Lit picks: Patterson’s prose

“One of the few joys a writer can have in Hollywood is to have something everyone will want,” says bestselling novelist James Patterson, whose thriller “Kiss the Girls” has become a box office success for Paramount.

Despite the success of Par’s adaptation of his novel, which put Morgan Freeman in the role of detective Alex Cross, Patterson says he does not feel any added pressure to maintain the Alex Cross franchise.

“I’m happy about the fact I have perspective,” says Patterson, on tour to promote his latest Cross thriller, “Cat & Mouse.” “But there’s no pressure whatsoever. There’s only one thing that drives me: I just want to write a page-turning novel.”

Paramount owns the rights to the Alex Cross character and has at least one project in development based on his 1993 “Along Came a Spider.” Patterson says his next book goes in a different direction, “more Crichton-like.” He says he will complete the novel within the next six weeks, and it then will be shopped by his reps on the open market.

Patterson left his post as chairman of the J. Walter Thompson North America advertising agency about 18 months ago. Today, the man behind “Aren’t you hungry for Burger King now?” serves “as a consultant” to the company while working as a full-time writer.

Influenced by his years dealing with market research, Patterson says he still conscripts groups of test readers to assess his books along the way.

“Early on, I like to have some nasty readers, persnickety people like my father, who read my stuff and keep you honest,” he says.

In fact his “market research” resulted in a change in the ending of “Cat & Mouse” — but not before the advance galleys had been sent to booksellers and reviewers.

“The ending on it now is what I originally wrote,” says Patterson, “but the editor wanted more of a cliffhanger, which was on the reader’s copy. Then we started getting feedback, and they said they were infuriated by that ending, even throwing the book against the wall. So we went back to the ending I originally submitted.

“The interesting thing is that they reviewed the other ending, not the one that is on the published book.”

He explains, “It’s helpful to listen to people, but it’s bad if you’re forced to listen to people. I don’t think anyone knows everything, people are responding with their guts.”

Though he enjoys seeing his books turned into movies, Patterson says he has little interest in the process. But he is active in the marketing of his books, even appearing in TV spots for his latest novel, which he says is a necessity since publishing “hasn’t really gotten into marketing at all and the budgets are so minuscule.”

He says the key to publishing a book successfully is “being smart about where we buy and don’t buy (ads), and only a very small number of people should make the decisions.”

“If you look at the history of successful advertising and marketing, very few bright people make all the decisions.”

‘Dune’ resurfaces

Prequels to sci-fi classics seem to be all the rage — witness the upcoming “Star Wars” prequels. In the latest instance, Bantam Books has struck a $3 million deal for the North American rights to a trilogy of prequels to the bestselling sci-fi novel “Dune.”

Set to be published in 1999, the prequels will be written by Brian Herbert — son of the late “Dune” author Frank Herbert — and sci-fi writer Kevin J. Anderson.

Herbert’s original “Dune” novel, published in 1965, and its five subsequent novels are the bestselling original sci-fi series in history, with more than 15 million copies in print worldwide.

The prequels will be written with full cooperation of the Herbert estate, from a foundation of notes and outlines the elder Herbert left behind at his death in 1986, as well as from conversations with his son.

These three new novels will weave a saga taking the action back to the original “Dune” planet and chronicling the events which lead up to the original book. Despite the box office disappointment of David Lynch’s 1984 film based on “Dune,” a “Dune” miniseries is in development by ABC and the Sci-Fi Network.

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