When former President Bill Clinton and bestselling author James Patterson appeared on stage in New York to promote their new book, the moderator asked if its title — The President Is Missing — was wishful thinking.
Patterson laughed. "The President is not missing, as we're reminded every morning when the tweets come in."
The book, to be published June 4, is a novel, a collaboration between the two men. Its fictional president bears little resemblance to the incumbent — as Clinton pointed out, the book's hero is "a good deal younger than I am." But he emphasized that its plot about a massive cyberattack on the United States is based on a threat that is "very real."
The two spoke Sunday morning during BookCon, an annual fan convention that is an offshoot of BookExpo America, an industry convention for booksellers, librarians, publishers and authors.
BookCon, held at the Jacob Javits Convention Center in New York, draws thousands of readers, most of them young people, to a show featuring YA authors and celebrities.
The fans filled several hundred seats to see Patterson, whose books have sold 375 million copies, and Clinton. They gave the former president a standing, screaming, rock-star welcome, even though many of them were toddlers when he left office, and some weren't even born.
Clinton said he had been eager to try his hand at writing fiction. "I read a hundred thrillers a year or so. It's my sugar high." He was Patterson's "apprentice" for the collaboration, he said.
Patterson credited the former president for the book's authenticity. "There's an attack on a motorcade. There's a traitor in the White House. If it happened, this is how it would happen."
The novel kicks off with an impeachment. Asked why they started it that way, Patterson said, "No reason."
It's "is the scariest book I've ever been involved in," Patterson said, because of the deep experience and knowledge of politics that Clinton brought to the project.
The former president hopes that is what people will take away from the book. "Cybersecurity has to be at the heart of our defense strategy," he said. "To pretend that this is not a serious threat is a big mistake. It's not just about politics — that may be the least of it."