Writing 101 typically dictates, "Write what you know." This was never so true as for Taylor Stevens, whose second Vanessa Michael Munroe novel, The Innocent, is featured in our January 2012 Whodunit column.
In The Innocent, Munroe heads down to Argentina to infiltrate a dangerous religious cult called "The Chosen" to rescue a hostage. It's an intense read on its own, made all the more interesting by the author's own experiences. Stevens was raised in a cult very similar to "The Chosen," known as the Children of God. She gives a frank rundown of her nomadic childhood on her website.
BookPage chatted with Stevens about growing up in the Children of God, becoming a writer and what comes next for her sexy, jet-setting heroine.
Describe your book in one sentence.
Vanessa Michael Munroe is approached by a group of cult survivors—each one harboring an ulterior motive—to infiltrate the environment in which they were raised, and rescue a kidnapped child.
The "Chosen" cult hits very close to home for you. Was this a difficult book to write? Why or why not?
I’ve come to terms and made my peace with my unusual childhood. I wouldn’t say that drawing upon it was easy, but it certainly wasn’t as difficult as it otherwise might have been. More than anything, this story seemed like a perfect opportunity to showcase more of Vanessa Michael Munroe’s skill and badassery while at the same time offering readers access to a firsthand account of cult life that most thriller writers don’t have.
What was your favorite book growing up?
Sadly, I didn’t have much opportunity to read fiction while growing up. The Children of God (the apocalyptic religious cult into which I was born) believed education beyond sixth grade was a waste of time and didn’t allow access to television and books from the outside. I did attend public school sporadically between grades one through six, and it was then that I discovered Trixie Belden, Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys, which I loved. I guess you could say those were my favorite books, but I didn’t have much to compare them against, either.
What is the most important thing you have learned about writing?
That every reader brings a portion of themselves to the story, so the actions and motives of both writer and characters will be interpreted in as many different ways as there are readers. Therefore, the only way to write an honest story is to write for yourself, from your soul, and leave the rest to fate.
If you could spend one day in Munroe's shoes, what would you do?
If I was answering this question in front of a live audience, I’d deadpan and say, “kill people.” Joke, of course, but since that sort of humor doesn’t carry well in writing, um, if I could spend a day in her shoes I’d probably visit a country like Colombia, which I’m too chicken to visit in real life, but where I would love the opportunity to spend time if given half a chance.
Name one bad habit you have no intention of breaking.
Oh, this is such a difficult question because one man’s virtue is another man’s sin. A “bad habit” I wish I could indulge in more often is that of being very late to bed and very late to rise. Although I do a really good job of putting on a game face, I’ve discovered that I am so not a morning person.
What's next for Munroe?
In the third Munroe novel, which is currently titled The Doll, Munroe is thrust into a world of human trafficking and sexual slavery, forced to deliver a missing Hollywood starlet to a client in order to keep the ones she loves alive. In succeeding she’ll guarantee the young girl's demise and so is forced to choose who lives, who dies, or find a way to outthink and outsmart a man who holds all the cards. Otherwise, win or lose, Munroe will pay her dues in the only currency she values: innocent life.