Up Close: David Baldacci
A New Character and a New Time
By Dawn Ius
David Baldacci was on tour for Long Road to Mercy when a bout of insomnia got him thinking about a new story. It began—as nearly all of Baldacci’s works do—with the idea for a character: Aloysius Archer, a straight-talking former World War II soldier fresh out of prison for a crime he didn’t commit.
The story wasn’t meant to be much more than a novella, something he figured his publisher might put out as an e-book. But the more Baldacci typed, the more Archer spoke to him, and a few months later, ONE GOOD DEED was born.
“No one knew I was writing it,” he says. “But the story kept flowing, and I gave it to my agent, who was stunned, and then we gave it to my publisher who was also stunned, and suddenly we had a two-book deal.”
What it means for readers is a Baldacci book like no other—ONE GOOD DEED is set in the late 1940s, making it his first historical thriller. For Baldacci, it adds another series character to juggle (in current rotation with Atlee Pine and Amos Decker) and the opportunity to explore an era he admits has always fascinated him.
“My dad was in World War II, and I had nine uncles in World War II,” he says. “I remember their stories. It was really a transition time for people in this country—they were on the move, all looking for their slice of the American dream.”
Archer is in search of it as well, though admittedly he encounters a few blips along the way. He’s a man of his generation—a bit sexist, at least in the beginning, rough around the edges—but he fits in perfectly with the noir-ish atmosphere Baldacci has created.
Though he came to Baldacci almost organically, the author says he fleshed Archer out through research that involved, in part, re-watching a pair of his favorite films—Chinatown and The Big Sleep.
“I watched The Big Sleep with my son, and 20 minutes in, he said, ‘Dad! Look at how the men are treating these women. It’s disgusting.’” The comment reaffirmed that Baldacci and his wife are raising their boy right, but it also provided some much needed, if not somewhat cringe-worthy, context for Archer’s character arc.
In the wake of the #MeToo movement, Baldacci admits that developing this type of character may have been a bit of a risk, but Archer evolves by the end of the book, and as Baldacci points out, every time an author begins a new book, it’s a risk. It has to be.
“Taking risks is part of the responsibility of being a writer,” he says. “If you don’t want to take risks, if you’re only interested in playing it safe and not challenging yourself, then you’re probably in the wrong profession.”
That continuous challenge is key to Baldacci’s mind-boggling success. His mom gave him a notebook when he was a kid—rumored to keep him quiet because “every mom needs a break now and then”—and in 1996, he published Absolute Power. More than two decades later, Baldacci has published 38 novels for adults, all of which have been international bestsellers, and his books have been translated into more than 40 languages and distributed in over 80 countries. And if those statistics aren’t staggering enough, several of his books have been adapted for TV and film, including his first, Absolute Power, in which Clint Eastwood both directed and starred.
It would be tempting, perhaps, for Baldacci to rest on his laurels—but that isn’t in his nature. Commitment to his craft is important, as is honoring his creative muse.
ONE GOOD DEED began as a passion project, and though it represents a different kind of story than readers may expect, avid fans will have no problem spotting the classic Baldacci traits—crisp writing that evokes emotion, atmospheric details that lure the reader in, characters that come to life with every turn of the page, and enough twists and turns to keep the story moving at a breakneck clip.
He makes it look easy—but it isn’t. Even for a genre giant like Baldacci.
“Fear is a good thing for a writer,” he says. “Some of the best advice I got from William Goldman is that it’s okay to be scared to death at the start of every project.”
Baldacci certainly was when he began ONE GOOD DEED, but he also says the experience was liberating—the freedom to write whatever he wanted, without expectation, and the opportunity to delve into a project that filled his creative gas tank.
“I always tell writers, write what you want to write about,” he says. “It’s tough enough to write a book—so you need the proper motivation. We all need to do a gut check every once in a while and ask ourselves, ‘How can we do it differently?’ Otherwise…it all falls apart.”
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