You’re a male author whose novel has at its center two strong female characters. Did you find it difficult to write from the female perspective?
Initially, it was a challenge. But there comes a point in the writing process where your characters are no longer these entities you created. They become people in your life, or at least your mind. They develop traits you never imagined they’d have when you first invented them, and they take on a life of their own. Then, it’s more about how they react to the story they are part of and less about me making decisions for them. This is what makes them authentic. And if the character becomes real enough, the reader will connect with them.
How do you create suspense within your writing?
It’s important to have astute and honest first readers when you’re creating a story that contains plot twists. The best way to learn the art of suspense is to read novels from the author’s point of view, and write stories from the reader’s point of view. Then have first readers who will tell you what works within the story and what doesn’t. The first draft of SUMMIT LAKE failed so horribly to fool my wife that I was embarrassed by how little credit I initially gave readers of this genre. Suspense readers are careful readers who look for clues and will anticipate plot twists unless they are carefully constructed. My wife and my sister helped me see more clearly form the reader’s point of view, and understand what the readers would likely be thinking during critical plot twists. This collaboration is at the heart of the suspense in my work.
Can you name any books or authors who have influenced you?
Many, but Robert Ludlum will always be the author I credit for planting in my head the desire to write. He was the first author I read for pleasure and not by assignment.
Writing is like any sport or hobby. To improve at it, you have to learn from people who do it better than you. To become a better writer, you need to read authors who are better than you. You need to read books and say, “Wow, this is so much better than what I’m capable of producing.” These authors and their books will make you a better writer. For me, a few of those authors are Robert Ludlum, Dennis Lehane, Gillian Flynn and the great Nelson DeMille. It’s actually a very long list.
As far as a single book that has influenced me: The Dive From Clausen’s Pier. In it, Ann Packer creates such perfect internal conflict that I often go back to that novel to remind myself how internal conflict can drive a book.
Two abducted girls—one who returns, one who doesn’t.
The night they go missing, high school seniors Nicole Cutty and Megan McDonald are at a beach party in their small town of Emerson Bay, North Carolina. Police launch a massive search, but hope is almost lost—until Megan escapes from a bunker deep in the woods. . . . A year later, the bestselling account of her ordeal has made Megan a celebrity. It’s a triumphant story, except for one inconvenient detail: Nicole is still missing.
Nicole’s older sister, Livia, a fellow in forensic pathology, expects that one day soon Nicole’s body will be found and her sister’s fate determined. Instead, the first clue comes from another body—that of a young man connected to Nicole’s past. Livia reaches out to Megan to learn more about that fateful night. Other girls have disappeared, and she’s increasingly sure the cases are connected.
Megan knows more than she revealed in her book. Flashes of memory are pointing to something more monstrous than she described. And the deeper she and Livia dig, the more they realize that sometimes true terror lies in finding exactly what you’ve been looking for . . .
“A fast-moving page-turner. . . . Donlea skillfully maximizes suspense by juggling narrators and time all the way to the shocking final twists.”
“Well worth the read.”
“Donlea’s sophomore effort is solid. He keeps the reader guessing and second-guessing until the end, thanks to an expertly crafted abundance of potential suspects.”