The Informationist; an Interview with Taylor Stevens

March 8, 2011

Tags: Taylor Stevens, The Informationist, gender, thrillers, vanessa munroe

Taylor Stevens’ The Informationist is an unprecedented work in the action thriller genre.
The novel’s protagonist Vanessa Michael Munroe, whose height and androgynous beauty makes it possible for her to pass as a man when necessary is the kind of hero we’ve not seen before. Possibly ever.

While Munroe has been repeatedly compared to the character Lisbeth Salander she’s actually a refreshing break from that Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, whose early life as a victim defines her later life as a hero, and whose “androgyny” is tied to a bisexuality that is titillating and pandering to many male readers.

Unselfconsciously badass and infinitely capable, Vanessa Munroe is in no way a contrived or clichéd character. And while readers may be inclined to see her as a feminist representation of Jason Bourne, Stevens has actually achieved something far greater—gotten beyond stereotyped or reactive characters and created quite masterfully a hero first and gendered person last. That gender-blind naturalness comes through in everything Munroe does and every word Stevens writes.

Stevens grew up in the apocalyptic Children of God cult. She spent her early life begging on city streets across the globe; preparing food and washing laundry and doing what she describes as “trying to survive dreary life as a worker bee child.” Her formal education stopped when she was twelve years old.

I spoke with Stevens recently about the impetus for writing The Informationist, and whether she was reacting to or influenced by other works in the genre, and this is what she said:

“I’d lived in Equatorial Guinea for over two years and had also spent several months in Cameroon, and my initial desire in writing The Informationist, even before I had characters or a plot, or any idea really of what I would write, was to bring these foreign and exotic worlds alive for readers who’d never and might never have the opportunity to visit. I consider myself an entertainer whose goal is to bring readers into a world worthy of their time investment. I don’t deliberately set out to create social commentary or convey a message, so if something deeper is drawn from my work, I guess that’s a bonus, and if there are political themes in the story, they come as a byproduct of describing life in Africa as I observed and experienced it.”

“When I first started writing The informationist, I hadn’t even heard the term “chick lit,” and had at that point, maybe, if I really stretch the imagination, read about 30 novels, most of them thrillers, and most of them, like Robert Ludlum’s books, not at all current. I was born and raised in the Children of God, an apocalyptic religious cult that didn’t believe in education beyond sixth grade, so for most of my life up until about two years before I started writing, had very little access to reading material other than what the cult produced. To this day I am sorely under-read and still rather painfully oblivious to current trends. Before creating Vanessa Michael Munroe, I’d been drawn to the conflicted torment and keen ability of Jason Bourne, and after I’d begun, the sensual confidence of Lara Croft. The traits of these fictional characters certainly influenced my writing, but more than anything, having lived in or travelled to many of the same countries in which Munroe operates, to me, who she is has always just made sense based on the environments she was thrown into.”