An Interview with Doug Lyle

Can you tell us a little about yourself, your background and writing career? I’m a practicing cardiologist in Orange County, California and have been so for 35 years. I began writing seriously approximately 15 years ago. I had always said that when I retired I would write but 15 years ago I said, “If not now, when?” I took several classes at the University of California, Irvine and joined a couple of critique groups. After that it was just reading and writing. The more you do of both the better you get. Theoretically.

What genre do you write?

I write both fiction and nonfiction. My fiction deals predominately with forensics so I guess my latest novels would be classified as a mixture of crime fiction and medical thriller.

What work(s) are you best known for? Could you please tell us about them?

I think I am probably best known for Forensics For Dummies. It was published in 2005 and continues to sell well and has been translated into several languages. It won the Macavity Award and was nominated for an Edgar Award.

Can you tell us if you are working on a new project and what your goals for the future?

I actually have three books that will be out in the next 12 months and two more in the works. The two novels that will be out this June are Hot Lights, Cold Steel, which is the second of my Dub Walker novels, and Royal Pains: First, Do No Harm, the first of the Royal Pains tie-in novels based on the successful USA television series. The third Dub Walker novel and the second Royal Pains novels are underway. My third Q&A book, Forensics & Fiction 2, will be out late this year or early 2012.

How did you start writing?

I answered some of this in the first question. I began by taking classes and joining critique groups. To me, both of these were very helpful in establishing a career. University of California, Irvine has a well-respected writing program and the classes I took there were helpful in learning the rules. The critique groups were, and still are, helpful in getting feedback in this solo adventure. It’s very hard to be your own critic because everything makes sense to you. It might not make sense to someone else. Critique groups help avoid these errors and make stories much richer and deeper. At least that’s the way it works for me.

How do you write? (That is, where do you get your ideas, do you write in an office at home, do you write full time or do you have a fulltime job other than writing?)

Yes I have a day job. I still practice cardiology though not as intensely as I did in the past. I have plenty of time to write so time is usually not an issue. Back when I was practicing full-time I averaged approximately 80 hours a week working. I still do. It’s just that writing fills up a good deal of those 80 hours.

I think ideas are easy but ideas that will carry a story for 100,000 words a bit more difficult. Once I flesh out the idea, I outline. Always. This is to make sure I have a real story and not just a handful of scenes. Once completed, I am not a slave to that outline, however. It will evolve as the story evolves. If the story goes in another direction, I alter the outline so that the two are always in sync. This helps find that chapter where you need to change something much easier than scrolling through the entire manuscript. Just go the outline and see where the change needs to be made.

I write in a room that all my friends call “The Dark Room.” I’ve always had an aversion to bright lights and so I keep only a couple of desk lamps and the TV tuned to the news or some documentary on. It’s in an isolated corner of the house and was actually built as a soundproof music studio. It has no windows. I like it that way. I can’t write when it’s quiet. My mind seems to wander if there is not background noise so I always have music or the news or something on. It becomes white noise after a while but helps me focus on what I’m doing.

Are there any particular authors who have inspired you in your own writing career?

There are actually too many to list here but I will mention two that are special. James Lee Burke to me is the greatest living writer. His stories are rich, his characters memorable, his stories dark but real, his dialogue gritty and to the point, and his literary style sometimes overwhelming. It’s a love-hate thing with Mr. Burke. I love his stories and they inspire me to write better but at the same time they can be depressing because you know deep in your soul you could never do that. Still, reading one of his books is a pleasure and an education. The other author would be Elmore Leonard. His style is totally different but his dialogue is crisp and jumps off the page. Every writer who wants to learn to write dialogue in a more believable fashion should read Elmore Leonard. He also spins a nice yarn and creates amazing characters.

Do you attend workshops and seminars to hone your writing skills?

Oh yes. I think writing conferences are great places to meet with other writers and discuss what they are doing. You always take something useful away from these conversations. I teach at two conferences that are very special to me. The first is CraftFest at the annual ITW ThrillerFest each July in New York. I put the school together every year and we always have an incredible collection of teachers. This year the great Ken Follett will teach a class. The other is the Book Passage Mystery Conference in Corte Madera California. It is devoted to craft and is a writers conference. To me it’s the best small conference each year.

What themes do you pursue in your writing? What are your concerns?

My themes are mostly good versus evil with the good guys trying to track down the bad ones. Since my hero, Dub Walker, is a forensic, evidence, and criminal behavior expert, the stories revolve around this type of science. I try to incorporate a few cool forensic techniques in each Dub story.

What is the goal of your writing?

My goal is basically to continue writing stories. I grew up in the South were stories are on every street corner and come from everyone’s mouth. In the South if you can’t tell a story they won’t feed you. So my goal is just to continue writing what I consider fun stories.

Do you have any useful tips you might offer other up-and-coming writers?

Writing is like any other skill, the more you do it the better you get. So you must spend many hours sitting in a chair typing away at the keyboard are putting pen to paper. Every hour spent improves your ability to tell the story on the page the same way you visualize it in your head. The second most important thing that a writer must do is read. Of course reading in the genre that you write is important but step outside that and read in other genres also. Good writing is good writing. I’ve always said that writing is in many ways like medical school, it’s an apprenticeship. You learn at the shoulder of people who have more knowledge and experience. Books are the voices of those experienced writers and the ones that writers should go to school on.

Have you chosen to e-publish any of your work? Was there any particular reason for this and would you recommend e-publishing to other writers?

My first Dub Walker book Stress Fracture is now available in electronic format and just this past month I e-published the two novels in my Samantha Cody series-Devils Playground and Double Blind. I have both Kindle and an iPad and I’m joy reading electronic books. I also have a collection of hardbacks and I love reading the printed page. I know there is great angst in the writing world about the future of publishing but at the end of the day it will go whatever way it goes. We authors have little to say about it. The market will decide. I think as an author you have to be prepared for both worlds-the printed book and the electronic book.

Have you any awards for your works? If so, which ones?

As I mentioned above my book Forensics For Dummies won the Macavity Award and was nominated for an Edgar Award.

Have you had literary failures? What did you learn from them?

Sure. Every writer has. The perfect example is my first Dub Walker book-Stress Fracture. I first wrote this book a dozen years ago and sent it off to my agent, Kimberly Cameron, who was not my agent yet. It was 138,000 words of garbage but I thought the greatest novel ever written. Kimberly thought otherwise. She told me, “There’s a story in here somewhere, I just can’t find.” And that’s exactly what I needed to hear. So back to the drawing board. While I wrote two other novels and four non-fiction books, I kept going back to this story. Ultimately it went from 138,000 to 83,000 words, changed titles four times, changed locations four times, and changed protagonist once. The only thing that didn’t change was the basic storyline and the bad guy. So 12 years later it appeared as a hardback from Medallion Press. I guess you could call that overnight success.

What do you read?

I read a lot, both fiction and nonfiction. My nonfiction reading revolves around forensic science, medical science, and history. My fiction runs the gambit. As I said I love James Lee Burke and Elmore Leonard but also read many other contemporary authors. I like thrillers and some historical novels. Right now I’m finishing up the Dragon Tattoo Trilogy and also reading some old Edgar Rice Burroughs, who I haven’t read since junior high school.

What difficulties, if any, did you face in writing a fact-based book?

I’m not sure difficulties is the right word but I find that writing fiction and nonfiction exactly the same, only different. With fiction, the story comes first. I will create the story and write it and then go back and make the facts right. With nonfiction, you gather all the facts before you organize them and began writing the book. So they are similar but in reverse order.

Read an excerpt from Chapter 5 of my second Dub Walker thriller, “Hot Lights, Cold Steel,” which will be out this June.:

This was going to be totally cool. Dead bodies. Carmelita had never seen one, much less two. Would they be gross? Smell bad? She’d heard that they smelled like rotting eggs. What if she threw up? How embarrassing. Still, she’d have a great story to tell. And a ring to show off.

She had been scheduled to work until 1:00 a.m., but this was definitely worth dumping a couple of hours. Besides, it wasn’t that busy, and the tips had been lousy. Some nights were just that way. Maybe if this had been a payday Friday, she’d have stayed, but a dead Wednesday? No contest.

Before leaving the club, she changed into jeans and a red T-shirt with a yellow Ferrari logo on the front and told her friend Madison where she was going. Tried to recruit her to come along. Do a double. Both make some cash. But, as usual, Madison balked. She never joined Carmelita on her escapades. Madison called them “sexcapades.” Whatever. Of course, she always wanted to hear all the dirty details the next day.

Now Carmelita sat in the cab of a pickup between Eddie and his friend Alejandro, who drove. She had seen Alejandro at the club before. Usually with Eddie. Where Eddie was young and soft, Alejandro looked hard and tough. Didn’t smile, didn’t say a word when Eddie introduced them. Just looked at her with contempt in his eyes. She wished Madison was here. Maybe she could’ve warmed the dude up.

First stop, a liquor store. She and Eddie picked up two six-packs of beer and a pint of Jack Daniel’s. In the well-lit store, she saw Eddie clearly for the first time. He was even more handsome than he had seemed in the dark club. Dirty blond hair, blue eyes, and a pleasant smile. She’d screwed worse. A lot worse. For a lot less. Best of all, he was naïve, and if she worked it right, she could double the two hundred he had promised.

Back in the truck, Carmelita swigged her beer and giggled as Eddie ran his hand up her thigh, squeezing firmly. “How far is it?” she asked.

“Just a few miles to my place.” He dropped an empty beer bottle in the bag and pulled out a fresh one, twisting off the cap.

“Your place? What about the bodies?” She pushed his hand away. “You promised.”

Eddie smiled. “We’re going. After Alejandro drops us off, we’ll take my truck.”

She stared at Alejandro. His dark eyes and set jaw made her uncomfortable. Vein-roped arms and scarred knuckles gripped the steering wheel. “You’re not coming with us?”

“No.” He gulped a shot from the whiskey bottle.

Eddie laughed. “Alejandro’s seen enough bodies, haven’t you?”

Alejandro didn’t respond. He pulled a Marlboro from the pack in his shirt pocket and lit it with a Zippo. He clicked the lighter closed and tossed it on the dash as he turned off University on to Jeff Road and headed north. They quickly left civilization behind and were now on a country road, passing only an occasional farmhouse.

She looked at Alejandro. “You a hit man, too?”

Alejandro’s eyes narrowed, but his gaze never left the road. “You ask too many questions.”

Carmelita inched toward Eddie, breaking the contact of her leg with Alejandro’s. “I’m sorry. I was just trying to be friendly.”

“Don’t worry about him,” Eddie said. “Alejandro don’t talk much.”

Alejandro offered a faint grunt and took another swig of whiskey. He wedged the open pint between his legs and flicked ashes out the window. They swirled like fireflies before fading into the darkness.

She glanced out the window and then over her shoulder. Nothing. Not a single car light. No sign of anyone. They turned onto a rutted road, the truck’s headlamps gyrating wildly as they bounced along. They passed a faded sign that read Sunnyvale Trailer Park and wound through a collection of thirty to forty weather-beaten mobile homes that were arrayed along the dusty, serpentine loop. She saw that most had been permanently embedded in the soil while others balanced on dry-rotted tires.

Televisions flickered through the windows of a couple of the trailers near the entrance, but near the rear of the park everything was dark and quiet. As if no one lived back here. Beyond the park? Nothing. Carmelita been so busy drinking beer and talking with Eddie that she hadn’t noticed just how far into the country they had driven. Or what roads they had taken. She began to feel alone and vulnerable. Her heart thumped harder, and her palms moistened.

“Doesn’t look like anyone lives here,” she said.

“I do,” Eddie said. “Just ahead.”

What have I gotten myself into? These men were killers. Eddie told her so. What was to stop them from raping her, killing her, dumping her out where no one would ever find her? Her throat felt dry. She tried to swallow, couldn’t, and took a drink of beer. It seemed bitter now. “I should go back.”

“What are you talking about?” Eddie asked.

“I’m tired. I don’t feel well.”

She noticed Alejandro cock his head toward her before she looked into Eddie’s face. He smiled. Seemed so innocent. Was he?

“Relax. We’ll have some fun, you’ll see the bodies, and then I’ll take you back.” Eddie squeezed her thigh. “You’ll see.”




If you would like an interview please email:

Black Expressions 4 books for $2 plus free gift