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How James Patterson and the late Michael Crichton collaborated on 'Eruption'

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Two of America's bestselling fiction authors have collaborated on a new book, James Patterson and Michael Crichton. What makes this especially remarkable is that Michael Crichton died of cancer nearly 16 years ago. But his wife, Sherri, found an unfinished manuscript, and James Patterson took it over the finish line. The novel is called "Eruption." James Patterson and Sherri Crichton, welcome to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

SHERRI CRICHTON: Thank you.

JAMES PATTERSON: Yeah, yeah, absolutely.

SHAPIRO: Sherri, did Michael talk about this project with you while he was alive, or did you just discover it after he passed?

CRICHTON: He didn't really speak about any project when he was alive. It was always his private work. But he spoke about this one. And I think the reason why he spoke about this volcano story is because it was so close to his heart. It takes place in Hawaii, a place that he loved for years. He would always go to the Big Island, and that's where he would take his moments of relaxation and recuperation and where his creative mind just flowed. And then we, of course, lived on Kauai. And so when we were on hikes, he would talk about volcanoes.

SHAPIRO: And did you always know that this manuscript would someday be finished and published? Tell us about why it took more than a decade.

CRICHTON: It took more than a decade because I needed to do a lot of things. First, I had to start an archive. And when I found the manuscript - the partial manuscript, rather - it was just a big mystery. It's like, where is the rest?

PATTERSON: And it was an amazing amount of research. Trust me.

SHAPIRO: (Laughter).

PATTERSON: I saw a lot of it. And that's part of what makes the novel so interesting to read. With a Michael Crichton novel, you're always going to learn a lot of things.

SHAPIRO: So, James, did you get more than a partial manuscript? Did you get boxes and boxes of volcano research?

PATTERSON: Yes, a couple of boxes for sure. Yes - a lot of research and some videos. For starters, I had read all of Michael's work. I was a massive Michael Crichton fan. I had not met him, but I loved his novel, had seen the movies, etc. Secondly, it was just an incredible challenge for me because Michael writes with a lot of science and I don't. So that was a very cool thing. Also, this kind of novel is bigger than life, bigger than anything, kind of blockbuster. And to do it well - there just hasn't been one in a while.

So I just thought - and in this story, there are kind of two ticking clocks. There are two very strong storylines. One is this volcano, which threatens to literally destroy Hawaii. And the other thing - and this once again comes from Michael's research - this toxic waste material which people didn't know was on the island. And if that waste is hit by the lava or the earthquakes or whatever, it's a disaster for the world.

SHAPIRO: So we're describing it as a partial manuscript. How partial was it? Are we talking about half the book written, 90% or what?

PATTERSON: We kind of don't talk that through. But there was work to be done. But I'll tell you the other attraction for me is that that story, that double whammy was in there. And I just found that irresistible. And, you know, my joke to Sherri was, I have to do this because I want to know how the hell it ends.

CRICHTON: (Laughter).

SHAPIRO: So, Sherri, did you say to James - I mean, forgive the "Jurassic Park" metaphor, but did you want him to treat what Michael had written as encased in amber? Like, don't touch what was already written. Or, James, did you have the freedom to rewrite plot points and throw out characters if you thought that best served the finished novel?

PATTERSON: I had - totally had freedom, but I did not want to do it. There's very little that I changed about what Michael had written. I moved it 10 or 12 years later because I thought that was useful because, obviously, a lot of things have happened in Hawaii. But for the most part, no, I loved what he had written. I had no interest in changing most of it.

SHAPIRO: Sherri, what did it feel like to read the completed text for the first time when James handed it back to you?

CRICHTON: It started off with Jim sending me an outline, and I was on pins and needles waiting. I mean, I have to say.

SHAPIRO: So you were part of the process while he was working on it.

CRICHTON: I was part of - Jim, tell him how much we...

PATTERSON: Oh, yeah, no, absolutely. We would go back and forth every week.

CRICHTON: You know, when you go in to do any collaboration, you can only hope that you're met with the same respect that you're putting in. Jim did that twofold. It was so beautiful to see how much he honored Michael's work and his vision and also honored the research and really the love of the island. When I finally got the final manuscript so I could read it again - and we had - I'd been reading Michael's partial manuscript for years. So, as you can imagine, I became very attached to his words and how he was, you know, laying out his story. So when I got the entire manuscript, I'm like, it's seamless. I mean...

SHAPIRO: Wow.

PATTERSON: Our challenge to everyone listening - we dare you point out where Michael's writing ended and where mine started because there is a point. I don't think people have figured it out.

SHAPIRO: Oh, there is a seam. There is, like, the last word that Michael wrote and the first word that you wrote.

PATTERSON: There is. Yeah.

SHAPIRO: All right. So that's the mystery for readers to solve. James, you've worked with so many co-authors, from Bill Clinton to Dolly Parton. What's it like to collaborate with somebody who is no longer alive to bounce ideas back and forth with?

PATTERSON: Well, Sherri was available. And Michael also - in what he had written, there was a tone there already. And that's a huge thing - the voice. What's the voice going to be? Any novel that you do, that's the first thing you have to solve - and the two ticking clocks that already been set up.

SHAPIRO: Sherri, you have been involved with this project for so long, and I am assuming there are no more partial manuscripts that your husband left behind. Is there something bittersweet about releasing this out into the world and knowing that it is likely the last book that will have your late husband's name on the cover?

CRICHTON: Well...

SHAPIRO: Or are there other partial manuscripts?

CRICHTON: There are other - Michael left a lot of work behind.

SHAPIRO: OK.

CRICHTON: He was, like, truly unstoppable in his creativity. He danced from his science fiction to the adventure to historical fiction. He was constantly working. He was not ready to go. It was not his time. But this book in particular is really very special to me because I can see the continuity of so many years that he put into the research and his fascination with the volcanoes from the time that we can count back and see photos in the '70s to all through his travels to the time that you look at all the research and the digital files and the paper files. I mean, the clippings - they're all over the place. So this has a lot of history and a lot of passion.

This makes me feel good that it is out there. And it would be selfish if me to hold this back to myself and just go, OK, that was great, and I'm going to keep it as a partial manuscript. No, this needed the voice in somebody who could compliment Michael so beautifully as Jim has done. And the two of them working together on this - I really say together as if Michael were still here because as a person on the other side, I see this beautiful, you know, orchestration, this duet, if you will, of these two great authors coming together. So this has been an extraordinary experience and very joyful for me.

SHAPIRO: Well, Sherri Crichton and James Patterson. It has been such a pleasure talking to you both. Thank you.

CRICHTON: Thank you, Ari.

PATTERSON: Thank you very, very much.

SHAPIRO: The new novel by James Patterson and the late Michael Crichton is called "Eruption." Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Ari Shapiro has been one of the hosts of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine, since 2015. During his first two years on the program, listenership to All Things Considered grew at an unprecedented rate, with more people tuning in during a typical quarter-hour than any other program on the radio.
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