Friday, February 6, 2009


About CJ: As a pediatric ER doctor, CJ Lyons has lived the life she writes about. In addition to being an award-winning medical suspense author, CJ is a nationally known presenter and keynote speaker. Her first novel, LIFELINES (Berkley, March 2008), received praise as a "breathtakingly fast-paced medical thriller" from Publishers Weekly, was reviewed favorably by the Baltimore Sun and Newsday, named a Top Pick by Romantic Times Book Review Magazine, and became a National Bestseller. Her second novel, WARNING SIGNS, will be published by Berkley in January, 2009. To learn more about CJ and her work, go to
CJ, thanks for taking time out from your heavy promotion and presentation schedule to be with us today. Now I’m sure you get asked this a lot, but our readers are curious about how a pediatrician goes from the ER to the published page.

>>>Well, first of all, I've always been a dreamer. If I hadn't been, I would never have made it to college, much less been able to put myself through medical school. And second of all, I'm half Irish and half Italian, which makes me all stubborn.

But leaving medicine after seventeen years of practicing it did take courage. Talk about your leap of faith--even though I wasn't making a lot of money as a pediatrician (kids don't vote, so pediatricians are at the bottom of the pay scale) it was plenty for me. And to leave that to live a life of uncertainty, no secure paycheck, no plan B--well, let's just say that several of my partners suggested a psych eval would make more sense than my following my dream of writing.

All I can say is that I knew what I wanted, was confident in my abilities, and yes, I did prepare a financial emergency fund--just in case. Those first few months were scary--first time I'd been unemployed since I was 15! But luckily since then I've been making a living with my writing, paying the bills, and having a heck of a lot of fun doing it!

Was Lifelines, the first book in your Angels of Mercy series, your first manuscript?

>>>No, it was I think my fifth completed manuscript.

Did you have many rejections before Lifelines was accepted? If you did, what made you keep going?

>>>Oh yeah, of course! But the thing about LIFELINES is that I actually sold it based on a phone conversation with my editor at Berkley. We talked about creating a new series that revealed the behind the scenes life of an urban trauma center and in effect, with LIFELINES, we created a new genre: medical suspense with thriller pacing, told from the point of view of women, with "ripped from the headlines" medical cases, and strong romantic elements.

So after I brainstormed and created this new world, I had to go write the book—only now I was under contract and therefore, under a deadline! Good thing I love a challenge—but it ended up being a lot of fun!

Tell us about the Angels of Mercy series.

>>> LIFELINES is definitely more of a thriller. It's the classic stranger comes to town story (I love old westerns) and the pacing is rapid-fire, the stakes raised until the entire city is at risk.

WARNING SIGNS, however, is more of a mystery, focusing on the whodunnit and howdunnit of a mysterious illness. It's a coming of age story for a medical student who isn't sure if she's really sick or just has a bad case of medical studentitis--a form of hypochondriasis that every doctor suffers at some point in their career. It's still fast paced, but more about the medical student coming to her own as a healer.

Can you give us a picture of what your writing day looks like?

>>>Totally unpredictable—just like life in the ER! After 17 years of practicing medicine and being on a structured schedule, it's great to have the freedom to finally write when I want without being tied to a clock—or a beeper!

Do you have any writing rituals that help you?

>>>Music. I love listening to music—depending on the character's whose pov I'm in, the music changes. It could be head-banging rock n roll (my own favorite), zydeco, celtic, classical, or even country-western.

It's a way to immerse myself in the character—I don't listen to country-western on my own, but one of my characters does, so go figure, lol! The right music also sets the mood—slow for a quiet scene, up tempo for an action scene, etc.

Is there a favorite junk food that you munch when you write?

>>>Nope, I'm a disgustingly healthy eater, lol! Probably the closest thing to junk food I keep around the house are pistachios. I love dark chocolate—but I save that for either celebrations or pick-me-ups if something goes wrong. So far, I've pretty much only used it for celebrations, I've been lucky to have uniformly great reviews and knock on wood they'll continue.

Who reads your work-in-progress besides your editor?

>>>I'm selfish about my first drafts. Usually no one sees them except me—since I'm a seats of the pants writer, they're my chance to tell the story my way, for my own enjoyment and not worry about pesky little annoyances like logic or continuity.

My second draft is for the reader. I try to divorce my ego from the work and focus on what will create the most enjoyable read for my audience. How can I communicate my vision to them most effectively?

This draft I'll share with a few close friends, published and unpublished,
and they're ruthless with it—thank goodness!!! It's always good to have friends who can not only see your blindspots but who will also give you a swift kick in the pants to get you back on track!

CJ, what do you think makes up a hero?

>>>To me a hero is anyone willing to face their greatest fears and be willing to risk change in order to make things better in the world around them. This applies to real-world heroes who are willing to stand up and make a difference as well as my fictional ones.

What are important hero characteristics you apply as you create heroes for your books?

>>>First thing I do is find their default action or attitude. This is the one thing ingrained in them since they were children and that so far in their life (at the start of the book) has been successful for them. It's their greatest strength but as they progress through the book, it will become their greatest weakness, forcing them to face their fears and change--hopefully for the better.

My badguys travel the same path and I try to give them chances to redeem themselves, but they choose not to change and that plays a part in their defeat by the hero.

Does you use body models or some other type of inspiration for the creation of hunky heroes or striking heroines?

>>>Appearance really doesn't play much of a role for me. Once I figure out what makes a character tick, the physical characteristics simply fill in the blanks.

For instance, Lydia, the fiercely independent heroine of LIFELINES, is a loner. She's an ER doc and her default attitude is "Trust no one, assume nothing." So physically, she's athletic, a runner, dresses in practical clothing that would always allow her to take off running if the need arises, her hair is short and spiky because she doesn't take time for sitting in a salon often, she doesn't wear makeup, and she travels light, always ready for trouble, basically always ready for anything....

The hero and her future love interest, Trey, is a paramedic and a middle child whose default action is to play the role of peacemaker. He's in good shape because of his job, but despite his size and muscles, he's soft-spoken, a calming influence. Competent and good at his job because he'll hold back for a beat, waiting, observing, getting the big picture--opposite of Lydia's rush into action. He teaches ballroom dancing on the side, so he's graceful and well-balanced physically and mentally, a good grounding force for Lydia's high-intensity.

Tell us about your current tour for Warning Signs.

>>>I'm launching WARNING SIGNS at the Love is Murder conference in Chicago. I'm doing a special presentation with one of the screenwriters for House and we'll discuss the character of House versus Sherlock Holmes. And then I'll be doing a workshop on using medicine in fiction, followed by a panel with Jeffrey Deaver and other great authors. After that I'll be at the South Carolina Book Festival, teaching a few special Master classes for RWA chapters, presenting at PennWriters, appearing on both the thriller and mystery panels at Romantic Times, and I'll be at ThrillerFest.

What’s the funniest thing that ever happened to you on tour?

>>>Last year at Romantic Times in Pittsburgh I'd been commuting back and forth from the convention to my old stomping grounds at Presby hospital, visiting my aunt who was in the ICU there (she's fine now, yeah!) Since the convention was in Pittsburgh, where my books are set, I'd been planning to use my free time for research but fate intervened and of course family comes first. So, it's the last afternoon before I leave, and I run into Hank Phillippi Ryan—a friend and wonderful writer. She wants to go for a walk but isn't familiar with Pittsburgh, so I take her through Downtown and over the Clemente bridge to the Riverwalk. And lo and behold, there are the River Rescue guys out on their boat—on a Sunday afternoon! Exactly the guys I needed for my research! Hank, who's a reporter and charming, talks our way onto the dock, onto the boat, and even gets the guys to give us a tour! It was great fun and would have never happened if I hadn't been t been taking time away from work to visit my aunt. And if Hank hadn't wanted to stretch her legs! Talk about kismet.

What kinds of workshops do you teach? Do you have any coming up in the next couple of months? Anything in the South?

>>>I just gave my Character Driven Plotting workshop to the Lowcountry RWA in Charleston. That workshop goes more in depth about how I build characters (as I mentioned above with the example of Lydia and Trey) and how I use the characters to propel the plot, with techniques both plotters and pantzers can use.

I'll be teaching at PennWriters in Pittsburgh, the Kiss of Death retreat, Central NY RWA, Toronto RWA, and Kiss of Death online, and Writers' University online.

For more information on CJ's upcoming appearances or workshops go to: and look under Events.

Okay readers, now for our contest. CJ has graciously agreed to give away a personalized copy of LIFELINES to one lucky commenter. So let's hear it folks. Please leave us a comment on something in this post that you relate to, find interesting, find funny, etc. A winner will be randomly drawn from all comments left up until midnight tonight. Winner to be posted Saturday.


Marilyn Baron said...

I loved your post and I enjoyed reading about how you write. Two things that struck me -- when you said your second draft is for your reader. I loved that and I've never heard that before.

Also I relate to listening to music while you write. I once wrote a manuscript that was set in World War II and for months I listened to Big Band Music, which I love anyway or any music from the '40s.

Thank you for being our guest blogger today.

Marilyn Baron

Debbie Kaufman said...

Good Morning CJ! Hope your tour is going well. Thanks so much for the Q & A. I find the way you approach your hero and villain very interesting. Finding their default attitude makes a lot of sense and sets up their natural reactions and world view!

vickyb said...

You've a lot more courage than I'll ever have! Kudos on following your dream - and having it come true! And kismet is right! That walk through Pittsburgh couldn't have been better. Your book sounds great - but then, I'm not surprised. :)


Cyrano said...

Hello CJ,
Thanks so much for taking time out of your busy schedule to do some Q&A with us here on PF&HT.
I enjoyed your interview and especially liked the idea of default action. I'm writing a paranormal right now and feel confident that this idea will help better my characterization and the story in general. I also admit, I've never heard of default action, so I'm doubly glad you brought it up.
I also enjoy music while I write. There is a broad range of genres that appeal to me and like you, I tend to match the pace of the music with the action of each scene.
Thanks again so much for posting today. I got a lot out of your answers.
Have a wonderful weekend,

Betsey said...

Sounds like a great read. My husband is in the medical field, so I know a little bit about the stress, no time, beepers, call, etc. (Insert big sigh here.)Congrats on getting away from it all!

Tammy Schubert said...

Thank you so much for taking the time to be our guest blogger. I enjoyed your interview.

Kudos to you for making your dream happen. Not everyone has the courage to pursue their dream.

I look forward to reading your books.

Linsey Lanier said...

Hi CJ! Thanks so much for blogging with us at PFHT today. It's an honor. Sounds like you're not writing quite fulltime, with that busy touring schedule, :) but I'm glad you're so generous with your time.

Like the others, the concept of default action or attitude is an eye-opener for me. I also like the idea of writing the first draft just for you. Your Character Driven Plotting workshop sounds like a good one.

The main character of my current wip is half Irish and half Italian, like you! I listen to Celtic music and the Irish Tenors to get in touch with her heritage.


Molly Evans said...

Hi CJ,
I grew up about 60 miles east of Pgh and it was fun to read about familiar places in the blog. (Go Steelers!)
Looking forward to more in your series. I'm a hospice nurse and write medical romances, but hope to graduate up to thrillers one day.
Molly Evans

Anonymous said...

Hi CJ,

I really appreciate your blog. You gave us a lot of "meat" to chew on. Default action or attitude, listening to music, and my personal favorite...although not what I usually do...not munching while you write. Urg!

I love writing Romantic Suspense, so I will definitely use some of your suggestions, like the default action, and I wish you huge success in the future with your next book and with the classes you teach.


CJ Lyons said...

Thanks, Marilyn! Jeffery Deaver told me that, to think of the Reader as God, and it stuck with me.

Thanks for stopping by!

CJ Lyons said...

Thanks, Debbie! I find that understanding why my characters do what they do is the key to everything, for me.

CJ Lyons said...

Thanks Vicky! I appreciate your stopping by!

Tamara--so know what you mean about music! A great way to set the mood! Thanks for dropping by!

CJ Lyons said...

Thanks Betsy and Tammy! I appreciate your comments!

I'm on the slowest internet connection ever known (two cans and a string, I think!) but will try to stop back later, hopefully with a faster connection!

Thanks again everyone!

Joyce J. said...

Now I have another author to add to my "Must Read" list. I've read all of Robin Cook's books and would love to read some medical thrillers from a female point of view for a change. Thanks!
Joyce J.

CiCi Barnes said...

Hi CJ,

I love the default attitude thing. Sounds like something I could use to set up my H/H.

Music definitely sets the mood in writing. I love to play the theme song from Somewhere in Time when I'm doing a love scene. Gives me chills.

Thanks for stopping by to visit us and give us some insite. We appreciate you time, especially with the busy schedule you have.

Thanks bunches.


Susan May said...

I attend your workshop at National a few years back and enjoyed it. I was working on a book for Mills& Boon's medical line. You had great informantion. I spent a week in Pittsburgh for the Transplant Games this past summer. I have a son with a heart transplant. I know right where you were talking about on the river walk. My son and I even dissussed those guys because of the Bruce Willis movie that was made there. We loved the city of Pittsburgh. Great hospitals! Thank you for sharing with us today and for your wonderful books.Do come back again.

Ana Aragón said...


Thanks so much for sharing your story...and how you write! As a fellow "pantser", I love your idea of writing the first draft for yourself and the second for the reader.

I'm looking forward to reading Warning Signs...loved Lifelines!


CJ Lyons said...

Thanks everyone for the kind words! I'm still having internet troubles here at the hotel--one of the many pleasures of touring they don't tell you about, lol! But I wanted to stop back and thank you all for your lovely comments.

Thanks for the warm thoughts and for having me here today!

Sandy Elzie said...

Hi C.J.

I thoroughly enjoyed your blog today, especially your comment about the default action or attitude. That's a great idea and I'll use it.

I'd also like to thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to be our guest, we really appreciate it.

I'd like to wish you continued success with your books and career and we'd love to have you as a guest again in the future...maybe to help promote your third book?


Darcy Crowder said...

CJ! Wonderful to see you here, thanks for taking the time to visit.

I really appreciate the way you described the default action/attitude of your characters. I'm going to go check out your schedule now to find out when I can catch your next class on Character Driven Plot!

Like I mentioned over on MotivatedWriters, I'm anxious to get your next book, Warning Signs. It sounds like a real page-turner.

Thanks again for stopping by.


CJ Lyons said...

Thanks for dropping by!
For anyone interested in character driven plotting (which includes using the default action), I'll be teaching a month long class with PASIC online in May (

Mary Marvella said...

I'm so glad you don't give up when the going gets tough. You are so generous, taking the time to share with the rest of us.

Kelly L Stone said...


I missed the time frame for winning a copy of the book but wanted to drop a comment anyway that I enjoy reading anything you write, including your interviews, and wish you all the best of luck.


Tami Brothers said...

Wow, CJ! This is a terrific post. I'm bummed I missed out on the give-away but I will definitely be reading your book.

Thanks a ton for stopping by and chatting with us. You are definitely inspiring to those of us on our fifth and sixth manuscripts...

Tami Brothers