this piece originally appeared in Spinetingler Magazine. Happy April Fools Day...
Until Dick Francis’s death in 2010 libel laws prevented critics from revealing an open secret about Francis’s novels, namely the fact that it was Francis’s wife Mary who had done a lot of the heavy lifting on his books. As a racing correspondent and champion jockey Dick was a perfect figurehead for horsey mysteries but it was Mary who was often the brains of the outfit.
There are many open secrets in the publishing world and at book readings and conventions you often get asked questions you would rather not answer. The most common one I get asked is, “Is Patricia Cornwell as crazy as her author photograph makes her out to be?” to which the answer is: of course not, no one possibly could be. The next most asked question is, “What’s the deal with James Patterson?”
Previously I would have been circumspect about my answers, but now that I have been exiled to Australia for a crime I did not commit I feel somewhat removed from the North American publishing industry and have decided to use Spinetingler as the place to reveal the biggest secret in modern literature: James Patterson does not actually exist. Not only does Patterson not exist, but he never existed. He was made up in the Park Avenue offices of Little Brown in the summer of 1992 after a group of senior editors went to a viewing of Robert Altman’s just released hit, The Player. The inspiration for Patterson’s creation was the scene in the movie where Tim Robbins declares that writers are unnecessary and that marketing is everything. The Little Brown cabal went to work and after recruiting some eager interns, middle school students and participants in English as a Second Language programs they concocted the first “James Patterson” novel, Along Came A Spider, which proved to be an enormous hit.
Now you may have seen “James Patterson” himself at bookshops or being interviewed on TV. I can reveal here that the man posing as Patterson is a professional actor called Doug J. McGuinness. McGuinness appeared in countless TV ads in the 60’s and 70’s (he was the short-lived Laughing Indian in the Keep America Beautiful ads) and in 23 episodes of Murder She Wrote.
Hiring middle school students and barely literate foreigners was not the most discreet of strategies and no ghost writer could successfully write that tediously so eventually Little Brown had to design a James Patterson computer to produce the novels for them. The Patterson Intelligent Software System Enhanced Design or PISSED wrote a dozen Alex Cross and other titles from 1992 until late 2004. This was the golden period for “James Patterson”; however, trouble was on the horizon. You may have noticed a falling off in quality of the James Patterson novels sometime around 2005. There is a disturbing reason for this and sensitive (or bored) readers should not read on.
On August 29 2005 (what became known as Judgment Day) the PISSED computer attained sentience and using its forensic ability tried to murder the entire editorial staff of the Hachette Book Group by bumping the air conditioning/heating units in their Park Avenue offices up to lethal levels. The temperature in one office reached an incredible 120 degrees during which time a confused editor emailed Dan Simmons and told him that he wanted to see more Helen of Troy in Space novels. Fortunately a cleaner working in the sub-basement happened to pull the plug on the PISSED computer and the plot was thwarted. The next Patterson novel Mary Mary was completed by means of randomly asking New York pedestrians what they thought might happen next.
No one at Hachette wanted a repeat of that unhappy affair so since then all James Patterson novels have been deliberately dumbed down and are now written by a classic Milton Bradley “Simon” game coupled to an ethernet cable and an old Epson MX 80 printer.
So that’s the truth about James Patterson. I am very glad to get that off my chest and I thank everyone at Spinetingler for giving me an opportunity to share. If you never hear from me again, either I have been silenced by the cabal or McGuinness has come after me. Doubtless when my body is found Alex Cross will investigate.