VERO BEACH – As the clock neared 7 p.m. Monday the crowd swelled at the Vero Beach Book Center. More than 200 book lovers maneuvered their way through the store, trying to find a place to either sit or stand to see best-selling author David Baldacci.
“I remember this building very well,” Baldacci told the standing-room-only crowd. “It’s beautiful.”
Baldacci had last stopped at the Vero Beach Book Center 10 years ago.
For an hour, Baldacci regaled the audience with stories of what it’s like to be a famous, best-selling author, pitching the crowd into hysterical fits of laughter.
“My wife finds it very amusing,” Baldacci said of what people might think of being such a writer – waking up at noon, wearing a favored smoking jacket, carrying a small dog under the arm and having someone wait on him hand-and-foot.
Then she reminds him – it’s trash day.
The main message Baldacci wanted to impart on the audience was to find their passion and not be dissuaded from it.
“I take rejection as a badge of honor,” he said, because it means two things. One, you’re writing – and two, you finished that piece of writing.
Baldacci said the only time rejection is a failure is when you allow it to dissuade you from your passion.
“Passion doesn’t strike very often in your life,” he said, adding people should find it and hold onto it.
Baldacci had flown into the area recently to start a 6-day-6-city book tour of his latest novel, “One Summer,” a departure from his political suspense thrillers.
In three months, Baldacci had written the novel – without his publishers knowing he was even working on it.
“It was a great catharsis for me,” Baldacci said, noting he didn’t have to worry about body counts or trick endings.
He explained that the idea for the novel, which he described as a family drama, came to him as he sat in an empty church, hours before his son’s Catholic confirmation. His wife had sent him to the church early to save their seats, as the church would surely fill up quickly, he told the audience.
As he sat there without anything to do, Baldacci said he started reflecting over recent events – his father’s passing, his mother’s failing health, and his son’s pending confirmation. The story just started writing itself, he said.
“I go to Mass regularly now,” Baldacci said, joking.
Among the stories Baldacci shared with the audience, was one about the hazards of his research for his suspense novels.
“I do as much research as I can without killing people,” he said, later adding that research can get you into trouble.
When he was working on “Split Second,” he was riding a train north to New York and sitting at a table across from two men who looked to be businessmen. He was on the phone with his medical examiner friend from Boston, trying to set up a time they could meet so he could work out a piece of the storyline.
The medical examiner, however, was leaving the country for three weeks and would be gone before he arrived – so, he attempted to discuss an intricate plot involving poisoning one of his characters.
“OK Doc, this is how I want to kill this guy,” Baldacci recalled the conversation, going on to describe in great detail the poison, how it would be used.
He remembered saying something to the effect that he would have to make sure the cops wouldn’t be able to discover the poison and that the M.E., too, would have to be fooled.
The M.E. agreed it was the “perfect crime” and that if she were to ever kill someone, that’s how she would do it.
When he disconnected the call, Baldacci told the audience, one of the two businessmen had spilled his coffee from his neck to his lap.
“He was one big brown stain,” Baldacci said – setting the audience aroar with laughter. The other man had his hands up in an act of surrender.
The train’s police detained Baldacci as a “person of interest” before letting him go.
“You don’t want to be a ‘person of interest,'” Baldacci said.
Throughout the whole evening, Sandy Hawksworth and Bunny Ricciardi hung on Baldacci’s every word.
“He was surprisingly entertaining,” Hawksworth said of Baldacci, explaining that not all authors vocalize as well as they write.
Ricciardi had come out to get her copy of “One Summer” signed, which she had not yet read. Her favorites, she said, were “The Christmas Tree” and “The Winner.”
She marveled at how a small town, such as Vero Beach, could attract such big-name authors as Baldacci.
Referring to an incident Baldacci shared with the audience about a time when he was mistaken in a restaurant for fellow author John Grisham, Hawksworth said she could see the resemblance.
“He does look like Grisham,” she said, then quickly added, “Oh what an awful thing to say!”
She and Ricciardi chuckled and waited for their group to be called up to have “One Summer” signed.