'Doll' author: Research into human trafficking 'heartbreaking'

| Friday, June 14, 2013, 8:57 p.m.

It happens almost every time writer Taylor Stevens appears at a bookstore or does a reading: Readers start talking to her as if she's the living embodiment of her fictional character, Vanessa Michael Munroe.

The writer and her character do have quasi-similar backgrounds: Stevens was the child of parents who were part of a globe-trotting religious commune, and Munroe — known in the books as Michael — was raised by religious missionaries in Africa.

From there, author and character couldn't be on more divergent paths. Munroe is an information specialist and mercenary well-versed in all sorts of deadly weaponry, while Stevens is mother of two children who creates her havoc via computer.

“I really do make an effort to try and quash it and set people straight,” says Stevens of the comparisons, “Not because I'm upset about it, but it changes the enjoyment of the story if they're constantly seeing it as if it's me.”

Stevens visits Mystery Lovers Bookshop in Oakmont on June 19 to talk about her new book, “The Doll.”

Her three previous novels have earned praise from writers including Tess Gerritsen and Vince Flynn. Not bad for a novelist whose formal education stopped when she was 12, who has never taken any creative-writing courses and has an atypical view of her craft.

“I don't really consider myself to be a writer,” Stevens says. “I'm a storyteller. I do try and make the writing as clean as possible. The biggest critiques I get come from MFA grads, who are snooty in that way. I'm not saying all MFA grads are snooty, but the reading public just wants a good story, they want to be taken away and wrapped up in these characters, and they read for different reasons than the people who study creative writing for a living read. (MFA grads) read to criticize and to see if you are checking all these boxes in your writing.”

Stevens considers her books to be “action-adventure stories,” but that doesn't mean her work lacks depth. In “The Doll,” Munroe is drugged, kidnapped and given a brutal assignment: The transport of a missing actress into the hands of a sadistic masochist. If Munroe refuses, one of her few beloved friends will be executed.

While the enslavement of a high-profile actress is, by Stevens' own admission, extreme and unlikely, the world she explores in “The Doll” is all too real. The author's research into the grisly world of human trafficking was heartbreaking. She found the amount of attention paid to the enslavement of women for purposes of prostitution is minuscule in comparison to the so-called war on drugs.

“Human trafficking is so profitable,” Stevens says, “because there's almost no risk at all. Our laws, and the laws of many societies, are set up so in the crime of prostitution, the woman is the one who gets punished for it. The johns and the pimps get a slap on the wrist. ... In the case of human trafficking, because most of these women are passed off as willing prostitutes; they're never going to finger their owners because of the fear of reprisal. You'd be hard-pressed to find a woman who'll say ‘I'm being trafficked; I'm here against my will.' ”

“The Doll” is the third book in a series that debuted with “The Informationist” two years ago and was followed by 2012's “The Innocent.” James Cameron, the director of “Titanic” and “Avatar,” has an option to film “The Informationist.”

“There's so much disbelief, even now,” Stevens says, noting that Cameron is working two sequels to “Avatar” and may not get around to filming her book for a while, if ever.

“When my agent called me and told me the news, I said, ‘I'm sorry, I'm not sure I heard you right. You mean James Cameron like “Titanic” James Cameron?' When he said yes, I told him to keep talking, I'm having a difficult time processing this. That was my reaction when it happened. It was so cool. But life goes on, and every once in a while people ask me questions about it, and it just blows my mind.”

Rege Behe is a contributing writer to Trib Total Media.

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