Your character Alan Gregory is a clinical psychologist like yourself. Does the similarity end there? How much of Stephen White is reflected in Alan Gregory?
The similarities don't exactly end there but there's no need to exaggerate them, either. I lived in Boulder on and off for fifteen years; Alan still lives there. Although neither of us is a model of mental health, his neuroses are different than mine. And he has advantages that I never had as a psychotherapist. First, he has the benefit of all my years of experience. And second, I get to think about his lines as long as I'd like. Real patients never offer that luxury.
In what ways does your writing benefit from your training in psychology?
There are two benefits of my previous experience as a psychologist that I consider invaluable to my life as a writer. The first is that my work gave me a chance to observe and study the infinite varieties of motivation that human beings have for their behavior. The other is that being a psychotherapist exposed me to dialogue in its purest form. For eight to ten hours a day over a period of fifteen years I had the privilege of sitting and listening to a wide variety of people just talk. I can't imagine a better training ground for writing dialogue.
What makes Boulder a prime location to set your novels?
Boulder is as important to me as the fictional village is to Jim Carrey in The Truman Show. Boulder is scenic, it's witty, it's intelligent, it's malleable, it's stubborn, it's idealistic, it's naive. It's a town I could never make up, and if I did, I'm not sure anyone would believe me.
Alan Gregory's wife Lauren Crowder is living with Multiple Sclerosis. What feedback have you received from fans, people with MS, and health care workers, about your portrayal?
I would estimate that about half my mail involves readers' reaction to Lauren having Multiple Sclerosis. The overwhelming sentiment I hear is one of gratitude, either for the fact of the portrayal of the illness, the reality of the portrayal of its effect on Lauren's life, or for the nature of the portrayal that I present her as a vibrant, interesting, sexual being despite her illness. I, too, have MS. People who have MS and people who work with MS patients have been especially supportive.
Which of your books is your favorite and why?
The simplest answer to this question is that my favorite book is the one that I am currently writing. The reason is simple: I like to think that I'm getting better at this process and that each book reflects my maturation as a writer. But it is also true to say that each of the earlier books is dear to me for some specific reason. Privileged Information because it was the first, Higher Authority because it was such a departure for me at that stage of my career, Critical Conditions because of the challenge of writing characters from an adolescent point of view.
In your novels you've taken on issues of managed health care, the Mormon church, the cult of celebrity. Is if your intention to make a social or political statement in each novel?
Writing a book is a laborious, lengthy process. I feel strongly that if I, as the writer, don't stay interested in the work, neither will any reader. So I pick topics that fascinate me or trouble me or captivate me, topics that will stay interesting even as I proceed to examine them from many different directions. Although I don't intend to make political or social statements with my work, the exploration of controversial topics usually involves the precipitation of polarizing conflicts between characters. From polarization inevitably comes point of view. Thrillers are good stories that take readers for a ride. I like to learn something along the way as I'm writing, and I like to offer readers an opportunity to learn something along the way if they are interested in doing so. I like to think each book is about something.
You've said that you were initially a bit resistant to Alan Gregory and Lauren Crowder as recurrent series characters (even contemplating killing off your hero in an early draft of one novel). What made you change your mind?
Resistant? Perhaps ignorant, or naive, is a better description. When I sat down to write the first book, Privileged Information, I didn't set out to write a series, certainly not one that would have me still dealing with the same characters eight books later. But I also never gave a moment's thought to the profound attachment that publishers and readers develop for continuing series characters.
How much of Alan Gregory's life is planned out in your head? How do you know where you will go next with him or with any of your characters?
I'm not sure I should be admitting this, but until I begin a new book, I have little or no idea what is going to happen in the lives of the series characters. My experience of dealing with Alan Gregory or Sam Purdy or Lauren Crowder or Adrienne is that I drop in on their lives and I observe rather than control their lives. The essential being of the characters is constant, but the events that form their lives? It's as much of a surprise to me as it is to the reader.
How much of your everyday life and your family's ends up in your novels?
Alan Gregory's life, thankfully, isn't mine. He knows what I know, which creates some similarity between author and character, but his take on life isn't my own. Only one continuing character bears any significant resemblance to an actual being. That is Emily, Alan and Lauren's dog, who is seriously similar to our family dog, Casey.
What is your favorite thing about being a writer? Least favorite thing?
This question has required a lot of thought. Before I became a writer I spent over twenty years laboring at real jobs one's with mandatory starting times, bosses, and little control over my life so it takes quite a bit of imagination for me to conjure up things I don't like about being a writer. The hours are good, the people are generally great, the dress code is more lax than you could imagine. Although there are plenty of aggravations, the reality is that making a living as a writer is a true privilege, one for which I'm grateful virtually every day.
Much of the action in your 1997 novel Remote Controltakes place in Boulder locations that are involved with the JonBenet Ramsey family. Is this just a coincidence or did you want to make same sort of statement?
A finished draft of Remote Control was completed about two months prior to JonBenet's tragic death. The coincidences surprised me. The case continues to sadden.
What kind of books do you like to read?
My reading is eclectic. I read a relatively equal mix of fiction and non-fiction and find that research reading takes up more and more of my time. The longer I write crime fiction, however, the less of it I tend to read.
Will Alan Gregory ever venture out of Boulder?
Alan Gregory and other characters leave Boulder on occasion, as the stories dictate. Most of the travel is limited to the Rocky Mountain west, although they will go farther, if necessary. Will the primary setting of the series ever leave Boulder? I doubt it. Why give up a good thing?
Have you ever thought about writing a non-series book?
Have I thought about writing a stand-alone book? Absolutely. Do I have some ideas? Yes. Will I do it soon? Probably not. Why? My series is commercially successful, thanks to all of you. As important for me as the commercial success is the fact that the series is also creatively flexible. Thanks for that goes to my publishers and editors, who have not only allowed me to experiment with the series, but have also encouraged it.
Will we ever see any of your books made into movies?
Movies? Options have come and gone but so far nothing has come to fruition. I'm not holding my breath.
There have been consistent rumors that you are also the author of a series of books about Barney, the purple dinosaur. Is there any truth to the rumor?
Although I'd be happy to take the royalites I'm not eager to take the credit. Rumors (and allegations) notwithstanding, that's a whole different Stephen White. I do admit, however, that I have occasionally signed Barney books when presented with the opportunity.
An older book of yours Private Practices has an excerpt for a forthcoming book with the title "Saints and Sinners." What happned to that book?
The title of "Saints and Sinners" was changed, pre-publication, to Higher Authority. They are the same book
Who selects the titles for your books?
Please, don't get me started on titles. Titles are the result of a process of compromise between author and publisher. And, as they say, a zebra is a horse designed by a committee. Let me just say that I feel great about the titles of about half my books, and less than great about the rest.
What are your long term plans as a writer?
My plans as a writer are to keep writing. After living with Alan Gregory and his friends for the better part of a decade, I'm eager to explore some non-series fiction and look forward to the opportunity to do it. I also have new ideas for series books and anticipate staying with the series as long as the readers are interested and as long as I don't write the same book twice.
What advice would you give to a struggling writer?
T he best writing advice I ever received was from my dissertation advisor in graduate school. It was a single sentence:
"The most important thing a writer does each day is put his butt in the chair."
Take his advice. And good luck.
Unless otherwise stated, this interview was conducted at the time the book was first published, and is reproduced with permission of the publisher. This interview may not be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the copyright holder.
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