Today’s #BlinkBlog is a special Q&A with CJ Lyons! Learn more about the author of The Color Of Lies by reading below…
The Color of Lies is available now everywhere books are sold. It will make a great gift for the holidays!
YOU’VE BEEN SUCCESSFUL IN TWO DIFFERENT FIELDS—MEDICINE AND WRITING. WHAT MADE YOU WANT TO GO INTO MEDICINE? AND, ONCE IN MEDICINE, WHAT WAS IT THAT MADE YOU WANT TO LEAVE THAT BEHIND TO WRITE?
I actually never dreamed of becoming a doctor when I was young. In high school, I worked a lot in theater—backstage, tech jobs, and directing—and thought I’d pursue a career in theater. But by my junior year of college, I grew tired of the melodrama and chaos that comes with a career in the dramatic arts (pun intended), and a surprise announcement in our general bio class changed everything for me.
Our professor told us that the medical examiner was scheduled to perform an autopsy on a homeless man and, not wanting his death to go unhonored, would allow a few students to attend. My roommate, a dance major, was fascinated by anatomy, and one of our friends was pre-med (his dad was an orthopedic surgeon), so we got him to drive us.
Our friend didn’t make it past the door—which was maybe a good thing. I think he ended up going to law school instead of med school.
But my roommate and I, we donned gloves and were right there, watching and touching, mesmerized by the intricacies of the human body. It was by far the most fascinating experience of my life up until then. And I felt so very honored and privileged to be there— such a gift that unnamed man gave us, one that changed my life.
The next day I switched to pre-med and the rest is history …
As for writing, I’ve always been a storyteller—my earliest memories are from when I was at most three years old, using my mom’s hair curlers as finger puppets to tell stories. Storytelling was my way of understanding the chaos surrounding me—it also got me into a lot of trouble growing up!
I wrote stories and poems that won awards and were featured in our school’s literary magazine (although I have no idea what exactly made it “literary,” it felt good to know other people enjoyed my work) and wrote my first novel (a YA fantasy never to see the light of day, thank goodness) when I was fifteen.
Even in med school I somehow found time to write two more novels—science fiction and space operas, an escape from the grueling rigors of my daily life and hundred-hour work weeks.
(So never ever let anyone tell you they just don’t have enough time to write! if you’re passionate about something, you find the time.)
Fast forward seventeen years. Thanks to the encouragement of several published writers
I’d met at a conference, I finally submitted my work for publication. My stories were thrillers that featured strong relationships and emotional honesty, making them difficult to pigeonhole, leading me to create my own subgenre of Thrillers with Heart. I sold the first two of what eventually became the Hart and Drake medical suspense series to a major NYC publisher.
And that’s when the real work began. I quickly realized how difficult it was to give 120% to my patients and to my writing. So I made a very difficult decision to make a leap of faith and take a sabbatical from medicine.
I gave myself two years to see what my writing would do—and that was almost thirteen years ago!
HOW IS WRITING FULFILLING FOR YOU?
As an extreme introvert (translation: I’m a hermit at heart), the world can often be overwhelming, simply too noisy, too many people needing/wanting something from me, too much going wrong that I want to fix, too much going right that I want to be part of … so, for me, writing is my escape hatch, a warm, safe blanket I can hide under until I can process all this chaos.
Reading is my second escape. As I always say: you’re never alone when lost in a good story!
But writing really saved me during my internship year. There were twelve of us pediatric interns when we started on July 1st, and we quickly became a close-knit family. But then in December, one of my fellow interns was murdered during a home invasion.
It was a horrific, brutal crime that affected all of us. And, of course, we had to go back to work a few days later, a bunch of twenty-five-year-old kids making life-and-death decisions for babies and families while also dealing with this trauma.
What did I do? I wrote. But the science fiction I played with in med school was no longer enough. I was sad and scared and angry and horrified and I wanted justice for my friend, for all of us, so I turned to writing thrillers.
YOU FIRST STARTED WITH ADULT FICTION AND THEN SWITCHED TO TEEN FICTION. WHY ENTER THE YA MARKET?
I’ve always been a huge YA reader (some of the highest quality of truly literary fiction as well as the best storytelling comes from YA books) and as a pediatrician it seemed a natural fit. But what really drove me to start writing YA were my niece and nephew.
They are both geniuses (literally, not just proud auntie bragging) and were reading at a college level by the time they were seven and eight. Except, once they finished Harry Potter and a few other series that didn’t have violence and sex scenes that they were too young for, they simply ran out of things to read!
I began to get them the old mysteries (Agatha Christy, Rex Stout, etc.) and science fiction (Asimov, Doc Smith, Bradbury, etc.) to read, but they quickly ran through those as well. So I decided to try my hand at writing a “clean” YA that didn’t talk down to kids and approached real-world problems but without explicit sex, swearing, or violence.
Which is how I came to write Broken, my first published YA thriller. It’s literally about a girl dying of a broken heart …
WHICH DO YOU LIKE BETTER—ADULT OR YA FICTION? OR IS CHOOSING LIKE PICKING A FAVORITE CHILD?
I love them both. With YA, I can actually go darker, as YA readers are much more comfortable with emotional honesty than adults who tend to read more for escapism and catharsis.
I tend to turn to writing YA as “palate cleansers” after I’ve written one of my adult thrillers, and I’ve even disguised one of my series, the Renegade Justice series, as adult, even though it actually features a teenaged protagonist. It’s great fun to combine both worlds!
(Although, fair warning: the Renegade Justice books do have violence and swearing, so not suitable for younger audiences.)
And I find with YA, I can dig into more complex world-building and cross into other genres, as I did with my YA science fiction trilogy, Stolen Futures. It combined an alternative timeline story with some of our own real-world challenges, along with a fast-paced action-adventure and a sweet romance.
WHAT IGNITES YOUR IDEAS THAT ULTIMATELY MAKE IT INTO THE PAGES OF A BOOK?
Ideas are everywhere: the people we pass on the street, news headlines—they haunt our dreams, even sometimes land on our doorsteps in the form of junk mail or spam.
For me an idea alone isn’t enough. It has to lead to a character I feel passionate about— someone I’m willing to torture and crash their world down around them, but also someone who can grow to become a hero and overcome any obstacle I throw at them.
HOW DO YOU DEVELOP CHARACTERS? DO YOU LEAVE A PIECE OF YOU IN ANY OF THEM?
There’s a piece of me in almost every character I write—it’s how I make them human, breathe life into them. Even my bad guys have some redeeming quality, whether it’s a love of family or a sincere belief that they’re doing the right thing, even if they’re going about it the wrong way.
Every character is the hero of their own story. I try to remember that and imagine what my characters, especially the bad guys and minor characters, are doing when they’re not on the page. What’s their home life like? Where do they spend their time when they’re not involved in my main characters’ stories? I want them to feel like real people with real hopes and dreams and lives, so to do that I instill small bits and pieces of my own life in each character.
HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE YOU TO TAKE A BOOK FROM AN IDEA TO SENDING IT IN TO YOUR PUBLISHER?
Since this is my job and I have deadlines to meet, that often means that my editors decide how long I have to finish a story, not me.
Without a deadline, for the projects I work on in my own time, the fastest I’ve ever written a full-length novel was nineteen days. The longest has been eight years from story idea to finally being satisfied with the end result.
WHAT DO YOU FIND THE MOST REWARDING IN WRITING?
I love the actual work of discovering the story in my first drafts—even when it’s at its most frustrating and feels like a slog, the times when I dig deep and find that kernel of magic that brings everything to life, it’s amazing.
But the most rewarding part of publishing a book and writing as a profession is the fan mail. I’m constantly amazed by how readers tell me my stories have changed their lives.
I’ve had letters from cancer patients thanking me for allowing them to escape their pain. Others have written about how my characters have given them the courage to leave abusive relationships and ask for help.
I’ve had fan mail that made me weep, and over the years I’ve been able to touch more lives with my books than I ever could as a physician, so it really is a blessing.
AS WE’VE ESTABLISHED, YOU’VE HAD TWO SUCCESSFUL CAREERS. WHAT IS YOUR ADVICE FOR FINDING HAPPINESS IN YOUR WORK?
Joseph Campbell had it right when he said, “Follow your bliss.” If you’re passionate about what you’re doing, believe that it serves a higher purpose (other than paying the bills), and you have fun doing it, then you never really feel like you’re working.
DO YOU BELIEVE DREAMS CAN COME TRUE?
Absolutely. I’m a small-town girl who left home at seventeen and made her way through college with scholarships, then worked three jobs during medical school. It was a dream come true to actually become a doctor and then a second dream come true to be able to turn to writing as a career. Without my dreams, I’d be lost.
ANY FINAL THOUGHTS YOU’D LIKE TO SHARE ABOUT WHAT MOTIVES AND INSPIRES CJ LYONS?
I truly believe that heroes are born every day—it’s the theme that runs through all of my work. It is an honor and privilege to be in a position where I can share those stories, my Thrillers with Heart, with the rest of the world. Every day, I wake up grateful for the chance I’ve been given to not just tell my stories but to touch the lives of people around the world.