David Baldacci offers 'The Simple Truth'
Web posted on: Wednesday, January 06, 1999 11:23:11 AM EST
ATLANTA (CNN) -- Author David Baldacci is an overnight success as a best-selling novelist. Of course, as he likes to point out, it was a success that came after toiling over several thousand nights.
As a lawyer writing fiction in his spare time, he burst into the publishing big time in 1992 with "Absolute Power," a novel about crime in the Oval Office. That book became a popular film starring Clint Eastwood.
His newest book is "The Simple Truth," a thriller in which the inner workings of the U.S. Supreme Court provide an intriguing backdrop.
Baldacci spoke recently with Miles O'Brien on CNN Sunday Morning.
CNN ANCHOR MILES O'BRIEN: How did you get your inspiration for this book?
DAVID BALDACCI: Well, I've always been fascinated with the Supreme Court. I'm a member of the Supreme Court Bar, and it's an institution that's always intrigued me because they have so much power and they operate in such secrecy. And I thought building a plot and a conspiracy and a thriller around the court would fascinate a lot of people.
O'BRIEN: It's interesting because when you focus on the Oval Office and the White House, there's very little that's secret. It's the ultimate fish bowl, and it's just the opposite of the Supreme Court. Was it a lot harder to get your research?
BALDACCI: It was a lot harder, and I had to be sort of creative in the sort of people that I approached and how I asked them questions. In my acknowledgement in my books, when I usually thank people for helping with research, the people of the court who I talked with all requested anonymity. So you won't see their names in the acknowledgement.
But it was a challenge for me. When I do research I become a journalist, and I sort of have to take different tactics to try to find out what I need to know.
O'BRIEN: So give us the basic thumbnail plot synopsis, if you would.
BALDACCI: Well, there's a man, a prisoner who is sitting in a military prison in Southwest Virginia for a crime he committed 25 years ago. During the era of Vietnam, he killed someone. And he gets a letter from the United States Army, and they're asking him one question in that letter, and he has no way to answer that question. But the letter is shown to him that even though he committed this crime, he's not guilty of murder.
And he wants out of prison. And he tries to take his case to the Supreme Court and comes to find out, really, that the court is not designed to deliver justice to him.
And it has two sets of brothers, one black, one white, and I think it's my best work at sort of delving into family psychologies. But there's this intriguing plot. It deals with the Supreme Court, but a lot more than that, too.
O'BRIEN: I suppose the transition from lawyer to author, it's a little bit easier to talk about the law and the process. It probably is a little more of a stretch -- let me guess here for a moment -- getting into character development.
Did you have a hard time fleshing out characters initially?
BALDACCI: That's always a challenge for a writer. And I've tried to do a little bit more with each book that I've done. You have the page-turning thrillers, but I would like to try to develop characters a little bit more and have a little bit more better description in each book that I do; and slow the pace down a little bit, but let people enjoy the story more.
And character development is just sort of nuts and bolts. You have to keep going at it and at it, and keep revising and keep sort of delving into the characters until you get to know them very well, to know what they're capable of or not. And, hopefully, at the end of the day you have them exactly right. That's all you can hope to do.
O'BRIEN: Your first work was amazingly successful, in part because of excellent timing, you'd have to admit. It was a bit prescient on the fact that there was some scandal in the White House involved there. I'm curious how tough an act that is to follow as a writer. Or do you not think about that?
BALDACCI: You try not. I started writing my second book, "Total Control," before "Absolute Power" even sold because I'd been writing for over 10 years. I had never sold anything. I had never assumed that "Absolute Power" would sell.
There is some pressure once you've been published to try to keep turning out high-quality material, but you can't really think about that too much. The best pressure a writer can put on himself is ... just to keep writing as well as they can and not worry about the outside influences. That will just make you not want to write at all.
O'BRIEN: I suppose the outside influence you might consider, if you were so inclined, would be the fact that there perhaps is a bit of a glut of legal type thrillers out there right now. When will the public be sated in this area?
BALDACCI: I don't know. I've talked to a lot of people about that, and I think people are fascinated by lawyers and the legal system because they don't know a lot about it, but they know it's very powerful and the probably feel like people are taking advantage of the system.
That's why the shows on television dealing with lawyers are so fascinating, because the stakes are so high. With criminal law, you have people who can go to prison or be executed if the lawyer fails. It's like a football game almost. At the end of the day, you have a victor and a vanquished, and I think people like to watch those sorts of battles.
O'BRIEN: You, of course, have quit the day job, as they say, and practicing law is now part of your history. Is there any part of that you miss?
BALDACCI: I miss some of the people I worked with, not all of them. I don't really miss the work that much. I had become a partner in a firm, and I was expected to do all the work still, but I was also expected to go out and continually get business every single day, and that really grinds you down after a while. I don't miss that part. Writing is what I was meant to do, I think.
O'BRIEN: Yes, forget those billable hours.
David, we always like to ask our authors what are they reading. Have you read anything good lately?
BALDACCI: Well I'm re-reading "To Kill a Mockingbird" by Harper Lee. I've always loved that book.
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