According to thriller author David Baldacci, “A book isn’t finished until the reader reads or listens to it. I give them the template of what I think the story is, and they go and finish it off. It’s like I hand them a sculpture that is 85% complete and they finish the rest of it themselves.” Likely, it’s this respect for the listener that drives the attention Baldacci gives to the production of his audiobooks, beginning with the selection of narrators. He auditions narrators to find the voices that reflect the characters—the voices he hears in his head—and the settings. Baldacci strongly believes in having a male narrator performing the male voices and a female one for the women. He prefers a team approach. “It’s incredibly important to get the right people. I like having narrators who are not going to just read the book but are going to evoke it. I can’t do that just with the words. They can do that with their voices.” For the Archer series, Baldacci sought a performer who could convincingly portray the pace, tone, and speaking style of the 1940s-1950s. He found it with Golden Voice Edoardo Ballerini, who is joined by Brittany Pressley. The third book in the Archer series, DREAM TOWN, was released in April of this year. His upcoming audiobook, THE 6:20 MAN, features a new protagonist, Travis Devine, whom Baldacci describes as a duck out of water—a military man who is now a junior analyst in a large, highly successful financial firm on Wall Street. “I needed the reader to relate to him—if not to love him, at least to root for him. I put into him what a lot of us have gone through. We find something we love, and then all of the sudden we can’t do it anymore. We have to find a second purpose in life. But Travis’s second life might mean life in prison.” Baldacci’s penchant for strong female characters shines in THE 6:20 MAN. “The financial world is still a male-dominated world in which women have to work three times as hard to get to the same level. I wanted to show they can give as good as they get. It’s a gladiator experience.” Thus, Baldacci has given listeners several strong, smart women who can hold their own in this environment. Listeners will be pleased to hear there is likely more in store for Devine. Baldacci says, “Devine is still trying to figure things out. I really want to bring him back. He’s an interesting guy.” On writing in general, Baldacci shares how he doesn’t have to look far for ideas for his thrillers. He suggests that all you have to do is “follow the money to witness the weaponization of capital.” His thrillers are known for layers of stories that all come together in the end. He likes to have lots of on-ramps and off-ramps that add depth to characters and complications to the stories without confusing the reader. “I don’t plot everything out. I don’t know everything that is going to happen when I sit down to write it. It sort of grows organically.” The characters speak to Baldacci. “We have good relationships. I think that’s important because what I’m trying to do is make them as real and authentic as possible. And, really, the only way to do that is to connect with them on a human level.” Baldacci believes that audiobooks are important to literacy. “Reading is the greatest fundamental skill you can have. I equate the verb ‘to read’ with the verb “to think.’ You can’t have a free and open society if the majority of the population don’t read. Audiobooks are so convenient, and in our hectic world they’re a terrific way to get people into reading.” What’s coming up next for David Baldacci and his fans? In LONG SHADOWS, Amos Decker returns with a new partner and whole set of new challenges. Something to look forward to in October.
July 11, 2022
©AudioFile 2022, Portland, Maine
In speaking with author David Baldacci about audiobooks, you soon realize he’s a “stone cold” optimist. “Some authors think that audiobooks detract from book readership,” he says. “I believe that audios add whole blocks of fans. I think the industry has to adapt, and however we can get new readers introduced to the joy of reading, we should do it.” Baldacci says that audios in all forms (cassettes, CDs, MP3-CDs, and downloads) account for about one-eighth of his total sales. “So if one of my books sells 700,000 copies in hardcover, nearly a hundred thousand more will be audiobooks.”
Baldacci’s latest thriller, SIMPLE GENIUS, was released in April 2007. His next book, STONE COLD, will debut in November 2007. “It usually takes me a year for one book, start to finish,” he says. “Two in the same year is a stretch, but do-able.” Baldacci says the research alone for one book often takes three months.
Baldacci came on board with audio with the publication of Wish You Well, his sixth book. “I took a great deal of interest in the production of that book. It has a Southern theme, and I wanted it just right. Kate Burton is perfect in her version.” Baldacci says the more the writer becomes involved in production, the better the production. “And this involvement turns you into more than a writer--you become a performance artist.”
Would Baldacci ever narrate his own books? “On the surface it sounds like a fun thing to do. I’ve been tempted. But narrating is a lot of work, and you have to have talented voices and different inflections. I think trained actors are better at it.” For his books Baldacci often asks for narrator Ron McLarty--“a real pro. Even though he’s been narrating my books for quite a while, I just recently met him.”
Baldacci and McLarty recently did a CBS program on audiobooks together. Yes, Baldacci listens to other writers as well. “My family and I just finished the latest Harry Potter and were quite impressed with it.” Baldacci is especially taken with Playaway audiobooks; that is, self-contained, portable digital recordings. “They’ve got everything you need--the story, earphones, a battery, and all. You don’t have to download or worry about scratches or jumbled cassettes. I just press the button and go.”
Though Baldacci gave up a successful law practice to become a novelist, he maintains he was a writer before he even became a lawyer. “I started writing when I was a kid. I wrote a lot of tales then. It was probably the reason I became a lawyer, to get people to believe my version of the facts.” Baldacci believes that perhaps he puts stories together differently than many writers. “As a writer you can do things one of two ways--you can be formulaic, or challenge yourself and take risks. I like to combine the ordinary with extraordinary events when I conceptualize the plot.”--Albert L. Holtz
© AudioFile 2007, Portland, Maine
Photo © John Foley/ Opale
Photo by John Groo
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