Hi guys! I haven’t had an interview on my blog for quite a bit, so I’m super happy to welcome The New York Times bestselling author C. J. Lyons today to talk about her latest YA thriller with heart The Color of Lies as part of the book’s blog tour! I hope you enjoy!
About the Book
From New York Times and USA Today bestselling author CJ Lyons comes The Color of Lies, a world drenched in color and mystery.
High school senior Ella Cleary has always been good at reading people. Her family has a rare medical condition called synesthesia that scrambles the senses—her Gram Helen sees every sound, and her uncle Joe can literally taste words. Ella’s own synesthesia manifests itself as the ability to see colors that reveal people’s true emotions…until she meets a guy she just can’t read.
Alec is a mystery to Ella, a handsome, enigmatic young journalist who makes her feel normal for the first time in her life. That is, until he reveals the real reason why he sought her out—he wants to learn the truth behind her parents’ deaths, the parents that Ella had always been told died in a fire. Alec turns Ella’s world upside down when he tells her their deaths were definitely not an accident.
After learning her entire life has been a lie, Ella doesn’t know who she can trust or even who she really is. With her adoptive family keeping secrets and the evidence mixing fact and fiction, the only way for Ella to learn the truth about her past is to find a killer.
Perfect for fans of Caroline B. Cooney, Ally Carter, and Jennifer Brown, The Color of Lies blurs the lines between black-and-white facts and the kaleidoscope of reality.
Your latest YA thriller The Color of Lies follows a teen girl with color synesthesia who finds out that her parents did not die in a fire but were murdered. After learning this shocking revelation, she tries to uncover secrets about her family’s past, but she does not know who to trust or what to believe. What inspired you to incorporate synesthesia into the genetics of Ella’s family? Could you describe to us the research process you used regardless this condition? Have you had any personal experiences encountering synesthesia in you or in other people?
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.
Also, many people with synesthesia don’t even know they have it–it’s simply how they see the world and they think everyone experiences it the same way. These include some famous artists such as Kandinsky, Tori Amos, Duke Ellington, Billy Joel, Franz Liszt, Vincent Van Gogh, and Bob Dylan, among others. About 4% of the population are estimated to have some form of synesthesia (about twice as many as those who have red hair), so it’s actually fairly common.
I have friends who have it—one is a musician who sees the notes she plays as color and light, another hears colors… I myself have what may be a mild form (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.
Before you became an author and a New York Times bestseller, you worked as a pediatric ER doctor. How has your career as an ER doctor influenced you as a writer? What moved you to make the jump from medicine to writing?
I’ve been a writer all my life—I wrote my first book, a YA fantasy (it was awful, lol!) when I was fifteen and wrote two SF novels while in med school. Writing has always been my way of understanding the chaos that surrounds us all.
My medical career has had a huge influence on my writing. Not only has it given me the opportunity to see behind the curtain of real life and death situations, it also taught me the discipline necessary to achieve my dream of being published.
When I left medicine to write full time, it was a huge leap of faith—only a very small percentage of writers can make a full time career of it. But at the time I had two book contracts (with all the deadlines and hard work that entails) and realized I couldn’t continue to give both my patients and my writing 120% of my energy.
I saved up enough money to take a sabbatical from medicine to give my writing a chance, telling myself that I could return to medicine if the writing didn’t work out.
That was thirteen years and forty-four books ago and I’ve never regretted my choice. With almost two and a half million books sold, I’ve been able to touch more lives with my writing than I ever could seeing one patient at a time.
As the author of over 40 novels, you’ve called your books “thrillers with heart.” Could you describe to us what that means and how you first coined that term?
As an ER doctor, I’ve been privileged to see people on the best day and the worst day of their lives. My experiences taught me that heroes are born everyday and that everyday, normal people can find the courage to stand up and make a difference.
I want to tell their stories as best I can and this is where the “heart” of my thrillers with heart comes from. Stories not about the black and white of good and evil, but rather about the gray area between where it’s not easy to know the right thing to do or what the cost will be, even if you win your happy ending.
What is the hardest part you have encountered when writing thrillers and mysteries, and how do you overcome it? Do you ever surprise yourself when you draft and refine your stories?
Unlike many thriller writers, I refuse to put gratuitous violence on the page—especially not violence toward women and children. I spent my career in medicine (actually even before medical school as a volunteer) being a victim’s advocate and hate those titillating passages (aka “torture porn”) of a woman being sexually assaulted or murdered… for a while there, it seemed as if every thriller’s opening chapter had that.
And yet, it’s my job to create an emotionally honest portrayal of the pain and suffering—and the courage it takes to overcome—that victims experience. How to do that in a way that the reader can really understand and empathize with, without tipping over into clichéd tropes or gratuitous detail?
Each story provides a different challenge as I continually explore ways to communicate the heart of what a victim goes through in as honest a way as readers will accept—because, after all, novels are entertainment, not an instruction manual in victimology.
Two books that were the most difficult I’ve ever written surprised me as I tackled this. The first, HARD FALL was a Thriller Award winner, and although there is absolutely no description of the violence the protagonist suffered as a child, because I included her “memoirs” as a story within the story, you see the extreme psychological impact and how this early abuse changed her forever.
The second was WATCHED, a YA thriller (suitable for ages 14 and up) based on real world cases of men exploiting children via social media. It’s told via the point of view of two victims who come together to take down their abuser. Again, there’s no explicit descriptions on the page, but because you feel the result of the abuse and the destructive power of the shame and guilt it produces, when these kids eventually sacrifice everything to tell their story to the world, it’s more than heart-wrenching, it’s also empowering.
Describe to us the moment that you first learned that one of your books landed on The New York Times bestsellers list. What were you feeling and thinking?
I was at a conference and didn’t even know it had happened until Sunday morning a friend’s husband rushed into the event and pulled his wife and I outside to show us the New York Times with my book at #2 on the bestseller list.
A few other friends came outside to see what was going on and we ended up celebrating with mimosas and buying out the hotel’s copies of the paper so I could have copies for my mom and relatives back home.
How would you “sort” your characters into Hogwarts houses?
Because my main character, Ella, is an artist and very in touch with emotions and intuition rather than logic, I’d put her in Hufflepuff. Alec, of course is Gryffindor. For Ella’s two best friends, Max—loyal to a fault—is a fellow Hufflepuff, while Rory is a clever Ravenclaw.
Before you go, would you like to share any advice you have to any aspiring authors or writers?
The most practical advice I have comes from my agent. She calls it the 2K rule: every day, write 2000 words and read 2000 words. If you do that consistently, you’ll learn not only what aspects of a story work and don’t, you’ll also train yourself to get words on the page no matter what.
About the Author
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.
Two times winner of the International Thriller Writers coveted Thriller Award, 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 www.CJLyons.net
Did Someone Say… Giveaway?
Prize: 5 Copies of The Color of Lies by CJ Lyons (USA only)
Follow the Rest of the Tour Here!
“Every moment of life is like God saying, ‘Look I know you messed up the last moment, but here’s a new one.’ You have a fresh start in this new moment. Every day, every instant of your life is brand new. You make it old by living in the past.” — Mother Angelica
Comment below, or find me in one of my social media pages, and let’s chat!