Hillary Clinton to release first novel ‘State of Terror’
- The former US presidential candidate’s fiction debut with mystery author Louise Penny has again stirred a discussion on what prompts politicians to write fiction.
Hillary Clinton, former US Secretary of State and presidential hopeful in the last two US elections is releasing her latest book and first work of fiction, a thriller called "State of Terror," which she co-authored with Canadian mystery writer Louise Penny.
Announcing the release of the novel earlier this month, Clinton wrote on Twitter, "My first foray into fiction! It was a labor of love with my friend (and favorite mystery author) Louise Penny, and I can't wait for you to read it."
Out on October 12, 2021, "State of Terror" is a novel set in contemporary USA that features female protagonist Ellen Adams, a former media magnate who is inducted into new president, Douglas Williams', cabinet. As secretary of state, Adams must unravel a global terror conspiracy involving Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran with the help of a foreign service employee of Lebanese origin and a US-Pakistani journalist.
'A lasting legacy'
Hillary Clinton has already penned several non-fiction books, including "It Takes a Village" (1996), "Living History” (2003), "Hard Choices" (2014) and "What Happened" in 2017 following her electoral defeat against Donald Trump. "State of Terror" is her first work of fiction and has triggered a renewed discussion on why political leaders write novels.
Jacob Appel, New York-based author, book critic and expert in psychiatry who studies the psychological and physical health of American presidents, says that just like any other writer, political leaders write books because they want to leave a lasting legacy.
"Political fame and fortune are often transient, so I imagine there is appeal in creating a work that may endure beyond any administration or cabinet. Candidly, politicians are often more concerned about their public legacies than most people, so writing plays perfectly into their psychological needs," Appel adds.
The tradition of politicians writing fiction goes back to Ignatius Donnelly, according to critic Colin Dickey, who writes in Politico. Donnelly was a Minnesota Congressman in the 1880s who wrote a novel called "Caesar's Column" in 1890. The dystopic novel, which became quite popular, focused on technological changes in the future.
In 2003, Jimmy Carter became the first US President to publish a novel titled "The Hornet's Nest: A Novel of the Revolutionary War." More recently, former president Bill Clinton authored "The President is Missing" (2018) with James Patterson and "The President's Daughter," which came out this year in June. Joining this year's big political names in fiction is democrat Stacey Abrams, whose novel "While Justice Sleeps" was released in May 2021.
In Germany, politicians and books almost go hand-in-hand, with one of the most notable being former Chancellor Helmut Schmidt. A prolific writer, he authored books including "Balance of Power" (1971) and "The Powers of the Future. Winners and Losers in the World of Tomorrow" (2004). Former Chancellor Willy Brandt, who was also a journalist, published amongst others, "Arms and Hunger" in 1986, and "My Life in Politics" in 1992.
However, fiction is not a popular genre among the politically-oriented in Berlin. Current Green Party co-chair Robert Habeck is an exception having co-authored several novels, including "Hauke Haiens Tod" (Hauke Haien's Death, 2001) and "Zwei Wege in den Sommer" (Two paths to summer, 2006) with his wife, Andrea Paluch.
Powerful leaders, bad novels
But while books by Bill Clinton and Stacey Abrams have topped charts, others like Jimmy Carter's "The Hornet's Nest" have failed to woo readers. "Unfortunately, politicians often assume that because they are gifted at public speaking or fund raising or running a country, they will also be good at telling a compelling story," Appel explains.
Some political leaders have been successful, though. UK MP Jeffrey Archer for example wrote dozens of hugely successful novels including "Kane and Abel" (1979) and "The Fourth Estate" (1996). Democrat John Grisham, who was elected into the Mississippi House of Representatives in the 1980s, has also enjoyed immense success as a novelist with books such as "A Time to Kill" (1989) and "The Pelican Brief" (1992). But these are more exceptions than the rule.
"My understanding is that Churchill urged potential readers to avoid his only novel. I certainly wouldn't recommend the novels of the former Iraqi dictator, Saddam Hussein, as great literature," Appel says, referring to the former British PM and Nobel laureate Winston Churchill, who won the prize for literature for his biographical and historical works.
The former Iraqi dictator, Saddam Hussein, is also believed to have written four romantic fables, including "Zabibah and the King" and "The Fortified Castle," and a book of poetry in the late 1990s.
Why write fiction?
Do politicians write fiction because they can play with their fantasy and exert more control over the narrative, unlike in real life? Appel disagrees. "They may think it does, but I'm doubtful. What I do think is that readers and critics can often learn about the psychological makeup of politicians through their writings."
Book critic Colin Dickey's argument is similar. "How a politician structures that fictional universe reveals a lot about his or her worldview," he writes online, elaborating that ultimately, a lot of newer novels by political leaders reduce their stories into a binary of good against evil.
So, if narrative control is not the ultimate intent of a former politician-author, what is? "I do think politicians write to stay in the public's mind," Appel argues. "Not necessarily because they think this will get them elected in the future – I doubt Hillary Clinton thinks she'll get more votes someday if someone thinks she's a gifted novelist – but because they enjoy the limelight and believe that they have stories worth sharing," he adds.
Republican and novelist Newt Gingrich adds a new dimension to why leaders like himself are motivated to write fiction. The former speaker of the US House of Representatives has written 'alternate history' novels such as "Pearl Harbour" (2007) and "Gettysburg: A Novel of the Civil War" (2003), and knows exactly what he wants from writing novels.
Speaking to the Wall Street Journal in May this year, Gingrich says he has three goals in mind while writing books: "One, educate the reader about something significant. Two, educate myself. And three, make a little bit of money."
And money as motivation goes beyond party loyalties. "Bill Clinton doesn't write a novel to get his name better known… He writes a novel because if you combine him and his co-author, they're going to sell a tremendous number of books," Gingrich says.