A few years ago, my frequent editor and friend Stephen Jones gave me one of the best gifts I’ve ever received: the assignment to write a novel that would be a part of his Zombie Apocalypse! series. The series already had two anthologies when I was brought in to write the novel, with a third anthology and another stand-alone novel (Zombie Apocalypse!: Horror Hospital, by Mark Morris) in the works. I had stories in the anthologies, so I was already acquainted with the world. My novel would be called Zombie Apocalypse!: Washington Deceased (that was Steve’s ingenious title) and would chart the fall of the U.S. after the zombie virus outbreak.
I was given a great deal of leeway in creating the book, but there was one very specific instruction I received: my protagonist had to be a President trying to put things back in order, and it had to be Hillary Clinton. When I heard that, I assumed Steve and the publishers meant that my lead character would be based on HRC, so I put together a detailed outline centering around a President named “Beverly Hampton” (there were mentions in the Zombie Apocalypse! anthologies of a female President named “H”, so I kept that letter but applied it to the last name).
The notes came back. Everyone was very happy with the outline…except for one thing. “The lead character has to be Hillary Clinton,” Steve wrote me. I was confused. “You mean someone like her, don’t you?” “No,” was the answer, “we mean Hillary Clinton.”
Uhhhh…how was that going to work?, I asked. Weren’t we opening ourselves up to legal problems? “Then just don’t actually name her,” was one suggestion. I thought to myself, Are you crazy? I can’t have an entire novel with a protagonist who is only referred to as “Madam President.”
We ended up with a compromise: I created a different female protagonist – Sandra Steele, head of the Secret Service – and made the (unnamed) President more of a supporting character. That approach was approved, and I began months of research. I read up on basic government practice, I read biographies of HRC, I watched her in videos and studied her speech patterns, everything. I wanted to capture her in a way that would make it obvious who she was without coming right out and saying it. I had to imagine her in the context of my world, where she’s recently lost her daughter and her husband, but remains dedicated to the most difficult job anyone’s ever had.
The more I studied HRC, the more I came to appreciate and admire her. I saw a woman of extraordinary achievements who I believed (and still do) was fully aware of her remarkable place in history, but – amazingly – remained unaffected by that awareness. This was all before she even announced her 2016 presidential bid.
In my novel, the government has fallen, the U.S. is in chaos, and martial law is in place at the beginning of the book. Without a leader, a team is put together (led by Steele) to find a new commander-in-chief and bring her to Washington, where the survivors are hiding in an underground bunker complex (in real life, this was really being built as I was writing the book!).
One of the things I wanted to do with the novel was address something that bugs the heck out of me in a lot of post-apocalyptic scenarios, which is that the survivors always seem hell-bent on re-building exactly what they had in the past. If you’ve just barely made it out of a world that failed so badly, why wouldn’t you want to try something new? I believe HRC has a touch of the true visionary about her – after all, she dared to imagine that a woman could be elected President of the United States – and so my fictitious version of her would see a new government that did away with the old two-party system, and with patriarchy and misogyny. She makes a member of the opposing party her new Vice President, she hires a broken ex-alcoholic vet to be her Chief of Staff, she relies strongly on other women for advice, and she is suspicious of big pharma (deservedly so, as the plot reveals!). Her biggest flaw is expecting others to share her vision; she doesn’t see how some of those around her are committed to preserving a privileged past. I figure the book must have been at least partially successful because I’ve received a few pieces of (always anonymous) hate mail.
When HRC announced her candidacy, I couldn’t have been happier. Like the characters in my novel, she was absolutely my first choice to lead our country. And like so many other Americans, I watched in shock on November 9th as her experience and planning and compassion and courage were pushed aside by a campaign dedicated to reactionary hate and a deeply cynical disdain for honesty and empathy.
When I was writing Zombie Apocalypse!: Washington Deceased, I remember working through research to make Hillary’s abrupt ascension to the highest office believable. It never would have occurred to me to simply say, “She won the popular vote in the last election.”
I think it’s deeply tragic that we’ll never get to see what a real HRC presidency would have been like. At least I get to feel like I had the tiniest glimpse into that alternate history…and what a difficult (for her), fascinating, exciting, and hopeful thing it would have been, even with zombies.