When a writer of Taylor Stevens’ caliber comes to visit my blog, I get happy. It’s no small feat to have a book on the NYT Bestseller List, so I tend to listen and gleen what wisdom I can for my aspiring novelist readers. (The last interview I did with her still shows as one of my top most popular posts.) And for her to visit me again, with book #2? I’m beyond thrilled! Taylor sat down to answer my questions–how do you make the second book as good as the first? And she reveals the surprises–what she’s learned since the success of the bestselling novel. Is it wine and roses and whirlwind press junkets? Here’s our conversation:
Your follow up book to the NYT bestselling book “Informationist” was called “the best thriller of the year” and “master of the genre”. Can you tell us about “The Innocent”?
What makes it so special and unique?
In THE INNOCENT, 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 born and raised, and rescue a kidnapped child. People ask me a lot about my childhood, and this was as close as I could get to writing about it in a fictional format. Although the characters and experiences in THE INNOCENT are not specifically mine, as far as I know, it’s the first mainstream thriller to invite the reader to see behind the closed doors of the same cultic environment in which the author grew up.
Can you tell us about writing and marketing the sequel to a bestseller? Did you feel more pressure to have it “perfect” and “top the charts”?
Because THE INNOCENT is a follow-up, I didn’t expect it to have the same level of commercial success as THE INFORMATIONIST, but I did feel immense pressure to meet reader expectations—especially because THE INNOCENT is a very different book from the first. That said, I feel that those who loved INFORMATIONIST because of Michael Munroe as a character will enjoy this story just as much, if not more, because ultimately, it’s a continuation of her journey.
The Austin Chronicle said this book was more autobiographical than the first–do you agree? How so? Was it “painful” to write?
I’ve come to terms and made my peace with my unusual childhood, so although drawing upon it wasn’t necessarily easy, it also wasn’t as difficult as it otherwise might have been.
Misinformation abounds in regards to my life, and The Children of God in general, so even though THE INNOCENT is fiction, it was important to me to keep as close to the truth as possible. But that created a problem, because a lot of real life is very mundane. Even in cults. And staying true in this sense can be limiting—especially when you’re trying to write an edge-of-the-knife thriller. This, combined with the very personal nature of the material, is what made writing THE INNOCENT difficult, but I’m happy with the end product. Now when people ask me about what it was like inside the Children of God, I can point to this book.
When do you write…do you have a schedule or whenever the muse shows up? What is your BIGGEST challenge in writing, and how have you come to terms with it?
I typically write on a schedule because my muse is pretty stubborn, and on most days just won’t show up. I have a tendency to procrastinate over hard stuff, and since creating in writing—the exact point where making stuff up crosses making it sound good on paper—is hard, I procrastinate a lot. A lot. I’m learning to understand my triggers so that I can find ways to deal with procrastination productively—ways that don’t involve burning hours reading random stuff on the Internet. It’s a work in progress.
What piece of advice would you like to give aspiring authors?
I figure most aspiring authors probably know more about the actual mechanics of writing than I do, but writing well is only half the equation in publishing. Understanding the industry is equally vital, and that’s the part I tend to point people toward.
What have you learned about the business SINCE the books have come out? What do you wish you had known beforehand?
I’d never read an online book review before THE INFORMATIONIST published. I had no idea how much viciousness is out there, or how often material is interpreted differently from author intent, or that much would be projected into it (or onto the author), or that the work could be deemed“contrived” when details fell outside the reader’s realm of possibility, and so forth. It made me a little gun shy for awhile, and I do tread more carefully now—explaining things that I’d previously assumed people would research if they questioned. This is the nature of the business, but if I’d had some awareness of it going in, I would have been better emotionally prepared.
Have you finished book 3 in the series? What stage are you at with that manuscript? Is it as good as the first two?
I am finished with book three—gratefully—it took me twice as long to write as I expected that it would. Those who’ve read it, and whose opinions I trust, tell me that THE DOLL is the best yet. The manuscript is currently in the hands of my editor and we’ll soon be going through the editorial process to make it as good as it can be.
Thank you so much Taylor for joining us. I wish you continued success! Thank you Kris, you too!