CIA researcher Sarah Sims, a young woman rendered faceless by Treacher Collins syndrome, is the unusual protagonist in Angela Hunt's novel The Face.

Do you have any personal connection with Treacher Collins syndrome?

Last year I watched a special on the Discovery Channel about a preschool-age girl born with Treacher Collins. I was so touched by her plight and all she has had to go through to have a functioning face. A novelist naturally asks, “What if?” and so I found myself wondering what might happen if someone like this little girl had the same condition... and the story bloomed in my head. I'm also fascinated by the power of beauty, so the story gave me an opportunity to juxtapose the two—beauty and facelessness.

Why did you make faces, and the things they reveal, so significant to your story?

Studies have shown that not only do our facial expressions reveal our emotions, but our emotions can be ignited by our facial expressions. In order to be fully human, Sarah not only had to learn how to communicate through her face, but to feel the emotions her face could convey. On a deeper level, her new face represents an emotional and spiritual rebirth. Because she receives a new face, she receives a new future and a new life.

You did a lot of research for this novel, from CIA protocol to extreme medical procedures. How important is it to you to blend fact into your fiction?

I cut my teeth writing nonfiction and I suffer from rabid curiosity, so research is fun for me. Why make something up if it really exists? So I do as much research as I can and travel whenever possible. I spent a week in the Amazon jungle to research one novel, and I visited the Spanish coast for The Face. When I saw an old monastery on an island off the coast of Spain, I knew I'd found the location for Sarah's fortress.

What comes first for you, building the characters or building the story?

I work with four elements: plot concept, character, setting and theme. The plot concept usually shows up first, then the other pieces either fall into line... or I give them a shove.