Author Taylor Stevens
Vanessa Michael Munroe Books in chronological order


In the Beginning:
How Research Slowly Changed the Way I View the World

“Far too many innocent people, cooperating because they had nothing to hide, had lost years of life on the mistaken belief that the truth would set them free. If this had been a country where they’d had a right to a lawyer and a right to remain silent, she would have simply told him not to speak at all.” – Vanessa Michael Munroe, in THE MASK

The interesting thing about doing research is that it often leads to places you least expected to go—suddenly two hours have vanished (this is the danger of internet research when you’re supposed to be writing!) and you've veered down multiple paths, picking research daisies for things you don’t actually need in the moment. It’s time wasted, but not always really a waste. Over the years I've found that random acquired information has a tendency to turn up for inclusion at a later date. You could almost say that in some small way research guides the writing because ideas and concepts you wouldn't have thought of before are now cogitating in the back of your mind as part of a body of knowledge that can be drawn upon for future reference.

That's what happened as a result of researching a very brief scene in THE DOLL that took place inside a women’s prison (and hey! this was several years before Orange is the New Black became the new big thing.) Two books later a small portion of what I’d learned during THE DOLL, and had continued to read about as time moved forward, found itself in THE MASK. But really, that’s only the smallest part of the research effect.

The other thing about research—especially research of the daisy-picking kind—is that if you’re curious and open-minded (which, naturally, I like to think of myself as, regardless of whether it’s true or not), every once in a while research forces you to face your own bias and pre-conceived beliefs and changes the way you view the world. This is especially true when facts fly in the face of what you've accepted as truth simply because you’d never stopped to wonder if belief and truth matched up.

That happened to me, too, as a result of that one brief scene in THE DOLL.

Now, I’ll admit, my education is pretty stunted on many levels—culturally, academically, socially—which is the byproduct of having been raised in communes and cloistered from the world. As a result, hardly a week goes by that I don’t discover some “amazing thing” that everyone else has already known for years—which is to say, the daisy-picking path scattered between THE DOLL and THE MASK that so profoundly altered my beliefs about people, and crime, and justice, and law and order, might already be common knowledge to everyone else.

But me and my cloistered belief system, we learned that contrary to what the daily news might indicate, crime rates are lower now than they've been in 40 years but, ironically, prison populations keep going up even though there’s no correlation between incarceration and falling crime and, in fact, even though there are a lot of theories about why crime has fallen to such low levels nobody actually knows why it’s happened; I learned that stranger danger is a myth and there are fewer monsters than we’ve been led to believe and how hype repeated often enough becomes truth in the public consciousness--which was a big deal to me as a mother wanting to protect my children; I learned that my belief in justice being blind was naïve at best, and that the “if it bleeds, it leads” used by the media to sell ratings not only shapes public perception and but also our laws, in spite of empirical evidence to counter the moral panic driving those laws.

[Note: With the exception of Matt Taibbi’s book “The Great Divide” which I VERY MUCH recommend to anyone willing to read it, these links are randomly drawn from dozens upon dozens and are not meant to imply that I support and believe everything ever written or published by that person and/or site.]

Along this daisy-picking journey I've found fascinating articles and bone-dry research, but one of the most entertaining bits of information was a video on YouTube that I just have to share in its entirety. It will be worth the most to anyone who is, like I used to be, self-righteously convinced they’re leading a law-abiding life. I try to stay out of trouble—certainly don’t break the law intentionally—but I’m no longer convinced I've been successful at keeping squeaky clean.

Regardless of who you are, where you stand, and what you believe, this is meant to be enjoyed. Have fun.

In her head she said, I wasn't here when he was murdered.
     And in her head, he said,
No one said anything about a murder.
     And in her head, she’d just admitted to having knowledge of the crime, and increased the chances of arrest.
     Out her mouth she said, “I was in Hiroshima this morning.”
     She knew the risks of talking and had rolled the dice.

– Vanessa Michael Munroe, in THE MASK

Taylor Stevens is an award-winning and New York Times bestselling novelist who—by odds and expectations—should never have become either successful or published. Like many aspiring authors Stevens had no credentials or platform, and no direct route into the publishing world. But, unlike most, she was also limited by a life of cultural isolation and a sixth-grade education.

Born into an apocalyptic cult and raised in communes across the globe, Stevens grew up as a child laborer, cooking and cleaning for up to a hundred at a time, caring for younger commune children, or out on the streets begging on behalf of commune leaders. Books, movies, music, and pop-culture from the outside world were strictly forbidden, and she finally gained unlimited access to fiction after returning to the United States in her early thirties. Her books have since been published in over twenty languages, with The Informationist optioned for film by James Cameron’s production company, Lightstorm Entertainment.

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