writer chat…

by Toni McGee Causey

This weekend, I’m at the most amazing writer’s retreat with a group of friends; we’re overlooking a gorgeous bay with cerulean blue skies, giant white cranes lazily circling the docks as competent white motorboats slide past in the bay. The weather has been stunning—low 80s, clear, light breezes—and the food has been wonderful. And in spite of all of that beauty, we managed an amazing amount of work done. This is the first time I’ve done this sort of a gathering of writers with a goal of workshopping (brainstorming) and it’s been one of the best weekends, ever.

What made it even more of a joy was that the writers I got to spend time with are women I respect and admire, whose writing styles span several genres and who have a great enthusiasm for storytelling at its finest. One of those women happens to also be a friend, CJ Lyons, who has a terrific new book out this week called URGENT CARE 

I asked CJ a few fun questions that I’d like to share with you today, because it’s always a kick to me to ask questions of long-time friends and still be surprised by their answers.

Question: If you were to go to the great Coffee Shop in the sky, which five authors would you love to meet for conversations?

CJ: Hemingway, Dumas, Rilke, E. E. “Doc” Smith, and Shakespeare. 

The reason for those five is that they know how to tell a damned good story and captivate your imagination. Hemingway could use very few words to evoke large emotions. Dumas understood the complexities of people as well as their society. Rilke for his ability to paint with words. Doc Smith for his ability to imagine new worlds and Shakespeare because he understood that it was as important to laugh as to cry.

Question: Who inspired you? 

Ray Bradbury.

He was the first author that I read that understood that adult themes were not out of bounds for kids and didn’t talk down to children. He also introduced me to the idea of words, other than poetry, being able to portray emotion more than just creating action on the page. 

Question: How long have you been writing and how did you know you wanted to write fiction? 

Actually, I guess I’ve been writing fiction all my life, because I’ve been telling stories all my life. I had a hard time telling the difference between reality and not-quite-so-truthful reality, which ended up giving me a lot of time in “time out”… which, of course, meant I had more time to create new stories.

I was an early reader and an early writer. In grade school I created a Civil War saga about a blind orphan girl and her horse—because there always has to be a horse—who rescued other orphans from Confederate marauders. I didn’t write for publication until 2003 when I joined RWA and entered the Golden Heart contest (where I finaled) and I sold that book six months later.

Question: Tell me a little bit about your background which helps to give your current series so much verisimilitude?

My background includes 17 years of practicing pediatrics and pediatric emergency medicine in some of the east coast’s busiest trauma centers. Also, I lived in Pittsburg, where the series is set. But the most important thing is understanding the emotional costs of practicing medicine while working in an urban ER, because the stories are not just about the medicine, they’re about the people and their relationships. The idea for the series was that it wasn’t medicine that saves lives, but people who save lives. 

Question: Your newest book hit the bookstands last Tuesday. Tell me about URGENT CARE.

URGENT CARE is darker and more emotional than the first two books. In it, ER Charge Nurse Nora Halloran must face her greatest fear when the man who attacked her two years ago returned and is now killing his victims.


Question: What is the funniest thing (non-X-rated) that you’ve ever seen in the ER. 

Well, I was amazed to learn just how many men changed their light bulbs while naked and where the light bulb ends up. Note to the wise: wear jeans.

Here’s the summary of URGENT CARE, which I know is a terrific read because I had the great fortune of getting to read this in an earlier draft and was wowed by it:

URGENT CARE (Berkley/Jove, October 2009) by CJ Lyons.  An ER charge nurse must face her deepest fears when the man who sexually assaulted her returns…only now he’s killing his victims.  CJ Lyons’ novels give readers “a powerful and dramatic look into the frenzied world of emergency medicine…Lyons’ characters are dynamic and genuine.”   ~Suspense Magazine

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, on October 27, 2009.  Contact her at http://www.cjlyons.net

So even though CJ’s story is a very dark tale, I’d love to know what’s the funniest / silliest / craziest thing you (or a relative or friend) managed to do that called for a visit to the ER.

13 thoughts on “writer chat…

  1. Stephen Jay Schwartz

    Thanks, Toni–and it’s great to meet you on-line, CJ!
    I’m always fascinated by people who had real, socially responsible jobs before they became published. I’m impressed when I meet authors who are also physicians, and a pediatric ER doctor takes top prize in my world.
    Emergency room tales, let’s see…when I was a youngin’ there was this old ping-pong table leaning up against a wall in our garage and I kicked it until it fell on top of me. That sent me to the ER.
    Then, a few years ago, I thought I was a soccer player again and when I simply TURNED to face an oncoming ball I broke my foot–right in the middle. I didn’t even connect with the ball. I think that was right around my 42nd birthday. I’m looking forward to many enjoyable visits to the ER as I age.

  2. Allison Brennan

    Great interview! And I’m jealous, because I had a chance to go to the writers retreat but couldn’t take another cross-country travel this year . . . I’ve flown out to the east coast five times in 2009. Yep, I’m done until July!

    I also love Ray Bradbury. My first science fiction short stories was a collection that had Ray Bradbury’s "A Sound of Thunder" and I read it in 5th grade. (Hated the movie, lots of reasons) I then found another collection by him with a story called "And He Built a Crooked House" which was amazing (about tesseracts–might be spelling that wrong!) I recently re-read Fahrenheit 451 this summer with my daughter who had to read it for summer reading (she dreaded it, but ended up really liking it.)

    ER . . . no major trips (thank God.) When I was a kid (5? 6? 7?) I apparently put a bead up my nose that necessitated a trip when my mom couldn’t get it out. I’ve been to the ER twice on Christmas Eve (well, not the ER — urgent care, which is different because it was during normal hours) because for some reason, my kids decide that Christmas Eve is the best time to be daring. Both trips were for stitches (one for Kelly, who had been 2 at the time–tripped and fell because and because she refused to let go of a balloon so her chin hit the pavement; and one for Mary who–surprisingly–was also nearly 2 at the time. She decided to climb onto her dad’s desk and put her foot on the slide out tray for the keyboard which does NOT hold 25 pounds. Kelly had stitches, with Mary they glued it. Amazing stuff.)

  3. BCB

    Oooh, envy here too. Glad you all are having a fun and productive retreat!

    It’s not silly or crazy, but one of the most memorable ER visits started at Urgent Care when my daughter was about seven and had appendicitis. Once they diagnosed it, the UC doc called around to see which hospital had the best availability, then called a surgeon (who he said was the best) at home on a Saturday night. The surgeon said to pull up at the ER and he’d meet us there. And he did. He was standing there waiting for us. I’d barely gotten out of the van and he had opened the back door and was lifting my daughter out of her seat. He said, "Hi, I’m Dr. Stokes. You go park over there where it says doctors only and then come on in and do the paperwork. I’ll take good care of her." And then he turned and carried my daughter into the hospital. He told us later he’d never seen an appendix so close to bursting. Proof that CJ is right, it’s the people who make the difference (I’ll keep an eye out for the new release).

    The other trip that really stands out is the time my son sliced his foot open stomping around barefoot in rain puddles. Had to have stitches in the sole of his foot. Still makes me cringe. Learned that ER’s really are soundproof.

  4. Pari Noskin Taichert

    Wonderful to read this, Toni. And thank you, CJ!

    Funny and ER? None.
    But I ended up there on my wedding night.
    Oh, and when someone gauged out a bit of my cornea at sparring, I ended up at the ER the next day. It was summertime and I had bruises everywhere from Tae Kwon Do. You should’ve seen the looks my husband got.

  5. Barb Goffman

    This happened to my brother. (No, not me. I swear.) He’s a neatnik, and he was home alone, in the garage, up on a ladder, doing something. And he fell off. Broke his arms (or maybe his hands, I can’t remember.) Did he call an ambulance? Certainly not. First, he somehow put the ladder back where it was supposed to go, and put a few things back in their proper place, and then he went to DRIVE HIMSELF to the emergency room. Of course when he got in the car, he realized he couldn’t maneuver his hands properly, so he drove the couple miles with his elbows. Or so the story goes. Moral of the story, I told him: First: Don’t get up on a ladder when you’re wife and kids are away for the weekend. And second, if you must, and you fall off, call an ambulance! And don’t worry about cleaning up. The mess will wait.

  6. Becky LeJeune

    Fantastic interview. I enjoy CJ’s series very much and have to say that Urgent Care is no exception.

    My funny ER story: My boyfriend was working in NYC for at least a month and our roommate was leaving to go out of town when I reached my breaking point with our yard. Our landlord had not provided us a lawnmower, but had said that her son would be mowing for us — that didn’t last very long. So neither of the men in my house had made any efforts to take care of it themselves for quite some time and the back yard was knee high. First I started hacking at it with scissors and then hedge clippers, trying desperately to use something I already had on hand to take care it myself.

    My boyfriend laughed at me and suggested that I buy a weed whacker. I was having quite a bit of success until I ran over my foot with the thing. And it had been quite some time since I’d had a tetanus shot, and considering the things the wire on the weed whacker was running through before it hit my toe, I figured it would be a good idea to go to the ER and get one.

    I hobbled up our stairs, dripping blood everywhere, calling everyone I knew until I could find someone who could drive me. Got there and the ER folks were literally laughing at me for weed whacking in flip flops in the first place.

    Even though it was stupid and the cuts were only minor, I was pretty shaken up and haven’t done any weed whacking since, not even with proper footwear. But I did borrow a Becky proof manual push mower (the ones that are just blades hooked to handles) from our neighbor for further yard care, since the guys still weren’t especially inclined.

  7. CJ Lyons

    Hi guys! Just walked in my door from a 7 hour drive, and it was so nice to see all of you sharing your ER stories!!!

    I’m so happy that so far none of them are ragging on doctors and nurses–and even more happy that everyone emerged safe and sound!!!

    I’ll try to drop back later as soon as I feed the cat,

  8. Rob Gregory Browne

    I had some fun in an ER in Baltimore during last year’s Bouchercon. First, the ambulance takes me on a screaming five minute ride to the hospital from Hell, where they wheel me into the ER, park me in a corner for an hour. Then the money guy pulls over to his little cubicle and asks for my insurance card, of which I have two — dual coverage.

    I’m in agony all this time, by the way. I’ve been there over an hour and they’ve done NOTHING to relieve the pain (food poisoning). I give the guy my insurance cards, then they wheel me out again and sit me near some guy who was either drunk or crazy, probably both.

    Somewhere along the way, my friends Battles and Cameron show up, but I barely know they’re there, and they tell me later that I looked like death.

    Anyway, about two or so hours in, they finally wheel me into a room and stick an IV in my arm. I fell instantly in love with the nurse who gave me the IV. Seriously. I would have married her on the spot. At least I think it was a her.

    As sweet relief FINALLY set in, I was soooo happy. Then, at three in the morning, they told me I was well enough to go home, so, get the hell out.

    I had to call a cab.

    Over a year later my wife is still fighting with the hospital over the dual coverage. They fucked up their paperwork and can’t for the life of them get it right. Idiots.

  9. JT Ellison

    Glad y’all had a good retreat!

    I did have one amusing ER trip, my freshman year of college. Stupid drunk frat boy hit me in the head with a pitcher, and I got so mad that I attempted to break his winshield. With my fist. Needless to say, broke my wrist. Taught me not to fight inanimate objects. But my dear friend and her boyfriend (plus a bevy of others) took me to the hospital, ended up making out in the waiting room (not just kissing, but stretched out full length on a couch, and were asked to PLEASE LEAVE. We still laugh about that.

  10. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Toni and welcome, CJ

    Sorry – late again.

    Had quite a few trips to Casualty in my time (Brit version of ER) with everything from stab wounds (my sister) to falling off motorcycles and horses.

    Now though, I mostly just use SteriStrips and repair it myself.

  11. Daize Shayne

    That’s a tough one because I like different authors for different reasons. I love Charlaine Harris’s comic timing, Sallie Bissell’s masterful suspense, and Barbara Kingsolver’s character development.


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