Monday, March 23, 2009

Baldacci Thrillers

Thrillers are not all the same. Just like books within any genre, thrillers vary in their composition and presentation. Newsweek’s Louisa Thomas wrote an article over the weekend about David Baldacci and his 16 bestsellers. Part of “Thriller Instinct” was looking at how he researches and part of it was examining how he became a bestselling author despite being pooh-poohed by the elite.

Baldacci’s first book earned him a $2 million advance, plus another $3 million for the movie and foreign rights. He publishes about two books a year and they immediately go to the bestseller list. Yet, the critics dismiss him. Thomas says, “Critics rarely take Baldacci's novels seriously. The reviews of his books (when they're reviewed at all) can be nasty…” She also notes that New York Times readers, especially, don’t take him seriously. But Baldacci continues to write, continues to sell, and continues to support his literacy foundation. But how does he continue to write these bestsellers?

According to Thomas:
Like other thriller writers, Baldacci depends on a mixture of inventive plotting, appealing characters, luck and consistency. Unlike others, his books rely more on characters' relationships than whiz-bang technology or procedural twists….his heroes are often accidental. Rarely rich, brilliant or handsome, they're no James Bond. They're awkward in love, paranoid and they have imperfect pasts. Some of them would rather be watching "Monday Night Football" than saving the leader of the free world, but such is their plight. In Baldacci's Washington, outsiders are forever coming to the rescue—which may explain why Washington insiders, as well as those beyond the Beltway, read Baldacci's books.
Baldacci does extensive research for his books.
He loses himself in the hands-on process of immersive research and writing—and fans in the fields he writes about claim that he gets their world right. Baldacci reads books on taxidermy and terrorism and concocts ways to fix the lottery, and studs his books with little lessons on geography, history, ballistics, rare-book facts—whatever. (This is another key to the thriller: an overwhelming abundance of sheer—and fun, if sometimes useless—information.) He's staked out landing strips, shot machine guns and befriended snipers and Secret Service agents.
Link over and read the full article. Be sure you read all the way to the end to discover what Thomas sees as “The Best of Baldacci.” I liked this one:
Best terrible motto: "Why waste time trying to discover the truth, when you can so easily create it?" From "The Whole Truth"
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  1. Proof that critiques don't always represent what the general population thinks!

    L. Diane Wolfe

  2. Sounds like he really gets into each book when he writes it. That's a good thing.

    Morgan Mandel

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  4. A hard thing to do is present something in a book that is unknown to the reader, like a weapon, a concept, a disease, etc., and get the reader to believe without overwhelming them in details, facts, or tech-speak. Baldacci seems to do that well, imo.

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  6. Hey - If I'm getting $2 mil advances, and have 2 books a year vaulting immediately to the top best seller lists, my writing lapped up by the public and getting rich at the same time ... what the heck do I care what the CRITICs think?

  7. I rarely read thrillers, but this post made me want to try a little Balducci. Maybe it's because the reviewers have ganged up on him, and I want to find out if they are insightful or just bullies.

  8. I don't know whether he cares about the critics or not, but I suspect a bad review stings whether you were paid $2 million or $200. But, I'm with you Marvin, I'd like to find out.

    Kim, I've read several Baldacci books. I wouldn't say they were fabulous, but he's not bad. I just got back from vacation and we listened to one of his books as we drove to and from Key West. It kept our interest.

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  10. Hey Helen, interesting because I've been hearing/reading that all fiction is becoming more and more character driven, including genre fiction. And that seems to be my reading experience as well, even with thrillers.

  11. While I think of myself as a serious reader, steering away from the usual'airport' reads (although you can get almost anything there now), Baldacci and Harlan Coben are the best in the field - and amazing writers.

    The really good thriller is a brilliantly-written, satisfying read, but with the bonus of that heart-thumping thrill. You feel like you've been on a rollercoaster ride!

  12. Conda, I think you're right. The ones that catch me and keep me coming back are the ones that are character driven. That explains why series are so popular.

    And the roller coaster ride that you talk about, Fran, explains why thrillers are so popular -- especially when it comes to airport books. They're fast paced and keep you riveted to the page.

  13. Remember when Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart said, I can’t define porn but I know it when I see it?” That’s the way readers, myself included, see books, we may not be able to define it but we know it when we read it. We like what we like, not what the critics tell us to like. I read mysteries and westerns, mostly. Few ever got good reviews but I can get lost in them, that’s good enough for me. And Marvin is right at 2 mill a year who cares what the critics think!

  14. I have not read anything of us, but maybe I'll check his work out next time I'm at the library. You know, John Saul is another one who gets a lot of slack. His books sell really well, but people often talk about how they hate him because he's like horror/pop candy. I've read some of his stuff and have always been pleasantly horrified. Critics... everybody's one.

    Jenny Bean

  15. I've read a few of Baldacci's books. His characters are often ordinary people, which has it's appeal.

    I rarely pay attention to reviews for books and movies by critics. I tend to choose what appeals to me at the time.

    I'm kinda like one of your commenters, if I'm getting those sort of advances and placement on the bestsellers list? If a critic pans me, pffft. I'll laugh all the way to the bank. :-)

  16. You know, Helen makes a good point in the comments when she finds his work only "not bad." A publishing house picked him as The One to focus big marketing bucks on, and since he writes decent stuff he gained a following.

    Big pubs often set up bestsellers by determining which book will get top placement and marketing push. It doesn't necessarily mean the writing is that much more impressive than tons of other authors out there who struggle.


  17. Sia, I'm with you. I rarely read reviews. When I do, they sometimes affect me, so mostly I like to decide on my own.

    You're definitely right, Lisa. A publishing company can push a book to the bestselling list. And they decided from the beginning that Baldacci was worth promoting. And they were right in this case. He's continued to sell big.


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