Thursday, January 12, 2006

Sparks and Synchronicity

Sparks and Synchronicity

Ever wonder where writers get their ideas? For me it’s usually from very ordinary places—except that my mind seems to file things away and then retrieve them in wonderful new combinations.

It all starts with the ability to keep asking “what if.”

For instance, my current work in progress, a psychological thriller titled BLIND FAITH, began with a newspaper story. A woman traveling along I-80, searching for the graves of her two children. Her ex-husband had kidnapped the children and confessed to killing them but didn’t pinpoint the site where he buried them. Her need for closure, her quest to bring her babies home was clear even in the grainy photo that accompanied the story.

Wow. I couldn’t stop thinking about her and her odyssey. As a pediatrician I work with families dealing with death and near-death on a frequent basis, but this woman’s story really touched a chord in me. I have had a too-close association with violent death, so I understood first hand how grief could push a person into such a passionate pursuit for the truth.

I also wondered at the ultimate betrayal her ex-husband, a man who presumably once loved her and his children, had wrought. What could drive a person to do that, to destroy their family?

I followed her story in our local small town newspaper. Then Katrina hit. Another big wow. Yes, the death and destruction was devastating in its enormity. But after my initial shock and frustration at not being able to do much to help, what I couldn’t stop thinking about was the number of young children separated from their families, torn away from everyplace and everyone they knew.

At the time, I was working with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children ( to set up my charity program, Buy a Book, Make a Difference (for more information go to my website, I learned that there were over 4800 kids reported missing, a good portion of whom were identified and reunited with their families thanks to the good people at the NCMEC.

But then I heard about all the sexual predators who also fled from New Orleans—most of whom were still at large. Combine this with the images of over-crowded, under-policed shelters and the ideas began to coalesce.

What if….what if a woman is called upon to witness the execution of the serial killer who has confessed to killing her husband and son? What if he dies without telling her where he has buried them?

What if she vows to find their graves and instead finds that her husband is still alive?

What if she learns that everything she believes is a lie? What if the only person she can trust is the man who betrayed her…her husband?

That’s all I had when I began writing BLIND FAITH—quite frankly it’s more than I usually have! I knew it would be a dark, edgy novel, filled with betrayals and intrigues. A novel where nothing could be taken for granted, where no one was the person they appeared to be. Where dark secrets would be unearthed and the lives of every character would be forever changed. But also an uplifting novel of courage and strength and perseverance, and most of all, revealing that we each have the power to choose. To choose to have faith, to choose to love, to choose to forgive.

I’m now 300 pages into it—only another 100 or so more pages to go—and I finally know how it ends. The rest of it is still a surprise waiting to happen. I find this journey of discovery the most exciting part of writing, those days when every scene I write unveils another piece of the puzzle.

It all begins with a spark fueled by small intersections of serendipitous happenings. That and asking, “what if?”

Have you ever experienced this kind of synchronicity? Times when things found their way into your consciousness exactly when the time was right? People who appeared in your life just in time to spark inspiration?

Maybe the most important part of being a writer is learning to recognize and appreciate these everyday sparks that others neglect?

Thanks for reading!
Cathryn J Lyons, MD
No one is immune to danger…
BLINK OF AN EYE is “a perfect blend of romance and suspense. My kind of book.” –Sandra Brown
Available this summer from Tor


L. Faye Hughes said...


First, you gave me chills reading about your WIP! I can't wait to get the book - or your upcoming debut with Tor!

Second, I totally relate to what you’re saying about synchronicity in writing (and life, for that matter.) One of my favorite moments in writing is when that off-handed comment my protagonist made back in Chapter 2 suddenly begins to have major significance in Chapter 20. I amaze myself sometimes.

Allie Mackay said...

Wow, CJ!

I'll agree with Faye. BLIND FAITH sounds like a phenomenal story. I've already made a note to nab a copy when it's released. Everyone knows ... I have much more pleasure reading time than Sue-Ellen!

She's pounding away at one of my books just now, in fact, so she can't comment in here today. But I can tell you that she'd also agree with Faye about those neat little gems that magically weave themselves into a story and then - ta-da! - somewhere down the line become so important.

Knowing Sue-Ellen as well as I do, I can tell you, too, that she usually recognizes the significance of such things when she's out cycling. She'll be whizzing along and all of a sudden that almost-forgotten tidbit pops into her mind and she gets chills at how perfect it is. Even though at the time she first wrote it, she didn't realize its later significance.

Just as Faye said.

Oops, I better slink out of here now. She just glanced my way and you know what that means. Possible work. Eeeeek! I much prefer leaving that part of this business to her.

Allie Mackay

CJ Lyons said...

Thanks Allie and Faye! This is one of those books that really has "written itself"--sometimes I feel like I'm just along for the ride, LOL!

I absolutely love that feeling when you can stand back and "see" everything you need fall into place, within your grasp--as if there is a master plan somewhere.

Often it is the small, overlooked, "throwaway" word or phrase that ends up tying everything together.

And don't you just get shivers down your spine when that happens?

Fingers crossed that once I finish BLIND FAITH it finds a good home!

Have a great day,

Nancy Herkness said...

CJ, what a great description of how a book begins! I also find that once I'm into the book it gets very exciting when it seems as though you're getting input from everywhere.

My favorite example was when I was writing SHOWER OF STARS which revolves around the discovery of a meteorite from Mars. One of the best places to find a meteorite is in the desert because they're easy to see and there's little biological contamination. I had a vague idea that my fictional space rock was found somewhere in the Sahara and that was about it for location.

However, my daughter (who was in 6th grade at the time) came downstairs for dinner complaining about a social studies project she had been assigned which required research on a country which didn't really exist: Western Sahara. Why didn't it exist? Because both Morocco and Mauretania laid claim to it and right now Morocco had the upper hand.

The sparks started flying in my brain as suddenly my plot took a new twist: what if both Morocco and Mauretania tried to claim the meteorite? That would REALLY complicate my hero's life.

Needless to say, after dinner, I went back upstairs with my daughter who wondered why Mom was suddenly so willing to help her with her homework.

That sort of thing always gives me a thrill; that's when I know a book is really working for me.

Colleen Thompson said...

Wow - BLIND FAITH sounds riveting. I can't wait to read it. What a terrific, heart-wrenching concept.