Thursday, May 6, 2010

Accessory to Crime

Doug Lyle knows all the cool stuff. And when it comes to murder--his big specialty is being an accessory before the fact, helping authors kill their victims properly and believably. You know, I bet his name is in the acknowledgements of more crime novels than just about anyone. Not counting "mom and dad," of course.

He knows how to kill people. He knows how to figure out how someone was killed. He knows all about symptoms and clues and evidence and forensics--he's all about howdunnnit. Yes, he's a cardiologist, but he also turned to a life of "crime"...and has been writing about it (and helping fellow authors do the same) ever since.

He's got a new thriller just out--all fiction of course. And now it's our turn to be accessories!

HANK: Whoa. Fiction. Stress Fracture isn’t your first, of course… but does writing fiction draw on a different part of your brain? (And you probably could name exactly which part…) How do you change from non-fiction to fiction?

DOUG: Actually, fiction and nonfiction writing are exactly the same -- only different. It’s not so much that right brain-left brain stuff but rather how you approach the project. In fiction, you come up with a story, outline it, and then write it. As you rewrite, you correct all the mistakes, not only in the writing but also in your research. Things like making sure that the weather is consistent, and the timeline and the time of day are plausible, and the facts about some scientific issue are indeed correct. So you basically tell the story and then go back and fix the details.

With nonfiction writing you do all the research and get the facts right first and then you write the book. You first gather the information and place it in the manuscript in the proper order and then go back and clean up the writing so that it is more easily read. So with the one you start with a story and add the facts and with the other you begin with the facts and then write the story. That’s the way I do it anyway.

HANK: Dub huh? Like Doug? Your new book is called a Dub Walker Thriller. And then the website says: Forensic and criminal behavior expert Dub Walker must solve a series of savage murders… How’d you get the idea for this? Okay, kidding. But how much of Dub is you? And is that—fun?

DOUG: Actually I grew up with the guy named Dub. He was actually Little Dub because his father was Big Dub. I also grew up with a guy name Slick. You guessed it, he was Little Slick because his dad was Big Slick. You got to love the South. So that’s where the name came from and not necessarily a play on my name.

When I created the character Dub Walker I wanted him to possess a certain skill set but also a certain degree of freedom to investigate cases. I did not want him to be a PI or a police officer because those jobs come with restrictions. I did not want him to be a physician because that comes with even more restrictions. If you have a license to protect there are many things that you can’t do. I wanted Dub to be able to do what was necessary.

HANK: So who is he? What’s his background?

DOUG: In his backstory, I had him attend medical school but have to drop out during his senior year because of his sister’s abduction and disappearance. This gave him medical knowledge but no license. After that, he spiraled into depression but climbed out a year later when he joined the Marine Corps where he served for two years as an MP.

This gave him investigative and some fighting skills. He then worked for six years at the Alabama Forensic Science Department. This is where he learned his forensic science and discovered that he had a knack for putting evidence together and understanding crime scenes.... He wrote many books on these subjects and became sort of an expert in those arenas and now serves as consultant on difficult cases throughout the country.

HANK: And so, still, Doug, I’m hearing some similarities …not that there’s anything wrong with that!

DOUG: Dub and I share a few things in common. We both believe the bad guys shouldn’t get away with it. The abductor of Dub’s sister was never identified and his sister was never seen again. This is what drives never to never give up on a case, to make each one personal.

DOUG: Stress Fracture was basically written overnight. Or was it 12 years and 23 drafts? I can’t remember. Actually it did start 12 years ago with a story idea. That idea was: What if a killer straddled both the organized and the disorganized sides of the fence? What if he carefully planned and plotted each of his murders and left behind no evidence as an organized killer would. What if at the same time the actual murders were aggressive and frenzied so that the killer appeared to be insanely disorganized? This is the basic premise of this story and the questions that Dub must answer in order to track the killer.

HANK: So—12 years ago? What happened?

DOUG: I actually did write this book 12 years ago and submitted to my wonderful agent Kimberly Cameron. She read it and called me a couple of days later saying, “There’s a story in here somewhere, I just can’t find it.” Ouch. But true. It was 138,000 words of garbage. To make a long story short over the next 12 years it was rewritten 23 times and at least a half dozen of these were major surgeries. It changed locations three times, titles four times, and protagonist once. The only thing that remained unchanged were the bad guy and the basic through line of the story. It’s now 85,000 words and is much tighter and moves much more quickly.

HANK: Reading some mysteries and thrillers must drive you crazy—is it even possible for you to read them without analyzing the forensics? What have you seen that makes you want to throw the book across the room?

DOUG: I’m fairly forgiving about scientific errors as long as the story works. I understand that everybody is smart in something and not so smart in something else. So having a degree of ignorance about science is no big deal. That said, when I see stories that breach logic or have errors that could easily have been corrected with minimal research, it does bother me. It can take me out of the story completely. But I read fiction for fun and to meet some new characters and live a good yarn. If mistakes are made in the science I can overlook it most of the time and move on with the story. I see these types of mistakes made frequently by very good writers who I know do very good research. You just can’t answer every question, particularly if sometimes you don’t even know which questions to ask.

HANK: How about TV shows?

DOUG: I have more trouble with TV programs than I do with novels. They will often play fast and loose with the facts and make huge leaps in cognitive thinking that you just stop every now and then and say: “How did they get there from where they were?” There was no logical reason to move in that direction or to come to that conclusion. Happens all the time. Happens every week. Though I find this aggravating, I do understand that in an hour program they only have 42 minutes of screen time to tell their story, and must move forward with the story above all else. As long as readers and viewers understand that novels and TV shows are fiction and not where you learn about science then everything is okay.

HANK: Are you still helping authors with their crimes? (And thanks so much for giving me the scoop on—well, I don’t want to give it away. But I couldn’t have written DRIVE TIME (correctly at least) without you!)

DOUG: Yes, I still answer questions and do manuscript consultations. If anyone wants to ask a story question they can go to my website and click on the Go Here link. The protocol for submitting questions can be found there.

HANK: Thanks, Doug! So--anyone you'd like to kill? Just ask Doctor Doug..
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 the thrillers, Devil’s Playground and Double Blind.
His latest medical thriller, Stress Fracture, is the first in his new Dub Walker Series and his essay on Jules Verne’s The Mysterious Island will appear in Thrillers: 100 Must Reads.

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, and 1-800-Missing.

He is a practicing Cardiologist in Orange County, California.


  1. Wonderful interview Hank! And welcome Doug! I love the way you describe writing fiction vs nonfiction--you make it sound so easy! But then describing how hard it was to write your novel, we see the rest of the are one persistent guy. A great lesson for all of us!

    Since you're here today, I might as well ask--is it realistic for two characters to be chatting on a bench and have one quietly shot dead while the other looks on in shock?

    Thanks for all your help with past medical problems too--and very best luck with the book!

  2. Hey, Doug - Congratulations on the novel! There is something so great about a southern background if you write... like those names, turns of phrase, not to mention that sense of humor that we New Englanders appreciate but can't match.

  3. Hi Doug,
    Welcome to Jungle Red. I loved your description of the different processes of writing fiction and non-fiction (especially since I"m trying to both at the same time.)

    And your protagonist has a terrific resume. I can't imagine him slipping up on any clues or the need for courage in the CRIME SOLVING business.

    Congrats and best of luck with the novel.

  4. Roberta, you have a strange life! Don't we all? SO hilarous to be thinking about what you're thinking about..

  5. I know, Hank, isn't that sick? Not that I'd ever ever want to come across something like this in real life or wish it on someone else!

    but right now this manuscript needs conflict...and as my pal Mike Wiecek would remind me: then send a man in with a gun...

  6. Roberta--shooting people quietly is what silencers or more correctly sound suppressors are for. also if the shot came from a distance via a sniper rifle the person sitting next to the victim might sense nothing except the person falling over. They might not think gunshot at all. So yes, this could happen

  7. Great interview, Hank. Welcome to JRW Doug. I'd like to add my two cents worth that Doug has been extremely generous with his time and expertise to me over the years.
    Good luck with the new book, Doug

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