzanne's Diary," I did eleven drafts.

CNN: What can you tell us about the miniseries adaptation of "First to Die?"

PATTERSON: It's a little up in the air right now. NBC really likes the book, but I guess that TV movies have become questionable for the networks, probably because they've made so many bad ones. They think people don't want to see them, but I think they do, they just don't want to see bad ones. So, we'll see about that. If you make a four-hour miniseries, and the quality is not as good as your hour programs, why would they expect people to watch them?

CHAT PARTICIPANT: Do you consider "Suzanne's Diary" your finest work to date?

PATTERSON: It's apples and oranges. I really like Cross as a character, and really like the women in the "First To Die series." I really like this, too. I'm really happy that I could write a love story that will keep people up late reading.

CNN: Do you have any final thoughts?

PATTERSON: I hope that people will take "Suzanne's Diary" to the beach. It's a fun read, and I hope you all read a lot during the summer. There are a lot of great books out there, and when you look at the movies right now, books are a great way to get your story fix.

CNN: Thanks for joining us today, James Patterson.

PATTERSON: Thank you!

James Patterson joined the chat room from New York by telephone and CNN provided a typist. This is an edited transcript of the chat which took place on Monday, July 16, 2001. Little, Brown and Company is a division of AOL Time Warner, the parent company of CNN.

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'Suzanne's Diary for Nicholas'
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4:30pm ET, 4/16

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