Friday, January 30, 2009

Meet Medical Thriller Author CJ Lyons 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 presenters at the OWFI (Oklahoma Writers Federation, Inc.) writing conference May 1-2, 2008.

Not 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.

When I heard about her new novel being released this month, and which I have pre-ordered, I asked her if I could interview her. She agreed, and the following is the result.

Vivian: How did/does your history and home background affect your writing?

CJ: 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.

And 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.

Tell us something about your background that has made you a better, or more caring, writer.

CJ: 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.

Since I 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.

That's 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.

Vivian: Please fill us in on your hobbies, interests, or activities you participate in during your leisure time. *laugh* If you have any.

CJ: 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!

Authors are often asked when they started writing or what triggered their interest in writing. I like to know that, also, but I would especially like to know what keeps you writing.

CJ: 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?

CJ: 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: What is your most recent book, and what inspired you to write it?

CJ: WARNING SIGNS is due out on January 27th. It's a coming of age tale, featuring a medical student who is investigating a mysterious illness killing her patients. Then she begins to exhibit the same deadly symptoms herself….

I was inspired by my own experiences as a student. None of us were immune from "medicalstudentitis"—a form of hypochondriasis brought on by exposure to arcane knowledge about rare and mysterious ailments.

I swear at one point we all thought we had Leishmaniasis, Q-fever, Kawasaki's, and Sjorgens—simultaneously! Working 100+ hours a week, plus non-stop studying, poor diet, no sleep, no exercise all combined to produce in us symptoms that we were sure were deadly….only to be reassured by our patient clinical instructors that we would indeed live until tomorrow.

Of course things are never so easy in the fictional world of Angels of Mercy Medical Center and my medical student has something a lot more devastating to face.

About CJ:
As a pediatric ER doctor, CJ Lyons has lived the life she writes about in her cutting edge suspense novels. Her debut, LIFELINES (Berkley, March 2008), became a national bestseller and Publishers Weekly proclaimed it a "breathtakingly fast-paced medical thriller." The second in the series, WARNING SIGNS, is due out January, 2009. Contact her at

Lifelines by CJ Lyons
March 2008
ISBN: 978-0-425-22082-5

Warning Signs by CJ Lyons
Jove, Feb 2009, $7.99
ISBN: 9780515145830


Vivian Zabel
Brain Cells & Bubble Wrap
Vivian's Mysteries


Morgan Mandel said...

Great interview!
I also loved the old-fashioned fairy tales, especially Cinderella.

Morgan Mandel

Vivian Zabel said...

Thanks, Morgan. CJ is easy to interview because she's so interesting.

Wish my copy of her new book would get here.

Joyce Anthony said...

Wonderful interview!!! Thank you for doing this one, Vivian. CJ, I love thrillers--I will have to check this out.

Vivian Zabel said...

Joyce, CJ's books are GOOD, and I'm a picky reader.

Earl Staggs said...

Great interview, CJ. My experience selling insurance was mostly boring, but being an ER doctor must have given you enough story material for three lifetimes. I envy you.

CJ Lyons said...

Thanks, Morgan! Glad you enjoyed it!

CJ Lyons said...

Vivian, you're too sweet! Great questions make any interview!

Thanks for inviting me!

CJ Lyons said...

Thanks for stopping by, Joyce! I hope you enjoy LIFELINES and WARNING SIGNS--feel free to drop me a note and let me know what you think.

CJ Lyons said...

Earl, you made me laugh--my encounters with insurance folks have all been nightmares.

Of course, I never had the pleasure of doing business with you--I was dealing with medical insurance providers, HMOs refusing to let my kids (my patients) get asthma meds but who would gladly pay for viagra.....

Anonymous said...

Unfair I was going to say great interview. I have great respect and admiration for those in the medical field. You deserve all the success in the world with your writing.

Vivian Zabel said...

Oh, I sleep in a little, and people have a party.

Good morning, all, and thanks, CJ, for stopping by already.

CJ Lyons said...

Thanks, Bill! I appreciate the warm thoughts--new authors like me need all the help we can get!

Mark Troy said...

I'm looking forward to Warning Signs. It's not just medical students who experience hypochondriasis. As a clinical psychology student, I thought I had some of the disorders we were studying and I knew beyond doubt the guy next me had all of them. He was nuts and I was paranoid.

CJ Lyons said...

Mark! Thanks for the laugh! And of course, just because you're paranoid....

Chester Campbell said...

Fascinating interview. I liked the taking a long time to figure out the difference between fiction and reality as a kid. I always say my first fiction writing was on exams in school.

CJ Lyons said...

LOL! Chester, that's so right--school was definitely an exercise in fiction!

Vivian Zabel said...

CJ, hope med school wasn't an exercise in fiction. *laugh* That might be dangerous.

CJ Lyons said...

Ah, but Vivian, med school (after the first year) was hands on....that made all the difference, for me, at least.

Jean Henry Mead said...

Great interview, C.J. and Vivian. I wuld love to feature you on my Mysterious People blog, C.J. Your books are intriguing!

Jean Henry Mead

CJ Lyons said...

Thanks, Jean! I'd be honored to appear on Mysterious People. I'll email you.

Vivian Zabel said...

*does happy dance* My copy of Warning Signs arrived in the mail this afternoon.

I know what I'll be doing later: reading the book that keeps calling my name.

I'm so glad you're becoming better known all the time, CJ. I hope some day my books will make the rounds as well as yours are beginning and doing.

CJ Lyons said...

Aw shucks, Vivian, you're making me blush!!!

Margie Lawson said...

CJ -
I feel like I know Amanda, Gina, Nora, and Lydia so well, I have to remind myself they're your characters. :-)

I loved WARNING SIGNS! Strong story and strong writing craft!

A Dirt Dog robot? I'll have to check it out.

MAKE MINE MYSTERY Writers: I enjoyed your articles. I'll be back. ;-)

Jean -- I have Lee Lofland's Police Procedurals & Investigations book too. Great resource!

Vivian Zabel said...

Margie, I have a copy of Lee's book by my computer. It's one of my best reference books.

CJ does have a way of making her characters very real, doesn't she? I'm ready to delve back into their lives.

CJ Lyons said...

Hey Margie! Thanks for dropping by! I love my Dirt Dog--the cat isn't so sure about it though, lol!

Pat R. said...

I received a copy of Warning Signs from Jeff Cohen and I'm really enjoying it but I think I might be developing some symptoms myself. Hope I find out what is going wrong soon.

CJ Lyons said...

Hey Pat, now you know what all us med students went through.....

Vivian Zabel said...

I've started reading Warning Signs and hate to leave it to fix dinner. However, Hubby thinks he needs to eat. *sigh*

Thought since I had to take a break from reading I'd stop by and check how things are going. Looks good with lots of comments and CJ taking an active part.

Continue to have fun as I slave over a hot microwave.

Morgan Mandel said...

Hi CJ,
Having a good time yet?
I love your book cover.
By the way, I could never go to med school. I'd think I had everything in the books.

Morgan Mandel

CJ Lyons said...

Thanks, Morgan! I can't take any credit on the cover art--all I told Berkley was that since the premise was a real life doc writing about real life medicine, I thought a "real life" photo would be a nice change from using stock art.

Next thing I knew, the art director was emailing me, wanting to know more about the characters--she'd read the books but wanted more like, what would they wear outside of the hospital, what were their hobbies, etc....

Then this cover showed up with real people who look just like the people in my mind!!!


Anonymous said...

Oh I so love mysteries and Now I have someone new to read. Great!!! Thanks so much for the introduction.
Jo Ann Hernandez

CJ Lyons said...

Hi Jo Ann, thanks for stopping by!

Unknown said...


Great interview. I found it very informative. Thank you.

CJ Lyons said...

Thanks, Ben! Appreciate your stopping by!

Vivian Zabel said...

I'm so glad everyone is enjoying the interview. I enjoyed writing the questions and then reading CJ's answers. Almost as much as I enjoyed meeting her.

Dana Fredsti said...

Vivian, you're an amazing interviewer (you and Jean both rock!) and CJ is a great interviewee. I love the term "medicalstudentitis'...

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