Writing, Reading, Dogs and More ~ A Chat With NYT Bestselling Author Chevy Stevens

New York Times Bestselling author Chevy Stevens’ highly acclaimed novels have been described as fierce, pulse pounding, haunting and harrowing and her newest, NEVER LET YOU GO (a Publishers Weekly, Starred Review by the way) is one of my favorites of the year. I’ve been a fan of Chevy’s since STILL MISSING and she was kind enough to join me in conversation about writing, reading and our mutual love for dogs.

Heather Gudenkauf: Though we’ve never met in person, I knew you had to be someone pretty special not only for your fabulous novels but for the fact that when I reached out to fellow authors to donate signed novels that I was gathering for a young woman battling cancer and you arranged to have a huge box of books to be sent my way. That was so thoughtful ~ thank you! I, like many others, fell in love with your writing when I read your debut novel, STILL MISSING.

Your sixth novel, NEVER LET YOU GO, was recently released to rave reviews. It’s the story of a woman and her child who escape an abusive relationship and eleven years later the threat returns. I was immediately drawn into the story of Lindsey and Sophie Nash – you have such a gift for developing real, relatable characters. It’s the age old chicken and the egg story – do the characters come to you first or does the plot?

Chevy Stevens: It’s been different for each book. With STILL MISSING, the premise came to me when I was a real estate agent, working all alone at an open house. I imagined all the terrible thingsthat could happen, and somehow it began to evolve into a book idea. For months I thought about it in the back of my mind. One day I “heard” the character talking in a sarcastic, tough voice. She was telling the story to someone and quickly I realized she was talking to a therapist. Annie wasn’t a big stretch of the imagination because she was a lot like me at that time in my life–dark, unhappy, and trying to find her way through her pain. My third book ALWAYS WATCHING was inspired by Nadine, the therapist from my first two books. I thought she deserved her own story and I wanted to know more about her. NEVER LET YOU GO was an unusual situation for me. I had been working on a different book for nine months and it wasn’t coming together. After talking it over with my editor, I decided to set it to the side and start something new, but I was nervous about finding something fresh, something I could connect to. My editor and I discussed my strengths and the kind of characters I write the best, which so far seem to be blue-collar, hard-working women, who end up in terrible situations and have to use their inner strength, courage, and intelligence to survive. We discussed some jobs that are difficult and not always appreciated, like cleaning houses, and what would be really creepy to find if you were working alone. Then I started thinking about who would want to scare Lindsey and why. The story grew from there.

In your new book, NOT A SOUND, which I can’t wait to read, your character loses her hearing after an accident. I wondered how you researched something like that and what challenges it brought up for you. I noticed you also have a service dog. Being a crazy-dog lover, I want to know if you were able to meet some real-life service dogs. Whenever I see a working dog, it kills me not to pet them!

Heather Gudenkauf: I love how your characters talk to you  – I’m glad I’m not the only one that happens to!

I did do a lot of research for NOT A SOUND which features Amelia who after a hit and run accident is left profoundly deaf. I read books and articles, visited with a teacher of deaf and hard of hearing students and interviewed my brother who is a doctor of audiology. I also reached out to readers who are deaf and they gave me priceless feedback for which I am eternally grateful. I happen to have a significant hearing loss and while I can hear, I have an understanding of some of the challenges in communicating with others.

I’m a dog lover too and have a very spoiled German shorthaired pointer who is constantly at my side. As for Stitch, the service dog in NOT A SOUND, he could be my favorite character to date. He’s this big loyal lug of a dog who comes to Amelia with plenty of his own baggage and manages to steal the show.  My experience with service dogs is limited, I relied on listening to podcasts and books about training service dogs. I do have a friend who recently had a service dog paired with her diabetic daughter in order to help monitor blood sugar levels. I know that the protocol is to not pet a service dog as it may distract from their work so I’m careful about that too. Today, incidentally, while I was at the doctor’s office a man came in with his service dog and he was happy to have people interact with his dog.

I just finished NEVER LET YOU GO  – which, by the way  is my favorite novel of yours to date (and I really love your novels)– and was immediately drawn to the character of Lindsey and her journey to escape an abusive marriage.  In the very first chapter you managed to capture such intense fear and helplessness in Lindsey as well as a sense of determination-I knew that Lindsey was going to be a force to be reckoned with. How do you gear yourself up for writing such intense, emotional scenes? Do you have any special writing rituals that you rely on?

Chevy Stevens: Your research sounds fascinating—and also profound. You must have had to explore many emotions in writing her experience. I can’t imagine what it must be like to have your life change overnight like that. I love your description of Stitch. I’ve always had such a close connection with my dogs and I love when I feel that from a character in a book as well. I truly believe dogs are angels on Earth.

Thanks for your kinds words about NEVER LET YOU GO! I can’t tell you how many times I rewrote that first chapter. I’m thrilled it connected with you. I usually work on a scene for days, weeks, and then back again on various drafts, so the emotion becomes watered down for me over time. But when I first start to flesh out an intense scene, I usually wait until I’m well rested. Morning is best for me. Sometimes I will play music to get myself into the right emotional space. I close my eyes, thinking about my character, the setting, and work hard to put myself into their situation, imagining how I’d react, what actions I might take, then I write in a very fast and raw way, without any censoring. I can fix things later.

Speaking of writing rituals, I am always fascinated by about other writers’ quirks. I like to use ear plugs, and I can only use one kind of keyboard. Do you have any specific routines or superstitions?

Heather Gudenkauf: I love hearing about how you set the stage for your writing and it really shines through in your characters. I was really struck by the mother-daughter relationship between Lindsey and Sophie in NEVER LET YOU GO. I thought you really captured the close, complicated relationship of two people who have gone through traumatic life experiences together.

I absolutely have my writing quirks. I begin each novel in longhand and eventually transfer what I’ve written to the computer. I know it’s no necessarily an efficient way to write, but putting pen to paper really seems to bring a story to life for me. I also listen to music as I write, choosing what I think one of my characters might listen to. I’ve also been known to have a large Diet Coke next to me on my desk while I’m writing and of course, Lolo is always nearby. I always tend to have my most productive writing sessions after I go for a long hike with Lolo. There’s something about being outdoors and being able to mull things over that helps me with the creative process.

I’m always looking for new books to read. What’s on your bedside table these days?

Chevy Stevens: Wow, I am seriously impressed. I can’t imagine the patience it takes to write in longhand and then transfer everything. For one, I have terrible handwriting so I probably wouldn’t even be able to read my own notes. I agree that walking with a dog is a wonderful way to think through problems.

I always have a few books on the go. I recently finished Dani Shapiro’s new memoir, Hourglass, and A Streetcat Named Bob, by James Bowen. I’m varied in my taste! There’s something about memoirs that I love. I’m reading a book called HOW NOT TO DIE, which is fascinating. It’s all about a plant-based diet. The other one I have is THE LAST UNICORN. I’ve wanted to read it for a long time. The movie sticks out in my memories as a child and I’d like to try my hand at writing fantasy one day. When I’m not reading one of those I have an ARC of Wendy Walker’s new book, EMMA IN THE NIGHT and it’s gripping.

Heather Gudenkauf: These all sound like great reads, thank you! Chevy, it’s been great to get to know you a little better through our conversations and I can’t wait until we get to meet in person!

Chevy Stevens: Thank you so much for all these great questions! I look forward to being able to meet you one day in real life at a conference so we can compare doggie photos and procrastinate about writing. Two of my favorite things. If you throw some snacks in there, I might never go home.

Readers ~ NEVER LET YOU GO is a thriller that will not soon forget! Be prepared to start reading and not be able to stop – so clear your calendar! Want to learn more about Chevy and her fabulous novels? Visit https://cheystevens.com

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