James Patterson Is Unapologetically Rich

The writer James Patterson is not the type of rich person who refuses to talk about being rich. “Here’s the wages of sin,” he said the other day, sitting on the patio of his estate in Briarcliff, in a long-sleeved shirt and boat shoes. He smirked a little. It was a pleasant late morning in late spring. Sunshine, birds. He head-nodded toward the Hudson. “I don’t think about success,” he went on. “I have nothing against people who want to drive Rolls-Royces. It just doesn’t interest me. It doesn’t interest me to have a big house, per se. But this”—the view—“does interest me.” He’d been up since five-thirty—Times, Journal, nine holes at Sleepy Hollow. Later, a nap would probably be in order, and then maybe dinner out with his wife, Sue. They like low-key stuff with friends. “The occasional thing with people like President Clinton and Hillary, which is nice,” Patterson said. “We actually saw them Saturday night.”

Patterson, who is seventy-five, was resting up for a thirteen-city book tour for his autobiography, which he’d begun as a COVID project: “James Patterson,” by James Patterson. The book consists of scores of anecdotes, a page or two long—“dirt poor” childhood, first kiss (Veronica Tabasco), advertising career (“I’m a Toys R Us kid”), hobnobbing with famous folk—sprinkled with the odd sales pitch. He starts a chapter by talking about a forthcoming book of his wife’s: “It will be published in the spring of 2023. Don’t miss it.” The sin that pays the wage.

Why did he become a writer? “I was a lonely kid in the woods,” he said. “I just would tell stories to myself. Cowboy stories and war stories and fantasies. Nothing against Newburgh”—his home town, on the other side of 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’d owned the Daily News was a Patterson. I had this fantasy that he would show up in a big limousine and say, ‘I’m your father,’ and take me to New York.”

His own father had grown up in Newburgh’s poorhouse. “There was a little bit of a jealousy between us,” Patterson said. Patterson the elder managed to graduate college but wound up in working-class jobs. “Bright 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. Almost sounds like ‘Portnoy’s.’ ”

Patterson padded into the kitchen. Sue had laid out a spread: handpicked mangoes from their house 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 did some press interviews at Patterson’s house. “We had fruit and cornbread,” Patterson said. “Clinton stood here for an hour and a half.”

“He ate, like, most of the pan,” Sue said.

Patterson took a plate and headed toward his office, upstairs. “I don’t even know what the fuck these things are,” he said, passing some awards. “I’m just not a trophy person. Legacy means nothing to me. What do I care? I’m dead.” In a living room, there was a big photo of an American flag. “We just like the photograph,” he said. “We’re not Republicans, but it’s now almost like Republicans own the flag. Fuck it, we like the flag, too.”

Upstairs, he surveyed his bookshelves. An assistant had recently cleared and restocked them with hundreds of Patterson’s own works. He keeps a more eclectic collection at his library in Florida: Günter Grass, Cheever, Bulgakov, Laurence Sterne. He likes to surprise people with stories of his youth as a “literary twit.” He almost wrote a master’s thesis on the metafictionist John Hawkes, who once said, “The true enemies of the novel were plot, character, setting, and theme.” “I don’t think I was ever a big snob,” Patterson said. “But, directionally? Yeah.”

Later, he went for a walk around the back yard. “This is Sue’s,” he said, of the pool. He calls it Lake Susan. She was an All-American swimmer at Wisconsin and swims laps every day. “She stays in shape,” Patterson said. “She’s sixty-four now. Just in case you thought I was robbing the cradle.”

He looked out over the river. Somewhere upstream was Mt. Beacon, which he used to stare at from the opposite bank. “In Catholic grammar school, this priest used to come in once a week for religious whatever—you know, ‘You want to go to Hell?’ He goes, ‘You see Mt. Beacon over there? Imagine if a bird, every thousand years, he brought over here as much as he could carry in his beak.’ ” He went on, “ ‘When that bird has brought Mt. Beacon over to this side of the river, that would be the beginning of an eternity in Hell.’ ” Patterson laughed. “You never forget this shit! That’s real good. That is a writer.” ♦

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