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Stephen White On Cold Case

December 1999, Exclusive Web Site Interview

Jane Davis:  Your new book, Cold Case, is about an investigation into a cold case—the murder of two teenage girls that took place over 10 years ago.  What inspired you to write this particular story?
Stephen White:  The development of story ideas is rarely a linear process for me. My initial interest was in the Vidocq Society, which I quickly decided would be a wonderful vehicle for a story involving both Lauren and Alan. The nature of the actual work done by an organization like Vidocq dictated certain other aspects of the story—the fact that the case would be old and unsolved, and that it would be local to Colorado.

JD: In Cold Case, Alan and Lauren become involved with an organization called Locard, an investigative group made up of different forensic, police, and prosecutorial specialists. Does this fictional group mirror the real Vidocq Society?  Will we be reading more about Locard in future books?
SW:  The structure of the real Vidocq Society itself didn't lend itself particularly well to my needs, so I created a mirror organization, the Locard Society, which I named after another dead French detective. Whereas the actual Vidocq group is comprised of some of the most illustrious names in forensic science, my organization has a less mainstream membership.  At this time it's impossible for me to guess whether or not Alan and Lauren will be invited back for another case with Locard. Certainly not in the next couple of books, but there's always a chance.

JD:  Alan is asked to assist Locard by doing a "psychological autopsy" of the two murdered girls.  How would a psychologist get an accurate profile of a person who is dead?
SW:   The nature of "psychological autopsy" requires an understanding of all the factors that might have been influential to a person's psychology at the time of their death. History, emotional health, physical health, relationships, stressors, work and/or educational issues, family dynamics, substance abuse, recent losses, etc. The person conducting the investigation would proceed much the way Alan does in Cold Case, methodically collecting evidence, and  systematically following leads.

JD:  From the very beginning of the Alan Gregory series of books, we have seen the evolution of Alan and Lauren's relationship.  In Cold Case it is revealed that Lauren is now pregnant.  Why did you decide to take this next step in their relationship?  And what impact will this make in the future for the couple, the series, and on Lauren's MS?
SW:  I don't actually have a "grand plan" about the characters in the series so there is no particular rationale for the pregnancy occurring during this story.  It felt timely as I was writing, so I included it. Similarly, I don't consider the implications on future books when I'm writing the current one, so I don't have a clue what might occur with Alan, Lauren, and their baby down the line. My ignorance about their future keeps me interested in their lives.

JD:  A climactic scene in Cold Case takes place in a blowdown area in the Mount Zirkel Wilderness region of the Continental Divide. What exactly is a blowdown and did this really happen in Colorado?
SW:  The blowdown described in Cold Case actually took place in the Mount Zirkel Wilderness as described in the book. In October, 1997 freak winds tore across the ridge tops of the Routt Divide felling over a million trees spread across an astonishing 20,000 acres. Blowdowns of this magnitude are an extremely rare natural phenomenon that may involve severe windshears.

JD:  The forces of nature and the beauty of Colorado have become almost like a character in each of your books.  How important is it to you to give an accurate sense of place when you write?  And do you feel you have to live in the place you write about?
SW:  As a write I try to treat place with the same respect that I treat character. My goal is to have each reader get to know the locale as intimately as they might learn to know a major character. Although I try to be accurate, my intent is more to illuminate than describe. I want the "feel" of the place to be right. I've written about places in my books that I've never visited myself, so it would be hard to argue that personal familiarity is an essential part of the process.

JD:  In past books you have sometimes switched the main lead in the story from Alan to Lauren.  You also have created an important cast of supporting characters—-Sam, Adrienne, Diane, A.J., etc—who are often deeply involved in the story line and at other times completely out of the story.  How do you decide which characters to include in a new book and where to go with them?
SW: A big part of that decision is dictated by the story. In Higher Authority, for example, the story required a female point of view. In another book, Critical Conditions, the decision to focus on Sam Purdy's life was born out of my own curiosity about him and my desire to explore that further.

JD:  What will your next book be about and when can we expect to see it in the stores?
SW:  One of the challenges of writing a continuing series of this length is developing plausible and interesting situations for the main characters.  The next book, which is still untitled, will place Alan Gregory in a situation that I found absolutely compelling as I was writing it. The situation?  During a colleagues pregnancy leave, he temporarily takes over as the regional psychological consultant to the Witness Protection Program.  Imagine the possibilities . . .


Cold Case by Stephen White

Signet Paperback, ISBN: 0451201558

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