Tuesday, May 8, 2012
How difficult a decision was it to put aside your medical career and concentrate on being a novelist full-time? Do you miss working as an active physician? Any plans to go back someday?
I don't plan to return—I'd have to do some intensive retraining if I ever did. But one thing I realized after my first book was published and I began getting fan mail was that in medicine I touched one life at a time. With my books I can touch tens to hundreds of thousands of lives.
That's a pretty darn good feeling.
Marketing people say authors need to figure out how to brand themselves. You seem to have managed that perfectly by promoting your work as “Thrillers with Heart.” That seems particularly apt given your medical background, but I’m guessing it means more than that to you. Can you talk a little about what “Thrillers with Heart” means to CJ Lyons?
CJ: I created the term "Thrillers with Heart" back in 2004 when my first book was a finalist in RWA's Golden Heart contest. I quickly realized that what I wrote wasn't traditional romance (sometimes there's not a happily-ever-after and some of my books have no romance at all) but it wasn't traditional mystery, either.
My books aren't about who-did-it or winning the girl/boy or car chases and explosions, although all of those elements appear in them. They're about the people and their relationships.
The common thread that runs through all my books is that heroes are born everyday. They're about how ordinary people find the strength to stand up and risk everything to change the world.
(Which, by the way, is the same reason why I went into Pediatric Emergency Medicine, so I guess my ending up writing Thrillers with Heart makes perfect sense.)
What was it like the first time you saw your name on the New York Times bestseller list for fiction? I’m guessing you can remember every detail from that day, true?
CJ: It was surreal. I was at a conference but a friend's husband went out and bought a lot of copies of the NYT and brought them back to the conference for me to sign. I honestly didn't believe it was real until I saw it there in print!
There’s a growing trend among established, big-name authors to release some of their work through other than traditional means. You seem to have taken advantage of this with the incredible success of Snake Skin, among other titles. Yet you’re working now with Minotaur. Do you ever envision a time when you will completely bypass traditional publishing?
CJ: I actually already did! The six months before BLIND FAITH hit the NYT list I was out of contract, relying solely on my indy-self-publishing to pay the bills (which actually was so incredibly empowering! Knowing that I didn't have to rely on NYC to make a decent living).
After the success of BLIND FAITH, my agent and I were suddenly inundated with offers. We held an auction—I even debated turning them all down given the money I was making myself. But I wanted two things that I couldn't do by myself: my readers kept writing, wanting to see my books in bookstores at affordable prices, and I wanted an editor to work with to kick my writing to the next level.
I found both in the offer presented to me by Minotaur. It's a gamble, working with NYC again, but the good news is that if things go wrong, I won't be losing too much. And if things go right, my readers will be winning big time.
What is a typical day like for CJ Lyons? Do you have a set routine you use to get your writing done?
CJ: God, no. After seventeen years of being tied to a pager and trauma radio, I thrive on never knowing what time it is or even the day of the week. I have no set schedule, never keep track of word count or page count—some days I don't even write! Heresy, I know!
All I need is a deadline. That keeps me on track. And on those days I don't write, put words on the page? I'm still writing—the story is fermenting in my head so that when I do get back to it, it's like scratching an itch, letting all that out onto the page.
I'm the same way about the books—each one is written differently. I don't plot ahead of time, so if I'm surprised, I hope the reader will be as well. I write out of order, then string the scenes together in the second draft—one book, CRITICAL CONDITION, I actually wrote backwards! I knew who was alive at the end and scene by scene worked my way back to the beginning to see how they got there. It was the most fun writing a book I've had!
Do you listen to music while you write? If so, what’s some of your favorite writing music?
CJ: Yes, I love head-banging rock, zydeco, celtic, really anything with a good beat to it. Specific choices depend on the story I'm working on. For BLOOD STAINED, which is the darkest story I've ever tackled, I was playing MudVayne over and over along with Tool, Slipknot, and Godsmack.
For the book I'm working on now, it's Amergin, Whirligig (two Irish bands), Eddie Vetter, and the Drop Kick Murphies.
Can you name some of the authors who have influenced you as a writer?
CJ: Ray Bradbury had the greatest influence on me as a child. He was the first author who taught me that the words themselves can be as beautiful as the picture they create. I also love the way he can evoke emotion on a very subliminal level.
My stories have been praised as "breathtakingly fast-paced" and I owe that to a childhood spent reading EE "Doc" Smith, Harry Harrison, Leslie Charteris, Dashiel Hammett, John D MacDonald, and CS Forester.
If you could pick one book you feel best exemplifies your work, what title would it be?
CJ: BLOOD STAINED. That book took me to some very dark places and was a struggle to write because I drew on a ton of emotions from my days as an ER doc working with victims of violence.
Fascinating interview, no? Huge thanks to CJ Lyons...