“Why am I even writing this?” he wondered to himself.
Charlie Donlea had just received a rejection on the third manuscript of a thriller novel he had been working on. Going further than any of his previous manuscripts, he was hopeful at least one editor at one of the many New York publishing houses his agent sent his book to would stamp his hard cover with a seal of approval.
“We had a lot of editors who were liking the story and passing it up to higher editors,” Donlea said. “I felt like we were really close to getting an offer, but then the rejections came and it was heartbreaking for me.”
His agent, Marlene Stringer, encouraged him to get back up and try again with another book.
Except, Donlea found it wasn’t all that easy.
Faced with a rather monumental task of writing another full-length novel, a process that has taken Donlea up to two years with his previous manuscripts, he opted to not get back up again. For six months.
“I was totally uninspired. I didn’t know what I was going to write about,” Donlea said.
Yet during those long six months, Donlea couldn’t help but think that even if his novels would never see bookstore shelves, he had to keep chasing his dream. But before sitting down and writing what would later be his debut novel, “Summit Lake,” he had an epiphany.
“I asked myself why I was writing this and what I was hoping to achieve,” Donlea said. “I realized that I wanted to give a reader the same sensation that John Grisham gave to me when I read ‘The Firm,’ that I didn’t want it to end.”
Fueled by this new motivation, Donlea wrote “Summit Lake” in a year and a half, shipping the book off to Kensington Publishing in New York in the summer of 2014. Once September rolled around, the publishing house gave “Summit Lake” their seal of approval in the form of a two-book contract.
And in February of 2016, “Summit Lake” finally saw those bookstore shelves. Now a little more than two years later, Donlea is still writing, having published two additional novels, “The Girl Who Was Taken” and “Don’t Believe It.”
Donlea since has earned himself the title of “international best-selling author,” with his previous novels selling in Australia, Brazil and Israel.
“A few years ago, I would never think I’d be a published author,” Donlea said. “I’m just proud that I’ve written three books that have been well-received.”
He never would have even considered writing 24 years ago. Growing up, Donlea read books at a slow pace and had difficulty with comprehension. Naturally, he began leaning more toward math and science, moving further away from the realm of literature.
Until he reached junior year of college, when his father recommended that he pick up John Grisham’s “The Firm.”
“When I started that book, I realized that there was so much stuff I missed out on in my earlier years,” Donlea said. “I remember thinking, ‘I’m going try to do this someday,’ even though it made no sense to think that way.”
After graduating college in 1994, Donlea waited about five years before sitting down to write his first manuscript. While four years of crafting his novel yielded many rejections from literary agents, Donlea did receive a useful nugget of advice for his future attempts.
“One of the agents said to me, ‘You know how to write, but you don’t know how to write thrillers. Go figure out how to write a thriller,” Donlea said.
From then on, Donlea started reading popular thriller novels as school textbooks, jotting down notes and annotations about pacing, how the books developed its characters and built suspense through key events of the plot. Although his second manuscript was met with more rejections, Donlea doesn’t see it as an entire loss.
“I found an agent,” Donlea said. “Even though the two manuscripts I wrote with that agent were rejected, it made me believe that someone else believes in my work, and maybe I’ll get published. It was enough for me to keep going.”
And Donlea is still going. Adhering to an early-morning writing schedule, Donlea currently is working on his fourth thriller novel.
Set in Chicago in the 1980s, the story revolves around a forensic reconstructionist who stumbles upon a cold case from a couple of years old and how she works to crack it. The novel is set to hit bookstore shelves in June 2019.
The story’s conception came from a brainstorming session between him, his wife and his sister. Donlea said his family has been his greatest support system, especially during times when he finds himself stranded on an “island.”
“When you’re writing, no one knows what you’re doing,” Donlea said. “You’re totally out on an island all by yourself, so you need people to encourage you and support you to the finish line.”
Donlea considers his wife, Amy, to be his biggest cheerleader. Printed on the dedication page of “Summit Lake” are the words, “To Amy, the greatest moments of my life have come with you by my side.”
“Whenever I go to these appearances, the women there always ask me about the dedication first before talking about the book,” Donlea said.
In addition to working on his current novel, Donlea goes to scheduled book signings, meet-and-greets and various other promotional events for “Don’t Believe It.” Although he admits he’s still learning how to juggle the two, Donlea enjoys the opportunity to connect with his readership.
“It means the most when readers email me about that book, saying that they got to the end and they slowed down because I didn’t want the book to end,” Donlea said.
Donlea said it gives him reassurance that he was able to do for people what John Grisham did to him, accomplishing what he had set out to do from the moment he asked himself, “Why am I even writing this?”
By MAWA IQBAL firstname.lastname@example.org
July 8, 2018
Tags: #NorthwestHerald #charliedonlea #dontbelieveit #thegirlwhowastaken #summitlake #writing #authors #inspiration #johngrisham #thrillers #authorswriting #fiction #mystery #documentary #truecrime #chicago #StLucia #writers #publishing
About the Author & His Latest Thriller Don't Believe It
About Charlie Donlea
Inspiration: For more about the history of exotic Sugar Beach St. Lucia —the setting for DON'T BELIEVE IT, where to stay, maps, fun facts, and Charlie's personal slideshow, plus more —visit DBI Inspiration.