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A Conversation With Author Charlie Donlea and his latest thriller

Q & A With Author Charlie Donlea

Q. Describe SOME CHOOSE DARKNESS in three words or less?

A. Dark and moody.

Q: Tell us about the initial spark and inspiration for Some Choose DArkness. Where were you when the idea came to you?

A. I usually start a story with a character before I start thinking of what the book will actually be about. I was struggling with my protagonist initially, and could not figure out what she did for a living. She started out as a detective, and then changed to an attorney.

But as I wrote her story, the law. and lawyering, in general, wasn’t working. It just didn’t fit the character I wanted her to be. I brainstormed with my sister, who eventually sent me an article about a man who analyzed car wrecks for a living to figure out what, exactly, had happened before, during, and after an automobile accident. By reviewing all the data—crash photos, street debris, skid marks, the frames and undercarriage of the vehicles—he came to a conclusion on what had caused the accident and who was at fault. Who was telling the truth? Who should be ticketed, etc? This article led to the spark.

Maybe my protagonist could do something similar with homicide investigations. She could look at unsolved murders and, by taking all the information and evidence she could find, reconstruct the crime until the truth formed in front of her. Alas, my character had an occupation—a forensic reconstructionist.

The story flowed more easily from there.

Q: Charlie, having the opportunity to read your previous books, SOME CHOOSE DARKNESS is darker than your other suspense thrillers. share with us a little about the switch to the darker side?

A. Ah, my dark side. My wife’s friends ask if she really sleeps next to me at night. I’m on an even/odd pattern of darkness. Each of my even numbered books is dark; my odd-numbered books are lighter.

  • My first novel, SUMMIT LAKE, was a suspense novel (or mystery) that had its creepy moments but for the most part, was not considered dark.

  • Then, my second novel, THE GIRL WHO WAS TAKEN, took a turn to the dark side. It was a straight up “thriller” with a disturbing villain and many chapters written from his point of view.

  • DON'T BELIEVE IT came next, which was more in line with Summit Lake as far as intensity. Now, with my fourth novel, I’m right back to the dark side.

I’m not really sure why a book goes dark. It’s not something I plan in advance. It’s the creative process, I suppose, as I watch the characters take on a life of their own.

Q. Rory Moore seems to dress in full battle gear —glasses, beanie hat, jacket, and lace-up combat boots. Why do you think she chooses this attire or armor?

A. Rory is an interesting character. She’s an introvert and a recluse. She’s closer to the victims whose murders she tries to solve than she is to any living person on earth. All her quirks make interacting with others, which Rory considers an unfortunate side effect of functioning in society, a battle for her.

So, before embarking on this daily grind she gears up in her armor. Thick-rimmed, non-prescription glasses that she hides behind, beanie cap wore low on her head, and gray jacket (gray everything.) Besides her boots. Those are black. And she never sets foot outside without them...

Q. Aunt Greta was a great role model for Rory. “Nothing can scare you unless you allow it to scare you.” I see you have dedicated your book to a “great-aunt, old lady, friend.”

Was there a particular moment or time in your life, you would like to share? How she inspired you with words of wisdom or perhaps acts of kindness?

A. My Great-aunt Ceil was a huge part of my life. She lived across the street from me growing up in Chicago. She died at 97, just before my first novel was published, so it means a lot to me to be dedicating this book to her. A long-running joke was about the seven husbands she had buried in the basement. Perhaps those stories are what planted the seeds of these dark novels I write…

Q. The ongoing theme in SCD is “The truth is easy to miss, even when it’s right in front of us.” SOME CHOOSE DARKNESS. OTHERS ARE CHOSEN BY IT. Can you elaborate without any spoilers?

Did you come up with the title name after you chose Lane’s thesis title or before?

A. Yes, a main character in the book is a forensic psychologist and retired FBI profiler who wrote a thesis about the criminal mind and what makes people decide to kill others. The thesis is titled Some Choose Darkness.

The concept the dissertation analyzes is the idea that some people choose to partake in the darkness that runs through the human race, while others are chosen by it. The characters are forced to decide which of these psychologies pertain to themselves.

The title of Lane’s thesis came first, then it just fit perfectly as the title of the book.

Side Note: I’ve written four books. This is the first one where my title suggestion actually made it onto the cover. All the others were re-titled by my editor. I call this progress.

  1. Summit Lake was originally The Stilt House

  2. The Girl Who Was Taken was originally Missing

  3. Don’t Believe It was originally Sugar Beach

Q. I enjoyed the 3 parts and short chapters; each being titled and clearly marked with the dates and setting —making it easy to follow.

Do you write one character’s—and timeline— then add the other afterward, or both as you go?

A. Both as I go. But one of my editing tricks is to re-read the parts separately. For instance, I read only Rory’s scenes (in the present) straight through, even though that’s not how they appear in the book. This helps me make her story more coherent. But the key to this type of storytelling is linking the two storylines and making sure the past narrative compliments the present. And vice versa.

Q. In all your books you write about Forensic science. You seem to be quite Knowledgeable and passionate about this subject. Can you elaborate a little about your interest?

A. Good question! I’m not sure where the interest comes from. Certainly, forensics is not part of my daily life. But I’m comfortable with science, and so my stories have tended to go in that direction. Forensics, in particular, is fascinating. From discovering clues during an autopsy to putting together the puzzles of a crime scene, I think readers are drawn to the science of discovery. I know I am.

Q. Roses and gardens play a big part in the novel, as well as the dolls, Mozart—music, and Dark Lord stout.

Can you share a little about how these different topics came to fit into your novel? Any background or inspiration?

A. All of these things came first as a way to build interesting characters. I always love characters that have a certain drink that defines them. I remember reading a book when I was in my twenties where the main character drank Rob Roys. I had no idea what a Rob Roy was, so I had to look it up. The seed was probably planted back then.

In Some Choose Darkness, Rory drinks a rare beer called Dark Lord. As her character developed, the hard-to-find, dark stout beer ended up being a perfect compliment to her character.

I mean, come on, how many female characters can drink white wine? Rory Moore sipping a chardonnay would be like watching Wimbledon on orange clay. So, so wrong.

Q. Did you have the ending in mind when starting, or is it something that came later?

A. John Grisham’s advice to writers is not to write the first chapter until you know how the last chapter will end. I try to follow this rule. If I know how I want the book to end, then at the very least I have a target to write toward. Even if I get lost along the way, that last chapter acts as a guide—a beacon in the night—to pull me out of the darkness.

Q. Which character was the most challenging to write in SCD?

A. Rory Moore is our main character. She’s complex and layered and I had a hard time figuring her out at first. But after I got to know her quirks and how her mind worked, I began to love her. So much so, that she will carry over to my fifth novel. I sure hope the readers like her enough to follow.

Q: What was the most surprising thing you learned in creating these characters:

The Thief, Frank Moore (Rory’s dad), Rory, Angela, Greta? Name one.

A. All the characters tend to change as the story takes shape. Their intentions and motivations shift as the story gets to page 100, then 200, and eventually finishes. A popular quote sums up this phenomenon—“The first draft is just you telling yourself the story.”

Out of the entire cast of Some Choose Darkness, Frank Moore’s (Rory’s dad) story changed the most. He started off with very different intentions, but as I struggled through the first draft he refused to allow me to write his story the way I had originally imagined it. Frank had different ideas for himself (and his daughter), and in the end, he was correct.

Q. What are some of your current and future projects that you can share with our readers? What’s next?

A. Business: At the end of 2018, I signed a four-book deal with my publisher. So, they’ll be publishing my thrillers through 2023.

Deadline: Up next is another Rory Moore thriller, which is in the works for 2020. After I turned in the manuscript of Some Choose Darkness, my editor (here in the US and in Australia) convinced me that Rory Moore is the real deal. A character with some pep in her step, whose story has to continue. So it will. She’ll be back in 2020. I’m currently writing that story and the manuscript is due in September.

For Fun: Between finishing Some Choose Darkness and starting my 2020 thriller, I took two months (October and November of 2018) to challenge myself. I started a manuscript that’s not quite like the thrillers I’ve published so far. I had a spark of inspiration that turned into a pretty solid outline. My wife loved the idea and encouraged me to start writing it and see what happens.

So, I challenged myself to write as much as I could before Thanksgiving. Following Stephen King’s advice to write a first draft as fast as possible, without stopping or looking back to see if it makes sense (he describes this process as outrunning a writer's worst enemy—doubt), I wrote ferociously for two months. I wrote early in the mornings and on weekends. Sometimes, after all the lights were out at night, I went to the computer to finish a chapter.

By Thanksgiving, I had a pretty good looking story about a husband and wife who are madly in love until the husband’s plane crashes into the South Pacific, and secrets start to appear where there was once only love and honesty. It’s a love story with a twist (a really, really BIG twist), and I love the part where the wife finds out that—

And right about then...the offer came in from my publisher to write four more hard-core thrillers, the first of which carried a deadline that was less than a year away. So, I put my love story with a twist to the side and got working on Book #5. But I think about that love story all the time. I can’t wait to get back to it and see if the twist is as good as I remember. If it is, you’ll be hearing about it soon…

Q. Anything else you would like to add, we have not covered here today?

A. Just a big THANK YOU to all the readers who keep buying my books. I’m forever grateful!


Originally published June 1, 2019 Q&A with Charlie Donlea Read complete Interview.

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