New York Times bestselling author David Baldacci has sold over 90 million books that have been translated into 45 languages in 80 countries. With those kind of numbers, it would be easy for him to churn out schmaltzy “pulp fiction” like so many of his peers.
Baldacci, however, is cut from a different cloth. The plot matters. Characters matter. And, above all, quality matters.
Although he’s planning a press tour for his new book, “Deliver Us From Evil,” set for release today, Baldacci took time to talk about the writing process, his flawed characters and his involvement in literacy.
News-Telegram: You've been a best-selling author for some time. Do you feel additional pressure with each new book to make sure it a everyone's "best" list? If so, how do you deal with it?
David Baldacci: I don’t think about what will sell. I write about things that interest me, and I figure if I’m excited about it, that will come through in the pages and make for a great story. Then the sales and business side takes care of itself. You chase trends or try to write the next bestseller, you’re dead in the water. All you’ll end up doing is writing the same story that hits the list every time, only changing the names.
N-T: The main characters in "Deliver Us From Evil" are vivid and well developed. Where do you find them, and do they sometimes dictate the plot or do you maintain control throughout the creative process?
DB: Characters often dictate the plot. They are the writer’s only opportunity to connect on a human level with the readers. Character traits can come from people you meet, but you also need a healthy imagination.
I would never want to meet a Evan Waller (the “evil” in the new book) face to face, but I need to be able to create such a character fictionally. I’ve done a lot of research on mass murderers and psychopaths, and that allows me to get into their heads. They all share certain traits and mindsets. The most chilling of them all don’t seem crazy at all. Like an Evan Waller or in real life, the All-American looking Ted Bundy.
N-T: Your main character, "Shaw," is flawed, but a hero nonetheless. I've read two "Shaw" books now and find myself wanting him to find happiness with one of the ladies in his life, yet he keeps walking away from love. Will Shaw ever let down his guard long enough to let someone love him?
DB: I believe if I keep bringing him back one of these times he’ll find a relationship that will stick!
But realistically his work does not allow for much personal time. And he’s gun-shy, having lost the woman he loved violently. He doesn’t want that to happen again. He’s a martyr of sorts. But I like hanging out with the guy on the pages.
N-T: Regina "Reggie" Campion is a new character in your arsenal of interesting people, and, from reading the reviews, it looks like she's a hit. I'd certainly like to know more about her and the reasons why she became a vigilante. Will she appear in future stories?
DB: Yes. I had a lot of fun creating Reggie. I cut my teeth as a kid on British mysteries, and writing those sorts of characters set at an old musty dusty estate in the countryside was sheer pleasure.
Whit the Irishman provided some comic relief and some poignancy, too. They and the professor will definitely be back. There are a lot more monsters out there that need to be dealt with!
N-T: The villain in the new book is truly bad to the bone. As a writer, you must have to go to a really dark place to create such a guy. Tell us about the process.
DB: I had to create a nearly unbeatable villain but leave him with enough flaws that he was beatable. I built his character through his actions.
We meet him first doling out tough justice to an employee who stole from him. He is methodical, a real craftsman in a sadistic sort of way. The fact that he appears charming just makes him even more dangerous. I wanted readers to wonder if he could be beaten, or whether he would win in the end. To do that I had to plausibly make him at least the equal of Shaw and Reggie, and I think I succeeded there. Without a bit of help from a certain and unexpected ally, Waller would’ve won.
Waller is the bogeyman we all feared as children. But bogeymen are also fascinating because normal people innately want to know what makes people like that do what they do. It’s the safe scare. You never want to run into them, but you will read about them from a safe distance.
N-T: You use a lot of technology to drive the plot in "Deliver Us From Evil." Who advises you on high tech issues?
DB: I have a great interest in gadgets and do research on those subjects. I like to know a lot about a lot, as it were. I have contacts in many federal agencies and friends in particular lines of business. I became a journalist at that point, going out and interviewing subjects and finding out what I need to write the story. I love that part of it.
And it also makes me popular at parties. I can go on for hours about the most mindless things!
N-T: You and your wife have created "Wish You Well" to "support family literacy in the United States by fostering and promoting the development and expansion of new and existing literacy and educational programs." What led the two of you to support this cause?
DB: More and more people in this country can’t read.
We’ll soon be at the point where more people can’t read at an acceptable level than can.
If you can’t read you can’t actively participate in a democracy. Further, you can be easily manipulated by others.
History has many examples of that, all of them cataclysmic. Ignorance breeds disaster.
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