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A Q&A with James Patterson and President Bill Clinton on The President's Daughter

Posted on 21st June 2021 by Mark Skinner

With The President is Missing, legendary thriller writing maestro James Patterson and 42nd US President Bill Clinton combined to produce a blockbusting page-turner with genuine credibility and insider knowledge. Now, they are following up that global bestseller with The President's Daughter, a similarly propulsive story of aduction and suspense on Capitol Hill. In this Q&A, the authors discuss why their partnership works so well and how important bookshops are for a thriving culture and community. 

Mr Patterson, how is it different collaborating with a former president than with the many other collaborators you've worked with?

JP: When I do my other collaborations, I have the final word always. When I work with President Clinton, he has the final word. But it's good. I love it and he just brings such expertise. I mean, honestly – and many thriller writers are in this boat – you're making up a lot of stuff, and you can get away with it. Readers just assume, Well, if it's in the book it must be true. But in this book, and in The President is Missing, if it's in the book... I mean, obviously the plot is a little over the top, but if it happened, here's how it would happen. And that, I think, separates the book – and one of the reasons I'm really happy to have done it.

You’re both successful writers in fiction and non-fiction. What are the main differences between writing the two? 

JP: I'm always just trying to make sure that I'm holding the attention of the reader, but the one thing I do with non-fiction is I do try to make it a story. 

PBC: The other virtue that non-fiction has, is you have a little more control over the length and rhythm of the story. When I was writing My Life, I noticed if you were talking about the Middle East, for example, you'd have four or five action-packed months, and then you'd have a quieter timeframe to recount, and then something else would happen that would be profoundly important. So there's a different set of challenges. 

And why are bookshops so important to authors? And how have they affected your writing and your career?

PBC: Well, they make a big difference. When I moved to Chappaqua, we had this wonderful bookstore, and finally the people who owned it, facing the consequences of the financial crash in 2008, sold it and went into retirement. It was replaced with a real estate office, and it was like a hole in our community. Then this wonderful young woman, and her family and partners, opened a new bookstore in Chappaqua. It literally is a place where you go to see things, and then you meet people you never intended to. When I'm in the bookstore, I can always depend upon someone coming up to me and telling me what they're reading, what I should be reading, and asking me some question that often winds up with five or ten people standing around the bookstore, talking about the world we're living in and the places we'd like to go with it.

JP: I'm an addict. I'm an addict with bookstores. There was a Barnes & Noble at Broadway and 67th; somewhere in that area. And I went over there, and what we'll do, writers, is if we see somebody pick our book in a store, we're watching. And if they buy it, it makes our day. If they don't, it sort of breaks our heart. There's a woman in there, and she's holding my book in the Barnes & Noble. It was Along Came a Spider. She looks through it. She practically reads the whole thing, and then she tucks it under her arm. She's walking up the aisle, and I'm like, "This is the best, man. Maybe my book actually is a best seller." And she gets about halfway up the aisle; she slides it into her pocketbook. She stole it. And all I'm thinking is, "Does that count as a sale?" But I love bookstores. I love going in them. 

With The President Is Missing, you sold over 3 million copies worldwide and had a global number one, how do you top that?

JP: It's all in the hands of the booksellers and their customers! They'll make us or break us. We try to do the best we can possibly do. We try to write a book where people will learn some things; they'll get a sense of the presidency, they'll get a sense of what it's like after you've been president. And one where, hopefully, you won't put it down.

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