David Baldacci: I never thought that I'd sell 100 million books
It took 6,000 nights for the thriller writer to become an 'overnight' success.
Talking to David Baldacci is a slightly surreal experience. This is a man who's sold 100 million books since 1996. He's impeccably charming and relaxed in conversation, but, still, you can't help thinking, "He's on Wikipedia's page of the best-selling authors ever!"
The thriller writer admits that "commercial success can bring its own kind of pressure – if you let it. I try to avoid thinking about commercial aspects when I'm writing: people waiting to read the book, publishers and those they employ who depend on it. You'd paralyse yourself.
"I try to think of myself as a guy sitting in a room, and nobody's waiting for this book because nobody's heard of me. That philosophy has served me well."
He's speaking from his Virginia home, where he lives with his wife of 22 years, Michelle, and their two teenage children, to promote new TV comedy-drama King & Maxwell, based on his book series, starring Rebecca Romijn and Jon Tenney.
David explains: "Shane Brennan, who produces NCIS, approached me about adapting the books. I'm a huge fan of his shows and really agreed with his vision for this. As an author, the best thing to do is talk to the people who are going to be adapting your work. If your perspectives coincide, that's the best protection for a faithful adaptation."
This former Washington lawyer is well used to parlaying with Hollywood. His first novel Absolute Power, a huge smash, was filmed by Clint Eastwood and Gene Hackman. He also produced and wrote the script for Wish You Well, out later this year, starring Ellen Burstyn and Josh Lucas.
The 53-year-old has written some 30 crime and espionage thrillers and two children's books, and been translated into 45 languages. Strangely, though, he never intended any of it. "I took an unlikely route to 'best-selling thriller writer'. I'd been writing since I was young and planned to be a short-story writer, I love the form. Obviously I wouldn't make much money off it because they don't sell, so I'd support my family by working as a lawyer. I gradually went from short stories to screenplays, then to novels, and finally became an overnight success after 6,000 nights!
"Writing is hard, it's a craft you never fully master – just try to get a little better each time. But it's nice, a break from reality: you create your own world. These characters wouldn't have existed but for you. It's a fulfilling feeling."
The Target, by David Baldacci
His fiction is a mixture of standalone novels and – a staple of crime and espionage genre – the series, in which characters carry on through several books.
David says, "I have a few different series, and what I like is that you don't have to get everything said in one book. You can put in little teasers to be addressed in future novels."
David is famous for the verisimilitude of his novels – it's all rigorously researched at source. This was a very deliberate decision: "I realised early on that, with the kind of books I wanted to write, I could Google stuff, but anyone can do that. To get the nuances, the things people don't write down, I needed to get out there, like a journalist.
The Write Stuff: David Baldacci
"At first, it was hard: call a friend of a friend of a friend. I tried to brief myself well before talking to someone from the FBI, CIA and Secret Service. I wanted them to respect me and know I'd done my homework, knew their field, their vernacular. That way, over the years, I've built up numerous contacts different agencies."
Visiting these workplaces, he says, is "a cool experience, almost like walking on to a movie set. One of the most fascinating, disturbing experiences I had was when working on a book set in intelligence, and I asked one guy to check that I hadn't gone too far; I thought my story was ridiculous. He said there was no need because whatever I had imagined, they'd already done it."
David Baldacci's new novel 'The Target' is published in April. 'King & Maxwell' is on Alibi