James Patterson introduces a mystifying new character into his Maximum Ride universe in Hawk, a YA novel he wrote with Gabrielle Charbonnet, out this month from Little, Brown’s Jimmy Patterson imprint. The original nine-book Maximum Ride series, published between 2005 and 2015, has sold more than 13 million copies. Hawk centers on a 17-year-old who was abandoned by her parents in a post-apocalyptic New York City a decade earlier, with instructions to wait on a specific street corner until they come back for her. Dubbed Hawk for the bird perched on her shoulder, the girl awaits their return at the appointed spot—day after day, year after year—until an unexpected occurrence dramatically changes—and endangers—her life. Patterson spoke with PW about what sparked his revisit to this fictional world, his current works in progress, and his finely tuned collaborative technique.

Did you believe, when you published Maximum Ride Forever as the final book in that series, that you were leaving Max’s realm permanently?

Yes. I thought that I’d said all that I had to say about Max—and maybe even a little too much! But whenever I speak at colleges and high schools, the series that most often comes up in questions is Maximum Ride. Still, I thought I’d said enough about her, and then one day I was walking down Fifth Avenue in New York City and saw a woman in her 20s who appeared to be homeless, standing on a corner soliciting change, and she had a Hawk on her shoulder. And that’s where this book was born. I don’t want to spoiler alert myself, but eventually readers learn how Hawk is connected to Max. Revisiting Max’s world really got my juices running. I’m excited about this book and I hope kids will be too, and I’m happy to have a chance to introduce new readers to Max.

Did Hawk’s character and personality crystalize easily for you?

I would say so. Hawk has some of Max in her. There are similarities, but it was important to me that she be her own person. My son is now 22, and just graduated from college. One of the things he is dealing with is becoming his own person and discovering life’s pluses and minuses on his own—and figuring out what will help him find happiness. So through him, that struggle is fresh and relevant to me right now, and I could easily identify with Hawk’s struggle as a young woman finding her way.

You have written in so many genres, for young readers and adults. Are you equally at home writing in all of the domains you’ve explored—and what is your current creative focus?

If I can get emotional about a story, I am there and am delighted to write it, whatever the genre—though I will say that I won’t ever write a military novel or a romance. I am just finishing my autobiography, which is a new and different challenge for me. I also recently wrote The House of Kennedy [with Cynthia Fagen], which Little, Brown published in April. Obviously there has been a lot written about the Kennedys, so the big challenge with that book was, how do you make their story fresh and interesting?

I have The Last Days of John Lennon [written with Casey Sherman and Dave Wedge] coming out in December from Little, Brown, which was especially interesting to write since Lennon’s life has some connections to mine. I was living on the Upper West Side when he was murdered outside his building in the neighborhood. I was in the crowd when people gathered in Central Park after his death, and hanging in my office is a photo Harry Benson took at the event, with people holding a banner that said a single word: “Why?” And my home in Palm Beach is connected by a bridge to a house that Lennon and Yoko Ono once owned for several years.

I also wrote a book with Kwame Alexander, Becoming Muhammad Ali, which Jimmy Patterson Books will publish in October. I am very excited about this book, since Ali is such a strong role model for kids. Even as a child he was so smart, particularly about civil rights.

Given your cache of bestselling books written in tandem with others, you have a solid track record as a collaborator. Does that process change from book to book, and coauthor to coauthor?

It does change a little bit with each coauthor, but some things stay the same. I always start with an outline and I always want to involve a coauthor in creating that outline. It is vital to the success of the book. If writers are just looking for a payday, it is a disaster. If they are committed to making the book as good as it can be—a story they can be proud of—it is a success. When collaborating with another author, it is important to be in constant touch and read their scripts often—since occasionally books wander or march in place, and it’s a lot easier to review stories every two weeks and talk it through if something’s not quite right. When writing scenes, a lot of authors know how to write a beginning and an end, which can work. But if they are masters, and can write middles as well, then the story really works.

Hawk by James Patterson and Gabrielle Charbonnet. Little, Brown/Patterson, $18.99 July 6 ISBN 978-0-316-49440-3