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Keeping His Skin in the Game

By J. H. Bográn

D. P. Lyle is the author of a successful series—yet with his latest book, he took on the challenge of starting a new one, because, well, sometimes you just have to go with the flow.

“I had a basic idea about a killer with an unusual motivation and a very sinister technique,” he says. “That concept pushed this story to its conclusion.”

SKIN IN THE GAME introduces us to Bobby Cain and Harper McCoy, partners in a consulting firm. Each has a particular set of skills that comes in handy with the type of customers they serve. This time, they’re hired by a retired general to search for his missing granddaughter. His directive includes a proportional punishment to the people responsible for the disappearance.

“Bobby Cain and Harper McCoy are two of my favorite characters,” Lyle says. “I wanted them each to have a combination of unusual skills that would impact the stories I had in mind for them.

“Cain was abandoned in a bus station as an infant and scooped up by a gypsy family and Harper was purchased from an alcoholic half-Cherokee mother. They were absorbed into the family and life went on. The family traveled around the South putting on shows, doing odd jobs, and mostly breaking the law. Bobby became an expert with knives and had the ability for getting into and out of houses to steal items without being detected. Harper was the ultimate con artist and very good at reading people.

“Once the family was broken up by the FBI because of their multi-state criminal activity, the two were separated and didn’t cross paths again for 15 years. And that was on the other side of the world. Bobby became a special ops for multiple military services and used his skills with a knife and his ability to slip in and out of tight spots without being detected to perform several eliminations. Harper ended up with the CIA running covert ops. Subsequent to reuniting, they left the military and formed a team that fixes the unfixable. By whatever means necessary.”

Lyle (left) interviewing author Isabel Allende at Book Passage.

For this story, Lyle had to research SERE training— Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape—as Cain’s shenanigans during his training is what brought him to the attention of the US military and led him into covert ops. Additionally, the author had to go deep into the geographical research.

“Cain and Harper live in Nashville in the penthouse of a high-rise condo building,” Lyle says. “This case draws them to a small town an hour or so south near Lynchburg, Tennessee. The town is completely made up and sits on the shores of Tims Ford Lake, one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen. I had to do a great deal of research about that area in order to make the setting work.”

Another aspect of the research had to do with the world of tattoos. Nowadays, almost any image can be traced and replicated with the right equipment and inks. There are some great artists creating incredible works of art. But there´s also the basic prison-type kind.

Lyle teaching at ITW’s CraftFest.

“It’s a fascinating field,” Lyle says. “Of course the tattooist in the story is quite skilled. Most often, tattooing takes a great deal of time and is quite tedious, but if someone is sufficiently motivated, and has a captive audience, then it’s amazing how much they can cover in a short period of time.”

Currently, Lyle is running two series—the comedic Jake Longly series, and then the darker Cain/Harper series. He aims to produce a story for each series per year, which means he’ll write two novels a year.

“On one hand it’s difficult to create two entirely new novels during that time frame, but then I enjoy writing so it seems to work out,” he says. “The other thing is shifting gears between the two characters, which are very different, and the stories have totally different tones. That’s both fun and challenging.”

Speaking of challenges, he considers starting a new series exciting and fun. “You have to create an entirely new set of characters,” he says. “And you must present them in a fashion that will intrigue readers. Developing characters takes time and living with them. And then of course, as any series moves on, you must figure out a way to keep the characters true to who they are, yet create a freshness and a sense of newness to them.”

Before the Jake Longly series, Lyle considered himself a careful plotter. “With the first Jake book, I didn’t really know Jake,” he says. “I had a single scene in mind. It’s the opening scene of Deep Six, the first book in the series. I just told myself not to overthink it and just simply start writing and see where it went. It turned out very well and I found that writing on the fly and creating stories on the go are more fun than doing all the outlining. So that’s the way I do things now. I have a vague idea and just go with it.”

D. P. Lyle MD

Some people may have noticed the MD initials at the end of the author’s name. In fact, Lyle is a medical doctor who still continues with his practice—but only part-time.

“I go to the office two days a week and the rest of the time I spend writing,” he says, “It’s actually an enjoyable setup. I get to keep my hand in medicine, which is my primary love and livelihood, but I also have plenty of time to create stories.”

The next logical question is, of course, how he accomplishes all that with the 24 hours in a day.

“Sleep is overrated,” he says. “Fortunately I only need about five hours a night and I’m good to go.”


José H. Bográn
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