D.P. Lyle is the Amazon #1 Bestselling; Macavity and Benjamin Franklin Award-winning; Edgar(2), Agatha, Anthony, Shamus, Scribe, and USA Today Best Book(2) Award-nominated author of 22 books, both fiction and non-fiction.
Dr. Lyle hosts the Crime Fiction Writer’s Blog and the Criminal Mischief: The Art and Science of Crime Fiction podcast series. He has worked with many novelists and with the writers of popular television shows such as Law & Order, CSI: Miami, Diagnosis Murder, Monk, Judging Amy, Peacemakers, Cold Case, House, Medium, Women’s Murder Club, 1-800-Missing, The Glades, and Pretty Little Liars.
Do you write in more than one genre? I write both fiction and non-fiction. In the latter category, I have three reference-type books on forensic science and three in my Q&A series, where I take story questions from writers and explain the needed science and show how it might be used in their story. I have two older thriller series (Dub Walker and Samantha Cody) and two active ones (Jake Longly and Cain/Harper). The Jake books are comedic but still deal with serious crimes filtered through Jake’s quirky brain. The Cain/Harper series is darker, and these stories are more true thrillers.
What brought you to writing? I grew up in the south where they won’t feed you if you can’t tell a story. Southern storytelling’s a great tradition that goes back centuries and has created many of the great names in literature. I grew up around people (family, friends, classmates) who could spin a yarn and I could do so myself. But writing a tale is a different animal. Twenty five years ago, I took a couple of writing classes at the University of California, Irvine, joined a pair of writing groups, and began writing. Took a while, and a lot of words, but finally it all worked out.
Where do you write? What, if any, distractions do you allow? I have a sound-proofed music studio/media room/office where I do most of my writing. Or I’m out in the pavilion we have off our kitchen. I don’t avoid distractions, I need them. If it’s quiet, my mind wanders so I always have the TV or music on. Helps me concentrate. I was the same in med school. I had to have music to study.
Tell us about your writing process: My first few books were outlined but the past dozen or so I avoided that. I simply have a few scenes in mind and start the story and see where it goes. I like that much better. More fun, and more creative, I think. I write the first draft fast and avoid any major editing during that process. I might clean up a few plot things along the way, but I wait for the second draft to begin any real editing. In other words, get the story on paper, then fix it. You can edit garbage but you can’t edit a blank page. All that said, I use Scrivener, which I love, so I usually know and make notes on the next few chapters/scenes while I’m writing—as they come to mind—but I don’t do a complete outline. Rather, planning the next few scenes as I go along is part of the writing process for me.
What is the most challenging part of your writing process? The first draft. The heavy lifting. I love the editing process. It’s where the story really takes shape and becomes publishable. After the first draft, you know all your characters, how they think, what they say, and what they do. So, when you begin the re-writes the characters come alive and the interactions among them are more realistic.
How long did it take you to write your first book? Two and a half years. Then another decade that included four changes of title, four changes of location, and a change in protagonist. And 27 re-writes. The only things that stayed the same were the bad guy and the basic story. I published other stuff along the way but finally after 10 years this story became STRESS FRACTURE, my first Dub Walker book.
Do your protagonists ever disappoint you? Not really. I like my main characters even with all their flaws and quirks. Sometimes they do stupid things, at least things I wouldn’t do, but that’s part of who they are. My series characters are “set in their ways” to some extent but the other characters in a given story are fair game for creating interesting folks. I love minor characters as they can be so much fun to write and add to any story. A great example is the movie NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN. The minor characters here are amazing and add so much depth and flavor to the tale.
Do you have subplots? If so, how do you weave them into the novel’s arc? Sure. I think virtually all stories do. The key, I think, is that the subplots should support and not distract from the main story. They add depth and texture, but should not take over the story or, conversely, seem to be simply tacked on. Subplots can help a story in many ways, including revealing character, creating complications and stress for the protagonist (or villain), as well as adding backstory, mood, and richness to the story.
Where do you place your settings—real or fictional locations? Both. I prefer to create small towns and more rural locations that are completely made up. Other times I create made up places in real settings. Maybe an office building, a bar/restaurant, a house or neighborhood, whatever, and place it in a real location. Map apps come in handy here. My Dub Walker series is set in around my hometown, Huntsville Alabama. In these stories, I use many real places but I also make up toters. Some of the made up ones are actually real places that I have altered in some way.
What is the best book you have ever read? That’s a tough one. Several that always stuck in my mind are Verne’s JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH, Hemingway’s THE OLD MAN AND THE SEA, Steinbeck’s IN DUBIOUS BATTLE, Forsyth’s THE DAY OF THE JACKAL and Puzo’s THE GODFATHER. Then there’s Elmore Leonard’s RIDING THE RAP and James Lee Burke’s BLACK CHERRY BLUES.
Looking to the future, what’s in store for you? My next Jake Longly book, CULTURED, is coming in May, 2023 and my latest Cain/Harper story, TALLYMAN just came out in August 2022. So now, I’m working on the next books in each of these series.
Do you have any advice for new writers? Read—read—read, write—write—write, repeat. Writers must read—-a lot. And not just in their genre but rather in many other genres. Consider this a broader education in storytelling as any reading will help you write a better story.
How do our readers contact you? The best way is through my website: dplylemd.com. That will connect you to my books, my blog, my podcasts, and my old radio show.
I’ve followed Dr. Lyle for years and the man is a legend. Thanks for the tips on writing and for sharing your story. Good luck with your new one.
Insightful interview! Thank you to DP Lyle for his medical knowledge and his fiction. Love his humor, especially. I did notice an unfamiliar word, “toters” in the sentence: “I use many real places but I also make up toters.”
Wow, D. P., you’ve made so much out of your intersecting interests in forensic science and fiction writing, and then you’ve gifted us in the writing realm with that. Thank you.
Thanks, everyone for your kind comments. And thanks George for a great interview.