MysteryPeople Q&A with Taylor Stevens
When Taylor Stevens debuted with The Informationist, she won over not only our staff, but the New York Times bestseller list. Taylor has created one of the most unique characters in some time, Vanessa Michael Munroe, an ultra-cool professional who can obtain any and all information you want, if you can afford her. Vanessa’s past experience with a cult has created baggage that she confronts with as much courage as she confronts the bad guys. In Stevens’ second book, The Innocent, Vanessa is on a mission to rescue a girl from the cult. Recently, Taylor was kind enough to answer a few questions from me concerning her character, her writing, and the part of her life which informs Vanessa’s past.
MYSTERYPEOPLE: It seems that now that Vanessa Michael Munroe has learned more about her past from The Informationist, she’s really dealing with it here and trying to understand when to cut off emotions she had previously shut down. Did you feel you were writing for a slightly different Vanessa this time?
TAYLOR STEVENS: I felt that I was writing for a different situation more than for a slightly different character, because there are aspects of Munroe’s personality that just weren’t able to surface within the circumstances of The Informationist, and which we’re finally able to catch glimpses of in The Innocent. That said, just as we as individuals are touched and changed by what happens in our own lives, she, too, was affected by prior events, and I think a bit of that comes through, as well.
MP: Vanessa is out to rescue a girl from a cult, making the mission very personal for her. What did you most want to convey about this type of life?
TS: Writing The Innocent seemed like a perfect opportunity to showcase more of Michael Munroe’s talent and badassery while offering readers access to a firsthand knowledge of cult life that most thriller writers don’t have. The Innocent is fiction and Hannah and her experiences are emphatically not me or mine, but this book is also probably the closest I will ever get to writing an autobiography. Now when people ask me what it was like growing up in The Children of God, I can smile and simply point to The Innocent and say, “Here, read this.”
MP: What do you admire about Vanessa?
TS: I most admire that she fully owns her decisions. Even when circumstances force her to choose between the lesser of evils, she feels no self pity, doesn’t attempt to place blame or make excuses, and accepts full responsibility for actions that some might find morally compromised, knowing that those same actions will probably come back to haunt her.
MP: You really seem to revel in Vanessa’s methodology and her research. How do you go about doing the research for your books?
TS: I wish I could say that I had a method, but it really boils down to asking one question over and over and over again: how does this make sense? And then not letting go until I feel I have a satisfying answer.
MP: What I love about both The Informationist and The Innocent is that there’s a sense of high adventure and cool people doing ultra-cool things, but it is grounded in current events and has a gritty feel to it. How important is that balancing act to you?
TS: I think it’s very important. As real as Michael Munroe is to me, as much as her abilities and her personality make sense to me, for some readers she pushes the boundaries of disbelief suspension. Working with this type of larger-than-life character, I feel it’s imperative that the plot and location be solidly grounded in realism, or else the entire work has the potential to tip over the edge into comedic farce rather than maintain the page-turning immediacy that I’m striving for.
MP: You write some of the slickest action scenes out there. Any advice to writers who have to do one?
TS: Wow. This is probably one of the most amazing compliments I’ve received, thank you! I’m often at a loss when it comes to offering writing advice because I don’t feel as if I know what I’m doing—I really am just winging it. One concept I do try to adhere to when writing action is that of less is more. The more words, the more description, the more detail that gets thrown into an action sequence, the more cluttered it will be and the slower and clunkier it will feel. In contrast, the sparser the language, the more the reader is able to fill in the gaps, allowing mental images to freely unspool. I find a lot of problems in my own writing can be solved by deleting over-explanation and unnecessary words.
Taylor Stevens will be at BookPeople discussing and signing copies of The Innocent on Wednesday, January 18th at 7PM. She’ll be in conversation with bestselling thriller writer Jeff Abbot.