Co-authors James Patterson and former US president Bill Clinton smile, in suits, in front of a set of white doors, with their new novel The President's Daughter overlaid next to them.
Co-authors James Patterson and former US president Bill Clinton smile, in suits, in front of a set of white doors, with their new novel The President's Daughter overlaid next to them.

Novelist James Patterson has made an incredibly successful career out of imagining gripping stories of danger and intrigue; other authors find their ideas closer to home, basing their books on their own life’s experiences. And while there are very few able to combine the two, mining their own real-life experiences to produce a novel with the high stakes and global interest of The President’s Daughter, former President Bill Clinton is a rare exception.

In this second co-authored novel from the duo Lee Child once called “the dream team” – their follow-up to the global bestseller The President Is Missing – Clinton and Patterson bring FBI-level accuracy and big-screen intensity, respectively, to a story in which a former president’s nightmare is realised: when Michael Keating’s daughter is abducted, he is forced to test his former Navy SEAL training, his leadership abilities, and his emotional mettle to bring her back safely.

While the story itself is fictional, the details – from the motivations of the novel’s inciting incident to the vulnerability of a former president’s children – are directly inspired by reality. Below, in an exclusive interview transcript, Clinton and Patterson talk about their most recent collaboration, from the unique nature of their collaboration to the ‘real deal’ depictions of Secret Service action and the security of post-White House family life.

Mr President, How much of the plot of the new book was informed by real-life experiences?

President Clinton: Well, first of all, some of the things in the new book are situations that I faced when I was president. There are characters in this book whose animus towards the United States, in general, and this president, in particular, were based on events that actually did occur. In the attempt to stop the ethnic cleansing and terrible slaughter in Kosovo, I ordered the bombing of Serbia under Mr Milosevic for 78 days, until we got peace. We tried very much to minimise any kind of casualties – especially civilian causalities – but we accidentally did hit the Chinese Embassy, because our maps indicated that that was an intelligence post for the Serbian government.

So it is, in fact, true that the United States destroyed the building and killed three non-combatant Chinese nationals. And that's a big part of the plot in this book – about how this Chinese man came to hate the United States, our government and our military.

And how about the security afforded to former presidents?

PC: There was a big debate a couple of years ago about whether it costs too much to maintain security for a former president, and whether you should cut it off after a few years. There's some argument for that, but when you first leave the White House, your adult children don’t get any security anymore, which is perfectly understandable.

But what I do know is that a former president or the former president and his family present delectable targets for kidnapping or for retaliation. And on several occasions in the first four or five years I was out of office, there were genuine worries that if I went this, that, or the other place, or I did it under certain circumstances, that it wouldn’t be safe. And Chelsea was young and single and in New York and always being harassed by the paparazzi, but we saw in the traffic that I had access to that there was some risk that using New York as a target might be seen as a twofer in subsequent terrorist actions if Chelsea were there.

So while I was well-protected, she wasn’t, and there were a couple of times when Hillary and I provided extended security support for her just so she wouldn't have to worry about it. 

But this is a perfectly feasible scenario under certain circumstances, and insofar as we possibly could, an accurate description of how the Secret Service detail relates to the local FBI, relates to the larger Secret Service, and is or is not influenced by the White House. Although I have to say we never had anything but support from the White House for whatever legitimate security concerns arose.

James Patterson: Just to piggyback on what the President was saying, what separates this book, and what separated The President Is Missing, from anything that I’ve written – and pretty much anything that I’ve read in the field of thrillers and mysteries – is it’s just so authentic. If such and such happened, it would happen like thisHere's how the Secret Service would act. It’s the real deal.

There’s a lot of detail on military weaponry, planes, technology; the mindset of a SEAL. How did you research that?

JP: When I wrote the book Walk in My Combat Boots – I did that with Matt Eversmann. Matt was the real sergeant portrayed in Black Hawk Down. And Matt came in and helped, in terms of The President’s Daughter. He’s a Ranger. He ran Ranger training school for seven years, so he knows. So when President Keating has to deal with a situation in terms of the military, that’s where the detail came from. 

In terms of collaborating for the second time: How has this worked?

PC: Well, we did it in a similar way as we did The President Is Missing. We agree on the plot and the characters first. Jim would go through a few chapters and send them to me. Then I would go through them and make suggestions for changes or edits, and we just did back and forth, back and forth, from start to finish. And I think that what I tried to do was not to interfere with what he does better than anybody on Earth, but to make sure that all of it actually hung together; that it made sense, that we weren’t postulating something that would just be so unrealistic it wouldn't work. 

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.

What did you think of this article? Email and let us know.

Photo: David Burnett

  • The President’s Daughter

    Bill Clinton & James Patterson stand-alone thrillers

  • James Patterson and Bill Clinton - the 'dream team' (Lee Child) - return with a thriller even more compelling than global number one bestseller The President is Missing.

    Every detail is accurate
    because one of the authors is President Bill Clinton.

    The drama and action never stop
    because the other author is James Patterson.


    Matthew Keating, a one-time Navy SEAL and a former US President, has always defended his family as fiercely as he has his country.

    Now these defences are under attack. And it's personal.

    Keating's teenage daughter, Melanie, has been abducted, turning every parent's deepest fear into a matter of national security.

    As the world watches, Keating embarks on a one-man special-ops mission that tests his strengths: as a leader, a warrior, and a father.

    Because Keating knows that in order to save Melanie's life he will have to put his own on the line . . .

    'Propulsive, exhilarating, and unnervingly believable. You won't just read The President's Daughter, you'll devour it' KARIN SLAUGHTER

    'A rollicking ride combining Clinton's insider knowledge of the top echelons of US power with Patterson's snappy pacing and forensic prose' INDEPENDENT

    'Even better than their first . . . A rattling roller coaster of a thriller' DAILY MAIL

    'The loneliness of running a superpower and what it's like to send people to die in war feel unimpeachably authentic' GUARDIAN

    'Deftly interweaves action scenes and family dynamics' SUNDAY TIMES

    'Highly entertaining' NEW YORK TIMES

    'I loved this book . . . An absolute page-turner' ROSS KING

    'A really propulsive and exciting story . . . a surefire winner' IRISH INDEPENDENT

    'Full of glorious details into the inner workings of the White House, this is action all the way in a fast and furious tale' SUN

    'Superb thriller, expertly told. Read it in two days. More please' PIERS MORGAN

    'Legendary author James Patterson has teamed up with ex-US President Bill Clinton to write this chilling crime novel' SUNDAY EXPRESS

    'An absolute rocket . . . Clinton and Patterson are simply the best in the thriller business' ROBERT CRAIS, bestselling author of the Elvis Cole series

    'Clinton and Patterson's novel puts their respective expertise to good use' TIME

    'A page-turning, painfully human thriller that reveals the human hearts that beat inside those corridors of power' TONY PARSONS, bestselling author of Your Neighbour's Wife

    'Brace yourself for a thriller with inside secrets and riveting excitement' WALTER ISAACSON, internationally bestselling author

    'A smart, taut, utterly fantastic roller coaster that had me holding on for dear life' CHRIS BOHJALIAN, bestselling author of The Flight Attendant

    Real reader reviews:

    'The previous collaboration between the two authors was one of my favourite thrillers ever . . . this one was even better!'

    'A thriller with all the punch and authenticity expected from the two authors'

    'Mind-blowing . . . like, did I really just read that?'

    'Outstanding . . . has you on the edge of your seat'

    'An exciting roller coaster of a page-turning read'

    'A great story, believable characters . . . I couldn't put it down'

    'A terrific pulse-racing thriller'

    'Absolutely blown away'

    Praise for the authors' previous collaboration, THE PRESIDENT IS MISSING:

    'The political thriller of the decade' LEE CHILD

    'Thoroughly enjoyable . . . a quick, slick, gripping read' THE TIMES

    'A bullet train of a thriller' AJ FINN

    'One writer with an unusual skill at thriller plotting and another with an exceptional grasp of global politics. The literary running mates have earned a second term' GUARDIAN

    'The plotting is immaculate . . . the writing is taut' SUNDAY TIMES

    'Heart-pounding, gripping, terrifying . . . a genuinely masterful thriller' LOUISE PENNY

    'Truly authentic . . . I read it in one gulp. You will too' HARLAN COBEN

    'This book moves like Air Force One' MICHAEL CONNELLY

    'Engrossing from page one' DAVID BALDACCI

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