Q: When did you decide to become a writer?
CJ: I’ve been a storyteller all my life. Which led to a lot of time spent in time-out when I was a kid. But all that time spent day dreaming and listening to the stories in my head meant that I often came up with solutions and possibilities that other kids who played by the rules didn’t see.
Once I began putting my stories down on paper, my teachers encouraged me to keep writing. I had my first story published in our school’s “literary” magazine when I was twelve and won my first writing contest when I was thirteen. While I kept writing all my life, it was a long, long, long time before I actually thought about writing books for a living. Writing had always been my way of coping with the “real” world and coming up with ways to achieve my goals and dreams, like my dream of becoming a doctor.
My friends pushed me out of my comfort zone (that’s what good friends do–and they’re there to catch you if you fall or cheer you on when you win) and I gathered all my courage and tried to sell my books to publishers. Back then it was hard work finding a publisher but now there are many ways to get your stories into the hands of readers. The most difficult part isn’t being published, it’s finding the courage to take the risk and let other people read your stories.
Q: You were a pediatrician and pediatric ER doctor for 17 years. Why did you leave to write full time?
CJ: For a small town girl from rural Pennsylvania who had to work her way through college and med school, becoming a doctor was a dream come true. But once I had a few book contracts and realized how much time and energy it would take to be a writer, I decided that if I wanted to be good at either job something had to give. I’d already had seventeen wonderful years of living the dream of being a doctor, why not try a second dream come true as a full time writer?
It was an extremely difficult choice. When I first quit medicine I missed my patients terribly—some of them even emailed and wrote me. But I’ve never missed the ungodly hours or paperwork or hassles with the insurance folks.
One thing I realized after my first book was published and I began getting fan mail was that in medicine I touched one life at a time. With my books I can touch hundreds of thousands of lives.
That’s a pretty darn good feeling.
Q: When you left medicine, was it an “entirely on faith” move or were you comfortable enough in your career to leave?
CJ: Leaving medicine was a huge leap of faith. I had two books under contract, but certainly no guarantee that writing would pay the bills.
I was lucky that it did, despite a disastrous start to my writing career: the publisher cancelled my first book 90 days prior to publication because of cover art problems!
But I kept writing, kept working towards that dream of becoming a career novelist. After I got my rights back another NYC publisher came to me and asked me to create a new series for them.
And just to show that karma has a sense of humor, the book I wrote while furiously working to salvage my career after that first book was cancelled? BLIND FAITH, which went on to debut at #2 on the New York Times bestseller list.
Q: Can you talk a little about what “Thrillers with heart” means to CJ Lyons?
CJ: CJ: When I first started out and had to pitch my stories to agents and editors, it was quite difficult to explain them since they are such a mix of thriller pacing, suspense, and the emotions/relationships/growth/romance you find in women’s fiction, yet they aren’t a pure fit for any one genre.
So I created my own: Thrillers with Heart. They’re less about the car chases and explosions and more about the people, exploring the grey areas between the black and white of good and evil.
The common thread that runs through all my books is that heroes are born everyday. They’re about how ordinary people find the strength to stand up and risk everything to change the world.
(Which, by the way, is the same reason why I went into Pediatric Emergency Medicine, so I guess my ending up writing Thrillers with Heart makes perfect sense.)
Q: What was it like the first time you saw your name on the New York Times bestseller list for fiction? I’m guessing you can remember every detail from that day, true?
CJ: It was surreal. I was at a conference but a friend’s husband went out and bought a lot of copies of the New York Times and brought them back to the conference for me to sign. I honestly didn’t believe it was real until I saw it there in print!
Q: What is a typical day like for CJ Lyons? Do you have a set routine you use to get your writing done?
CJ: LOL, no. After seventeen years of being tied to a pager and trauma radio, I thrive on never knowing what time it is or even the day of the week. I have no set schedule, never keep track of word count or page count—some days I don’t even write! Heresy, I know!
All I need is a deadline. That keeps me on track. And on those days I don’t write, put words on the page? I’m still writing—the story is fermenting in my head so that when I do get back to it, it’s like scratching an itch, letting all that out onto the page.
I’m the same way about the books—each one is written differently. I don’t plot ahead of time, so if I’m surprised, I hope the reader will be as well. I write out of order, then string the scenes together in the second draft—one book, CRITICAL CONDITION, I actually wrote backwards! I knew who was alive at the end and scene by scene worked my way back to the beginning to see how they got there. It was the most fun writing a book I’ve had!
Q:Can you name some of the authors who have influenced you as a writer?
CJ: Ray Bradbury had the greatest influence on me as a child. He was the first author who taught me that the words themselves can be as beautiful as the picture they create. I also love the way he can evoke emotion on a very subliminal level.
My stories have been praised as “breathtakingly fast-paced” and I owe that to a childhood spent reading EE “Doc” Smith, Harry Harrison, Leslie Charteris, Dashiel Hammett, John D MacDonald, and CS Forester.
Q: You are marooned on a desert island, but before your ship sinks, you can grab any one book of your choosing. What book would that be, and why?
CJ: Perrault’s collection of fairy tales. Makes the Grimm brothers look so very tame…
Q: What’s your best advice for someone who wants to be a writer?
CJ: My advice is to ignore all the rules and advice and simply write their heart out. Have fun! Pour it all on to the page, don’t hold back or fear that someone else might read it. Be selfish. Write this book for you, you, you!
In fact, my website for writers is titled: NoRulesJustWRITE.com
Q: What words of advice would you give to someone looking to publish his very first book?
CJ: It’s amazingly quick and easy to publish a book nowadays. But I caution you. Don’t. At least not right away. If you’re thinking of publishing and building a career as a writer, you need a clear vision beyond one book.
What’s your next book going to be about? How about the one after that? Are you reaching out to the same readers (business folks call this building your platform)? How are you going to keep them coming back for more? What about your books will so delight and excite them that they’ll tell their friends about them?
Who are you recruiting to be on your team? An agent? A traditional publisher? If you’re going indy it might be a group of editors (I use three on every book) and graphic designers, maybe formatters and web gurus.
Yes, that first draft is for you, you, you. But as soon as you decide to publish it, you’re making the leap from artist to businessperson. Your focus must switch from being all about you to being all about your readers. Look before you leap and grab a parachute while you’re at it!
Q: If I want to be a writer will you read my book or help me find an agent or get it published?
CJ: No, sorry, I just don’t have enough hours in the day! But I share everything I know about becoming a bestseller and selling a million books on my writers’ site NoRulesJustWRITE.com There are a ton of free resources there as well as some free classes and a blog.