Today I’m pleased to post an interview with another of my fellow physician-writers, CJ Lyons. As a pediatric emergency room doctor, CJ has lived the life she writes about. She tells me that she loves sharing the secret life of an urban trauma center with readers, and I can attest to the fact that there are some interesting things that go on there. Her first book, Lifelines, has just been released. It combines women's fiction with medical suspense with thriller pacing with romantic elements and is told from the point of view of the women of Angels of Mercy's Medical Center.
RM: Did your urge to write come along after you were in med school, or was it always there?
CJ: I've been writing pretty much all my life—it's an addiction, I would need a 12 step program to stop. Actually, that might not even work, LOL!
Medicine has been very good for my writing. Despite working three jobs (I put myself through med school) and the crazy hours, I really got serious about my writing during medical school, joining my first writer's group and attending my first writing workshop. I was actually able to finish a science-fiction novel during medical school—now safely tucked away until I have the strength to read it and see just how bad it is!
RM: Your story about getting your contract with Berkley is truly unusual, just blew me away. Please share it with my readers.
CJ: It amazed me as well! I had made a huge leap of faith, leaving medicine after 17 years, and found myself unemployed for the first time in decades. But I truly thought I had what it took to become a published author and wanted to give myself the time and energy to make that dream come true.
It was a rough time, but then a few months later, my agent called to tell me that Berkley had read an unpublished manuscript of mine and while they weren't interested in buying it, they loved my voice.
She went on to tell me that Berkley wanted me to create a new medical suspense series for them, something new and fresh, that hadn't been done before: medical thrillers told from the point of view of the women. Think ER meets Sex in the City.
I jumped at the chance—no rules, just me and my imagination creating something new and exciting and blending all my favorite genres….it was great fun!
RM: When visitors to your web site sign up for your free newsletter, they get a bonus: your “Secrets of Pitching.” These are some great suggestions. Have they really worked for you?
CJ: Oh yes! Over and over again! Imagine that you're an agent or editor and you're facing sitting for eight hours getting 30 pitches a day at a conference. Who would you remember? What would be the best way to engage your interest?
I tell people to not worry about the pitch—instead think of your ten minutes with an agent as meeting a new friend for coffee. Treat him as a person, engage him, spark his interest in you as a person, a fellow professional who he wants to do business with.
Have your 15-20 word pitch printed on the back of your business card and give it to the agent. When he gets back to NYC and has 100+ cards and names to sort through, he'll remember yours, because you gave him ten minutes of interesting conversation!
RM: Tell us a bit about Lifelines.
CJ: Lifelines is the story of the most dangerous day of the year, July first, the day new interns arrive at hospitals. For one doctor the danger is only beginning as she investigates a patient's unexpected death and discovers more than she is prepared for.
It's a hybrid of women's fiction and medical suspense, with thriller pacing and a few romantic elements. All this in an on-going series that will feature multiple characters. I was worried people might not appreciate how cross-genre it is—it doesn't fit neatly into any genre pigeonhole!
But the response so far has been overwhelmingly positive! New York Times bestseller Lisa Gardner called Lifelines a "pulse-pounding adrenalin rush! Reminds me of ER back in the days of George Clooney and Julianna Margulies" while Publishers Weekly gave it a great review saying it was a "breathtakingly fast-paced medical thriller" and Romantic Times Book Reviews gave it 4 ½ stars and made Lifelines a Top Pick.
If people want to read an excerpt, there's one available on my website.
RM: What are you working on now?
CJ: I just turned in the second book in the series, Catalyst. It follows a medical student as she searches for the truth behind the strange and deadly symptoms killing her patients. And then she begins to experience them herself….
Catalyst is tentatively scheduled for a January, 2009 release.
RM: What’s the best writing advice anyone ever gave you?
CJ: I don't know who originated it, I've heard it so many times, but the best advice I've received about writing is simply: writers write.
Every time I'm tempted to whine or moan or give up, I tell myself, writers write. If they want a career as a writer, they need to be prepared to spend the same amount of time and effort that any other career training would entail. This often means years and, based on an informal survey of my published friends, writing half a million words or more before you sell.
So instead of talking about writing or moaning about the obstacles that stand between myself and writing, I just remember: writers write.
RM: And what final words do you have for my readers?
CJ: To paraphrase Tim Allen and Winston Churchill: Never surrender, never give up!
Forget about what other people tell you to write or what's selling. Find your passion and follow your heart—that's the story readers want. One filled with passion, one that reveals your heart.
CJ, thanks for stopping by. I strongly urge my readers who want some tips for pitching to an agent or editor to go to CJ’s web site and sign up for her newsletter and the free “Secrets of Pitching.”
I also want to mention here that my friend, Michael Palmer (whom I’ve interviewed on this blog), tells me that his next book, The First Patient, will open at number ten on the New York Times best-seller list this week. Way to go, Michael! Kay and I have just finished reading it, and it’s a real thriller.
Come back soon for more stuff about writing—mine and that of other folks. And thanks for stopping by.