Chevy Stevens: Exploring Subtle Fear

photo: Poppy Photography

Chevy Stevens is the author of five previous thrillers, including Still Missing (a New York Times bestseller and awarded the International Thriller Writers Award for Best First Novel) and That Night. Her sixth novel, Never Let You Go, is a gripping psychological thriller about a woman fleeing her abusive ex-husband, convinced that he's stalking her and her daughter after his release from jail. Stevens grew up on Vancouver Island and lives there now with her husband and daughter.

Never Let You Go is a suspenseful novel about a woman fleeing the threat of her abusive ex-husband, Andrew. How did you research what that experience would be like for Lindsey?

I don't think I really had to research it. I grew up in a violent childhood. I had a father who was an alcoholic and was violent towards my mother. The insulting abuse and constant put-downs were certainly there, though he would only go to violence when drinking. He'd have these benders where he'd trash our house, break our windows, rip the phone off the wall.

When I wrote my first book, Still Missing, I tackled this issue from a side way. I had Annie trapped with a man in a cabin, and I explored survival and all of that. But this is the first time I've actually more directly approached the topic.

When I wrote this book, I didn't sit down to channel the emotions that I had and what my mother had gone through in that relationship. I actually had a different concept to start with. I realized by writing Lindsey, though, that I was wondering how my mom felt about her marriage. So I was able, through both Lindsey and Sophie, to really connect with my own emotions a lot.

We've all been either controlling at times or been in a controlling relationship. You can see how it can happen. I'm also a naturally empathetic person, so I didn't find it difficult to put myself in that position and understand how they operate. 

You mentioned that you originally had a different concept for this novel. How did you get to where you ended up?

I actually had a completely different book in the works for about nine months. It was about a home invasion. I was trying multiple perspectives, and writing in the third person, where I've always been a first-person writer. I wasn't really connecting emotionally with the characters, but I kept pushing through. Then I submitted it to my editor, and the first thing she said was, "I just feel like you aren't really connecting with these characters." We thought about different ways we could fix it, though I think that I just instinctively knew that it wasn't the right book. The more we tried to fix it, the worse it got. I had to move on. It sucked to let go of nine months of work, but it just wasn't working.

So we starting discussing all these what ifs, and one of them was, What if you were housecleaning and found a dead body? That never actually happens in Never Let You Go, but that was where I started when I sat down to write the first chapter.

Much of the story of Never Let You Go is driven by Lindsey's relationship with Andrew. But there's also a really intense, central relationship between Lindsey and her daughter, Sophie.

The relationship between Lindsey and Sophie was really important to me because I have a four-year-old daughter. I hope that we will have that similar kind of relationship that they do, with that kind of banter and openness. And some of Lindsey's memories of her daughter's being young are from my own memories of my daughter.

Lindsey and Sophie really love each other. They have their differences, of course, but I didn't want to write a mom and daughter battling. I wanted to show that they really care about each other and are trying to protect each other. Sophie thinks she's doing the right thing by not telling her mom that she wants to reconnect with her father; she doesn't want to worry Lindsey. And Lindsey thinks she's doing the right thing by not having told her daughter some things about her father. They really are trying to take care of each other.

I also wanted to explore teen love, which I did through Sophie's first relationship. And imagine what it would be like for a mother like Lindsey to see her child starting to fall into the same pattern that she did when she was young. That would be terrifying.

The timeline shifts backward and forward. Did you write it in chronological order? Or bounce around?

I do usually work in chronological order, but this one was a little different. It was like putting together puzzle pieces. I would write different vignettes of Lindsey and Andrew's marriage, and then had to work on where to place them in the story. I wanted to best emphasize what was happening in present day with the flashbacks. 

You've previously said that you are intrigued by the after-effects of crime. There's some active crime and mystery in Never Let You Go, but would you say it's also about what it takes to survive a past crime?

It's a chain reaction, in a way. That even happens now. Say a family has a traumatic event happen to it, like a car accident. That stuff can affect generation after generation after generation. Anything momentous like that, the tentacles just go out. So in some ways, Never Let You Go is about that. Lindsey made a decision, and because of that, something else happened and something else happened and something else happened after that. It's very much about the ricochet effect. 

Your books, including this one, have been described as "psychological thrillers." Did you set out to write something psychologically suspenseful again, or is that just how this evolved?

I didn't want to write extreme violence against a woman. I've done that in books, and I've moved away from that. When I first started writing, I was writing about what scared me: big terrifying things, how horrible it would be to be abducted. I've moved more into wanting to explore a more subtle kind of fear. It tends to be a slow build, but there's ever-present concern. There's no big serial killer, no blood, no big jump-out moments, but it's still terrifying. 

I also didn't want the story to be obvious, or too dark and twisted. In a way, I wanted to write a book that I felt comfortable recommending. It's a funny thing--when people ask which of my books they should read, I always wondered how to recommend a book about three women who suffer horrible, terrible abductions? I know a lot of my readers really love the dark and twisted, but I wanted a book that would maybe be relatable to a wider range.

And though I didn't set out to write a personal book, it became much more personal than I realized. –Kerry McHugh

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