President Bill Clinton and James Patterson on Crime Fiction:
The authors of the #1 New York Times bestseller discuss the genre, their recommended reads, and writing THE PRESIDENT IS MISSING.
There’s one thriller everyone is talking about this spring, and it’s the groundbreaking collaboration between James Patterson and Bill Clinton - THE PRESIDENT IS MISSING. You read that right—the 42nd President of the United States has penned a thriller alongside one of the most prolific and iconic crime writers at work today, and it’s been one of the most buzzed-about novels in recent memory. This page-turning beach read is currently the top-selling novel in the country—an incredible accomplishment from an all-star writing team!
But beyond all the buzz, media attention, and stellar book sales, there’s a compelling conversation to be had here about the love of crime fiction that has driven these two individuals to collaborate on a novel. Readers are well familiar with James Patterson both as a writer and as a philanthropist dedicated to supporting literature - but did you know that President Clinton is also a huge fan of crime fiction in his own right? Naturally, upon learning this, I had a few questions - both for President Clinton and Mr. Patterson. How did the President's love of the genre inform his collaboration with James Patterson? How did their collaborative process work? Which books do they recommend for readers looking to expand their crime fiction reading lists? Thanks to the teams at Little, Brown and Knopf, I had the chance to ask a few of my most pressing questions of both Mr. Patterson and President Clinton—and I’m thrilled to share our conversation with you today! Read on to learn more about THE PRESIDENT IS MISSING, and to discover the enthusiasm for and knowledge of the genre that have fueled this buzzworthy collaboration.
Book Details: THE PRESIDENT IS MISSING
By Bill Clinton and James Patterson
The President Is Missing confronts a threat so huge that it jeopardizes not just Pennsylvania Avenue and Wall Street, but all of America. Uncertainty and fear grip the nation. There are whispers of cyberterror and espionage and a traitor in the Cabinet. Even the President himself becomes a suspect, and then he disappears from public view . . . Set over the course of three days, The President Is Missing sheds a stunning light upon the inner workings and vulnerabilities of our nation. Filled with information that only a former Commander-in-Chief could know, this is the most authentic, terrifying novel to come along in many years.
"Ambitious and wildly readable... Clinton and Patterson's fictional commander in chief brims with humanity, character and stoicism."
―New York Times Book Review
"It's a go-to read. It maximizes its potency and fulfills its mission. There's a twist or two of which Frederick Forsyth might be proud. So, if you want to make the most of your late-capitalist leisure-time, hit the couch, crack a Bud, punch the book open, focus your squint, and enjoy."
―The New Yorker
"Harrowing . . . Mr. Patterson withholds details until the moment of maximum dramatic effect . . . beach reading of a high order."
―The Wall Street Journal
"Sure to entice millions of readers . . . the novel is fascinating . . . President Duncan for a second term!"
Bill Clinton and James Patterson on Crime Fiction
Crime by the Book: Do you have a particular book (or series!) that you credit with hooking you on crime fiction?
James Patterson: Day of the Jackal and The Exorcist. Before reading those two novels, I was a bit of a literary snob at Vanderbilt.
CBTB: What ingredients do you look for in a crime novel as a reader?
William Jefferson Clinton: I’m drawn to books with characters that feel like three-dimensional, flesh and blood people, in settings that draw you in. I like fast-paced plots with a few good twists. And the storyline needs to be realistic enough that the reader believes it could possibly happen. That was important to me as we were writing The President Is Missing—that a massive cyberattack could actually happen.
CBTB: How has being a reader of the genre made you better equipped to tackle writing a crime novel?
WJC: I knew what I liked, what held my attention, and what felt real. Over decades and countless books, I saw how even the best writers found it challenging to match the quality of their best books. Still, there’s a big difference between reading and writing.
This was an entirely new experience for me, and I was lucky to be working with and learning from James Patterson. I loved seeing the way Jim writes his books, starting with an outline and filling it out with compelling characters, vivid settings, and gripping plots. He gives us enough information to understand and avoids getting bogged down with too much detail. The short chapters maintain pace and when it starts to lag he can come up with plot twists you don’t see coming. I learned a lot.
And he was great to work with, urging me to give what I know to make the characters, the workings of politics and government, and the plot more plausible.
"I loved seeing the way [James Patterson] writes his books, starting with an outline and filling it out with compelling characters, vivid settings, and gripping plots."—President Clinton
CBTB: President Clinton, how has your appreciation for the genre changed now that you have written your first thriller?
WJC: I appreciate even more the array of skills good writers bring to their books, making their characters and stories compelling without being cartoonish and drawing readers into a world most like visiting but few want to live in. I also came to appreciate the great writers even more, especially those with the discipline and imagination to produce a new book on a regular basis.
CBTB: Are there any crime fiction writers whose work you feel has been overlooked?
JP: Kent Anderson, especially Night Dogs. And the great George Pelecanos. Plus, a lot of crime fiction readers have never been exposed to George Higgins.
CBTB: Crime novels have so many moving parts and details that need to be kept straight. What were the benefits (or challenges!) of having two minds putting together this puzzle?
JP: We both write in long-hand, so that occasionally made things challenging. Otherwise, President Clinton was a joy to work with. As I said earlier, he brought authenticity that I never could have achieved without him. A few times, he did say, “if that happened, this is how it would happen.” But we never had an argument, never a fight.
"President Clinton was a joy to work with … he brought authenticity that I never could have achieved without him." —James Patterson
CBTB: Can you share with us a bit about how your collaborative process worked?
JP: It was a true collaboration in every sense – we discussed plot lines, exchanged drafts, talked on the phone, and met several times to discuss the book. He came up with ideas for scenes that he brought to me and vice-versa.
CBTB: Readers will be excited to know that The President is Missing will be developed into a TV series! What insights can you share with us about the upcoming TV adaptation?
JP: Not much, at least not yet! Showtime acquired the rights to create a TV series last September after the President and I met with over a dozen studios and networks in Los Angeles. We’re meeting with producers in the coming weeks, so hopefully we’ll have more to report soon. The President and I are big fans of cable TV, especially Showtime.
CBTB: Do you have a personal favorite crime fiction protagonist? What about that character resonated with you?
WJC: I have several. From Jim’s books, I love Alex Cross, Michael Bennett, and Harriett Blue. I really like Daniel Silva’s Gabriel Allon, Louise Penny’s Gamache, and Lee Child’s Jack Reacher. And I think Walter Mosley’s newest detective, Joe King Oliver, might be able to surpass Easy Rawlins. I could mention a dozen others. I like characters that feel like real human beings with strengths and weaknesses, with good hearts and tough minds, who press on against the case and their own demons. Great example: James Lee Burke’s Dave Robicheaux.
"I like characters that feel like real human beings with strengths and weaknesses, with good hearts and tough minds, who press on against the case and their own demons." —President Clinton
CBTB: Do you find yourself gravitating towards one crime fiction subgenre over others? President Clinton, I have to ask - when you read political thrillers, are you able to separate fact from fiction, or do you ever find yourself comparing the novel you’re reading against reality?
WJC: I enjoy all types of thrillers and read as many as I can. When I’m reading a political thriller, I think I can still separate fact from fiction, though as we see in this age of information and disinformation, there are efforts the world over to abolish the line between the two. That creates the possibility that truth feels stranger than fiction. It’s good for thriller writers, but not so good for preserving democracy or solving real problems.
CBTB: Last but certainly not least, what crime novel is next on your reading list?
WJC: I just finished the last book in Jason Matthews’s Red Sparrow trilogy and I’m on a non-fiction binge right now, finishing Zora Neale Hurston’s Barracoon and Martin Puchner’s The Written World. Waiting for the summer thrillers –Jim has one coming in August, TEXAS RANGER, that I’m looking forward to reading!
JP: He better have mentioned a James Patterson book – or we’re about to have our first fight!
Many thanks to Mr. Patterson and President Clinton for taking the time to answer my questions! THE PRESIDENT IS MISSING is on sale now.
Plus: Sample the Audiobook
You can catch a clip of the audiobook edition of THE PRESIDENT IS MISSING, narrated by the one and only Dennis Quaid, below!
Hardcover: 528 pages
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company and Knopf; First Edition edition (June 4, 2018)
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I am an employee of Penguin Random House. All opinions my own.