I like to scare people from safe distance: David Baldacci (Interview)

New Delhi, April 19 (IANS) He is the king of mass market thrills who likes to needle readers with tales of high intrigues and edgy “masala” potboilers. He has a massive young fan base in India, where all his books are sold as special Indian editions.

One of the world’s highest selling thriller fiction writers, David Baldacci, 10 of whose books have made it to the top of the New York Times best-sellers’ list with over 100 million books in print over 45 languages, says the timeless appeal of thrillers lies in the fact “that people like to be scared from a safe distance”.

“People like horror and they like reading things about the battle between good and evil. People have been intrigued by such stories – of battles and valour – for thousands of years in the same format that I write, but from a safe distance,” Baldacci told IANS on the telephone from London.

Baldacci, the author of 29 best-selling mass market and children’s novels like “The Camel Club Series”, “The Last Man Standing”, “The Sixth Man” and “Freddie and the French Fries”, says the mass market as a genre is growing because people generally love good stories.

The writer, whose new book, “The Hit”, has been published by Pan Macmillan, is in London, away from his home in Virginia in the US, to promote the racy drama about a government secret service agency operative Will Robbie who has been assigned to bring down rogue assassin Jessica Reel, a professional in the game, before she can turn her gun on the agency.

Baldacci fans may find the book with a man and a woman in the lead stalking each other a little too desolate. But the writer defends his sparsely populated plot when asked about it.

“As a writer, you try to grow and you try to change. You cannot write the same book, the same thing over and over again. My last book, ‘The Innocent’, with Will Robbie in the lead was another cat and mouse game like ‘The Hit’. But here I brought in a female adversary Jessica Reel, who is Robbie’s equal. I have built these two machines,” Baldacci said.

Baldacci does not see any conscious gender statement in his book. “But I think it can qualify. I write about strong independent women. My experience has been that they can read faster than a man and more nimble than men in the battle of wits,” Baldacci said.

The 52-year-writer shot to fame in 1996 with his first novel, “Absolute Power”, which was a best-seller. It was made into a film, “Absolute Power” starring Clint Eastwood and Gene Hackman in 1997. Two more movies, “Wish You Well” and “King & Maxwell” based on his books, are on the floors.

Baldacci feels that a writer must be able to write different kinds of stories. “People care about stories that move them. It is important to keep different mindsets,” he says about his children’s books like “Freddie and the French Fries series”, and “The Christmas Train”.

“I would record the ‘Freddie and the French Fries’ stories and my children would listen to my stories when their mother was away. That is where the stories come from. Wherever I go, whoever I meet, I am looking at – it is through the eyes of a story-teller. It is an addiction. Whenever I am walking on the streets, I get to see life a little different. Most of my stories are life’s creations and life’ events,” Baldacci said.

Baldacci’s books offer deep insights into the real world of the American secret service, the army and the government through its melange of spies, killers, army veterans, government investigators, CIA and FBI operatives.

“I have built a lot of relationships with people and agencies on the ground over the years. This is very important to my research and it sets my books apart from the rest,” the novelist said.

Baldacci began “to write as kid in my journal, encouraged by my mother. From there, I moved to short stories and then to the novel,” he said.

The writer is keen on a greater connect with his fans in the developing world, “where the focus of publishing and readership have shifted. It is a terrific development. Reading helps people become more tolerant and influenced by what happens around them. With television and movies, you just sit down and watch. When you read, you get to imagine what the characters look like,” he said.

Baldacci does not plan his books.

“They are inspirational. The books just flow. I build them brick by brick. I don’t know how the book will end when I sit down to write,” Baldacci told IANS.

The writer, who runs an adult literacy charity, Wish Me Well Foundation, and works for Feeding Body and Mind, a US food programme, said he wants to work with private bodies in India to empower adults without access to education.

(Madhusree Chatterjee can be contacted at [email protected])

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