By Karen Harper
Recently I sat down with CJ Lyons to talk about her newest medical thriller, Critical Condition.
Without giving away the plot’s twists and turns, please let your readers know what CRITICAL CONDITION is about.
CRITICAL CONDITION is the finale of the Angels of Mercy series, so it wraps up all four characters’ storylines in a whiz-bang of a thriller ride…think Die Hard in a hospital. The action takes place in real time, everything happens in less than five hours, which made it so tightly plotted (with four main characters and stories to tell) that I literally wrote the book backwards, starting with who was left alive at the end.
Followers of the series will be amply rewarded but newcomers should also enjoy the thrills and twists…can you tell, I had a great time writing this one?
I’m sure you’ve been asked this before, but your branding of your novels as thrillers with heart is really clever and right on. Besides the fact that the “heart” concept suggests medicine and romance, what else are you targeting about your novels?
All of my books are very character-driven. They’re all about the people and their relationships rather than solving a crime–although plenty of bad things happen to my characters, lol!–which is why I call them “Thrillers with Heart.”
They’re not about the next special effects bangup car chase scene or about intricate conspiracy theories or treasure hunts, they’re all about the people. Ordinary people getting caught up in events beyond their control, finding the courage to get involved.
You seem to have moved from mystery to thriller, writing stories darker and harder-edged. What has brought you to this shift?
All of my books fall squarely in the thriller/suspense genre, with one exception, my second, WARNING SIGNS, which just won the Daphne Du Maurier Award for Excellence in Mystery. My editor, whose specialty is mysteries (and who is much, much more logical and more patient about plot-points, red herrings, etc than I am!) asked me to re-work it as a mystery to give readers a change of pace since LIFELINES was such a fast-paced thriller and the third in the series, URGENT CARE, was such a dark, intense suspense.
Writing a mystery was much harder for me than the thriller/suspense novels–I had to pay so much more attention to the plot rather than simply letting the characters drive everything. My new series, co-written with Erin Brockovich, also has a touch of mystery in it, but it’s really more of a women’s fiction/thriller–hmmm….is that even a genre? Now you can see why I invented the label “Thriller with Heart.”
You have some unique ideas on marketing your novels. Can you share some of this with your readers and other authors?
I practiced pediatrics for 17 years then took the leap of faith to become a full time novelist. Silly me, I thought that with a NYC big-time publisher giving me a nice chunk of money for my work that I wouldn’t have to worry about the business side of things….WRONG!!!
Good thing my career as a pediatric ER doc taught me to be both flexible and also to take control. I quickly realized that I was now CEO of Me, Inc and needed to learn how to market, promote, brand (at first, I had no idea what a brand was other than a name on the label!) and build a platform. I’m still learning, every day I read as many business blogs/articles as I do writing ones.
To give something back to fellow creative entrepreneurs, I’ve begun a new blog sharing the resources I’ve found (including tons of FREE stuff!) called *Marketing with Heart* at http://marketingwithheart.blogspot.com/
You’re obviously a great multi-tasker with your varied interests in writing, teaching and promoting. What are your secrets to juggling your multi-faceted, busy career?
ADD….seriously. I can focus on one thing for a short time but get bored quickly and always need something new to challenge me. So in the course of a day I might write several scenes on a work in progress, work on revisions for a second project, write a blog post, teach a class (I love teaching! wish I had more time for it), draft a keynote speech, tweak my website, research a topic, and read a few chapters in whatever novel is close by (I usually have 3-4 books going at once, my greatest fear is being stranded without something to read!)….in addition to the normal “stuff” of living.
I think in this business, just like medicine, you can never stop learning and growing. But the great thing about being a writer is that you don’t need to be hemmed in by any rules–everything we do and read and experience whether it’s in the name of research or promoting or just having a life, becomes grist for our work….how cool is that???
Your two very high-profile careers, first as a medical doctor and then as a multi-published author, are occupations ripe for stress. How did and do you cope with this? Can you use the pressure to your advantage?
This makes me smile–I guess the secret is that both life as an ER doc and life as a writer require that you embrace living a life of paradox. The calmest I get is during an emergency….the most stressed I feel is when I’m bored. I’m a control freak (which serves me well in both careers) but my only rule for both medicine and writing is: No Rules!
In both, I fly by the seats of the pants, making it up as I go…so what the outside world sees as pressure, I see mainly as having fun, lol!
After all, I’ve been privileged to earn my living at two of the best careers imaginable. And most importantly, I’ve met so many wonderful people along the way.
Publisher’s Weekly has praised your novels as fast-paced thrillers. Can you share your method for this key element of the genre? How do you pull your readers through the pages?
First, I let my characters do the driving. People are interested in other people. So if I can make my characters feel “real” to my readers, forge a bond between them, the reader will speed through those pages to see what happens.
Second, I try to be heartless during revisions–what I call “slice and dice” time. Any extra scene that doesn’t add to the reader’s enjoyment gets cut, any extra descriptions, dialogue, phrases, words….I try to write as tight as possible–and the timeline of the books reflects that. LIFELINES took place over 4 days, WARNING SIGNS and URGENT CARE over 3 days each, CRITICAL CONDITION over 5 hours….each book has also gotten shorter as well.
What releases are forthcoming and what are you working on now?
CRITICAL CONDITION is out November 30th, followed by the first in my new series co-written with Erin Brockovich, ROCK BOTTOM, due out March 1, 2011. I’m hard at work on the second in that series.
I’ve also released electronic versions of several works that I’ve gotten my rights back to, available on Kindle, Sony, and Nook. The latest of these is another women’s fiction/thriller blend called BLIND FAITH.
My writing students have asked me to arrange my lectures into books, so I’m also working on those as well….in my spare time, lol!