The best-selling author talks about adapting his work for an interactive experience, why the television show failed, and his love of pencils (okay, and the Kindle too!)
James Patterson is the J.K. Rowling of mystery-thrillers — since writing his first novel in 1992, he’s sold more than 150 million books worldwide. His work has been adapted into movies (Along Came a Spider and Kiss the Girls), TV shows (most recently, Women’s Murder Club, which met an early demise when ABC killed the show earlier this year), and now, computer games. James Patterson’s Women’s Murder Club: Death in Scarlet — a PC/Mac game featuring the four sleuthing ladies from San Francisco — goes on sale Aug. 26 (downloadable from MSN Games: zone.msn.com). We recently sat down for a chat with the best-selling author — and started off with an obvious question:
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Why a PC game? You’ve written books, had your work turned into movies and television shows, but videogames are an entirely new medium for you.
JAMES PATTERSON: What I liked in particular about the videogame world is that it attracts a very lucrative niche audience that’s also primarily male. And yet women — who look at computer screens all day — don’t generally use it for games. They don’t consider themselves to be gamers. So I found the notion of opening this world to women to be very interesting. And that’s really why I did this deal: because I love the idea of giving a lot of people who don’t normally play games something new. And in the case of casual games, [this game] is a notch up from [what they’re used to].
What was your exposure to videogames prior to taking on this project?
Not huge. I have a 10-year-old so I get a little exposure there. What I did early on is: I went in and sat with four of his friends and just watched them play — from Grand Theft Auto to the Tom Clancy games to Hitman.
Can you give me a better idea of what your involvement was with the WMC game — and compare that to your involvement with the TV series?
I talked to [I-play game designer] Jane Jensen, primarily about the story — in fact, we’re doing the same thing now because they’re starting work on the second game. What I try to put into everything I do is to have something that’s driving the story forward — and to see that the individual chapters are self-sustaining and are as powerful as we can make them. I wanted the story to have some dramatic power, something to hold you. [I wanted] the little side missions — which are a staple of casual games — to be a little more organic. In some casual games they can get a little sloppy. At least in WMC the little things — such as the parts where you have to mix the chemicals in the lab — have some relevance to the main story. We also tried to make the graphics fairly contemporary — I think they did a good job.
You’re working on the second installment of this series. Is there anything you learned from making the first one that can help you with future editions?
One of the things we’re talking about is building in rewards for people who are particularly good and who don’t have to use the in-game hints. I?d like to have someplace where people can post their scores or play against other people. We’re still working on making the mysteries even more involving.
Have your plans for the Women’s Murder Club games altered course now that television show is canceled?
Not really. They were really always two separate things. I mean, look: The TV exposure will help everything. It’ll help sell the books, it’ll help the game. The TV thing was interesting because that was a whole new medium for me. My issue with the TV series from day one was that I [understood the need for coming up with] crimes that keep surprising people along the way. That was the thing that wasn’t delivered. And I don’t think that’s hard to do. I think [for ABC], it was about attracting younger viewers. I think the show was cast kind of older — which I didn’t quite understand, knowing that they needed the younger demo. I think they could’ve taken the whole thing much younger in terms of the kinds of crimes and the cast.
NEXT PAGE: ”I think the show would’ve gotten renewed if it had been better. [Laughs ] It wasn’t a bad show; it wasn’t sharp enough.”
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What prevented you from making those changes?
JAMES PATTERSON: I don’t know. That’s life. I’m not out there, I mean, the novelists are not the most powerful people in Hollywood. For some reason we just couldn’t get it done. I think even ABC wanted it to go in the kinds of directions I’m talking about. I did talk to them a few times, and I think we were on the same page, but we still couldn’t get it done.
Has the experience soured you on future TV projects?
No, it was a great learning experience. I liked it. It’s very fast-paced. Every week you’re getting a script and a tape. We’re working a couple of other shows now.
Do you think the show would’ve gotten renewed if not for the writers’ strike?
I think the show would’ve gotten renewed if it had been better. [Laughs ] It wasn’t a bad show; it wasn’t sharp enough. It got okay numbers for the opening, but then the second half hour really slid off — which tells you it wasn’t grabbing people.
At least this series lives on in the books and in the games.
The books are the books. They are the main source of enjoyment. The rest of it is just icing. I have the young-adults books that I do. Both of those movie projects are in really good places. There’s Maximum Ride with [movie producer] Avi Arad. He’s really passionate and smart and he loves Maximum Ride. I’m really excited and happy about that — ultimately, you want somebody who has the power to get stuff done and really wants to do your project. And I have another young-adult book, Daniel X: Alien Hunter.
What’s the current state of the Maximum Ride movie?
The writers’ strike got in the way. We had a writer and we lost him. They have another writer now and they have good directors who are very interested.
What else are you working on film-wise?
I’m putting a script together for [his 2006 mystery] Cross because I kind of know what it should be. There’s also a really offbeat animated-live thing I’m doing with Curious Pictures — something we’d also like to turn into a videogame. Not a casual game — one aimed towards a young male audience.
You can buy the Women’s Murder Club game by downloading it or buying it in stores. What’s your view on technology and downloadable content?
I write with pencil! I’m not kidding. But I also have a Kindle and a Sony eReader. The idea of carrying around a half dozen books on a device that weighs 9 ounces is really great. When Sony came out with their eReader, I gave a speech for them out in Vegas. One of the things I said is that there are a lot of readers now that need larger type. And there are very few books that are in large print — and they’re hard to find. But now with these devices, because you can change the font, any book that’s digitized you can essentially get in large print.
With respect to what has happened in the music industry, digital downloads don’t scare you?
Not yet. Ask me again in two years. Look, that’s the deal. Maybe us authors won’t make as much money — but we’d get more readership.