Author Interview: D.P. Lyle
D.P. Lyle is the award-winning author of eight thrillers novels, six non-fiction books about forensics, and two tie-in novels for the USA television show Royal Pains. He has also had stories in four anthologies, including the International Thriller Writers' Love is Murder. He's won the Mystery Readers International's Macavity Award and the IPBA Benjamin Franklin Award. He has been twice nominated for an Edgar Award and the USA Today Best Book Award, as well as being nominated for an Agatha Award, Anthony Award, Shamus Award, Scribe Award, and a Killer Nashville's Silver Falchion Award. He is vice president of Education for International Thriller Writers, and as if that isn't enough, he is also a Cardiologist in Orange County, California. He’s been gracious enough to take a few minutes to answer some questions.
MB: Let's start by talking about your non-fiction work. You've written three Q&A books about forensics, which were based on questions you received from mystery and thriller writers. How did you become the "go-to" source about forensics for writers?
DPL: Yes, there are three books in the series, Murder and Mayhem, Forensics and Fiction, and More Forensics and Fiction. Each contains about 180 of the best questions that I’ve received from writers over the years. Right now I have over 6000 such questions on my computer so selecting a handful of intriguing and hopefully educational questions was a fairly big job. In the end, I think it worked out. The seeds of these books were actually planted a long time ago. My friend and Crime and Science Radio cohost, Jan Burke, was president of the Southern California Chapter of Mystery Writers of America. She said that the newsletter was fairly anemic and asked if I would write an article on something of interest to writers. I wrote an piece called "Timely Death." It drew a lot of interest. The article can be found on my website now under the Articles link. Jan and I then talked about maybe doing a question-and-answer column in each issue and she sent out a call for questions. We titled the column The Doctor Is In. It later appeared in several different newsletters for several different organizations. After that, writers and screenwriters began contacting me with questions about their stories and as time went by these questions and answers accrued. This is where this trio of books came from.
MB: You've acted as consultant for several successful television shows, including CSI: Miami, Law & Order, Cold Case, House, Monk, and several others. You've even written two tie-in novels for the USA show, Royal Pains. As a physician, did you ever face conflicts with what Hollywood portrays as medical fact?
DPL: I only worked with screenwriters as far as the TV shows are concerned and never with the producers or directors and never "went on set." I was more interested, and thought I could be more helpful, in constructing the storylines, getting the facts right. Most of the screenwriters that I work with are very savvy and understood medical and forensic stuff fairly well. What they needed was the edges smoothed out so that the story would ring true. We work together to make that happen. Of course, it was, and is, not uncommon for Hollywood to stretch the truth in the pursuit of storytelling. Which is fine, since you have to look at these stories as entertainment and not education. I did write the two books in the Royal Pain series of tie-in novels. The medicine and the forensic science in my stories are accurate, but I can't say that for the TV series where the circumstances in both of these arenas jumped the rails often. But again, it's storytelling, it's entertainment.
MB: You've written three different thriller series, including your latest featuring ex-baseball player, Jake Longly. The latest in the series is called A-List. Without giving any spoilers, what can you tell us about the book that we won't find in the jacket copy or PR material?
DPL: That's true. I have two previous thriller series and am beginning the third. The first was my Dub Walker series, which is more procedural and forensic science oriented. It's also dark and psychological. My Samantha Cody series is also a bit darker but each story has at least some metaphysical component. That is, the reader must ask, did this really happen or was it imagined, maybe supernatural? With the Jake Longly series I turned to comedy. I had always wanted to write comedy because I find just about everything and anything funny so I decided to give it a shot. Interestingly, while the first two series were outlined, the Jake series was not. I simply had an idea for a couple scenes and began writing and let it go where it wanted to go. Since these stories are more comedic and less tied to real-life circumstances – – that is coincidence and serendipity can play roles here – – it was a freer type of writing and I must say the easiest and most enjoyable I've ever done. I simply love this series. In the most recent one, A-List, Jake and crew must head to New Orleans where a mega buck, A-list, face-of-the-franchise actor has awakened with a dead girl in his bed. Oh, and she just happens to be the beloved niece of a dangerous mafioso type. Needless to say, things get crazy in a hurry. The next in the series, Sunshine State, will be out next May.
MB: Every writer has specific nuisances when it comes to writing. Some have special places set aside where they write. Some are "pantsers" who fly by the seat of their pants when it comes to their plot, while others are plotters who feverish outline their stories within an inch of its life. Some edit as they go, and others won't edit until the draft is done. Talk for a moment about your writing process.
DPL: I’ve always outlined stories. I didn't make extensive outlines but basically a list of plot points, or things that could happen. Each of these points then became a scene. I would work on them until I got about two thirds the way through the story and by then was comfortable that the story had legs so I would usually stop outlining at that point and begin writing. So I rarely completed an outline before I began putting words on the page. I would, however, keep the outline up to date with what was going on with the story, simply because it helped me find a scene if I needed to go back and look at what happened before. Easier to scroll through a plot point list than through an entire manuscript. Of course now I use Scrivener for my projects and this makes keeping scenes straight amazingly simple. Writers who don't use this program are truly missing a great tool. But when I got to the Jake Longly series, I simply had a few scenes in mind and started writing and let it go where it wanted to go. It works well for these comedic type stories but for more procedural stories I still think outlining is probably the best method. That said, I've begun a new series, the Bobby Cain series, and even though they are more straight up and complex stories I'm not outlining them either. So I guess you could say I've moved from outliner to a panster. It seems to be working.
MB: Let's talk about reading for a moment. Is there a specific genre that you lean toward when selecting a book to read?
DPL: I read crime fiction for the most part. I love James Lee Burke and Elmore Leonard as, to me, they are the best. And so much can be learned from each of their stories. I also enjoy T. Jefferson Parker, Robert Crais, Michael Connelly, Dennis Lehane, Megan Abbott, Meg Gardiner, Lisa Gardner, and Karen Slaughter, and so many others. I approached each book not only as a story and a bit of entertainment, but also as a learning experience. Each of the authors mentioned above can offer writers in any genre a wonderful education on how to tell a story. Reading is important for writing and I don't know how you can be a successful writer unless you read a lot. It's just so educational, not to mention fun.
MB: What are you currently reading?
DPL: Right now, I just finished T. Jefferson Parker's latest book Swift Vengeance and it was marvelous. I am now reading Megan Abbott's latest Give Me Your Hand and it is likewise marvelous.
MB: What can we expect from you in the future? Are you working on any new projects?
DPL: The next Jake book is coming in May and is titled Sunshine State. And I'm also working on the new Bobby Cain series. The first in this series is completed and I'm going through a final edit and the second is already started. I'm about one third the way through that one. I also have a new radio gig, actually a podcast gig, on Authors On The Air. It's titled Criminal Mischief: The Art and Science of Crime Fiction. I'm prepping to record the first episode right now.
MB: Finally, give me a list of your top five all-time favorite books.
DPL: Black Cherry Blues by James Lee Burke, The Godfather by Mario Puzo, The Day of the Jackal by Frederick Forsyth, Riding The Rap by Elmore Leonard, and California Girl by T. Jefferson Parker. These the ones I can think of off the top of my head that I consider very special but the actual list is much longer.
MB: Thanks for taking the time to talk to me today. Good luck with A-List, and the forthcoming Sunshine State.
For a complete list of books by D.P. Lyle, check out his Amazon author page by clicking here.