Debunking myths on genetics and DNA

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Thrilling forensics: an interview with award winning author D.P. Lyle

Cardiologist, story consultant, lecturer, award winning author. Whether you are a mystery writer, a forensics enthusiast, or a fan of medical/forensic thrillers, you can't possibly not know him: D.P. Lyle, MD, is the Macavity Award winning and Edgar® Award nominated author of FORENSICS FOR DUMMIES, FORENSICS & FICTION, HOWDUNIT: FORENSICS, the Dub Walker Thrillers STRESS FRACTURE and HOT LIGHTS, COLD STEEL, and the media tie-in novel ROYAL PAINS: FIRST, DO NO HARM based on the hit TV series. His essay on Jules Verne’s THE MYSTERIOUS ISLAND appears 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, 1-800-Missing, The Glades, and Pretty Little Liars.

I can't tell you what an honor it is to have Dr. Lyle on my blog today.

EEG: You are an MD and an award winning writer. Did the two -- medicine and writing -- always go hand in hand in your life, or did the MD turn into writer at some point?

DPL: The medicine definitely came first. I knew I was going to medical school before age 10 and in fact knew that I would go into cardiology so that path was pretty well set at a very young age. I never considered anything else.

I grew up in the South where storytelling is a tradition so was exposed to great storytellers my entire life. I always loved to read and had a great respect for books, whether class books or novels, and I always wanted to write but wasn’t sure I could. I often said that when I retired I would write some of the stories that I had in my head and see where it went. But about 15 or so years ago I realized there was no sense in waiting to retire since that was probably going to be a long time. I enjoy what I’m doing. So I asked myself, “If not now, when?” I took a few night classes at the University of California, Irvine and at an organization called The Learning Tree and then joined a couple of writing groups and began writing.

EEG: Your thrillers are fast-paced, gripping, and rich in forensic and medical details. (Right up my alley!) How are your stories born? Do you take inspiration from your practice, from the news, or is it mostly all the research you do in forensics?

DPL: I guess one of the most common questions that writers get asked is where you get your ideas from? The answer is simply everywhere. I’ll see something on the news, or read something in a book, or come across some interesting medical or forensic fact, or something in an idle conversation with a friend will spark an idea. Of course ideas are a dime a dozen. Most don’t have the legs to become a novel, or even a short story.

The initial step is to turn that idea into a What If? What if this or that happened? From there I begin to develop a story idea and invariably several scenes will come to mind. At this point I’ll start making what I call a Plot Point outline. This is simply a list of things that could happen as the story unfolds. After working on this for a while I have a good idea whether this idea is simply another idea or a concept that can grow into 100,000 word story.

Since most of my books are medical and forensic thrillers I definitely call on my medical experience and knowledge as well as the things I’ve learned about forensics over the years. And research for me is constant. I rummage around the web daily, looking for interesting facts and stories and all the other cool things that are out there.

EEG: You've consulted for popular TV shows like Law and Order and Monk, and for many famous writers. Some of the questions have made it into your popular non-fiction books. Mark Twain used to say: “It's no wonder that truth is stranger than fiction. Fiction has to make sense.” Have you ever come across some medical case that was more absurd than anything you've seen through your consultations?

DPL: Truth is definitely stranger than fiction. I’ve seen so many things since I started medical school that it would take hours to go through even a few of them. People do strange things and strange things happen to people.

One example would be when I was an intern doing my emergency room rotation. It was a late Saturday afternoon and the emergency room was actually quiet for a change when we heard gunshots just outside the door on the receiving ramp where the ambulances drive up. It turned out that a father and son had had some differences they wanted to settle and they decided the best way to do it was with a little small arms fire. But they wanted to be near help after it was over so they decided to drive down to the emergency room of the University Hospital and have it out on the receiving ramp. The father was a better shot. The son took three in the chest and one in the abdomen while the father had two in the chest. They both survived and were both treated in the same major trauma room, their stretchers only 15 feet apart. They weren’t angry anymore as they had settled their differences. Go figure.

One afternoon a tall thin elderly black male walked into the emergency room asking for help. The odd thing was that it was the middle of July and he was wearing a long raincoat. When asked what was wrong, he opened the coat to reveal an ice pick buried to the hilt in his chest. The ice pick wavered with each heartbeat. It seems that he and his wife had had an argument, he had hit her, and she had stabbed him with an ice pick. That was about an hour and a half earlier. He had to change buses twice in order to reach the medical center and the entire time he wore the raincoat to cover the ice pick. After evaluating him with x-rays we found that the ice pick was embedded in his aorta so he was taken to the operating room where the ice pick was removed and the hole in his aorta sutured. He did fine.

All physicians have such stories and many of them revolve around happenings in the emergency room. It’s a wild place. Almost anything can happen at any minute.

EEG: Those are amazing stories. Thanks so much, Dr. Lyle, for sharing them with us, and thank you for answering my questions!

Dr. Lyle runs a forensics blog which is an essential resource for any writer, as well as forensic enthusiasts. To find out more about his lectures, consultations, and thrilling books, visit him at

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