An Interview with David Baldacci
MEMORY MAN by David Baldacci is a compelling novel. This new series is a fascinating characterization, featuring Detective Amos Decker who has unique abilities. It is a psychological thriller that does not only get into the mind of the characters but gets into the mind of the readers.
The plot has Decker suffering from the neurological condition, synesthesia, after a football hit. A few years later his loved ones are brutally murdered, throwing him into a downward spiral, costing him his self-esteem and job. That is until the arrest of Sebastian Leopold who confesses to the slaughter of his family. At the same time, a horrific event, a mass killing, occurs at the local high school. To help solve the cases, Decker becomes a police paid consultant so they can utilize his ability to never forget anything. His startling discovery links the school killings with those of his family as it becomes evident the murders are personal. The plot becomes intense as Decker and the killer play mind games, attempting to manipulate one another to see which one will be left standing in the end.
Elise Cooper: Why did you decide to write a new series?
David Baldacci: It is always a challenge to keep things fresh. I wanted to get out of my comfort zone and try something new, to challenge myself. I decided to write it as a series because I can develop the characters over time. I will have the main character working with the FBI so there will be endless possibilities. Because he is the anti-thesis character I normally write about, this series has energized me. I really like getting into his skin.
EC: Can you describe your new character, Amos Decker?
DB: I did not make him good looking because I wanted the reader to focus on the inside of him, not the outside. He is someone with a lot of baggage and is trying to understand who he is. He takes life one day at a time.
EC: Why did you give him synesthesia?
DB: I like that the diagnosis of synesthesia gives him a different perspective. He has problems and issues. He cannot relate socially any more because of what happened to his mind after the football hit. Yet, what makes him such a good detective is, as he says in the book, “the bad guys take care of the big details, but it is the small ones that trip us up.” Many of us go through life and are oblivious to the small things around us, not Amos. He is extraordinary in select fields because of his recall ability.
EC: Did you do any research for this book?
DB: I have always been intrigued and have read lots of books about the functions of the mind, particularly after trauma. I read the book BORN ON A BLUE DAY and realized this neurological condition is a change in the brain wiring. What this is about is the sensory pathways in our head that deal with sight, smell, etc. Think of this as railroad lines that get crossed because of a hit in the head where all of a sudden numbers are colors. For example, Amos saw the murders of his family in blue.
EC: He also saw the “army of 3’s.” Please explain.
DB: Numbers represent a lot of things to Decker. Three was a number he was not comfortable with. Many people with his diagnosis see numbers taking on shapes and forms. For him, 3’s are like armies in the darkness. It is something he has to live with and suffer through. Decker’s mind convinced him this is a threat. Think of people with OCD who are afraid to walk out of the house unless they do their counting rituals.
EC: You have Amos working closely with the reporter Alexandra. Do you plan on continuing the relationship?
DB: I envision that she will be a partner to him, which is why I gave them so much face time together. She is obviously very intrigued by him and I am hoping to see this relationship build. He had such incredible love for his wife and child that Alex will basically stay just a partner to Amos, although ‘I never say never.’ Currently, he is a guy that can no longer process sympathy and empathy except for his family who were exceptions in his mind. Maybe a way I will humanize him is to have him gradually and slowly become like he was before the hit, a little of what he used to be. As one of the doctors told him, ‘there is a possibility that your mind could evolve and change. Every day is a new day.’
EC: Is the theme about losing a loved one?
DB: I try to put into my books something everybody could relate with. Most people have suffered a loss, someone they cared about. For Amos it was the catalyst of losing everything. It is about falling down and getting back up. The grieving process should include the understanding that even though our loved ones are no longer here you have to go on living.
EC: You have some scenes that are not flattering to the sport of football. Do you not like that sport?
DB: Actually, I have been a long time Redskins fan. But a few years ago during a Super Bowl I saw the parade of all the past MVPs. I was struck by how many of them were crippled. You see them now in their 40s and 50s, a shell of what they were. The NFL came out with a report that at least 1/3 of the players will suffer some cognitive impairment. I found that to be extraordinary. Is it worth it? It seems, as I said in the book, they are like modern day gladiators.
EC: An important scene in the book involves the underground bomb shelter. Where did you get the idea?
DB: In the 50’s and 60’s people had bomb shelters under their house, businesses, and even schools. I remember being in elementary school and the bomb siren going off. We were supposed to huddle under our desk. And then we were told after the bomb goes off proceed quickly and calmly to the exit. Looking back on it now I am not sure a little wooden desk would have protected me from an H bomb.
EC: What do you want the readers to get out of the book?
DB: To understand that someone who is seen as bizarre or different is a human being and they deserve our respect. Hopefully the same reaction as my wife who reads all my stuff, usually in manuscript form. This time I held off until the book was actually finished. I gave it to her hot off the presses. She sat down with it one morning and after finishing it that night, told me ‘Wow.’ The reaction I received from her is usually one I do not get. She told me she was sucked in immediately and found the characters fascinating as well as being enraptured by Amos.
EC: Can you give a heads up about your next books?
DB: In the fall a Will Robie book will be released. It has him returning home, a backstory. I want to show where he came from and what created him. But there will also be a mystery he must solve. Then in the spring there will be the next Amos Decker book. Down the line I might write a King and Maxwell book where they investigate a mistake by the Secret Service. I don’t want to add to that service’s troubles, but it is something that is in the back of my mind. For all my books I must come up with a story that fits the character’s personalities.