Every author gets asked questions: where do you get your ideas, how long does it take to write a novel, can you help me get published?
For some reason, the questions people ask me most frequently tend to take on a different angle. It all started with David Morrell. Ever since he’s met me in person, he can’t resist teasing me with variations on “how’d a nice girl like you ever get mixed up in this business?”
Point of clarification: David’s not talking about my writing thrillers. He’s talking about my day job as a pediatric ER doc. He knows I’ve ridden in helicopters, almost crashed twice (they call them “hard landings” when you walk away, BTW); that I’ve worked in some of the busiest trauma centers on the East coast; that I’ve dealt with cases of child homicide and rape; and I’ve pretty much seen the worst and the best of our society.
It doesn’t help that I’m about 5’3″ and fairly petite and soft-spoken. Makes it hard to imagine me facing down gang-bangers or cracking chests. Much less writing edgy, visceral crime fiction.
My answer when he or anyone asks, is pretty much the same as what I say when people ask why I write thrillers: someone’s got to stand up for the little guy.
My fiction does tackle pretty dark issues, especially dealing with crimes involving children. So that usually leads to the next question people ask: how can you write about kids getting hurt?
In my line of work, I’ve seen way too many kids get hurt—often by the people they love and trust. It’s an ever increasing problem in our world and one that I refuse to ignore. But I also refuse to use children in jeopardy as a hook. It’s a tricky tightrope: illustrating a very real problem that needs addressed while avoiding gratuitous violence on the page.
I think I accomplish this by revealing the emotional impact of violence and its consequences rather than focusing on the graphic details.
So my answer to how I can write about this subject sounds suspiciously like my first answer: someone’s got to stand up for the little guy.
The next question that follows often is: do I use any of my real life patients in my fiction?
That answer’s easy. No. But do I use their circumstances, combine cases, use scenarios that have actually happened to me or my colleagues? Sure, but quite frankly, real life is so much more bizarre than anything I could ever imagine (see Gregg’s post from last week to confirm this!) that often I need to tone it down for fiction.
What I try to stay true to is the emotional heart of these scenarios—how they affected the patients, the medical personnel, the families, the other responders (cops, medics, etc). In my novels, just like the real world, there are consequences to getting involved. The good guys may win in the end, but there’s always a price to pay.
Many readers see fiction as an escape. So why create a world not so different from our own? Because in my world, people find the courage to get involved, despite the consequences. And these everyday heroes, my heroes, stand up and fight for the little guy.
Something I wish happened more often in the real world.
Any more questions?
Thanks for reading!
Cathryn J Lyons, MD
No one is immune to danger.
BLINK OF AN EYE, Tor 2007
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