If you’re an avid reader, you’ve come across that book.
That magical book that touched you and moved you. The one you didn’t want to put down. The one you stayed up too late reading. The one you couldn’t wait to get back to, couldn’t stop thinking about, and were sad to finish.
If you love to read, at least one book has already come to mind. Maybe more. But the truth about reading is that this type of book doesn’t come around often. It certainly doesn’t describe every book we pick up. Still, those magical books fill us with hope that another is around the corner. And that hope is what keeps us reading the good books as we hunt for the great ones.
I remember the first book that captivated me in this way. The one that transported me away from my real world and firmly planted me elsewhere. It was John Grisham’s legal thriller The Firm. Decades after it was originally published, I still consider it one of the best suspense novels I’ve come across. I’ve read it multiple times simply for entertainment. And now, as an author, I read it to remind myself how to write good suspense. I read Pat Conroy’s The Lords of Discipline and Thomas Harris’s The Silence of the Lambs for the same reason.
To me, each represents that book. They have a special place in my heart, not just because they are books I love, but because they saved my career. They may have caused it.
The road to publication can be rocky and long. My journey to get my debut novel, Summit Lake, into bookstores was a decade long battle fraught with rejection. It was my fourth attempt at writing a book. My first manuscript generated more than one hundred rejection letters. My second was worthy enough to land me an agent, but still produced scores of rejections from New York publishers. On my agent’s urgings, I wrote a third manuscript, and when that story met with the same fate as all my previous works—four hundred pages of plot, more than a year of my life, and a stack of rejection letters—I decided I’d had enough. I concluded that the publishing industry was too difficult to break into, and my talents too meager to compete.
So, I stopped writing. A solid few weeks went by. I hadn’t quite told my agent that I’d given up, but she knew how disappointed I was by the last round of rejections. During that low point, I found time for self-reflection and discovered something was missing in my life. After I stopped writing, an odd feeling of loss filled me up inside. It took a little time to figured out that void was present because I was no longer chasing my dream.
After weeks of sulking, I got back to the computer and started another story. It would be my fourth manuscript. This time, I did not dive blindly into the story. Before I started, I asked myself why I wanted to write it. I attempted to define my dream, and figure out what, exactly, I was trying to accomplish. My answer came when I reflected on why I love to read. My epiphany arrived when I thought back to John Grisham and Pat Conroy and Thomas Harris, and the novels that moved me and touched me. I realized then I was writing because I wanted to create that book. I wanted to write a novel that people couldn’t put down, the one they couldn’t wait to get back to, the one they couldn’t stop thinking about. I wanted to write a book the reader would be sad to finish.
With all these intentions clear in my mind, I penned the story of a murdered law school student, the investigative reporter assigned to her case, and the chilling connection that forms between victim and investigator as secrets emerge in the small mountain town where the killing took place. I placed this town in the Blue Ridge Mountains and named it Summit Lake. Then, my agent and I shipped the manuscript off to New York.
In a few weeks, we had an offer for a two-book deal. Summit Lake sold at auction in Germany, as well as Poland and Brazil. Brilliance purchased the audio rights, and Reader’s Digest bought the condensation rights to include in their May publication of Select Editions alongside Amy Sue Nathan and Lee Child.
Today, I am moved every time I hear from a reader who tells me Summit Lake is the book they couldn’t put down. The one they couldn’t wait to get back to. The one they couldn’t stop thinking about and the one they were sad to finish.
Will it be that book for everyone? Surely not. But this writer is proud to hear that it has been for some, and grateful for those who have let me know.
Charlie Donlea lives in Chicago with his wife and two young children. He spends a part of each year fishing with his father in the far reaches of Canada, where the roads end and lakes are accessible only by floatplane. These majestic trips to “God’s Country” inspired the setting for Summit Lake. With so many choices of entertainment, and countless other books to choose from, he thanks you for spending your time and treasure on his creation.