When I learned that there were two new D.P. Lyle novels coming out this month, I wanted to hear all about them. Particularly since one of the novels is the first in the Royal Pains series, a tie-in to the USA Network television program.
D.P. Lyle is not just a writer. He's been a practicing cardiologist for three decades, and has combined his medical expertise to write not only thrillers, but a number of award-winning books on forensics for writers and the morbidly curious. (I qualify as both.) You can read about his workshops, appearances, t.v. consulting and all the other cool things he's done at his website. Be sure to follow his Writer's Forensics blog, too, where he takes on fascinating and newsworthy forensics topics and often answers some pretty wild questions submitted by writers and readers.
Q: Since this is your first visit to the blog, I'd love for you to tell us how a nice physician like you got involved in the shady business of crime writing.
A: I grew up telling stories as does everyone in the South. You have to tell stories. It’s part of the culture. Whether sitting around a checkerboard, a country stove, a campfire, or the breakfast table, stories are part of everyone’s life down there. So I always enjoyed a good yarn. I also felt that I had stories I wanted to tell, and I said that when I retired that I would write. Or see if I could. But approximately 15 years ago I basically said: If not now, when? I took some classes at the University of California, Irvine, and joined a couple of writing groups and began to write. Crime fiction was a natural simply because I like crime stories.
Q: Do you prefer writing one genre--fiction or non-fiction--over the other?
A: I like both. They are similar, but different. In nonfiction you must gather all the facts, do all your research, organize your thoughts, and then put the manuscript together. With fiction I think it’s the exact opposite. You first have a story in mind which you mull over for days or weeks or months, and then you do a little research, but basically you start writing the story. The story is paramount. At least for me, I will then do research as I go along. If I run across some information that I need for the plot or for a particular scene, I’ll jump in and do some research on that topic, and then go on with the story. The Internet has made that so much easier than traipsing off to the library and digging through catalogs and bookshelves.
Of the two, however, I think I like fiction writing best. It allows your imagination to take off, and I find it very satisfying to create a new plot or scene. There’s nothing quite like that feeling when you know you’ve written a scene that just works.
Q: When it comes to First, Do No Harm, the first novelization of a Royal Pains story, I know readers and writers alike will want to know how you came to be chosen for the gig. Was there a writing/audition process?
A: I have to blame my good friend Lee Goldberg for this. As you know, Lee writes the Diagnosis Murder and Monk novels. His brother Tod writes the Burn Notice novels and his partner Bill Rabkin writes the Psych novels. These are called tie-in novels because they are tied to a television series.
Penguin approached Lee about taking on the Royal Pains project, but he told them he was probably not the guy to do it but that I might be. He recommended me to them. So that’s basically how it began. After I spoke with my wonderful editor there, Sandy Harding, and my equally wonderful agent, Kimberly Cameron, I finally decided to sign a two book deal with them.
Q: Royal Pains is such a fun television series. Were you a fan, first? You've done a terrific job with the characters' voices in First, Do No Harm--particularly Divya's. Does it help to have live actors as models for the characters that you're writing?
A: Thank you. I’m glad you liked the characters and the story. Yes, I watched the TV show before I was ever approached to write the novels. Though I have problems with some of the medical stuff that Hank does–couldn’t happen in the real world–I really enjoyed the characters and their interaction. I liked the humor and I liked the other characters that surround the four main ones. And I thought it was an interesting premise.
As for having live actors as models, it’s a double-edged sword. I have these characters that are already created and so therefore I don’t have to come up with new characters out of whole cloth. But, it also means that I can’t tinker with them or take them in directions that I would like. You are constrained by the creators and the TV series as to what you can and cannot do. But overall it was fun.
Q: How real is the business of concierge medicine? Does it exist only in the enclaves of the wealthy, like The Hamptons?
A: Absolutely concierge medicine is alive and well. Here in Orange County, California, I have several friends who do that type of medicine and really enjoy it. Can’t see myself doing it, but it is a viable form of medical practice.
Q: Since I was able to read First, Do No Harm and Hot Lights, Cold Steel, the new Dub Walker novel, in quick succession, I was struck by the difference in writing styles. How do you shift gears from one style to the other?
A: Royal Pains is a comedy/drama based on a TV series. By definition, the stories had to be light, funny, and follow the series. I found the writing flowed very easily and the stories were much easier to create than the more convoluted plot lines required for a thriller. Once you get the story rolling, it almost tells itself.
Stories like Hot Lights, Cold Steel are what I enjoy writing most. It’s dark, it’s complex, it has some really, really bad guys, and hopefully has suspense from beginning to end. There is humor but it’s not the lighthearted humor that is seen in Royal Pains.
So, yes, the two writing styles are very different, and are intentionally so. One of the reasons that I agreed to do the Royal Pains stories was to learn a new style of writing. Another arrow in the quiver. I think writing different types of books helps make you a better writer, and I think that the voice and the style must fit the story. I also believe that writing different styles helps each of your styles become stronger. There are things that bleed over from one type of story to the other.
Q: Dub Walker is a character of many talents. Does he have any character traits that you'd like to steal for yourself? What have you learned about him since writing your first book in the series, Stress Fracture?
A: Dub and I are a lot alike and yet different. We both believe in truth, justice, and the American way. Like me, Dub does not like to see the bad guys get away with it, particularly if they are arrogant, greedy, and amoral. He has the ability to focus on the problem and relentlessly pursue it. But I think most physicians are that way and, while not a physician himself, Dub almost completed medical school, so he has that knowledge, and many of those traits.
Not only has Dub grown during these first two books and will do so in the third, which I have just finished–titled Run To Ground–but also the other main characters, Claire McBride and T-Tommy Tortelli, have evolved through the stories. Not a lot, since they are series characters, but they at least are exposed to different challenges, and different situations in each story. I’ve really enjoyed writing these stories, and I love all three of these characters.
Q: Without getting into spoilers, I was blown away by the--shall we say--mechanism behind the murders in Hot Lights, Cold Steel. It has a science-fiction feel to it. What links do you see between fiction/science fiction of the past and current medical science?
A: I’m definitely not the first person to say this, but current science fiction predicts future science fact. World literature is replete with examples, with, of course, the great Jules Verne being the classic example. He sent men to the moon and launched them from the East Coast of Florida. He sent a man around the world in a balloon. He found mysterious islands that were unknown before. All of these things happened after Mr. Verne showed us the way.
The science in Hot Lights, Cold Steel is indeed futuristic. Though many of the devices and procedures used in the story do exist today, in this story the envelope was pushed down the road a bit. Everything that happens in the story will happen someday. And that day is probably not too far in the future.
Q: I noticed that your second Royal Pains novel is scheduled for this coming January. That's two books in one year. Plus, you have your Dub Walker novels and non-fiction work. Tell me about your writing process. How in the world do you tackle such an aggressive schedule?
A: The simple answer is that I have cats so I don’t sleep much. The truth is that when I practiced full-time as a cardiologist, I averaged working 80 or so hours a week. Either working or on call. One thing about cardiology is that if you’re on call you're up and running around to emergency rooms and intensive care units. It’s just the nature of the practice. So I was used to long hours. Now that I only practice part-time, and only do office work, I have a lot of free time. But that’s taken up with writing and I have found that I still spend 80 or so hours a week either with my medical practice or with writing.
It’s true that the second Royal Pains novel will be out in January. Fortunately it is completed and we are just beginning the editorial process. I have also completed the next Dub Walker novel, and my agent is looking at it now. I’ll run back through it again, and then send it off to the publisher. I also have a third question-and-answer book coming out in January. It is completed, and we are just now beginning the editorial process for that. In addition I am now creating another Samantha Cody novel in order to resurrect that series. It’s partially written and hopefully will be completed in another few months.
Q: In addition to writing, I know you spend a lot of time teaching forensic and craft classes for writers. Where will you be in the coming months?
A: I go to many writing conferences mainly to see wonderful people like you, and our other fellow writers. But of the many hats I wear, by far the one I enjoy the most is teacher. I love it. My older sister was a teacher for 30 years, and just recently retired. I have always loved school, either as a student or as a teacher, and right now I love teaching writers about forensic science, and about how to put a thriller together.
I have my two favorite conferences of the year coming up in July. The first is ThrillerFest in New York. I think that’s the best big conference each year. The two days prior to ThrillerFest we put on a craft school called CraftFest. I have been the director of the school since it started six years ago. We have an incredible cadre of teachers each year that come and offer their knowledge to writers. This year we have Ken Follett, Steve Berry, Michael Palmer, Gayle Lynds, Andy Gross, Hallie Ephron, and so many others.
Two weeks after that is my favorite small conference each year: Book Passage Mystery Writers Conference at the Book Passage Bookstore in Corte Madera, California. This is an excellent conference that is very craft oriented. It is put on each year by the wonderful people at Book Passage, and Sheldon Siegel and Jackie Winspear. Again a group of talented teachers come each year, and I’ve been fortunate enough to be a part of the faculty for the past several years. Anyone who is interested in either of these can go to my website and look under the Events Link to find the details for these conferences.
Thanks so much, Doug. I knew this would be an amazing interview! I've linked to the Kindle versions of the Samantha Cody novels on Amazon.com. One of the brilliant things about the ebook revolution is the way writers can keep their books alive for readers, and even give beloved characters fresh, new life.
Dearest readers--I'm also proud to say that D.P. Lyle, M.J. Rose, and I, plus many of your other favorite mystery and thriller writers, have essays in the Edgar and Anthony Awards-nominated anthology, Thrillers:100 Must Reads, edited by David Morrell and Hank Wagner. Check it out here.