How Michael Crichton’s widow Sherri got James Patterson to finish ‘Eruption’ (2024)

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.”

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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 directed and wrote the screenplays for 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.

  • How Michael Crichton’s widow Sherri got James Patterson to finish ‘Eruption’ (1)

    Michael Crichton’s widow Sherri Crichton, seen here with her late husband, spent years looking for the right author to collaborate on his unfinished manuscript. She says James Patterson was the correct choice for ‘Eruption.’ (Photo courtesy of Sherri Crichton)

  • How Michael Crichton’s widow Sherri got James Patterson to finish ‘Eruption’ (2)

    Michael Crichton’s widow Sherri Crichton spent years looking for the right person to collaborate on her husband’s unfinished manuscript. She says James Patterson was the right person for ‘Eruption.’ (Photos by Stephanie Diani + Jonathan Exley / Courtesy of Little, Brown and Company)

  • How Michael Crichton’s widow Sherri got James Patterson to finish ‘Eruption’ (3)

    Michael Crichton’s widow Sherri Crichton spent years looking for the right person to collaborate on her husband’s unfinished manuscript. She says James Patterson was the right person for ‘Eruption.’ (Courtesy of Little, Brown and Company)

  • How Michael Crichton’s widow Sherri got James Patterson to finish ‘Eruption’ (4)

    Michael Crichton’s widow Sherri Crichton spent years looking for the right author to collaborate on her husband’s unfinished manuscript. She says James Patterson was the correct choice for ‘Eruption.’ (Photo by John Russo / Courtesy of Little, Brown and Company)

  • How Michael Crichton’s widow Sherri got James Patterson to finish ‘Eruption’ (5)

    Michael Crichton’s widow Sherri Crichton spent years looking for the right person to collaborate on her husband’s unfinished manuscript. She says James Patterson was the right person for ‘Eruption.’ (Photo by Stephanie Diani / Courtesy of Little, Brown and Company)

  • How Michael Crichton’s widow Sherri got James Patterson to finish ‘Eruption’ (6)

    Michael Crichton’s widow Sherri Crichton spent years looking for the right person to collaborate on her husband’s unfinished manuscript. She says James Patterson was the right person for ‘Eruption.’ (Photo by Jonathan Exley / Courtesy of Little, Brown and Company)

  • How Michael Crichton’s widow Sherri got James Patterson to finish ‘Eruption’ (7)

    Michael Crichton’s widow Sherri Crichton spent years looking for the right author to collaborate on her husband’s unfinished manuscript. She says James Patterson was the correct choice for ‘Eruption.’ (Photo by John Russo / Courtesy of Little, Brown and Company)

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.

“Eruption,” by Michael Crichton and James Patterson, arrives at booksellers on Monday, June 3. It 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 edited for length and clarity, 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.

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

A: 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.

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

A: 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.

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

A: 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 honor 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.

That outline, it was so clear to me that not only did he keep Michael’s work, he expanded it to such a place that I felt so content. I thought, ‘You know what, I’m in the right hands.’

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

A: 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 Michael’s words in ‘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 not just be the people on the island, it would be a worldwide catastrophe.

It’s an amazing, heart-thumping, exhilarating book. Jim just did a phenomenal job taking this over the finish line.

Q: When you mentioned ‘just because we can doesn’t mean we should,’ I was thinking about AI and wondering what Michael would have thought of it.

A: That’s a great thing you brought up. With AI now, I’m like, ‘Oh, Michael’s all over this.’ By the time he was 30, he had already written and directed a movie and was the best-selling author of ‘Andromeda Strain,’ which was talking about – then 50 years ago – a pandemic. Then he went into ‘Westworld,’ and ‘Westworld’ is talking about how humans go to this playground and interface with robots.

He was so prolific and so ahead of his time that these jewels last it almost feels like in perpetuity. Because he had the mindset to create these worlds so futuristic.

Q: When he died, you’d been married just three years, still relative newlyweds, and then you’re a new single mom. What has it been like working with his materials, spending time with him that way?

A: Neither Michael or I ever thought it was going to end so quickly. I mean, he had already beat his diagnosis and he was on the road to recovery, and we got pregnant. Then something happened and he fell back on treatments. We were in denial that anything could have happened. So there was a lot when Michael passed.

No. 1, I’m a new mother. But No. 2, how do I teach his son about him? So not only did I want to connect to Michael through his words in his work, I knew Michael on a very human, soulful level of what he gave me. But I didn’t know all the details of his work. He was completely established by the time I came into his life. You don’t ask all the questions, especially the questions necessary to teach a child about their parents.

Fortunately for me, he had the roadmap in the archives. The importance for me was I want to create the archive so that I can put all the pieces of his life in one line together. Not only for me, but for our son, and for Michael’s daughter, Taylor. And then for all of Michael’s fans. So that there is, it’s a voice from Michael, not other people’s recollection of what they recall the story to be.

I wanted the facts, and I wanted to be able to teach them to our son. It’s been quite a journey because I have been very successful teaching my son about his father, and I’ve learned so much about Michael myself.

How Michael Crichton’s widow Sherri got James Patterson to finish ‘Eruption’ (2024)
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