Killer Year–The Class of 2007


FAQ
July 19, 2006, 9:23 am
Filed under: CJ Lyons, Killer Year Members, Uncategorized

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!
CJ

Cathryn J Lyons, MD
No one is immune to danger.
BLINK OF AN EYE, Tor 2007

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7 Comments so far
Leave a comment

Thanks for sharing the heart behind your work, CJ.

Comment by Chris Well

Thanks, Chris. Guess I kind of wear that heart on my sleeve But they say write what you’re passionate about.

Comment by cj

when i first started writing thrillers and police procedurals, i felt a little guilty because i was afraid the books exploited victims and glorified killers. but then i realized many people have a need to expose, uncover, and look at what they fear. i wonder if it makes us feel a little more in control of something we have little or no control over.

Comment by anne frasier

Good point, Anne. Maybe that’s why so many people are attracted to crime fiction and suspense. The need to look into the abyss in a venue that is perfectly safe for them.

Very interesting take on it!

Comment by cj

And to expand on Anne’s point, I think many people read crime and suspense fiction because justice is frequently at the center of the stories. Bad people may not always get caught, but there is almost always some component of explication and consequence of bad acts. In real life, too often that’s not the case. So we face the darkness in fiction in order to see it defeated. One might even argue that the most grim crime fiction is the most escapist — it lets us be a part of a justice that we don’t see often enough in everyday life.

Thanks for the fascinating post, CJ!

Comment by Bill Cameron

Great point, Bill! It’s funny, but so many people immediately jump on me saying they would never, ever be able to read a novel where anything bad happens to a kid.

Yet, several of these same people have read my work (including my sister and editor, lol!) and when they finish all they talk about is the way the characters were inspired to take action and fight for justice–as if they get so caught up in the transformation of “ordinary” people into heroes that they forget that verbotten subject matter.

I think you may have just revealed why that happens–thanks!

Comment by cj

You make it all sound very honorable, CJ. Thank you for that.

Me, I just exploit victims and glorify killers… 🙂

Comment by Robert Gregory Browne




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