By Bernard Vaughan
NEW YORK, July 21 (Reuters Life!) - Best-selling author David Baldacci is known for penning page-turners such as "The Simple Truth," "Split Second" and "The Sixth Man," in which he guides readers through mysteries at the highest levels of power.
His latest novel, "One Summer," is a family drama, a genre Baldacci explored in short stories before his debut novel "Absolute Power" made him a star in 1996.
"One Summer" follows Jack Armstrong, a veteran of the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts, as he tries to keep his family together following the sudden death of his wife and his own life-threatening battle with a mysterious illness.
Baldacci spoke with Reuters about the stylistic departure.
Q: How did you get the idea for this book?
A: "I was at church for my son's confirmation, and I'd gotten there early because my wife had asked me to save some seats for friends and family, so I had some time to think. I had a lot of things going on with my family at the time. My dad had passed away a year earlier. My mom was ill. My daughter was getting ready to head off to college. And I was thinking about my mortality, and this story hit me and unspooled before me -- the premise, the plot, the theme. I had to write it, and spent the next three months doing just that."
Q: "One Summer" is much different than the thrillers for which you're known. What types of challenges did you face in writing the book?
A: "In some ways it was liberating. I didn't have to lay out a lot of red herrings and clues. I could delve more deeply into the characters. Obviously, it's a different sort of genre. But those sorts of stories were what I started with. I wrote short stories for 10 years before I became a thriller writer, and their themes were more like the themes explored in 'One Summer.'"
Q: When do you know you have an idea worthy of a book?
A: "Usually, I rattle it around my head for a month. Earlier in my career I'd get an idea and say 'Great!' But when I'd start the next book I'd realize I didn't have enough material to justify a novel. As I'm thinking about the book, I need to layer the story to have plot and sub-plot, and then I have to think about the characters that could inhabit the story. And if all of that passes my litmus test, which is a feeling, an instinct in which I know I have enough material, I sit down and write it."
Q: What is it you hope readers feel when finished reading your books?
A: "Well, first of all, I hope they find it was an entertaining story that kept them engrossed as they went through the story with the characters. And I hope, with my thrillers especially, that they feel a little bit smarter than they were before they read the book. So if they feel smarter and feel like they've lived the story with the characters then I feel I've met all my goals as a writer."
Q: You're prolific. How often do you write?
A: "While I love to write, I don't write every day, because for me it's a waste of time. Some writers stare at the page or screen until it comes. For me, that means I haven't thought the story through enough. I don't have an official word count that I work with. Some days I'll write 100 words, and some days I'll write 5,000 words."
Q: Will novels survive?
A: "Oh, absolutely. The world is a story and people have been engaged by stories forever. That's how families swapped tales of each other. I think if books go away then humanity goes away, and I don't think anyone wants that."