By Ethan Cross
WOULD YOU PUT YOUR LIFE ON THE LINE TO BE NORMAL?
Diagnosed with a rare and untreatable heart condition, Scarlet has come to terms with the fact that she’s going to die. Literally of a broken heart. It could be tomorrow, or it could be next year. But the clock is ticking…
All Scarlet asks is for a chance to attend high school—even if just for a week—a chance to be just like everyone else. But Scarlet can feel her heart beating out of control with each slammed locker and vicious taunt. Is this normal? Really? Yet there’s more going on than she knows. And finding out the truth might just kill Scarlet before her heart does…
Tell us about BROKEN.
BROKEN is my very first YA thriller and features a heroine who knows everything about dying but nothing about living.
Scarlet has spent her entire life shuttled from doctor to doctor and hospital to hospital only to be diagnosed with a lethal cardiac disease, leaving her literally dying of a broken heart.
Because of her sheltered upbringing, Scarlet is very naïve and all she wants is to live like a normal teenager, so she convinces her parents to allow her to attend high school for a week…a week that gives Scarlet her first ever friends, first kiss (maybe the worst first kiss in recorded history, but she’ll take what she can get!), and a new outlook on her life, her disease, and her family as she unearths secrets she never suspected existed.
Scarlet’s character is loosely based on my own experiences as a pediatrician. I diagnosed my niece, Abby, with the same congenital heart condition, Long QT, when Abby was only twenty minutes old and BROKEN is dedicated to her.
What kind of research did you conduct for BROKEN?
Not much! Given my seventeen years of practicing pediatrics and pediatric emergency medicine, this was one book that I’d already lived.
Watching my niece refuse to allow her disease to define her was such a contrast to some other patients’ parents who would insist on making their child’s disease (most not life-threatening) the center of the child’s world that I couldn’t help but wonder what would it be like to grow up being treated as a “patient” all your life, or worse as the “dying girl,” rather than ever having the chance to figure out who you really were, dying or not.
What better disease to give a character like that than something rare and hard to diagnose and treat like Long QT? Of course, Scarlet is nothing at all like my niece (the best adjective to describe my niece would be “fierce” whereas Scarlet is very naïve and used to being controlled by the adults in her life) but by having Scarlet start the story as someone unsure of who she really is as a person, it makes her struggle and transformation as she faces the truth behind her illness all the more powerful.
After all, it’s easy for someone who’s already strong to stand up to bullies or uncertainty or injustice…but how does a kid who has lived all her life in a hospital, basically just waiting to die, learn how to be a hero and find her destiny?
Describe your typical writing day.
I’m terribly undisciplined—I don’t plot or outline, I don’t keep track of my word count, I don’t write every day, I don’t even write in order! I actually have written entire novels literally backward, starting with the final scene! All I need is a deadline—give me that and I’ll beat it every time. I spend very little time marketing—my belief is that my best marketing is writing the next book, so I concentrate my time and energy on new projects.
As a reader, what are some of your personal pet-peeves? In other words, what’s your list of writing dos and don’ts?
I think I’m like most readers in that I want the characters I fall in love with and invest my time and energy in to act like themselves and not “jump the shark.” In other words, once you establish a character’s personality and motivations they should remain consistent. That doesn’t mean that the character shouldn’t change during the course of the story, of course we want to see them change—but we want that change to be driven by the character’s needs, not the plot’s.
I can forgive factual mistakes but I can’t forgive smart characters who suddenly act stupid or characters who have spent the entire book driven by one passion who suddenly walk away from it for no reason. Once I invest in a character, good or bad, I want to see them meet their destiny—good or bad.
What are you reading now? What are some of your favorite books/authors and who has had the greatest influence upon your own work?
I usually read several books at once, often a few nonfiction research books mixed with fiction. Right now I’m re-reading THE PRINCE OF TIDES by Pat Conroy; I just finished ENDLESS, the fourth book in the Embrace series; and STRAIGHTLING, a memoir recounting a girl’s time in a juvenile treatment facility.
As for the author who most influenced me: Ray Bradbury. I love the way he infused poetry into his settings and still delivered vicarious thrills and action while making his characters feel so very fallible and human. I’ve read SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES over twenty times—usually on Halloween, just to make things extra-scary.
Do you have any advice for aspiring (or struggling) writers out there?
The best advice I’ve received came after the publication of my first book, LIFELINES. I was sitting beside Jeffery Deaver at an awards banquet (both of our books won, yeah!) and asked him what advice he had for someone at my stage: one book out and a second due to be released.
His reply was: “Always remember, the reader is god.”
Simple. Easy to think, oh sure, of course…but then I realized what an absolute game-changer those words were. Since then they’ve guided every decision. Should I spend time blogging or writing? My readers want more books, so I spend my time working on the next book.
I also keep this piece of advice foremost when I’m revising. My first draft is selfishly for me, me, me. But the second draft is totally focused on the reader. What will inspire and delight and surprise them? What will evoke emotion? Is it the emotion I’m aiming for? What will pull them into the story and make them miss their bus stop?
Suddenly, thanks to that advice from Jeffery Deaver, every fork in the tortuous path from idea to finished novel, is clear. Given that writing a novel and guiding it through the labyrinth that is publishing is a complicated and chaotic process, having these simple words to light the path has been invaluable.
NEW YORK TIMES and USA TODAY bestselling author of twenty-one novels, former pediatric ER doctor CJ Lyons has lived the life she writes about in her cutting edge Thrillers with Heart. Winner of the International Thriller Writers’ coveted Thriller Award, CJ has been called a “master within the genre” (Pittsburgh Magazine) and her work has been praised as “breathtakingly fast-paced” and “riveting” (Publishers Weekly) with “characters with beating hearts and three dimensions” (Newsday).
Learn more about CJ’s Thrillers with Heart on her website.