Chapter 16
A Community of Tennessee Writers, Readers & Passersby

Where the Truth Lies

Thriller writer David Baldacci talks with Chapter 16 about his new young-adult novel, journeys of heroic proportions, and reading as a synonym for thinking

While David Baldacci’s foray into young-adult literature may surprise his legions of fans, they will notice some similarities between The Finisher and his thrillers. The fantastical town of Wormwood is a far cry from a courtroom, but its citizens are concerned with truth and justice—at least some of them are. While unraveling the mysteries of her homeland, fourteen-year-old Vega Jane soon discovers who’s more concerned with power than with justice. Given Baldacci’s interest in strong female protagonists, it’s no surprise that Vega becomes a role model. While teenage readers might not find themselves squaring off against hundred-headed serpents, they can still see themselves in the finisher, a girl who stands up to bullies, looks out for her friends, and doesn’t take “no” for an answer.

Baldacci is the bestselling author of more than twenty-five novels, including his dazzling debut, Absolute Power, which became a movie starring Clint Eastwood and Gene Hackman. His King & Maxwell books are a television series currently airing on TNT. And in addition to his countless writing accolades, the author and his wife, Michelle Baldacci, founded the Wish You Well Foundation to foster literacy in the United States.

Prior to his forthcoming appearance at the Nashville Public Library on July 10, 2014, Baldacci answered questions from Chapter 16 by email.

Chapter 16: In an interview with your publisher, you mentioned that you “learned things about Vega” while writing The Finisher. What surprised you the most about your protagonist?

David Baldacci: How sassy she was! I knew I needed a stubborn, tough heroine to make it through the hardscrabble world I had created for her. But she has a mouth on her and knows how to push the buttons of older folks. Oh, now I get it—I was channeling my own kids.

Chapter 16: Women are considered inferior in Wormwood, an attitude which makes Vega’s triumphs even more impressive. Why was having a strong female at the center of this story important to you?

Baldacci: Virtually all my novels have strong female protagonists. My mother was a force of nature, as is my wife. I don’t write about damsels in distress because I don’t know any. I wanted to be sort of historically accurate, too. In the time period the book deals with—it’s ambiguous to a certain degree, but still it’s clearly not modern times—women were secondary citizens and often pushed around and even brutalized by their stronger male counterparts. It was the time of guys chucking spears at large animals and women doing everything else. My daughter is now twenty-one, but when she was younger I wanted her to know very clearly that the sky was the limit for her. And what women in the past had done had laid the groundwork for her to be able to confidently say, “I can do anything with my life.” That’s pretty powerful stuff. And it wasn’t all that long ago when women couldn’t say that. We all love the television series Mad Men, but the treatment of women on that show, while accurate for the times, makes one cringe today. And that was only in the 1960s!

Chapter 16: The character Delph transforms in the novel, growing into a self-assured young man. What do you hope your readers will take from his narrative?

Baldacci: That all people have value and contributions to share. Outcasts, people who seem to have nothing to offer except to be objects of ridicule, will often surprise you with their depth. I tend to move away from folks always seeking the center of attention. I go seek out the quiet ones in the back observing everything. You know what they grow up to be: writers! The attention seekers know only about themselves and are clueless about the rest of the world. The Delphs of the world give us hope. They are the bedrock of our society. They will surprise us with their intelligence, leadership, and resiliency. In sum, don’t judge a book by its cover. You’ll be wrong far more often than you’re right.

Chapter 16: What myths or legends did you enjoy growing up?

Baldacci: I was fascinated with the Underworld, the River Styx and the passage across. Villains can be far more interesting than heroes. We get heroes; we understand what makes them tick. Villains are a tougher nut to crack, but that makes them fascinating. The Labors of Hercules also astounded me, as did the notions of journeys somewhere to get something. That concept is throughout myths, folklore, and legends. Who wouldn’t want to sail away on the good ship Argo with Jason and his Argonauts, looking for the Golden Fleece? Beats homework.

Chapter 16: The second time Vega ventures into the Stacks at night, she’s given some advice: “It is more than a mere rule, for rules can be changed. It is truth.” This seems to be a theme in your novels for adults, as well. What similarities do you see between your thrillers and this fantasy?

Baldacci: Thrillers and fantasy share one thing: they’re both stories that take you to a place you would never go yourself. In my adult books I plunge the reader into the world of international assassins, spies, devious politicians, killers, despots, and allegiances of dubious durability. Someone is trying to accomplish something, and others stand in the way. In The Finisher, all those elements are there. Vega has to work out for herself where the truth lies. Truth is not easy. It’s there, but it’s often covered up or distorted by lots of other things, both intentional and not. At the end of the story you can only hope you’re closer to the truth than when you started the book.

Chapter 16: You and your wife established the Wish You Well Foundation, which funds literacy programs throughout the country. What are the best ways to reduce illiteracy in the United States?

Baldacci: Emphasize reading more in school and at home. Fund libraries. Get kids energized from an early age that reading will be the most important skill they have because to read is the same verb as to think; you can’t do one without the other. That message should be hammered home from the first day of a child’s life until the end of that life. What a world we would have if everyone read. Goodbye intolerance; goodbye prejudice; hello realizing one’s full potential.