One of the most popular series at MysteryPeople is Taylor Steven’s The Informationist. Stevens’ novels feature Vanessa Michael Munroe, a bad ass who can get any information for anyone, and the character has already found her place in the genre in only two books. In the third, The Doll, she is forced to do a job against her will for a white slaver who threatens to kill her boyfriend, Logan, if she doesn’t comply. Taylor will be at BookPeople on Wednesday, June 12th, with Angel City author Jon Steele, in a discussion about their new thrillers. We got a chance to ask Taylor some questions ahead of time.
MysteryPeople: What was the main thing you wanted to do with Munroe in this book?
Taylor Stevens: I wanted to back her into a corner, put her in a situation where she didn’t have any tools or any control, a situation where she was both bad guy and victim, one in which there were no good choices to be made, only sacrifices, and then watch her mental and emotional process as she made the impossible choice of deciding who lived and who died, and then rely on wits alone to try to make justice out of the situation.
MP: The Doll Maker is your most chilling villain yet. How did you come up with him?
TS: Considering the sociopathic villain who enjoys watching people suffer has been used a lot in fiction, I wanted a villain so absolutely off-his-rocker insane that he came across as warm and personable while doing unbelievably horrendous things–the type of person who would invite you in for tea and sit and chat with you about politics and art while mixing strychnine with your sugar. What I personally find makes the Doll Maker chilling is that while yes, people are brutally harmed because of him, it’s not that he enjoys making it happen, it’s that he’s completely indifferent to it happening–he is completely disconnected from human emotion on all ends of the spectrum, as if he’s walking in an alternate universe.
MP: The Capstone group plays an important part in the book. What was your challenge of writing for a team when you usually deal with a lone wolf like Munroe?
TS: There are a lot more moving parts. Even in the littlest of things, such as keeping track of who is standing where, or what another person was doing while the others were off elsewhere—it’s a lot more to keep track of because if you inadvertently leave out a character, just because they’re not actually playing a role in a particular conversation or scene, it leaves a big glaring hole, and yet by adding too much of that detail it bogs the pacing down. It also makes it more difficult to do character development because when it comes to writing thrillers, you’re limited to word count and to keeping up the action and the pacing. So if you have three characters on a team, and they’re all on the hunt trying to track someone down, you can’t just stop the action and take a page to fill in the blanks. Finding a way to draw the characters with as few brush strokes as possible is challenging, and it has to fit in with the action.
MP: Because of the Capstone element you were able to inject more humor. Was that something you were looking to do more of as a writer?
TS: It wasn’t something that I deliberately set out to do, and I was actually very nervous in that regard because the possibility for it coming off as camp and cheesy was pretty high. Most of the humor was in dialogue between the Capstone team and I chose to go this route after several conversations with men who’d lived through war. I came to understand that this sort of mindset is what helps to mute the stress of a situation, so the humor wasn’t inserted as a way to be funny, it was there to stay true to character.
MP: How do you think Vanessa has changed since The Informationist?
TS: I tend to see each book as a snapshot of Munroe’s life. No matter what else is going on in the story or who else plays a role, ultimately these books are a continuation of her life. As such, she’s affected by whatever happened to her previously—in other words, not only is her childhood and teenage years part of her backstory, but the events in every book also become part of her. I find that she has softened in some aspects and, especially because of the events in The Informationist, she has allowed herself to rely on others, and she continues to make peace with the choices that she’s made. But, she also hurts more because of the experiences she’s been through—she doesn’t walk away from The Doll emotionally unscathed—and this will see her continuing to evolve and change as she progresses through the snapshots of each book.
MP: Can you tell us about what you have in store for her in the future?
TS: The Catch, the fourth book in the Vanessa Michael Munroe series, finds Munroe back in Africa and tangled up in a ship hijacking where nothing is what it appears to be. Writing The Doll, with its two distinct story lines, two plots, two casts of characters, in two time zones—each with its own pacing and action and need for octane—all of which had to zipper together seamlessly, was so incredibly difficult that I hope to never do that again. In The Catch, I go the exact opposite route. It’s the first book I’ve written that has only one point of view—Munroe’s—and in it we get to watch how she operates when she arrives in a country that she’s never been to before, without any connections, where there are people she doesn’t know who clearly want her dead.