Six years ago I left medicine to live a life of crime.
Many thriller/suspense novels are powered by love in all its permutations: passion, jealousy, revenge, obsession.
But another powerful emotion that resonates because of its universal, primal nature is loss.
Grief in its rawest, purest form makes us all insane . . . It’s how long we cling to that insanity that decides how we go on living.
Loss resulting from sudden violence is especially haunting. There’s no way to prepare for it, no way to build a bulletproof shield to hide behind.
I’ve been a storyteller all my life. It got me into trouble a lot as a kid, those voices in my head, my inability to tell the difference between fact and fiction (or truth and lies according to my parents and teachers). Even throughout med school, writing was my addiction. Then, during my internship year at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, everything changed.
Being an intern isn’t like what you see on TV.
As interns we lived apart from the rest of the world. Our hours were crazy and out of step with mainstream society, our dinner conversation peppered with descriptions of trauma gore or medical oddities that were the stuff of nightmares for anyone else, and, at the tender age of twenty-five, we were charged with making life and death decisions for the tiny lives entrusted to us.
When you’re an intern you live in your own world populated by your fellow interns and residents. They’re your tribe, your family, your lifeline.
There were twelve of us interns.
Then, there were eleven.
According to Cindi Lash and Robert Johnson of The Pittsburgh Press, December 6, 1989:
The intern, Jeffrey Farkas, 26, of the hospital’s pediatrics department was killed late Sunday or early Monday in his rented home…Farkas had been beaten, strangled with electrical cord and stabbed in the face…
One of our own was lost. Killed. Murdered in such a horrendous, horrific manner that it made national headlines.
(Why do people say that? He was lost. As if Jeff’s life was a set of car keys left behind in a forgotten coat pocket.)
We found out Monday. A few days later we were back to work, struggling to work through our grief and stunned disbelief as we saved lives.
I wanted to change the world, to bring Jeff back. To punish the bad guys and give the good guys a happy ending. To find the courage to stand up and face the darkness. And the only place I could do that was in my writing.
I never could have made the leap of faith that took me from medicine to published author without the courage I learned from Jeff. Without finding the strength to climb out of the despair his death created and to face the pain of living with the loss.
Crime fiction deals with death on a daily basis, as practicing medicine did. And just like when working in the ER, fiction explores the gray spaces between the black and white of good and evil. Stories help us search for the power in loss, the pain that when faced, brands us, changes us forever.
Stories give us the courage to change the world.
I think Jeff would have approved.
As a pediatric ER doctor, New York Times and USA Today best seller CJ Lyons has lived the life she writes about in her cutting edge Thrillers with Heart. CJ has been called a “master within the genre” (Pittsburgh Magazine) and her work has been praised as “breathtakingly fast-paced” and “riveting” (Publishers Weekly) with “characters with beating hearts and three dimensions” (Newsday). Learn more about CJ’s Thrillers with Heart at www.CJLyons.net Her latest is Blind Faith, out July 31, 2012, from St. Martin’s Press.