FROM WRITING REALTOR TO REAL WRITER
## Rene Unischewski is your real name; how did you choose your pen name? Is it true it’s inspired by your father’s and brother’s names?
C.S.—You answered the question for me! Yes, “Chevy” was my father’s nickname, from the pronunciation of our last name, and some of my friends also used to call me that. Steven is my brother.
## Is Unischewski from Polish ancestry?
C.S.—My grandparents on my father’s side were Russian, but my father was born in Germany.
## Was becoming a writer always the main plan, even before you were a realtor, or did you just decide to go for it when you had the idea for Still Missing?
C.S.—Growing up I dreamed about being a writer, but I became involved in the arts instead and was planning on getting a Fine Arts degree. When I dropped out of college, I started working, mostly in sales, eventually moving into real estate. Then one day the idea for Still Missing came to me and the rest, as they say, is history.
## Obviously, the realtor job is the direct inspiration to writing your first book; what other job(s) helped in your new career?
C.S.—I don’t think any other jobs have helped with the writing part of it, but my background in sales has helped me understand the business and marketing part of having a writing career.
## Was it a long process between thinking about the story (Still Missing) and getting the confidence to get it out on the page?
C.S.—It wasn’t about confidence, I just didn’t have a fully fleshed out idea right away and I was busy with my career, so I mentally played with the premise for a couple of months, then one day I walked up to my office and started typing, “Session One.”
## Renni Browne, founder of The Editorial Department, had this to say about newly published authors: “The hardest part after being published depends tremendously on how successful the book is. If it’s a big book, you lose privacy, still have some negative reviews to handle, and the expectation for your next book is a lot of pressure. If the publisher paid a lot for it and it isn’t a big book, your career is in trouble when it just began.” After the success you’ve had (and are still having) with Still Missing, how different was your approach with Never Knowing and were you able to put aside any kind of pressure or did you instead just work with the pressure and embrace it?
C.S.—I believe that as an author you always feel pressure. With your first book, you want to get published and have your book do well. With the second and so on, it’s the same. Of course, I wanted to write a worthy follow up. But I tried to remind myself that each book was going to have its own personality and that as long as I told the story that was coming to me the best way I could, then that’s all I could control.
## And, if you’ve seen any, what about the negative reviews you’ve received? Do they affect you at all?
C.S.—I read some reviews in the beginning, but I don’t as much now. If they are negative I remind myself that reviews are a reflection of that person’s thoughts, feelings, and perceptions. There is no right or wrong, and no one person is the definitive judge on a book. What bothers me, though, is meanness, which you can run across in the Internet world. People are braver when they are hiding behind anonymity.
## The major point of criticism I’ve read about Still Missing concerns the rape and other physical abuse scenes; for some people they were described in too many details. A victim (especially of a crime of sexual violence) would probably say that you left out a lot of details because it must be much worse than any description in a novel. How did you approach those scenes and how difficult was it to find just the right voice and the right description?
C.S.—I tried to stay true to the story without going too far over the edge. Terrible things happen to people every day and one of the biggest parts of their healing process is to share their feelings. Not having Annie talk about what happened in the cabin wouldn’t have been honest. And being blunt about it was the only way she could cope.
SERIOUS WRITING on SERIAL KILLING
## Did you read about serial killers as much as Sara does in Never Knowing and how different was your approach in creating John compared to The Freak?
C.S.—I did read quite a few books on serial killers while I was working on this book, which could be very upsetting and often left me with some terrible nightmares. I don’t know if my approach to The Freak and John were different. They were unique characters, but my method was similar. A lot of it just happens organically, but I work really hard to make them three-dimensional, so that they aren’t clichés.
## The book The Art of War features prominently in Never Knowing; Sara definitely applies the lesson “know your enemy as well as you know yourself and you’ll defeat your enemy”. Without any mention of that book in Still Missing, we could argue that Annie also follows the lesson by instinctively ‘studying’ her abductor/enemy and waiting for the right moment to defeat him. Was The Art of War already in your mind when you wrote Still Missing or did you read it only later as part of the research for Never Knowing?
C.S.—I only read The Art of War later in the process of writing Never Knowing, and not actually until a few drafts into the book. Then I revised using that book as a tool.
## I hope, for her own sake, that the psychologist, Nadine, didn’t have Sara and Annie as patients during the same period of time! Nadine is more detailed and a more involved character in Never Knowing, even though she stays behind the curtains; any plans of putting her center stage in a future book?
C.S.—My third book, Always Watching, which I’m working on at the moment, is Nadine’s story.
## In a way, Nadine represents us, the readers, to whom Annie and Sara tell their stories. Did you at any point consider using an omniscient narrator instead of the 1st person ones?
C.S.—No, my stories always come out of me in first person.
## And I guess the logical question now would be: “Will the next book be told the same way”?
C.S.—It’s also in first person, but it won’t be told in sessions.
## The two books are connected on many levels; we’ve mentioned Nadine already; the main character who owns a dog; the very nice and understanding, self-employed boyfriend; dysfunctional family (difficult parenting, absence of biological father); friendships and loyalty; the media vs private life; serial killing; the outdoors, etc. Which of these do you see as most likely recurring in your future books? And why?
C.S.—I don’t think I can answer that until I start writing my future books and see what story is calling to me. But I will always explore my feelings and write about things that interest me. I love the outdoors, and I’m also fascinated by family dynamics and psychology, so they will probably pop up again.
SEARCH and TELL
## Do you have a set schedule for your research or do you stop it once you’ve started writing a book?
C.S.—I do a lot initially and then as I start writing different things come up that I need to research more, so it’s ongoing.
## What is the hardest part of research, so far?
C.S.—Depends on the subject, some things you can spend months on, so you need to make sure you’re only studying what is relevant to your story. But sometimes you don’t know what that is until you’ve done the research!
## How much of the outdoors stuff in Still Missing is taken from research and how much from first-hand experience; do you fish, do you hunt, and what I’m very curious to know is, have you ever skinned a deer?
C.S.—On the island, many people fish and hunt, but I don’t. I love animals too much and wouldn’t be able to hurt one. And I have never skinned a deer. I learned about that process by talking to my aunt, who lives in Northern BC.
## I’ve heard John Irving mentioning that one mistake writers make is trying to be funny and that if you can’t be funny in real life, you shouldn’t try to be in a book. You’ve managed to put humour in your books, sometimes with hilarious lines (even if sometimes of dark humour). Was it important for you to lighten the mood once in a while or was it just something that popped up at the right moments? And how is your sense of humour in general?
C.S.—The sense of humor in the books, dark or otherwise, just comes to me as I tend to find the absurd, or the irony, in situations. I have a sarcastic, dry sense of humor, and it’s often the way I express my own emotions. When things are painful, humor can help.
## What about your mood while writing these books? Some days must have been darker; at the end of the day can you easily switch your focus away from the book you’re writing?
C.S.—When I’m in the first draft stage it can be hard when I’m writing emotional scenes. Some of the more intense ones can be very draining and I need to take a break. In the evenings I like to do fun things, so that I don’t stay in a place of darkness for too long.
## What brings more adrenaline: finding a great plot idea or writing a scary, suspenseful scene?
C.S.—They are both exciting for different reasons. Coming up with a great plot idea can make me feel itchy to get going on a project or a scene. Writing a scary scene can be intense and creates a heightened sense of awareness— all your muscles are keyed up, your heart is thudding in the ear.
## How much energy do you put towards finding names for your characters? Does the good old phone book help at all?
C.S.—I have used a phone book, but I tend to Google a lot. And I spend a lot of time on names as it truly becomes that person and I need it to fit them. Some come easy, some I struggle with and go through a few name changes.
## Do you listen to music while writing? If so, what are your favourite choices?
C.S.— I have to have complete silence when I’m writing and usually wear ear plugs.
THIS AND THAT
## You’re a reader of Michael Connelly’s books; what other authors are on your must-read list?
C.S.—I have just discovered William Landay and think he’s wonderful. I also like Lisa Gardner, Karin Slaughter, Tana French, and Gillian Flynn. I have read just about every Ed McBain. I’m also a huge Stephen King fan, though I haven’t read any of his recent work. I’m probably forgetting some others.
## What’s the best aspect of growing up on a farm?
C.S.—Because we didn’t watch a lot of TV or play video games, we used our imaginations more and we spent lots of time outdoors. I was usually carrying a cat around with me.
## Outdoors: Jogging or walking? Hiking or biking? Hunting or fishing? Sunrise or sunset?
C.S.—I walk with my dog every day and when she was younger we used to go on lots of hikes. My husband and I also like to go biking. Neither hunting nor fishing, but my husband loves to fish. I’m a morning person, so I’d have to say sunrise.
## What was the most satisfying ‘first’ moment between these: signing the first contract, holding the book in your hands for the first time, signing a copy for the first time, the first review, etc?
C.S.— There were many wonderful moments all along. I have kept a scrapbook of mementos, but I can’t pick one most satisfying first as each is special to me.
## Are you a fan of the Canucks?
C.S.—I am a Canuck fan, yes. That’s my home team! But I don’t tend to watch many sports on TV.
## Last question, you knew I’d ask that one so here it is: If there’s a crime novel written and you are the main character, what would be the first sentence of the book, and how would your character die?
C.S.—I write in first person, so I’m way too superstitious to answer this question!
You can read my review of Never Knowing on this page (pub date of the book is July 5th).
You can find Chevy Stevens at www.chevystevens.com on Facebook and Twitter (@chevystevens)
Thank you to Chevy Stevens and Loren Jaggers.