SR: Practice pitching: tell us what your new book is about in 50 words or less.
CJ: Ella has always trusted in her unique ability to see people’s true emotions via their auras to help her navigate life. But the new boy in town makes her question everything she’s always believed to be true: her ability, her identity, her life… and the real reason behind her parents’ deaths.
SR: Where did your idea for this book come from?
CJ: For The Color of Lies, my first inspiration was the idea of a girl who saw everyone else’s truth… but was blind to her own.
I loved that conflict, the paradox of what we see and believe versus what is real. And how we deny reality, sacrifice it to our dreams by what we choose to believe… It happens every day in the real world. Just look at the epidemic of fake news posing as reality.
What if someone’s entire life was colored by what they wanted to believe instead of what was real? Answering that question led to The Color of Lies.
SR: Was there a specific issue that really motivated you to write this particular story?
CJ: As a physician, I’ve long been fascinated by unique medical oddities such as synesthesia. It’s not a disease, but rather the way the brain processes information is mistranslated into other senses. You may see letters as colors or smell words you read.
People with synesthesia experience the world differently, which is not only fascinating, it makes for an intriguing character—especially since we all base our idea of reality on what we see, hear, feel. For people with synesthesia, their reality is already very different than people who don’t have synesthesia, so if we upset that reliance on what is seen, felt, or heard, how do we know what’s real and what isn’t?
Start playing with people’s perception of reality, of their basic, essential truth, and you open up a world of possibilities for a story.
SR: What’s one thing that you and your protagonist have in common?
CJ: I myself have what may be a mild form of synesthesia (or maybe it’s just a symptom of my overactive imagination!). I can taste recipes for food I’ve never eaten before just by reading them.
SR: What’s the first book you remember reading that had a huge impact on you? How did that story affect you? How do you think it shaped your desire to be a writer?
CJ: Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes. I love the poetry of his language and the relationships between his characters—it was the first book that showed me there was more to story telling than just plot and action. I still re-read it almost every year around Halloween.
SR: What do you think the hardest emotion to elicit from a reader is? Why?
CJ: Passion. It’s pretty easy to evoke fear, panic, anger, even lust/love. But true passion, not romance but rather a deep caring about another person’s well being and world view, that takes a deep, gut-wrenching, heart-pounding connection between the reader and the story’s characters.
SR: What was your journey to publication like? What kind of obstacles did you have to overcome?
CJ: My story took an interesting twist before I actually had my first book published. I had two contracts from a major NYC publisher, had already quit my job as a physician and moved a thousand miles away from home, when I get a message on my answering machine on a Friday night from my editor: the publisher has cancelled my debut thriller.
It was cancelled by the publisher because of cover art, something I had no control over, no input on. I had been telling them for months that the cover art didn’t work, and it wasn’t until the vendors, Barnes & Noble, Borders, Books-A-Million, Walmart saw the actual cover art which wasn’t revealed to them until right before the book was due to be released, and they canceled their preorders. And their preorders were significant for a debut author because they had an advanced reader’s copy of the actual book, which they loved.
They told my publisher, ‘Change this cover or we’re gonna pull our orders.’ And my publisher said, ‘Well, we have an award-winning art department, we stand by them.’ And, of course, the lowly, debut novelist that has absolutely no power in the traditional publishing system gets caught in the middle. So my career should have ended before it started.
But I didn’t give up. While I was fighting for my rights back to those first two books, a publisher at Penguin called me up and asked me to create a medical thriller series specifically for Penguin. And that became my actual first traditionally published books, the Angel of Mercy series.
And here’s the funny thing that shows you that karma is a bitch. The book I wrote during that awful time before I got the contract with Penguin was Blind Faith.
And that book went on to debut at number two on the New York Times bestseller list, it stayed on the New York Times list for six or seven weeks, and won the Thriller Award, won an RT Reviewers’ Choice Award. It went on to just do really wonderful things despite the fact that it was self-published.
So, what seemed like the end of my career with that first publisher cancelling my doomed-debut, actually turned out to be the best thing that could have happened.
SR: Is there something you’ve experienced that’s affected your view of life? Tell us about it and how it changed you.
CJ: Everything changed for me when I was a pediatric intern at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh. As interns we worked and lived a life out of sync with the “normal” world. We were just kids but entrusted with life and death decisions–decisions that impacted children and their families, that had the power to change their worlds.
But then one of us was killed. Murdered in a horrific fashion.
The stuff of nightmares. But this wasn’t fiction. It was real.
As always, I turned to writing to help me fight through my shock and grief. I put aside the science fiction and fantasy novels I’d written in college and med school and wrote my first piece of crime fiction, which eventually was published as Borrowed Time.
SR: You strike it rich. What charity are you going to create or support?
CJ: I actually have already established a charitable foundation, my Buy a Book, Make a Difference charity. Together my readers and I have raised over $80,000 for charities along with 82 forensic science scholarships for police departments.
I give a grant to a charity with each new book. For The Color of Lies, the grant will be awarded to the American Heart Association. Previous recipients have included Doctors Without Borders, St. Judes, Reach Out And Read, Feeding America, and Reading is Fundamental, among others.
You can learn more at: https://cjlyons.net/buy-a-book-make-a-difference/
New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of over forty novels, former pediatric ER doctor 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).
Her novels have twice won the International Thriller Writers’ prestigious Thriller Award, the RT Reviewers’ Choice Award, the Readers’ Choice Award, the RT Seal of Excellence, and the Daphne du Maurier Award for Excellence in Mystery and Suspense.
Learn more about CJ’s Thrillers with Heart at www.CJLyons.net