Writing to Thrill: 10 Questions with Bestselling Novelist Chevy Stevens

by Pamme Boutselis

Chevy Stevens is the author of The New York Times bestselling novel, “Still Missing,” which won the 2011 International Thriller of the Year Award in the Best First Novel category. “Still Missing” has been published in over 30 countries. Her second novel, “Never Knowing,” is also an international bestseller. Movie rights have been optioned for “Never Knowing,” which currently has Renny Harlan, of “Die Hard 2” fame, attached as director. The Penmen Review recently caught up with Stevens, whose next big project is the birth of her first child later this year.

Did you always have stories to tell?
I had a very active imagination growing up, and I remember writing a short story involving a mouse who had pink cheeks, and also some of my other early attempts at writing in school—one story was about a woman who poisoned her husband! However, I was more actively involved in fine arts and intended to pursue a career in that direction. I ended up getting into business and sales instead for many years.

When did you start seriously writing?
Over the years, I had daydreamed about different ideas and considered turning my grandfather’s memoir into a novel, but I never followed through on any of it. When I was a thirty-two, I was not happy in my current job as a realtor. I spoke to my aunt and told her that I was sure I was supposed to have been a writer. She told me it was never too late.

After that, I started playing around with a few ideas, writing more for my own amusement than anything, but I started dreaming in prose and every book or movie that I picked up was about an author. At one point, I stayed in a house on one of the gulf islands. It was just me, my dog, a fireplace, and a lot of cups of tea. I started writing and thought, “This is what I want my life to feel like.” A couple of months later, the idea for “Still Missing” came to me.

How did “Still Missing” come about?
I was working at an open house and began to wonder what would happen if I didn’t come home that night. The story grew from there.

Were you surprised by its success?
I really believed in Annie’s story and felt a strong compulsion to write it, but I didn’t know how it was going to be received in the real world. I was very grateful and often overwhelmed by the attention that it got, but also profoundly touched that it connected with so many people.

What’s the process like for you; do you develop the storyline and then create characters to suit it?
It usually starts with a premise or a “What if?” With “Still Missing,” it started with my daydreaming about what would happen if I was abducted, then I thought about different things that could happen, and who might take me and why. Then I heard Annie’s voice in my mind, telling her story to a therapist. I started writing and let it unfold organically, which led to a lot of rewriting!

Now that I have a contract with a publisher, I need to have an approved outline. With “Never Knowing,” it also started with a premise, which is, “What if you were adopted and you found out that your real father was a serial killer?” Once I started working on the outline, I was able to explore a few different images, themes and story lines that had been rolling around in my mind, and created the plot and characters from there. With my most recent book, “Always Watching,” I knew that I wanted to write Nadine’s story—she is the therapist in the first two books. I also knew that it would have something to do with cults. I had an opening scene in mind, and built Nadine’s story and life as I worked on my outline. My current project was inspired by a true case that I saw on “Dateline.”

How has your background in sales benefited your writing career?
It helped me understand the business side of things—writing for a career is not just about the creative process; this is an industry. You have to be very self-motivated and willing to work hard and take direction from your editor. Being able to write for a career is wonderful, but there are still many business tasks to deal with and there’s also the marketing component. It’s not just sitting in a room and writing.

What do you find most challenging when writing a book?
Writing it! I’m only slightly kidding. The outline stage, where you are just daydreaming and thinking about how exciting it is all going to be, is my favorite part. First draft is the hardest. Facing the blank page is torture. Once the bones are down, then, I can edit, shape, hone and flesh out the story for hours and hours, but it is painfully hard to get that first draft down and I really have to push myself.

Are there things you know now that you wish you knew when you started out?
I’ve learned with each draft how to make a stronger outline, what needs to be researched early or plotted out, to save time later. But with each book there are new challenges, so just when I think I’ve improved my system, there is something else to be learned. It’s ongoing.

What is your go-to book that you could read again and again?
I don’t read books twice. Least, I can’t think of any off the top of my head. I do have some favorites, like “The Lovely Bones,” “The Power of One” and anything by Stephen King or Ed McBain.

With a baby on the way, are there books you can’t wait to be able to read to your child?
That’s a great question! I will have to read him/her “The Velveteen Rabbit.” I still remember the wonderful illustrations that were in the copy I had as a child.