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Archive for November, 2011

What inspires my writing?

When I was a kid, it was my own need to learn how to become a hero, someone strong enough to change the world for the better.

After my pediatric internship when one of my fellow interns was brutally murdered, writing became my way to understand my grief and control the chaos around me. That’s when I wrote my first thriller, BORROWED TIME, and I dedicated it to Jeff’s memory.

Much of my fiction since then has been inspired by my patients and their families. Ordinary people facing tragedy with courage and grace, proving that heroes are indeed born everyday.

I still search for order in the chaos–after practicing pediatric emergency medicine and pediatrics for seventeen years, that will never change. But now, after having sold hundreds of thousands of books and receiving fan letters from all over the world, I have another inspiration: my readers.

Discovering that I had the power to connect with people I’d never met, to inspire as well as entertain–that felt almost as good as saving lives in the ER!

I treasure each fan letter as much as the very first one.  There have been people facing the pain of chronic illnesses who have been able to make it through the night because of my books.  Fellow medical personnel, EMS, firefighters, and police officers have written, thanking me for the way I “tell it like it really is.”  And readers who simply needed an escape from their lives have found refuge in my words.

Honestly, no matter how much money or which bestseller lists I hit, I can’t imagine any feeling as wonderful as the feeling I get when I hear from readers who have fallen in love with my books.  It’s an adrenalin rush that fuels my writing and inspires me everyday!

About CJ:

As a pediatric ER doctor, New York Times Bestseller CJ Lyons has lived the life she writes about in her cutting edge Thrillers with Heart.

CJ has been called a “master within the genre” (Pittsburgh Magazine) and her work has been praised as “breathtakingly fast-paced” and “riveting” (Publishers Weekly) with “characters with beating hearts and three dimensions” (Newsday).

Learn more about CJ’s Thrillers with Heart at http://www.cjlyons.net

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I want to start off my first READERS RULE blog posting with a “thank you” to my fellow authors at READERS RULE – Bob Mayer, J. Carson Black, L. J. Sellers, Joseph Nassise, Ruth Harris, Laura Landon, and C. J. Lyons.  I am proud to be included in a company of writers whose careers are hallmarked by their commitment to their writing and to their readers.

Each member of READERS RULE is a veteran writer.  We’ve all been, and continue to be, blessed with loyal readers who have supported our careers through good times and bad.  We all create and write about make-believe worlds – not a surprise, I know!  My point here is that, within the context of the stories constructed in those make-believe worlds and populated by characters we either love or hate, our readers invariably discover themes that personally resonate for them.  Call it the shared human experience.

The theme of a book – revenge, a quest for survival, love conquers all, triumph of good over evil, coming of age, etc. – establishes the initial common ground between the writer and the reader.  Along with a particular character or characters, the theme engages the emotions of the reader, which helps to form a part of the foundation for a long-term relationship between readers and writers.

The equation for me is a simple one.   READER  +  WRITER  =  A Committed Relationship   READERS RULE is all about respecting and honoring the relationship between readers and writers.

It will not surprise you to learn that I read constantly.  When I read the work of my fellow writers, my understanding of what readers expect of me as a writer is further expanded.  As well, I receive messages from readers across the globe, and I’m thankful for their willingness to express their appreciation of my efforts to meet their expectations when they purchase my books.

The Thanksgiving season is upon us, and I am particularly thankful to my romantic suspense readers.  They make it possible for me to touch their hearts as I write the stories I love to write.  In truth, I get back from you as much as I give, and for that I thank each and every one of you.

Stop in at my website ( http://www.AuthorandEditor.com ) and click on the link for a FREE copy of INTIMATE STRANGERS, a romantic suspense novel that “sizzles”.   Not bragging here – just quoting my READERS – they rule!  J

Happy Thanksgiving and a heartfelt thanks to all READERS – you continue to inspire me!  And to the remarkable men and women of our military who serve here at home and across the globe – I am thankful for you. You’re in my thoughts and prayers  – as always.

You’ll find me on Facebook, Google+, and Twitter.

Hugs all around … Laura Taylor

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When I was a kid, my parents and I had a tradition.  One Friday night a month, we would go out to dinner at the Sizzlers, and I’d walk down along the strip mall to the Baskin Robbins for a mint chocolate chip ice cream cone.  And then my parents would take me to the House of Paperbacks.

Books were cheap back then.  My mother is a smart lady; she appealed to my materialistic nature, the desire to grab up as many books as I could. This is how she fostered my love of reading.

In Tucson, where I live, there’s a big used-book superstore called Bookman’s.  My husband and I like to go there on Saturdays and prowl around.  First, I go and see if they have any of my old paperback books.  (It’s humbling to see how many friends have sold books I’d signed to them years ago.  One of them was the best man at my wedding, and I’d blathered all over the page: “So-and-so, you are one of best friends I’ve ever had in my life!”) I love you, man.

After that, I look and see what the best writers in my genre have out new, because I like to keep up with them.  I buy their latest hardcovers to study.

Then I go to the Childrens’ Section.  

Over the years, I’d lost tons of books from my childhood.  They’re not famous books, but I read them at a time when they meant something to me.  A lot of them where Scholastic Books.  I remember coming across a favorite I’d read as a kid and had somehow lost: HOBBY HORSE HILL, by Lavinia Davis.  Oh, how I loved that book!  My husband was out of town, and I found myself reading it again—I was up until three in the morning.  It was as good as I remembered it.

So now I look for the older books, for books that strike a chord. They don’t even have to be favorites like HOBBY HORSE HILL.  If they have the same cover, I buy them.  I have 4 versions of MY FRIEND FLICKA. There were two books that came out with the same cover of a boy and a horse against the Wyoming hills.  One had pink up top and bottom, and one had dark green. All these years later, I found the dark green one.

The one book I really wanted had the original cover of SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES, by Ray Bradbury.  The cover brought me to that book, and distills its essence. It shows a dark sidewalk with leaves blowing up in a dust devil or scary words.  I wanted the cover as well as the book, even though I had the book with a newer cover.  But when I looked for it online, the darn thing cost $800.00.  Fuggedaboudit.

Then one day, I dropped by Bookmans. I always went to the Fantasy section to look for the book, even though I knew Bookmans would be too smart to let an $800.00 book go out the door for a couple of bucks.

But there it was, face out.  My cover!  Turns out, there was a book club version reprinted in the early nineties. The book was in perfect condition, and now I had the cover.  I think I paid eight dollars for it.

So I have a library of old faded books that came from my childhood and that I bring out and look at and hold—they are my talismans. 

Sometimes, these old books play into the novels I’m writing.  When I got the idea for THE DEVIL’S HOUR, the third thriller in my Laura Cardinal series, I kept thinking of the girls’ summer camp in DONNA PARKER: MYSTERY AT ARAWAK.  And so I put a girl’s summer camp up on Mt. Lemmon above Tucson, and as homage to the book, I came up with the name Camp Aratauk.  The camp only plays a bit part in THE DEVIL’S HOUR, although it is important to the story.

The books I read as a child formed me.  They went through a part of my life with me, whether it was a couple of days, or a week, or a month.  They will always be there, and I am glad to find them again and add them to the special shelf in my library.

Are there any books from your childhood that strike a chord with you?  

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I live in a rural area and anytime I go for a long drive I often have to rely on my mp3 instead of car radio. Which is fun because I throw my songs on there, hit shuffle, and off we go…at least that’s how it’s supposed to work.

Twice in the last month I got busted by my playlist.

You see, I like kickass rock n’ roll. Doesn’t matter if it’s old or new as long as it has attitude. Which makes for some rather un-politically correct, not safe for work, non-kid-or old folk-friendly choices.

And since I keep my mp3 on shuffle, I never know what’s gonna come out of the speakers next. It could be Led Zeppelin or the Stones or Buck Cherry doing the “dirty” version of Crazy Bitch.

Yeah, crank that over your speakers as you drive into the courthouse parking lot, ready to report for jury duty. Then park between a sheriff’s cruiser and a Cadillac that probably belongs to a lawyer or judge.

Worse? Forget the sunroof is open and sing along at the top of your lungs.

(If you don’t know the song, practically every other word is the F-bomb.)

Those dirty looks were nothing compared to the tongue-lashing one of my friends gave me as we were driving together and Nickelback’s Something in your Mouth came on.

(yes, THAT is what the song’s about…one of Nickelback’s favorite themes)

She’s a true blue feminist and felt my choice in music was a betrayal of the cause, setting back women’s rights fifty years.

I had no defense other than, “it’s got a good beat.”

“It’s misogynistic.”

“Not as bad as their Figured You Out.”

She hit the fast forward button. Saving Abel, The Sex is Good. Scowled at me, hit it again.

Saved by the Stones, Sympathy for the Devil.

I relaxed, steered the conversation to a safe place. Of course that’s when Puddle of Mud’s Control came on.

Otherwise known as the “smack your ass” song.

 What can I say? I gave up, and sang along. Heck, if you’re gonna be busted by your playlist, you might as well have fun doing it.

So you tell me, when has your choice in pop culture led to you being busted?

C’mon, you know what I mean–that hidden DVD with the best of Gilligan’s Island, the tattered, well-read copy of Mad magazine, the Sonny and Cher album you can’t bear to part with….

Thanks for reading!

CJ

About CJ:

As a pediatric ER doctor, CJ Lyons has lived the life she writes about in her cutting edge Thrillers with Heart.  In addition to being an award-winning, New York Times Bestseller, CJ is a nationally known presenter and keynote speaker.

CJ has been called a “master within the genre” (Pittsburgh Magazine) and her work has been praised as “breathtakingly fast-paced” and “riveting” (Publishers Weekly) with “characters with beating hearts and three dimensions” (Newsday).

Learn more about CJ’s Thrillers with Heart at http://www.cjlyons.net

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Scattered throughout Shiloh National Cemetery are plaques with portions of the poem:  Bivouac of the Dead by Theodore O’Hara.  Here is the opening stanza:

The muffled drum’s sad roll has beat
The soldier’s last Tattoo;
No more on life’s parade shall meet
That brave and fallen few.
On Fame’s eternal camping ground
Their silent tents are spread,
And glory guards, with solemn round
The bivouac of the dead.

It is a most appropriate ode to not only the cemetery at Shiloh, but the entire battlefield.  I spent last weekend visiting Shiloh and going over the battlefield.  Over the next month I will be posting video clips from my visit there, but the first clip is at the cemetery:

The battle of Shiloh is the climactic scene of Duty, Honor, Country a Novel of West Point & the Civil War.  In fact, somewhere in the land that became the cemetery, on the first night of the battle, Ulysses S. Grant sat under an oak tree in the rain, contemplating whether to withdraw after horrendous losses that day, or fight on the next day.  Also, somewhere on that land, was a wood cabin where surgeons plied their bloody trade and a scene in that cabin changes the course of history.

At its conclusion, Shiloh produced more casualties in two days than all previous American Wars combined.  Walking over this hallowed ground was humbling.  I walked the entire length of the Sunken Road (which really isn’t sunken) that as the front edge of the Hornet’s Nest, where Union troops repelled eleven Confederate assaults.  Until 62 cannon were lined hub to hub, producing the greatest artillery barrage ever seen on the continent and the Union line was broken.

I walked around tiny Bloody Pond, just behind the sunken road, where casualties from both sides crawled, desperate for water on a hot April day.  I stood at the spot where General Albert Sidney Johnston was shot, still the highest ranking American officer ever to be killed in combat.

All of this is quite strange for a place called Shiloh, which means ‘place of peace’.

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My first book was called THE EASTER EEG.  I was five, and my mother helped me by stapling two pages together—my title complete with crayoned bunny, and a scrawl of unreadable sentences.

When I was a preteen, I got a manual typewriter and started writing novels.  Mostly they were horse stories with titles like MOONSTONE, A STALLION, and THE RED MARE OF WHISPERING PINES.

Here’s a secret: Writers can’t stop.  But a lot of times, writers can’t start, either.  Mostly because we’re afraid.  We are, after all, creating something completely out of nothing.  Sometimes that’s daunting.  But if you told us we could never write again, that we couldn’t even think about writing again, that the whole idea of writing something down was to be obliterated from our minds—we’d curl up and die.

Writing is about ownership.  When I was a kid I read tons of books, but the book that made me want to be a writer was Ray Bradbury’s SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES.  I wanted to own that book. I wanted it to have been mine.  He and I were simpatico.  I was filled with this longing to claim a piece of writing ground as great as that one.

Just the thought of it put me off writing for years.  

But it was always there, underneath, like a pot of water just before it boils.

When I wrote my first published novel, my ghost story DARKSCOPE—inspired by Peter Straub’s GHOST STORY and Stephen King’s THE SHINING—I threw everything into it.  I think it was over 1100 pages.  There’s even a kitchen sink in it. Really.

Mercifully, an editor liked it and cut it in half.  And it sold.  (Choir of Angels here.)  Years later, when Amazon KDP came onto the scene, my publisher Breakaway Media brought it back to life.

Writing is about learning to write. It’s about striving for a personal best.

It’s about reading, too.  What I want, what I want more than anything on this earth, is to reach people on a level that Larry McMurtry’s LONESOME DOVE reached me.  I’ve read that book three times.  And every damn time I become so immersed that I won’t eat dinner, I won’t go to bed, I wait for a chapter break even to use the john.  I read a book that is 945 pages long and as the pages get thinner I start to feel real loss.  What will I do when I reach the end and there is no more story?

So I know what you want.  And I’m just ignorant enough and ambitious enough to think that maybe I can give it to you.  I keep trying, at any rate.  I want to give you that gift, the gift that blocks everything else out of your life, a book you can’t put down and don’t want to leave.  I am that ridiculously foolish to think that maybe, someday, I can do that for some people.

Writing books is not about fame.  Or book-signings.  Or TV interviews or conferences or even (cue Choir of Angels again) the New York Times Best Seller list.  It’s about trying.  We’d do it for nothing—most of us actually have done it for nothing over the course of our careers.  That’s just how we roll.

Like any job you love, you don’t quit on it, and it doesn’t quit on you.  

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The publishing industry is in upheaval with major changes, but one of the more subtle changes is the declining use of pen names. As more authors take charge of their own publishing and online marketing, they choose to skip the pen names when they write in various genres, in an effort to capitalize on the brand success of the name they’re already selling under.
This makes sense to me and it’s why I’m publishing my futuristic thriller, The Arranger, under the same author name as my police procedurals. Essentially, the books are all crime stories, and in this case, they even share a major character, so I never considered using a pen name. Some marketers would argue this is a mistake, but I disagree.
In fact, even if decided to write in a completely different genre, say fantasy, I still don’t think I would use a pen name. Here’s why. Marketers at major publishing houses established the practice with the idea that books should be categorized and shelved by genre and that readers were easily confused. They worried readers would buy a book in a genre they didn’t want just because it had their favorite author’s name on it.
This seems like an insult to readers. If the cover art and book description are doing their jobs, then readers will know exactly what the genre is and what to expect from the novel—regardless of the name on the cover. Readers have also come to expect authors to pen stories in various genres. It is neither surprising, nor confusing to them.
In addition, writers are blending story types and making up their own genres. Paranormal historical mystery, anyone? Or in my case: futuristic crime thriller. I’m not sure pen names were ever useful, but if they were, readers are long past it. In the age of the internet and open access to writers, readers learn everything they need to about an author and their various books with a quick visit to their website.
What about readers browsing in bookstores? Does a pen name prevent them from buying a futuristic police procedural written by J.D. Robb instead of a romance by Nora Roberts? I don’t think so. At least not more than once.  I know there are instances in which a pen name could be useful, such as if the author wants or needs privacy, but those cases are rare.
To minimize any possible confusion, I labeled my novel with a subtitle: A Futuristic Thriller, and I created a different style of cover. It will be clear to my Detective Jackson fans that this novel is different from my police procedurals.
I also have two other standalone thrillers, so most of my readers already know that I write non-Jackson books. Of course, I want my Jackson fans to try the new novel, which is partially why I sent Detective Lara Evans into the future to tell this story. (I also think she’s a lot of fun, but that’s another blog.)
Some of my police procedural readers will check out this novel and some will pass. That’s okay. I’m hoping new readers who’ve never heard of me will try it too.
As a fairly new author, I have to capitalize on my name recognition. My name is my brand. Without the support of a major publisher, it’s all I have, and I use it everywhere: Facebook, Twitter, chat groups, etc. I never use amusing nicknames like thrillergirl or crimefighter. They might be fun, but they don’t tell readers who I am.  I’m not likely to ever use a pen name either, for the same reasons.
What do you think? Are pen names useful to you as a reader or writer?

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