How Michael Crichton’s widow Sherri got James Patterson to finish ‘Eruption’ - GulfToday

How Michael Crichton’s widow Sherri got James Patterson to finish ‘Eruption’

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‘Eruption’ by Michael Crichton and James Patterson. Associated Press

Novelist Michael Crichton never talked much about his works in progress, says his widow Sherri Crichton. But she could sometimes pick up clues. “I knew of a volcano story,” Sherri Crichton says. “That would probably come up in our conversations when we were on one of the many beautiful hikes in Kauai. He would give me fun facts about volcanic activity and the evolution of different volcanoes all over the world. “He was always spitballing in his head where he was in his story,” she says. “So I got these little breadcrumbs of knowing that there’s a volcano story out there somewhere.” When Michael Crichton died at 66 in November 2008, he left behind a legacy that included nearly 30 novels, including “The Andromeda Strain,” “Congo,” and “Jurassic Park,” many of which became Hollywood blockbusters. He wrote and directed films such as “Coma” and “Westworld,” and created and produced the TV series “E.R.,” which ran for 15 seasons. After his death, Sherri Crichton, then pregnant with their son, found herself in charge of his archives and literary legacy.

But with grief and an infant to juggle, it was 2010 before she really dug into the work he’d left behind. There, she found an unfinished manuscript for the volcano story, and suddenly things shifted into focus. “It’s like, ‘Oh my gosh, this takes place on the Big Island — Michael loved the Big Island,” Crichton says. “And there was this painting in our home of Mauna Loa. He loved that painting, but I never knew the reasons why. “But when I had this manuscript in my hands, I realized why,” she says. “And then I was on a pilgrimage to find all the pieces of the story to make sure I wasn’t missing anything. “It was the ultimate cliffhanger,” she says. “Where is it?” More than a decade later, Crichton found a writer to help finish the volcano story. Not just any writer, either, but James Patterson, one of the best-selling writers of thrillers ever.

Michael 2 Sherri Crichton poses on May 21, 2024, in Los Angeles to promote ‘Eruption,’ a book by her late husband Michael Crichton, co-authored by James Patterson.

“Eruption,” by Michael Crichton and James Patterson, is the fifth posthumous novel from Crichton, The previous four include “Pirate Latitudes” and “Dragon Teeth,” two complete manuscripts found in Crichton’s papers; “Micro,” which was completed by writer Richard Preston; and “The Andromeda Evolution,” a new sequel to “The Andromeda Strain,” written from scratch by Daniel H. Wilson. In an interview Sherri Crichton talks about the book’s long journey to publication, why she was nervous about letting it go, how it feels to spend so much time with her late husband’s words and memories, and more.

So what else did you find to help piece together ‘Eruption’?

I found so many things along the way. So much research. Like videos that had to be converted because they’re completely out of date. And it’s Michael with a research team at the top of the Mauna Loa. Or driving through the streets of the Big Island, pointing out landmarks of what’s going to make it in the book. Because Michael always wrote in reality. These streets are really there, the library’s there, the banyan tree. It was just a phenomenal experience to start putting all of these pieces of this puzzle together.

When did you start thinking about what you could do with this manuscript?

I found the manuscript, it was probably 2010. There was a lot of work (after his death). I was pregnant with our son when he passed. And my focus was trying to keep the memory of Michael just so alive and present as I was now raising a son by myself. It’s not that I wasn’t prepared to do that. I just didn’t want to do that. I needed to stay connected to Michael and his voice, his work. But when I found this project, it really was just so tender to my heart, because I knew how much it meant to him. And I knew how much Hawaii meant to him. [The Crichtons had homes in Los Angeles and Kauai.] And it was clearly a passion project for him. Something that truly resonated with him on so many levels. Because volcanos pop up in a lot of Michael’s books. You’ve got volcanos in ‘Jurassic’ and ‘Congo,’ you name it. So I wanted to find everything I could to put the pieces together.

How did you go about finding the right person to help finish the book?

It’s like, ‘Now what?’ I have all the pieces, but I actually didn’t — there’s a part of me that didn’t want to let it go. Because to let it go, now it becomes a collaboration, and it really does become almost forming a new relationship with a new person that would honour and respect Michael’s work, his vision, his research. Who would be able to be his equal on the page to carry this story to fruition? Who would that be? And I thought of a lot of different people. But it really dawned on me: Wait a minute, it’s very clear: James Patterson is bigger than big. He has the chops. When we reached out to Jim’s agent, they immediately put us in contact. He said yes to everything. I’m still nervous. This is one of my favorite jewels in the jewel box and I was nervous — until Jim. He wanted everything I had. He wrote an outline. And it wasn’t a two or five-page outline. I’m talking a voluminous outline of what he would do.

So without giving away too much, what kind of story is ‘Eruption’ today?

It’s really clear that this book is just a reminder of the fragility and the intensity of nature. How human interference can be weaponized in the wrong hands. It harkens back to Michel’s worlds of “Jurassic” — “Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.” It’s these two ticking clocks. One is the possibility of the Mauna Loa erupting, and what state of emergency that is going to take on the island. The other is this kind of secret. I’m not going to give it away. But there’s something else that is actually more dangerous than the eruption of the Mauna Loa, and it’s something that has been planted by the military that could wreak havoc. And it would just be the people on the island, it would be a worldwide catastrophe.

Tribune News Service

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