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Finding Your Rhythm for Life's Journey
An Interview with David Baldacci
 
by Joyce Dixon
 
  One of the clear messages of David Baldacci's latest offering, The Christmas Train, is the value of taking one's time to find the rhythm of your life's journey.  It is the lesson Tom Langston learns in the novel, and one that David Baldacci practices in his own life.

David Baldacci is the seven-time New York Times bestselling author Absolute Power, Total Control, The Winner, The Simple Truth, Saving Faith, Last Man Standing, and Wish You Well.  He received a law degree from the University of Virginia, and for nine years, practiced trial and corporate law in Washington, D.C.. 

A good portion of his time is spent in philanthropic activities.  David Baldacci serves as a national ambassador for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society and participates in numerous charities, including the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy, the American Cancer Society, and the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.  He sits on boards at the Central Virginia Chapter of the Multiple Sclerosis Society, the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, and Virginia Commonwealth University.

David Baldacci lives in Virginia.

"It's not getting from A to B.  It's not the beginning or the destination that counts.  It's the ride in between....This train is alive with things that should be seen and heard.  It's a living, breathing something -- you just have to want to learn its rhythm."

                                                         ~ The Christmas Train, page 52.

What is your favorite train memory from childhood?  

The train that James West and Artemus Gordon traveled on, in the action-packed TV series Wild, Wild West.   In person, going to the train station to pick up my grandmother.  The trains were big and noisy and fussy, and there were lots of people carrying big pink suitcases, including, I think, my grandmother.  I wanted to get on a train and go somewhere.  I wanted a big suitcase, and I wanted to blow that damn whistle. 

In your research for The Christmas Train, what was the most unusual event you witnessed while on the rails? 

The ginseng episode thatís chronicled in the book happened to me on a trip.  I only slightly embellished the story.  There really is something about a train.  Iíve never had anyone ask me about the virtues of a Viagra-like herb on a plane trip. 

Are there many Amtrak families that have a legacy of working the rails?  What characteristics stand out in them?  

Yes.  That part of the story is also true.  Generations ago, Pullman porters would groom their sons and male relatives to take their places.  The people I met were respectful of the trains, knowledgeable about them, and wanted to be working them. Thatís refreshing! 

What would you like to see as the future of Amtrak passenger service?  What should Congress do?  Do you think having John Snow, former CEO of CSX, one of the nation's largest railroad companies, as Treasury Secretary will aid rail travel?  

A long-term strategic plan to implement high-speed rail corridors in the U.S. together with urban light rail services.  New track, new equipment and a perpetual need to treat train travel with the same respect we do the highways and airways.  As an old railroad man, I hope Mr. Snow sees that we need a viable alternative to more roads, gas-guzzling cars and airlines that canít make money despite hundreds of millions of paying customers.  A strong rail system takes the pressure off airlines and highways and will make both more efficient and more stable.

Besides travel time, how is holiday travel on trains different from airplanes?

You can walk around, eat facing other people and have a conversation, sleep lying down, and while thereís turbulence, itís somewhat ameliorated by the train not having 35,000 feet to free-fall.  People on trains during the holidays are lonely and looking to talk.  In fact, they will talk as long as you are willing to listen.  On planes, no one wants to talk.   We cocoon on planes.  On trains, we expand and fill up the spaces around us with our thoughts, opinions and desire to spin tales.  Itís an informal social club rolling along and the best thing is, there is no membership fees.  And the yarns that are told on trains!  As Mark Twain might have commented, ďI heavily discount half of what I hear on trains.  The other half is just bald-faced lies.Ē

Wish You Well and The Christmas Train stand apart from the Washington thrillers you are known for.  How hard is it to deal with your reader base, when you change tracks so to speak?  What did you gain personally from writing both of these books?

I gained enormously as a writer with these two ďdepartureĒ books.  To grow as a writer you have to take risks.  Churning out the same stuff all the time may look good short-term at least commercially, but in the long run, readers will look elsewhere.  I like the fact that my readers donít know what to expect next.  My sales continue to go up, but more importantly, so do my skills as a storyteller.  After finishing The Christmas Train, I felt energized and attacked the next thriller with an excitement and vigor that truly surprised me.  And those who have read the pages say it is my best suspense novel to-date.  Playing with the words and ways of telling a story, thatís it in a nutshell.  As a writer all I have are little printed symbols on a page to entice you.  That doesnít sound very exciting, but done properly and with originally and some level of skill and boundless enthusiasm, the result can be truly special. 

You dedicate a good portion of your time to philanthropic work.  How does this ground you emotionally?  How do these activities inspire your writing? 

Helping others is an obligation we all share, or should share.  I have been very blessed in my life, and it is only right to share the wealth.  I like to go into a situation and make it better.  In some ways it is a selfish act, because what Iím doing is making the world a little better for all of us.  Yet when you see all the need out there, itís a hard-hearted person who could turn away.  It keeps you humble, as in, ďThere but for the grace of God go I.Ē  Emotion makes for powerful fiction.  I charge my characters with a spirit that real human beings all possess, but show in varying levels.  My experiences in philanthropy have given me insight into the human condition, both good and bad, that have influenced my writing and made my characters as real as possible.  I have done many things in my life, and all of those experiences have helped shape how I see the world and the flawed creatures that give it life. 

Could you tell us about the mystery series for television that is in the works?  

McCourt & Stein.  Still working on it with Paramount Studios.  Compared to getting things going in LA, writing a book seems to be pretty straightforward.  I still have high hopes for the project and believe it has the potential for being a very original show. 

It's been said the cover story on New York magazine is a guarantee future blockbuster movie or book.  What sources do you use for inspiration?  

The world and everyone and thing in it.  To be a writer is to be inexhaustibly curious.  I donít lift them from the headlines as do some writers, but what I try to do is look at the world a little bit differently.  Instead of seeing exactly what is there, I try see what could be there, if I change a few things around and wonder, ďWhat if?Ē 

Mark Twain plays a part in The Christmas Train.  Tom Langston is a descendent and making the trip to complete an unfinished story by Twain.  What does Mark Twain give to you as a reader and a writer?  

Mark Twain is unique.  What other writer do you know who can create sprawling yarns, fill them up with important themes, make us learn when we donít think we are, and be absolutely hilarious in the process?  In preparations for writing The Christmas Train, I re-read Twainís travel books.  And Iím on the floor laughing at lines the man wrote 140 years ago. Thatís not just talent, thatís genius.  We can all aspire to those heights, and when we fail to reach them, and we will fail, we can pick up a Twain book, read it, and say, ďWow!  Thank God for Mark Twain.Ē


Visit David Baldacci's web site at:  http://www.david-baldacci.com

The Christmas Train
by David Baldacci
Warner Books
260 pages
Hardcover, 2002 $19.95 ISBN: 0-446-52573-1
Hardcover, Gold-Trimmed Special Edition, 2003, $12.95 ISBN: 0446533270

     Chapter excerpt from Warner Books

     Southern Scribe Review

 

 

© 2002, Joyce Dixon, All Rights Reserved