Author James Patterson: 'Fiction still works'
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James Patterson says there’s still a place for fictional political thrillers — even if it can be tough to compete with the real-life drama playing out in the nation’s capital.

“I think this is just another one of those periods when it’s particularly strange, weird, global weirdity,” the world’s best-selling author tells ITK.

“Obviously, what’s been going on in Washington for a while — storming the Capitol, the pandemic — it’s a very weird few years we’ve gone through.”


But, the 74-year-old novelist says, history has proven works of imagination survive even the most turbulent of times.

Back in the 1960s, Patterson says, “it was another crazy time with Nixon and the war in Vietnam. And [author] Philip Roth announced he would no longer write any more fiction because he could not compete with the world. He of course then eventually started writing fiction again.”

“I thought there could be fiction after the ’60s, and I think fiction still works very well.”

The prolific writer — who holds the Guinness World Record for most New York Times bestsellers — is back with his latest piece of fiction, reuniting with former President Clinton for their second book, “The President’s Daughter.” The story follows a Navy SEAL-turned-ex-commander in chief who is on a mission to save his teenage daughter after she’s abducted by a maniacal terrorist he clashed with as president.

“A lot of thrillers don’t have a lot of authenticity — these do,” Patterson says of the co-authored book, which was released Monday. The pair’s first collaboration, “The President is Missing,” was the bestselling novel of 2018.

Patterson says Clinton, having Oval Office experience, weighed in on everything from how the Secret Service would respond to particular situations or how a past president could reach out to allies to small details like the layout of the executive mansion’s private quarters.


“You watch a lot of movies and TV shows, and the presidents always seem very plastic and not very human,” he says. “Because we’ve spent a lot of time together — and I sort of knew this instinctively anyway — that they’re human beings, and I think that’s one of the things that separates these books.”

“This president is very human,” Patterson adds of the book’s protagonist, Matthew Keating.

After playing a game of virtual pingpong with Clinton, 74, to pen the book during the coronavirus pandemic — emailing outlines and drafts back and forth to one another — Patterson says he finally got to meet up again with the living, breathing version of the former president a day earlier.

“We’ve really become pretty friendly,” Patterson says, adding the two have gotten into the habit of busting each other’s chops with gag gifts.

“He gave me for Christmas Monopoly for Socialists. I gave him a putter that said, ‘Guaranteed to putt.’ ”

“At one point, I think for my birthday last year, he gave me a humidor — and he knows I don’t smoke,” Patterson recalls with a chuckle. “So I called him up and I said, ‘Should I put bubble gum or chocolate cigars in this?’ And he said, ‘Oh definitely bubble gum.’ He said, ‘At our age you know you need to exercise the gums and the teeth and everything.’ ”

Praising Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonThe Memo: Some Democrats worry rising crime will cost them The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Democrats await Manchin decision on voting rights bill Supreme Court battle could wreak havoc with Biden's 2020 agenda MORE as “down-to-earth and funny,” Patterson says he and his wife have enjoyed dinners together with the former first family. “I think they enjoy us because we’re not after anything and they don’t have to show off and we’re not going to talk politics.”

The longtime author alluded to the 2016 Democratic presidential nominee following her husband into the world of fictional thrillers. “State of Terror,” Hillary Clinton’s book with mystery author Louise Penny, is due out in October.

“I want to kick her butt,” Patterson quips.

“I think actually they’ll beat us, but I like kidding about the notion of making it into a fun little competition.”

Asked what he might call a book about the current political climate in Washington, Patterson laughs as he racks his brain. As ITK moves on to another question, Patterson seems to have come up with the title, or at least part of it.

“Something ‘in Crazy Town,’ ” he replies. “I don’t know what paradoxical other word that goes.”