Literary giant James Patterson joins Zibby (again!) to discuss three of his recent publications: two nonfiction books, THE SECRET LIVES OF BOOKSELLERS AND LIBRARIANS and WHAT REALLY HAPPENS IN VEGAS, and an unputdownable thriller, HOLMES, MARPLE, AND POE. James shares his admiration for booksellers and librarians, highlighting their sense of humor and their bravery in a time of book banning and violent incidents. He recounts anecdotes from all the interviews he conducted (including insights from Judy Blume!). James also describes his upcoming projects and offers his best advice for aspiring authors.


Zibby Owens: Welcome to James Patterson, back on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books” for the fourth time or something because you write books so much and so often and so well, now to talk about The Secret Lives of Booksellers and Librarians: True Stories of the Magic of Reading. Congratulations.

James Patterson: Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. It’s a different one. This line, the nonfiction line, it started with Walk in My Combat Boots. The mission has always been something that’s very readable, but to allow people to understand something that they think they understand, but they really don’t. One of the reasons that I went for sort of a humorous title, The Secret Lives of Booksellers and Librarians, is, one, in general, it’s a very funny group. They do have a great sense of humor. They’re the best audiences ever when I go to these big librarian or bookseller events because they get all the jokes. They get the literary references. It’s really cool. People don’t really understand how difficult it is in this current age right now where we have book banning and people punching librarians. It’s crazy. It’s always been a lot of work, what booksellers do. People think, oh, my god, all those books, they all have to be stacked and put in place and taken out and whatever. It’s really, really, really hard work. I just wanted people to understand. I wanted to praise them. I wanted booksellers and librarians to go, yes, somebody’s telling our story. This is cool.

Zibby: I definitely learned a lot opening a bookstore less than a year ago about all the things that you have to do and all the different functional areas. As a writer, I was like, where is my book? Booksellers, to have limited space — well, I shouldn’t tell you. You obviously know this. It’s hard. All the calculations and then physically having to ship things back, it’s a lot, and input it in the computer. Every book decision is huge.

James: Just so people understand, what Matt Eversmann and I did, we interviewed a couple hundred booksellers and librarians. We have about sixty in the book, or so. We take the forty- or fifty-page interviews and turn them into these five- or six-page nuggets. You get a feeling for that bookseller or that librarian, that store or that library, and then a couple of cool stories. Judy Blume was one of the booksellers that we — Judy wrote in hers, she said, “I had decided after fifty years of writing that I didn’t want to write anymore.” Then this opportunity came up for her. She said, “How lucky was I? I was suddenly able to get up in the morning excited about what I’m going to do, how I’m going to spend my day. I am excited every day that I go to the bookstore. That is the truth.” That’s how she feels about her store out in Key West. That’s what drives a lot of the booksellers and librarians, that thrill of recommending a book that turns somebody on, and they go, give me another book. That’s how I feel about a lot of my books that I write. I’ll get this with the kids’ books, people coming back and say, a lot of times with tears in their eyes, you got my kid reading, which as you know, is a huge deal. Then a lot of times with adults, adults will say, I kind of had stopped reading, and I read one of your books and I remembered how much fun it was, which is also cool.

Zibby: I think it’s great when people have individual relationships with a specific bookseller in the store where they say, Liz’s recommendations, where — you say this in some of the interviews in here. Some people will camp out for two days just to be like, I loved it. Give me another one. What else should I read?

James: That is the joy of it. One of the women from Albany, this is one of the booksellers, she said, “To me, a book’s really great as escapism. I may have a master’s degree, but one of my favorite books is Twilight. It’s just escapist fiction at its absolute best. To each their own. My attitude is, listen, I have a kid at home. I have a full-time job. I teach. I have a big life, but I don’t want to think about my big life for a little while. For two hours, I am not Alexis in Albany.” That’s the bookseller. “I am in the world of Forks, or I am in Wonderland, or I am in Hogwarts.” You know what? There should never be guilty pleasures about reading a book. It’s just fine. You’re allowed to. I think in some ways, that’s what this show is about. It is hard being a parent, being a mother, but you’re allowed. You’re allowed to spend that hour, hour and a half with a book and find the time somehow or watch a goofy movie or whatever. Yes, that is allowed. That is absolutely allowed. It’s good for your sanity. I love life stories. This is my funniest for this week. A friend of mine, his mother was this wonderful Irish lady. Had just incredible patience. He and his two brothers, they were five, eight, and ten. It had been snow, snow, snow for six days in a row. These boys were at each other and jumping on each other and screaming and yelling. Finally, she’s in the kitchen. She pulls open the drawer. She pulls out three butter knives. She goes, “Here. Here. Here. Now kill one another.” I love that. Butter knives. The next time you butter something, think of that story.

Zibby: I’m going to, for sure. I will think of that story, oh, my goodness. I loved, in your Judy Blume part, how it came to be that she opened the Books & Books in Key West from Mitch Kaplan at Books & Books in Miami. He is one of the most important and wonderful people in the .

James: They’re all important and wonderful. They all are. Most of them, anyway.

Zibby: I don’t know all of them, but I do know him. I’m sure I would find them all equally wonderful. The way that she structured it as a nonprofit I found very interesting as well. I didn’t know that until I read this. Interesting.

James: That’s popping up around now, that little trick. It allows people to do bookstores who kind of couldn’t afford to do it otherwise, which is great.

Zibby: If you could choose, would you rather be a bookseller or a librarian?

James: I probably would rather be a bookseller. I have a book on teachers coming too. My mother was a teacher and a librarian. She was a librarian on the weekend, on Saturdays, back in Newburgh, New York. She did both. I got a feeling for that. She used to drag myself and my older sister to the library every Saturday. She was four to six hours, so we would be in the library every Saturday, reading, reading, reading, which was good. Look what happened.

Zibby: That is the secret. If you take your kid to the library four to six hours a week, you will become James Patterson. There you go. That’s it. That’s all you have to do.

James: My sister is a big reader. Always has been. The other one will get dragged. She has chosen not to be a writer.

Zibby: Your reverence for booksellers and the way you give back is really unparalleled. You even have this holiday bonus where you can submit a bookseller. You give out gifts. Actually, one of the women in our store got one of your gifts. It’s changing her life, so thank you so much for that.

James: The great thing about that is, more than anything else that we do — we do a lot of college scholarships and stuff. With the booksellers, I swear to God, every single person that we give something to, they send the most wonderful letters. It really is a joyful thing. We’re actually — we’re working on it now. Right around when Secret Lives comes out, I think in April or so, we’re going to do another gift to booksellers and librarians. We’re working that out to see who’s getting a present. None of them are naughty, but what nice ones are going to get something?

Zibby: Why give back so much?

James: I credit my mother and my grandmother. That’s just the way we were brought up. They did it. My mother, she taught. She worked in the library, as I said. My grandmother and grandfather had a very small restaurant. They used to give to people who didn’t have any money. It’s just the way we were brought up. That was the deal. You know, it’s a funny thing. I was on “Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me!”, that podcast from — all your listeners will know. You don’t have time, but… I couldn’t get back that night from New Haven, back to Florida, so I stayed in a hotel. This is a weird one. Six thirty in the morning, I got up. The nicest person in the world, she was the server — I just had a half a bagel and a coffee or whatever. I don’t know what got into me, but I left her a hundred-dollar tip. She said, “Oh, my god, you’ve made my weekend.” I said, “You know what? You just made my weekend.” It was just a thing about the joy of giving. There are a lot of well-to-do people in this world that, they need to experience the joy of giving more than they — then we wouldn’t have this thing with people going, oh, my god, these people have so much money. Give it away. Give away a lot of it, anyway. You don’t have to give away all of it. You can still have nice things. Anyway, so that’s what we do.

Zibby: I’m curious about the current environment for breaking out as a new writer versus when you got started. Do you feel like it’s harder now? Are there more books, or is that just a perception because it just feels impossible? Was it always hard? If you were starting out today and today you were twenty-five years old publishing your first book or something, what do you think that would be like?

James: I don’t know if I’d make it. I don’t know. There are very few publishers. Some publishers have a bunch of imprints. Initially, there were forty, fifty. There was just a lot of publishing houses. That’s how I got thirty-one turndowns on my first book. There were a lot of places. Then it won an Edgar as Best First Mystery, so go figure that one out. I think it’s never been harder. The only thing that makes it easier now is you can publish your own stuff online. You can get feedback. You probably won’t make money, but you might. You might. You can go online. If you can get the word out a little bit or you can go on — some people, obviously, have been very lucky with TikTok. There are ways to get it out there without a publisher, but I think it’s very hard to get published in a traditional way now.

Zibby: Just wondered if it was only my perception.

James: No, no, no. All my published writer friends are all talking about that. It’s like, oh, my god, it’s so hard. It’s hard for even people who have won awards and people who have pretty good track records. It’s very tough, very tough. People aren’t reading as much as they should, I think.

Zibby: I don’t know if you read this in The New York Times recently. For the best-sellers on The New York Times list, all of them were repeats, except the only new people who got on the list, three of the five or so were from the big book clubs. Then the remaining three, one was a Book of the Month Club pick. Basically, there was only one book or so that actually got on the list from a debut author. What do we do about that?

James: That’s always been true. It’s always been hard to break on. I was lucky with the Alex Cross book. It was a funny thing. The publisher hadn’t told me. All of a sudden, I pick up The New York Times, and it was number six. I thought, this is a mistake. I went over to the local Barnes & Noble on Broadway. It was in the window. Then I went back in the store. What some writers would do — I still do it. If you pick up our book, we’ll watch you. If you put it down, it breaks our heart. If you buy it, it makes our day. To this day, it’s still that way, if somebody picks up my book in an airport and I see. So I walk in the store, and this woman is looking at the book and whatever. Then she puts it under her arm. She’s walking down the aisle. Then she puts it in her pocketbook. She stole it. All I’m thinking is, does that count as a sale? This is a true story. It’s weird, though. It always been hard for first novels, unless the publisher really decides they’re going to go out there and really, really back it like crazy. Then you have to convince a couple of the chains to believe you. If Barnes & Noble and Walmart don’t believe you, it probably won’t happen. It’s hard, but it’s doable.

Zibby: Meanwhile, between The Secret Lives of Booksellers and Librarians, or before that and after that, you have so many more books coming out and have already come out, a book about Las Vegas. What’s coming out? What’s next up in your pipeline? What’s going on with your younger kids’ line and just all of the stuff?

James: The younger thing, that’s calmed down a bit. In January, a really fun book — I actually sold this out in Hollywood. I said, “You should buy it just on the title.” The title is Holmes, Marple & Poe. I sold it to Skydance, to David Ellison. He said, “I love the title, but you have to tell me a little bit more.” He did buy it. If you can imagine the clever deductions of Sherlock Homes, the mind that that character had, and then the kind of thorough investigations of Miss Marple where she was that great observer of life, and then the kind of surprises and shocks you would find in Edgar Allan Poe stories — somehow, this book, all of this is happening in New York City in 2024. If you like all that, and I do, then you’re ready to read Holmes, Marple & Poe. It’s a great team of investigators. They have all of those talents, that deduction, that observation, the surprises. I think it makes for an unforgettable novel. It’s a little cozy. It’s not a big murderous whatever. I think people will really like it a lot. One of the fascinating things about that process, I write it with a guy named Brian Sitts. Brian worked with me in advertising. Then we did a kids’ show, Kid Stew, which won six Emmys or something. He had never written a novel or anything like it. Then Brian and I got together, and we wrote a BookShot, one of the novellas. Then Brian is the other brain behind this Holmes, Miss Marple & Poe book. He’s great. At this point, I think he’s seventy or something like that. He had never written any fiction before. He’s great. He just has it. He has that gift. He has that whatever the heck it is. I think people will like Holmes, Marple & Poe. I’m sure there are people listening and watching and whatever — I don’t know if we’re watching or whatever it is — who go, I don’t read James Patterson. That’s silly. That’s like saying, I never watch Netflix. No. The variety is such — you will like Holmes, Marple & Poe if you like mysteries. If you don’t like mysteries, I wouldn’t read that one. Read the Librarians book, then.

Zibby: Your memoir was one of my favorites of yours, I have to say.

James: Thank you.

Zibby: I love that one.

James: Once again, I don’t think people would expect that. I mentioned before about the librarians or the book about the soldiers. I love it when people think they understand something, but they don’t. You go, oh, okay, that’s not what I thought. You’re right about the memoir. Most people, especially people that don’t read my books, would say, I have no interest. If you read it, you’d go, okay, I really had no idea who this guy was, I think, for better or worse.

Zibby: They should know that you’re very funny. The little excerpts that you do are very funny. I feel like you’ve also conquered how to keep people’s attention. I feel like that’s something that you’re really good at it, whether it’s a memoir or shortened interviews or mysteries or the book about — now I’m forgetting the title, but the football family, the Wolfs.

James: House of Wolves. I’ve written a couple now with Mike Lupica. We were on your podcast once too. We just have a blast together. We have so much fun. It’s like a sane writers’ room where the two writers love each other. It is a really great relationship. 12 Months to Live is the one we were on for, I think. That’s another one. It’s just a fun, fun, fun book to read. It is very funny. At any rate, we’ll continue with that. I’ll tell you what I have this year a little later, which is in June — Michael Crichton’s estate approached me. Michael, I loved his books, from Westworld — I don’t know if that was a book, actually, but Jurassic Park, etc., Disclosure, Andromeda Strain. He had started a book and only wrote about seventy pages or whatever the number of pages was. The estate came in and said, “Would you like to finish it?” I said, “I don’t know. Let me read through it. Let me read what he wrote.” I read what he wrote. It starts with this volcano which is threatening to destroy the island of Hawaii. Then there’s something even worse than that which is involved in those pages. I went, “Yes, I want to try to do this. I want to try to complete this book.” I love the challenge of writing a book that you cannot put down, hopefully. I don’t think you can with this book. It’s called Eruption. Also, a lot of science, which I’d never done before. Michael graduated from Harvard Medical School but never practiced, which is really fascinating. He decided, I’d rather be a writer.

Zibby: At least he got the degree. There he goes.

James: He got the degree. Yes, he did.

Zibby: That’s amazing. What advice do you have for authors who are trying to become the next you?

James: Don’t do that. Don’t do that. Don’t do that. You know the advice of real estate, location, location, location? I think in terms of popular fiction or popular nonfiction, it’s story, story, story. People don’t have a lot of time for things. That’s the whole purpose of your podcast. They have to select, which is hard. You need to be aware as a writer that, for a lot of people, they don’t have the time that they’d like to have. Their attention span is low anyway. When I was out with President Clinton, he talked about how the attention span of a butterfly was nine seconds, and the attention span of a human is eight seconds. You just have to be aware of that. My notion, which I’ve said before, I pretend I’m sitting across from somebody, I’m telling them a story, and I don’t want them to get up until I finish. That’s a good thing to think about if you want to ultimately make money doing this. Treasure your reader’s time when you’re writing it. Don’t get caught up in your words and your stuff that nobody cares. If you just go off and you’re just going to write a thousand pages that you want to write — you may be a wonderful craft person. You’re taking a big chance in terms of, one, it getting published, as good as it might be, and secondly, being able to make a living doing it because that’s hard for a lot of people, the thousand-page, oh, my god, and no paragraphs. A thousand pages, no paragraphs. There’s something out right now. I can’t remember the name of it. I won’t publicize it, but no paragraphs. Okay, fine. I’m sure it’s good, but I’d like paragraphs. I like to reward myself. Oh, I finished a paragraph. Oh, I finished a chapter. What fun.

Zibby: Yes. You also keep all of your chapters quite short. All of your things are quite short, even the little books that you have, the little book visuals you have in this one. Just to get you to the end of a section so you can feel that accomplishment, it’s smart.

James: That’s okay. That’s a nice thing for people, within reason. The Crichton book, some of the chapters are a little longer because, once again, it’s a Michael Crichton/James Patterson book. It shouldn’t just feel like a Patterson book. It should feel like a big collaboration.

Zibby: Do you, just in closing, have any favorite libraries or bookstores that you want to highlight?

James: All of them. Newburgh, New York, my hometown, man, where my mom was, the library is still there. Actually, they just opened a bookstore in town. I don’t remember, ever, when I was — I’m sure there were, but I don’t remember any when I was a kid. They’ve just opened one. The name escapes me right now, but you’ll be able to find it because it’s the only one in town. In Palm Beach where I am, Classic Books, we’ll give them a shout-out too. Good people. They’re all good. It’s a noble thing to do. It’s hard work. For the most part, there’s not a lot of money in it, so God bless all of them.

Zibby: Amazing. Congratulations on your latest release and all of the great things that you do, of course. Thanks for coming back on.

James: Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. This has been good. Thanks so much.

Zibby: Have a great day.

James: You’re good at this.

Zibby: Thank you.

James: Thank you. Bye.

HOLMES, MARPLE & POE + WHAT REALLY HAPPENS IN VEGAS: True Stories of the People Who Make Vegas, Vegas + THE SECRET LIVES OF BOOKSELLERS AND LIBRARIANS: Their Stories Are Better Than the Bestsellers by James Patterson

Purchase your copy of HOLMES, MARPLE & POE on Bookshop



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