Living a Life of Crime

From CJ:

All this time on Pop Cultures and I realized that I've never introduced myself!  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!

So now, tell me about your biggest leap of faith!
PS: URGENT CARE comes out next Tuesday, October 27th.  Give me a shout when you read it, I'd love to hear what you think!

About CJ:
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, is due out October, 2009. Contact her at


  1. CJ all I can say is WOW! Thank you for sharing your life with us. How shocking and tragic about your friend who was murdered. I'm glad they found his killer. And how wonderful that after that tragedy you found solace in writing and then eventually a second career. I think we can all be thankful you did! You're an inspiration - I have no idea where you find the time to write but glad that you do and so glad you're a Diva ;D

  2. Joanna,
    Thanks, you're so sweet to say that!

    I'm usually not very comfortable looking "under the hood" but thought it was time to share with for inspiration, that's funny, since I'm pretty much the poster-girl for how *not* to do things, at least not if you want the easy way, lol!

  3. I went to nursing school at seventeen. Although I always wanted to write, my dad told me it was impossible to make a living writing. Ha! It took me twenty-two years to get out of nursing, but I'm now proud and happy to support my household very nicely with my writing income.

  4. Wow, Lori! What a wonderful leap of faith!!! All of your fans are so happy that you followed your heart!

    Thanks for sharing!

  5. CJ - thanks for the introduction to your books and characters, and most especially for sharing your personal journey to the writing life.

    My first leap of faith happened when I was 21 and moved to the Big City of Toronto from Down East (or Nova Scotia, if you want to get technical. Now I'm back. You CAN go home again.) My second leap of faith happened when I left a fulltime job to go to film school. My third leap of faith is still leaping. I'm writing fiction and seeking publication - and definitely growing in unexpected ways. Especially when I hang with wonderful mentors like you, CJ!

  6. Julia, good for you!!! Daring to dream and to work to make those dreams come true, bravo!!!

    I'm convinced that there are three keys to success in any field: Vision, Passion, and Commitment.

    Sounds like you are blessed with all three!

  7. Hi CJ,

    Thanks for sharing your journey and especially the feeling of having others read the stories you wrote. It makes me want my dream to come true even more.

    I left a 12 year career as an ICU and CCU Nurse to raise my four kids. The leap of faith was that staying at home would still be as fulfilling as holding patients hands and having a part in their recovery from illness. I am happy to say that being home is wonderful. It has allowed me the time to find myself and a new writing career.

    My new career is slow to launch, what with having little ones who take priority, but they will grow and I hope that one day I see someone reading my novel at the bus stop.


  8. Tammy, saving lives then raising kids and starting a new career as a writer? Talk about dreams come true!!!

    I'm sure you'll be successful in both of your current careers--anyone with that much energy has to be!

    Thanks for stopping by,

  9. Hi CJ,

    Thank you for sharing your journey. It's very inspiring!

    My biggest leap of faith was not returning to my corporate career after having my kids. Instead, I decided to follow my childhood dream and be a writer. I hadn't written a word of fiction since I was an early teen. Now, eight years after showing up at my first adult ed. creative writing class, after many ups and downs, near misses and successes, when faith was the only thing I could hang my hat on, I achieved my dream.

    You said it perfectly: vision, passion and commitment are the three keys to success. You embody it well, CJ!

  10. Thanks, Pam for the kind words (I'm blushing, lol!) but even more for sharing your inspirational story!

    Take care,

  11. CJ, you are definitely an inspiration. Been through so much in your life and you used it all as an impetus to move forwward.

    My leap of faith started when I ditched a very promising-looking corporate career and decided to become a housewife and 10 months later a SAHM. I was also going for the big degree that would move me even more up the corporate ladder, so that had seemed like a really 'stupid' thing to do. Thank goodness the man backed me all the way. My next step in that leap was moving ahead from cancer treatments and decide that I would live and I'd have books published. Hadn't written one yet, but that was the dream, the goal, the vision. I'm glad to say it happened.

    Thanks for this deep and profound glimpse into your life and experience.



  12. Z, thanks for sharing! Sounds like you definitely have the Vision, Passion, and Commitment it takes to make a dream come true!

    Good luck!

  13. Thanks CJ. People, and authors, like you are an inspiration for the lot of us. Remember this always!



  14. Thanks CJ. People, and authors, like you are an inspiration for the lot of us. Remember this always!




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