Jordyn Redwood is a pediatric ER nurse by day, suspense novelist by night. Her debut medical thriller, “Proof,” examines the real-life possibility of DNA testing setting a guilty criminal free. It has been endorsed by the likes of Lynette Eason, Dr. Harry Kraus, and Rick Acker, to name a few. Jordyn loves to hear from readers and can be emailed at email@example.com.
How does your work as a nurse influence the way you develop your characters and your plots? How does your work as a writer influence your work as a nurse?
Nursing and writing are very integral to one another. Nursing gives me real-life situations to draw from for my novels, and writing is an outlet to deal with the emotional aspects of nursing that are hard to “leave at work.” Nursing helps me deepen my characters and does give me plot points as well. One patient I took care of inspired the killer’s method of murder in “Poison,” which is Book 2 in the Bloodline Trilogy.
As you’re reading a book or watching a film, I’m sure you see many of the scenarios (not just hospital scenes) through a medically knowledgeable filter. Can you give us some general details that indicate the writer has done his research?
As a medical person, two things show me that a writer has done their research. First, if I’m reading through a medical scene and the author is hitting the most pertinent points to the point that I’m not drawn out of the story — that’s excellent. And second, if they bring up a medical fact that I’m unfamiliar with and I look it up and it’s accurate — then I know the author has spent good time on research. In the realm of novelists, few are medical experts and even an “easy” injury can be hard to write from a medical perspective.
What general details give away a lack of research?
There can be so many, so I’ll hit on a few consistent ones I’ve seen in published works. Referring to an ECG (electrocardiogram) as an EKG. Stating that an IV (which is a plastic catheter) is a needle after it’s placed in a patient. Anatomy issues. For instance, one published novel I read stated the spleen was on the right side (it’s on the left) and in the same book referred to the collar bone (clavicle) as the shoulder blade (scapula). People on a breathing machine that are able to talk (they can’t if the tube is in the right place.) Improper use of a medication. Not understanding healthcare laws that govern patient privacy.
I do run a continuing series that covers these issues on my blog under “medical myths” and my “author beware” series. These posts have been very popular.
Without naming names/titles, can you describe one of those medical scenes in fiction that just made you cringe?
Actually, I’ll talk about a recent movie and name names. Here go my chances of Hallmark making one of my books into a movie. “Christmas Magic” was a Hallmark movie last Christmas. The short synopsis involved a woman who was in a devastating car accident to the point where she was in a coma for the better part of a week. At the end of the movie, her love interest and his daughter come to her bedside to try to sing her back to life just before her father “pulls the plug.”
First issue: You should look injured if you’ve been in a car wreck that put you into a vegetative state. They had a band-aid on her forehead. Nary a bruise, scratch or fracture to be seen. Her hair was perfectly styled, and let me say, it is really hard to wash a comatose person’s hair. So it may be clean, but it won’t be salon-styled.
What just killed me was the “pulling of the plug.” When someone is taken off life support — they should actually be on a ventilator. This character had an IV pump and solution. That’s it. No breathing machine at all! So when the nurse pulled the plug, she just stopped the IV fluids from running.
To die from dehydration takes days — but this character succumbed in a matter of moments. Of course, she was sung back to life.
Those types of obvious errors do make me a little crazy.
Many of us will be writing scenes that take place in hospitals, physician’s offices, etc. What advice would you give to writers who want to capture accurately those who work in the medical profession? How can we avoid stereotypes? How can we portray the heart of one of these characters (whether from their point of view or someone else’s)?
This is a really good question. I dealt with this in my first novel, “Proof.” I am not a medical expert in all things and I had an OB/GYN as a major character and a few infant delivery scenes.
If the medical scene is a prominent point of the story, have a medical person who works currently in that area review it for you. I can’t say this enough. For my OB scenes, I had an OB nurse review it and the first couple of times — she hated it! That’s not a good thing, but I was relieved, because I still had time to fix those details. What you absolutely want to avoid is a reader being so outraged with what you’ve written that they put your novel aside.
This leads me to point two: As novelists, be very careful how you handle “bad” medical people as characters. No one wants to have their profession shed in a negative light. However, as authors, to create tension, sometimes we need medical people to be doing bad things.
Best way I’ve found to handle this issue is to have another character in the novel point out (very creatively) that the rogue, evil medical person is acting outside the normal bounds. This will show the reader that you did your research and have respect for the job they do.
Congratulations on the upcoming release (June 2012) of your debut novel, Proof! Tell us a little about your book and how your nursing career influenced this story.
Thank you so much! It’s a dream come true.
Ultimately, I love a good medical mystery, and I don’t mind sitting down to read medical textbooks. “Proof” was born from a Discovery Health Channel special. I knew the medical mystery was enough to carry a novel. My nursing career helped me to write the medical characters/medical scenes authentically.
Dr. Lilly Reeves is the fifth victim of a serial rapist. Though she correctly identifies her assailant to the police, DNA testing sets him free. In order to regain her life, Lilly sets out on her own journey to unravel the DNA mystery and comes to a real understanding of the nature of sacrificial love in the process.
Your blog, Redwood’s Medical Edge, is an impressive resource for writers. How did you get started with it? What was your inspiration for it?
Thanks. I’m glad you’ve found it helpful.
When I first started thinking about entering the blogosphere, I knew I’d have to do something unique. Plenty of authors’ blogs on writing were amazing, and I didn’t feel like I had anything new or insightful that I could add to that area.
What I found myself naturally doing was answering medical questions for other writers through various email loops and reviewing short medical scenes for accuracy. I went to Google University and didn’t find anyone who was an author and medical person blogging in this area. From that, Redwood’s Medical Edge was born. I blog about common medical injuries/illnesses, medical myths, medical mistakes I’ve seen in published works (though the book and author are never named). I also field medical questions and highlight books that have a medical angle.
Are there other web sites or avenues of research that you would recommend?
Best option is to interview a person who works in the area. Approach medical librarians and pharmacists. But don’t ask a pharmacist at the counter this leading question: “What’s the best medication to use to kill someone that they wouldn’t find on autopsy?”
Since starting Redwood’s Medical Edge in October 2010, I have discovered a physician who also blogs on medical topics at The Writer’s Forensic Blog.
A good place for a nonmedical person to begin researching medical conditions would be WebMD. They cover a lot of topics in easy-to-understand language. Another good resource is hospital-based websites. The Mayo Clinic has a very good site for basic health information.
Warm thanks to Jordyn Redwood for participating in our column!
Amanda, thanks so much for hosting me today! It’s been a true honor and privilege to be here.
At five years old, Amanda G. Stevens disparaged Mary Poppins and Stuart Littlebecause they could never happen. Now, she writes speculative fiction. Currently unpublished, Amanda semi-finaled in ACFW’s 2011 Genesis contest. She lives in Michigan with her addictions: Amazon.com and Ben & Jerry’s ice cream.