It’s my pleasure to welcome CJ Lyons! CJ is a dear friend and a great writer. But, like most of us, CJ once had a “day” job. As a pediatric ER doctor, CJ has lived the life she writes about in her cutting edge suspense novels. Her debut, LIFELINES (Berkley, March 2008), became a National Bestseller and Publishers Weekly proclaimed it a “breathtakingly fast-paced medical thriller.” The second in the series, WARNING SIGNS, was released January, 2009 and the third, URGENT CARE, is due out October, 2009. Please give a warm welcome to CJ Lyons!
I want to thank Deb and everyone here at Murder She Writes for inviting me to join them here this week. I’m CJ Lyons, a pediatric ER doctor who has turned to a life of crime. My crimes take place in and around Pittsburgh’s Angels of Mercy medical center, a place where no one is immune to danger.
Caught up in my murder and mayhem are four special women:
Lydia Fiore, a street-smart newly fledged emergency medicine attending who lives her life guided by the first law of the ER: trust no one. She’s new to Pittsburgh and quickly overwhelmed not by her new job of saving lives, but rather by the people who invite her to join their family—the men and women of Angels of Mercy whose lives she now feels responsible for. She starts her new life at Angels of Mercy on the most dangerous day of the year, in LIFELINES.
Amanda Mason, a medical student, the first in her family to leave her rural home and go to college. Her family means everything to her, yet she’s still compelled to break away and find her own path—something they see as a betrayal. Alone in the big city, far from home, Amanda finds friends who become her new family, but more importantly she learns that she is smart enough and strong enough to do anything she wants with her life. But even that knowledge isn’t enough to protect her when she begins to investigate patients’ mysterious deaths and then experiences their same deadly symptoms in WARNING SIGNS.
Nora Halloran, ER charge nurse, embodies the best of all the nurses I’ve been privileged to work with during my seventeen years in pediatrics. She’s compassionate yet tough; fair but understands that there are good reasons behind the rules she enforces; she can multi-task yet still slow down to care for a patient; and she is fiercely protective of her patients. Nora has a secret—one that will return to haunt her with devastating and deadly consequences in URGENT CARE.
Gina Freeman is an emergency medicine resident. Because they have “MD” after their names, residents have all the power of being a doctor. But because they’re still in training, they’re treated as if they have no power. Internship and residency is a lot like going back to high school—that terrible state of knowing what you want but not being allowed to have it. And yes, Gina acts like a typical adolescent: cocky, scared but defiant, in denial about what life is really about, and focused on superficial things like clothes and her place in the ER’s pecking order. Gina has a lot of growing up to do. It’s painful, not easy, but in each book she takes a step further along her path.
If it sounds like there’s a part of me in each of these characters, that’s because there is. Like Lydia, I’ve lived all my life on the edge of the bell-shaped curve. If I believed in the laws of averages or played by the rules of statistics, then I’d be living a very different life than the one I have now. Instead, I’ve chosen to break those laws and ignore the rules.
It hasn’t been easy—from deciding to go to college (none of my siblings did) with no money to pay for it (but some scholarships, thankfully) to further deciding (oh, the impertinence!) to go to medical school and apply to some of the top (and most expensive) schools on the East coast. Just like Amanda, after leaving my rural hometown at the age of seventeen, I was on my own, forging my own path.
For my pediatric internship and residency I returned to my home state of Pennsylvania and my favorite city, Pittsburgh. During my internship year, something happened that would change me forever. One of my fellow interns was killed. Murdered. In the most heinous ways imaginable. His death hit us all. We were all very close, the twelve—now eleven—of us. We had to be—no one else understood what we were going through that first year as a doctor when you hold life and death in your hands and have no experience to follow, forced to trust your gut and your heart to make the right decisions. No one else worked our crazy hours, no one spoke our short-hand, stressed-out, sleep-deprived language.
Then we were twelve no more.
His killer was caught—thanks to the hard work of several law enforcement agencies. Four days later we were all back to work. He was gone. But not forgotten, never forgotten. We each found our path out of the darkness. Just like Nora finds her way in my new book, URGENT CARE.
For me, my path was through my writing. I put aside the science-fiction and fantasy I wrote in school and turned to the gritty, dark world of crime fiction. I didn’t write for publication—not back then—but for myself. To break out of my numbness. To feel. What it felt like to be a victim of crime. The exultation of being a criminal, getting away with murder. The triumph of bringing a killer to justice—and the price justice exacted from hero and villain alike.
Writing has always been an addiction for me—my spiritual comfort food. It’s not something I want to do, it’s something I need to do.
As time went on and it became harder and harder to carve time for myself out of eighty-hour work weeks, yet I still found time to write. Creating new worlds, being able to change things for the better in them, was intoxicating. I decided to see if my stories resonated with anyone else and began to pursue writing as a second career—since practicing medicine was a dream come true, I guess you could say I dared to try for a second dream come true.
What hubris! Leaving an established (although exhausting!) career with job security to jump off the cliff and trust my future to the whimsy of the publishing industry? Insane! But oh so much fun! I can’t describe the thrill of seeing other people reading my books—total strangers, immersing themselves in worlds and characters I created! Or the fan mail—wow, what a rush! So many of you have written to tell me how much you’ve enjoyed spending time with the ladies of Angels of Mercy. Most touching are the ones that describe how you’ve been inspired or empowered by the books—my books. I’ve heard from cancer patients unable to sleep because of their pain but who felt comforted by escaping into my books for a few hours. Women who have faced struggles I can’t even imagine but who write to tell me they aspire to be as brave and bold as my characters. Men and women working the frontlines of EMS, police, and medicine who write to thank me for “telling it like it really is.”
You are all my heroes. Thank you for joining me and the women of Angels of Mercy in my life of crime! Most of all, thanks for reading! Have you made a career move? I would love to hear from you with your own career story or any questions you have for me!