Stephen White On Blinded
Exclusive Web Site Interview, January 2004
Question: Stephen, would it be correct to say that your new suspense novel, Blinded, puts a spotlight on marriage, secrets, and betrayals?
That's a fair description. The book is about marriage, sex, love, attraction, friendship, and serial murder. The secrets and betrayals are just some of the surprises in that package. The story didn't start out the way it currently reads; I originally conceived it to be a straightforward thriller with a relatively simple hook — the one that's developed in Alan's first couple of sessions with Gibbs. The layers, and the focus on the nuts and bolts of marriage — the good, the bad, and the ugly — all came along organically.
Q: Blinded features psychologist Alan Gregory and Boulder Police Detective Sam Purdy equally and both in first person. What made you decide to bring Sam into the forefront of this story?
From conception on, I had an urge to take part of this story on the road, and I was looking all along for a way to get Sam involved with the travel because I saw an opportunity to exploit the unique quality of his perception of the unfamiliar. A lot changed as I wrote. The location that I'd originally planned to use (New Mexico and the Southwest) somehow became the South and Midwest. How? Blame in on the Ochlockonee; I do. From the moment I spotted it, I loved the name of that Georgia river. Structurally, I'd planned to handle the dual
points-of-view architecture of the story by doing something I've done before — employing a mix of first and third person narratives (like I did in
The Program.) But when it came time for Sam to hit the road, I decided to play around with writing those passages in his voice, rather than in the third person. Immediately, I loved the process involved
in being inside Sam's head, and feel that his narration adds some true freshness not only to the book but also to the series.
Q: We are given the chance to get to know Sam better during a period of immense personal struggle. What is going on with Sam in Blinded?
Although readers have had a chance to get to know Sam through Alan's eyes in earlier books, and have had a chance to see him under a lot of stress before, the spotlight that he gets in Blinded is different in quality and quantity. For the first time I decided to take a chance to explore his perspective on his own life, his friendship, his loves, his doubts — whatever. Sam is under assault in many ways in Blinded.
His foundations are shaken and he's forced to question his views on marriage, on family, on work, on friendship, and perhaps most significantly, on the present and the future.
Sam and Alan are best friends though they are opposites in many ways. This book really highlights their friendship. Other books in the series have focused on Alan's relationship with his wife, Lauren Crowder, or with another of his friends. How important is Alan's circle of friends and family to this series?
Frankly, if the series had to be about just Alan — a small town shrink with no direct or indirect ties to law enforcement — it would be almost impossible for me to construct a long string of stories with sufficient criminal interest that they could even be considered crime fiction. From Private Practices on, I've considered Alan to be one member, albeit the most prominent one, of a circle of friends and family that function for me as an ensemble. That ensemble structure is fundamental to the series. It's hard for me to imagine how the series would have had the longevity it has enjoyed if my editors and publishers hadn't had the wisdom to permit and encourage me to explore stories that feature other avenues — avenues involving not only characters within the ensemble, but also characters that don't recur in future books.
Q: I loved Sam's comment in Blinded about Krispy Kreme! He really is a great character. Do you plan on featuring Sam more in future books?
It's embarrassing to admit it but, where the series is concerned, I don't do a whole lot of planning. Typically, some half-baked idea will spur a fragment of a narrative, the narrative will mutate into a story, and the story will eventually require a population of characters. If I were ordered to write a book featuring Sam (or anyone else) it would probably freeze me to my keyboard. One reason is that I don't take orders very well. But the main reason is that my creative process doesn't work in that direction. That said, I adored writing in Sam's voice, and if another opportunity to write from that perspective shows up, I'll be thrilled to spend some more time in Sam's head.
Q: What can you tell us about Alan's new patient in Blinded, Gibbs Storey?
As one of the characters says in the book: Gibbs is a piece of work. I developed her in a way that's intended to force the reader (whether the reader adores Gibbs or despises her) to feel a need to question that assessment. Gibbs is easy to be attracted to, but she's also easy to be repelled by. She's an object of envy, but she's also an object of sympathy. I don't really care how the reader feels about Gibbs; my goal is to compel the reader to feel just the slightest bit uneasy about whatever perception he or she has.
Gibbs's beauty and seeming perfection seems to tap into Diane Estevez's and Alan's personal memories of teenage crushes, high school, popularity, and insecurities. Did you enjoy creating this history for them?
I've heard that some writers create biographies of their main characters, entire lifelines complete with family histories, eccentric aunts, and cranky cats. I'm not one of those writers. Alan's history — and Diane's — remains a complete mystery to me until I feel an urge to fill in some small section of the void. The universality of high school social foibles seemed like a perfect place to anchor the two of them together, at least for a few pages. It was fun to write and I think adds some nice texture to both characters.
Q: At one point in Blinded, Diane says to Alan, "You have more dead bodies in your practice than a small-town undertaker." How do you keep coming up with ideas for this series?
I take them as I find them, and I'm grateful for every last one. The truth is that ideas for stories are easy to come by. The hard part is culling — recognizing when an idea, or a concept, is insufficient to carry the weight of a book. That process feels quite instinctive to me. I end up rejecting a hundred "ideas" for every one I develop, and I usually reject them because I sense that something fundamental about the idea is going to turn out to be inadequate to keep my interest for the year it's going to take me to write the book. Interestingly, the idea for Blinded came via the same route as the idea that led to The Program: I received a phone call from an old colleague with a question about a clinical issue. My mind started wandering and pretty soon . . .