A once practicing lawyer in Washington D.C. for nine years, David Baldacci found fame with the publication of his first novel, “Absolute Power” in 1996—a story that would gain further prominence as a Clint Eastwood movie.
Once his book became a success, he set aside his law career and over the next 21 years would write 34 best-selling novels, translated into more than 45 languages and sold in more than 80 countries.
However, Baldacci wasn’t a lawyer who turned to writing; he was a writer who happened to be a lawyer.
“It’s what I always wanted to be. When I was a kid, I would try to sell short stories to the New Yorker magazine but I couldn’t make a living writing short stories,” he says. “I went to law school and wrote all different types of things—screenplays, short stories, novellas—then came my big break.”
Born in Richmond and having gone to Virginia Commonwealth University for undergrad and the University of Virginia School of Law, Baldacci is a lifelong Virginian and currently lives in Vienna with his wife Michelle.
Baldacci recently released his latest novel, “End Game (Will Robie #5),” following one of his most popular characters, who in this story returns home from a mission overseas to discover that his boss—codenamed Blue Man—has vanished. Robie and Jessica Reel are two of readers’ favorite characters.
“It’s easier to write for a recurring character because you’ve already laid down the foundation but it’s almost like an actor in a long-running series, you have to find ways to keep it interesting with new facets of the character’s personality, something new and fresh about them, and that’s what I try to do with all my characters,” Baldacci says. “In this story, people will learn a lot more about the dynamic between Robie, Reel and Blue Man and how strong their ties really are.”
The setting of the book is in a small remote Colorado town, and the author picked it because he has some family in the state and feels the area has some nice elements to it—such as being vast and wide open—that dovetailed nicely with the plot.
“The book opens with alternating chapters, three chapters with Robie and three chapters with Reel, and these two characters are doing what they do—incredibly dangerous things and coming away from those experiences a little bit changed,” Baldacci says. “I want people to know that while they are doing all these action-packed events, they are still human beings and trying to process it all.”
Baldacci spent about six months on the project and he says it was one of the easiest writings of his career, and the initial copy came out closer to the finished product than ever before.
When writing, Baldacci finds solitude at his office in Reston, where he has a team who takes care of all the minutia that goes with being a published author, allowing him time to do what he does best.
“When I am in town, I get to the office every day and I do a lot of writing, editing and research here, keeping sort of a buffer from my house, which my wife and I decided a long time ago,” he says. “But I don’t have a perfect place to write. I can write anywhere.”
When he writes, he doesn’t set artificial goals for himself as to the number of hours or pages he needs to complete; he just sits down to write until he can’t write anymore.
“I’m not going to sit and stare at a blank screen because that’s counterproductive to me,” he says. “I’ll go take a walk or do something else or daydream and the issues usually resolve themselves.”
One thing that may surprise people is that when Baldacci sits down to start a new project, he doesn’t know much about his characters yet and has no idea how his stories will end.
“I don’t outline them, as I always felt that if I did, it would read like I wrote from an outline. This is a spontaneous, creative business and sometimes you should zag instead of zig, so writing freehand allows you that flexibility,” he says. “I never know the ending of a novel until I get very near that point. I might have seven different endings and I work hard to find the right one. I feel that if I surprise myself, then I’m going to shock the reader, and that’s not a bad thing.”
Up next for Baldacci will be a new Amos Decker book, and he’s not sure what comes after that, though he hints it could be a new standalone or he could explore another of his favorite recurring characters.
“It’s all about who’s been weighing on my mind lately and who do I think has more fuel in the tank,” he says. “Or I could be walking down the street and something strikes me about one of my characters and I think about whether I want to spend the next few months of my life writing about them. I just never know.”
Baldacci is happy that Vienna has a new independent book store in Bards Alley and hopes that more shops like this pop up across the country.
“It’s just great to see people buying books and local communities supporting it,” he says. “I’ve always said if we had more people that read, we’d have a far better world.”