Internationally-acclaimed best-selling author David Baldacci burst on the literary scene in 1996 with his first novel, Absolute Power. Since then he has written 16 additional best-selling works including: Total Control, The Winner, Wish You Well, and his latest blockbuster, The Whole Truth.
Before going on to be a successful author, Baldacci practiced law for nine years in Washington, D.C., as both a trial and corporate attorney. His works have been translated into more than 40 languages and sold in more than 80 countries. All of his books have been national and international bestsellers, and over 50 million copies are in print worldwide. He talks with PopMatters 20 Questions about the importance of hallucinogens, hit men, and Herman Munster.
1. The latest book or movie that made you cry?
Widow for One Year by John Irving. There’s a scene in the book where a little boy’s father has just been found dead in bed in a hotel the family is staying at. The mom doesn’t want to tell him so they leave the hotel and she tells him a little fib about his daddy coming to join them later. The little boy waves bye to his Dad as the car pulls away. I read the book when my oldest child was about that age and it just hit me like a sledgehammer. I couldn’t stop weeping. John Irving is a great writer and apparently I’m a very emotional dad.
2. The fictional character most like
Atticus Finch with a slice of Herman Munster. I hope I’m more compassionate than I am ambitious. I stand up for right vs. wrong. But I can be quite a goofball, too. FYI That would be the Herman side, not Atticus.
3. The greatest album, ever?
Bruce Springsteen’s Born to Run. More truth and heart in that than all of Beyonce and Mariah and Jessica’s T&A put together.
4. Star Trek or Star Wars?
Star Trek. I heard somewhere that the entire flight deck of the Starship Enterprise was made of cardboard. That even added to the allure for me. Kirk and Spock saved the universe with cardboard. Imagine what they could have done with, say, plastic or even aluminum foil. It does give one pause.
5. Your ideal brain food?
I’m Italian. For Italians, food is brain food. So pasta, of course. With Balance power bars a close second, followed by an Amarone. I know, it’s a red wine but to Italians wine is food.
6. You’re proud of this accomplishment, but why?
My kids. They’re grounded and good kids. As Jackie Kennedy Onassis once said, if you screw up your kids it doesn’t matter what else you accomplish in life, you’re still a failure. I wish a lot more parents subscribed to that theory.
7. You want to be remembered for…?
Making people want to read again. Not just through my books, but through our family foundation. Books rock. Authors are cool. And reading and communicating with words is the only way to realize your potential in any field.
8. Of those who’ve come before, the most inspirational are?
Mark Twain, Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, Dr. Seuss, and SpongeBob SquarePants. My son made me throw in that one. Roosevelt, I mean.
9. The creative masterpiece you wish bore your signature?
“I’ll give you two for the price of one!” And Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood. How often does an author get to create his own genre?
10. Your hidden talents . . .?
Drawing, sketching. My brother is an artist, a real one. I only dabble, but I’m better than I thought I would be. And I’m also very good at teaching people to water ski. And I’m cheap. My father always told me to have a fallback profession. So if you know anyone looking to learn to water ski, have them call the Author’s Guild and ask for the Fallback Department.
11. The best piece of advice you actually followed?
Never believe them when they tell you you’re great and never believe them when they tell you you suck! That advice came compliments of William Goldman who wrote the script for Absolute Power. Bill, if you’re reading this, thanks, you were right. Sometimes being an author is like being a politician without a country to run of course. People love to slam you. Go on Amazon and see the vitriol flow. It’s like the fine aroma of napalm in the morning.
12. The best thing you ever bought, stole, or borrowed?
Our lake house. We bought it eight years ago and it has provided months of great fun and relaxation. A close second, when I stole all the plot lines for my novels from the Author’s Guild’s Bottomless Hole Submission Department. What can I say, the water ski lesson business was a
little slow at the time.
13. You feel best in Armani or Levis or . . .?
Levis. I can buy them with a credit card whereas I would need a wire transfer equal to an advance on my novel to do the Armani thing. And who cares what writers wear? It’s the brain, baby, that counts. And even Armani can’t make that ugly pink mass look good. So why bother?
14. Your dinner guest at the Ritz would be?
After my wife turned me down, Jim Dale and J.K. Rowling, and not necessarily in that order. But I’d have to bring my kids.
15. Time travel: where, when and why?
Dallas, Texas, the day after JFK was assassinated. I would want answers. Who really did it and why? Talk to me Lee, talk to me Jack. No? We’ve got ways of making you spill your guts. Bring in the waterboarding clowns.
16. Stress management: hit man, spa vacation or Prozac?
Depending on the source of the stress, definitely a hit man. They’re professionals. You pay your money and get what you paid for. I think the world would be a much more civilized place if hit men were legalized. I could see them flying through the fine suburbs in the soccer vans loaned to them by their clients, windows down, lead flying, obnoxious Yuppies going down hard on their well-manicured lawns.
17. Essential to life: coffee, vodka, cigarettes, chocolate, or . . .?
Hallucinogens. Because I find that coffee, nicotine and even Prozac have their limits. Seriously, what would any of us do without friends and family? They’re the calm harbor in the storms. Without that, you’re zip.
18. Environ of choice: city or country, and where on the map?
Near water and where there are seasons. But not ocean water because of course the oceans are rising and the lands are receding and when I pay for waterfront I don’t mean underwater-front, which would seriously crimp my fun. I mean can you imagine having to come up every couple of minutes for air? Now that’s an inconvenient truth.
19. What do you want to say to the leader of your country?
Try harder—a lot harder. Surround yourself with people who do not agree with you and will challenge you on everything. Take all “yes people” and bury them in the family crypt. The only thing at stake is the world. Don’t have a personal life. Don’t sleep, don’t mess around, and don’t make jokes. Just work your ass off until we get this whole thing right.
20. Last but certainly not least, what are you working on, now?
I’ve got a great idea for a new novel, a series actually. There’s a young boy named Larry Rotter who lives in France and one day he learns he’s a wizard. Damn, that’s already taken. Okay, a new Camel Club is in the works. But for right now you’ll have to content yourself with learning The Whole Truth in a book of the same name. It’ll tell you precisely how to create the big lie, make the world believe it and amaze your friends and family. Oh, and also end life as we know it. But the publisher doesn’t like to highlight that part for obvious reasons. Enjoy.
// Marginal Utility
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