How James Patterson completed Michael Crichton's "Eruption"

If you ever want to feel a sense of awe, try standing near an erupting volcano. The late author Michael Crichton was fascinated with volcanoes for most of his life. And even now, 16 years after his death, among the countless books and papers at his office in Santa Monica you’ll find stacks of volcano research.

For his widow, Sherri Alexander Crichton, it’s almost as if he’s still here. “I feel his energy around all the time,” she said.

And in the mountain of papers he left behind, she found parts of an unfinished novel centered around a huge volcanic eruption. It struck Sherri as something he would’ve wanted to share – a posthumous blockbuster from someone who, in his relatively short life, gave the world so much, including genetically-recreated dinosaurs.

Some of Michael Crichton’s volcano research that formed the basis of his unfinished manuscript for “Eruption.” 

CBS News

In the literary world, Michael Crichton was a colossus – the only writer to have a number one book, movie, and TV show in the same year. He was also a Harvard-educated doctor, a prolific genius who created scientific thrillers that brought millions along on heart-pounding rides, from big city emergency rooms in “ER,” to the tornado-ravaged heartland in “Twister,” to places that exist only in our dreams (and nightmares), like “Jurassic Park.”

Michael Crichton and Sherri Alexander Crichton.

Family Photo

Sherri Crichton remembers him as someone who was incredibly fun, but at times distant. “I remember when I first started dating Michael, a very dear friend of mine said, ‘Sherri, it’s gonna go like this: It’s gonna feel like he doesn’t wanna have anything to do with you when he’s writing. It’s not gonna feel like he loves you anymore because he’s gonna be into the book. And you’re gonna have to be okay with that.’ And I was like, ‘Of course, of course I’ll be OK.’

“But when it hit, like those first few times when he would really separate, he was present, but he actually was still in his creation, whatever that was,” she said.

She admits it was a hard time: “And it took a lot of self-confidence to be able to say to myself, ‘This is gonna be okay. Let’s give it another month. Let’s see what it’s gonna be like.'”

They married in 2005, but three years later, Michael Crichton died of cancer at age 66, leaving Sherri alone, and six months pregnant with their son, John Michael.

As she picked up the pieces of her life, she discovered and read parts of the volcano book he’d been working on, a page-turner about a massive eruption in Hawaii worse than any in history.

It ended abruptly. “But I kept thinking, ‘There has to be more,'” Sherri said.

And so, after more than a decade, she decided it was time to finish it. But then there was the question of who. “I just went big. I thought, ‘What about James Patterson?'”

James Patterson is one of the most successful authors in history, who has sold around 400 million books, and collaborated with people like President Bill Clinton and Dolly Parton. Truth is, Patterson has a backlog of projects that keep him working every day. But when Sherri Crichton called, he answered. And Michael Crichton’s story – about the explosive volcano and the fact that it threatened to crack open a stockpile of toxic waste so potent that it could destroy life on planet Earth – was too good for him to pass up.

But finishing the book was a tall order for both Patterson and Sherri Crichton.

She said she was apprehensive at first: “I was just nervous because it’s a new relationship,” Sherri said.

Patterson added, “And she lives in Hollywood, and people lie out here!”

“I have to say, I’m just fiercely protective of Michael’s materials,” she said.

WEB EXTRA: James Patterson on the “gift” of a new Michael Crichton thriller (YouTube Video)

And how did Patterson find Michael Crichton’s voice – or did he have to? He said, “I had read everything that Michael Crichton wrote. So, I think had a sense of the voice. This book might be a little pacier than some of his books, just a little bit. But I had a feeling for it. I challenge people, for them to come out and say, This is where Michael stopped, and this is where James started. And I’m really proud of that. I’m really happy about it.”

The end result – “Eruption,” by Michael Crichton and James Patterson – will be out tomorrow.  

Little, Brown & Co.

Patterson said, “There’s a quote – I don’t know where this comes from, and it’s not me, but I love it, and it relates to my taking this project, and I think it’s more valuable actually for 20-year-olds than it is for me – and the quote is, ‘My time here is short; what can I do most beautifully?’

“And I felt with ‘Eruption’ and Michael Crichton, I thought I could do it beautifully,” Patterson said.

He’s not wrong; the finished book is already said to have studios clamoring for the film rights.

And it’s also true to the spirit of the man who started it.  Sherri said, “He was amazing. He was vulnerable and kind.”

And now, his work will live on, in a team effort that’s both highly anticipated and – to Sherri Crichton at least – worth waiting for.

“I was single until the time I met Michael,” she said. “And people used to go, ‘Why are you so picky?’ And I’m like, ‘It’s just not right yet. It’s just not right.’ So, I waited.

“And it was the same thing with Jim. … I waited on this manuscript until I felt that the time was right, that I had all the pieces of the puzzle. But then it had to be the right fit. And I think I did okay!”

READ AN EXCERPT: “Eruption” by Michael Crichton and James Patterson

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Story produced by John D’Amelio. Editor: Mike Levine. 

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