From emergency medicine to suspense novelist

Loretta Dandrea's leap of faith pays off

By: Priscilla Santos

For 17 years, Loretta Dandrea worked long hours practicing pediatrics in emergency rooms and assisting police and prosecutors with cases involving child abuse, rape and homicide. But she spent every second of her free time writing.

Then one day, she stopped practicing medicine and began a full-time pursuit of a new, challenging career. She became an author.

Four months later — right around Thanksgiving 2006 — the 1989 graduate from UF’s College of Medicine received a phone call from Penguin/Putnam publishing in New York that changed her life. The publishing group hired her to write the first fiction medical suspense novel with a woman’s point of view.

“It was a miracle in itself,” she says. “The chance of a huge publishing company calling anyone is very slim. I’m still surprised today they called me.”

After creating characters and a storyline based on past experiences from medical school and residency training, Dandrea’s first suspense medical novel, “LIFELINES” was published March 4, 2006.

Although a career as a writer is very different than a career in medicine, the thrill and anticipation is almost the same in both lines of work, says Dandrea, who uses the pen name of CJ Lyons.

“Becoming a doctor was a dream come true – until finally I came to a point where I realized that I was in danger of burnout, so I decided to take a leap of faith and try to make my second dream come. And it worked,” she says. “I always say, ‘if you’re going to dream, dream big.'”

Dandrea took her first stab at writing a novel during her first year of medical school. She spent all her free time writing, while eating mint chocolate chip ice cream at the Shands cafeteria. And although the novel was never published, it didn’t stop her from writing.

While working on her residency at Children’s Hospital in Pittsburgh with 11 other interns, one of Dandrea’s fellow interns was murdered. Her friend’s death led her to write her first suspense novel, which happened to be the work that prompted Penguin/Putnam to call her.

Although her stories involve suspense, Dandrea’s goals are not to scare readers. Instead, she uses her writing as “a chance to change the world.” Her novels embody her philosophy of how “heroes are born everyday, and it’s the every day people who change the world.”

“Most people think of mysteries as dealing with the crime and who done it,” she says, “but my stories are more about the people and their relationships and how they are affected by crime.”

Dandrea creates stories about how people discover the courage to make a difference, just as she did in her own life two years ago. She’s a suspense writer living her second dream, who says that although becoming a writer sounded scary, it hasn’t been so far.

In fact, it was much scarier than giving up her medical practice after 17 years.

Her novel LIFELINES begins on July 1, the most dangerous day of the year in a teaching hospital, and for Dandrea.

“July 1, 2006 was the scariest day for me–that was right after I left my practice and was technically unemployed for the first time since I was 16, but it was worth it to fulfill my dream of becoming a writer.”