Updated: Apr 7, 2018
THE GIRL WHO WAS TAKEN is a novel of riveting suspense that follows the disappearance of two high-school girls. After a beach party in the small town of Emerson Bay, North Carolina, Nicole Cutty and Megan McDonald go missing. Search parties desperately hunt for clues, but weeks pass and there is no sign, or hope that the girls will ever return.
Until one does. Megan miraculously surfaces after escaping from a bunker deep in the words, but she returns with no memory of how she got there, or what happened to Nicole. Is she hiding something? Or is she really a victim in all of this?
Author Charlie Donlea answered a few questions to help celebrate the launch of his latest book:
1. You tend to write strong female characters, is there someone in your life who inspires you to write in this direction?
Raised by a single mom, married for more than a decade, and with a sister whose one of my best friends, my life is deluged with strong women. I'm sure some of each of them finds their way into my female characters. And the fact that my wife and sister are my first readers (the ones who see the early manuscript even before my editor), I'm certain adds muscle to my protagonists.
2. Both in SUMMIT LAKE and THE GIRL WHO WAS TAKEN you have the characters uncover the truth alongside the reader. It adds a layer of suspense to the story, but also brings believability to your characters. Do you approach writing with the idea that you don't want to outright lie to your readers?
One of my main rules for writing suspense is to never lie to the reader. Deception comes from placing several forks in the road throughout the story and allowing the reader to choose which direction to go with their assumptions. The key is for the reader to choose. If I lie to the reader, then I'm choosing for them. A big no-no in suspense, and a great way for readers to (rightfully) cry foul.
Any author can fool the reader by lying to them. The fun comes when you fool the reader by placing clues right under their nose. If I can make them choose right or left without them knowing they even came to a fork in the road…then, when the twist comes we both win.
3. You did plenty of research for THE GIRL WHO WAS TAKEN, did anything in your research surprise you, or make its way into the story?
My protagonist (Livia Cutty) is a fellow in forensic pathology. She's finishing her final year of training in a program that promises fellows will complete 250-300 autopsies in one year. That's a lot of bodies, and is actually common in fellowship.
During a routine morning in the morgue, Livia performs an autopsy on a man who died from surgical complications after a routine esophageal procedure turned sour. This actually happened to my brother, who was airlifted to Rush after a doctor dislocated his esophagus from his stomach during an in-office procedure. My brother didn't die, but the scene in my book is a tribute to him. And let's face it, when you make an appearance as a corpse in your brother's novel that's a high honor.
4. What inspired the idea of THE GIRL WHO WAS TAKEN? Two girls go missing, but only one returns?
There seems to be a strange appetite for these stories. People Magazine routinely pictures on its cover a missing girl who has returned years later. I always get a sense that there's a need to hear that she is recovering after her ordeal, or that she is transitioning back into the "real" world after being held captive for so long. My book is an interpretation of this peculiar fascination.
In my novel, the girl who returns writes a memoir about her time in captivity that rockets onto the bestseller list. Problems arise from her inability to forget about the other girl who was taken, and also when she is forced to admit that not everything in her wildly popular memoir is true.
5. What can readers expect from you next?
My third thriller will be released in 2018—DON'T BELIEVE IT. It's my fictional take on the popular true-crime documentaries that continue to sweep the world, from 48 Hours to Serial to Making a Murderer.
Next year's thriller follows a filmmaker's documentary about a decade-old murder, the mysterious woman at the center of the grisly crime, and the secrets that emerge after an exoneration is granted.