An interview with the Amelia Island Book Festival’s Honorary Chair
The popular American author of 38 best-selling novels, David Baldacci, hardly needs an introduction among Amelia Island readers. As the 19th annual Amelia Island Book Festival approaches (February 13-15), he’s serving as the festival’s honorary chair—and the mastermind filling the roster of stellar celebrity authors that attendees will get to see.
Baldacci, a native of Richmond, Va., began writing stories as a child, when his mother gave him a notebook in which to record them. He wrote for more than two decades, penning short stories and later screenplays without much success. He attended Virginia Commonwealth University and earned his J.D. from the University of Virginia School of Law.
While practicing law in Washington, D.C., he turned to novel writing. He spent three years writing Absolute Power, published in 1996, which became an international best-seller and a movie starring Clint Eastwood. After that, his career as a novelist skyrocketed. To date, in addition to the many novels published for adults, Baldacci also has published seven novels for younger readers. He and his wife Michelle created the Wish You Well Foundation to fight illiteracy—a mission that aligns with the educational goals of AIBF.
To learn more about what’s ahead, we asked him six questions:
1. Amelia Island Book Festival is thrilled to have you as its honorary chair. You have been a celebrity guest speaker at the festival in years past. Would you share your thoughts or impressions about the first time you participated in the festival? What keeps you coming back?
DB: There are a lot of book festivals in the country and there should be more. But some are better than others, and AIBF is one of the better run and promoted based on my experience. The other thing that really leads me to support this festival is its emphasis on schools. I love the fact that authors go to the schools, as I have done in the past, and also that funds raised during the festival are used to buy books for students. That is really paying it forward.
2. At the same time you’re working with the festival, you’ve just published a new book, A Minute to Midnight. Would you tell us a little about it?
DB: A Minute to Midnight is the sequel to 2018’s Long Road to Mercy. The main character, Atlee Pine, is an FBI special agent. When they were six years old, she and her twin, Mercy, were attacked in their home in rural Georgia. Pine was nearly killed and Mercy was abducted and has not been seen since. This novel is one more step in Pine’s journey to find out the fate of her sister.
3. You do a great deal of research for your books. What kinds of new research did A Minute to Midnight require, and did you have any surprising discoveries you could share?
DB: Exploring Andersonville, Georgia, where much of the book is set, was very informative and fascinating. It’s the site of the notorious eponymous Andersonville Prison during the Civil War. Visiting the town really is like stepping back into the past, and they have Civil War re-enactments there every October. That also figures into the story. I also learned a lot about Paganis, an insanely expensive Italian-made sports car. And I learned (though I really already knew this) that it’s very hard for women in the male-dominated world of the FBI.
4. Your primary responsibility for the book festival has been to recruit other celebrity authors to be featured. Would you share a little about what that process has been like, about the 2020 author lineup, and what attendees might expect?
DB: It’s basically calling up author friends and seeing who might be available. They would all want to come, but schedules are tough. I wanted a real diversity in the lineup, so I recruited fiction and nonfiction writers. They’re all women, which was just a coincidence, but other than Sharon Robinson, I’ve met them all. It’s a stellar group. Audiences can expect to laugh and think and have their love of reading reinforced.
5. You and your wife have been big supporters of literacy via the Wish You Well Foundation, and the AIBF shares that interest through the Authors In Schools Literacy Program. Please tell us about this and other values that you are most passionate about, and how they may be reflected in your work as well as your life.
DB: Reading is essential to participating in a democracy. A democracy full of people who don’t read will not be a democracy for long. It is also the essential tool one needs to realize his or her potential. We live in an information age. No matter what you do for a living, strong reading and comprehension skills are a necessity. Plus, in my experience, readers are nicer, more curious about the world and more tolerant than nonreaders. If more people read, the world would be far better. All of my books both entertain and inform. I want people to know about things that I believe are important. Writing books about such things is a great way to accomplish that.
6. You’ve taught an online Masterclass on mystery and thriller writing that helps authors understand the real work that goes into creating a good story. To the many aspiring writers who will attend AIBF, can you offer some recommendations for how to get the most out of a festival like this one, both during the event and following?
DB: Ask questions at the events. Try to meet the authors before or after if possible, but always be respectful and cognizant of their time constraints. They all have websites where you can send them follow-up queries. If you haven’t read any of their books, try some before the festival begins. Attend some of the workshops where you may learn some helpful details from people who make their living with the written word. They all have lessons that they have learned to share with you. Take notes and take what they say seriously. It’s not easy, but nothing any good ever is. Dedication, patience and hard work are required, just like with any other worthwhile endeavor.