When first-time novelist Garth Risk Hallberg began writing his more-than-900-page novel, he thought it would never see the light of day.

But instead, the 36-year-old American author received a US $2-million deal that was sealed by the time the novel, "City on Fire,"  was complete. Seven publishing houses bid more than $1 million at auction before Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group bid double that and won. The film rights were also snapped up quickly by American filmmaker Scott Rudin.

The book is an historical fiction novel about New York City in the mid-1970s and contains graphics throughout to provide “some breathing spaces for the reader.”

Hallberg, who grew up in North Carolina but now lives in New York with his family, says he worked on the book for five-and-a-half years in secret. He’s previously had writing published by The New York Times, Best New American Voices 2008, and, most recently, The Millions.

“My wife, I think, knew I was working on something but I wasn’t even giving her too many details,” he told CTV’s Canada AM on Friday.

His goal was not to gain worldwide success, but to create a world that readers could get lost in.

“I was trying to basically make something that was close to the books I had loved growing up – these sort of worlds that you could enter and live inside for a little while,” Hallberg says.

Even though Hallberg wasn’t convinced his novel was publishable, he says he was thinking about an imaginary reader.

To add to the success of signing a big book deal, “City on Fire” has caught the attention of big-name media around the world. The book came out in mid-October and has received generally positive reviews.

The attention has been a bit of a shock for the normally private writer.

“There’s definitely a little bit of whiplash that’s involved – the writer’s work is so private, and the reader’s work is so private in a way too,” Hallberg says.

Hallberg says he's certain there won’t be a sequel.

City on Fire is available at the Canada AM iTunes page at iTunes.com/CanadaAM