Like my main character, I guess, I absorb languages — at least I absorbed English. I had to teach myself.
The ultimate inspiration came from reading Robert Ludlum, one of the first authors I read, and it was quite by accident. After we made it to the United States, we were so broke, we were living — a family of four — on $13 an hour. I would buy books at garage sales because it was so cheap, then I would sell them again and use the money to buy more books. The first book I read was The Holcroft Covenant. It was so much beyond anything I'd seen before in reading, so I started reading Ludlum voraciously. I found The Bourne Identity and started reading it, and when I was reading The Bourne Ultimatum I was amazed by these places and people. I said to myself, "I wish I could write about all these exotic settings." And then I thought, "Wait a minute, I've lived in places far more exotic than this."
I've always wanted to write, but the cult would never let me write. I got in horrible trouble growing up and trying to write.
SFBG So did you just sit down and start working on The Informationist?
TS That was the first thing I wrote. I had dabbled when I was 15, but I had all my stuff taken and burned. I figured that if I'm going to write, I'd
better learn something about writing. So I bought a couple of used books on writing fiction and I learned from those.
SFBG In this genre of thriller fiction, there aren't a lot of female protagonists. Was that something you were thinking about?
TS No, because I had no idea. I didn't know what was out there at all. Even to this day, I'm not very widely read. I've read maybe 250 books. I just wrote what made sense to me.
SFBG One of the interesting things about Vanessa is that she has something of a trans element to her. Sometimes she's Vanessa and sometimes she's Michael. How did you come up with that?
TS When I first started writing this book, it didn't have any plot. I just wanted to use Africa as my setting. Jason Bourne was my ideal because I wanted a character who was tormented — not the ideal good guy or good girl, because life doesn't work like that. Right while I was reading the Ludlum books, I saw the Tomb Raider movies, back to back, and what I loved about Lara Croft was that, while she was a bit of a caricature, she was very sexual, very feminine on every level. I didn't want my character to lose her femininity in her badassery.
As far as playing the role of a male, in my experience in having lived in some of these countries, it's completely implausible that you would have a woman be able to go in there and root around and get what she needed. It wouldn't happen. So the only way she could do it is if she could pull herself off as a man.
SFBG I'm not going to give away too much of the plot, but the subplot of her coming from of a background where she was living at 14 with a gunrunner, there is a certain parallel with you.
TS Her life and my life are not at all similar. But to understand her pain and the frustrations she went through — there's no way to create that without living with it. I did draw on the sense of emotions my friends and I grew up with. We didn't have a happy childhood, so it wasn't difficult to conjure that emotional torment, because it's very real.
SFBG They're going to make a movie out of this book, and I'm thinking if they stay true to the scene at the end with the decapitation, you're going to have a hard time getting even an R rating. I read a lot of thrillers, and I've rarely seen such a graphically brutal thing. It's brilliant, and it's gut-wrenching. Where did that come from?
TS It just made sense.