Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Author Spotlight: Stephen White

How well do you remember 1991? It was the year of the first Iraq war. The Soviet Union disintegrated. An obscure Arkansas governor named Clinton announced his candidacy for U.S. president. Los Angeles Lakers superstar Magic Johnson retired. Death claimed "Star Trek" creator Gene Roddenberry, and Queen’s lead singer, Freddie Mercury. An Englishman named Tim Berners-Lee trumpeted his invention of something called the World Wide Web. A movie called "Terminator 2: Judgment Day," raked in more than half a billion dollars around the world.

1991 was also a big year for fans of deeply intelligent and complex thrillers, because it marked the debut of internationally bestselling author Stephen White’s first novel. The book was titled Privileged Information, and it introduced us to one of contemporary literature’s most intriguing and beloved characters, clinical psychologist Alan Gregory.

Over the course of an ensuing eighteen novels since Privileged Information, including the latest one titled Line of Fire released just yesterday, Gregory’s authenticity never fails to leap from the page. Not only is this due to Gregory’s living and working in Boulder, Colorado, like White. Credit it also to a professional background Gregory shares with his creator. White grew up in New York, New Jersey, and Southern California before attending the University of California campuses at Irvine (where his creative writing major lasted just three weeks prior to aiming his educational aspirations elsewhere), Los Angeles, and ultimately graduating from Berkeley in 1972.  Interspersed with his studies White learned to pilot small planes, gigged as a tour guide at Universal Studios in Los Angeles, and buttered his bread as a cook, a waiter, and a bartender until he earned his Ph.D. in clinical psychology from the University of Colorado in 1979. White’s 15 years of professional clinical psychology practice infuse every book in the Alan Gregory series.

White says Line of Fire is the penultimate entry in the popular series. Blame that at least partly on the rapid technological changes rocking the book publishing industry every day. Recently he said, "Fewer than a third of the readers of my most recent book read it in a digital display format." Out of deference to longtime fans with scant interest in reading digital books on electronic machines, he wishes his readers to "be able to enjoy the (series’) conclusion in their preferred format."

No matter the format in which they choose to enjoy Line of Fire, White’s readers will find the intricately plotted thrills and absorbing characters that are the series' trademark features. This book serves as the first of a two-part conclusion to the Gregory series. In it Gregory finds his beguiling new patient is not necessarily what she seems, and that she may force the exposure of a terrible secret that threatens to destroy everything important in Gregory’s life. With his family, friendships, career and future teetering on disaster’s edge while authorities with dangerous questions about an old murder case circle ever closer, Line of Fire sets up the explosive finale of the Alan Gregory series.

In a nod to White’s clinical background, for this session we’ve replaced the hard wooden chair traditionally in the middle of our array of blazing klieg lights with a couch. Now that our guest is comfortably reclined in the white hot glare, let’s get this Author Spotlight underway.

Gazala:    In my omnipotence, I've sentenced you to be stranded alone on a desert island for offenses best left unnamed. In my beneficence, I've decided to allow you a limited amount of reading material to make your stay a little less bleak than it would otherwise be. I'll spot you your religious text of preference, and the collected works of William Shakespeare. In addition to those, name the one fiction book, and the one nonfiction book, you'd choose to take with you, and why you choose them.

White:    First, I will assume your omnipotence and your beneficence arrives accompanied by significant munificence. In your generosity, please make my religious text an original Gutenberg Bible. If your generosity is not that great, let’s assume that the criminal offense for which I am being ostracized involved the theft of said Gutenberg Bible, and I arrived on the island with it stuck in my shorts.

The bottom line? I do want strangers to have as much motivation as possible to come looking for me. The Gutenberg is bait.

I am a crime novelist, which doesn’t make me a natural optimist. I don’t expect that leisure reading will be high on my list of desert island pastimes. That goes double for repeated readings of whatever solitary novel I might have with me. So for my novel, please pick any large book with a durable hard cover. I plan to take it apart to make myself a big sun hat. If the book is constructed with material that I could use to craft a sweatband, so much the better.

For my nonfiction tome, I would be most grateful for an unabridged copy of the Oxford English Dictionary. I will make use of it in many ways: To learn new words to describe my confounding circumstance, to discover new ways to curse my miserable circumstance, and to have ample crushed paper for kindling.

I am hoping my little island has a small deposit of flint.

Gazala:    Your latest novel is an excellent and gripping thriller titled Line of Fire. I've read it. I enjoyed it immensely, and recommend it highly. Shockingly enough, however, from time to time my bare recommendation doesn't always motivate a book's potential reader to become a book's actual reader. Tell us something about Line of Fire, and why its potential reader should make the leap and become its actual reader.

White:    Too few long series of crime fiction come to a planned ending. More often they just, well, end. Line of Fire will provide readers an opportunity to read the actual intended conclusion of a twenty-book long series of crime novels. When paired with the final book that is due out in 2013, it offers readers a rare chance to witness the end of a two-decade body of “thoughtful and fascinating” work. (The quotation marks are arbitrary. I wrote those three words myself.)

Obviously, if someone doesn’t get around to reading the ending of this fine series, you won’t be able to tell me all the ways I screwed it up. Why would anyone pass up that chance?

Gazala:    What are books for?

White:    Context. Inspiration. The familiar. The unexpected. Fantasy. Ignorance remediation. Entertainment. Socially acceptable withdrawal.

Et cetera.

Gazala:    W. Somerset Maugham said, "There are three rules for writing the novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are." Do you agree, or disagree, and why?

White:    Of course, I do.

The books that are written by authors who follow the rules, whatever they might be, are the ones that people tire of reading. The authors who ignore the rules, whatever they might be, inadvertently create new rules for future authors to ignore.

It’s a wonderful system. We’ve all benefited from it.

Gazala:    My basement is flooding again, and apparently I'm the only person home who knows how to use the wet vac. Ask yourself a question, and answer it.

White:    Q. I don’t ask many authors this question, but it seems appropriate with you. Are you the best writer in your family? A. Hardly. There is a lot of competition. Extended family? I am top five. Immediate family? Top three. That’s pretty good. In Olympic parlance, I medal. (Editor’s note: White's oldest brother, Richard, is also an accomplished writer—he won a MacArthur grant, and was a Pulitzer Prize finalist.)

You have to admit, White gives good interview. No doubt the man’s Spotlight performance whets the appetite for more of his savvy erudition. There’s no better way to feed that hankering than by serving yourself a copy of Line of Fire, which you can do at Amazon by clicking right here.

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