With Kill Zone becoming available today for purchase (and me being fortunate enough to have received a copy for review), Ms. Lyons was nice enough to answer a few questions about the book, and a couple more besides.
Welcome Ms. Lyons to Lily's Reviews!
Lily: What inspired the storyline for Kill Zone?
CJ: Kill Zone is one of those "ripped from the headlines" stories. First, I stumbled across some first-hand accounts about the drug trade in Afghanistan and how things have changed (and not changed) with the Taliban leaving power.
Then I was reading accounts of Mexican drug cartel violence including the use of children as assassins and the extreme violence against innocent civilians. And finally, I saw an AP report about cartel activity here in the US.
The pediatrician in me was horrified…but the thriller author in me thought: Wow…wouldn't that be the nightmare scenario, combining the world's largest opium producers with the ruthlessness and organization of the drug cartels? And what if it happened here, in the US, in one of the country's most liveable cities, Pittsburgh?
Lily: What kind of research went into the book and what was the most surprising and/or interesting thing you came across?
CJ: I interviewed federal and local law enforcement officers, got to go shooting with a SWAT Lieutenant (who even let me fire his own personal sniper rifle!), and had a blast practicing tactical entries, but by far the most chilling research was viewing a covert DEA video depicting a cartel body disposal team in action. I won't give away too much (I describe it in Kill Zone for those not squeamish), but I will say it involves vultures. Hundreds of them. I still have nightmares.
Lily: Who or what inspired the character of Lucy Guardino?
CJ: I was tired of reading thrillers featuring female FBI agents who were driven by angst, fleeing demons, fighting addiction, stalked by serial killers, or with dark, forbidden secrets, etc–all things that would never allow them to do their job effectively in the real world.
As a woman who has always worked in a male dominated field (Emergency Medicine), I wanted to create a main character I could relate to. Someone facing the same kind of struggles balancing work and family and who was “real.”
I thought, why not go as real as it gets? How about a Pittsburgh soccer mom, who has a loving and supportive family? No angst, no dark past, no addictions or demons…Just the very real need to do her job the best she can while also giving her family as much love and attention as possible.
Of course, I can’t go too easy on her, so I give her the worst possible job, tracking pedophiles and sex offenders. The fact that she happens to be good at it only makes her life more complicated because she fights a constant battle of protecting her family from her work.
Lily: How much fact is in the fiction?
CJ: Like all my books, Kill Zone is as close to reality as I can make it while still being entertaining…but for the first time ever I actually had to decrease the level of violence by about 90% compared to reality. How often do you hear a thriller writer say that! (LR: Yikes!)
But there was no way my readers would be entertained by what really is happening in areas caught up in this cartel violence…so instead I tried to make the violence feel both realistic and personal, giving it context and emotional meaning to the characters instead of just gratuitous blood on the page. It was a very fine line to walk, but I think I achieved that.
Lily: What is next for Lucy and her family?
CJ: A long break, lol! They've been through hell and back in the past few months! But I know readers won't let Lucy rest for long, so I'm already planning a cross-over novel with her and my popular Hart and Drake characters that I hope to have out in 2013.
Lily: I look forward to reading that in when it comes out. What started you on the road to writing?
CJ: I've been a writer and storyteller all my life. As a kid it led to a lot of time outs!
I first turned to writing thrillers after one of my fellow pediatric interns was murdered. Before Jeff's death I had written science fiction and fantasy, but that escapism wasn't helping me cope with the trauma after he was killed. So I turned to crime fiction where I could explore justice and good and evil and the shades of gray in between.
Lily: Is there anything else you would like for readers to know?
CJ: In honor of Jeff's memory and in appreciation for my readers--who are all heroes to me--I've established a charity program called Buy a Book, Make a Difference.
Proceeds from book sales will go to worthy charities including funding scholarships for police officers to attend forensic training so they can better protect and serve our communities.
You can learn more at http://cjlyons.net/buy-a-book-make-a-difference/ Towards the bottom there's a link to the scholarship page where police officers can apply. We funded four this year and hope to provide at least ten more next year. If you know of a law enforcement organization that we can help, please check it out.
Lily: Thank you for stopping by and answering a few questions. As always, a pleasure and I look forward to reading the next book.
CJ Lyons is a New York Times and USA Today best-selling author, a trained Pediatric Emergency Medicine, and has assisted police and prosecutors with cases involving child abuse, rape, homicide and Munchausen by Proxy. She has worked in numerous trauma centers, on the Navajo reservation, as a crisis counselor, victim advocate, as well as a flight physician for Life Flight and Stat Medevac.
To learn more about her and her books, please visit: http://cjlyons.net
Also, Ms. Lyons has graciously made Snake Skin available in electronic format to commenters on this entry. Please leave your first name and initial of last name, an e-mail address where you may be contacted, and whether you would prefer Mobi or Epub format. Thank you.