'You're in prison for life': How Bill Clinton helped James Patterson write his new presidential thriller

Bestselling author James Patterson discusses what it was like to collaborate on a political thriller with the former president of the United States.
Bill Clinton and James Patterson are collaborators on "The President is Missing" from Knopff/LittleBrown. Photographed at Glen Arbor Golf Club, Bedford Hills NY. (David Burnett)

Do you know who the best-selling author in the world is? You might think of J.K. Rowling, John Grisham or the author of The Da Vinci Code, Dan Brown, but all of those guesses would be wrong. When the Independent added up all the books sold by these three writers, they still don't top the true bestselling writer in the world — James Patterson. 

Patterson writes thrillers, many of which involve spies, and at least 114 of his books have made the New York Times bestseller list. For his latest novel, The President is Missing, he collaborated with Bill Clinton for a firsthand account of what it's like to have the top job in the United States during a time of crisis.

The unlikely collaboration began, simply enough, because Patterson and Clinton have the same agent. "He knew that President Clinton loves thrillers and mysteries and he had always been trying to get him to write one," he tells q's Tom Power. "Then he went, well how about writing one with James?"

Through Clinton, Patterson gained a new perspective on what it's like to be president, from the ethical decisions you're required to make to how it affects you for the rest of your life. 

"When you get into the presidency, and for the rest of your life, you're in prison," he says. "President Clinton goes around and there's like seven Secret Service people everywhere he goes. You want to go for a doughnut? OK, yeah, let's pack up and get the three SUVS and we'll go get a doughnut."

Power spoke to Patterson about what it was like to write a political thriller with someone who has probably seen things that are stranger than fiction. Listen to the full interview above.

Produced by Chris Trowbridge​