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Keeping Out the Hackers

Best-selling novelist is careful to protect his work from Internet intruders.

January 10, 2002

When David Baldacci has a book out, you only have to wonder about nine of the places on the fiction best-seller list. The former lawyer has written seven thrillers, all of which have been best sellers. Four hit the No. 1 spot.

His first novel, "Absolute Power," was made into a film starring Clint Eastwood (who also directed), Gene Hackman, Ed Harris and Laura Linney. His second, "Total Control" about a missing technology executive, delved into Internet intrigue and the world of hackers.

Baldacci's most recent book is "Last Man Standing" about a member of the FBI Hostage Rescue Team who searches for the truth behind an operation during which his team is caught in an ambush. Baldacci also has written six original screenplays, none of which have been produced.

He lives in northern Virginia, outside Washington. His personal Web site,, includes a discussion board on which he answers questions about his work.

DESKTOP: I have a Gateway at home I use for most of my writing. It has a big screen so that I can see a whole page at a time, and it's also good for screenwriting. I use Final Draft software for that. It has a function called "index cards" to plan scenes--you can spread them all over the screen and move them around.

At the office, my assistant uses a Gateway with a flat LCD screen.

Question: You obviously like the Gateways.

Answer: They have a store near here. I can customize to get just what we need, which is cheaper in the long run. And their tech support has been good.

Q: Do you do a lot of research for your books on the Web?

A: Never on the computers I use for writing. After writing "Total Control" and learning about hackers, I made sure that the computers I wrote on were never hooked up to a phone line. I don't care how good your firewall is, it seems to me that if you can send something out there, someone can get in the other way.

If someone can hack Microsoft and the Pentagon, they can certainly hack David Baldacci.

LAPTOP: I use a Dell, one of the Inspiron series, that I take back and forth from home to the office. I do my writing on it when I am at the office.

Q: Do you e-mail your material back and forth to yourself so you can work on both computers?

A: Oh no. It's that hacker thing, again. I use floppies.

Q: We used to think of writers as solitary figures who didn't have offices, except maybe at home.

A: A couple of years ago I went to the biggest annual writers conference on Maui, which probably has something to do with it being the biggest conference. How many writers would show up if it was in South Dakota?

Anyway, I was talking to the other writers and I was the only one who didn't have an office and a Web site. They said, "What are you doing, how do you handle it all?"

They were talking about e-mail, requests for speaking engagements, book tours, all the things that go into having books out there these days. Like it or not, part of it is about public image. I thought maybe I needed to be more professional about all that.

Q: How much e-mail do you get from readers?

A: Hundreds a day. Some of it we can only answer with stock replies, but my assistant makes sure everyone gets a reply. She gives me a stack of all the e-mail we get, every day, and if there is an unusual question or something that is particularly interesting, I will answer it.

Q: Does everyone who writes a regular letter also get a reply?

A: You bet. I love it when I get a real letter--it seems so Henry James-ish.

Sometimes I get confused by all the jargon used in e-mail, the 11-letter acronyms that people use, especially kids. Give me words! For me as a writer who makes his living with words, it's chilling to see kids are not using them anymore, just this shorthand.

It goes beyond writing--when we think we use words as well. If you get used to using just quick Internet-speak, it might mean you are not using words to really think things through.

HAND-HELD: I have a Palm V. My assistant wanted me to get one, but I said that I would never get around to inputting all the information I needed. She said, "No problem, that's what HotSync is for." Now I use it all the time. She uses HotSync to update my schedule.

HOME THEATER: Not so much in our regular house, but we have another house on a lake that we bought from a guy who was Mr. Gadget. Everything came with it, including one room that was used just to house the amps. It has 11 TVs, plus CDs, DVDs, digital this and fiber that. I have to use instruction manuals just to turn them on. It's kind of fun.

What we have in the regular house is fine, though. In my neighborhood we are really into pingpong. The competition is just ruthless. People bring their own paddles to matches and everything.

I have a game that I play on the big-screen TV to practice. It comes with a unit that uses a laser to track your paddle as you play against the computer. It shows a table on the screen and you really move, just like in a real game. It really hones you.

Q: How do you do in real pingpong?

A: I'm the best in the neighborhood, actually. Some nights I have to play 50 games. They keep coming at me.


As told to David Colker

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