David Baldacci Entertains Almost 500 at TNCC

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. -- He writes about global markets, the expertise of special ops teams, clandestine intelligence, espionage. He wants his readers to be entertained, but also to learn something about a world they know nothing about -- and he wants to mess with them.

“Once I get a reader out of his comfort level, and he doesn’t know what’s going on -- then I’ve got him,” David Baldacci told an audience of almost 500 on Oct. 15 at Thomas Nelson Community College’s Dr. Mary T. Christian Auditorium in Hampton.

Baldacci, a Virginia native, is the author of 17 bestselling novels, as well as short stories and original screenplays. His 18th novel, “True Blue,” will be released on Oct. 27. His author talk and book-signing was presented free to the public by the Virginia Peninsula Literary Consortium with support from various local organizations.

After graduating from Virginia Commonwealth University and the University of Virginia, Baldacci practiced law in Washington, D.C., for nine years. Walking by the White House each day, he said he thought about how events in the presidential administration affect many lives and careers, and he began to explore that theme in fiction.

But his fiction is based on much real research, he said, which involves interviewing experts, consulting with medical examiners and shadowing the Secret Service. “I don’t just sit in my office and Wikipedia,” he said.

But with an “average-Joe” persona, Baldacci’s audience-pleasing anecdotes came less from this privileged access than from his humorous encounters with everyday fans – and his dead-pan delivery.

With so many best-selling novels, Baldacci says he’s rarely out in public when he doesn’t notice someone reading one of his books. But he has a strict rule about not approaching readers, he said, because he’s a private person himself, and he doesn’t want to intrude. “Plus, if you’re not enjoying the book, I don’t want to hear about it,” he said.

An exception happened late one evening after he had flown into Los Angeles airport, and stood alone with a man engrossed in one of his novels. After Baldacci asked several questions about how he liked the book, and offered to sign it, the man finally lowered the book and responded, “Look you freak, you’re not Baldacci, and get away from me before I call the police.”

As the exchange continued and a small crowd formed, Baldacci said he remained calm. Finally, he grabbed the book, flipped it around to his photo on the dust jacket, and held it up to his face. “Do you see, Buckaroo? I am Baldacci!” The man responded by humbly requesting his autograph. To which Baldacci simply answered, “No.” But -- he admitted -- he did sign it.

Other stories involved being surprised by “David Baldacci Day” in the Italian town where he grandfather was born and raised; being mistaken for another best-selling author, John Grisham; trying to entertain his daughter’s kindergarten class; being chided by a senior partner for his “imprecise” writing; and sitting at a dinner table with President George W. Bush and a distinguished older lady who was intent on providing story ideas for how to “off” the president.

During the audience question-and-answer session, Baldacci revealed his impromptu comedic skills as well. When startled by an amplified question from the balcony, he slowly glanced around and then proclaimed, “God IS a woman!”

Involved with several philanthropic efforts, including his family’s own Wish You Well Foundation, which supports family literacy, Baldacci espoused the importance of libraries, books and reading in breaking the cycle of poverty and sustaining Democracy.

Attendees to the event were encouraged to bring new or gently used books to donate to Wish You Well’s “Feeding Body & Mind” initiative. About 300 books were collected to be distributed to area food banks through the program.

Baldacci was the third major author to be presented free to the public by the Virginia Peninsula Literary Consortium, which consists of the public libraries of Newport News, Hampton, Poquoson and York County and the academic libraries of Christopher Newport University, Hampton University and Thomas Nelson Community College.

Formed in 2006 to promote discussion about books and to bring together all types of libraries on the Virginia Peninsula, the Consortium presented Amy Tan in September 2007 and Walter Mosley in 2008.

For more information about the Virginia Peninsula Literary Consortium and its other author events, please visit the Consortium’s website, / to sign up for the emailed newsletter, or call the administrative offices at 757-926-1350.

The Virginia Peninsula Literary Consortium brings together the public libraries of Newport News, Hampton, Poquoson and York County and the academic libraries of Christopher Newport University, Hampton University and Thomas Nelson Community College, collectively serving all residents of the Virginia Peninsula. Programs presented by the Consortium are free and open to the public. For more information on Consortium programs, please call 757-926-1350 or visit http://www.thevplc.org/.