David Baldacci – The Whole Truth

Q: In 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 stories.

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 anything new?

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.

With 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 ?

A: 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 issues.

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. 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 Whole Truth ?

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 , 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 life?

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 now.

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 word.

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