David Baldacci is the internationally best-selling author of more than 55 books, several of which have been adapted to film and television. He and his wife also started the Wish You Well Foundation to support adult and family literacy. His latest book, The Fallen, will be released on April 17. Baldacci will be delivering the closing keynote for the upcoming Orlando Book Festival*, an annual celebration of books including author panel discussions, writing workshops and book signings held at the Orlando Public Library on April 21 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Staff member Sarah spoke with David about his interest in writing, his transition from lawyer to full time author and on the importance of literacy.
*Seating is limited for the David Baldacci keynote: a limited number of wristbands will be distributed starting at 9:30 a.m.
Sarah Fisk: What first sparked your interest in writing?
David Baldacci: I was a reader as a kid and I loved losing myself in the world of someone else’s imagination. I was also the sort of kid who never shut up. I was always telling outlandish tales borne from my imagination. One day my mom went to the store and bought me a journal, gave it to me, and told me to start writing some of these stories down. I did and I never looked back. Many years later, I told my mom what a gift she had given me that day, a way to put my imagination down on paper. She told me she was glad things had worked out for me, but that she really just wanted to shut me up because even moms need a little peace and quiet.
SF: Once you became a practicing lawyer, what inspired you to continue writing with a busy career?
DB: I was hooked. Writing wasn’t just a part of my life, it was who I was. During the day I wrote about things a client wanted me to write. But at night I got to write what I wanted to write. I think it’s the only thing that kept me sane sometimes—having that sort of cathartic and creative outlet.
SF: What is your favorite part of writing books/being an author?
DB: I have two favorites, diametrically opposed. I love the isolation of writing, the quiet, introspective time one needs to write. But I also cherish the moments in public, meeting my fans and talking about writing and my personal journey, and making people laugh and feel good in the process. Somehow, it all balances out!
SF: Do you have any writing quirks/superstitions/obsessions?
DB: I write mostly on a computer, but I do the heavy-lifting editing with pens. I like to see the blood on the page! I can write anywhere: in my office, on a train, plane, car, in a busy restaurant at a back corner table. Before I start a new project I always tidy up, putting old things away, and arranging my new tools appropriately. Gustave Flaubert wrote, “Be regular and orderly in your life, so you can be violent and original in your work.” There’s certainly some truth to that, if only to preserve creative energy for your writing.
SF: What’s the most interesting thing you’ve ever researched for a book?
DB: I spent three days at a military base training with Army Rangers, parachute jumping, sniper shooting, doing Army fitness training, rolling over in Humvees. I learned how to ride a horse for another book. I can wax poetic on poisons and corpses.
SF: What inspired you and your wife to start the Wish You Well Foundation, which supports family and adult literacy?
DB: We have an illiteracy problem in this country and it permeates all of society. Without that one tool, the ability to read, one can never reach their potential. I refuse to give up on people who simply need an opportunity. For all we know there could be an Albert Einstein, Bill Gates or Elon Musk among them, and what a waste to humanity that would be to never allow that person to help the world.
SF: What is your one essential piece of advice for aspiring authors?
DB: Don’t necessarily write what you know about. Write what you’d like to know about. That will give you the passion to finish the job. If you have no interest in the subject matter, you’ll never finish the story. Writing is simply too hard, takes too long and has too many potential pitfalls for the uncommitted to merely go into it with a passing interest.
SF: What is the most important book you’ve ever read and why?
DB: The Magic Squirrel. I read it when I was six and it was the first book I read all the way through; it cemented my love of reading and my indefatigable curiosity about the world. Everything good in my life has essentially come from that experience.