James Patterson's life was an accident, a clashing of indecisiveness, a lost first love and an idea that there were rules for ordinary folks like him. But at 59, there's nothing ordinary about the multimillionaire author.

Patterson has published 35 books, 18 of which hit No. 1 on The New York Times list of best sellers. He's sold 100 million copies, grossing $1 billion in sales. His thrillers, "Kiss the Girls" and "Along Came a Spider," have been made into movies starring Morgan Freeman as criminal profiler Alex Cross. More Hollywood deals are in the works.

The former chairman of J. Walter Thompson advertising firm, Patterson produces up to five books a year: mysteries, thrillers, fantasies, love stories and children's themes. He made $40 million last year -- doing it in a manner that caught the eye of a Harvard University business professor.

Patterson has just returned from a 10-day tour to promote his new book, "Beach Road," which he wrote with journalist Peter de Jonge. Another book is due out May 23, his third for the year so far.

On this recent sunny day, his huge, white front door is filled with balloons and plastered with signs reading, "Welcome Home Daddy." His wife, Sue, newly emerged from the swimming pool, walks around the airy estate in a white robe.

Unlike many writers, Patterson is the hand that rocks his own cradle, involving himself in cover designs, organizing signing events and speaking engagements. He contributes his own money to his book advertising campaigns.

Harvard's John Deighton devised "Marketing James Patterson," a case study taught in several courses, after hearing the author speak at a gathering of business professionals and realizing that he is a marketer who happens to be his own product.

It began with "Miracle on the 17th Green," a story of a middle-aged man seeking the extraordinary from his ordinary life, written with de Jonge.

Patterson writes the story outline. The co-author pens a first draft. After a series of back-and-forths, a new book is produced in about half the time.

"We were very careful and watched it very closely," said Michael Pietsch, also Little Brown's publisher. The books have sold just as well, Pietsch said.

Of critics who say he's industrialized the art of novel writing with an assembly line production style and flashy marketing, Patterson shrugs, yet seems to take offense.

"Just because its clean prose doesn't mean it's necessarily easy to do," he says. "It's hard to keep people glued to the page. Almost nobody does it ... and if nobody does it, it can't be that easy."

Patterson was raised in upstate New York, the son of an insurance salesman. At 19, he took a job as a night shift psychiatric aide in a Massachusetts mental hospital, a move that would set off a series of what he calls "accidents" that eventually created the phenomenon of Patterson the master marketer, the man who can write no flop.

"That's when I really started reading a lot, but it was all serious stuff," Patterson says. "I didn't read commercial stuff and somewhere along the way I read 'Ulysses', and I love (James) Joyce anyway, and I thought I'm not even going to try to write serious fiction because I can't get anywhere near here."

Patterson graduated summa cum laude from Manhattan College in the Bronx and later left Vanderbilt University with a masters in English without much of a clue what to do next.

"My rise in advertising was another accident. I had no interest in really going up the corporate ladder at all," Patterson says. "I'd gotten my first book published ('The Thomas Berryman Number'). It got turned down by 30-some publishers and then it won an Edgar (Award) as the best first mystery."

Love, it seemed, was integral to his happiness and ultimately, to his personal success. He married his wife eight years ago and they now have an 8-year-old son, Jack.

Much like his accidents in life and love, Patterson's writing style -- short, punchy sentences, less detail and more plot jammed into two-page chapters -- also came by chance. He had written about 150 pages of "The Midnight Club," a story about a killer, a journalist and a cop published in 1999, when he got an idea.

He was planning to add details and descriptions "because that's the way we are all taught to do it, and I said, 'Ya know, I kinda like this.' There's way too much ... that feels like it was taught somewhere," Patterson says. "I think that's a big bore."

For the most part, Patterson is laid back, unpretentious but also seemingly charmed by himself. Almost six feet tall (1.8 meters tall) with blue eyes barely peeking through the droops of his eyelids, he has an uncombed head of hair and crooked teeth.

Patterson does most of his writing longhand, in pencil, ("Me and Hemingway," he quips) at a round pine table in a small second-floor office in his home overlooking the Intracoastal Waterway. Some of it he does in bed.

"We just sold a couple of things to Hollywood -- a Cross book, and a horror book for next year," Patterson says. "That's one that I wrote that I haven't gone further with. ... That's the horror, that's next February. That's an outline for another one.

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