Former president Bill Clinton and James Patterson have engaged in an unprecedented collaboration, the coauthored thriller The President Is Missing. They're launching the book today at BookCon, and they talked about collaborating, the job that is the presidency, and the necessity of cherishing our democracy.

What was your collaboration like? Can you say a bit about how you did it—in-person meetings? Brainstorms? Passing a document back and forth?

James Patterson: All of the above. We went back and forth constantly—we also both write in longhand, so we were often exchanging handwritten notes. I have to say, President Clinton's instincts are as sharp as those of the best editors I've worked with. I learned a lot from him.

President Clinton: The collaboration was even more fun and illuminating than I could have hoped it would be. I've admired Jim's combination of imagination, intense realism, and ability to develop a great plot for many years, and it was a thrill to discuss it all with him as we built this story. I loved being able to say once or twice when he thought something was too farfetched: "You have no idea."

Was it fun to fictionalize something you know so much about, Mr. President?

Clinton: I think having in-depth knowledge of any subject makes it easier to fictionalize, not harder. You can have confidence in the material because you're already so familiar with it—then you feel freer to take risks with the fictional parts. The trick is not to cross the line from the improbable to the impossible.

Mr. Patterson, did you gain insights into some of the realities of the presidency that you were surprised by?

Patterson: I was surprised to see how little freedom a president has living in the White House bubble. In our novel, the president does go missing, which I learned could possibly happen, though not for long...

How do you hope readers obsessed with the current state of American politics will receive this book?

Patterson: So many movies and television shows distort the presidency. We wanted to reacquaint people with how difficult, how stressful, how vitally important the job is, and that's what I hope readers, whatever their politics, take away from it.

Clinton: I hope readers will take from the book that being president is a job, that it's important who holds it and who helps him or her to do it, and that our democracy is under challenge from within and without, and it's up to everyone to cherish and defend it.

How different from a real president is the fictional president?

Patterson: President Duncan is an entirely fictional president, but what I think will be most interesting for readers is the idea that everything we write about in the book could actually happen. Everything! And how scary that is. The President Is Missing is a thriller, but it's also a wake-up call for the people of this country, and especially our leaders.

Clinton: It was important to me that the fictional President Duncan be presented as a real person with strengths and weaknesses, who is called upon to go far past what he thought he was able to do physically and emotionally to protect the nation. He's not a superhero, just a human trying every minute of every day to do his best, which is all we can ask of any president.

"Our democracy is under challenge from within and without, and it's up to everyone to cherish and defend it."

Today, 11–11:45 a.m. Former president Bill Clinton and James Patterson will speak about their book on the Main Stage.