Killer Year–The Class of 2007

Sparks and Synchronicity
July 25, 2006, 6:00 am
Filed under: CJ Lyons

Ever wonder where writers get their ideas? For me it’s usually from very ordinary places—except my mind seems to file things away and then retrieve them in wonderful new combinations.

It all starts with the ability to keep asking “what if.”

For instance, my current work in progress, a psychological thriller titled BLIND FAITH, began with a newspaper story. A woman traveling along I-80, searching for the graves of her two children. Her ex-husband had kidnapped the children and confessed to killing them but didn’t pinpoint the site where he buried them before he killed himself. Her need for closure, her quest to bring her babies home was clear even in the grainy photo that accompanied the story.

Wow. I couldn’t stop thinking about her and her odyssey. As a pediatrician I work with families dealing with death and near-death on a frequent basis, but this woman’s story really touched a chord in me. I have had a too-close association with violent death, so I understood first hand how grief could push a person into such a passionate pursuit for the truth.

I also wondered at the ultimate betrayal her ex-husband, a man who presumably once loved her and his children, had wrought. What could drive a person to do that, to destroy their family?

I followed her story in our local small town newspaper. Then Katrina hit. Another big wow! Yes, the death and destruction was devastating in its enormity. But what I couldn’t stop thinking about was the number of children separated from their families, torn away from everyplace and everyone they knew.

At the time, I was working with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children ( to set up my charity program, Buy a Book, Make a Difference (for more information go to my website, I learned that there were over 4800 kids reported missing, a good portion of whom were identified and reunited with their families thanks to the good people at the NCMEC.

Then I heard about all the sexual predators who also fled from New Orleans—most of whom were still at large. Combine this with the images of over-crowded, under-policed shelters and the ideas began to coalesce.

What if….what if a woman is called upon to witness the execution of the serial killer who has confessed to killing her husband and son? What if he dies without telling her where he has buried them?

What if she vows to find their graves and instead discovers that her husband is still alive?

What if she learns everything she believes is a lie? What if the only person she can trust is the man who betrayed her…her husband?

That’s all I had when I began writing BLIND FAITH a few months ago—quite frankly it’s more than I usually have! I knew it would be a dark, edgy novel, filled with betrayals and intrigues. A novel where nothing could be taken for granted, where no one was the person they appeared to be. Where dark secrets would be unearthed and the lives of every character would be forever changed. But also an uplifting novel of courage and strength and perseverance, and most of all, revealing that we each have the power to choose. To choose to have faith, to choose to love, to choose to forgive.

I didn’t know the ending until I was around 300 pages into it. But that’s what I love about writing, the surprise of seeing what will happen next. I find this journey of discovery the most exciting part of writing, those days when every scene I write unveils another piece of the puzzle.

It all begins with a spark fueled by small intersections of serendipitous happenings. That and asking, “what if?”

Have you ever experienced this kind of synchronicity? Times when things found their way into your consciousness exactly when the time was right? People who appeared in your life just in time to spark inspiration?

Maybe the most important part of being a writer is learning to recognize and appreciate these everyday sparks that others neglect?

Thanks for reading!


Cathryn J Lyons, MD

No one is immune to danger…

BLINK OF AN EYE “is a perfect blend of romance and suspense.” –Sandra Brown


6 Comments so far
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I’ve had a lot of things come along at the right time and trigger something. I do think writers tend to be deep thinkers. Maybe we just have a way of pressing the pause button on life and examing things from different angles and therefore seeing what others don’t, or don’t know how to express.

Ideas really are everywhere. I got several story ideas just yesterday, and all I did was sit, cry, dream of sleep and stare out of windows on various modes of transport for about 24 hours straight.

That’s why, when I travel, I always keep notepaper handy.

Great post CJ! Damn, it’s good to be catching up with Killer Year!

Comment by Sandra Ruttan

Maybe the most important part of being a writer is learning to recognize and appreciate these everyday sparks that others neglect?

CJ, this is such an insighful statement. I truly believe that we do look at the world differently, always seizing the minutiae that others discard and ignore to build a story upon.
That said, anything from a caterpillar to a murder can spark an idea for me. Poor hubby knows when the idea has struck — I go blank eyed and slack jawed and start talking to myself. Strangers generally edge away…
The new book sounds outstanding.
And welcome home, Sandra!!!

Comment by JT Ellison

You know, the story for my first novel (which I’m still off and on working on… took a break to focus on short stories and try to get published a little) came literally, and I know that this may sound weird (though y’all are writers, so it may not), when a little girl, with a slight southern accent, in overalls and short cropped hair and dirty feet sat on the edge of my brain as if she were merely sitting on the end of a dock and said, “Hi, I’m Lizard. I think you should tell my story.” And I wrote the first couple of chapters without even taking a breath. Then it slowed down as I had to figure out plot and outline etc., which really was difficult for me since it was my first ever attempt at a novel. But to date, she is still one of my favorite characters and I have every intention of finishing the novel. While working on short stories, I also do research for the novel so that when I’m ready to go back to it I’ll be well versed in what I need to know to write it!

Comment by mai wen

This is a fascinating post, CJ! The process as you describe feels so familiar, yet I also loved reading how you created connections between different ideas and built them up. Really interesting!

My current WIP is actually based upon a dream. Not my dream though, my wife’s dream. She woke up one morning and said, “I had a dream that would make a great book and you should write it.” She then described it to me, and I started working with the idea and making it my own.

The only problem with that is that as I expanded on her idea and added my own notions, she had objections. “No, you’re getting it wrong. THIS is what’s supposed to happen.”

Oops. Well, it was her dream. But she’s liking how it’s going now. True, she’s my wife, but it’s been very gratifying to have her complain that I’m not writing fast enough!

Comment by Bill Cameron

Your novel sounds fascinating, CJ.

I agree with the others, writers do seem to develop special antennae for ideas, courtesy of a story in the paper, a random object found in the pocket of an old jacket or even an odd act done by a friend.

(In fact, in my novel Deliver Us From Evelyn, the entire “non-dairy creamer — flammable or not?” subplot was inspired by real events in the office. But it turns out a little differently in the book.)


Comment by Chris Well

[…] Sometimes it’s a broad theme that I want to explore. For instance, the standalone I just finished, BLIND FAITH (a woman searches for the graves of her murdered husband and son only to discover they’re still alive) revolves around the theme of betrayal. Check out my last post (Sparks and Synchronicity) for more details on how this story evolved and where the idea came from. […]

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