DON'T LET JAMES PATTERSON'S BULKY gray cardigan and mild manner mislead you. The advertising wiz, chairman of J. Walter Thompson, North America, rises daily at 5 a.m., spends two hours writing fiction in the Manhattan apartment overlooking Central Park that he shares with Kathy McMahon, an art director at the agency, then logs 12 hours overseeing ads for companies such as Kodak and Bell Atlantic. "I am driven," he says. "But I don't feel it. I love to write these things. And I like this business."
The Newburgh, N.Y., native, 45, discovered his love for "scribbling" alter receiving a master's in English literature at Vanderbilt University. To earn a living, he got a job as an ad copywriter in 1971 and never left the field. He credits advertising with relaxing his snobbish instincts and giving him the courage to pen commercial fiction. "Advertising has made me much more understanding about other people's tastes, fantasies, other people's soap operas, and that really changed me a lot." He adds, "The fact that I can call anybody and they'll say hello to me also makes me braver. So I have a lot more confidence to try things and to make mistakes."
Patterson's excursions into fiction have enriched his executive life as well. "Let's stop kidding ourselves. As a writer you've got to keep people turning the pages. Just as you want to make commercials that people are going to get involved in. This book is not strict reality—it's an escape. It's a roller coaster. You ride it, and then you get off and do something else." Such as write the next Alex Cross thriller, already underway.