Sunday, May 07, 2006

The de Jonge Code: Secrets behind a best seller

There’s a new James Patterson book in the stores-- and supermarkets, hardcovers in cardboard display cases as big as The Da Vinci Code's-- ready to be stained with sunblock this summer. Well, almost a James Patterson book. The advertising mogul turned thriller tycoon has turned to co-writers in recent years to keep the machine running and product flying off the shelves. Beach Road is his third book with Peter de Jonge.

We figure this one and others in the series are actually written by the co-writer and merely polished by Patterson, which in practice is more honest than many of the big writers who use a team of ghostwriters to keep the brand name going.

Peter de Jonge’s name gets equal size on the dust jacket cover, but it's not on the spine. And his picture doesn’t make the flap. In fact, we had to search long and hard to find any picture of de Jonge on the Internet, and it’s only this big:
But we’re certain the co-author is well-rewarded. And there’s a good Tabloid Baby story to go with this latest success:

More than twenty-five years ago, three young newspaper reporters shared an attic office over a real estate business in downtown Wilton Connecticut. Within a year, all three had separately headed off to New York City to seek their fortunes.

Tom Gilroy moved to Brooklyn, sought work as an actor and began writing plays. Burt Kearns moved to Greenwich Village, and launched a career in television news. Peter de Jonge took up residence on the Upper West Side. He got an advertising gig at the J Walter Thompson agency. On the side, he wrote articles for the New York Times magazine.

Over the next twenty years, each would make his mark.

Gilroy (right) became an actor known for a role on Sex & The City, hip downtown playwright, and as writer-director of the independent film, Spring Forward. Kearns, we know, blazed a trail in tabloid television and documentaries, wrote the influential bestseller Tabloid Baby and produced and wrote the current motion picture comedy, Cloud 9 (now available on DVD).

de Jonge’s advertising work paid off big time when he began writing books with his boss, James Patterson.

Their 2002 best seller, The Beach House, featured a tribute of sorts to his newspaper days, as he named a number of characters after colleagues he worked with in Wilton and on other Acorn Press newspapers.

But the tribute led to scandal! As it reverberated through the book world, media and Internet, The New York Post’s illustrious Page Six was right on top of it:

BEST-selling author James Patterson has ticked off TV producer Burt Kearns by tweaking him in his new novel "The Beach House." The potboiler about a murder in the Hamptons features a fictitious East Hampton Star reporter named Burt Kearns, described as "small and round, with fat, freckled hands." To make matters worse, the Kearns character is fired from the weekly. The real Kearns, who helped launch "A Current Affair" and "Hard Copy" before he got into documentary filmmaking, never worked for the East Hampton paper. Nor is he small or round. "People have been calling me asking if I ever worked at the East Hampton Star," Kearns says. "It's kind of embarrassing, because I've been fired from much more prestigious institutions. And my colleagues keep looking to see if I have freckles on my hands." Kearns suspects the prankster is Patterson's co-writer Peter de Jonge, who worked with Kearns 24 years ago at a Connecticut paper. De Jonge says he didn't mean to diss Kearns: "He's a heroic character in the book who gets fired for doing the right thing."

Of course, it was all an act! Kearns wasn’t angry at all. He was flattered to be name-checked and translated into many languages in an international best seller, fat fingers and all. He saw the literary feud as a way to get publicity for everyone.

de Jonge didn’t share his enthusiasm.

A quick peruse of Beach Road shows that the Burt Kearns character does not make a heroic return.

Shucks. We would’ve bought two copies!

(Meanwhile, which of the three will be first to tackle the real-life story of the Bulletin years: a tale of suburban angst, sex, local politics, death, betrayal, desperate housewives and small-town tabloid journalism--see Tabloid Baby-- with cameos by Sterling Hayden, Linda Blair, Rodney Dangerfield, June Havoc, Nature Geezer Jack Sanders and Ace Frehley of Kiss, among others? Stay tuned...)

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