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Career Change a Good Idea for Stephen White. Alan Gregory Novelist Feels Happy, Fulfilled

By Tom Walker, Denver Post Books Editor
The Denver Post, February 7, 1999

Two words come to mind on meeting best-selling Denver author Stephen White—grace and serenity. White's latest is "Manner of Death," just out from Viking, and like six previous novels it features Boulder psychologist Alan Gregory.

If you are at all familiar with Gregory, then meeting his creator should be no surprise. White speaks with a soft voice that seems preordained to soothe, as if he was called to psychology, which he practiced until just a few years ago.

But hold on, that's only part of the picture. Psychology was far from White's first choice of careers.

White began college at UCLA, majoring in creative writing. "I got three D's and an F on my first four papers," White said in a recent interview. "I dropped the class and changed my major and did not write another word of intentional fiction for 20 years. I didn't get to psychology until five more majors.

So what got the creative juices flowing again after so long? It's pretty simple, White said. "I got an idea and it just wouldn't go away."

Develops from dilemma

That's been pretty much a pattern for White through all of his Alan Gregory novels, most of which are told from Gregory's point of view. "I usually start with a kernel that feels like a dilemma," White said, "a moral, personal, philosophical or legal issue. The process of developing the story has to do with approaching the dilemma, letting it build and then the resolution."

The thrust of "Manner of Death," which will soon be in its fourth printing after coming out in mid-January, is that someone is trying to kill members of Alan's old psychological team when he was in residence at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center years before. It looks as though Alan's number is coming up.

In addition to Gregory and his wife, Lauren, an assistant district attorney in Boulder who has been at the center of some of White's other books, like "Remote Control," and Sam,  Alan's friend who is also a Boulder cop, White introduces two new characters.

The two characters are former FBI profilers who alert Alan to his danger and try to help find the killer before he gets to Alan.

But while engulfing the reader in this mystery, White also likes to add a few subplots to keep us involved. "I want to put a twist on it that would make it interesting."

One of those twists involves another member of the team who also is still alive—Sawyer Sackett, who was also Alan's mysterious lover in the old days. She comes back into his life. The subplot centers on how Alan will deal with this re-emergence. White has you nailed with another interesting twist. 

The addition of Sawyer to the story line shows how clever White can be—everyone can relate. He puts it like this: "When the past comes to visit it's a potential in any adult's life."

One of the more interesting subplots in White's or anyone else's novels is in "Manner of Death." It concerns D.B. Cooper, the guy who held an airplane full of people hostage, then bailed out into the night sky, never to be heard from again.

"The D.B. Cooper issue has been sitting around for a long time," White said. "The whole D.B. Cooper subplot was in a previous book ("Remote Control") and it was edited out. It was a distraction.

"It was something I wanted to deal with for a long while, partially because I've been fascinated with him since 1971. I wanted to answer the question.

"One of the wonders of writing fiction is that you get to do things like this." 

Enjoys his craft 

Which brings us to another salient point about White—the guy is happy as a clam just doing what he does. Mention writing and his eyes twinkle and a smile—almost a smirk—crosses his face.

"There is very little about writing that I don't like," he said, adding, "I've had 25 years of real jobs. The most difficult side of it for most writers is the business side, the contracts, deadlines."  

He said he expected to miss therapy, but "I've not missed it for one day. This is so much more fulfilling."

In his next book, which White said is finished but untitled, one of the two former FBI profilers in "Manner of Death," A.J. Sykes, returns. She enlists Alan and Lauren to help her solve a stale case involving the murder of two teenage girls in Steamboat Springs.

White tends to publish a book a year, spending six months writing and six months editing and doing all the other chores associated with getting it out. During his six months of writing, White said, he usually spends the morning writing, amassing three pages a day every day for six months.

Why does he write only in the morning? "I'm pretty stupid after lunch," he said.


Line of Fire by Stephen White

Coming August 2012

The Last Lie (paperback) by Stephen White

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