CJ has been called a “master within the genre” by Pittsburgh Magazine and her work has been praised as “breathtakingly fast-paced and riveting” by Publishers Weekly.
Her novels have won the International Thriller Writers prestigious Thriller Award, the RT Reviewers’ Choice Award, Golden Gateway, Readers’ Choice Award, the RT Seal of Excellence, and Daphne du Maurier Award for Excellence in Mystery and Suspense.
A story-teller all her life, CJ has always created stories about people discovering the courage to make a difference. This led her to coin the term: Thrillers with Heart.
CJ has taught numerous live and online workshops,as well as given keynote speeches to audiences around the world and was the conference chairperson for the highly successful inaugural ITW ThrillerFest.
CJ Lyons Interview
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Books by CJ Lyons
CJ Lyons Transcript
Tim Knox: CJ Lyons is my guest today on the program. CJ is a former pediatric ER doctor turned novelist who now has 21 books to her credit, many of them bestsellers on the NY Times and USA Today lists, including the popular Lucy Guardino series which is probably what she’s best-known for at this point.
CJ has been called a master within the genre, her novels have won countless awards, countless fans, lots of readers.
She’s been a storyteller all her life, always creating stories about people discovering the courage to make a difference. This led her to coin the term “thrillers with a heart”.
This was a wonderful interview. CJ was very forthcoming in her advice and her opinions and if you are an author looking to break into this genre, the thrillers, crime novels, or really any genre CJ has a lot to say that you need to hear.
Here now is my interview with CJ Lyons, author of 21 novels, the Lucy Guardino series, on today’s Interviewing Authors.
Tim Knox: CJ, welcome to the program.
CJ Lyons: Hi, it’s great to be here.
Tim Knox: Great having you here. You and I have a whole lot to talk about today. Before we do though if you will, give the audience a little background on CJ Lyons.
CJ Lyons: Well I actually practiced pediatrics and pediatric emergency medicine for 17 years. I’m a native of Pennsylvania and then I left medicine to go on to become a New York Times bestselling thriller author and I have just released my 23rd book.
Tim Knox: Now how does one go from being a pediatrician to being an author?
CJ Lyons: A lot of hard work, a lot of hours. Writing takes more time, more hours spent than I used to spend when I worked at the office but it’s just as fulfilling in its own way. I think a lot of career people want to make that kind of transition. I get asked all the time by doctors and lawyers and nurses and all sorts of professionals but I just feel like they would much rather and be much happier pursuing creative arts instead of their current profession.
I’m the first to admit that the writing life is not for everyone. You have to be very much a self-starter, very disciplined and motivated and you have to kind of understand that it’s not all just sitting around eating Bon Bons and like Castle, playing poker every Thursday night. I wish it was but it’s not like that at all.
Tim Knox: I think that TV show, Castle, is a little misleading as far as being an author. Let’s go back in time if you will to even before you were a pediatrician. Were you always a writer, interested in writing?
CJ Lyons: Yes I was a storyteller from the get go. I spent a lot of time in time out when I was a little kid before I knew how to read or write. Parents and teachers would always comment that I perhaps had trouble telling the difference between truth and lies but in my mind I was just listening to the voices in my head and spinning tales. It’s always been my way of making sense of the world around me and of the chaos that sometimes engulfs us.
So I actually wrote my first novel – it was a young adult fantasy – in high school and then in medical school I wrote two science fiction novels. None of those will ever see the light of day, thank God. It’s just always, always been something that I’ve done and I really couldn’t stop, even with a 12 step program. It’s just part of who I am.
Thankfully it’s a very, very good thing for a doctor to understand stories, especially a pediatrician because half of our patients can’t talk to us and can’t tell us what’s going on so you have to learn how to kind of get that narrative flow from the families and fill in the blanks and kind of understand where they’re leading you. I think that really helped me to be a better physician. Of course having 17 years of life in the ER and out in the country, I mean we used to make house calls when I was a community pediatrician. That gave me a ton of stories to draw on. It was a wealth of information for my thrillers so it’s a win/win either way for me.
Tim Knox: Do you think the fact that you were such a creative little kid led you into pediatrics?
CJ Lyons: Yes, yes, that was a big part of it. I had no trouble relating to the kids. In fact I am definitely not a morning person and I used to love getting up in the morning when I had my pediatric rotations but I dreaded having to go to the adult clinics. Here’s the thing about adults and this happens when you’re in pediatrics as well because there’s always adults in kids’ lives and adolescence are like a whole different species to themselves.
With adults everyone lies, everyone complains and no one does what you tell them to do to get better anyway. I really, really did not enjoy working with adults at all as a physician. The kids, oh my gosh, how wonderful it would be just to get a smile out of a kid’s face when you fix their boo boo or be able to give parents some reassurance that everything was going to be okay or to be with them during those awful times when everything’s not okay. It was a real calling for me.
Tim Knox: One thing that I find really interesting that you just said was you really enjoy working with those patients, those little kids who really can’t tell you what’s wrong. You almost have to get in their head and I think that’s part of the creative process when it comes to writing, right?
CJ Lyons: Yes it is. I think the most important thing about a writer building their world… now a lot of people talk about this concept in science fiction and fantasy but I do think it’s applicable to any form of writing. If you really want to build a world that feels realistic and that draws the reader in no matter how outlandish you have the plot to be is if you can put yourself in the shoes of those characters and make the reader feel sympathy even to the most darkest, most heinous character that you can create. I think that’s where the reader starts to feel like the world is real and they’ll go anywhere you take them once you’ve captivated them and made those people come true.
To do that you have to understand human nature, which means a lot of empathy, a lot of understanding and asking yourself why would they do this? What’s their motivation? Why would someone do that? I think that’s why a lot of us writers turn to stories. It does help us make sense of the real world. Crazy things happen and it’s hard to understand why they happen unless you’re able to have that talent of kind of taking a step back and not to trivialize it but to turn it into a story, to turn it into something that our brains can grasp.
Tim Knox: I think that’s another great point. You’re not stepping out in faith. You’ve got to know why this happened, how this happened and how to explain it. That’s just the writer’s brain at work, right?
CJ Lyons: Yeah, in fact that’s where I’ll start every story is with the character and with whatever their central theme or problem’s going to be and that always, always starts off with motivation. So I guess in a way I’m kind of a method writer. I can’t really do a whole lot with characters until I understand why they’re doing what they’re doing and then I can make it hopefully feel very organic to the reader that they get why these characters are like this. To me that’s where every story starts.
Tim Knox: And a great writer can make even the most vile character have a little likability.
CJ Lyons: Well I don’t know if it’s likability. I would at least say that you see the humanity in them. You have some spark of understanding. This is maybe a good realistic example of when I was assigned the child abuse cases in the ER. One of the reasons was I could talk to the families that bring in these kids in a very nonthreatening manner. I actually was able to get confessions of abuse and even homicide from the perpetrators as I was getting my medical history because I was very non-judgmental and I would just listen and let them express it. I could sit there and kind of understand how – not condone it, but understand how someone could snap in the heat of the moment or lack the impulse control or whatever it was.
It was enough empathy that they would talk to me and they would tell me what really happened and I could record that as part of the medical history, which was a huge help to prosecutors down the road. But it also helped me as a doctor because then I could truly understand my patient’s histories and better treat them.
That empathy is different than sympathy. It’s different than condoning but I think if you can understand it the healing process kind of can take place better and it also helps prepare you when bad things happen in your own life.
Tim Knox: And having that empathetic slant I think for writers comes in handy when you are writing these characters.
CJ Lyons: Yeah I think it comes in handy for just about any character but especially bad guys. I tend to avoid getting into the point-of-view of my worst characters often because I truly don’t want the reader to have any empathy for them. I know a lot of thriller writers actually love writing from the point-of-view of the bad guy and I have done that a couple times but I try to save that for the kind of stories where I think having the reader understand the bad guy and have some empathy for his humanity and his flaws becomes important in terms of mirroring the hero’s journey. Every bad guy think they’re the hero of their own story. So I try to really save that. I try not to do that in every book. I save that for those stories where it’s really going to have the highest impact because it’s a pretty powerful technique to get someone to actually have some kind of empathy with a Hannibal Lector type of character.
Tim Knox: And I think there’s the tendency on behalf of some writers to try to almost explain the behavior by going back and looking at what caused them to be that way. To me sometimes that’s just a bit much because in the end they are still who they are.
CJ Lyons: Right. I mean a lot of writers… I mean remember I write crime fiction, suspense thrillers so a lot of my readers, part of their enjoyment comes from solving the puzzle of why characters did what they do. They like a few little tidbits of that. They don’t like to be totally in the dark. I’ve done two books now where I’ve left the readers pretty much totally in the dark as to the motivations of the bad guy and just let them live vicariously through what he actually did. They had motivations like getting paid and things like that but not the deep, dark psychological roots of their dysfunction. I’ve had readers that complained but I’ve had other readers that thought it was very refreshing. Yeah, that’s how it’d be in real life. You wouldn’t have all those answers.
The fact that the main characters, the good guys especially, are wondering about their answers kind of tells you a lot about them. I always try to use any of those kind of techniques as a reflection, as a mirror to get into the deeper aspects of the more impertinent characters which in some books is a bad guy in addition to the good guys but in a lot of my books it’s pretty much the good guys.
Tim Knox: Let’s go back a little bit once again because you said when you were in med school or practicing you wrote a couple novels that will never see the light of day. Can you at least tell us what those were?
CJ Lyons: They were just science fiction space operas. It was just fun. That was primarily what I read during those years. I didn’t turn to my first thriller or crime fiction until I was a pediatric intern at Children’s Hospital in Pittsburgh and one of my fellow interns was murdered. It was a very notorious crime. It made national headlines at the time. We just had a few days off and we had to get right back into the job of taking care of little babies and helping families while also dealing with this strange new world we found ourselves in after Jeff’s murder. That’s when I first wrote my first thriller, which ended up being Borrowed Time. When it was eventually published that actually hit the U.S.A. Today list.
Tim Knox: Was it based on that story or was that really just inspired you to go into that genre?
CJ Lyons: It wasn’t at all based on Jeff’s particular story. It was more based on my emotional chaos of can I still trust myself? Can I trust my judgment? Swept up in this emotional abyss that I found myself in and how do I heal? How do I get myself out of this? It’s a romantic thriller. Kate suddenly finds that she couldn’t trust anything about herself and this police officer has a near death experience and when she wakes up she can predict the death of other people if she touches them. So the other cops thinks she’s crazy. She can’t tell anyone because she’s fearful she’s going to lose her job and her livelihood. She thinks she might be going crazy.
So there’s a whole bunch of trust issues going on as well as kind of the who do we trust and how do we heal ourselves when something cataclysmic happens in our lives. You’ll find that kind of theme in a lot of my thrillers. It’s about moving forward despite grief or fear or just losing everything and kind of that never surrender, never give up attitude that allows ordinary people to become heroes.
Tim Knox: Right. You coined the term ‘thrillers with a heart’. Is that where that comes from?
CJ Lyons: Yeah I call my subgenre thrillers with a heart mainly because when I was first pitching my books to agents and editors it was really hard to describe them because they’re very fast-paced action oriented thrillers and I’ve been complimented on that by many review sources and awards and things like that but at the heart of each one there’s always a relationship. It could be a romantic relationship, a family relationship.
My most popular series, Lucy Gaurdino FBI thrillers, center on basically a Pittsburgh soccer mom who also happens to be a kickass FBI agent. She’s torn between when do you say no to your job when you’re saving kids’ lives and when do you say no to your family? That’s a very universal kind of dilemma that people find themselves in. Her relationships are very healthy. She’s got a very supportive husband. She loves her mom, her daughters. She’s not one of these FBI characters that are kind of the stereotypic recovering alcoholic driven by killers stalking them. I just wanted to see what would a normal mom do if she had this job? How would she react to all these terrible things that is surrounding her in her work and how would that impact her family?
That’s basically a lot of the kind of relationships that my books explore, an emotional heart. That’s why I coined the terms thrillers with heart. If you’re looking for an action packed Jack Reacher type thriller my books are not those. My books do have the action but it all comes with a very hefty helping of some hopefully realistic emotional relationship building in each story.
Tim Knox: That’s one thing that I really like about the Lucy Gaurdino series. She is a soccer mom. She’s just a normal lady. This is her job and this is how she handles it. She’s not going to Kung-Fu bad guys and jump off buildings and this sort of thing. She’s a normal person in a very extraordinary job.
CJ Lyons: What kills me is that sometimes reviewers will condemn Lucy as being a “superhero” and I’ll look and it’s like wait a minute. The only injury that she’s had that she’s gone back to work after, she got some stitches in her back. People are like, “I can’t believe she went back to work. She should have just gone home.” Jack Reacher could get shot three times!
In fact, in the same book I have a junior FBI agent break his arm, which usually you would not go back to work after that, and he shows up back to work and everyone cheers him. No one thinks twice about it. I just found that so ironic that women are held at such a different standard when you portray them in a realistic fashion. If I had been writing something like a Lara Croft Tomb Raider nobody would think twice about her getting back up to chase down the bad guys.
That’s kind of a neat thing about these books. She starts out with just having a wonderful life and slowly that life and her family relationships are kind of poisoned by the toxicity that comes from her job. She has to start making harder and harder decisions about where she’s going to sacrifice in her life – family or job or her own personal well-being. I just find that fascinating so I love writing her.
Tim Knox: When you came up with the idea for the first book did you debate on whether or not to do a male versus female lead?
CJ Lyons: No I had actually talked with a number of FBI agents, both male and female who had done this job, and it was amazing how their coping mechanisms and their stories were very identical. It wasn’t really a question of would one sex handle it differently than the other? No one had really done a realistic female FBI agent at the time and I just thought that was something that needed to be done. It would open up a lot of different kind of conflict for her that a male FBI agent perhaps wouldn’t have been so obvious.
Let’s face it. If a guy’s at work and he misses his daughter’s soccer practice no one’s going to think twice about it but if mom misses it she was the one who was supposed to bring the brownies and the snacks, she’s going to get all sorts of flack. I thought that would just give a little additional kind of social commentary by using a female protagonist.
Tim Knox: Let’s talk a little about how you brought the book to print. When you had the manuscript ready did you submit to agents? What was your process for bringing it to the market?
CJ Lyons: For Snake Skin I actually already had a couple books published by Berkley/Jove at the time so I had an agent. I knew this was something kind of special and different but my editor at Berkley/Jove didn’t actually want more thrillers from me. Her specialty is cozy mysteries and I just can’t write a cozy mystery to save my life. I find them very enjoyable but I’m not clever enough. I don’t have those kind of Sherlock Holmes type of plot ideas. Mine are much more driven by the people and their emotional arch than the crazy puzzle solving. So she wouldn’t have been interested in these books.
My agent and I talked and my agent thought this could go big so she took it out and we actually within 48 hours had a huge foreign sale to Germany. So we thought oh wow, this is great. This series will kind of sell itself. Unfortunately this was the end of 2009 or 2010 and that’s right when the New York City publishing kind of had their financial bubble burst and they started laying off a lot of people. A lot of the editors that loved this book suddenly no longer had a job.
It ended up just not selling to New York because the timing just kind of stunk but that was also when I started self-publishing because my Berkley/Jove books were coming out just once a year and my readers wanted books out faster. So I had several manuscripts that for various reasons, things like editors leaving or other problems, had been through New York City publishers but had never actually been published. They were copy edited and proofread and the whole nine yards so I thought I had the rights to these books so why not use them? Help keep my readers happy and hopefully they’ll remember me when the next traditionally published book comes out.
Well that was a real turning point for me because within a year I was paying the bills with the self-published stuff and within a year and a half I was making more in a month from self-publishing than I was in a year from New York City even though I was still getting really good New York City contracts. So I love this ability to create some synergy and to keep my readers happy by providing them both forms of published novels.
Tim Knox: Are you still doing both forms?
CJ Lyons: Yes I am. Right now it’s mainly my young adult thrillers that are coming out from a New York City publisher and I’m pretty much doing most of the other thrillers on my own. Each book my agent and I discuss and we kind of decide what would be the best plan for this particular book. She’s always chatting me up with editors and publishers so she knows what they’re looking for and what they would like to see from that they really think they could help break out. We kind of make that decision on a book by book basis.
Tim Knox: At what point did you take that leap to take what was I’m sure a very fulfilling career to become a full time writer?
CJ Lyons: I took that leap a little soon. For everyone listening, don’t do what I did, okay? I was a physician. I had cut backs from full time to part time, which for community pediatrics meant going from 70 hours a week working to 40 hours a week. By carving out that extra time I used that time to write. I thought if I really want to do this as a second career then I need to treat it like a career, like a profession and carve out time for it and get serious.
At the same time I started saving my money and cutting down on living expenses in the hopes that someday I would sell and have a couple contracts and be able to make a leap of faith. By the time I had two New York City contracts I decided this is it; I’m going to go ahead and do it. So I moved 1,000 miles away from home. I quit my job. I was unemployed for the first time since I was 15. 90 days before the book was supposed to come out the publisher cancelled it.
Tim Knox: What did you do? How freaked out was that?
CJ Lyons: It was bad. It was very bad because I had already spent at their urging a ton of money. I had set up speaking engagements. You have to understand this book was my dream debut. It was supposed to come out in hardcover. It had been sold at pre-empt so it made pretty good money on it. It had endorsements from 12 New York Times bestselling authors. It had wonderful pre-sales from Barnes & Noble and Borders.
What happened was the pre-sales were based on the book. No one had seen the cover art and when they finally saw the cover art the booksellers were like we can’t sell a hardcover book by an unknown author with this cover art. You need to go back to the drawing board.
Tim Knox: Was this Snake Skin?
CJ Lyons: No this was originally called Blink of an Eye and it ended up being published as Nerves of Steel.
Tim Knox: What was wrong with the cover art in their opinion?
CJ Lyons: It was very bad. My agent and I had problems with it all along. It was shades on shades of vile green, including all the writing on the inside flaps and including Sandra Brown’s cover quote on the outside. You basically got nauseous if you dared to pick up this book and look at it. It was awful. I could totally understand why the booksellers were like that. Unfortunately the publisher couldn’t and they said we’ve got an award winning art department and we stand by them. We’ll just cancel the book with no thought of my career. That wasn’t important.
Tim Knox: So they actually rather than change the cover art they killed the book.
CJ Lyons: Yes.
Tim Knox: That’s incredible to me. That ticks me off on your behalf.
CJ Lyons: That’s the way publishing works.
Tim Knox: Yeah, wow.
CJ Lyons: That was a big lesson for me because here I had left anything. I didn’t have a job. I didn’t have an income. Thank God I had my savings. What I did during that period was I wrote. Thankfully other editors had read some of the advanced review copies for the book that was cancelled and they liked my writing style so a publisher from Penguin Putnam called me up and asked if I’d be willing to create a series just for them, something aimed towards the 18 to 34 year old female audience. So that’s where my Angels of Mercy series spun to life.
To kind of tell you that karma has a sense of humor, the book that I wrote during that terrible time when I didn’t know if I would ever have a career as a writer was Blind Faith and that’s the book that hit #2 in the New York Times bestseller list. I sold a quarter of a million copies in a couple months, won the ITW Thriller Award, won the Reader’s Choice Award.
I self-published the book that was cancelled and that book has actually earned me back tons more money than I ever would have made if I had stuck with the New York City publisher. So it turned out to be a win/win. It just didn’t seem like that at the time. I definitely had to gear up and just drive on through it. Like I said, writing’s always been my way of coping with the outside world so that turned into a very fortuitous thing.
Tim Knox: Do you ever think about if they hadn’t killed that book, do you think you would have written Blind Faith?
CJ Lyons: Honestly no. I probably would not have written Blind Faith. I probably would have been pigeon holed as a midlist medical thriller. They probably never would have let me write anything that wasn’t a medical thriller. I would have probably already been dropped and be wondering why? What happened to my career?
Instead I took that impetus to learn about the business. I was a pediatrician. I didn’t even balance my checkbook. I started reading like Seth Godin’s blog and books like Start with Why and Copyblogger and all these wonderful business blogs to learn. Again, this goes back to the writer. You want to understand the motivations. So it’s like why would they have made this decision? What could I have done differently? How could I have motivated them differently? How could I reach an audience? What was kind of cool was that the key impact of learning all this at the same time that self-publishing became so accessible and easy to do, I was way ahead of the game when it came to starting over as basically the CEO of my own global media empire.
Tim Knox: I hear that a lot from authors that have reached a certain amount of success. You have to treat it like a business because that’s really what it is now.
CJ Lyons: You have to start from day one. Don’t wait. I see so many authors that sign bad contracts because they thought that was the road to success but they didn’t understand how the business worked. So they didn’t understand when they had “great contracts with a great publisher and great contracts” but they’re losing their house or not paying the taxes.
They just don’t understand that the life of a book in New York City from acceptance and being offered a contract to publication can be two to three years. Say you’re given a $100,000 advance and you’re paid three installments. That’s like $33,000 a year before taxes, before your agent takes 15% and if you have a family and a mortgage that’s not a living wage.
Tim Knox: One thing you talked about there… I don’t know if you know Chris Farnsworth. I was interviewing him and he was talking about all the highs and lows of his career and he would have these wonderful things that looked like they’re about to happen and then they wouldn’t happen. He talked about the ability to handle that rollercoaster and I think that’s what you’re saying to. It’s not all wine and roses and unicorns. There’s a lot of unexpected disappointments and other things that you have to deal with as an author.
CJ Lyons: Yeah and I think it’s really important to develop a thick skin because right away with print runs and cover art that you have no control over and then you start getting reviews and sometimes the reviewers are just in a bad mood. They think you’re the personal punching bag or something. Nowadays authors are being asked to take responsibility for all the marketing as well and if you’re unprepared for that, which I totally was and I still am; I actually don’t do a lot of marketing. I think your best marketing is just sitting down and writing the next book keeping your readers happy but a lot of authors are just totally flummoxed by that and it can put them in a tailspin where they have a hard time writing.
Of course if you don’t get the words on the page and you don’t have a next book readers are going to walk away and forget you. It becomes a real catch 22 if you don’t look at it as a business, if you don’t take the time to figure out what kind of schedule works for you or not, how to be disciplined and get the word count done, that kind of thing. You really have to know yourself and a lot of people aren’t comfortable with that kind of reflection on their motives and on what kind of person they really are when it comes around to sitting at home with no one looking over your shoulder making you punch a time clock and getting the work done.
Tim Knox: One thing that I find really interesting, and I’ve been an entrepreneur for 30 years and I’ve done a lot of entrepreneurial teaching. When I started Interviewing Authors I started seeing these parallels between authors and entrepreneurs and the mindset that it’s your business, you’ve got to get in there every day, do the work whether you like it or not and really writing books is the same way. Do you have a set schedule every day? What is your process to write?
CJ Lyons: Again, don’t do what I do but I have no set schedule. I don’t write every day. I don’t have a word count. I don’t keep track of a word count. I’m very undisciplined. I’m also a seat of the pants writer that just as often will write the last scene in the book and go backwards then the first scene and go forward. I think that’s because of all those years I spent in the ER tied to a beeper and a firm schedule. I kind of have this innate discipline or maybe it’s just kind of a competitive nature.
All I need is a deadline, even if it’s a self-imposed deadline. If I have a deadline I will beat it every time. That’s all I need but I know myself and I k now I can do that. I think where some people go wrong is that they listen to what works for other people without examining their own psychology and understanding what motivates them and also not just what the stick is but what’s their carrot. What keeps them going? What makes them get through a bad time or stressful period?
Tim Knox: I think that’s a really good point. You say you know yourself and you know what you’re capable of and you’re very competitive when it comes to deadlines. Really that sort of thing depends on you and how self-disciplined you are and your personality and all of these other things. Did you really the frenetic pace of the ER when you were practicing?
CJ Lyons: Oh yeah, that did not bother me at all. In fact I enjoyed that every day was different and that’s one of the things I enjoy about being a writer. I might have a day where I’m traveling and speaking all day so I get no writing done but it’s still a great day. That kind of spontaneity really appeals to me and I do not do well with structure and with schedules. I rebel against them and that’s when the work doesn’t get done. For me, understanding myself was the key to being able to be more productive.
Tim Knox: You’ve written four different series. You’ve got the Lucy books, the Heart and Drake, Shadow Ops, Angels of Mercy. What attracts you to the series writing?
CJ Lyons: I love taking a character and pushing them further and further with each book. The Lucy books are going very dark and edgy in particular. Heart and Drake is the story of a relationship. It starts with a couple from when they first lay eyes on each other until they actually make a commitment in book three and I’ve had a ton of readers say… she actually proposes to him in book three. “We really want the wedding story.” So I am going to do one more Heart and Drake that’s going to be their wedding disaster. After that, they’ve kind of earned their happily ever after so that will be it for them.
Tim Knox: You’re not going to do a Heart and Drake 10 years down the road where they’ve got four kids and never have time for each other?
CJ Lyons: You know, maybe but I’m always looking for something that’s fresh and different. If I start getting bored then I fear that the readers will as well. Again that’s why I coined the term ‘thrillers with heart’ is because no two of my books are the same, even if you look in the same series. Snake Skin, the first Lucy book, is just a balls to the wall action packed thriller but then Blood Stained, the next book, is very much dark psychological suspense.
Each book is a little different because I get bored. I know that turns some readers off because a lot of readers want to read the same thing over and over just slightly different and I have to be honest with them. I can’t give them that. Like Janet Evanovich is on like book 21. Anyone that loves her stuff will say, “Oh they’re the same but I can’t get enough of them. Just like every M&M is the same but I love them and I can’t get enough of them.” I wish I could do that. That certainly would make life kind of in a way easier for my readers but I’m too ADD. I can’t do it. My poor readers never know what they’re going to get when the next book comes out. I kind of keep them on their toes that way. That’s probably also why I don’t have as big an audience as Janet Evanovich.
Tim Knox: Isn’t that part of the fun though? You may have not as big a singular audience but you have multiple audiences.
CJ Lyons: And honestly most of my core audience is very loyal and I love them for it. They get it and as Seth Godin puts it, they’re my kind of weird. They want to explore the dark secret sides of the human psyche and relationships and how they can fall apart and how you can heal them. They love doing that in the setting of a very high stake thriller and I can give them that. It’s not going to read like the same book every time but they like it. They’re probably ADD too; I don’t know.
So it’s not really about trying to write to please everyone, which I think is kind of a rookie mistake. Writing to please your audience and understanding why they are drawn to your books and what reward they get from spending their time and their money and their attention on reading your books because it really is an investment. Just like a stock market investment, you have to be able to give them that payoff.
Tim Knox: That’s one thing about the internet is really it’s made it much easier for the reader and the writer to build a relationship. You are more accessible now as a writer than you would have been 20 or 30 years ago. I think that kind of helps you build those relationships with those readers who will be faithful to you no matter what.
CJ Lyons: Yeah, the internet has definitely been helpful that way because I am pretty much other than going out for research trips and speaking engagements, I’m a hermit. I don’t go out there and do a lot of book signings or events. I don’t do marketing. I don’t do a lot of Twitter or Facebook so the fact that my readers know they can send me an email and I will get back to them and we have that line of communication. Some of my most devout readers are on my street team. I did go ahead last year and broke down and setup a special Facebook group. That way they can also chat among themselves even if I’m busy writing and I can’t get around to playing social. I’m definitely not the best hostess or marketing person out there. As an extreme introvert it’s not my skill set.
Tim Knox: What are you working on now?
CJ Lyons: Actually right now I’m working on the next Lucy Guardino book called Hard Fall and it should be out in September once we finish the edits. It’s really dark just to warn everyone. It’s very dark. Lucy’s entire life changes with this book. I think readers are going to find it rewarding. Then in October comes the first of my Renegade Justice Series called Fight Dirty and that features everyone’s favorite teenage sociopath, Morgan, who I introduced in the second Lucy book. Then in November my next YA thriller, Watched, comes out. This is a really busy time of year for me.
Tim Knox: It sounds like it. It’s a good thing you have ADD because it’s serving you very well.
CJ Lyons: Yeah actually if you learn how to harness it, you get a ton of stuff done.
Tim Knox: Exactly. CJ Lyons, a wonderfully prolific author. Tell us where we can find more about you and order your books.
CJ Lyons: Well you can learn more about my fiction at CJLyons.net and if you’re a writer and you’re looking for tips on self-publishing or just publishing in general I share everything I learn at my NoRulesJustWrite.com site.
Tim Knox: Very good. We will put links to all of those on our page. CJ, this has been a pleasure. Will you come back and talk to us when the next book is out?
CJ Lyons: Absolutely, as long as I have time I’m happy to do it.
Tim Knox: If we can coax you out of your cave.
CJ Lyons: My hermit cave, yeah.
Tim Knox: CJ, thank you so much.
CJ Lyons: Thank you.