This story was updated on Nov. 15, 2012.
As a practicing lawyer in Washington, D.C., for nine years, David Baldacci found fame with the publication of his first novel, “Absolute Power,” in 1996.
From there on, he put aside his law career, and over the next 16 years would write 24 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 said. “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.
The couple recently was honored at the Fairfax Library Foundation’s fourth annual Library Jubilee for their work with the Wish You Well Foundation, an effort to support family literacy in the United States by fostering and promoting the development and expansion of new and existing literacy and educational programs.
On Nov. 29, Baldacci will appear at an author’s event at Barnes & Noble Booksellers at Tysons Corner Center in McLean to sign copies of his new book, “The Forgotten.”
“I’ve lived up here for a long time and I tend to pick my book-signing spots very carefully, and this store has been one of my favorites for a long time. My daughter actually worked at this bookstore during a college break,” he said. “Being as I spend so much time in solitary confinement writing the books, thinking about them and editing them, it’s a nice balance to go to an event like this and meet the readers who enjoy the books, get feedback, tell stories along the way and update them on what’s going on with me and see a lot of friendly faces.”
Baldacci finds that solitude at his office in Reston, where he has a team that takes care of all the minutiae 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 said. “But I don’t have a perfect place to write. I can write anywhere.”
For instance, he recently wrapped a movie in Virginia based on one of his best-selling novels, “Wish You Well,” where he served as screenwriter, and had a somewhat unusual working space.
“We were at a farm filming for about a week and I had a desk outside with chickens and roosters walking around and when I wasn’t tweaking the script or dealing with production issues, I was working on my new novel,” he said. “The perfect place to write is in your head. If you are in the zone and you have your idea crystalized, you can work under any conditions, and I certainly do.”
When he writes, he won’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 said. “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 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 said. “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.”
“The Forgotten” tells the continuing story of Army special agent John Puller, who now is dealing with the mysterious death of his aunt in the picturesque Florida town called Paradise.
“This is the second book in the John Puller series,” the 52-year-author said. “He’s a very flawed character, certainly not a superhero … and he goes and tries to investigate what’s happening in this beautiful place, and the forgotten is sort of a group of people who have no power or influence and really no hope. It was my intent to show the world has haves and have-nots and that gap is widening. I hope people get more out of it than just another adventure story.”