by Vivian Zabel
I first met CJ Lyons on two Yahoo email lists: Crime Writers and
Sisters in Crime. Soon after I discovered that she would be one of the
speakers/ workshop presenters at the OWFI (Oklahoma Writers Federation, Inc.) writing conference May 1-2, 2008.
only did I attend CJ's sessions and have her autograph my copy of her
debut medical thriller LIFELINES, but she also joined me at my writing
group's table at both banquets.
Now, join me on a warm imaginary evening on a deck under a star-spangled night. CJ agreed to an interview, and I wish to make it appear we visited in person again.
Vivian: Thank you for allowing me to interview you, CJ. I enjoyed our time together at the OWFI conference. Please share with us: How did/does your history and home background affect your writing?
My mom was a voracious reader, so I grew up surrounded by books. I
began reading at a very early age and skipped the whole "see Dick run"
stage, going right to books like Agatha Christie.
fairy tales—lots of fairy tales. But not the sanitized Disney version,
my mom had lots of the "real" ones—Perraults, Grimm Brothers, etc. I
think they helped me to learn the value of a good story, how the hero's
journey works on a subliminal level, and also that no happy ending comes
without paying a price.
Vivian: Tell us something about your background that has made you a better, or more caring, writer.
Being a pediatrician definitely has given me insight into how real
heroes are born. Watching children and their families respond to tragedy
and triumph has both inspired and humbled me.
spent a lot of my career working in urban trauma centers and as a
victim's advocate, I also witnessed occasions of true evil—and saw how
insidious it is, how easily it can hide in plain sight. And I saw how so
many of us live our lives in a gray area between good and evil.
the reality of our world. In my fictional world, I try to address this
cosmic ambiguity, with many of my characters doing all the right things
for all the wrong reasons—or all the wrong things for all the right
reasons. I love stories of redemption, of triumph over one's own self.
Please fill us in on your hobbies, interests, or activities you
participate in during your leisure time. *laugh* If you have any.
Great question — strange to say, but I used to have a lot more free
time when I was practicing medicine! Now that I write full time, it
seems that almost everything is tied to the writing. Either getting the
current book done, researching the next, or marketing the one hitting
the stores now.
But that's all good!. When you do
something you love, it doesn't seem like work. And I've been able to
expand my writing career to include a busy teaching schedule. Now I get
to combine my love of travel with trips to give master classes,
workshops and keynotes. This way I'm always meeting new people who share
my love of storytelling!
Vivian: Authors are often asked when they started writing or what
triggered their interest in writing, but I
would like to know what keeps you writing.
I've been telling stories all my life—took me a looooong time to figure
out the difference between fiction and reality when I was a kid. This
led to many hours in time out—which led to more stories fermenting in my
imagination…..a vicious cycle.
I honestly don't think I
could stop writing if I tried. It's an addiction for me. There are so
many stories to tell and so little time.
Vivian: You have so many projects going all the time: working on books, traveling, etc.; how do you manage?
I'm a lousy housekeeper. Seriously, you should see my place—my
Christmas gift to myself was investing in a Dirt Dog robot vacuum
cleaner so at least the floors would get done. Now, if I could just
teach it to dust and do the laundry….
Vivian: Ahh, I knew we had lots in common.
How do you manage to come up with the ideas for your medical thrillers?
CJ: Most of my ideas come from things that frustrate me and that I want to change. Topics that I feel passionate about.
was inspired by a photo I once saw. In it, there was an old man wearing
a VFW uniform with a lot of medals and decorations. He was holding a
sign that read: Freedom includes the right to hate.
was caught by the ambiguity—here was a man who had shed blood to protect
me and my country, who had earned my respect, yet he was espousing an
idea that I despised. That it was okay to "hate" someone because we live
in a free society.
Then I read about the ACLU
defending the KKK's right to protest during a rally. And I knew that I
would use all of these conflicting ideas in a book someday. That book
My second book, WARNING
SIGNS, was inspired by my days as a medical student as well as a lot of
recent high profile medical stories including the melamine
contamination. I kept wondering, how does anyone know if what they eat
or drink, the air they breathe, the medicine they're prescribed, if any
of it really is safe?
writing it I was very cognizant of the fact that this is an
uncomfortable subject for many. But I also wanted to be as honest as
possible, to illuminate the courage I've seen in victims—and how an
assault changes their lives. I can only hope that I did their stories
Vivian: Do you have a particular writing process or technique that you use, if so, what?
Nope. After seventeen years of medicine, following a strict schedule, I
totally wing-it now. I have my deadlines and they keep me in check, but
I don't write every day or have a set word count or the like. I also
don't write in chronological order—which drives my friends who outline
and plot crazy.
My only rule is: No rules, just write!
Vivian: How do you feel when you complete a book?
CJ: When I finish the rough draft, first there's this sigh of relief, wow, I did get it done.
Immediately followed by a thrill of elation—Wow! I got it done!
Two seconds later that's followed by: Wow! I have a ton of work to do—this thing stinks!
when I finish the final draft (revisions from my editor, page proofs,
etc) and it's gone to press and I can't do anything more with it, then I
just kind of let it go….like releasing a baby bird and seeing if it
The readers will decide its fate—all I can do is get to work on the next book and try my best to make it better.
Vivian: What are your writing achievements and goals?
Achievements? I won a few contests before I was published: LIFELINES
has been graced with many wonderful reviews, including a Top Pick from
Romantic Times, and good reviews in Publishers Weekly, Newsday, the
Baltimore Sun, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, among others.
I consider my greatest achievement to be the fact that I had the
courage to take the leap of faith to write full time. So far I'm
supporting myself on my writing and hopefully will continue to do so!
for goals—while hitting a list would be nice, writers really don't have
a lot of control over that. My main goal is to continue to tell stories
that readers love and to inspire, entertain, and empower. If I do that
well enough, readers will spread the word and more readers will come…..
How do any writing groups benefit you and your writing? Also, we might
tie some information about your presentations at conferences with this.
CJ: As much as we love the idea of the lone poet scribbling in
his garret, writing today is anything but an individual effort. Yes,
it's your idea and your vision, how you make it come to life is unique.
once you entertain the idea of publishing you're entering a whole new
world—a very strange one, I may add, one that it is best not to navigate
That's where the help of fellow writers is
invaluable—the writers' groups I'm involved with have offered me
invaluable support, motivation, inspiration, knowledge, and guidance.
They include the Motivated Writers' Life, Sisters in Crime, PASIC (the
published author chapter of RWA), and International Thriller Writers,
I try to give back by offering my own
knowledge and support—I have given keynote speeches and taught workshops
for groups such as the Colorado Fiction Writers, Oklahoma Writers
Federation, the University of South Carolina at Beaufort, RWA National,
MWA's Sleuthfest, Lowcountry RWA's Master Class, Left Coast Crime, and
PennWriters, among others.
Vivian: What advice would you have for a new author?
Follow the immortal words of Tim Allen (or Winston Churchill—always get
the two confused, lol!): Never surrender, never give up.
convinced that the three key ingredients to becoming a successful
author are Vision (know what you write), Passion (know why you write),
and Commitment (know who you're writing it for). If you have these
three, you can make magic happen!
But always remember, you make your own road to travel—it's no good looking over your shoulder at how someone else is doing it.
And of course: don't forget to have fun along the way!
Thank you, CJ, for visiting with us.
As a pediatric ER doctor, CJ Lyons has lived the life she writes about in her cutting edge suspense novels.
4RV Publishing website