>>>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: http://www.cjlyons.net 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.