Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Wordcraft -- David Baldacci at HalfPrice? Really!

I did a double take when my email feed told me megathriller writer David Baldacci would be at the Dallas flagship store of HalfPrice Books last week. In recent years, HalfPrice, the Dallas-based bookstore that built a business plan on selling used books, collectibles and publishers’ overruns at deep discounts has been going upscale by hosting lively and well-attended authors’ appearances. But an appearance by Baldacci, author of dozens of bestsellers for all ages? Really?

Really. And the store’s community room was packed with fans from all over the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. It turns out, Baldacci was on a promotional tour. (His new YA novel, The Keeper, is out today, April 21.) The morning of his Dallas appearance, he had been in Austin. The next day he would be in Houston. Tonight, by the way, he’s in New Orleans at the Garden District Book Shop. I mention this so any any fans who missed him in Texas still have time to dash to the Big Easy.

After several years of covering author appearances, I’m no longer surprised that writers whose books have a high level of violence tend to be an affable bunch. Presumably, they divert their most vicious impulses into fiction. But Baldacci was funny enough to host his own comedy show. Although don’t even think about trying to lure him away from writing.

“I don’t write every day, but I think about what I want to write every day,” he told his Dallas fans. “I can’t separate it from me, because if I did, there wouldn’t be anything left of me.”

Although for his Texas audience he rolled out a series of anecdotes about former President George H.W. Bush (father of W), he insists that being a bestselling author has yet to impress those nearest and dearest to him. His wife, Michelle, (model, he said, for heroine Michelle Maxwell of his King and Maxwell series), still tells him, “yeah, yeah, it’s trash night, so get on with it.”

(And if I related even half of the Bush presidential anecdotes, my readers would never vote Republican again. So tempting though it is, I won’t.)

Baldacci is as handsome in person as in the author photos on his book jackets, but he still insists being a bestselling author doesn’t mean being automatically recognized. Or if he is, it’s not always in a way he enjoys.

A female fan once cornered him at a restaurant while he was eating dinner with his wife. Sidling up, she asked, “You are who I think you are, aren’t you?”

Praying that the woman wasn’t completely psycho, he hedged. “Do you read a lot of fiction?”

She said, “yes, I do,” then screamed across the restaurant, presumably to her husband, “I was right, Joe. It is John Grisham.”

Baldacci left it to his wife to inform the woman that she had the right genre but wrong author. At which the would-be fan, perhaps not as disconcerted as the Baldaccis might have hoped, screamed across the room again, “You were right, Joe. It’s the Italian.”

Enough with the jokes, his fans said. What they really wanted to know was, will there be another novel in the Camel Club series about a group of conspiracy watchdogs? “Yes,” Baldacci said, “because I’ve gotten so many requests (I call them requests but they’re more like death threats),” waiting only for a new story worthy of them. 

Or, why did he decide to write YA novels like his Vega Jane series, currently including last year’s The Finisher and this year’s The Keeper? (With a sequel due out in September.)

“I wrote it (originally) under a pseudonym,” he said, “because I didn’t want anybody to buy it for the name. Nobody knew I was writing it except my wife. Kids are cool. You can’t write down to kids. As a writer you improve, you get better by trying something different. This series lets me do that.”

For more about Baldacci, his books and appearances on his current tour, see http://davidbaldacci.com/. For more about HalfPrice Book events, including author appearances, see www.hpb.com/

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