Taylor Stevens is one of my author finds from this past year with her novels The Informationist and The Innocent I could not believe that I had not heard of her before this. Her novels have everything in them for those of you who love the Thriller genre, I think Stevens' books should be a must read. Please welcome to Blood Rose Books:
If there was one author you could co-write a novel with (they can be alive or dead) who would you choose and why?
Oooh, that’s a really hard question. I think maybe Jack London. He was a prolific writer, king of adventure stories, and a master of his craft at a level I can only dream of aspiring to. But more than that, I would like to think that since he and I both wrote our way out of rough-and-tumble, uneducated, impoverished beginnings that maybe we’d have more in common than merely a co-authored novel.
Mostly I experienced a profound sense of incredulous disbelief. The way it works in publishing is that when a publisher wants a book, the editor will deliver a deal memo to the agent and this deal memo will outline the basic details of the offer. If the author accepts the terms, the agent will confirm with the editor and once that is done, that’s sort of a handshake that seals the deal until the actual contract is signed—and that can take months to finalize. The disbelief was so great that during that period of waiting for the contract to get sorted out, I was terrified every day that the publisher would have a change of heart and say they’d made a mistake. Once the contract was signed and the book entered the production stream and then went on to publication, the disbelief just kept coming—it was like walking in a dream. Of course, to really understand why it was all so overwhelming you have to realize how completely broke and hopeless I was right up to that moment of getting the news that a publisher wanted my work. The difference, one day to the next, was so stark and jarring that it created a lot of mental dissonance.
I’d like to take credit and say that I was smart enough, or that the difficult life I’d been born into had created some profound depth that gave me an ability to figure it all out in advance, but honestly, Munroe happened a lot by accident. When I started writing, I had no idea what I was doing—had never taken a writing course and had hardly read but maybe 30 novels at that point in my life, nearly all of them suspense or thrillers. I had no plot, no characters, not even a storyline; I simply wanted to use fiction to bring to life the paranoia and corruption of Equatorial Guinea (a speck on the map off the west coast of Africa, where I’d lived for a little over two years) for readers who’d probably never visit. But in order to showcase that difficult political, physical, and cultural environment, I needed people who could handle the terrain in a way that made sense, and so it was drawing upon the harsh realities of that real life environment that brought the fictional character of Vanessa Michael Munroe to life. Readers responded to her with such enthusiasm that the first book has since turned into a series.
The Innocent was probably the easiest of the books I’ve written—mostly because, for all intents and purposes, I’m an expert on the subject and there wasn’t much research needed for what has otherwise been a very difficult, research-intensive series. But also, I’d made peace with the past long, long before writing the story. Had things been otherwise, I don’t think it would have been possible to stand back and dissect the issues dispassionately; the writing experience would have become far too personal, bringing with it an overwhelming sense of pain and injustice, and that would have just mucked everything up. Instead what we have now is, in a sense, me taking the reader’s hand and saying “Come, let me show you what it was like from the perspective of children, like me, who had no choice.”
Oooh, that’s another tough one. I think I’d have to say all of them. Every genre has its own difficulties and hurdles, and every author will see those difficulties and hurdles in a different way. Erotica and Romance, for example, which are some of the best-selling genres, are often treated as the ugly stepchildren of the genre family, and the authors who write those books find it difficult to get respect as writers—as if they’re not even writers at all—as if anyone could do what they do. Personally, I don’t think I could. Writing good stories is so much harder than it looks no matter what the genre and I have a lot of admiration for those who pull off any book successfully.
What do you think are essential elements that need to be present in a Thriller novel?
To me, it’s that the reader has to feel engaged with the characters—even if they don’t like the character, they still have to feel the character. Without this, then no matter how much action or suspense takes place, the book will ultimately be boring. This sounds simple enough but with thrillers it’s actually quite difficult because the genre expectations call for lots of plot and action, and there are typically limits to how many words an author can use to tell the story. In a thriller, if it comes down to a choice between cutting action sequences or character development, the character development is usually the first to go. Genre authors who are able to successfully blend these elements are incredibly talented, yet they make it look easy.
Interestingly enough, it wasn’t until after the first book had been published and readers began responding to the character that I had any idea there was something unique about her. I was so sorely under-read when I started writing—not just in the thriller genre, but fiction in general—that I didn’t have much of a grasp of what else existed. And I’m still very under-read which makes it difficult, even now, to know what sets Munroe apart from other protagonists—male or female. I didn’t intentionally set out to create a unique character. At the time, I didn’t even know I was supposed to do that, I simply wrote someone who made sense to me, as a woman who’d spent a few years living and working in rough developing countries. As to reader response, I’ve found that there’s either a lot of love or a lot of hate—not much in between—depending on whether someone gets Munroe or not. Either way I see that as a good thing, because it means the character is alive enough and real enough to engage emotions.
If we were to remove the dark themes we’d have no thrillers which means that, by the nature of the genre, all thrillers—whether they’re filled with serial killers, psychopaths, missing people, or terrorists—are dark in some way. There are probably as many different reasons for the appeal of these types of stories as there are readers, but I suspect that ultimately it’s because they allow the reader to experience the adrenaline of danger from a very safe distance. For me as a storyteller, taking the writing to that dark place is mostly a matter of finding a way to describe through fiction what already exists.
The most recent book in the series, THE CATCH, was released in July 2014, and in that story Munroe’s desire to lay low is thwarted by a lying boss, an aging hijacked ship, illegal weapons, and a captain that everyone seems to want. Coming in June 2015 is THE MASK, set in Japan, where Munroe is pitted against forces just as smart and strong as she is—which is about as much as I can say at the moment.
Interacting with fans and readers is my desert to the vegetables and hard work of writing, so I definitely do respond to those who contact me. I’m on Facebook most days but I don’t post much. The best of everything comes through email from the cool kids who find me at www.taylorstevensbooks.com/connect.php , which is a mailing list that I treat like hanging out with friends. I email fairly frequently—like blogging to an inbox—all about the writing process, everything I know about the publishing industry, and personal experiences that have gotten me to where I am. These inevitably result in daily email exchanges, lots of laughs, and friendships as my readers get to know me as a person and I get to know them, too. I’m not able to answer every single email I receive, but I do read each and every one, and I respond as often as I can.
Probably not a very popular or fun opinion, but right now I have a bee in my bonnet over The Divide, by Matt Taibii, a hefty tome of non-fiction about the wealth gap in the US criminal justice system. As the jacket promo states, “Poverty goes up. Crime goes down. The prison population doubles. Fraud by the rich wipes out 40 percent of the world’s wealth. The rich get massively richer. No one goes to jail.” With nearly 1 out of 30 US adults in prison or jail, or on probation or parole, this is such a pertinent topic that everyone who lives in this country should read it even though it’s a frustrating and infuriating read.
Taylor Stevens is becoming my go to author for suspense thrills mystery and action, her books really do cover all of that, plus I love her main character, so her books will probably always be in the must read column for me. Taylor has very nicely supplied a giveaway (US) to go along with her interview, so fill out rafflecopter information below to enter :)