Hillary Clinton stops in S.F. to promote book ‘drawing on my experience’

‘State of Terror’ follows a female media mogul-turned-secretary of state hustling to prevent nuclear warfare

In a reception room at the Saint Francis Yacht Club on Sunday, The City’s political and social power brokers gathered.

Mayor London Breed was there, as was celebrity chef and food activist Alice Waters. Entrepreneur and Democratic Party mega-donor Susie Buell served as host of the private event.

What drew this crowd of mostly female influencers? The evening’s guest of honor: Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Clinton stopped in San Francisco to promote the release of her new novel, a political thriller called “State of Terror,” which she co-wrote with Louise Penny over the course of the pandemic. It follows a female media mogul-turned-secretary of state as she hustles to prevent all-out global nuclear warfare in the wake of three bombs detonating in Europe.

“I was certainly drawing on my experience,” Clinton said of the novel’s inspiration.

Clinton appeared with Huma Abedin, a close confidant and aide for more than 25 years, who was promoting a book of her own, a memoir titled “Both/And: A Life in Many Worlds.” The memoir relates Abedin’s childhood split between Kalamazoo, Mich., and Saudi Arabia, her journey from White House intern to Clinton’s right-hand woman and the scandalous, public dissolution of her marriage to former congressman Anthony Weiner after he was sentenced to 21 months for sending sexually explicit texts to a 15-year-old girl.

“We are living increasingly in an either/or world, a world we wouldn’t be living in if the woman next to me was president,” said Abedin, pointing to Clinton seated by her side on stage. “I insist on being both/and.”

Abedin referred to Clinton as “my boss” throughout the conversation, as the women laughed and reminisced in a way more fitting of close friends than colleagues. They exchanged stories of Abedin’s earliest days on the job, including when a mishap with a helicopter left the then-first lady’s garment bag floating in New York City’s East River the night before she was to wear the outfit at the United Nations.

That closeness is one of the benefits of being in Hillaryland, a term coined by former Clinton staffers to describe the community that stems from the experience of working under her tutelage and the name of one of the chapters in Abedin’s book.

“It comes with lifetime membership, and the only entrance fee is the shared scars of battle from the roughest game in town,” she said.

While secretary of state, Clinton traveled to 112 countries; brought Iran to the table for nuclear weapons negotiations; fought for women’s rights against repressive regimes; helped to oversee high-stakes military operations; and oversaw a troubled reset of relations with Moscow.

Many of those experiences make it into the novel, “State of Terror,” not in name but in likeness.

Clinton drew fondly upon memories of old friends, such as Betsy Ebeling from her childhood home of Park Ridge, Ill., and of California Congresswoman Ellen Tauscher, to craft two of the novel’s primary female protagonists. Both women passed away in recent years, making the book a tribute to their influence on Clinton’s life.

Other characters seem to resemble people for whom Clinton feels far less affection, though she hesitated to say outright that they served as inspiration. For example, there’s a Donald Trump-like former president with a penchant for golfing in Florida, a network of intelligent supporters that aim to get him re-elected after his electoral defeat and a Russian tyrant known for undervaluing women and outsmarting a long line of previous presidential administrations in the United States.

The book grapples with what Clinton calls the “underlying nightmare” she feared most during her tenure as the country’s chief diplomat: a nuclear bomb falling into the wrong hands, particularly those of a terrorist organization that has “nothing to lose.” Ever prudent, Clinton said she was scrupulous in her efforts to ensure that no classified information was alluded to in the book’s fictitious plot.

Though Abedin’s memoir and Clinton’s fictitious thriller appear worlds apart, the two women said each of their books ties back to a central theme of “love and courage.”

For “Both/And,” it’s the story of a young woman unafraid to work tirelessly in the pursuit of a cause and to remain poised in the face of public criticism, even that which might come from writing the book itself.

For “State of Terror,” the “love and courage” tenet plays out in how a woman dares to be unfettered by the powerful forces against her and turns to strong female friendship in moments of crisis.

cgraf@sfexaminer.com

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