How did author James Patterson create his character Alex Cross?

12 Mar

I adore Morgan Freeman. He is an astonishing and talented actor and I never get tired of watching him in everything from The Shawshank Redemption to a new favourite, the action thriller Red. That said, I wanted to throttle him in the movies Along Came a Spider and Kiss the Girls.

Now, I know casting for these films was not in his hands, but anyone who has read even part of the James Patterson-penned series would know he is all wrong for the part of Alex Cross. In the books the detective/psychologist/police consultant is middle aged, fit and in his prime. And that’s how he should have been played, not as someone whose most active days are behind them.

Thankfully this casting wrong will soon be righted with this year’s release of Alex Cross, featuring Tyler Perry in the lead role. But as I read a bit more about the movie tonight, my thoughts turned to the author and his inspiration.

You see, even though he’s written what seems like a gazillion books and series, I still think the Cross novels are Patterson’s best works. And that could be because of how I discovered them.

I was travelling overseas with a friend who spent all day, every day trying to make me mad or offended, and the best way to fend him off was to turn my Walkman (yes I am that old) on loud and bury myself in a book.

Of course this was easier said than done, so when I stumbled across Kiss The Girls in a bookstore in Oxford and found it more than capable of shutting out unwanted attention, I was hooked.

Today, of course, Patterson novels of all varieties help make my bookshelves groan. So I decided I would like to learn a little bit more about what inspired the creation of my favourite character. And I found the answers in an interview Patricia Cornwell (yes the Patricia Cornwell) did with him on Amazon. The results were a little surprising, so here’s what they had to say.

Cornwell: What inspired you to create Alex Cross?
Patterson: Hardly anyone knows it but when I started the first Alex Cross novel, Alex was a woman named Alexis. After 100 pages or so, I changed the character to Alex. When I was a kid growing up, my grandparents had a small restaurant and the cook was an African-American woman who eventually moved into our house. All through my growing up period I spent a lot of time with this woman’s family. They were funny, wise, the food was great, so was the music, and the family is at least part of the inspiration for the Crosses. 

Cornwell: What do you and Alex Cross have in common? How are you different?
Patterson: We’re both family-oriented guys. I think it’s a real treat to be able to get along with your wife every day, which I do; my wife and I really have trouble being apart for very long. And I think readers will agree Alex is generally doing better in the romance department. One difference between us would be that I’m much more content to sit around and write. I think Alex would get a little bored on a “ride-along” with me.

Cornwell also went on to ask about his inspiration and motivation for writing. And he answered with this . . . 

“I truly love writing. I sometimes think about my grandfather when I reflect on this. When I was a boy, I lived in a town on the Hudson River. During the summers, my grandfather would take me once a week on his frozen food and ice cream delivery route. We’d be up at four in the morning packing up the truck, and by five we’d be on our way. Driving a delivery truck isn’t the most glamorous job in the world, but every morning, my grandfather would drive over the Storm King Mountain toward West Point, and he’d be singing at the top of his voice. And he told me this: “Jim,” he said, “when you grow up, I don’t care if you’re a truck driver or a famous surgeon—just remember that when you go over the mountain to work in the morning, you’ve got to be singing.” Writing stories keeps me singing. Writing to me isn’t work, and I like that a ton.”

Now read some excerpts from his books here.

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