Friday, February 22, 2013

My Guest: Jonel Boyko

We all know that the writing business is changing. Certain aspects of the journey of a novel from the initial idea, through the writer's craft, to the finished article nestling in the readers' hands have grown in importance as this evolution progresses. One of these is book reviews. However, as all writers know, many people have little or no idea how to review a book so that their conclusions are useful to both the author and potential readers. That is not the case with this week's guest. She is an experienced, insightful reviewer who graces us today with a Master Class in how to produce a useful book review.

Ladies and Gentlemen...

Jonel Boyko

Book Reviewing  
 - a Master Class

As a species, humans tend to find ways to escape the reality that they live in. The western world tends to turn to movies, malls, and that sort of thing. A select few of us still turn to books in order to escape reality. We find ourselves lost in a world that the author creates for us. For a while we are amongst the characters that these authors so tactfully put on the pages of the book. They pour their souls into the pages of the book to provide us with our escape. What do they get in return? A pay check? Eventually, they’ll see some return. The ability to affect others through their words? Most likely, but how do they know this? Praise? Possibly, depending on reviews that people write.

For the most part, when we read a book we don’t think about the author. All that we are looking for is an escape from reality. At times, however there is a book that catches us (or definitely does not spark anything in us) and we have something to say about it. This is when people tend to write reviews. They either loved or hated what they had just read. Simply stating that you liked or hated a book or regurgitating what happened throughout is not a real review. 

But I’m getting ahead of myself here. Let’s back up a bit and take a look at reviewing and why it’s not about the reader, but rather a reciprocal relationship with the author. The reader provides you with your escape from reality and you provide them with feedback about this world via your review.

The most important thing to think about before writing a review is why.  Why are you writing a review about the book?  If it was phenomenal or absolutely horrendous, you’re right, you probably want to write and post a review somewhere.  This is a good starting point for a review but it should be just that, a starting point.  There should be more to it than that to come up with anything of substance. A review shouldn’t be tearing a book apart or saying how horrendous it is.   It needs substance and explanation.  I’ll get into this further in a moment.

If you are writing a review simply because you wanted a free book, please stop for a moment and think about it. Who are you helping other than yourself? If this is the only reason that you are writing a review then it will probably lack any benefit to the author. An author will at times provide free copies of their books in order to gain reviews for various websites to increase their sales. To do this, they need you to put the who, what, where, why, when, and how into your review. This also has an added benefit for the author. If you format your review in such a way you provide the author with constructive criticism that will help them with their future writing. Point being, if an author provides you with a free book, make sure that you are giving them some valid points, this is the value that they are getting from their gift to you, and yes, it is a GIFT. If you are simply writing random words so that people continue to give you free stuff, then you are stomping on the gift so generously given to you.

My reasons for reviewing do combine a bit of both of the above (I’d be crazy to turn down a free book, now wouldn’t I?); however, it goes much deeper than that.  By reviewing a book, not only do I tell the author how I felt about the book, but I also help other readers choose their next escape from reality.  Above all, I review for a rather selfish reason.  Writing a review allows me to get my thoughts about a book in order.  I have a reason to sit down and figure out why I loved (or hated) it so much, which character I was able to relate to the most, and if I could picture myself in that world.  If I’m setting this up for myself, sharing it with other readers and letting the author know what I think is just a natural next step.

That said, how do I write a review? If I know that I’m going to review a book, I’ll take notes while reading it. It’s nothing in depth. I simply jot down anything that caught my attention. It might be something unique, something that doesn’t quite make sense, or something that was phenomenal. Basically anything that I feel is worth noting. When I sit down to write a review the first thing that I put down on paper is what I thought or felt about the book and why. Keep in mind that the why is just as important as the what here. I also try to mention the descriptions, settings, and character development in each review. They are all important aspects of a novel and deserve to be mentioned in your review. When writing your review keep in mind that there is always something good in a book, regardless of how horrendous you found the writing. There is also always something that you’d change with a phenomenal book. Keep in mind that you are not the author and would therefore write it differently than they would. 

Reviewing isn’t easy. In fact, at times it’s very hard work. It’s not about word count but rather about getting a cohesive message across to your audience, because in essence that’s what you’re doing. As a reviewer you are now writing for an audience. Above all, when writing a review, be completely honest. You read what you read and felt what you felt, let others know what that was.


I am currently living the life in a mid-sized town in Ontario, Canada. I have my BSc as a double major in Biology and Classics with an emphasis in marine ecology, as well as my MA(H) in history with an emphasis in medieval religious persecution. While not working in a geochemical laboratory I enjoy spending time outside with my dogs. I also have a horse that I ride both recreationally and competitively.

The main love of my life is reading. It’s been this way as long as I can remember. Via my blog, Pure Jonel, I get to share my love of the written word with others. It’s been a phenomenal experience and I hope that it remains that way for a very long time.




Check out some of Jonel's reviews on Goodreads and her blog. 

If you are an author, send this post to your fans, so they can help you with their reviews. 

If you are a reader, re-read this post before you write your next review. You owe it to yourself... and the author.

Friday, February 15, 2013

My Guest: Jordyn Redwood

My Guest this week has managed to successfully combine not just two demanding occupations (Pediatric ER nurse by day and Suspense Novelist by night) but take this one step further by setting up a service to help writers get medical details right in their novels. It's with great pleasure I present...

Jordyn Redwood

Story ideas

Someone asked me once if my suspense mind is ever turned off.

Put simply . . . no.

Seemingly, every day events can turn into the plot line of a new novel—particularly if it involves some sort of scary, unheard of medical condition. Yea, I’m all over those like spray tan on a movie star.

Some writers I talk to have difficulty coming up with story ideas and so I thought I’d spend some time talking about where I get my story ideas and maybe they’ll spur a new resource for you.

  1. Real Life: I’m an ER nurse so I come across all walks of life every day. Now of course, due to certain health privacy laws, I can’t disclose a patient name and age and associate that with a medical condition. But, let’s be honest. Patients, co-workers, and physicians will meld into characters. I never highlight one specific person but take traits I like . . . and don’t like . . . from those around me.
  2. News Stories: It is absolutely true that an author can’t write a story like it happens in “real life” and have an editor believe it yet we see examples of this every day in the news. Just recently there was the story of a Swedish woman who crashed a train into a building after taking it for a joy ride. Now this starts all sorts of questions in my mind: How did she get access to a train? How do you crash a train? I mean, aren’t they kind of trapped going in a straight line?
  3. Images: Recently, I was a watching a video done by CeeLo Green to one of my favorite Christian songs. Now, I’m not a sold-out CeeLo Green fan so was interested in what his take was on the message. You can watch it here. Regardless of what you think of Christianity, some of the images are powerful. At minute mark 2:04 there is an image of Mary helping Jesus raise the cross that would crucify him. As a mother, imagining helping prepare my child’s instrument of torture is unthinkable yet. . . why did she do it? Because she knew what the ultimate act meant? What other images bring to mind strong thoughts and feelings? The student facing down the tank in Tiananmen Square? A firefighter carrying a child out of a burning building? If you find an image that strikes you see if you can build a story around it. Does the image represent the climax of the story?
  4. Research: I know, I see the hands reaching up to stifle a yawn but hear me out. I do a lot of non-fiction reading for my fiction novels. Books about body language, handwriting analysis, and wilderness survival to name a few. I find that researching a story brings the characters to life for me. Also, scientific discoveries and then I think of how they can go awry. I mean, I am a medical thriller author!
  5. Dreams: This is low on my list because I’m too lazy to get up and write down what happened . . . or I don’t want to remember what happened. Other authors find this a great story generator and keep a journal by their bed to jot notes down. It’s probably wise to keep a little idea notebook with you to jot down ideas as they come. Not all of these thoughts will be novels but it keeps the creative machine moving.
  6. An actual story generator: There are websites that help generate story ideas. Here is one you can peruse. This is the writing prompt it gave me: A doctor has a day to find new homes for a museum of oddities. Now, for this to work for me I’d have to have the doctor find a dead body or some hidden virus to get it to work but change it for your genre.

What about you?

How do you generate stories?

Where do most of your ideas come from?

What are some helpful websites you’ve found?

Bio: Jordyn has served patients and their families for nearly 20 years and currently works as a Pediatric ER Nurse. As a self professed medical nerd and trauma junkie, she was drawn to the controlled chaotic environments of critical care and emergency nursing. Her love of teaching developed early and she was among the youngest CPR instructors for the American Red Cross at the age of seventeen. Since then, she has continued to teach advanced resuscitation classes to participants ranging from first responders to MD’s.

When she discovered she also had a fondness for answering medical questions for authors, this led to the creation of Redwood’s MedicalEdge. This blog is devoted to helping contemporary and historical authors write medically accurate fiction. Jordyn lives in Colorado with her husband, two daughters and one crazy hound dog. In her spare time she also enjoys reading her favorite authors, quilting and cross stitching. You can learn more about Jordyn by visiting her website at

Her debut novel, Proof, garnered a starred review from LibraryJournal and has been endorsed by the likes of Dr. Richard Mabry, Lynette Eason, and Mike Dellosso to name a few. The second book in the Bloodline Trilogy, Poison, releases Feb, 2013.

Thank you Jordyn, and best wishes for your new novel.

Eric @

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Music while you work

This post may seem to be a response to the one written recently by Seumas Gallacher on his excellent blog here but it wasn’t intended to be that way. I’ve actually been working on it for a couple of weeks at odd moments. Great minds think alike, Seumas, laddie.

Writers are visceral creatures.

They stalk the blank pages of boredom populating them with sprites of creative wonder whose sole objectives are to entertain and stimulate the reader.

However, as all scribblers know, sometimes they need a kick-start to get them in the mood. It’s well known how certain novelists sought inspiration in bottles; others have found that plunging into the depths of their own grief to be the fulcrum they need. Myself, I prefer other less harmful pursuits. My drug of choice is… music.

We have all been moved by music at one time or another: the stirring in the breast as we hear the opening notes of some great anthem; the watering eye, product of a lilting refrain; the uncontrollable foot tapping born of a syncopated rhythm; even the urge to wave a lighter in the air as our favourite band go melodic.

It’s all about emotion!

And so is writing.

That’s why they go so well together; the notes and the words waltzing majestically as black ink fills white spaces.


Care must be taken!

You see, when we writers use music as background to our task, we are really tricking our brains into simulating certain physiological responses. Yes I am going to get all-scientific on you…

What many call the lizard brain, the amygdala, hiding at the top of the spinal chord (sorry, that should have been ‘cord’) is the beastie responsible for handling all sensory input initially. As it crouches in crotchety comfort at the base of ze little grey cells, it has only one chore to perform, which it does exceedingly well – it’s a database lookup engine!

An example:

As the first notes of the ‘March of the Swiss Soldiers’ finale of Rossini's ‘William Tell Overture’ start to sound, my amygdala does a quick double-take and pulls up a reference to a bloke dressed all in white with a black kerchief, mounted on a white stallion, at full gallop, as the voice-over yells “Hi-Ho Silver! Away!” and dredges from my memory such enigmatic words as ‘ke-mo sah-bee’ and ‘tonto’ – although the latter is more useful because I live in Spain and here tonto means stupid. But as I said, it’s all about emotion. For younger readers, to seewhat am I talking about, click here

My amygdala doesn’t stop there. No, it associates these references with the past emotional experiences related to them. Was I happy or sad when I first heard them? Why does it do this? Well, basically its job is to decide if the sensory stimuli signify danger. Yes, this is our ‘fight or flight’ motor. If there is no immediate peril, Rossini’s staccato stream is passed on to the rest of the brain where more rational, analytical actions are taken as a result. Yet that first instant response is unavoidable.

Now there are those amongst you who will not experience the same response. Seumas, for example, may be more moved by George Seaton’s original ‘Hi-yo Silver’ in the original 1933 radio broadcast that started it all – I’m too young to remember that. And shortly, May 2013 I believe, millions will associate the Lone Ranger with a monochrome figure with a dead crow on its head.

Am I rambling again? No. What I’m pointing out, in my traditional long-winded way, is that all the emotional responses are unique to each individual.

Yet the emotion will be there.

So we need to take great care when writing with a musical background.

Writers infuse their words with emotion which tickle their readers’ amygdalae (?) as well. (You’re nobody until you’ve had your amygdalae tickled, Seumas!). I’ve said this often, though not so pseudo-scientifically. Now if the music we chose is going to condition our emotions, then the words we choose will also be conditioned - ergo, ipso-facto, quod erat demonstrandum etc. (bet you didn’t know I speak fluent Rubbish?).

Not sure what I mean?

Try a little experiment…

Play this on a loop on your PC and try writing a fast-paced action scene: a challenge

So take care in what you listen to when writing! It’ll tickle your amygdalae!

PS: Seumas: was that Jennifer Anniston at the end of the video wondering if she had gone into a funeral instead of a concert?