Writer James Patterson is not the kind of rich person who refuses to talk about being rich. “Here is the wages of sin,” he said the other day, sitting on the patio of his estate in Briarcliff, wearing a long-sleeved shirt and boat shoes. He smiles a little. It was a pleasant late morning in late spring. Sun, birds. He nodded toward the Hudson. “I don’t think about success,” he continued. “I have nothing against people wanting to drive Rolls-Royces. I just don’t care. I don’t care about having a big house per se. But this– the view – “interests me”. He had been up for five and a half hours…Time, Log, nine holes at Sleepy Hollow. Later, a nap would probably be in order, then maybe dinner with his wife, Sue. They like low-key stuff with friends. “The occasional thing with people like President Clinton and Hillary, which is fine,” Patterson said. “We actually saw them on Saturday night.”
Patterson, who is seventy-five, was resting for a thirteen-city book tour for his autobiography, which he began as covid project: “James Patterson”, by James Patterson. The book consists of dozens of anecdotes, a page or two long – “dirty” childhood, first kiss (Veronica Tabasco), advertising career (“I’m a kid from Toys R Us”), hanging out with famous people – sprinkled with weird sales pitches. He begins a chapter by talking about an upcoming book by his wife: “It will be published in the spring of 2023. Don’t miss it. The sin that pays the wages.
Why did he become a writer? “I was a lonely kid in the woods,” he said. “I was just telling myself stories. Cowboy stories and war stories and fantasies. Nothing against Newburgh” – his hometown, across the river – “but it was: get me out of here, get me out of this life, get me out of the woods. I found out that the guy who owned the Daily News was a Patterson. I had this fantasy that he would show up in a big limo and say, “I’m your dad” and take me to New York.
His own father had grown up in the Newburgh workhouse. “There was a bit of jealousy between us,” Patterson said. Patterson the eldest managed to graduate from college but ended up in laboring jobs. “Brilliant guy, driving a bread truck,” Patterson said. “And then he went and he sold insurance for Prudential, pretty much door-to-door. He just didn’t have confidence. It’s almost like ‘Portnoy’s.’”
Patterson entered the kitchen. Sue had prepared a spread: mangoes hand-picked from their home in West Palm Beach, hummus, homemade cornbread. “It’s a tradition that started with Clinton,” Patterson said. When he and Clinton co-wrote “The President Is Missing,” they gave press interviews at Patterson’s. “We had fruit and cornbread,” Patterson said. “Clinton stayed here for an hour and a half.”
“He ate, like, most of the casserole,” Sue said.
Patterson picked up a plate and headed to his office upstairs. “I don’t even know what the fuck is,” he said as he passed some awards. “I’m just not a trophy person. Legacy means nothing to me. What should I worry about? I’m dead.” In one living room was a large picture of an American flag. “We just like the picture,” he said. “We’re not Republicans, but now it’s almost like If the Republicans owned the flag. Damn, we love the flag too.
Upstairs, he examined his bookshelves. An assistant had recently cleaned and restocked them with hundreds of Patterson works. He keeps a more eclectic collection in his library in Florida: Günter Grass, Cheever, Boulgakov, Laurence Sterne. He likes to surprise people with stories from his youth as a “literary twit”. He nearly wrote a master’s thesis on metafictionist John Hawkes, who once said, “The real enemies of the novel were plot, character, setting, and theme. “I don’t think I was a big snob,” Patterson said. “But, directionally? Yeah.”
Later, he went for a walk in the backyard. “It’s up to Sue,” he said of the pool. He calls it Lake Susan. She was an All-American swimmer in Wisconsin and swims laps every day. “She’s staying in good shape,” Patterson said. “She is sixty-four now. Just in case you thought I was breaking into the crib.
He looked at the river. Somewhere upriver was Mount Beacon, which he used to watch from the opposite shore. “In Catholic high school, this priest used to come once a week for religious matters, you know, ‘Do you want to go to hell?’ He said, ‘Do you see Mt. Beacon over there? Imagine if a bird, every thousand years, brought here as much as it could carry in its beak. He continued, “‘When that bird brings Mount Beacon to this side of the river, it will be the beginning of an eternity in hell.’ Patterson laughed. “You never forget that shit!” It’s really good. This is a writer. ♦