7:58am

Sat June 22, 2013
Author Interviews

Surviving Summer Camp In James Patterson's 'Middle School'

Originally published on Sat June 22, 2013 9:18 pm

Grown-ups, if you've read a thriller recently, there's a good chance it was written by James Patterson. One in 5 adult thriller hardcovers sold these days carries his name on the cover.

But younger readers are likely to find themselves paging through a Patterson, too — and not because they've borrowed from their parents' bookshelves. He may be famous for his Alex Cross series and the Women's Murder Club novels, but Patterson is also currently the best-selling author in the young-adult and middle-grade categories, thanks to his "Witch and Wizard" and "Middle School" series. The newest "Middle School" book, How I Survived Bullies, Broccoli, and Snake Hill, takes its main character, Rafe Khatchadorian, to summer camp.

"Rafe is a kid who doesn't quite fit in," Patterson says. "He's very talented as a young artist, illustrator, etc, and he's very funny, but he's in school, he's having a little bit of a tough time, and in this book, he goes to summer camp. And of course, he gets with the loser campers — at least, that's the way they're looked at."

Patterson tells NPR's Scott Simon about childhood bullying, the diverse perspectives found in books and how e-readers are changing parents' book-buying habits.


Interview Highlights

On "The Booger-Eater" and childhood bullying

"Originally I wanted to call this Summer of the Booger-Eater ... 'The Booger-Eater' is an important character in here in that he's sort of Rafe's first real friend.

" ... It's a big deal to me, beyond physical bullying, verbal bullying. ... With this kid, you know, he was nicknamed 'The Booger-Eater' when he was 3 or 4 years old, and it stuck with him. And that happens to kids. They kind of get a caricature and it's very hard for them to get away from it."

On whether writing for young readers requires "a certain number of flatulence jokes"

"I mostly have stayed away from it, but I just couldn't resist it. It just seemed to fit into a summer camp situation. Generally I don't try to take the easy way out with humor, but there is a 'Bombardier' in there, and it's pretty funny, I think."

On why reading is important for young people

"What I'm really addicted to is getting people to understand that if their kids aren't competent readers coming out of middle school, it's really going to be hard for them in high school. They're going to have trouble getting through. Kids don't read as much as you'd like them to, just in terms of seeing the world from different perspectives. I mean, that's the great thing about books, still. Here's television, here are the movies, and it's pretty limited in terms of the perspectives. But books, it's still, there's so many different ways to look at life, so many different stories, and books are still the best place to get that kind of diversity."

On how e-books have changed book-buying habits

"I think e-books are terrific in their own right. I love being able to get on a plane and basically carry around seven books and it weigh 10 ounces. But what about your kids? ... One of the bad things that's going on with e-books now is people used to go into the bookstore and they would think about their kids, and they would maybe buy a book for their kids. Now they go on e-books, and we haven't figured out how to deal with e-books in terms of our children. ... So it's not happening. With my adult books, in the beginning, the first four or five weeks, it's about 60 percent e-books. With the kid books, it's like 5 percent, and the tragedy there is less and less adults are getting books for their kids, wherever they get books."

On whether he writes a set number of words each day

"No ... To me it's always just the joy of storytelling, and I don't think about it. Getting things in on time has never been a problem for me, so I don't worry about it. You know, I remember watching Morgan Freeman when he did the two Alex Cross movies, and he's so confident that he's going to knock the scene dead. And I'm really confident that I can tell a good story now, so I just don't worry about things."

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

You know, if interesting grocery lists ever get sold for entertainment, James Patterson would figure out a way to make his best-sellers. One in five adult thriller hardcover novels sold these days have been written by James Patterson, including the Alex Cross series and the Women's Murder Club series. But Patterson doesn't just write thrillers. He's also currently the best-selling author in the young adult and middle grade categories, with his Witch and Wizard and Middle School series. James Patterson has two books coming out this summer. For adults, "Second Honeymoon", written with Howard Roughan. And for young readers, "Middle School: How I Survived Bullies, Broccoli, and Snake Hill". It's co-written with Chris Tebbetts, and includes some very funny cartoons by Laura Park. James Patterson joins us from New York to talk about it. Thanks very much for being with us.

JAMES PATTERSON: Oh, it's terrific.

SIMON: How do you keep so many plots in your mind at the same time?

PATTERSON: It isn't hard keeping, you know, track of the different stories. It is sometimes hard for me to remember all of the stories in some of these series. I mean, because Alex Cross series, started in 1993. It's now - to be quizzed on some of those; let me see now, what was his - you know, that's a little trickier.

SIMON: Let's talk about the "Middle School" book. So, who is Rafe Khatchadorian?

PATTERSON: Rafe is a kid who doesn't quite fit in. He's very talented as a young artist, illustrator, etcetera, and he's very funny. But he's in school, is having a little bit of a tough time. And in this book he goes to summer camp. And, of course, he gets with the loser campers. At least that's the way they're looked at. And originally I wanted to call this "Summer of the Booger-Eater". And...

SIMON: He's the name of a character you're going to...

PATTERSON: The Booger-Eater is - and that's an important character in here in that he sort of Rafe's first real friend. And he's a kid - I'm really - it's a big deal to me, beyond physical bullying, verbal bullying. And with this kid, you know, he was nicknamed the Booger-Eater when he was, like, three or four years old and it stuck with him. And that happens to kids. They kind of get a caricature and it's very hard for them to get away from it.

There are some other characters: Dweebs, Smurf.

The Legend.

SIMON: The Legend, yeah.

PATTERSON: Bombardier. Yeah.

SIMON: Bombardier.

PATTERSON: It's an interesting group.

SIMON: And let me raise a question about the character named Bombardier. So, to write a successful novel for young readers, do you need a certain number of flatulence jokes?

PATTERSON: I don't think about it and I mostly have stayed away from it. But I just couldn't resist it. It just seemed to fit into a summer camp situation. So, generally, I don't try to take the easy way out with humor, but there is a Bombardier in there and it's pretty funny, I think.

SIMON: So, is Rafe your alter ego?

PATTERSON: Yeah. There's some of me but not the troublemaker as much. I mean, Rafe's gotten into some trouble. I tended not to get into trouble as much. But I certainly thought about a lot of trouble.

SIMON: You've been outspoken in recent years about the importance of reading for young people - adults, too, for that matter. What has it put into our lives?

PATTERSON: What I'm really addicted to is getting people to understand that if their kids aren't competent readers coming out of middle school, it's really going to be hard for them in high school. They're going to have trouble getting through. Kids don't read as much as you'd like them to, just in terms of seeing the world from different perspectives. I mean, that's the great thing about books still. I mean, here's television, here are the movies, and it's pretty limited in terms of the perspectives. But books, there's so many different ways to look at life, so many different stories, and books are still the best place to get that kind of diversity.

SIMON: You also see the survival of bookstores and libraries as important. And there are a lot of people who are reconciled to the digital age where you can download something and never have to get anywhere near a bookstore or a library.

PATTERSON: Yeah. I think e-books are terrific in their own right. I love being able to get on a plane and basically carry around seven books and it weighs 10 ounces. But what about your kids? Remember your kids. And one of the bad things that's going on with e-books now is people used to go into the bookstore and they would think about their kids and they would maybe buy a book for their kids. Now they go on e-books and we haven't figured out how to deal with e-books in terms of our children; how many readers should there be in the house - e-book readers - and how do I deal with, you know, how many e-books my kids should be able to buy or however they - so, it's not happening. So, like, with my adult books, in the beginning, the first four or five weeks, it's about 60 percent e-books. With the kid books, it's like 5 percent. And the tragedy there is less and less adults are getting books for their kids, wherever they get books.

SIMON: Do you have a set number of words you try and write every day?

PATTERSON: No, no. I just - it's always - to me, it's just the joy of storytelling. And I don't think about it. Getting things in on time has never been a problem for me, so I don't worry about it. You know, I remember watching Morgan Freeman when he did the two Alex Cross movies. And he's so confident that he's going to knock the scene dead, and I'm really confident that I can tell a good story now, so I just don't worry about things.

SIMON: James Patterson. His book for young readers: "Middle School: How I Survived Bullies, Broccoli and Snake Hill", co-written with Chris Tebbetts. His adult book, "Second Honeymoon", with Howard Roughan. Thanks so much for being with us.

PATTERSON: Thank you. Nice talking to you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIMON: You're listening to WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.