Taylor Stevens: Author of a New Breed of Kick-Butt Female

Until fairly recently, women in thrillers often came in three flavors: the stern, humorless suit (think: Dame Judi Dench's M in the "Bond" series or Joan Allen's CIA honcho in the "Bourne" films), the super-human super agent (Jennifer Garner in "Alias"), and the crime-solving spinster ("Prime Suspect," "Miss Marple"). Then out of the shadows sprang Vanessa Michael Munroe, a completely new brand of high-octane heroine who is as fierce as she is feral, as haunted as she is hyper-effective at tracking down her prey, as smart as she is sexual.

Munroe, the title character of The Informationist, Taylor Stevens' bestselling debut novel, inhabits a siege-like state of perpetual danger as she pinballs through the Third World in search of the daughter of a Texas oil tycoon who went missing in Equatorial Africa. Munroe has spent much of her life earning a good living as a cross between a forensic researcher, bounty hunter, and a one-woman special-forces team with a particular knack for piecing together enough disparate information to retrieve her target from within hostile territory.

However, Munroe's killer instincts in confrontations with warlords and various genocidal maniacs are only part of what makes her such an indelible character. The heart of the novel lies in the intricacy with which Stevens depicts the depth of Munroe's psychic wounds and how carrying around all that emotional baggage has turned her into a fierce creature.

Comparisons to a certain dragon-tattooed abuse survivor with a facility for digging up obscure information have been plentiful since Stevens' book began to climb bestseller lists last year. But the similarities end there. Munroe is deeply in touch with her feminine side -- unapologetically sexy and seductive while still capable of delivering a vicious beat down when necessary.

The Informationist
's purest pleasure is its insight into the inner life of a woman warrior who has transformed her own story from tragedy to one of triumph. The same could be said of Stevens herself, who survived and prevailed over more than her share of childhood challenges -- she grew up within the Children of God religious sect. Now putting the finishing touches on the final book in the Michael Munroe Trilogy -- the second book, The Innocent, is due to hit bookstores in December -- Stevens sat down with Word & Film for a wide-ranging interview about her sources of inspiration and her own inspirational story.

Word & Film:
How clearly had you sketched out the character of Vanessa Michael Munroe in your head when you started writing The Informationist?

Taylor Stevens:
I had no idea what I was doing when I started writing this book. I just decided I was going to do it and I kind of learned as I went. As I wrote the book I discovered more and more of her. My original reason for wanting to write was that I wanted to write about Equatorial Guinea. So I had to find a story that would make sense taking place in the country I wanted to write about. And because of the minimal amount of books I had read up until that point - the majority of which had been thrillers - that was sort of the genre I chose.

Why were you compelled to write about Equatorial Guinea?

I had lived there for two years and it was a very interesting experience. It took me a while to get over having lived there because it was traumatic in so many different ways. It was a world so few people experience and I wanted to communicate that.

W&F: What brought you there in the first place?

TS: I was still within the organization I was born and raised in [The Children of God] and I really wanted to do some good in the world. So my husband and a few of my friends and I decided to start an NGO that was beyond the auspices of the cult. We chose Equatorial Guinea because we wanted someplace that was off the beaten path but small enough that anything we did would matter. We built school desks for two or three thousand children.

After growing up in such unusual circumstances, it's kind of surprising you didn't make that the background for your novel.

TS: If I wanted to focus on the experience of living in the cult, I would have written a memoir. And in my second novel, which comes out in December, I do use my childhood as background for the story in the same way I use Africa as a background for The Informationist. Africa was really vivid in my mind at the time. Unlike the cult, Africa is a place I chose to be. I left when I was ready. I had no choice of being born into the cult. It was something that controlled my life for over two decades. It's a completely different thing.

Read the rest of the interview here.