Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Interview with D.P. Lyle author of STRESS FRACTURE

Hello, Five Scribe Readers. It’s no secret I love conducting interviews; there’s also those that should be four and five-part series. Such is the case for today’s guest, D.P. Lyle, Author of STRESS FRACTURE, which is a newly released thriller through Medallion Press, Inc. D.P. Lyle, MD is the Macavity Award winning and Edgar Award nominated author of the non-fiction books, "Murder and Mayhem, Forensics for Dummies, Forensics and Fiction, and Howdunnit: Forensics as well as thrillers, Devil's Playground and Double Blind. Dr. Lyle has worked with novelists and writers of shows such as Law & Order, CSI: Miami, Diagonsis Murder, Monk, Judging Amy, Peacemakers, Cold Case, House, Medium, Women's Murder Club, and 1-800-Missing. Please welcome D.P. Lyle.

D.B.: Good morning, Dr. Lyle: I just finished perusing your website, www.dplylemd.com and I’m honored that you stopped by to talk to us about STRESS FRACTURE. You’ve obviously garnered some famous colleagues along the way, quotes by Lee Child, Tess Gerritson, Michael Palmer, to name a few. I want to qualify that I’ve read most of these authors, and your work can compete with any of them in my subjective opinion. I’m going to talk about STRESS FRACTURE, almost in its entirety since that’s why you’re here. But, of course, with your background, forensics and crime scene analysis are bound to overlap. My first question involves Dub Walker: What brought your protagonist to life?

DPL: As the story evolved over the years -- the first draft was written 12 years ago -- Dub Walker simply evolved over time. This book started a dozen years ago with a different protagonist, different title, and in a different location. Over the years it has changed titles four times, settings three times, and protagonist once. As the story evolved so to Dub. So he wasn’t created overnight or even over a single draft but he evolved from the original protagonist to become what he is now.

D.B.: Ah, this makes sense. As I read Dub’s story, he is so well developed and so three dimensional, I got the impression that this novel was a book further along in the series. Have you written more Dub Walker books or is this book one?

DPL: I’m glad you had that connection with him. This is the first in the series but the second in the series is also written and it was completed even before this one went through final edits so maybe that’s why it seems like it’s not the first in a series. Couple this with the fact that this story has been around as I said above for a dozen years and has gone through 23 drafts and that might also play into the character development you’re talking about.

D.B.: It shows and enhanced the story richly. Something struck me while reading about Dub. Dub is a crime scene and forensic expert. He’s a consultant to law enforcement, well known in the media, and like his creator, has written several non-fiction works. Unlike his creator, however, Dub Walker didn’t graduate from medical school. With your background, you could have easily developed a highly credentialed protagonist. Why did you choose to portray Dub in this fashion?

DPL: That was done on purpose. Most medical thrillers revolve around a physician as the protagonist for obvious reasons but I wanted someone who was not a physician to be the hero of the story. Yet I wanted him to have medical knowledge. I did not want him to have a license since that would severely restrict the things he could do during an investigation. If you have a license to protect there any rules you cannot bend and laws you can’t skirt. I wanted Dub to have the knowledge but without the restriction. Since he made it most of the way through medical school, his fund of medical knowledge is quite deep and broad, and since he spent six years working in a forensic lab, his understanding of that science is also thorough. Add to that the fact that he spent two years as a Marine MP and he had police sense. So he understands medicine, forensics, and police procedures and has an innate knack for putting evidence together and looking at it a little differently, as well as an understanding of how criminals think.

D.B.: Dub is a well-drawn character who experiences fear, heartbreak; he love’s his friends and has compassion for strangers. He also appears to have a lot in common with D.P. Lyle. He’s obviously driven to work in forensics, consumed with catching the bad guy and is a fan of medical science and technology. Dub lives in Huntsville, Alabama, loves to spice up his food with tobasco sauce, which he conveniently carries in his pocket. He’s divorced, but still in love with his ex-wife, and he plays the guitar and jams with musicians on occasion. In what way are you like Dub, and how is Dub different from D.P. Lyle?

DPL: Dub and I share a fascination with science and particularly medical and forensic science. We also share a love for problem solving and the fact that responsibility and accountability are important issues. Like me, he doesn’t like to see the bad guys get away with it. He also plays the guitar as do I. So there’s a lot of me in there but there’s also a lot of him that is unique.

D.B.: Several things struck me while reading STRESS FRACTURE. (Well, lots of things struck me, so much so that I got up and locked my bedroom door in the middle of the night.) The first was that you identify your serial killer from the start. As I read, I thought why would D.P. Lyle do this? But as I read I discovered that this was a professional author yanking the readers’ strings expertly. I’m curious, was this the way you originally started the book? Were there rewrites, or did you know from the beginning that you wanted to identify your killer? Talk about what brought him to life and how he changed, if any, through the versions.

DPL: Good. I’m glad you had to lock the doors. Isn’t that what thriller writers want? Yes, it was a conscious decision to identify the killer early. This is not unusual in that it does happen in other thrillers. People often ask what the difference is between a mystery and a thriller and for me it is superior knowledge by the reader. The reader knows things that the protagonist does not. This is the thrill. With a mystery, the protagonist and the reader tend to uncover evidence step-by-step and together whereas in a thriller the reader knows things that the protagonist does not and therefore worries each step of the way that the protagonist is moving in the wrong direction and walking straight into a dangerous situation. Again, that’s the thrill.

When I first wrote the story I kept the identity of the antagonist hidden throughout most of the story but it felt contrived and not real to me. So I went back and moved his identification earlier and earlier in the story until I basically revealed who he was from the beginning. So is there no mystery involved in this book? Actually there is because the killer is not who he seems to be and all the players involved in who he is are not readily apparent. I think one reviewer said this was more a why-done-it than a who-done-it. I think that assessment is correct.

D.B.: I appreciate the clarification. Your killer is a tortured individual, and I loved that he wasn’t a cut and dried bad guy. There were times I genuinely empathized with him and hoped he’d get help. Your antagonist is a victim of PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder.). As I read about his troubles and the drug your characters created to treat him, I wondered if pharmaceutical companies really are in the development stage of a prototype drug for PTSD? I am familiar with REM therapy, but I wondered how closely this story is tied to reality, or if your scenario (Please God) is greatly exaggerated?

DPL: PTSD is a poorly understood entity that has always been related to wartime stresses but that’s not the whole story. This syndrome can appear in people in all types of situations -- abusive marriages, child abuse, severe illnesses where the person flirts with death, and almost any other prolonged stressful situation that you can think of. The reaction to these stresses is very similar to the reaction seen in wartime. That chronic being on edge and being under pressure is what leads to the disorder.

This is an area of great interest right now in medical circles and there is a great deal of research going on, not only in the pharmaceutical arena, but also in the psychiatric arena. Yes, drug companies are actively seeking better drugs for this disorder. One of the problems is that all of these psychotropic drugs, as they are called, have serious side effects and many of them can even cause what they’re intended to cure. That’s one of the paradoxes in medicine and is not all that rare.

D.B.: I would say that the theme of your book is the standard good versus evil, and sadly manipulation twisted with greed. Am I missing anything else besides the fact you love to scare readers to death and give them an amazing, page-flipping read?

DPL: No, you hit it right on the head. Scaring people is what it’s about. But aside from that, I wanted to give readers a look into this world of PTSD and its various treatment forms and also how various stresses can cause someone to react in very odd and indeed over the top ways. I’ve always been fascinated with what makes people do what they do and this would represent a very extreme form of that. What makes this killer do what he does and in the manner in which he does it? To me that’s the big question in the story.

D.B.: Let’s talk about the writing aspect of STRESS FRACTURE. You write fairly short chapters, you have a marvelous way with character body language (I admired the way Dub analyzed and unwound clue after clue by watching people – quite simply it worked.) You also developed strong secondary characters and have plot-enhancing dialogue. Your hooks kept me turning pages. How long have you been writing fiction, and did fiction and non-fiction coincide? Now here’s a hard question: If you had to give up one or the other, which would it be?

DPL: Thank you for your kind words. I began writing fiction a dozen or so years ago with this story. This was the first book I ever wrote. It took 2 1/2 years and was 138,000 words of garbage. I sent it to my agent, Kimberly Cameron, and after she read it she called me and said, “There is a story in here somewhere, I just can’t find it.” And that’s exactly what I needed to hear. So back to the drawing board, back to writing and writing and writing. And of course reading. So as I said this went through many changes and 23 drafts before becoming what it is now. In the interim I wrote two more novels and four nonfiction books. So I guess they both went along together -- fiction and nonfiction going on at the same time. I like them both so I would want to give either one up, so please don’t make me.

DB: No problem, particularly when you're so good at both. You like to help writers, whether famous or aspiring. I myself have benefited from your expertise countless times. Are you available for speaking at conferences, workshops and more?

DPL: I love answering questions for writers and have often said I probably learn more from their questions than they do from my answers. I’m constantly amazed at how the minds of writers work. They come up with some wild and outlandish scenarios and some incredibly intriguing questions. When I answer a question I try to put it into the context of their story so that they can use it to make their manuscript stronger. That’s the hope anyway. I always try to approach the questions not only as a scientist offering information but as a writer hoping to help them craft a sellable and publishable story.

Of the hats that I wear by far the one I enjoy the most is teaching so I love to speak at conferences and workshops. Ask any teacher and they will tell you that the biggest satisfaction is when those little light bulbs go on and you can see people in the class grasp what you’re talking about and say to themselves, “So that’s how it works.” That is fun stuff.

D.B.: The stethoscope shown around your neck leaves me to ask if you still practice medicine.

DPL: Yes I still practice cardiology in Orange County California. Been here doing that for over three decades and see no reason to stop.

D.B. So much plot went into STRESS FRACTURE that I’m hesitant to give it away. I loved the setting and the Southern charm of Huntsville. The scenes you created intermingled with actual places were vivid and the sensory detail exquisite one moment, horrific the next. When you’re in Dub’s head, I thought one of the most effective things you did was compare actual serial killers to the antagonist Dub and his cop sidekick T. Tommy were after. This book was a very fast read, scary and Medallion got the label right--thrilling. With your background, do you have to do research or do you simply sit down and write?

DPL: Most of the medical and forensic stuff I know pretty well now. I’d better. But I still have to look up details from time to time. And of course when you’re writing a book and the setting is an important part of the story, you have to research that setting. You have to know where things are, how they’re laid out and relate to one another, what the weather is like, what the local customs are, and a million other things. All that has to be researched. In this book some of the places are real and others are complete fabrications. The people who live in Huntsville will know which is which but I would hope that readers who have never been there won’t be able to tell the difference.

D.B: Understood. What’s next for D.P. Lyle writing-wise? Any book signings or conferences you’ll be attending?

DPL: The follow-up to Stress Fracture is already completed and will be out in 2011. It is titled Hot Lights, Cold Steel and it deals with robotic surgery. That’s about all I’ll say about it right now. The third in the series, titled Run To Ground, is nearing completion of the first draft. It is a story that deals with a murder and skip tracing and involves some fairly sophisticated and high-tech forensics. I am also working on a couple of nonfiction projects as well as teaching on line classes in the Masters of Criminal Justice program at DeSales University.

I go to several conferences every year and enjoy all of them. Not only giving talks and sitting on panels but even more importantly seeing old friends and colleagues and making new friends. To me that’s the fun of these conferences -- the relationships you create. They also help stimulate your writing. How can you not get charged up after being around a bunch of writers? Right now my favorite large conference is ThrillerFest and CraftFest, which ITW puts on the New York each July. My favorite smaller conference is the Book Passage Mystery Conference up at the Book Passage Bookstore in Corte Madera. This will be my fourth year teaching there and I always look forward to this conference. It is very craft oriented and is attended by serious writers.

D.B.: Do you have any advice for aspiring authors? Advice you’ve been given by fellow authors that has helped you that you’d like to share?

DPL: If you’re a writer you have to write. Everyday. It doesn’t have to be a lot but you have to write. Any muscle will get stronger if it is used and the writing muscle is no different. Also a writer must read and read a lot. This writing deal is more or less an apprenticeship and that means that you learn from people who know more and are more skilled. The library and the bookstore are filled with such people. Lastly, writing is both an art and a craft. The art is the telling of the story and the craft is making it clean and publishable. Don’t let the craft get in the way of the story. Write the story quickly from beginning to end and tell it the way you want to tell it and then go back and clean it up. That’s probably the best advice I can give.

D.B. Sound advice. Writers, are you taking notes? Thanks again for sending me an advance read of STRESS FRACTURE. Readers, you’re in for an all-nighter when you pick up this book.

Dr. Lyle is generously opening up the forum for questions and comments, and one lucky name will be drawn. So if you want in on the drawing, be sure to leave your e-mail so we can get back to you. The drawing will take place the evening of May 7th, so be sure to check back. So without further ado, questions/comments?

Congratulations to Commenter Ruby Johnson. You have won Stress Fracture by D.P. Lyle.


Debbie Kaufman said...

Well, first of all, Dr. Lyle is a very busy guy! I was encouraged about how long it took to bring Dub fully to life. I have a character who has been kicking around in my head for a while and I just started to write her. She's probably going to be my project between projects.
Sounds like a great read, especially if Donnell had to lock the door, LOL! My kind of story!

Theresa said...

Welcome to FIve Scribes, Dr Lyle! Thanks, Donnell, for introducing me to a fascinating new author. Though I'm a bit of a coward and really cherish a good night's sleep, I have to pick up this book.

But I now know that this is a day-time beach read only--not my before-bed relaxing clear-my-head read.

Fascinating stuff! Best of luck with the launch--though it sounds like you certainly won't need any luck!

Wendy Marcus said...

Great interview Donnell! I'm a bit of a coward myself, but my husband isn't. And my daughter is very interested in forensics. Thanks for introducing me to D.P. Lyle!

And Mr. Lyle, thanks for the advice to aspiring authors. I have such a hard time moving forward until I think what I've already written is perfect. Yet from completing two manuscripts, I see how much things can change during the editing process. I'm working on it. Time to go flex my writing muscles!

Donnell said...

Thanks, Wendy, for the interview compliment. It was a pleasure to corner Dr. Lyle and return the favor after he scared me to death... and hey, I write this stuff. (great Inspirations on your web page too).

T, yes, knowing you I'd say daylight is the best time to read Stress Fracture. Doug doesn't play fair...just when you take a breath and get comfortable, he pulls one of his thriller stunts ;)

Debbie, he had great advice for writers, don't you agree!

Patrick said...

Wonderful interview, Donnell. Dr. Lyle is always fascinating but I particularly enjoyed his comments on writing and character. Dr. Lyle, thanks for being such a great and generous resource for us.
Jane w/a Patrick

J K Maze said...

I love thrillers, love to be scared, and have to read your book. What intrigued me was your explanation of why you showed the killer right from the start. There's nothing like worrying yourself into a frenzy over whether or not the protagonist is going to go down the wrong path. Have you ever taught an online class through one of the RWA chapters? If so, I'd love to take it. I'm writing a thriller right now and would welcome your expertise.

Joan K. Maze

D. P. Lyle, MD said...

JK--I haven't done any MWA on line classes but I do put together CraftFest every year and we get some get teachers there. If you've never been to ThrillerFest/CraftFest you should. It's the best large conference of the year every year. And the best smaller conference? Book Passage Mystery conference. I'll be there again this year. Both BP and CraftFest are designed to teach writing. Most conferences don't really focus on that.

Liz Lipperman said...

Ooh, Donnell locked her bedroom door? I'm really intrigued. I love being able to get a look into the heads of psychological killers. Only one book ever scared me enough at night to sleep with the lights on and that was Stephen King's
Salem's Lot. I also clutched a crucifix. (That was even before vampires got so popular.)

I can't wait to get your book.

Donnell said...

Okay, before everyone goes and accuses me of being a sissy ;) I have to defend my actions -- without giving away the plot. Vampires... Thomas Harris Silence of the Lambs... they don't scare me because the crimes/violence that occurs can't really touch me. I don't run in canibalistic circles (sp). new word... But D.P. Lyle's scenario got to me, particularly because as most of you know the only time I have to read is late at night.

So there ;) Read it and then tell me I'm not right.

Tracey Devlyn said...

Donnell and Dr. Lyle--thanks for the fabulous interview! It's been so long since I've been scared to death that I can't wait to pick up this book.

Dr. Lyle, I love how your put so much thought into Dub's occupation. I know you said the book has evolved over time, but you were really thinking long term while plotting.

Thanks again, Tracey

Autumn Jordon said...

Awesome interview. Man did I learn a lot. I loved what you said about restricting your characters. I never thought of doing that and using it.

Inspiring that you never gave up during the 23 drafts.

Congrats on your release. I will definitely be searching the shelf for STRESS FRACTURE.

I'm sure you know Katherine Ramsland is also at DeSales. I'm close by and have met Katherine several times.

Ruby Johnson said...

Thank you Dr. Lyle and Donnell for a wonderful interview. This is a treatise on time management at its best. I am absolutely amazed at all you are able to accomplish as well as write non-fiction and three books of fiction. Thanks so much for sharing pointers for new writers. I look forward to reading your book.

Mary Ellen Carmody said...

Wow, what a fascinating interview. I particularly like the comments about his character in the book. I will definitely be reading this book. I am a regular visitor to the author's blog.

D. P. Lyle, MD said...

JK--I just noticed that I read your question incorrectly. I read MWA and you write RWA. So the answer is YES. I'll be doing a class for the mystery and suspense (Kiss Of Death) chapter of RWA next March. It'll cover 19th and early 20th century forensics. Hops to see you in class.--Doug