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November 7, 2018

Your Brain is Lying to You --- Guest Post by CJ Lyons, Author of THE COLOR OF LIES

Posted by TaylorT

Synesthesia is a condition where the sense become crossed in a way that allows some people to hear color or taste sounds. In CJ Lyons' latest thriller THE COLOR OF LIES, synesthesia plays a key role. Ella Cleary has always been good at reading people. Her family has a rare medical condition called synesthesia that scrambles the senses --- her Gram Helen sees every sound, and her uncle Joe can literally taste words. Ella’s own synesthesia manifests itself as the ability to see colors that reveal people’s true emotions…until she meets a guy she just can’t read. Alec is a mystery to Ella, a handsome, enigmatic young journalist who makes her feel normal for the first time in her life. That is, until he reveals the real reason why he sought her out --- he wants to learn the truth behind her parents’ deaths. CJ stopped by our blog today to talk more about synesthesia and its role in her novel.

Did you know that the world you see, feel, hear and touch isn’t real? It’s actually only your brain’s interpretation of reality --- which means the world you experience may be vastly different than what the person standing beside you believes to be “real.”

As a pediatric ER doctor and thriller writer, I’ve always been fascinated by how the brain perceives reality, especially during traumatic events, when what we experience and remember may be vastly different from reality as our brains work to reframe and understand the chaos surrounding us. This is particularly true during early childhood.

My new YA thriller, THE COLOR OF LIES, focuses on this paradox and adds an unique medical twist: the main character, Ella, has synesthesia.

Synesthesia is not a disease, but rather the way the brain processes information is mistranslated into other senses. You may see letters as colors or smell words you read.

People with synesthesia experience the world differently, which is not only fascinating, it makes for an intriguing character --- especially since we all base our idea of reality on what we see, hear, feel. For people with synesthesia, their reality is already very different than people who don’t have synesthesia, so if we upset that reliance on what is seen, felt, or heard, how do we know what’s real and what isn’t?

Start playing with people’s perception of reality, of their basic, essential truth, and you open up a world of possibilities for a story.

For THE COLOR OF LIES, my first inspiration was the idea of a girl who saw everyone else’s truth...but was blind to her own.

I loved that conflict, the paradox of what we see and believe versus what is real. And how we deny reality, sacrifice it to our dreams by what we choose to believe...It happens every day in the real world. Just look at the epidemic of fake news posing as reality.

What if someone’s entire life was colored by what they wanted to believe instead of what was real.

In THE COLOR OF LIES, Ella has always trusted her unique ability to see people's true emotions via their auras to help her navigate life. But then she meets the new boy in town whose aura she cannot read. He makes her question everything she's always believed to be true: her ability, her identity, her life...and the real reason behind her parents' deaths.

Many people with synesthesia don't even know they have it --- it's simply how they see the world and they think everyone experiences it the same way. These include some famous artists such as Kandinsky, Tori Amos, Duke Ellington, Billy Joel, Franz Liszt, Vincent Van Gogh and Bob Dylan, among others. About 4% of the population are estimated to have some form of synesthesia (about twice as many as those who have red hair), so it's actually fairly common.

If you’re interested in learning more about synesthesia, check out these TED talk videos: "The Curious World of Synaesthesia" and "What Color is Tuesday?"

In addition to doing extensive research on synesthesia, I’m fortunate that several friends of mine actually have it, so I could learn from their first hand experiences. One, a musician, sees notes as colors. When she memorizes a complex composition she doesn’t memorize each individual note but rather the colors she “paints” with as she plays.

It may be wistful thinking, but I might even have a mild variation myself: all my life, I’ve been able to taste a recipe while reading it, even if I’ve never eaten it before. Of course, that could simply be the overactive imagination of a writer!

Not all synesthesia creates a pleasant experience for the people who have it. Imagine tasting baby poop every time you hear the word “football” or feeling sounds thundering through your brain when you’re in a crowd.

But if you could experience the world in a new way, even if your brain is lying to you, how wonderful and fantastic that would be! And, knowing that our individual reality is not necessarily the truth, doesn’t that make the world a bigger place where we need to share our “truths” and honor others’ experiences rather than shutting them down, hiding behind our own black and white false perceptions?

After all, we’re all surrounded by the color of the lies our brains tell us every minute of every day.