When Taylor Stevens was 14 she wrote her first short story. Instead of being encouraged for her precociousness, her notebooks were confiscated and she was put in solitary confinement and held without food. It would be 2 decades before she would write again. Such is the amazing story of a young girl who was born into a religious cult. For more info on Taylor's grim upbringing you can read her own version of the events at her Facebook Fan Page:
Stevens' debut novel, The Informationist, has received rave reviews from USA Today to the LA Times. Her protaganist Vanessa Munroe is a resourceful loner who grew up overseas and has combat training and a wry sense of humor. The Informationist is a remarkable story worth investigating for many reasons:
1- In “The Informationist” your main character, Vanessa, “Michael” Munroe is insanely clever (she speaks 22 languages) and has worldly experience. Was it cathartic to write about a character who was so physically and mentally powerful?
There was a time, many years ago, when I wrote essays for myself and for a select few friends as a way to process, internalize and put to rest many of the things we experienced while growing up. In its time, that form of writing was rather cathartic, but writing good fiction is hard, and although there’s a certain sense of accomplishment when I look back on what has been completed, and I love who Munroe is now, it certainly didn’t feel good while I was struggling to produce it all.
But that said, from the beginning, when writing Munroe, I never viewed her in terms of strong or weak, good or evil, or even, in a sense, male or female. Initially, when thinking of her reactions to situations, I was drawn to pull from the emotional conflict and skill of Jason Bourne, and the sensual confidence of Lara Croft, but these were gut feelings, nothing specific or tangible. Michael Munroe as a chameleon and predator, a woman with her own brand of morality and a take-no-prisoners form of justice, gradually came alive as a result of the demanding environments she was thrown into, so to me, Munroe has always been who she is as the natural result of her storied life, and I honestly didn’t realize just how strong—and perhaps unusual—she is until feedback started coming in from test readers.
2- Munroe travels in similar paths to your own, with Texas and Africa playing important roles. Was that a conscious decision because of your familiarity with those places?
When it comes to writing about Africa, yes, absolutely. I had lived in Equatorial Guinea for a little over two years and also spent several months in Cameroon, so I had been quite immersed in the location. When writing THE INFORMATIONIST, my initial motive, even before I had characters or a plot, or any idea really of what I would write, was to bring this tiny country to life for readers who might never have the chance to visit, and having only the location, I needed a way to show the experience of being there in a way that would make sense to the story without turning it into a travelogue. I also had to set the story somewhere in the United States, and it made sense to put it in a place where I had some familiarity with the location, rather than having to start anew elsewhere, for no reason in particular.
3- How do you feel about reviewers comparing Lisbeth Salander from the Steig Larsson series to Vanessa Munroe? Have you read any of those books?
This is such a difficult question to answer. On the one hand, what debut author wouldn’t want to be compared to a writer who has sold over 50 million copies world-wide, and who has an enormous fan base? I understand why the comparisons are there, and I am grateful for them and for the exposure they bring to my own writing, because there are certainly many people who would never have heard of me or even picked up one of my books were it not for the comparisons. On the other hand, I don't expect that many people enjoy their original work (in any art or field) being framed in the context of someone else's, no matter how wonderful the praise—but maybe one day, new characters will be compared against Munroe, and new authors will be in my position.
I haven’t read any of Stieg Larson’s books yet, nor seen the movie, so it’s difficult to say from my own perspective whether the comparisons are apt, but if I rely on the opinions of others: there are some similarities in the badassery of Michael Munroe and Lisbeth Salander, and those who enjoyed Lisbeth in the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series would probably appreciate THE INFORMATIONIST.
4- You’re very stingy about revealing Munroe’s past, was that part of the intrigue for the reader to discover her motives along with her goals?
You know, I’ve come to understand that each person draws differently from the reading experience and will bring his or her own personal perspectives to a story. As this relates to your question about being stingy in revealing Munroe’s past, I’ve also heard that I revealed too much, too much too fast. In a similar vein, there are many readers who truly connect with Munroe to the point of feeling her anguish and understanding why she is so flawed, and others simply don’t “get” her or what drives her, instead seeing her as a caricature or feeling that she is unreal because she has no flaws. So the best that I can do is write what is true to the way I see her, and hope that readers also feel the same way. That said, there are scenes concerning Munroe’s past that were taken out of earlier versions because, although they did reveal more detail, they didn’t move the story forward—and that’s really what writing a thriller is all about: moving the story forward.
5- Do you have any thoughts about the future of the publishing world and its digital explosion?
Given the relatively little data I have available, I believe four people have bought digital copies of THE INFORMATIONIST for every one who purchased a hardback book. While certainly some of these were former paper readers who have converted to digital, I expect that there are also many who quite possibly wouldn’t have ever read THE INFORMATIONIST were it not digitally available, and I find it fascinating the way the digital world is opening up reading to a whole new market. There will always be those who love and crave the feel of a real book, but our world is changing, and I hope that I’m there to meet the future when it arrives.