Monday, July 14, 2014

An Interview with Taylor Stevens, Author of The Catch, Due in Stores, Tomorrow, July 15

I had the opportunity to interview (through the author's publicity team) Taylor Stevens, author of the Vanessa Michael Munroe series.  Her 4th book in the series, The Catch, is on sale tomorrow, Tuesday, July 15.  I think you will find her answers pretty enlightening.
  1. 1. How did you come up with the character of Vanessa Michael Munroe?
The whole thing was really quite by accident. But first, you have to understand that when I started writing, I had no idea what I was doing. I had never taken a writing course, had hardly read but maybe 30 novels by that point and, as I’d been deprived of an education beyond 6th grade, I was limited to what I’d taught myself since. When I began to write what would eventually become THE INFORMATIONIST, the first in what has become a 5 ¼ book series, what I wanted was to write about Equatorial Guinea, a little speck on the map off the west coast of Africa where I’d lived for a little over two years. The character of Vanessa Michael Munroe was born from the circumstances I threw her into. She was, and is, a woman who made sense within the environment and made sense to me as a person.

  1. 2. How did your background as a child within the Children of God, without an education past 6th grade, influence your decision to become an author and what you write about?
The concept of “what we wanted to be when we got older” just didn’t exist when I was growing up. We lived and worked as unpaid child labor inside the communes (dishes, laundry, childcare, and cleaning) and expected to continue doing so until we died—which would be young—because the world was ending any day. The cult beliefs didn’t allow for paid employment outside the communes so for money we begged and sold cult-produced literature which we turned over to the commune leaders. The decision to write came much, much later, after I was free of the cult, newly in my thirties, still relatively new to the real world, and at home with two babies because putting them in daycare would have cost more than I could have earned. My education and life experience were still limited to what I’d taught myself since grade school and I had no idea what I was going to do with my life. Deciding to write was a sudden “aha” spur-of-the-moment thing: I’m going to write a book. At the time I didn’t have a concept of genre, I just knew that I enjoyed “exciting” books and I wanted to write about Equatorial Guinea. It was from that that THE INFORMATIONIST was born, and the rest of the series followed that same international, off-the-beaten path vibe.

  1. 3.   How does being compared to Lee Child and Dan Brown (Dallas Morning News), and having Lee Child, himself, and the late Vince Flynn rave about your writing and characterizations, affect the pressure you must feel when you are writing your next book?
You know, until you asked the question, I’d never even thought about the comparisons in terms of feeling pressured. Flattered? Oh absolutely. Honored? Yes! In awe? That too. I do a lot of pinch me, I’m dreaming. But I’ve never felt pressured by the comparisons and I think that’s because I’m not writing those authors’ books or having to fill their shoes or please their fans. If I had to write a Jack Reacher novel I’d probably pass out from the stress of just the thought of it. But, where I do feel pressure—a lot of pressure—is in striving to meet the expectations of those who’ve already read and loved my own books. Intellectually, I know that not everything I write will resonate with every reader. In my head, I know that a title that is “the best yet” for one reader will be “boring, what a snoozer,” to another, but I still struggle with that on an emotional level, because I work so hard to please, and if someone has invested time and money in my work, the last thing I want is to disappoint them. I’m terrified of it, actually.

  1. 4. How many Vanessa Michael Munroe books will you write?  And if you intend to continue writing about her, do you plan to throw in a standalone every once in a while?
This series has kind of gone book-by-book as I’ve never been able to see further ahead than what comes right after whatever I’m working on. At the moment I have two more stories pinging around in my head—both of which I’m quite excited about—so we could continue up to seven, if my publisher wants to keep the series going. The issue with standalones is that I can only write so fast, and as long as Munroe is what the readers want, then that’s where my focus has to be. I do have other ideas that I’ve toyed with, squeezing in work on them here and there between deadlines, so who knows, we may get one before too long.

  1. 5. What is your writing schedule?  Do you work a certain amount of hours each day?  A certain number of days each week?  A certain time of the day?
I try hard to treat writing as I would if I had a day job—well, maybe a very non-corporate, flexible-schedule sort of day job. I do hold “office hours” on weekdays and set daily goals that vary, depending on what part of the process a book happens to be in. Some days are 18-hour days, some are only six. I used to write pretty much every day, including weekends, until I realized this wasn’t doing anyone any favors, not even the work. Being able to chart my own schedule is probably the absolute biggest benefit I get out of what I do as it allows me to juggle work with being mom and all that goes into running a household.

  1. 6. How much input/say do you have in the title of the book and the cover art?
Fortunately, and gratefully, the publishing team has been very collaborative in seeking and valuing my opinions and input, but I don’t have the final say-so on anything other than the words inside the book.

  1. 7. Are you obligated/contracted/expected to write a book each year?  And if so, is it a tough schedule to adhere to?
The industry standard for this genre is to put out a book each year, but in reality, the schedule is set out through contract negotiations and I’ve never had more than two books under contract at a time. I’ve been keeping to the once a year schedule, not so much because of publisher expectations, but because of my readers who’d want a book a month if I could deliver that—which I can’t (sorry guys). A book a year keeps me on my toes. What’s most time intensive is making sure I’ve got the details correct, and then finding a way to weave that texture and atmosphere into what’s otherwise an over-the-top story without bogging it down. If these stories were less exacting in that way, less grounded in reality, less exotic in location, then I’d be able to write a lot faster. In my next life, I’m choosing a genre where I can just make everything up.

P.S.  I don't know why there's a 1. in front of every number.  I can't figure it out, but it doesn't really affect the Q&A, does it?


  1. She is an interesting person, isn't she? Great interview :)

  2. And all I had to do was just submit the questions to her publicist! Taylor does happen to be an author that "talks" directly to us bloggers. I respect that.