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On Writing a “Series”

Some Choose Darkness

Available Now in paperback format.


Readers frequently ask if any of my characters will come back in future books. My answer to this question has always been: As soon as a character from one of my previous novels shouts loud enough, and has a compelling enough story to tell, I’ll listen. But up to this point, none have.

Summit Lake

*Kelsey Castle, the tenacious investigative reporter who solved Becca Eckersley’s murder


*Livia Cutty, the brilliant medical examiner hunting for her missing sister


*Gus Morelli, the crotchety retired detective who discovers a connection between Grace Sebold’s case and one from his past

For the past few years, these fictitious people have taken up so much of my life that they seem to be always on my mind. Every time I sit down to outline a new novel, their personas float to the surface of my thoughts and some small part of them find their way into my writing. Astute readers will find little nuggets of the previous book sprinkled within the pages of each subsequent one. The setting of The Girl Who Was Taken is just miles from the Blue Ridge Mountain town of Summit Lake. The protagonist of that book—Dr. Livia Cutty—makes a cameo in Don’t Believe It. The town of Summit Lake appears in Don’t Believe It as a vacation spot where a US diplomat retreats to when faced with an international crisis. Dante Campbell (The "queen of morning television") first appeared in The Girl Who Was Taken, and has made cameos in every novel since. And Events, the magazine Kelsey Castle writes for, has been named as a media entity in most of my other books. So, although in no way a series, my first three novels have strong connections to one another.

In 2018 I sat down to pen my fourth thriller—Some Choose Darkness. In the main character, I found a woman named Rory Moore. It took a long time to figure her out. My first few attempts to write her failed miserably. From her name (Scarlett, Kate, Stella) to her occupation (journalist, lawyer, Ph.D. student) nothing seemed to work. This woman’s personality was hard to pin down, and I nearly gave up on her. Then I read an article about an insurance investigator (sent to me from my sister) who looked into auto accidents to discover who was at fault and what truly happened during a motor vehicle accident. The investigator did this by piecing together clues from the scene of the accident. I imagined my character doing the same for homicides, and suddenly my protagonist had an intriguing occupation as a forensic reconstructionist. Then came her name—Rory Moore. I was off and running.

As the author writing her story, Rory was difficult for me to get to know, and this elusiveness became her personality. She shuts herself off from the world and allows only a few people into her circle of trust. Sometimes, that includes me. I spent many hours banging my head against the computer trying to pin down her tendencies. She suffers from OCD and has a unique way of controlling her urges through restoring antique porcelain dolls. She is a fan of a rare imperial stout called Dark Lord. And she chooses the cold cases she investigates carefully, knowing that in order to solve the crimes she must walk in the footsteps of the dead—a taxing ritual that puts Rory closer to the victims whose deaths she investigates than to most people in her life.

When Rory is asked to reconstruct a decades-old cold case—the murder of an autistic woman whose introverted behavior and distinctive personality mirror Rory’s own—she finds herself helplessly entangled in the mystery around this woman, and hot on the trail of a serial killer who stalked the streets of Chicago in the ‘70s and who may still be active today.

After I turned in the manuscript for Some Choose Darkness I received the same response from many of my editors, from the US to Australia to Brazil.

“Rory is such a powerful and unique character, you have to bring her back for another book.”

It sounded like a character was finally yelling loudly enough to be heard. And with Rory Moore, it was loud and clear.

So, when I sat down to write my fifth thriller, I did so with Rory front and center. I spent all of 2019 writing a second story featuring the elusive forensic reconstructionist, her quirky personality, and her uncanny ability to look at crime scenes and see what others have missed. She investigates a cold case with her sidekick, the famed ex-FBI profiler named Lane Phillips. That book will be released in August 2020 and is titled The Suicide House.

The Suicide House

Coming July 28, 2020

Available for Pre-Order Now

Although my publisher is calling The Suicide House the second novel in the “Rory Moore/Lane Phillips series” I would argue that it is simply the second book to feature Rory and Lane. Some Choose Darkness is the first. The books can be read in either order without missing a beat. I’m sure there are many marketing and promotional reasons for calling this a “series.” I just hope readers love Rory as much as I do.

Will there be more books with Rory? Probably. Will readers ever be lost if they start with the latest book before reading the previous ones? Never.

One last thing. As I was writing The Suicide House I heard another beloved character from a previous book yelling as loudly as Rory. So, I listened. What I heard fit perfectly into Rory’s new story. Who was it? You’ll have to read The Suicide House to find out. But fret not, it doesn’t hit shelves until August. That leaves plenty of time to catch up on any of my books that you haven’t yet read or listened to yet.

—Charlie Donlea

January 15, 2020

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