Maxine Paetro and James Patterson

Their books are to die for…

Author: By Deborah J. Botti
Posted: Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Some people call it destiny, others call it fate, but a chance encounter with someone can literally change your life. Author Maxine Paetro once had a chance encounter with the young James Patterson. It was before he became a renowned best-selling novelist, but it set the stage for what would become Paetro’s own successful writing career. 

Paetro seizes any serendipitous opportunity, something that began when she started her career as a young model. After spending a year abroad in England, working for a fashionable design company, she realized that she wasn’t interested in a modeling career, but she used modeling as her ticket to New York City. She landed a job as an advertising head-hunter. It wasn’t as glamorous as modeling, but it paid the rent and Paetro saw great job potential.

It was here she met lots of young people trying to break into advertising, including Patterson. She simply helped the eager young man, who was born and raised in Newburgh, with his copywriting portfolio. Then they went their separate ways.

Paetro moved on to Ogilvy & Mather and then to Saatchi & Saatchi Worldwide where she became executive vice president and director of creative operations. Patterson landed a job as a copywriter at J. Walter Thompson where he became famous for several jingles, including “Toys R Us Kid,” and worked his way up to executive creative director.

“Patterson was recruiting top creative talent, so the two of us were competing for the same young future stars,” she said. “We were aware of each other. He was also writing novels and so was I.”

Paetro Becomes Published Author
Paetro was responsible for training copywriters and it occurred to her that her information would make a great book. In 1979, Paetro’s How to Put Your Book Together and Get a Job in Advertising was published, was updated in 2002 and another edition is planned for 2010 (W.W. Norton), a feat practically unheard of in today’s publishing world.

“Those kids still write to me today, thirty years later, to tell me that had it not been for my book, they wouldn’t have gotten those jobs,” said Paetro. By 1987, mergers were changing the face of the advertising industry so Paetro decided to leave her advertising career to pursue a fulltime writing career. Between 1986 and 1991, her three novels, Manshare, Babydreams, and Windfall, were published, and she became a regular contributor to Self and Cosmopolitan magazines. During this time, she enjoyed telling tales – including her own real-life adventures.

Paetro had stories to tell
“I flew a plane; I cat-called men; I walked with Jehovah Witnesses; I swam with the sharks,” she said. Once, while reeling from a broken love affair, she took a journey on the Star Flyer, from St. Maarten to Malaga, Spain. Every night, the now 50-year-old author penned her lovelorn feelings on a piece of paper, inserted it into an empty wine bottle, recorked it and plunged it into the ocean. In an article she wrote about this adventure, she shares that she envisioned a lonely Norwegian fisherman finding one of her bottles and writing to her of love.

What she got was a whole new adventure unto itself. First, two French girls, Aurelie and Deborah, wrote back to her, eager to hear about love and, oddly, the meaning of Toni Braxton’s song, ‘Unbreak My Heart.” The only problem is that they thought she was a male, Maxim, a seafaring captain who was unlucky at love. Then, a letter came from Henry, a world traveler, and another from a man named Stephen. She later met Aurelie and Deborah when she was on a business trip to France.

Surprisingly, even though Paetro was enjoying her writing career and her adventures, she felt disconnected from the creative energy of others. “I felt alone,” Paetro said. Patterson, who was now a successful advertising exec famous for his Burger King, Kodak and Ford campaigns, let her use an office at the advertising firm. She started freelancing for him, once again recruiting and hiring creative talent and they would often bounce ideas off each other. 

Crafting a Novel with James Patterson
In 2004, this friendship turned into a full-fledged writing collaboration on The 4th of July, the fourth in Patterson’s Women’s Murder Club series. “I’ve been working with this continuing set of characters since then,” she said. Paetro and author James Patterson have collaborated on five novels which have become New York Times number one best-sellers.

“Jim is a genius storyteller,” she says. “He’s an unbottleable, unstoppable force of ideas. Just as he understood what made good advertising, so, too, does he understand a good plot that will keep his readers hungering for more. And to keep them loyal, he keeps them satisfied.”

How do Patterson and Paetro work together? When Patterson has an idea, she says, he prepares an outline. “I’m invited to work on the outline, fill in the gaps and then give it back to him,” she says. “The outline reads more like a book than an outline. There are full paragraphs. He’s so smart – and so respectful of another person’s talent.”

Once the outline is completed, Paetro begins to write. “A lot of the writing goes on not in front of the keyboard. I imagine a scene one way, then a different way. I use researchers to get information on police work, forensics, the law,” she says. “By the time I sit down to write, I know where I’m going.”

She writes every day, sometimes in the morning, sometimes in late afternoon, sometimes for twelve hours straight, turning out two or three chapters a day. It typically takes about eight months to write the book from outline to finished product.

“One out of every 15 works of fiction published in the USA is written or co-written by Jim,” says Paetro. “Forty-five of his books have been New York Times best-sellers.” In July, their sixth collaboration, Swimsuit, was released and two additional titles are scheduled for 2010.

Deborah J. Botti is a freelance writer who resides in the Town of Wallkill.
















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