Thursday, December 02, 2010

Stiletto heels or comfy slippers? - CJ Lyons

The past few years I've been privileged to judge several contests: the Ritas, Daphne published, the Golden Heart, and the Thriller Awards. That adds up to almost 500 books I've read searching for excellence in fiction.

Did I find it? Yes, but it was few and far between.

I don't think I'm an overly-harsh judge. But maybe I've read too much? So many of the books blend together—flat, cardboard characters following clichéd, over done plots to the point where I have to double check my score sheet. Did I read this book already?

No, it's just like all the others is all…..

Many of these books are by multi-published best selling authors. Some broke new ground with their early books but now continue to follow in their own footsteps.

I can understand that—if you find what works for you and have a large following of fans wanting you to do the same old thing and paying you lots of money for it, who could resist?

And, many readers DO want the "same thing, just different". They demand it, complaining if "their" author tries a new direction. They like having expectations fulfilled, rather than being surprised. Reading is a comfortable escape for them, not a challenge or adventure.

I confess, I'm more of a thrill-seeker when I choose my books. Maybe because I now have so little time to read, every book I do finish must promise something new and exciting. Many don't deliver on their initial promise and end up being unfinished, but that's fodder for another post!

I think there's a time and place for both kinds of books. And bravo to everyone who is reading instead of watching TV or living their lives on-line!!

But as a writer, it's scary to think about. Your gut tells you to go one way, your brain tells you to stick to "what works", your heart wants to head in a totally other direction…what to do?

My last book in the Angels of Mercy series just came out. With each book, I've upped the bar as far as intensity and giving the reader an adrenalin rush of a thrill ride. Book #1, LIFELINES, was pretty much pure thriller with increasing stakes until the entire city of Pittsburgh was at risk.

Book #2, WARNING SIGNS, was a different kind of challenge: combining a coming of age story about a medical student suffering from mysterious symptoms with the whodunnit mystery behind the deadly symptoms.

URGENT CARE, book #3, was a true book of my heart and the toughest to write--in it, I explore the psychological effects of surviving a trauma. It's a dark, gritty suspense, very emotionally honest.

So for CRITICAL CONDITION, the finale of the Angels' quadrilogy, I wanted to go back to the intense pacing of the first book. Only I set myself an even bigger challenge--instead of taking place over 4 days, this book takes place over four HOURS!

Yep, you got it--you'll pretty much read this book in real time--which means juggling not only four characters and their story arcs but down to the second timing between each scene.

Plus, after the dark intensity of URGENT CARE, I wanted to give readers a bit of a smile, so there are all sorts of unexpected happenings (unexpected even to me, lol! Don't you love it when that happens, you're just writing along and you surprise even yourself? Talk about chaos!) and fun twists and turns.

But….there's always a but, isn't there?...will CRITICAL CONDITION excite and satisfy my readers as much as it did me? It's fresh, different, pushing all the boundaries…but is that what readers want?

What do you want from a book? A comfortable, familiar sweater that you know will fit perfectly?

Or a snazzy, new dress that may itch at first but gives you that feeling of ohlala?
Thanks for reading!


As a pediatric ER doctor, CJ Lyons has lived the life she writes about. In addition to being an award-winning medical suspense author, CJ is a nationally known presenter and keynote speaker.
Her first novel, LIFELINES (Berkley, March 2008), received praise as a "breathtakingly fast-paced medical thriller" from Publishers Weekly, was reviewed favorably by the Baltimore Sun and Newsday, named a Top Pick by Romantic Times Book Review Magazine, and became a National Bestseller. Her award-winning, critically acclaimed Angels of Mercy series (LIFELINES, WARNING SIGNS, and URGENT CARE) is available now and the series finale, CRITICAL CONDITION, hits stores December, 2010. Her newest project is as co-author of a new suspense series with Erin Brockovich. To learn more about CJ and her work, go to


Nas Dean said...

Lets say familiar but with a slight twist!

RK Charron said...

Hi CJ :)
I like the familiar characters in new situations, fresh experiences, etc.
J.D. Robb's in Death series does this well as does Jim Butcher's Dresden series.
Thank you for the wonderful post,

CJ Lyons said...

I think you're right--we don't want to be bored but we also don't want to start over from scratch with each book.
Thanks for stopping by!

CJ Lyons said...

RK, great examples of series that get it right!!!
I was just re-watching the Dresden Files on netflix last night...great show, really captured that character, not sure why they canceled it (but that happens to all the shows I fall for, lol!)
Take care,

ev said...

I'm with RK, those were the first two I immediately thought about. On the other hand LKH has gone in directions with Anita Blake the bug me and I don't rush to read them (and I get them from the library too).

And if you liked the Dresden series, you should really listen to them on audio. James Marsters does a bang up job as Harry and I love them even more!

Now that your series is complete, I will go and read them all. Since I came late to the party on them, I decided to wait until they were all out to read them.

CJ Lyons said...

James Marsters as Harry?!?! Oh, you just made my day!

Thanks, Ev!

Estella said...

I have read your first three books and cannot wait to get my hands on Critical Condition.

CJ Lyons said...

Thanks, Estella!!! Let me know what you think of CRITICAL CONDITION!

Kandy Shepherd said...

Excellent, thought-provoking post!

CJ Lyons said...

Kandy, glad you enjoyed it! Thanks for stopping by!

Terry Odell said...

I tend to want both -- if I'm reading a series, I want to watch characters grow, but not become different people. I can re-read the JD Robb books over and over because I like spending time with the characters.

I do think readers have a certain expectation, and you can up the ante a bit, but they don't like it if you switch games--unless you do it in another series.

Terry's Place
Romance with a Twist--of Mystery

Mary said...

I want something that grabs my attention and makes me stay up in the wee hours of the morning reading because I can't put it down.

I will read pretty much anything so it doesn't bother me if my favorite author decides to go in a different direction than their previous books.

ev said...

CJ- I am on the most recent Dresden book- Side Jobs- all the short stories in chronological order. I really think the one that is "narrated' by Thomas should have come with a warning! Do Not listen to while driving. It may induce hot flashes and naughty thoughts. Oh. My. Holy. Whatever. His voice as Thomas has got to be the hottest thing I have ever listened to.