SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
A president picks a former rival for secretary of state who happens to be a woman. A series of terrorist attacks, intrigue, rivalries, faraway places, unlikely allies, the Russian mob, a Pakistani arms dealer, brilliant young foreign service officers and the most vivid love scenes ever co-authored by a former secretary of state...
HILLARY CLINTON: (Laughter).
SIMON: ...Unless there's something that's been overlooked in the papers of Martin Van Buren - "State Of Terror" is a new novel written by Louise Penny, the bestselling author, and a newcomer to mystery writing named Hillary Rodham Clinton. They both join us now. Thank you both very much for being with us.
LOUISE PENNY: Thank you, Scott.
CLINTON: It's a pleasure.
SIMON: Louise Penny, you've written so many bestsellers, been translated into 31 languages. What made you take a chance on a novice co-author?
PENNY: Well, you know, she needs help, this poor woman.
PENNY: You know she's so - coattails - yeah. I just threw her a crumb.
SIMON: Yeah. Yeah. So Secretary Clinton, did you just spill a lot of classified information and you and Louise Penny put it into a novel?
CLINTON: You know, I would - very careful - as best I could be - not to spill any classified information. But I have to say, Scott, the impetus for the plot came finally one day when Louise said to me, so what are the problems that kept you up at night? And that just triggered, you know, my sharing with her, you know, some of the things that worried me the most still worry me today. And among them is what we chose for the plot here - you know, the great fear that nuclear weapons would be obtained by terrorists.
CLINTON: That began us trying to figure out, how would this happen and what would have to be done?
PENNY: Well, that's where having Hillary Clinton, you know, so deeply involved makes all the difference. And that's what separates, I think - well, there are many things, I think, that separate "State Of Terror" from your average political thriller, not the least of which is that it's written by two women of a certain age about women of a certain age.
SIMON: There's a scene in which the world is minutes away from a potential nuclear catastrophe. And a villain I may not need to explain says, (reading) most of politics of so-called democracy is an illusion - stage for the great unwashed.
Secretary Clinton, did you ever hear anyone say anything like that in a meeting?
CLINTON: Absolutely. We're hearing it right now, Scott. We are hearing it, much to my dismay, from people who are in Republican politics. They are officeholders in states. They are in conservative think tanks. And they are saying in, you know, many different ways that, you know, democracy is maybe not what it's cracked up to be because there are a lot of people who really shouldn't have the vote, who really don't deserve to have an equal voice to mine or to people like me. And honestly, this has been an argument from the very beginning. But it's an argument that we kept overcoming. We kept knocking down the barriers.
And now we have a concerted effort to basically rule by minority. And I have said in many public settings over the last year, what we see happening is to try to implement the lie behind the big steal, which is the argument that the former president, his enablers and supporters have made that if election doesn't turn out the way you want it to, then you don't have to follow it. And you have to set up a system so that it doesn't happen. And their goal is not to lose an election again. And they're going to try to get it set up so heads they win, tails they win.
SIMON: I got to tell you, my favorite character was Anahita Dahir.
CLINTON: I'm glad. I'm glad.
PENNY: Interesting - why is that?
SIMON: State Department officer, Clevelander.
SIMON: She gets a coded message one day and doesn't quite understand it. And I kept thinking, you know, this is like me getting a text message from our 18 year old.
SIMON: Like, what does this mean? There is something very human about somebody so brilliant going, what does this mean?
PENNY: Yeah. That's exactly what we wanted - women who are flawed, who aren't perfect - characters, not just women - but in this case, it happens to be women - who don't burst through doors and with machine guns. And neither are they victims. But they use their wits. They use their smarts. They have flaws. They have doubts. They have fears and insecurities.
CLINTON: But they are intrepid. They are determined. They are underestimated. But that doesn't...
CLINTON: ...Stop them from trying to, you know, forge ahead and follow, you know, what their instincts and intelligence are telling them. I have to say, Scott, you know, never having written fiction but having read a lot of it over many, many years, I always was somewhat taken aback when I would read an author say something like, you know, I started writing and I was surprised where the characters took me.
CLINTON: And I would think, well, how could you be surprised? You've created the characters. But it was such a fascinating experience for me personally to just see the difference between, you know, nonfiction - like, oh, my gosh, another fact check - how many more do I have to do? - make sure it's right - and this liberation that fiction provides, but also the surprise that it can even offer the author.
PENNY: See, this is the thing - isn't it? - with the first draft in particular, which can be something really soft and smelly and often has to be.
SIMON: Soft and smelly - I...
PENNY: Yes. Your French poodle Daisy would understand what that is...
SIMON: Oh, she does indeed.
PENNY: ...And been there.
SIMON: I had...
SIMON: Let's get the little green bag out for Daisy's first draft.
PENNY: But that was the key, too, with working with Hilary, is that I'd never worked with a co-author. And so it's very scary because you go down all these different routes and try things. And this doesn't work. And it's stupid. And it's a ridiculous idea. And that character is - doesn't really need to be there. But it's all necessary. They're all steps along the way - and to work with someone - with Hillary - who can see that they're steps and instead of saying, oh no, that just - just throwing it out, saying, well, yeah, but what about this and what about that? - and building on it, that was very powerful.
SIMON: There is another arresting passage toward the end - without giving anything away - in which a character says to the president, with our pullout, the Taliban, along with al-Qaida and other terrorists, will take over. All the progress made for human rights could be wiped out - all the girls, all the women. Secretary Clinton, was that you talking to President Biden?
CLINTON: It was me talking to anybody who would listen because I've been saying this for a long time, that there was never going to be any good time for us to end our involvement in Afghanistan. So whenever and however it happened, we needed to be very aware of the consequences. And yes, there were many, but in particular the two that are referenced - one, a renewed threat coming out of Afghanistan. We're seeing right now al-Qaida never having separated from the Taliban, which never rejected them. We're seeing ISIS - and you know, the very real setbacks to the advances that occurred over the last 20 years.
In the book, we have a former president who made the decision to pull out without a plan. And what we have in the real world right now is a president, the former president, who made an agreement with the Taliban, getting nothing for it, which basically said to the Taliban, OK, here's the deal. We're going to leave May 1. Just don't kill us until we leave. That was the deal - nothing about al-Qaida, nothing about following the Constitution, nothing about protecting human rights, nothing about anything.
So Biden comes in and he's confronted with an agreement by the United States government, because that's what it was, which put him in an impossible position. He wanted to go under any circumstances. But he inherited, as I think the administration rightly says, a deadline, not a plan. So yeah, we are now out of there militarily. I think the administration did an incredible job evacuating 120,000-plus people under really difficult circumstances. But I think we're going to have to be very vigilant because the, you know, adversaries that we have are going to repopulate Afghanistan. And the Taliban will be either unwilling or incapable of preventing attacks outside their own borders.
SIMON: Louise Penny, Angela Merkel is about to leave the chancellorship of Germany - think she'd like to co-write a thriller?
PENNY: (Laughter) With Hillary - I would read that. I would read that book.
SIMON: Let me ask you both, is "State Of Terror" meant to be some kind of cautionary tale?
CLINTON: It is.
CLINTON: You know, I worry a lot about the, you know, very serious attacks on our democracy from without and within. And this book really tackles both because we do have adversaries who from the outside want to undermine our democracy, set us against one another. And very tragically, we have people in our own country who are really trying to undermine our institutions and our rule of law because they don't like the multicultural, incredibly dynamic and diverse society that we have become. And as your favorite president and mine reminded us, you know, a house divided against itself cannot stand. So, yeah, it is a cautionary tale. And I hope readers will be attuned to that.
SIMON: I have to interject. Anybody else saying your favorite president and mine, a reference to Lincoln, would be unremarkable. Given the fact that you have been married to a president...
CLINTON: Well, he knows that.
SIMON: ...You want to amend that statement?
CLINTON: No. I mean - no, Lincoln remains my favorite. Now you know...
CLINTON: I think he's also my husband's favorite.
SIMON: All right. All right. Louise Penny, could I get you to respond to the cautionary tale?
PENNY: It's meant to be that. But it's also meant to - it's not meant to be a pill to swallow. People aren't supposed to choke down this book and then feel morally superior at the end of it. This is meant to be entertaining. But it's also meant to have people sit up a little bit and take stock.
We talk in the book about the vast silence, about what lives in that, in that great chasm. And very few good things live in silence. Silence is acquiescence. Silence allows bad things to breed. And it is time. It's time to stand up for what you believe in and to be counted because the clock is ticking. We are pretty close to the chimes at midnight on many fronts.
SIMON: Louise Penny and Hillary Rodham Clinton - their new book, "State Of Terror" - thank you both so much for being with us.
CLINTON: Thank you, Scott.
PENNY: Thank you, Scott.
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