November 22, 2009

Made It Moment: CJ Lyons

Filed under: Made It Moments — jenny @ 8:45 pm

CJ Lyons -- Urgent Care

OK, confession time. CJ Lyons’ debut novel, LIFELINES, is next on my TBR pile. I am new to her work and thus this Moment is also a new kind for me, where I haven’t read the author’s work first. However, I did sneak a peek at the first page of LIFELINES and I can already tell it’s going to be great. You know those books where you just know? I love those. And now I have the delicious prospect of a back list to work through. CJ happens to be a lovely and enthusiastic champion of readers and writers so I was eager to feature her here. Below she talks about the changing definition of making it…and finding out what really matters most in this crazy business.

How did you know you made it?

This question made me laugh out loud–then I realized the wisdom behind it. When I practiced pediatric emergency medicine, it was easy to know when we had “made it.” If the kids left our care happy and healthy or with a beating heart and a chance, we had succeeded.

But this writing gig is different. I’m not sure anyone ever “makes it”–even folks like Stephen King and Nora Roberts are driven to return to create new books, raising the bar for themselves even after achieving the level of success that the rest of us only dream of.

At first I thought that “making it” meant selling a book. Then it was seeing my first book, LIFELINES, on the shelves and getting rave reviews and becoming a National Bestseller.

All that changed when I got my first fan mail. 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! Only now, instead of touching one life at a time, I could reach out to thousands!

My third book just came out and I treasure each fan letter as much as that 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 lets me know, yes, I have made it!

About CJ:
As a pediatric ER doctor, CJ Lyons 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, in October, 2009. Contact her at

November 16, 2009

To market, to market, to buy a fat book

Filed under: The Writing Life — jenny @ 7:17 pm

OK, it’s not like we writers have a choice about where we get published. Being published is a gift, and I for one will be grateful for the privilege–if I get it–all the days of my life.

Those naysayers who suspect that, when I’m a few years out from this purgatory of aspiration, I’ll forget what it was like (HELL) and behave as if I’ve always gotten to see my books on the shelf should know this: I still thank the Power That May Be every single day for my husband. The loneliness that came before our meeting is a searing memory.

But I digress. I still haven’t been offered that glorious contract yet, so I can play with possibilities. And one that I’m considering now is small or large. Major house or indie? There are some exciting new indies.

Here are a few.

Now it’s not like just anyone can walk her way into an indie. Publication is shockingly difficult no matter who grants the right. Major or minor may be the wrong distinction…perhaps the correct one is, which is right for me?

What variables differ between big house and small? Is there more communication and hands on participation with the latter? Better distribution and sales with the former? These seem the obvious ones, but I suspect there are more layers to it that I’m not seeing or privvy to.

I’d be thrilled to hear from authors, editors, or publishers, if you’d be willing to widen and inform this discussion.

I suspect that much as what happened in the music industry, there might be changes afoot in publishing, and that in the future so-called micro purveyors of content might play an ever more influential role.

But as always on this blog, please feel free to disagree!

November 8, 2009

I have no sympathy for you

Filed under: Great Reads,The Writing Life — jenny @ 10:05 am

This feels like a confession of sorts. I like unsympathetic characters.

A good friend of mine whose novel is about to go on sub received passes from agents who said her protagonist wasn’t sympathetic enough. I could never understand these. I’d read my friend’s ms, and I thought that her struggling, multi-layered protagonist was one of the strongest parts of her book.

A reviewer by the name of Gloria Feit, whose “recommended’s” and “highly recommended’s” I’ve come to trust, led me to a brand-new-to-me author recently. Jason Starr’s latest, PANIC ATTACK, features a protagonist characterized by frustrated ego and strivings at self-congratulatory greatness.

I hated him.

And I consequently read all the more voraciously. I wanted to see this man take a fall. Get his comeuppance.

Starr’s power as a writer enabled Adam Bloom to become much more as the book went on. Masterfully, Starr switched my loyalties, so that by the end, Bloom had become someone still flawed, yet redeemed enough that the book satisfied on a whole other level.

But the point of this post is to ask, what if the main character hadn’t changed thus? Is a protagonist whom the reader hates the kiss of death for a novel?

As learning writers, books of craft advise us to create a sympathetic character, someone the reader can identify with. But I’ve always been wary of one-size-fits-all advice, whether that’s dietary or writing. (Come on. Do we all really need to cut out every crumb of bread?)

For me–speaking as a reader now, not a writer–I love a book with a character I can love to hate. I will be all the more engaged while I wonder whether this person will be forced to face her limitations and come to terms with them.

Some of the greatest–or at least most readable–novels of all time rest on this principal. Scarlet O’Hara wasn’t exactly a noble belle of the old South. And certainly the anti-hero is a mainstay of literature.

So why are publishers or agents turning mss down because the characters aren’t likeable enough? Why the advice in those many books on craft?

What about you? Are you turned off by a novel with a dislikeable protagonist? If you’re a writer, do you gravitate towards or away from a character your reader just might love to hate?

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