NoVA Summer Spotlight: David Baldacci

Always asking questions about the world around him, David Baldacci looks back on becoming one of America’s bestselling novelists.

Photo by Guy Bell

In an area teeming with personality and character, we will be featuring 10 select influencers that are leaving their mark on the Northern Virginia region. Spotlights will be featured on a weekly basis and will range in industry from authors and performers to tech giants and unique business owners. 

Like a runaway train, David Baldacci is speeding toward the finish line—he’s unstoppable.  

“The last two weeks of my life it has been nonstop focused on the story, every day, every night, I can’t tell you how many hours I’ve been writing a day,” he says. “I’m barreling toward the end and things are flying out of my head.” 

On the cusp of finishing a novel that’s set to debut this fall, Baldacci can only describe his life as being atypical. 

“I don’t write every day. I don’t count words, I don’t count pages. I always thought those are artificial goals; I always have these fights with my writer friends about how that’s kinda bullshit. What if they all suck and you just gotta stop,” he says. “At the end of 2,000 words and you just go off and play golf? I write until the tank is empty.” 

As a publisher of 36 novels, all national and international bestsellers, Baldacci knows how to write a novel—a compelling one at that.   

First fueled by a lined notebook his mother gave him as a kid to write stories, Baldacci’s passion for writing blossomed in college, as he began to read and write more on the way to finding his own voice.  

“That’s where I really started to explore my writing style, just writing things down on paper and transferring thoughts from my head down, trying to read them into things that made sense,” he says. 

With a writing style that can be described as introspective, attention-getting and thrilling, Baldacci doesn’t like to waste a reader’s time.   

Whether it be a novel about sinister government secrets or a puzzling series of crimes that yearn to be solved, he takes readers on unexpected journeys.  

The Fallen, by David Baldacci
Photo courtesy of Grand Central Publishing

“From the very first page it hits the ground running,” Baldacci says. “I write with very little fat on the bone; the pages will turn, the story is there exposed, you don’t have to dig down through a lot of stuff to get to it.” 

No matter where he is, he can cut past the noise and exist in his own head, where story ideas run wild. In fact, he’s been known to frequent Plaka Grill on Maple Avenue in Vienna, to the point where he’s welcomed as family. 

“They know me so well that I even have my own table there,” he says. 

Even on the busiest days, Baldacci sits among the crowd of people, completely undeterred by distractions. He compares the experience with being a butterfly in a cocoon, ready to burst forth with a new idea.  

“I’ve written so much stuff with 100 people around me talking … and I feel like I’m in this huge cocoon and totally completely focused,” he says.  

Over time, writing has become interwoven with who he is. 

“Not to sound cliche-ish, but I’m not sure I can separate David the writer from David the person; I think they’re a little bit more of the same,” Baldacci says. “If I’m not writing, if I’m not engaged in the story, I’m just not a happy person.” 

Rather than sitting at a desk brainstorming for ideas, Baldacci explores the world around him asking questions. His talents lie in being able to make unique sense of the world around him.  

Taking inspiration from the wonder and curiosity of childhood, he interprets the world in distinct ways. 

“I walk around, I daydream, I pretend I’m a 6-year-old kid again because you have to be, part of you has to be that. If you grow up too much I don’t think you can really write creative fiction because that childlike wonder … you just can’t lose that, otherwise your edge is gone,” he says.  

In addition to his work as an author, Baldacci and his wife, Michelle, founded the Wish You Well Foundation, an organization that supports family and adult literacy in the United States. Created in 2002, the foundation has been a guiding light for Baldacci, constantly reminding him how many Americans take the ability to read for granted.  

“If you think about it, the ability to read is almost parallel with the ability to think, I don’t think you can really do one effectively without the other,” he says.  

Especially in the Northern Virginia area, Baldacci says decision making here is more important than anywhere else in the country.  

“If you can’t make your own decisions and think for yourself, this town is filled with very highly paid people who will tell you exactly what to believe and exactly what to decide and exactly what to vote for if you let them,” he says. “For me, the Wish You Well foundation is a way to say you know what, we want to empower people. They can read lots of different sources, synthesize it, process it, make up their own minds about what they want to do as a citizen in a democracy, not have someone tell them what to do.” 

Regardless of his literary or philanthropic efforts, Baldacci constantly remembers that passion lies at the root of his being. 

“The old adage, ‘write what you know about,’ I’m not disagreeing with that but at some point, you’re going to run out of things that you know a lot about,” he says. “I would modify that adage slightly and say ‘write about things that you would like to know about.'”  

As he closes in on the finish line, Baldacci can’t help but get antsy. No, he’s not worried about his novel. In fact, he’s ready to start all over again. 

“I don’t finish a story and say, ‘Oh God, I’m glad that’s over, I’m gonna take a couple of months off,'” he explains. “‘Oh God, what am I gonna do next? I gotta get going again.’ It’s almost like an addiction; a good one.” // 

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