His first novel, God’s Lions-The Secret Chapel, is currently in pre-production for a major motion picture.
The first novel was followed by three sequels: God’s Lions-House of Acerbi, God’s Lions-The Dark Ruin, and the much-anticipated fourth book in the series, God’s Lions- Realm of Evil, all of which made it to the number one spot in several genres on the Kindle bestseller list.
John came to the world of writing later in life after several careers that gave him great insight into the human condition and provided him with fertile soil from which to draw his characters.
John Lyman Interview
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Books by John Lyman
John Lyman Transcript
Tim Knox: John, welcome to the program.
John Lyman: Well it’s great to be here. Thank you for inviting me.
Tim Knox: I’m very excited to have you here. We have a lot to talk about. Before we get started, if you will, give the audience a little background on John Lyman.
John Lyman: Okay, well basically I came to writing later in life. For all practical purposes I’m retired from my past career. I was a police officer and an ER nurse, a trauma flight nurse for several years. I started writing later in life like I said and, yeah, I don’t really know what to add to that.
Tim Knox: So you started writing later in life. Were you always a writer though? Did you always write when you were younger or did you truly just start later?
John Lyman: Well actually I got the writing bug my senior year of high school. I had a fantastic English teacher, Mrs. Moore, who I will be eternally grateful to. She kind of told me I had something there. I’m not a classically trained writer. In other words I didn’t major in English in college or get a Fine Arts degree. I guess I would have to say I was more of a self-taught writer.
That being said, it all comes from doing a lot of reading and living life experiences. I think that helps writers later on, who start later on in life. I think that helps quite a bit because you have a lot more to draw from as a storyteller.
Tim Knox: That’s a really great point. I’ve talked to a lot of writers that did start 50’s, 60’s, even older than that and that’s one thing they tell me. They have a lot of life experience that they can call on to write stories.
John Lyman: It’s true and especially when you get to character development. My years as a policeman and as an ER nurse, you learn a lot about the human condition in those fields and that’s fertile ground for character development. I try not to personalize anything. My characters are usually a combination of a lot of people. I think a lot of writers do that.
Tim Knox: As you were going over this career when you were a police officer and a nurse, you didn’t write at all during that period?
John Lyman: No I never did.
Tim Knox: Did you ever think about it?
John Lyman: I did. I thought about it but you’re working and sometimes you’re working two jobs and writing kind of falls to the background. One day you wake up and you’re a little older and you’re like if I don’t do it now, it’s not going to get done.
Tim Knox: I actually had an author tell me one time that life is the great killer of literature.
John Lyman: It can be. The more you have going on, the more you have to start saying, “I’m going to have to shut the door today.”
Tim Knox: Once you did retire what was the decision you made to formally become a writer? What was that process?
John Lyman: I think what most authors want to hear, people who are just starting out especially, is that I didn’t give up my day job when I wrote my first book. I was approaching that stage in my career where I was going to retire but I wrote on my days off and early in the morning, late at night.
It’s an interesting story actually about how the first book came about if you want to hear that. I was living in Hawaii at the time and I was laying on the beach reading a book about the Bible code. It’s a nonfiction book. I thought that’s a real interesting premise for a fiction novel. So I sat down and wrote the first 25 pages, threw them in a drawer and didn’t look at them for a while.
My mother came to visit and was in the guest room. She pulled the 25 pages out and read them and the next day she’s saying, “You really need to finish this because I have to know what’s going to happen.” So I did. I played with it a while and kept going and I finally finished it.
You reach that block that every new writer faces, especially someone who’s never written anything, never been published. You’ve got to find an agent because the old days of sending a manuscript to the publisher, those days are over. You have to go through an agent to get through to a major publisher. You get books on how to write query letters and how to do this and how to get an agent and all of that and it’s just a pretty daunting experience. I didn’t want to go that route. I thought this is too big of a hurdle. I’m at this stage of the game.
Right at the same time Amazon KDP was coming. It allows you to publish your own work right there on Amazon. So I got a good graphics designer for my cover and published on Amazon. It started out slowly. I think the first month I sold four books. Don’t get discouraged, guys. It comes slowly. The overnight success is really like five years in the making.
It slowly built and word of mouth really I think is what links you to your readers. If somebody reads it and likes it they tell somebody else. The next thing you know on Amazon your book’s being compared to other books. If you like this book you can buy this book. Next thing I know I was linked to like 80 other books. I think that’s how people found my first book.
Tim Knox: So what year was that?
John Lyman: That was 2009.
Tim Knox: So that was a lifetime ago in internet years.
John Lyman: Well yeah. I think I got in at a good time because there weren’t that many self-published authors out there at the time. Since then I’ve written the other three books in the series. There’s four books in the God’s Lions series. By the time I got to the third book I was able to actually quit my nursing job because I was making more as an author than I was as a nurse.
As an answer to your original question, that’s kind of when I made the decision. If I’m getting paid and I’m making a living at it, I guess I can call myself an author now.
Tim Knox: Sure, and how old were you when that happened?
John Lyman: I’m 64 now. I just turned 64 so that would be about three years ago.
Tim Knox: So not too late in life. You got another 30, 35, 40 years ahead of you.
John Lyman: I hope so.
Tim Knox: Let’s talk a little about that first book. It was called God’s Lions: The Secret Chapel. As you said it was inspired… I remember the book you’re talking about. It was about a code that was discovered in the Old Testament. You actually took what was a nonfiction story and added characters and plot and turned it into a really interesting first book.
What was that process like for you? Talk a little about creating your characters and actually giving some plot to this story.
John Lyman: Well you have the beginnings of a great story with the Bible Code by itself. It’s hard for me to tell people how I develop my characters and how I plot it out because I do it a little differently from what I’ve read other authors do.
You read a book and a lot of new authors do this, I did it, but you’ll read a book on how to write a novel. When you get through you’re kind of scratching your head like if I have to read a book on how to write a novel maybe I shouldn’t even be doing this.
They tell you to do things like make an outline and make cards with all the attributes of your characters – what color their hair is and what they do for a hobby and what their favorite food is. I’m like if you don’t have that feeling inside, if you don’t know your character and you’re not able to have these things come out as you write then you probably don’t have any business in writing a fiction story.
My story comes out as I write. I starting writing and that’s the way it comes out and the plot develops as I write. I actually have no idea how it’s going to end when I start.
Tim Knox: So you don’t do the outline, the bullet points, the whole nine yards.
John Lyman: No I don’t do any of that. I can’t. I’ve tried it and it just doesn’t work. I think it makes for a better story if it comes from somewhere inside and it develops. I wake up every day when I write and I can’t wait to find out what’s going to happen today.
Tim Knox: I think there are two camps. There are the ones who feel like you do and then there are the ones that are fundamentals and structure and that sort of thing. I happen to agree with you. When I write it really does just flow off the top of my head but there are times when I go back and read it and go what was I thinking that day? How much rewriting and editing do you do?
John Lyman: A lot. When you’re writing like that it’s almost stream of consciousness so then you have to go back the next day and you’re right – you say what was I thinking? I go back and edit things I wrote the day before, before I continue on with my next work.
Tim Knox: You don’t want to beat those pages to death but you have to make sure they flow.
John Lyman: Right, yeah. Sometimes if you put the work aside for a while, it’s always a good idea and come back to it. You’ll spot some things that just don’t jive. When you’re through of course that’s when the real editing begins.
Tim Knox: How much do you enjoy the editing process?
John Lyman: Oh my gosh.
Tim Knox: That’s a loaded question.
John Lyman: I think you know the answer to that. Actually it’s good because it keeps you out of trouble. Sometimes you’ll find a plot element that doesn’t match, aside from all the typo things and grammar things.
Tim Knox: When you started writing this book you said you wrote the first 25 pages. Were you surprised at the fact that you were actually sitting there writing a book finally?
John Lyman: It just felt really natural. I was enjoying myself. I had some days off and it just felt really natural and I was enjoying the process. I think to be a writer you have to enjoy it. There are some days where I spend three hours writing and there are other days I spend seven hours writing. It depends on where I’m at. It’s an escape too. For a guy who spends his day alone in a room in front of a word processor with cat, you’re kind of in your own little world and it’s fun.
Tim Knox: When you wrote the first book did you have any idea that you would make it into a series? You’re, what, four books in now?
John Lyman: Yeah. I never planned on making it a series. Actually that came from my readers. I get a lot of fan mail, which is very nice. For the most part they’re just great people and they wanted more. They fell in love with the characters. I had already started playing around with the idea of a second book anyway and it just kind of flowed.
Tim Knox: Tell us a little about your main characters in the book.
John Lyman: Well the book starts off… I actually wrote the prologue after I’d written the first 10 chapters of the book. So the book starts off with an event that happens in the Negev Desert back in the 1940s. I don’t want to give the story away but it’s just the prologue. Anyone who goes on Amazon can download a free sample of the book and read the prologue.
But there’s a British Army unit that meets an unusual fate; let’s just put it that way. Then it switches forward to modern day in chapter one and you’ve got a Jesuit Catholic priest by the name of Father Leopold Amodoe, who’s racing through the airport at New York trying to catch a midnight flight to Rome because he’s been called to the Vatican by a friend.
Basically that’s where he finds out, when he arrives in Rome, about his friend working with an Israeli mathematician by the name of Lev Wesserman, who’s a fictional character but he’s based on real life people, Israeli mathematicians who discovered the code.
Leo, to me, he’s a protagonist. He’s strong in his faith. He has a definite belief between right and wrong. He’s a strong character in that respect. He comes from a small town in Pennsylvania where his father worked in the coal mines, a working class family. He grew up with those kinds of values and ended up getting a scholarship to Georgetown and from there he became a priest.
Then you have Father Morelli, who’s just kind of a jovial character, a best friend of his who’s also an archeologist at the Vatican. There’s just so many characters in the book. It would take me forever to go through all of them but Morelli and Leo and there’s a young seminarian that joined them by the name of John. They discover a secret chapel in Rome and from there that leads them on to a greater adventure that goes on to Israel and they meet the other characters in the story.
Tim Knox: When you wrote the book you said you didn’t intend to make it a series. Is the first book a standalone book? Does it end with a cliffhanger?
John Lyman: It is a standalone book and that’s one of the things I wanted them all to be. If someone picked up book number two they wouldn’t necessarily have had to read the first book, although it would make it better. But it is a standalone book. I got a lot of mail saying there’s room here for you to keep going so I obliged them.
Tim Knox: It’s always nice when the audience wants more, to give them more.
John Lyman: It’s very complimentary. I respond to each and every fan mail personally. I don’t believe in not doing that. Some of the fans have become friends and internet friends and a couple of them have even become test readers.
Tim Knox: At what point did you, I guess the term I use a lot with other authors is at what point did you feel validated? You were writing these books and making sales but was there a point when you looked around and went, wow, I’m actually an author?
John Lyman: I think that goes back to when I was able to retire off the money I was making from my books. That’s probably the greatest validation we can get in our society. If you can make a living at what you’re doing then that’s who you are.
Tim Knox: God’s Lion: The Secret Chapel, has it been optioned for a movie?
John Lyman: It has, yeah.
Tim Knox: Let’s talk about that process because to me I think that’s one thing that every author I talk to is they would love to see a book of theirs turned into a movie. How did that come about?
John Lyman: That’s a whole other story itself and it’s a fascinating story actually. That also goes back to it was probably the second greatest validation I had with my work. My wife is a great supporter of my work and she’s an editor. She said, “One of these days someone’s going to read this book because it would just make a great movie.”
I got a fan letter from a lady and she said, “I love your book. I woke up last night and I couldn’t find my husband. I went downstairs and he was up at 3 o’clock in the morning reading your book. He loves it. We happen to be in the entertainment industry. Do you mind if he calls you?” I’m like, no I don’t mind at all.
You never know what these kinds of deals are or what they mean by entertainment industry. I have to say this too. When you start getting recognized as an author and your name gets out there, a lot of scammers are going to start coming your way and you have to be very weary of that. You need to really check them out.
Anyway, this definitely wasn’t one of the scammers. He called me and it turned out he was a Hollywood producer. He connected me with a couple of screenwriters down at Warner Bros and the next thing I know I’m looking at my caller ID and it says Warner Bros on it and that’s a thrill.
So I got with those folks and we started writing the screenplay, which is a whole other ballgame from writing a novel. I don’t know if a lot of people realize it or not but a screenplay, most screenplays are 120 pages long. If it’s 121 pages the producer’s going to throw it out the door. They want a two hour movie at the most. It’s hard to take a 400-some page novel and squeeze it into 120 pages. That was a whole other learning process.
Tim Knox: Were you actively involved in writing the screenplay?
John Lyman: Yeah I’m one of the screenwriters. I just got back from L.A. meeting with them. The movie is in development now. It hasn’t been announced formally from the production company. They haven’t made their public announcement yet so I’m kind of under a cone of silence. I can tell you this much. There are major players and the paperwork’s been done. It’s a done deal so there will be a movie. Hopefully I can fill people in later on when they make their public announcement.
Tim Knox: That’s really something you want to climb up on top of your house and scream, isn’t it?
John Lyman: Yeah it is and it’s kind of hard to bite your tongue. I can’t tell people who’s involved or what the company is. They’re great people. They’re really great people. When I went out there to meet them they kind of threw all the Hollywood stereotypes out the door and they were just really nice people.
Tim Knox: Let’s talk a little about that screenwriting process. You mentioned you take a 400 page book and you have to cram it into 120 pages or whatever. A lot of times the author isn’t involved in that process. Talk about that process as far as you were there. How painful or how difficult was it for you to cram all that story or try to rewrite the story in a quarter of the pages?
John Lyman: It was relatively painless in the fact that I had two experienced people I was working with. One of them used to be a script supervisor with Steven Spielberg. They were my guides in the process. They still needed my input as far as how can we cut this or what can we do here? We all worked together.
The interesting thing is we weren’t all in the same room. We were doing this on the internet. We were all in different places writing this screenplay together. We’d take a pass at it then give it to someone else and they’d look at it.
There are things that have to be cut. Every writer has to know that. If your book gets optioned for a movie there’s going to be things cut because that’s just the nature of the game. You just don’t want to cut the things that are going to rob your audience of your original story.
Tim Knox: And you hear horror stories about books that have been adapted just not going well.
John Lyman: Yeah and I can name some that don’t even resemble the book. That’s not the case with our book because the executive producer, Peter Keyes, he loved the book so much and he was very loyal to the book. He didn’t want anyone involved in the project who didn’t like the book and he wanted to stay as true to the story as possible. We had that going for us also.
Tim Knox: Right. I would assume if this movie does well there may be options for the other three books maybe.
John Lyman: Yeah, that’s the plan, yeah. They have the options for the next three books.
Tim Knox: How has your life changed now? You’ve been writing full-time for a while now. Do you do it every day? Are you in the office by a certain time? What is your process? Do you treat it like a business? That’s one of the ongoing themes I hear especially among the self-published authors. You have to be an author but you also have to be a business person too.
John Lyman: Yeah and that’s a fine line too. I didn’t give up my day job when I started. You can’t do that so you have to budget your time but I do treat it like a business. I write every day. I find out if I don’t I lose the flow of the story. It’s just one of those things.
You say well you’ve got to go on Twitter, you’ve got to go on Facebook or you have to do all these things and then all the time you’re doing that, you’re doing your own marketing, you’re taking yourself away from your writing.
I don’t find Facebook that great for getting information out there because basically Facebook is you and your friends. My website is a good source of information and that can drive you to the books. I don’t know about Facebook. Twitter’s good. I get a lot of good responses from Twitter.
If you’re trying to finish a novel by a certain date and you’re swamped with marketing, it’s going to rob you of valuable time. I don’t really have a good answer for that. Everyone’s going to have to find their own groove as to how much time they want to devote to writing and how much they want to devote to marketing. You have to do both.
Even major publishers now. If you get picked up by a major publisher they expect their authors to do a lot of their own marketing, pay for their own book tours. It’s a tough business now and it’s changing rapidly.
Tim Knox: Yeah the good old days are gone for most of us unfortunately. You mentioned the social media. Let’s talk a little about the importance of that. I think you hit the nail right on the head. The time that you take away from writing to spend on marketing is time you have to do but it can hurt the writing. I think there’s a balance there.
How much time do you actively spend on online marketing? I think you and I probably met on Twitter as a matter of fact. There has to come a point where if you’re not careful, the marketing takes away from the writing but if you don’t do the marketing, no one’s going to read the writing.
John Lyman: Right. I think you have to be very specific and pick and choose what marketing devices you’re going to use and which ones you’re not. What’s the greatest payoff and what’s not for the time involved?
For instance, like you and I talking right now. I think it’s a very worthwhile thing because, like you said, a lot of this is mainly going to be going out to other authors and I enjoy sharing my experiences with them and I’ve always said I’m always here to help anyone if I can who’s going through the same thing. If there’s anything I’ve done that didn’t work that I spent a lot of time on when I could have been doing something else, I’d be glad to tell people do this but don’t do that.
Tim Knox: Do you have any examples of things like that, roads that perhaps you should not have gone down?
John Lyman: I don’t really want to say something specific. You have book clubs, book readings, book signings and things like that. For a self-published author, a book signing isn’t really going to get your name out there that much because you’re going to one store and you’re usually having to bring your own books along with you. You devote a whole day to that and you might have 20 people buy your book. I mean it’s fun to meet people and talk about books but you have to balance your time.
Tim Knox: I wrote a business book back in ’07 and I did a little tour. Book signings can be very humbling experiences, especially when you’re sitting there at a table with stacks of books that you lugged in and people walk by and go, “Who are you?”
John Lyman: Right, or they just walk by.
Tim Knox: It can be very humbling.
John Lyman: You just kind of sit there and play with your Smartphone.
Tim Knox: Yeah, just keep on walking by. What are you working on now?
John Lyman: Well I’ve pretty much wrapped up the God’s Lions series and I’m writing a new book. It’s a thriller with different characters. I would say it’s written more in the vein of a Michael Crichton novel. It’s based on some molecular biology and things like that, which if I knew the research I had to get involved in with I might have changed my mind before I started writing it. There’s a lot of research in it.
It is a thriller and a couple of test readers like it so I think it’s going to be a good book. I’m having a lot of fun writing it.
Tim Knox: Is it nice to… I mean I’m sure you enjoyed writing the God’s Lions series but is it nice to kind of put that to bed and go off on something new now?
John Lyman: It is, it is. I think you have to. You can’t just box yourself into one thing. As a writer you want to try something new. The other thing I tell people, especially new authors, is that the first thing you’ve got to do is read a lot. I think that’s one of the mistakes that people make. It actually teaches you how to write. You don’t really realize this but when you’re reading other people’s stuff it’s going in there somewhere. It’s filing away in the back of your head and you’re learning.
So if you didn’t have that chance to major in English or get a Fine Arts degree, that’s the second best way I can think of to get to that level. First and foremost you have to be a good storyteller. You can know all the grammar rules in the world but if you don’t have a good story to tell then it’s not going to do you a whole lot of good.
Tim Knox: You can be someone like Cormac McCarthy. He’s broken every rule of grammar there is but who writes better books?
John Lyman: Right, exactly and I was a big Ian Fleming fan when I was a teenager growing up. I didn’t come to people like F. Scott Fitzgerald and Steinbeck and Hemmingway until later on in life. Those guys teach you a lot and writing styles have changed. Dan Brown writes in a whole different style but his books are still good. I like his books.
Right now I’m reading a Pulitzer Prize winner by Donna Tartt. It’s a literary work. You’ve got your regular thriller books like I write and then you have your literary works that win Pulitzer Prizes like she wrote. It’s really beautiful writing.
Another one I read that’s really interesting is called The Truth about the Harry Quebert Affair by Joel Dicker. He’s a French author and he’s just now getting some interest here in America. That was an interesting mystery.
The main book for any new author, and you probably know this, is the book by Stephen King called On Writing. I think that’s the best writing book I’ve ever read. It really opened my eyes. I tell people all the time if they’re just starting out to read that book first.
Tim Knox: Yeah a great book. I remember reading it years ago. It didn’t teach me to be the next Stephen King but it did have some really good information.
John Lyman: Yeah. It keeps you from making a lot of mistakes when you’re starting out. You’re new and you’re going to make those mistakes.
Tim Knox: John, last question. To the audience here, which is primarily authors who want to do what you’ve done and get their books out there, want to have people buying those books, perhaps even quit their day job. What’s your best advice to the audience?
John Lyman: Well, like I said, first of all you’re going to have to have a good story to tell. Whatever your method of writing is, whether you want to make an outline and cards, if that works for you that’s good. If you want to let it flow and come out, that’s good.
Once you’ve got your story you’re looking at years of a process in the old publishing model where you had to find an agent and then you have to get it to a publisher and all of that. I would say just skip that at this point of time and go right to Amazon KDP and publish your work there. Let the marketplace decide.
Tim Knox: John Lyman, the author of the God’s Lions series. How can folks find out more about you and your books?
John Lyman: Of course they’re on sale on Amazon and they’re on Kobo and the iBooks and any kind of eBook platform. The physical books are available through Amazon and you can go to my website, JohnLymanAuthor.com.
Tim Knox: Very good. It’s been a pleasure. I look forward to hearing more about this movie as it progresses. Once you get the new book underway come back and let’s chat about it.
John Lyman: That’d be great, Tim. Thank you so much and to all these fellow authors out there, hang in there because you never know when lightning’s going to strike.