David Baldacci talks about 'Last Man Standing'
Q. You exhibit quite an extensive knowledge of the FBI in general and
specifically the Hostage Rescue Team (HRT). How did you do your research?
A. I had been fascinated by the HRT for some time and I wanted to make my main
character, Web London, an HRT operator. I visited the HRT's headquarters, toured
the facilities, spend time with HRT operators, asked a zillion questions, read
everything I could find on them. I really wanted to get into their heads and
hearts to bring it all to life on the pages. I think I succeeded.
Q. There's a nonfiction book out right now called Cold
Zero by Christopher
Whitcomb which is a first person account of life inside the FBI and the HRT.
What do you think of his book and has he had any influence on you?
A. Cold Zero
is wonderful. I read it in one sitting. A profound look at a very complex
Whitcomb was an enormous help to me, my main contact at HRT. My book is far
better for his help and input.
Q. What was the most helpful thing Christopher
Whitcomb told you? What was the most surprising?
A. He allowed me to get into the heads not only of the agents, but of the
spouses, which I really wanted to do because I dealt with a lot of the spouses
of the HRT guys in this book. Probably one of the most fascinating things we did
was he brought a bunch of night vision equipment to my office, we went into my
conference room, turned down all the lights and we looked at each other through
these night vision goggles. And from that experience, I got one of the key
little clues or red herrings in the novels that I used to pretty surprising
effect. But for sitting there in the dark, I never would have gotten that.
Overall, Chris just gave me some great insights into what these guys do and
showed me that it's much more than the big guns they carry and the shootouts
sometimes they have, but the mentality that the best thing these guys can do is
to never have to fire their weapon. They use their wits instead of their
Q. What are the connections between Christopher
Whitcomb and your main character, Web London?
A. Well, I had created Web long before I had met Chris. Physically, they
resemble each other somewhat. Chris is very tall and Web is a tall guy and
they're both very fit. But there the physical similarities probably end; Web is
disfigured and has bullet wounds that thank god Chris doesn't have. But the
mentality I guess, they're both very professional and they both have been
through a lot. I don't think you can spend as many years in the HRT as Chris or
Web London has done and not be affected by the work that they have to do. And
they both tend to carry it inside, I'm not saying I know Chris extremely well,
but he's a good friend of mine and I look forward to knowing him a lot better
over the years, but I would imagine if he read Web London and looked at Web
London, and has been through some of the same things that he has, I think he
would say there's a little bit of Christopher
Whitcomb in Web London. But I think it's there because Chris is very good at
telling me the things that he's gone through and I in turn use that to breathe
greater life into Web London.
Q. So did you change anything about Web London after you met Christopher
A. No. I really didn't. I approached it that Web was going to be very
professional, which he is, and that he's not a gun-happy guy and Chris Whitcomb
is not a gun-happy guy. I think for both of them, success is when nobody gets
hurt and that is when they accomplish their goals. So I think they certainly
share that. But Chris overall gave me a feel for what it's like to be in the
middle of a mission, how hard they train, little inside jokes that they have and
sometimes how morbid they are. Just their release of tension that all these
people are under. The fact that they have a family and how hard it is to be a
spouse. I told Chris' wife that she must be a saint to have done it for so many
Q. You did quite a bit of research for Last
Man Standing, as well as for your last novel, Wish
You Well, but it must have been quite a different kind of research. Which
was more difficult? Was either one more enjoyable for you? Is what you read
different when writing such different kinds of novels?
A. I learned to ride a horse and fired machine guns, among other activities,
while researching Last
Man Standing. I read lots of books, interviewed my mother and recalled
childhood memories while writing Wish
You Well. Each book presents its own set of difficulties and challenges. Wish
You Well was certainly a joy to write and was my most personally-inspired
effort. Yet Last
Man Standing was quite a thrill ride and that experience will stay with me
Q. The main character of Last
Man Standing, Web London, has such a unique name, does it have any special
meaning for you? How do you come up with character names?
A. The name is very special and memorable. And the genesis may be revealed in a
sequel. I try to fit names to characters, if that makes any sense. In my mind
they are as real as flesh and blood. Interesting names are also a good way to
Q. You say that Web London's name is both "special and
memorable", what more can you tell us about the mystery of this unique
A. Well, it has to do with a character that's mentioned in Last
Man Standing and that when and if, and I think it will be when, I write the
sequel to this book, the genesis of his name will be explained. But the person
who named him has already been mentioned in this book, I just don't tell you who
it is, so it's for something down the road. It's like a teaser now.
Q. So, you're not going to tell us the big secret?
A. Right, I'm not. [laughs]
Q. Web London is also a very complex character, he quite nontraditional in
what he does and how he acts, yet he is also quite sympathetic. How do you
create a character with such depth? Does his character evolve as you write, or
do you plan his development out before you write?
A. With each book I try to make my characters more complex. Characters who are
original and memorable make a story so much more enjoyable. I remember
characters over plots. I know some writers believe that character depth slows
down people turning the pages. I say, "what's wrong with people slowing
down and enjoying a story." How did it ever come to be a measure of a
book's excellence that a reader could start and finish it in a couple of hours.
To create Web London you bring to bear a million small details laid out
gradually to entice a reader to want to learn more about the man. Web's
character really grew while I was writing the book. Towards the end I felt like
I was just taking dictation when I was writing his dialogue. The character was
directing me at that time.
Q. Family dynamics is one topic from which you seem unable to escape in
all of your books, whether they be set in the hills of Virginia like Wish
You Well or the gritty world of the inner city and the HRT like Last
Man Standing. Why is that?
A. How can one ever escape family dynamics. I'm a great student of history, of
the past and I'm a firm believer that family influences are far greater than some
"experts" would have us believe. Because those influences are so
subtle at times and many manifest themselves years later in completely
unpredictable ways, I find it fascinating. Trying to explain a character's
motivations in life without at least partially exploring their past and their
family relations would be like trying to make lasagna without the pasta, it
Q. Have you ever considered creating a recurring character, like James
Patterson's Alex Cross or Michael
Connelly's Harry Bosch? What are the advantages and disadvantages to having
a recurring character?
A. Web London may be my first attempt at that. I love the guy.
Disadvantages-character stops growing, writer becomes complacent and
predictable. Advantages-(if you can call it that) writer doesn't have to come up
with a new major character each time.
Q. You say there may be a sequel. Where do you see Web London going? Will
his next story focus on the HRT?
A. I see Web London growing as a character. I'm probably going to move away from
HRT and put him into different environments. The way the book ends, without
giving away the ending, sets up the direction in which Web London's going to be
heading. I think that Web London is adaptable to lots of different scenarios.
You Well was chosen as the inaugural novel of the national reading program
All America Reads. Will you tell us a little bit about the program and your
A. All America Reads is a nationwide reading project designed to encourage
middle and high school students to read by focusing them on one book. Wish
You Well was chosen as the inaugural book, which was quite an honor.
Virtually every state in the country is involved in some way. And the American
Library Association and the National Education association are also partners.
It's quite a thrill to see kids reading and discussing something you wrote. For
more information, check out AAR's website, www.allamericareads.org.
Q. What do you like most about meeting your fans? Have you ever learned
something from one of them that you didn't know before?
A.I love going out on tour, it is very time consuming and I tend to be a
homebody, it's hard being away from my family. I like going out on tour because
I like talking to fans. And I tell you, it still surprises the heck out of me
that somebody would stand in line just to get my signature on a book, even
though I wrote it. I don't remember doing that, and I'm a voracious reader. So,
I never take that stuff for granted and it's always a new thrill for me to go
I've learned a lot of things over the years. What surprises me is that the
things that they remember from the book are not the things that I thought they
would remember. I thought that other things would be more memorable, but
sometimes readers fixate on things that I never really would. What that shows me
is, you never really can tell, so every little detail you put it, you better put
it in with your best effort because you never know what people are going to take
away from it. Reader feedback is very important to me.
Q. What is the best question that anyone has ever asked at a book signing
and what was your answer?
A. I just gave a speech and a book signing in Cincinnati in the middle
of a tornado warning and while I was speaking, I had to incorporate the tornado
sirens going off, because they were going off inside the building and they were
deciding whether or not to evacuate the building. And they decided the people
would probably be safer inside, even though the roof was starting to rip off the
building. So I just kept going with my speech and I spoke the whole time. And I
took questions and answers at the end and a gentlemen in the audience raised his
hand and asked, "I want to know if prayer figures into your life at
all." And I looked at him and I said, "Sir, I've been praying the
whole time I've been up here." And I laughed.
Q. So was everything okay?
A. Well, as soon as the speech was over, the police came in and told us "You
have 20 minutes to get to your home, because the Doppler radar shows us that
there's a 20 minute break in the storm and after that all bets are off." So
Q. One of your fans and eNewsletter subscriber, Fran, wants to know,
"How long does it take you to write each of your novels?"
A. It varies. At least a year, usually longer. Research on a novel takes at
least four months.
Q. Can you tell us a little bit more about your writing habits? Do you
have a place where you write? Do you have a special routine? How do you stay
A. If I'm not writing, I'm not comfortable. I can write anywhere under any
circumstances. I can write in a plane or a train or a boat. In a corner, with a
screaming child in my lap, I've done all those things. If you wait for the
perfect place to write, you'll never write anything because there's no such
I just approach it every day by doing something usually different. I don't
sit and write every day, but if I'm not writing, I'm thinking about what I'm
going to write about in very great detail. I'm taking notes or going out and
interviewing people. Or sitting and staring at the ceiling, thinking about
plotlines. That's all part of the process. I don't write a certain number of
hours a day, I tend to think about things a lot, so when I'm writing, I'm very
productive because I've thought everything through in my head. So I can sit down
and write 15, 20 or 30 pages in one sitting because it's all there in my head
and I've taken the time to think through all the details. A lot of people rush
through the pages, and that's okay to do sometimes, as long as you realize
you're going to have to do a lot of rewriting and I do that too, but often my
best writing is done when I've really thought things through in my head, then
I'm prepared and then off I go.
Q. So you don't write out a detailed outline?
No. When I'm writing script, which is what I was doing when you called me, I do
very detailed scene breakdowns, that's totally different though.
David Baldacci talks about 'The Simple Truth'
Q: In The
Simple Truth you return to writing about lawyers and corruption within our
government's highest offices. Why did you decide to write about the legal world?
A: Foremost, because I know a lot about it. Also, in coming
up with plots I look for classical dilemmas, interesting confrontations,
ordinary people close to powerful epicenters. Political situations, lawyers,
Washington, all allow for those creative elements. In my novels I try to have at
least one character represent the "every person". It's a way to allow
the reader to relate to the events taking place in the novel and also to have
someone to root for (or against) as the case may be. Most stories need a moral
linchpin as well, and there's always one of those (seen via a character) in my
Q: The Supreme Court is constantly the subject of both
fiction and non-fiction books. Why is our nation's highest court so captivating?
A: Because people hear about it all the time, but know
almost absolutely nothing about it. People know about the presidency and the
congress, but those nine black-robed justices are a complete enigma. Secrecy is
always seductive, particularly when there is so much power concentrated in so
few people. And the people who have served on the court over the years tend to
be fascinating characters in their own right. As a novelist, I found much
material simply in studying past courts and justices. It's also interesting to
see the interplay between "justice" and the political and governing
roles of the Court. As the Constitution says, the Court is an equal branch of
government. And many of the decisions they make don't always have much to do
with justice between the two parties in a case, as ironic as that sounds. I find
that incredibly intriguing and think others will as well.
Q: Were you able to access "inside information"
about the Supreme Court while doing research for this book? Did you learn
A: In all of my books I try to find out things that will
make my stories unique and interesting. When I research I become a journalist. I
do much research from books and written materials, but the best kind of research
is person-to-person. If you want to find out how someone does his job, the
manuals will only give you part of the story. Human beings are always adapting
their skills, improving on what they do, and that information isn't often
written down anywhere. You need to interview the people doing the job to see how
it's really done. That's where you get the little details, the nuances that make
a story fascinating, interesting to read, and appear more realistic.
Simple Truth I talked to people who worked at the Court, argued at the Court
and who have studied the Court for many years. I'm also a member of the Supreme
Court Bar, I've attended oral arguments there, and have had members of my law
firms argue cases there. I learned a great deal I didn't know -- I don't think
any one person could ever master the place. I tried to fill the novel with those
details I thought would be most interesting to the reader. However, the reality
is that ninety percent of the research I do does not end up in the book. But
having amassed all of that knowledge allows me to put ten percent of the
information in a way that does not interrupt the flow of the story. Books that
tend to rip pages from textbooks and plunk them in the middle of a story do not,
in my opinion, make for great reading. The goal is seamless integration and no
writer ever gets it a hundred percent right, but all one can do is try. It takes
a lot of work, but the end result is well worth it.
Q: All your novels in some way explore the concepts of power
and corruption. What is at stake for your characters this time in The
Q: For one character, Rufus Harms, his freedom and his life
are at stake. Also, his honor. He was falsely imprisoned. Most of his life is
already gone. He's trying to get back the little he has left. Nothing can ever
make him whole, but that's often the case in real life when someone has suffered
injustice and injury. The pain stays with you forever, but still, you have to go
on. For another character, John Fiske, he needs to confront serious problems
with his brother in order to get on with his life. Again, he will never be made
whole, but his life will never be worth living until he works through these
Q: You delve into complex family dynamics in your novel,
particularly among brothers. Why did you create this tension?
A: Family relationships interest me greatly. They are, of
course, highly personal, infuriating at times, complex, emotional and often
impossible to ignore no matter how much we want to. People have to deal with
these issues every day. They are the heart and soul of classical drama. Ever
since there have been stories, there have been tales of families: suffering,
struggling, fighting, loving, hating, killing. There are few subjects which
strike a chord closer to the souls of us all. The
Simple Truth has two sets of brother, both from very different walks of
life. One set black, the other white. The brothers are very different from one
another, they don't agree on much. But despite these difference they come to the
other's aid when needed. They don't think about it too much, or analyze it too
much, they just do it. Sometimes it's better to trust your core beliefs rather
than rely on the hyperbolized psychobabble that permeates much of society today.
Q: One of your major characters, Rufus Harms, is framed by
the government for a crime that he did not commit. Do you think that government
conspiracies and cover-ups exist today?
A: Well, if they're done successfully, we'll never know,
will we? Of course they exist, some on a bigger scale than others. The people
perpetrating these conspiracies would, I think, take issue with your
nomenclature. They are not conspiracies. They are people doing their job, with
specialized knowledge not shared by the general public, with the goal of making
things better, not worse for the rest of us. Sometimes the rationale is complete
lunacy, but human beings have an infinite capability to rationalize any behavior
no matter who suffers because of it. I would venture to say that many people who
enter into "conspiracies" on behalf of the government believe
themselves to be true patriots. Maybe they are, but that doesn't mean you have
to trust them, particularly if you're one of the ones they want to sacrifice for
the "greater good".
Q: The concept of "truth" is rarely simple. Why
did you title your novel, The
A: Because the older I get I can't find the Simple Truth
anywhere, and I do look for it. I live near Washington, D.C., the capitol city
of SPIN. Truth does not rule here, perception does. The concept of truth is
sometimes merely who gets one set of facts out first. The problem is we have too
much information in this information age. We have all this high tech media
constantly bombarding our increasingly cluttered minds with so much that after
awhile, people shut down. But they often will accept as fact the first thing
they hear; it just sticks. That does not bode well for the concept of full and
fair disclosure. These days particularly speed to disseminate seems to be the
controlling factor. My advice to the media: SLOW DOWN, people will wait for the
truth, just give them the chance.
Q: You consistently publish new novels every year. How do
you produce new material so quickly? What inspired you this time?
A: It's very difficult to keep up this pace. It takes me
from start to finish about eighteen months to produce a book. I know some
writers who have told me they can write a novel in six months. It takes me six
months just to adequately perform research for a novel. I will never sacrifice
quality for quantity. I have scrupulously avoided the pitfall of entering into
five and six book contracts to allow me the freedom to write at a comfortable
pace. My inspiration this time was a law in this country that I feel is terribly
unjust. And it's still the law and probably will always be the law. For me, it
was the perfect example of why the highest court in the land is really not
designed to deliver justice. The one place you think you can find it, and, poof,
it's just not there. The other inspiration was the characters I created to fill
this tale. My stories live and die by the characters. I think I come up with
good plots, but I really rely heavily on the Luther Whitneys and Sidney Archers
and LuAnn Tylers and Rufus Harms to make my stories compelling.
Q: Do you envision this book as a movie? If so, which actors
would you cast as the principle characters?
A: I never envision any of my novels as movies. If you do
then as a writer you tend to fall into the "screenplay disguised as a
novel" trap. Hollywood is a trend town. As a novelist, if you try to follow
the popular trends, by the time you've finished your manuscript you find
yourself four trends behind.
It's a well-known fact that Hollywood fads travel at twice the speed of
light. Thinking of the book as a movie is tempting but you'll find yourself
twisting plot and creating characters to fulfill some cinematic goal rather than
the goals of writing a good book. I've written screenplays before, and I think
that my novels are very visual, and the dilemmas in my stories are classical
enough to allow for film opportunities, but I'm in the book business. Bill
Goldman, who wrote the screenplay for Absolute
Power, said that adapting my novel for film was the hardest project he had
ever undertaken in his long and incredibly successful career. I take that as the
highest form of compliment. However, if Hollywood sees fit to make more of my
novels into movies, God Bless them.
Q: You frequently travel across the country and lecture
about being a bestselling novelist. What do people want to know most about your
A: Where do I get my ideas? Where do I write? How much money
do I make? (Like all bestselling writers, more than I should I tell them) People
want to know if my life has changed drastically. In some ways, yes, in some
ways, no. I think I have the best case scenario: I'm a truly minor celebrity
with complete anonymity who makes a good living at what he loves to do. I have
no complaints, nor should I.
Q: What is next for you?
A: My next novel, which is taking a great deal of time
because it's research intensive, even by my standards. I'm also working on a
network TV series that I'm excited about. Last but certainly not least, I've
also been doing a lot of charitable work the last few years, and giving
workshops to kids interested in creative writing. My wife and I have set up
scholarships for deserving students to pursue careers in writing and other
creative arts. I'm very interested in major areas of life that will have a heavy
impact on what kind of world we can expect to have ten, twenty, fifty years from
With two young children of my own, I've found that I have to think about
"life" conditions beyond my own lifetime. As all parents know, that
can be a very humbling, troubling and sobering revelation. I'm intensely
interested in matters of education, equal opportunity and just helping to raise
good kids. We read to them every day, show them there's a whole other world out
there for them to explore. It's vast and wonderful, the power of the written