News-Telegram: What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think about having 90 million books in print?
David Baldacci: I’m just glad I don’t have to store them here. (Laughs.)
N-T: Why do you think your novels have been such a hit with the reading public?
DB: I tell people the only reason I’ve sold that many copies is because I’m a guy who got into writing because I like to tell stories and I didn’t think I would ever sell that many and I’ve stayed with it and got to the point where I could tell a good story, and people enjoy it so it’s one of those things. When you look at it at first blush, none of it makes sense. But I got into it because I actually love it.
N-T: You and your wife created the Wish You Well Foundation to promote literacy. It’s your way of paying it forward. It must feel good to do good.
DB: Absolutely, it does. It feels great. And going to visit some of these places makes you feel even better. You see the people that otherwise would be a drag on society because they don’t have the opportunity. Now, they’re an asset. It’s important. I’m of the mind that rising seas lift all boats. We can’t be a country where very few people have everything and the rest have nothing. What kind of world would that be?
I read a stat this morning. the top 5 percent of the wealthiest people in the United States have 65 percent of the wealth which leaves 35 percent of the wealth for the other 95 percent of us. I’m a capitalist, but I can’t imagine that those people are so much smarter than the rest. Something else is at work there.
We just had a foundation meeting today. We awarded grants to nine different programs in seven states. It’s great to see that hard work out there, mostly volunteers, private organizations, trying to get people to succeed in life.
N-T: In the new book, you explore the untapped potential of the human brain. Talk about your research.
DB: The brain is the most powerful computing force in the world if it’s properly used. Most of use only about ten percent. There are some anomalies out there. There are people out there who can use far more of the brain than that. Usually history has recognized that. Einstein. Mozart.
There are ways to identify people who are extraordinarily gifted. We do it all the time.
You bring them in and put them through this gauntlet and see if they can actually do it. It’s one thing to be able to memorize information. It’s another thing to take it and be able to analyze it. Seeing everything. The difference between a journeyman quarterback and a Tom Brady.
What separates them? A journeyman goes in and he can go through the motions and the mechanics. He can throw the ball, but he can’t read defenses in two seconds. Tom Brady goes out there and sees the entire field the whole time. He actually knows where everyone’s going.
N-T: One of the main players in “The Sixth Man” is a genius named Edgar Roy. Before being arrested for mass murder, Roy was the “go to” guy for a program called E-6. Roy had the ability to analyze every single bit of intelligence gathered from every source on the planet and make sense of it. Is that truly feasible?
DB: If you can find a person who’s using 50-60 percent of their brain, yes, it’s absolutely possible. He can see how the pieces come together. He can see what’s important and what’s not important.
The chess masters who can see 87 moves ahead. Transfer that ability from the chessboard to the wall. They can see things other people can’t.
N-T: What saves Roy from insanity is his ability to retreat into himself when the going gets tough.
DB: Even if he hadn’t been graced with superior intellect, those who have experiences as a child like Roy did build walls. They can compartmentalize to a point where they feel they can be safe. It’s easy for him to retreat.
N-T: This is the fifth book in the Sean King and Michelle Maxwell series. King is an attorney and a “former Secret Service agent who allowed his attention to wander for a split second, an error that resulted in the death of the presidential candidate he had been protecting. Maxwell is a former Secret Service agent who lost the politician she was supposed to protect when the politician vanished behind closed doors while comforting a grieving widow.” The pair, now working in the private sector, join forces to solve the murder of King’s law professor who was representing Roy. They’re also a couple, which offers up a lot of complications. What’s going to happen with these two?
DB: (Laughs) I knew I was going to work my way through this. They’re both going to have to ask themselves what’s next. Here’s an imagined conversation between them:
Michelle: I don’t want you to do this anymore. You stay home.
Sean: You stay home.
Michelle: If we’re going to continue, we go together.
Sean: I have to protect you. I’ll be the one out there with the spear chasing the mastodon. You can stay here gathering the beans and keeping the fireplace going.
Michelle: I am not a gatherer. You stay home and gather the beans. I actually have a better chance of surviving than you do.
(Laughs) I’ve set myself up for the next book. I’ve got to deal with that. What are they going to do? Take time off? Is one going to say “Enough,” and do something else? There are some interesting possibilities. I knew I wanted to end the book this way because it shows how close they come to losing everything that matters.
N-T: You really did a great job with the character of James Hawkes, a ruthless man who works for Ellen Foster, the secretary of Homeland Security. He will stop at nothing to carry out an assignment. Talk about him.
DB: I think he was a complex character. I sorta played fair. He’s not your stereotypical bad guy. I gave you a hint [into his motivation] when he rebuffed Foster’s romantic advances. He does some things you’d never expect a villain to do. He’s always one step ahead. I like people like that.
N-T: One of the most interesting characters in the book is the middle-aged Kelly Paul, Edgar Roy’s half-sister with powerful allies and a secretive past. Will we see more of her?
DB: (Laughs) My publisher’s asked for more about her, too. She’s smart and accomplished. I never write about damsels in distress. I know a lot of guys who need a lot more help than Michelle and Kelly.
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