It’s an ability that may come in handy when he discovers that his family has been murdered by an unknown killer.
Baldacci is without a doubt, one of the best selling authors of our time.
He has over 100 million books in print, translated into 45 languages across more than 80 countries.
In this interview David talks about his new book, as well as his writing process, publishing, social media, building relationships with fans, his charitable organization that works to promote literacy across the U.S. and much more.
David Baldacci Interview
Scroll down for a complete transcript of the interview or click the Play button below to listen to the interview now. And don’t forget to leave a comment to let us know what you thought of this interview!
Books by David Baldacci
David Baldacci Interview Transcript
Tim Knox: David, welcome to the program.
David Baldacci: Hey, thank you very much.
Tim Knox: It’s an honor having you on here. I know you’re having a very busy day promoting your new book Memory Man, which we’re going to talk about. But if you don’t mind, before we get started, give the audience just a very quick thumbnail of who you are and all the things you’ve done.
David Baldacci: Yeah, I’m David Baldacci. I’m a novelist. I used to be a lawyer but I’ve been writing for a long time now. Memory Man is my 30th novel. I wrote mostly mysteries and thrillers and it’s almost all over the world.
Tim Knox: David, I’ve interviewed about 150 somewhat authors and probably a third of them are ex-lawyers. What is it with you guys?
David Baldacci: Well, we use words as our tool as lawyers. We’re kind of disciplined and some of the best fiction I ever wrote was when I was a lawyer.
Tim Knox: Right, right, right. I guess so. You guys are just natural storytellers. Well, I am honored to have you. I’m a big fan. I’ve read most of your books. Looking forward to reading the new book Memory Man. Tell us what that’s about.
David Baldacci: Yeah, it’s a brand new character, start of a new series. His name is Amos Decker. He’s a huge bear of a guy, totally out of shape, obese, everything else and sort of crazy bearded. He was an NFL football player for one play and he was knocked unconscious and almost killed on a helmet to helmet crash collision. He came out of that with hyperthymesia, meaning his brain had been traumatized and changed. Now he can forget nothing and he also sees things in color. He sort of counts in color, which is a sensory pathway. So his brain was rerouted because of this collision.
He can’t play football anymore. He goes back home into the Midwest and becomes an executive in the police force and he’s terrific at that because he forgets nothing and one night he comes home from work and to find that his family has been murdered.
His life spirals out of control at that point. He loses everything, his job, his home. He becomes homeless and then he finally pulls himself up a little bit and he’s able to work as a private investigator on some small cases and then about a year and a half after his family is killed, a guy walks into the police station in his town, confesses to the crime and Decker has to relive that nightmare and also figure out if this guy is the real killer or not.
Tim Knox: Decker is a little bit of a departure for you as far as a lead character goes, isn’t he?
David Baldacci: He is totally a departure. I wanted to do something really challenging, get myself out of my comfort zone, try something very different, be scared again that I couldn’t actually pull this off. So he is totally different. He’s not an elite guy. He’s not a super athlete. He’s not connected to any government agency. There’s nothing to do with politics of Washington in this novel.
I didn’t want you to focus on the grossness of his physicality. I wanted you to focus on sort of this brilliance of the mind that also really sort of entraps him. If you think about it, the mind can imprison you in your own body. It can make you believe things that aren’t true. You can be an OCD. You can have an eating disorder. You can have phobias about lots of different things. You know it’s illogical but the brain is so powerful that it can trap you in your own body.
Tim Knox: I think that’s one of the things. I’m reading the book and I’m about halfway in and one thing that I like about Decker is he is not your typical hero. But this guy has a lot of baggage.
David Baldacci: He has a lot of baggage, which allows me over the course of many books to really slowly draw that out. Having this unique mind, you think it’s kind of a cool thing. But one of the lines in the book, when he talks to a character, who says, “Wow, it must be great. You’ve got this perfect memory.” He said, “Well, do you like who you are?” and he said, “I like who I am.” He said, “Well, I liked who I was too and I’m no longer that person. I had no choice in that.”
Tim Knox: This is the first in a new series and you’ve written a number of series. What exactly is attracting you to make Decker a series character?
David Baldacci: Well, just because he’s so different and allows me to go in avenues that I’ve never been able to go to with other characters in some of my other series. I mean I can take him anywhere I want to take him to. I have all the baggage and his history that he has to deal with. Then he has got this mind and one of the things in the book that he learns is his mind is always changing.
So he may have some issues he’s confronted with today. A year down the road, his brain may change a little bit more and he might have other issues he has to confront with. I’ve always been fascinated about the brain and to be able to write about it through the perspective of a person who has been given this unique gift and also curse. I think people will find it fascinating.
Tim Knox: It sounds like it frees you up a little bit. You are not writing the stereotypical hero macho man.
David Baldacci: Not at all. I think a lot of – the reviews have been really positive about this book. A lot of them had the same refrain. He’s sort of your – he’s an antihero. You would never expect this guy to be a hero.
One of the lines I like in the book is he’s so huge and just there and sort of crazy-looking that he can scare small children just by being.
Tim Knox: That is a great line. Now, the affliction or what you call his curse or his gift, his ability to remember everything, did actual people with that inspire you in this book or how did you come up with the concept?
David Baldacci: Yeah. I had read about people with hyperthymesia. You can either be born with it as most people are. There are very few in the world but there are a number of them or you can have – suffer a brain trauma. I’ve read some books and articles about people who had come by this because of a brain trauma. One was hit by a baseball. Another one suffered epileptic seizures but allowed her brain to be altered and the circuitry to shift.
So I thought it’s fascinating. You’re born as one person and then something happens to you and you wake up as someone totally different. From a storytelling perspective, that was just – it’s sort of like a mantra from heaven. There was so much I could do with that.
Tim Knox: I’ve seen interviews with people who actually have this. Marilu Henner I think is one. They say it is a gift that you remember but it’s also a curse that you remember the things you normally don’t want to remember in such vivid detail and that’s what happens to Decker in the book, right?
David Baldacci: Yeah, absolutely. I mean he has lots of things he would much prefer to forget, but he never can. All of us, as time goes on, time is supposed to heal all wounds. But for Decker, it can’t because his memory is so perfect. He remembers it as vivid as the day that it happened. So time does not heal his wounds.
Tim Knox: Exactly. Now before you started writing series, you had written a number of standalone novels, Absolute Power, and a number of others. Tell me about when you first started writing the series because now you’ve got a number of series and this new book Memory Man is the first in the series. What is it that attracts you to the series?
David Baldacci: Well, I first started it with King and Maxwell. I’ve written a novel called Split Second and that novel was done. When I finished the last page, I was like, “I’ve got these two characters Sean King and Michelle Maxwell.” I thin they have more juice in them. I think they have more of a story arc and I’m going to bring them back in another book and see how that works out for me.
So I wrote Hour Game and again they just had a lot more juice. I had the idea for The Camel Club and a very unique group of guys and that was just sort of naturally gravitated to a series. So I had so much material I could use with this group of people.
From there, I wrote the A. Shaw series and then it was the Will Robie and then John Puller in the military. I guess I learned that I’m creating characters who I like so much that it’s difficult to complete the arc for them in one novel and having multiple novels really allows me to slowly and gradually grow them as characters, which I like a lot.
Tim Knox: Yeah, I really like what you just said there. There’s a lot of juice left in that character. You’re not through wringing them out yet. You’re known and you write characters like very few authors. You get really in depth and in tune with these characters. Does it ever bother you to think about putting one of these characters to bed?
David Baldacci: Oh, it does. Yeah. Sometimes when I kill off a character from one of the series as I did with The Camel Club, one of the members, I got – wow, a lot of mail from people who were very upset with me. One, I got a lot was, “Why did you have to kill Milton? Why didn’t you kill the librarian? He’s annoying.”
Tim Knox: Do you ever have these characters talking to you in your head, asking you why?
David Baldacci: All the time. I mean they do and I will be writing – I’m writing The Camel Club and I would give a line to Oliver Stone. I feel like he’s tapping me on the shoulder and said, “Yeah. Hey, bud. You need to redo that. Not something I would say.”
Tim Knox: That’s one of the things I was going to ask when I talk about your process here. Do you typically start with an idea for a character and then build a story around it or do you come up with a concept and then fill in the characters?
David Baldacci: I’ve done it both ways. I’ve had plots where I thought were really cool, when I create characters to inhabit that plot. With Amos Decker, I really had his character first and then I built the story around him. So it really depends on what it’s in my head at that particular time. Sometimes a plot comes through, sometimes a character.
Tim Knox: When you do write – I’ve listened to other interviews whether you talk about your process. You’re not one to sit down every day on the time clock and knock out a specific number of words. Talk about how you write and what inspires you.
David Baldacci: I write in big bursts. I don’t write every day. I don’t count words or chapters or pages or whatever. I just write each day until my tank is dry on a particular story.
Then if I am working on other projects, I will go and work on that so much until my tank is dry there. I just feel like I want to get out on the page what I have in my head. I don’t outline the whole book. I let the story roll as I’m creating it and researching it and writing it. I write my way until the ending.
I may not know the ending until I get very close to that point. So I always felt if I wrote an outline, it would read too neatly, like I wrote from an outline. Sometimes when you put in an outline and you get into actually writing a novel, it just doesn’t work. So you have to allow yourself the flexibility to change.
Tim Knox: You mentioned research. How much research do you typically do for a book and how much did you do for Memory Man?
David Baldacci: A lot. I really had to. When I researched John Puller in military, I went and spent three days at Fort Benning with the rangers and did some of the stuff they did. I go on walk-alongs and ride-alongs with police officers. I travel to many of the places that I write about as I possibly can. I don’t like to Wikipedia or Google things. Anybody can do that.
With Memory Man, I talked to people who had conditions like this on the autism spectrum, Asperger syndrome, which has some of the same attributes that hyperthymesia. I really delved into a lot of literature and books on the brain and also on people who had written autobiographical accounts of their life after having something like this happen to them.
To try to immerse myself in that world so that I can deal with it in a fair and informed way. I didn’t want to budget any of this stuff. I’m going to make it as realistic as possible because then I could really show my character having realistic sort of reactions to what has happened to him.
Tim Knox: I think I’ve heard you in another interview talk about someone that sent you an email or something that they were reading one of your books in a mailbox that you had put on – they were letting you know that it didn’t exist or something along that nature. So you do pretty thorough, very descriptive research to the point that people actually can connect with the locations.
David Baldacci: They absolutely do. People really love that. I get so many emails, communications from people saying, “Oh my god. I pass this place every day. I know exactly where this building is,” and it’s cool. I mean I like that.
Tim Knox: Now, this is a new series that you’re doing with Memory Man. Are you going to discontinue any of the other series that you have going?
David Baldacci: I don’t think so. I mean I like them all and I think they all have life left in them. Everywhere I go, people would say, “More Camel Club.” I’ve been to a book signing where a guy came in with a camel on his staff. He said, “What do you think I’m hinting at?” I said, “More Camel Club?” Yeah.
Tim Knox: It’s kind of your version of Free Bird.
David Baldacci: Exactly, my version of Free Bird.
Tim Knox: Oh, I love that. So the listenership for this show primarily are authors who are either struggling, established somewhere along the line. A lot of them now are going the self-published route. Just really quickly, I wanted to get your thoughts on – I know you’ve always been traditionally published. But with the advent of ebooks and self-publishing, just what are your thoughts?
David Baldacci: I think it’s a terrific avenue and venue for people in non-traditional publishing. It’s a platform and you can reach a lot of readers in a way that didn’t even exist 10 years ago. Self-publishing way back when I started out was just kind of like you go down and Xerox pages and you staple them together and you hand them out from the trunk of your car.
So I think this is a great avenue. Look, the industry needs fresh voices and new blood all the time. So whether you’re published traditionally or not, it’s all about getting people reading your stuff and enjoying what you do, allowing you to do it as a living, so you can spend and devote more time to it. So I’m all for it. I mean I think more books are a good thing.
Tim Knox: Very good. Along the way, along with your writing, you’ve also established a charity, The Wish You Well Foundation. Tell us about that.
David Baldacci: My wife and I founded it about 15 years ago. We fund literacy organizations and initiatives across the country and we’ve done programs and funded programs in virtually all 50 states and counting. Literacy is the most important skill you will have. It’s the only way you can really think and process information and reliable and informed decisions. You can never reach your potential job-wise without really high literacy skills, particularly in the information age.
So we also have a program called Feeding Body and Mind and I partnered with Feeding America, which runs the nation’s food banks. So we used their pipeline distribution to send out books. I collect books on my book tool and we send those to food banks around the country. People need food to survive obviously but getting books and literary in the forefront of their lives can break them out of that generational poverty cycle and let them be self-sustaining. I’ve seen many bad results from no books being at home. I’ve seen many great results from having books at home.
Tim Knox: Do you ever think that books one day, the tangible book itself, will ever go away?
David Baldacci: I don’t believe so. I mean I’ve got kids that are grown but they grew up in the technology computer age and they both love real books and so do their friends and I ask them about that and said, “Why don’t you go and read off ebooks and stuff?” They were like, “Dad, I’ve been sitting in class in front of a computer screen. I play games on a computer screen. I talk to my friends on a computer screen. The last thing I want to do to actually read a book is read it on a computer screen.”
I think real books will be here to stay and will have a nice balance with electronic versions.
Tim Knox: What are your thoughts on – I think things in this industry are somewhat cyclical now that the big-box bookstores used to be – basically where you got your books. Then comes the digital age and a lot of the big-box stores are closing. But we’re seeing a lot of independent bookstores pop back up. What are your thoughts on that cycle?
David Baldacci: Absolutely. Most of the stores on my book tour for Memory Man are independents and they are thriving and they are thriving and the ones that have survived the downturn have come back even stronger and they know what they’re doing. They know their audience and they can be – a lot of the stuff they can do, Amazon can’t do. They can’t host author events and have people come to the store and meet the author and get their book signed and listen to the author talk. That’s something they excel at, that the digital platform cannot duplicate.
So I think that we are seeing the resurgence of renaissance so that the bookstores are a fantastic thing, because if the industry has a heartbeat, I think it’s the independent bookseller.
Tim Knox: One of the things you touched on there is kind of the relationship between the author and the fan base. Let’s talk a little bit about social media, which I think has made it much easier for fans to build that relationship with the author. I assume you’re on all social media. How active are you?
David Baldacci: I am. I have the Facebook and Twitter and probably some other things that I have no idea even exist but I’m on. I have people to help me with that. It’s not like I get on and I’m tweeting every day. I don’t do that. I’m the long form guy. I write the 400 page books. So it’s hard for me to put anything in 140 characters or less.
Tim Knox: Yeah, exactly. But do you think it is important though in building that relationship? I mean let’s face it. Ten years ago, you and I probably wouldn’t be having this conversation because I met your folks online. So it is important for building those relationships.
David Baldacci: It truly is. We built a good foundation on the Facebook. We have a lot of great stuff going on at Twitter. It’s a great way to get messages out and it’s also a great way for fans to message in and let me know what’s going on with them and I enjoy that. I read them and it is. I think it’s an essential tool these days to connect with readership and fans.
Tim Knox: One of the things that I admire about you is you have a reputation whether you know it or not because you are so prolific. But you’re just a nice guy. How do you stay so grounded?
David Baldacci: Well, I was on the outside of the window looking in for a long time. I know what it’s like to be frustrated and years go by and nothing is selling and you think, “Well, it’s just not going to happen for me.” So I understand that very well. I didn’t sell my first book until I was in my mid-30s. I’ve been writing a long time. So I had great empathy for people out there on the other side who are trying to break in and I help them as much as I can. Before all this happened to me I was already complete as an individual. My personality was what it was. I’m calm and respectful to people because I like people to be the same towards me. I’m just – it would be really hard for me to be a mean person. So, I’m just a little bit lazy and I would rather be nice to people.
Tim Knox: Being mean takes work. It really does.
David Baldacci: Although I’ve met some people who seem to do it very naturally.
Tim Knox: You know what? I’ve interviewed some of those folks. So over everything that you’ve written, do you have a favorite character or a favorite book that really sticks out for you?
David Baldacci: Yeah, it’s hard. Villain-wise, I wrote a book years ago called The Winner and the villain there was Jackson. I still get emails about that book even if it was written – it came out in 1998. The Camel Club, they’re just so quirky. I kind of like them. My non-thrillers Wish You Well which is coming out as a movie this year, we filmed it a couple of years ago. It’s just – it has a special place in my heart because it’s a very personal story. So I have favorites for different reasons.
Tim Knox: You do kind of write all over the place. You’re not stuck in one genre. I think you had written a children’s book recently.
David Baldacci: I did. My adult fantasy came out last week called The Finisher. The sequel to that comes out in September called The Keeper. Sony Studios bought film rights and they’re planning to turn that into like a franchise for them like a Harry Potter or Hunger Games, so that’s exciting. Yeah, I love fantasy, reading fantasy as a kid and I have always wanted to write as an adult. It took me five years of my life to write the first one. But it was just a lot of fun.
Tim Knox: A number of your books have been turned into movies and television programs. Talk just a little bit about that process. What was it like? I mean the new may have worn off by now. But when Absolute Power was coming to film, what was that like for you?
David Baldacci: It was surreal. I mean Clint Eastwood, iconic filmmaker, everybody – world-famous guy and it was like the first novel. So yeah, it was surreal and I was just walking around like it was in a dream at that time. Since then, I’ve had other projects made and you get a little smarter about it as far as – I try to collaborate with people that I know respect the material.
A book can’t be translated literally into a movie. It’s impossible. It would be like five hours long. I joke about this but it’s really true. People will only watch a movie that’s five hours long and two things happen. One, there’s a very young, attractive couple falling in love and secondly, there’s a huge ship sinking for a really long time. If you have those two elements, the movie can go four hours. So I try to associate myself with people who share my vision and material and then I just let them go off and do what they do, making it a TV series, making them to a film.
Tim Knox: How involved do you like to get – you’ve actually done the screenwriting on some of these, right?
David Baldacci: I have, yeah. When I do that, I’m actually on the set pretty much every day and dealing with a lot of different issues and that’s a whole other world onto itself, let me tell you. I’ve certainly gone to film sets and those are exciting places. It’s kind of cool to sit and watch people who you created in your head do dialogue, go out and do action scenes and locations that you created that a film set has to recreate. There’s a place I wrote about in the book and there it is. They just built it. So it is kind of cool.
Tim Knox: Yeah. How difficult is it for you as the author of the book though to write that screenplay?
David Baldacci: It can be very difficult adapting your own stuff because the first thing you have to do and say to yourself is, “OK, what do I cut?” because you got to cut a lot to making it through a 115-minute movie. You have to be judicious. You have to maintain the core of the story but a lot of the subplots, a lot of the characters are gone. Some characters get paired together, so two people become one and you just have to sort of get over it and realize that it’s no longer a book that you’re working on. It’s a script.
Tim Knox: Exactly. David, we got a couple of minutes left. What are you working on now?
David Baldacci: I’ve got a couple of things. I’m working on a third installment of my young adult series. It’s a sequel to The Finisher and The Keeper and I’m working on a new book that will be out in November of this year called The Guilty and it’s the fourth installment of the Will Robie series. So I’m really excited to get back to Will Robie.
Tim Knox: Very good. David, as I mentioned earlier, the listeners for this program are authors in various stages of their career. If you could, just give them a quick bit of advice.
David Baldacci: Write about what you’re passionate about. Don’t chase trends because you will always be like three or four trends behind. But if you’re passionate about something and you write about it, I guarantee it would lift your pages out of the sludge pile the editors and agents have on their desks, because most people will write for the wrong reasons. Write for the right reasons or writing about something you really actually care about.
Tim Knox: So you’re saying that teen vampire book I’m working on, I don’t really need to finish.
David Baldacci: You might want to pull it out in about 10 years. It comes back around, I guarantee.
Tim Knox: David Baldacci, the new book is Memory Man. Tell folks where they can find out more about you and your work.
David Baldacci: You can go to DavidBaldacci.com and for the charities, you can go to WishYouWellFoundation.org and FeedingBodyAndMind.com.
Tim Knox: Very good. David, it has been a pleasure. I wish you all the success you deserve, sir.
David Baldacci: Thank you very much.