Motivated by a desire to interest his son, Jack, in reading, super-successful author James Patterson took his first step into young adult fiction in 2005 with the Maximum Ride series, which—like his books for adults—soared straight to the top of bestseller lists. Now the seemingly tireless Patterson is launching a new series for teen readers with the supernatural adventure story Witch & Wizard. The heroes are 15-year-old Wisty (a witch) and 17-year-old Whit (a wizard), a sister and brother whose teenaged existence is rudely interrupted by the arrival of henchmen representing The New Order, a totalitarian regime bent on suppressing any hint of nonconformity. We reached the prolific Patterson at his home office in Palm Beach, Florida, to ask about the new book, his efforts to get kids excited about reading and more. The New Order likely would not approve.
Witch & Wizard paints a foreboding picture of what the world would be like if innovation and curiosity were criminal. What inspired you to tell this story?
The idea for The New Order came about after thinking, what would it be like to have all art, music and freedom of expression taken away? And what if the youth were somehow enabled to fight back for these freedoms that they hold so dear?
What sort of research did you do for the book?
You’ll find that the book is eerily similar to a lot that has happened in recent history. It’s real scary stuff—and scarier still is that people really have enforced such laws outside of Whit and Wisty’s fictitious world.
What do you hope readers will get out of Witch & Wizard?
I don’t really do messages, but I do like a good story. And I hope readers get lost in this one. The book introduces a new world—or worlds, actually—and a strong, fiery brother-and-sister duo. They learn they are a little different when their powers start up, powers that are enhanced as the world around them gets more dangerous. For those who have been waiting for a series as mouthwatering and addictive as Harry Potter, this’ll do it.
Did your son give you any interesting and/or surprising feedback?
Jack is a tough critic. I usually come to him with the finished package and pray that he likes it.
Were you an avid reader as a child?
Although I was a very good student (and high school valedictorian) growing up in Newburgh, New York, I had very little interest in reading for enjoyment—at least initially. I only read when I was required to read. Later in college, when I took a night-shift job at a local hospital to help pay my tuition, I started reading a lot. That’s when I fell in love with books.
How does the child and teen you were then inform your books for young readers today?
I always had a creative spirit. It was when I was older, working at that hospital, that I realized I couldn’t go any longer without writing down all the wild stuff I was witnessing.
What kills me is that so many kids, like me as a boy, miss out on the joy of reading. I believe we should spend less time worrying about the quantity of books children read and more time introducing them to quality books that will turn them on and then them into lifelong readers—they’ll thank us for it.
Do you have a different approach to writing your books for young readers vs. writing your adult fiction?
I don’t discriminate against ideas on the basis of the audiences they’re best for. I like to think I do romances when it’s a romantic storyline, I do thrillers when they’re thrilling, and I write for kids when the idea for a story would work best with them. The various characters bring about the books’ differences more than a conscious decision to write a different way.
What do you hope to accomplish with your children’s book website, ReadKiddoRead.com?
We need to let parents know on a regular basis that “good parents give great books.” It’s surprising how many people don’t really think to do that; they rely on schools, or think the reading habit will kick in on its own. ReadKiddoRead lists only the best books out of the thousands of children’s books published every year—it’s an easy tool for parents to see what’s out there that will actually work to get their kids engaged. I also talk to a lot of great authors, and we give away free books every month.
Will there be more Whit and Wisty books? Any tidbits you can share?
Assuming they make it out alive in the first . . . yes, there will be more.
Stay tuned for an illustrated series I’m working on about middle school. And the sixth book in the Maximum Ride series, Fang, will be out in March.
Photo by Kelly Campbell.
CORRECTION: This article has been updated to reflect the fact that the book's main characters are siblings but not twins.