Judy Penz Sheluk: No Fool’s Journey

Judy Penz Sheluk
Judy Penz Sheluk

Judy Penz Sheluk and I first met at the Ontario Library Association’s annual conference, where were both part of a presentation by author members of Crime Writers of Canada. She introduced herself to me and invited me on her blog, so of course I fell for her immediately. But since I’m not half as organized, it’s taken me this long for me to land her on my own blog. Read all the way through for a surprise at the end!

Q: One of your heroines, Callie Barnstable, spends a lot of time organizing her thoughts and writing down details of her meetings. Her father’s manta is “A dull pencil is sharper than the sharpest mind.” Sherlock Holmes’s instant evaluations seem brilliant, but I suspect true investigations involve a lot of legwork and note taking. What do you think?

A: I’m personally hopeless without writing things down. I have a notebook next to my bedside table, along with an LED pen (so I can write in the dark when flashes of brilliance come to me in the middle of the night), and I have a separate notebook for every current work-in-progress, where I jot down things that occur to me as I’m writing in Word. That might be possible character names or timelines or ages of characters (including year of birth, how old they were at certain years, etc.) I even have a “promo notes” notebook. I’m not Callie, but a lot of her quirks are my quirks. 

Q: Tattoos! The Medical Post ran an article on doctors with tattoos and patients’ reactions. If it’s not too much of a spoiler or too much of a personal question, Callie visits a tattoo parlour in A Fool’s Journey. Do you have any tattoos? 

A: I don’t have any tattoos and no plans to get one, because, like Callie, there is nothing in this world that I can imagine wanting permanently inked on my body. I think back to my late teens, when, after breaking up with my boyfriend, I became obsessed with butterflies — “Butterflies are free.” I had butterfly earrings, necklaces…you get the idea. Well, fast forward a few (and I won’t say how many) decades and I have absolutely no affinity towards butterflies. But had tattoos been in vogue at the time, I’m sure I’d have at least one or more butterflies somewhere on my body. 

Q: I was excited that the book opens with Callie inheriting $365,000 from her grandmother conditional on her investigating the disappearance of 20-year-old Brandon Colbeck. Now I have to go back and start with book #1, Skeletons in the Attic, where Callie inherits a house from her father, conditional on her investigating her mother’s murder 30 years ago. It seems like Callie’s family keeps dying and giving her big-ticket items with strings attached. As an author, what attracts you to the idea of a mysterious inheritance?

A: Ha! Yes, Callie’s been lucky with her inheritances, hasn’t she? In the case of Skeletons, the idea came to me while my husband and I were at my lawyer’s office to redo our wills. Our lawyer was delayed in court and while Mike read back issues of Bicycling magazine, I started jotting down notes (of course I have a notebook in my purse!): “What if I was here to inherit vs. write a will? And what if there were strings attached? And what if…” By the time our lawyer arrived, I’d written chapter one. In fact, a large part of the opening scenes are directly culled from that experience. With A Fool’s Journey, I wanted to show Callie coming full circle: she’s no longer the Toronto city kid/fish out of suburban water that she was in book 1. Another inheritance, and how she handles the case, demonstrates how much she’s grown.

Q: The case in Past and Present, book #2, involves a grandmother who met a “bad end” in 1956. Do you also enjoy researching mysteries set in the past, since all three books’ cases take place 20-60 years ago?

A: I was really struggling for an idea for book 2 in the series. At the time, my mom was very ill (COPD and related health issues). Going through her closet after she passed away, there was a small 1950s train case. Inside were her immigration papers from England to Canada on the TSS Canberra in 1952, her German passport (she moved to England after the war), her mother’s (my grandmother’s) and my father’s death certificates, as well as some photographs and postcards. I’d never seen any of these things and she never spoke of her life “Before Canada” and marrying my father. I started by researching the Canberra through Pier 21, the Canadian Immigration Museum, and also through a friend of mine who collects ocean liner memorabilia. Before long, I was viewing things as if I was Callie, and honestly, that story just seemed to write itself after that. It was as if my mom were with me. The book was published Sept. 21, 2018, exactly two years after her death, and it’s dedicated to her memory.

Q: What made you decide to set your books in the fictional town of Marketville instead of the town of Newmarket?

A: Some of the landmarks are similar to Newmarket, but I’ve taken a lot of liberties with the location. It just seemed better to give it a fictional name. I did the same with my Glass Dolphin series, where Lount’s Landing is loosely based on Holland Landing, where I lived for 25 years.

Q: I liked the hint of romance in A Fool’s Journey. Do you like adding a bit of personal relationships to your fiction?

A: Gosh, no. I’m the least romantic person on the planet (just ask my husband) and I tend to skip over romantic scenes in books I’m reading. As a result, I really struggle with adding romantic elements to my books. But in real life, people have relationships, and so my characters do, too. I will say, however, that I love the relationship between Arabella Carpenter and her ex-husband, Levon Larroquette (Glass Dolphin series) because they’re so clearly meant for each other and refuse to admit it.

Q: Very sorry to hear that your traditional publisher, Barking Rain Press (BRP), closed on July 7th. When you received the news, you were on vacation, and A Fool’s Journey, was slated to release August 21st. I understand that you poured yourself some very expensive Chardonnay. And then what did you do? 

A: To be honest, BRP’s closing wasn’t a huge surprise. The publisher had gone through a plethora of personal problems over the past 18 months and it finally wore her down. I wrote a blog post about it “When Things Go South When You’re North: The End of Barking Rain Press” for anyone interested in learning more, including details of the re-release of my two BRP titles (Skeletons in the Attic and A Hole in One). http://www.judypenzsheluk.com/2019/08/08/when-things-go-south-when-youre-north-the-end-of-barking-rain-press/

Q: What do you foresee for the future of writing and publishing, and your own journey in particular?

A: I don’t have a crystal ball, but I do think as more small press publishers open, with little idea of the amount of work or capitol outlay involved, and the razor thin profit margins, there will continue to be more authors “orphaned” as those same presses shutter their doors after a handful of years. I also think more authors will self-publish, but unfortunately, many of those will look at it as a “fast track” to getting published and won’t invest in professional editing, proofreading, and cover art, all of which, to my mind, are essential, at least if you want to cultivate a following. As for medium-to-large presses, there will continue to be mergers and acquisitions. Publishing is a tough business. 

As for my future, I need only look at my past. I spent years working in the corporate world in management positions. I walked away in 2003, took a huge pay cut, and started freelance writing/editing, loved it, and never looked back. In 2018, I walked away from my last freelance gig to concentrate of writing books fulltime. Erica Jong said, “When I sit down at my writing desk, time seems to vanish. I think it’s a wonderful way to spend one’s life.” I couldn’t agree more.

And here’s your surprise. Judy and her husband on her wedding day! I re-wore my wedding dress on our anniversary last month, and Judy sent me a picture of her wedding too. They look fab!

Judy Penz Sheluk is the bestselling author of the Glass Dolphin Mystery and Marketville Mystery series, and the editor of The Best Laid Plans: 21 Stories of Mystery & Suspense. Her short stories can be found in several collections. Judy is also a member of Sisters in Crime, International Thriller Writers, the Short Mystery Fiction Society, and Crime Writers of Canada, where she serves as Vice Chair on the Board of Directors. Find her at http://www.judypenzsheluk.com and on Amazon.


Interview with Petra’s Ghost Author C.S. O’Cinneide

On Genre, Flirty Canadians, and Movie Deals


Melissa Yi: I have to ask you what inspired you to write such an unusual debut novel. For those of you who haven’t yet devoured PETRA’S GHOST, an Irish expatriate named Daniel gathers his wife’s ashes and intends to spread them as he walks the Camino de Santiago, a pilgrimage through Spain. He follows in the same footsteps of a woman who disappeared while walking the Camino. The missing woman and his wife’s death weigh on Daniel even as he tries to establish a relationship with another pilgrim, an outspoken California librarian named Ginny.


Ginny says “Everyone has a story.” Is this, somehow, your story? Even if it’s only in a metaphorical sense, as with resurrected chickens in Capilla de la Magdalena?

C.S. O’Cinneide: To a large extent, the story in Petra’s Ghost is very much my story of when I walked the Camino Frances in 2015. If you check out the blog entries from my trip (https://www.shekillslit.com/camino/) you will recognize many of the places and experiences contained in the book. What you won’t see in my blog entries is the fact that a woman did indeed go missing off the pilgrimage when I was walking. Her real-life story did not end well. With the exception of one sketchier stretch of the trail, I felt extremely safe walking on my own in Spain, but this poor woman was never far from my mind. So, it was not surprising that when I came home to write that she found her way into my novel. The Camino, much like life in general, has its dark and its light aspects, and I have always enjoyed contrasting those two elements in my writing.


MY: Honestly, as the author of the witty SheKillsLit.com blog, I expected a hilarious, satirical thriller, more like how you describe your next book, The Starr Sting Scale, featuring a six foot three hitwoman. I would call Petra’s Ghost more literary horror. What made you decide to tackle death, guilt, abuse, family, Dante, and the supernatural?
CSO: Yes, The Starr Sting Scale is a very different book! More than one editor has been caught laughing out loud at their desks while working on it. Petra’s Ghost does have humour in it (I can’t seem to write without it), but it has been promoted as literary. The horror label came as a surprise to me (and my publisher) and made me question what horror is and how we assign genre. Do people consider Victorian ghost stories like A Christmas Carol horror? Is The Notebook a romance novel? In any case, I am honoured to have been pegged in the same genre as Shirley Jackson, my writing idol.
As far as how these more horrific elements made it into Petra’s Ghost, I can only say that I don’t seem to have control over that in my writing. One time I tried to write a short story about a woman baking brown bread during the height of the suffragette movement and by the end of it she had poisoned her own children. My writing always seems to go to dark places. It must be a cathartic of some kind. But it is always used as a literary device to look at larger issues, like the economic vulnerability of women in the early 1900’s in the case of the brown bread short story, or in Petra’s Ghost as a vehicle to examine the hell we can make for ourselves when we pair the sisters of guilt and grief.

I was also surprised that there was very little Canada, except for a French Canadian woman hitting on Daniel. When I’ve read other novels by Canadian authors and publishers, they tend to wave the maple leaf. What made you and Dundurn decide to take it in a more international direction?
CSO: Don’t forget the Dutchman’s sister-friend who is Canadian too!

MY: Yes, all hail the flirty Canadian contingent! Kidding.

CSO: The book was completed by the time my publisher got their hands on it, so they had no say on the Canadian content or lack thereof. I love books that feature Canadian places and people. It is so refreshing to read about the things we know and recognize. But I think Canadians are capable of writing books about far more than just Canada. The Camino is a very international experience and it lends itself to an international cast of characters. Most pilgrims are usually from another country other than Spain, but they all become citizens of the Camino when they come to walk it.
In that way I suppose it is a Canadian story, since we live in a country peopled for the most part by those who have come from somewhere else.


MY: These are my favourite lines, and they’re a description of Petra’s teaching. She tended to each pupil as she did to her painting, with appreciation for the different textures and hues. He can remember her laugh as she recalled the pranksters and her furrowed brow as she felt for the shy ones.
I feel the wealth of empathy and could sense her visual art and her art of teaching, all at once. Any comments?

I am the poorest visual artist you will find, having never progressed beyond the passable stick figure. And I am not a teacher. But I think my love and empathy for children comes out in these lines. I have four kids and have unofficially adopted some more into my life over the years. They have all brought me a great deal of joy (and furrowed brows) with their “different textures and hues.”

MY: Four kids plus. Wow!

When I attended Bloody Words and Bouchercon, I noticed a divide between cozy writers and noir writers in that cozies preferred to puzzle out the murder intellectually and avoid any description of blood. Tanis Mallow gave an impassioned defence of gritty crime scenes because that kind of description makes you feel the horror of murder instead of treating it
as entertainment. Petra’s Ghost comes down on the descriptive side. Thoughts on this?

CSO: Hmm. I think it comes down to what you like to write (and read) rather than a defence of one or the other. I think all good mysteries had better give you an intellectual puzzle so I’m not sure if that is really a distinguishing factor. I believe the real question is, do you want the murder in a mystery to be described with the same detail that might be used to describe a sunset in the same story? Once again, I think that just comes down to personal taste. In Petra’s Ghost, the landscapes and architecture as well as the frightening things Daniel sees are described just as evocatively. That’s the way I write. I don’t think I could do it differently. For those who don’t like that amount of detail when it comes to frightening things, this could be jarring. And they can stick with the cozy mysteries and enjoy the sunset. I won’t be offended. Except honestly, they will miss a really good book. : )


MY:
I want to ask you about your pen name. Does it have a special meaning to you?
CSO: The initials are my own (my first name is Carole), and O’Cinneide (oh-ki-nay-da) is my last name, Kennedy, in Irish. This is the original version of the surname before it was anglicized by the British. Many people in Ireland still use it. There were so many Carole Kennedy authors out there when I first started publishing, I wanted to differentiate myself. And of course, Ireland holds a very special place in my heart, as you can probably guess from the wonderful Irish ex-pat character of Daniel in Petra’s Ghost.


MY: Yes Congrats on the rave reviews, the critical acclaim and film/TV rights battle for Petra’s Ghost! How are you enjoying this journey so far?
It is a little surreal to tell you the truth. It seems to come in spurts that attention. I am still not sure how it will translate in terms of sales. But I must say I was pretty shocked when I found half a dozen emails in my in-basket inquiring after film rights. That was definitely not something I expected. But I suppose in all that, the most meaningful moment in this debut novel journey was the personal note a reader sent me via Goodreads. She told me that Petra’s Ghost had moved her deeply with its message about guilt, grief and ultimately redemption — and that she had cried while describing the story to her husband. I could get dozens of five-star reviews in the major media and they couldn’t possibly mean as much to me as that.

MY: There you have it. Proof that your personal reviews matter. Thank you for giving such an intelligent, gracious interview, C.S. I hope my friends enjoy Petra’s Ghost as much as I do!

Emerge and Create! (Emerging Creators Unit 2019)

Hey, what’s the Emerging Creators Unit?

I was absolutely delighted to discover this program where, in order to nurture new writers and create fresh theatre, six artists would be chosen to work with dramaturg Catherine Ballachey and assistant dramaturg, Matt Hertendy.

A dramaturg reads and analyses your script to help you present it most effectively as a play, which is a tremendous help, especially to someone like me who is used to the page. Some people describe dramaturgs as a literary editor for plays.

The six artists would meet six times and then perform a reading open to the public.

There would be no charge for this workshop. It would be absolutely free for the six chosen ones. In fact, the artists would get paid for the reading. This is mindbending in the cash-strapped world of theatre.

 All funded by the City of Ottawa and the Ottawa Acting Company.

Holy cow. I could not get my application in fast enough.

And then I won a spot!

We get together at the Acting Company on Bank Street every other Sunday. We review each others’ work and make gentle suggestions if the writer is ready for them.

It’s the opposite of medical school, which is still very sink or swim. It’s even different from my other writing workshops, where I’m often surrounded by extremely competitive, award-winning writers from around the globe.

Sidebar on those competitive writers: most are cool and generous, but one woman reported that she would elbow her own grandmother out of the way if it meant she’d have a better chance at authorship; another one’s husband described her as a Formula One driver of writing. Writing is taken Very Seriously.

So it felt different to take part in a local, thoughtful group where people are encouraged to turn in material every two weeks, but there’s no punishment and no harsh words if you’re late. Then, when you do write, everyone tends to be super encouraging and talk about shows their work reminded you of, or visual things or smells they imagined while reading your work.

You’re supposed to give the group questions to answer as they analyze your work. They asked, am I allowed to write about this ethnic or social group? Was it funny enough? Did you need a visual aid?

A lot of the time, they boiled down to, “Is this okay?”

Maybe that’s what we always want to know, as writers. Is this all right?

But I do find that most of the people who are most worried about offending, or about appropriating voice, about getting permission, about being exact—those are the people who are the most respectful and should not be silenced.

They should be writing, and singing, and dancing.

Do you see Donald Trump asking if it’s okay?

Author Natalie Goldberg says that every writer seeks permission to write. It’s not necessarily a conscious thing, but we want someone to put a hand on our shoulder and say, Yes. Keep going.

Catherine Ballachey built a safe place for us to create. Isn’t that wonderful? In an age of cutbacks, when the only headlines about art tend to be “cut again” or “can’t believe they wasted money on that monstrosity,” she and Matt and directing consultant Ludmylla Reis quietly constructed a haven for new writers and performers, using funding from the City of Ottawa and the Ottawa Acting Company.

Thank you all so much.

We’re having a reading next Sunday at 7 p.m. It’s free art, with snacks. Come!

Emerging Creators Unit 2019, unite!

– Montana Adams with “My Good Friend Jay”

– Kieran Dunn with “Sneakerheadz”

– Sarah Haley with “Olive: a Culinary Landscape”

– Amanda Logan with “Plain Jane”

– Izzie Solis with “Valeriana”

– Melissa Yuan-Innes with “I Am the Most Unfeeling Doctor in the World (and Other True Tales From the Emergency Room)

Lead Dramaturg: Catherine Ballachey

Assistant Dramaturg: Matt Hertendy

Directing Consultant: Ludmylla Reis

Snacks and discussion to follow the reading! Admission is free.

Femme Fatale

Are you a femme fatale?

Would you date one?

Could you outwit one?

Will you die from one?

When I think of a femme fatale, I think of an alluring yet dangerous female. Like a black widow spider, only sexier.

I read an anthology of the century’s best mystery stories, and I was struck by the portrayal of women. Most of the stories had been written by men, and an awful lot of the protagonists were males drawn to that mysterious woman who might be the death of them, but they kept walking toward her anyway.

When O’Neil de Noux, a Shamus award-winning writer, invited me to participate in a Storybundle of femme fatales, I felt like the antithesis of a femme fatale. First of all, as a doctor, my job is to heal, not kill. And because I spend so much energy on studying and working, I end up wearing scrubs (“Yay! I get to wear pyjamas to work!” said my friend and fellow ER doctor, Mai-Anh). I usually wear zero makeup. This is not universal—one of my French female colleagues reapplies her lipstick at 3 a.m. on a night shift—but let’s face it, most of the French are much more femme than I am.

Of course, I could react to the sexlessness of medicine by dolling myself up in my off hours and in my fiction, but I don’t. My brain just doesn’t work that way.

O’Neil helpfully sent me two definitions of a femme fatale.

An attractive and seductive woman, especially one who will ultimately bring disaster to a man who becomes involved with her. -Oxford Dictionary

A beautiful, seductive, and usually evil female character in drama and literature. She is usually shown as a cruel, man-eating seductress. Men fall victim to her beauty and are eventually brought to ruin by her. -Urban Dictionary

O’Neil added, “If she’s a ‘kick ass’ woman going around shooting people, it doesn’t fit.”

Luckily, my characters and I don’t go around shooting people. See “healer,” above.

In the end, O’Neil put together a wonderful group of books, including mine, Terminally Ill.

Here’s the deal with Storybundle. It’s time-limited: you can only buy it for the next 19 days.

If you pay at least five dollars, you get 4 books.

If you give at least $15, you’ll get all 10 books! You can choose to give a donation to the charities Mighty Writers and Girls Write Now. It’s an awesome way to grab a bunch of award-winning writers.

I was amused to see that of the four books in the main Storybundle, two of them refer to doctors and medicine in their opening. Check this out:

ToxiCity

by Libby Fischer Hellmann

1998

Prologue

It wasn’t supposed to be this easy, watching life seep out of a body. Knowing you were the cause of it. Standing in the motel room, fingers against the carotid, feeling the pulse dwindle to a weak, irregular tremor. Smiling, as his skin became translucent, a bluish tinge to his lips. Not so hard, now, to understand that doctor who helped people die. And sometimes stuck around to watch. Hadn’t someone said at the moment of death, he’d shout at his patients, imploring them to tell him what it was like?

Bubba Goes for Broke

by David H. Hendrickson

Today he’d prove them all wrong. He wasn’t, as The Boss had said on more than one occasion, “the second or third dumbest fuck in the universe.” Bubba Winslow didn’t think he was even in the top twenty.

Redneck Riviera Box Set

by Julie Smith

They popped him in Alabama that last time, and the first thing Forest did when he got out— after he got drunk and laid— was call his buddy Roy. Roy was out in East Jesus, Florida this time— Forest didn’t quite know where, but it didn’t make much of a damn. It was somewhere to go.

Roy was so tickled to hear from him, he hollered at the phone like it was Forest himself. “Hey, ol’ buddy. Get your ass on over here. Where the hell are you, anyhow?”

“It’s where I ain’t that I’m callin’ about. I ain’t in jail in Alabama.”

“Hey, congratulations, ol’. buddy. Where in Alabama ain’t you.in jail?”

Bad Boy Boogie

by Thomas Pluck

She said to meet him in a train station lot. Jay drove there and waited, listening to an AC/DC mix tape Tony had left in the Challenger until a blue Aston Martin DB9 pulled nose to nose with him.

Ramona grinned above the wheel from behind black shades.

On the highway, she winced at the red marks on his nose and cheek. “If I wanted to help you, I should’ve gone to med school.” She weaved through traffic and drafted behind a box truck, the spy-car’s nose to the bumper.

“Way you drive, it’s good you’re a lawyer,” Jay said. “Maybe you can teach me sometime.”

Ramona wore navy slacks and lipstick that gave her the prim air of a strict schoolteacher. “I trained on the Nürburgring,” she said. “Driving here’s easy. Just expect everyone to behave like a complete jerk or a total idiot.”

And the bonus books

Candy

by Lawrence Block <–Grand Master. Winner of the Edgar, Shamus, and Anthony Awards.

The Perfect Man

by Kristine Kathryn Rusch <–New York Times bestseller. Edgar nominated. Shamus nominated.

Hit Somebody

by Steve Liskow <–two-time winner of the Black Orchid novella award. Stories in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine and Sherlock Holmes Mystery Magazine. Has published thirteen novels.

Terminally Ill

by Melissa Yi <–I hope you know who I am. Derringer Award finalist. Writer of the Future. Recommended by CBC Books and The Next Chapter. Recognized nationally on CBC’s The Current.

Death Takes a Partner

by Dean Wesley Smith <–USA Today bestseller. Has published over 100 novels. (Stand aside, Steve.)

Bourbon Street

by O’Neil De Noux <–winner of the Best Police Book of the Year. The Derringer Award. The Shamus Award. The United Kingdom Short Story Prize.

So I hope some of you pick up the femme fatale Storybundle.

 

As for the questions above, my answers are

Are you a femme fatale? No. Although I could play one on TV, or for Hallowe’en.

Would you date one? If I were single, I’d be open-minded. This is not my usual type, though. I’m not into games, and I hadn’t dated any females before I got married.

Could you outwit one? I think so. Depends how devious she is.

Will you die from one? Hope not. I bet it would be painful.

I’d love to hear your answers, too!

I couldn’t talk about it.

I said I’d talk about it in December. But the holidays were so busy. I put it off until January.

Then January ebbed away. On the very last day, after an emergency room shift, I finally sent a message to my newsletter:

Hi,

I’ve been wanting to connect, but not knowing how to do it.

Last year, I received a very touching message from someone who had lost his father and found solace in my book, Buddhish.

He sent that message within hours of one of my friends losing her baby at 30 weeks.

I couldn’t bring their father or baby back, but I thought, If this book can help one more person, I need to let folks know. But I’m having trouble talking about it because I wrote it at the darkest time in my life, when our first pregnancy ended at twenty weeks with a tiny little girl we named Isadora.

What do you do when someone dies, and you love that being more than you love your own life?

After my family and friends returned to their normal lives, I did what I always do. I read. And part of what I read was about Buddhism, which helped me a lot, because basically, it told me that life contains suffering. I wasn’t alone and isolated in my tragedy. We will all experience both horror and joy.

For the first year, I wanted to talk about Isadora all the time. I didn’t want to overwhelm people with my grief, but I needed to share it. I found wise and helpful friends everywhere. But now that I finally have two healthy children, it’s easier not to talk about tragedy and to pretend everything is fine.

It’s easier for me to say, “Hey, CBC Books recommended Human Remains as its top mystery for the holidays, along with Louise Penny!” than it is to say, “Did you know what happened to me before these two kids?”

On the other hand, as JK Rowling’s Albus Dumbledore pointed out, “Dark times lie ahead of us and there will be a time when we must choose between what is easy and what is right.”

It’s not easy for me to talk about Isadora, but I believe the world needs more honest conversation, so I’m telling you about Buddhish. It’s part of the way I honour her. And I do have friends who care.

One of my writer friends, Lisa Silverthorne, told me that she circled February 26th (Isadora’s birthday/death day) on her calendar, and that she thinks of her every year. Another friend asked to see pictures of her and said that she was beautiful.

Thanks for listening.

Melissa

I wasn’t sure what to expect. I don’t necessarily “know” most people who subscribe to my newsletter. I’m terrible about sending it out, and when I do, I might get a few messages back, but it’s mostly throwing a bottle of words into the ocean of the Internet.

 

There are a lot of “shoulds” for newsletters. How often to send them out, the best kind of content, how to engage. Not one of them says, “Make sure you talk about the worst thing that ever happened to you.”

I sent it anyway, and I fell asleep. It was just before midnight.

When I woke up, I had messages from all over the world. People had lost their own babies. People had lost spouses. Some of them wanted to pray for me, or with me. Some friends who wanted to show support, even if they hadn’t lost anyone. The Cornwall Library and Champlain Library each bought a copy of Buddhish, and Lisa Henderson bought two for the Hillcrest Funeral Home.

 

One friend said she cried on nearly every page.

I also shared Buddhish with Sunset Yoga. Even though I don’t get to the yoga studio often, it’s like a tiny haven.

I was amazed. It reminded me of Leonard Cohen’s poem, “Anthem,” which is so famous and so true.

 

Yes, Isadora was the deepest crack in my life. And she let in so much light.

Even so, I stayed mute on social media. It was easier to keep her quiet and private, in a world where no one will count the reactions and judge us as worthy or unworthy.

But her birth day/death day comes up tomorrow, on February 26th.

And Leonard Cohen told me that I have to ring the bells I still can ring. He instructed me to forget the perfect offering.

So today, I’m taking a deep breath and sending her story into the harsh spotlight of Facebook and Twitter.

Buddhish, by Melissa Yuan-Innes, M.D.No one may notice.

It’s okay. I still love her.

All our offerings are imperfect. We have to take the light we can, and keep ringing our bells, even if no one hears us.

Welcome, Doctor-Writers! I Am Your Matchmaker.

Women in Medicine (WIM) 2018 Pre-conference Session

WIM MIW

Writers in Medicine. Marketing in Writing.

Do you want to publish your writing, traditionally or through the new world of independent publishing?

Do want tips on marketing, whether it’s boosting your online presence, media appearances, or hand-selling?

Are you overwhelmed and have no idea where to begin, beyond picking up your pen or booting up your laptop?

Come on down! As part of the Women in Medicine pre-conference, I’m offering a special class for doctors who want to get their writing in front of eager readers. Think of it as matchmaking between your words and book lovers.

I’m Dr. Melissa Yuan-Innes, the emergency doctor who writes the popular Hope Sze Medical Crime Series, twice nominated as the best mysteries of the summer by CBC Radio’s The Next Chapter (here and here). I’ve been writing since I could hold a pencil, and winning awards across genres since medical school.

When: Friday, June 8, 2018, at 12:45-1:45 p.m.

Where: Ottawa Westin


PRICE



Limited to 20 participants

Please add your e-mail and phone number so I can contact you in case of last-minute shenanigans.

After WIM MIW with me, you’re welcome to join a separate, special writing class with Dr. Saroo Sharda at 2 p.m.

Message me ahead of time if you have specific questions, so that I can tailor this workshop for you. And if you’re not a woman, or not in medicine, contact me anyway. I’ll see if I can arrange a separate class for you.

melissa [dot] yuaninnes [at] gmail.com is best, and works beautifully for e-transfers (better than Paypal!).

I also hang out part-time on Facebook and, more rarely, Twitter (@dr_sassy).

Top: Joseline Beaulieu. Bottom: Darlene Novosad. Aren’t they phenomenal?

Want proof that this will be fun? Check out these two yoginis, who appeared on the front page of the Standard Freeholder newspaper with my books.

I’m excited. This is going to be awesome.

Human Remains in Montreal (Librairie Bertrand & CBC Radio’s Homerun). Coming soon to Ottawa!


When I write, and when I’m in the ER, I’m always taking risks.

In the ER, it’s obvious. Anyone could crash at any time. But I’m surrounded by a good team.

When I’m writing, it’s more private. Most of the time, no one sees me succeed or fail.

Except at a book launch.

“The average book launch has two people, and one of them is a friend of the author,” said Mark Leslie Lefebvre, Kobo director.

Clockwise from top: Dr. Yi, Dr. Adams, Maria, Su, Dr. Wein, Day’s

In Montreal, I was.afraid I wouldn’t have two.

I graduated from Montreal over a decade ago. I don’t have that many friends left in the city, and most of them are doctors with families. “I’m on call.” “I can’t go out in the evening.” “Who are you, again?” (Okay, not quite.)

Dr. Adams and Maria

Librairie Bertrand is this gorgeous bookstore in old Montreal. They have a garden in the back. Horses clip by on cobblestone streets. I had the best chicken sandwich of my life around the corner. But would anyone come to my launch?

I’ve learned two things about launches: bring as many people as possible–bribe them if you have to–and make sure your hosts are happy. If it’s a bookstore, people must buy books.

So my stress wasn’t just for me, it was for Librarie Bertrand.

When I walked in, ten minutes early, Ian Shaw, the head of Deux Voiliers Publishing, was waiting for me.

Beautiful corpses: Su and Maria

Then artists Jessica Sarrazin and Jason de Graaf walked in; he had to go to his gallery in Montreal that week, so they coordinated with my launch. “We didn’t tell you in case we couldn’t come.”

Author Su J. Sokol opened the door, fresh off her super-successful Blue Met Panel (sold out. Not even standing room). Better grab her book, Cycling to Asylum!

Mayday, mayday! Dr. Yi & Sophia

And another author, Day’s Lee, a multi-talented writer of not only YA and children’s books, but also plays and films–check out my interview here or her own website. A powerhouse of a writer and a good person. Check her out!

Help! ABC’s! Sophia & Dr. Yi

Dr. Ted Wein stepped through the door. I was shocked. I haven’t seen him since he teased me about my pregnancy belly with my son Max. Since then he has set up a comprehensive Stroke Prevention Unit at MUHC, the first of its kind in Canada, which is tragically being closed.

Next, Dr. Chryssi Paraskevopoulos managed to come despite an onslaught of “red phones.” (They call you on a special red phone when then big cases come in.) I haven’t seen her since I graduated!

Fun fact: both these doctors were incorporated into St. Joseph’s Hospital, Hope Sze’s Montreal hospital, under different names. If you know them, see if you can spot them in Code Blues.

Maria Davila, a member of the Glengarry Book Club, dashed in after a hard day’s work.

Dr. Rob Adams of Alexandria made it as well! By this point, during the ebb and flow, someone asked, “How many people are doctors?”

“Half,” I realized aloud. “Hey, why don’t the civilians pretend to be human remains, and the doctors can resuscitate them?”

Most attendees were puzzled, but they’d met me before and were aware of my general insanity. I ushered them into place. Don’t they look lovely? The bookstore staff was laughing away.

Last, but certainly not least, Sophia Petritsis showed up and was the most enthusiastic corpse of all!

Plus, we ran into Dr. Ed Hargassner on the way out.

Altogether, that was pretty awesome!

And … CBC Radio’s Homerun featured Human Remains!

I’m very excited about this. Richard King, the CBC Homerun reviewer-author, called Human Remains “a great medical mystery. Wonderful characters and plot.” He was so impressed that he gave a copy to a physician friend. Hooray!

Want some Human Remains? I’ll be in Ottawa chairing the Emerging Crime Panel at Prose in the Park on Saturday, June 10th, at 16:00 (Parkdale).

I will also be signing my books at Louise Penny’s Ottawa International Writers Festival event June 16th. Although of course the focus will be on this New York Times bestseller and lovely human being, she’s graciously allowing the judges and the winners from the Capital Crime Writers Audrey Jessup Writing Contest to share a little of her spotlight.

Thanks to everyone who has supported Human Remains. We love you!


 

Human Remains Hit Kobo’s Top 10, along with the Handmaid’s Tale … and other wonderful launch day stories, from Cornwall

Here were my worries for the launch day of Human Remains.

1. Would anyone buy my book?

2. Would anyone show up for my launch in Cornwall?

This dredges up bad memories, like being picked last for a baseball team, times a thousand. I never thought I’d play for the Major Leagues. However, I want to not suck at writing and getting my books into the hands of people who like to read them.

A few more problems. Last time I launched a Hope Sze book, Stockholm Syndrome, I got the flu and then, for the first time in my life, pneumonia. I didn’t want to go through that again.

The last two Hope books had hit the Kobo bestseller list of Top 25 e-books after a CBC interview—but I didn’t have a CBC interview lined up for launch day, although Murder in Common had posted a review, and the Standard Freeholder and the Review had shown their support.

I’m lucky to have readers buy my books in person, in print, at my hospitals, but that doesn’t register on Amazon or Kobo. To hit the bestseller list, I need people to buy online.

Luckily, they did. They had my back on Facebook and on my mailing list. I hit Kobo’s Top 10 and cracked the medical list on Amazon.ca. Thank you, thank you!

This is me cracking Kobo’s Top 10 with MARGARET ATWOOD at #6. Hey, Maggie, want to hang out? Wait, we are already … ON THE BESTSELLER LIST.

Yes, you can buy Human Remains on Kobo! It hit #1 in Women Sleuths, don’t’cha know.

Hi, Amazon! Thanks for getting me to #1 in Medical Thrillers!

Kobo even does a map to show where your buyers are, world-wide. Thanks, Kobo!

So that was hurdle #1. Yay, people bought my book around the world!

#2: I drove to Cornwall, quite exhausted, not knowing who would show up. I was pretty assertive about asking people, even handing flyers to both an American and a Canadian border agent (hi, T!). But you never know who will actually take the time to haul their carcass to the Cornwall Library on a Tuesday evening.

Hooray, people came!

I wasn’t late! Good thing, too, because the usual elevator was broken, and I had to come up the freight elevator to get set up.

My launch was part of DNA Day, the only Canadian place to celebrate the discovery of the double helix structure and completing the Human Genome Project. I have to say that, when asked, at least two people named not only Watson and Crick but also Rosalind Franklin. I handed out DNA origami and played my interview with Dr. Bill Stanford before reading from Human Remains, answering some creative questions, and making them do the wave.

It was fun. Every time I do a launch, different friends can or can’t come. It’s like throwing a party and seeing who shows up.

Some of my friends rarely do physical book launches anymore. They’d rather stay home and write. At most, they’ll have a Facebook party. But I can name two good things that came out of my Cornwall launch.

1. I met Troy and Robyn Guindon. He’s an acclaimed local author, and Robyn is the pharmacist and owner of Wholehealth Pharmacy, where she prides herself on one-on-one care with her patients.

We laughed about the fact that my family still has our Christmas tree up. Robyn said, “We did that, too! One year, we put up little balls for Easter.”

“Anastasia wanted to do that, but we didn’t get around to it!”

Robyn also has a collection of historical mortar and pestles. “Do you ever use a mortar and pestle?” I asked.

“Once in a while, to crush aspirin that we use in a salve.”

A show globe. Normally green means all is well and red means a plague. Uh oh.

“For what?”

“Psoriasis, to reduce the scaling.”

I had never heard of it, but it makes sense that you might try to gently abrade the white scales of psoriasis. So I learned something from Robyn, and you can, too! Plus, if you go, you can pick up one of Troy’s or my books, because she has good taste like that.

My books are also now available at Henderson’s in Lancaster!

2. A teacher at Holy Trinity asked me to come to his English class. So I drove away from my first book launch with a school visit set for the following week.

But first I had to face my next challenge.

3. In two days, on April 27th, I would have my first Montreal launch, at a beautiful Old Montreal bookstore called Librairie Bertrand.

I haven’t lived in Montreal since I graduated from the emergency program. Most of my friends have moved away.

I started wearing blue hair to some of my launches. My family thought this was hilarious.

What if zero people showed up in Montreal?

Max turns the big 1-1

Well, I couldn’t let Max turn eleven without mentioning it here!

This year, his goal was to pass level 10 swimming when he was ten. Not only did he pass level 10, but he also passed Bronze Star, although he struggled to lift bigger kids out of the water as he pretended to rescue them.

He also read a ton. I read all the Harry Potters to him, and our gifts were almost all books this year. I gave him graphic novels (“Please be Lunarbaboon,” he prayed over his last present), and his dad gave him the Percy Jackson series and Axel F sheet music. He’s read all the Wimpy Kid books, so we just finished Snoopy.

He wrote a melody for himself and played “The Entertainer” over and over at Christmas. He also started drawing comics.

On the downside, he failed organization, so we limited his screen time to an hour a day until he passed it the next term. He loves TV and computer more than anything else in life.

Overall, though, we’re lucky to have a happy, loving, healthy boy who’s slowly moving toward teenagerhood. He’s not there yet, but he’s showing signs. Like, I asked my family how Max had changed over the past year, and Anastasia said, “He has a little moustache.”

No one asks me about adolescence yet, but it reminds me of when strangers would ask, “Does he walk?” or “Does he talk?” At first, the answer was no, then “A little” and “Sort of” before it became a holy yes. It’s a continuum. He certainly doesn’t listen to me as much as he used to. “Why?” <door slam> Once he even cranked up the radio behind that door. So I know greater storms are coming. But for now, he’s still a pretty gentle soul. “Doux comme un agneau,” said his teachers in grade one, and he is.

Our friend Sandra gave us a night’s stay at the beautiful Alt Hotel in Ottawa. For some reason, they had a cube in the room. Max put it on his head, so Anastasia did, too.

Now I miss Max being 10.

Matt bought him a badminton set for his birthday, and that’s a big hit. Anastasia broke it three days ago. She tripped over the pole and broke it while chasing after a maple leaf. (“My leaf!” she cried. I mention this because it’s such a little kid thing to do. That leaf was crucial to her.) But Max rigged up a stick to put inside the hollow pole, and we played again today before Matt got a wooden dowel in there.

Happy birthday, Max-o. We love you.

Mommy

 

Human Remains pre-launches in Ottawa, with the Arthur Ellis Shortlist (or, my thoughts on Mother’s Day 2017)

I’m writing about my mini Human Remains book tour, starting from April 20th in Ottawa and culminating in Williamstown on May 10th. Join in the fun! Since I’m late blogging, I’ll add in some current tidbits as well.

For me, Mother’s Day is a day to celebrate caring people.

I don’t care so much if or when you procreated, but if you are loving and thoughtful, you’re on my team.

First, I do have to give thanks to my two little beans, whom I love. This is what they looked like on Mother’s Day morning:

Look at Anastasia read!

Look at Max try to sleep!

My son and husband made me breakfast, a pancake and the cheese bread Max learned to bake at le Relais, a local school. Anastasia was supposed to be helping, but mainly seemed to be popping bubble wrap.

Secondly, thanks to my own mother (and my father). I wouldn’t be here without them. My mom came to my Ottawa pre-launch on April 20th, which tickled author Patricia Filteau and reader Nancy, who took photos of her. My mom would get up and take pictures of me, no matter what was going on. Mother love! She’s the one in red plaid.

Janus Fox had made friends with me on Facebook, but this was the first time I met her in real life. Not only did she buy Human Remains and bring her copy of Stockholm Syndrome for me to sign, but she got two more for her American friends, so I’m officially in love. She also  won the door prize by correctly filling out the author crossword puzzle. That’s right, my readers are smart.

My friend Joseline Beaulieu came and brought me chocolate. My mother was so impressed, she ordered me to give Joseline a thank-you card, which I’ve forgotten to do, but Joseline is so nice, she said that next time, she’d bring my mom chocolates. That’s how nice she is—so nice that I felt embarrassed and said, “No, no, I should bring my own mother chocolates.” No wonder Joseline has helped turn the Madagascar School Project into such a success. 

Thanks to Linda Wiken for organizing the evening. She’s a successful author who started a new series based on a cooking club. So if you love eating and reading the way I do, that’s a perfect combination.

I was taking a selfie with my book, and Linda offered to take a picture of me. So then we did high fives.

Then we invited authors Mary Jane Maffini, Patricia Filteau, and Nick Wilkshire to join us.

For some reason, I suggested that we should jump. It was not a popular suggestion, but we got some funny photos out of it. Here are the outtakes that didn’t make it on Facebook.

The Ottawa launch highlighted the Arthur Ellis shortlist, including these writers I know:

Mary Fernando: a physician-writer who worked hard to try and get doctors a pension, so you know she’s a fighter. Her novel, An Absence of Empathy, is shortlisted for the Unhanged Arthur for Best Unpublished First Crime Novel sponsored by Dundurn Press

Brenda Chapman, No Trace, shortlisted for Best Novella, which is The Lou Allin Memorial Award. Brenda was one of my fellow judges for the CCW Writing Contest and seems very organized, not to mention has so many legions of friends and fans that Dundurn awarded her a seven-book contract

Elizabeth Hosang’s up for best story with “Where There’s a Will.” It appeared in The Whole She-Bang 3, which has three shortlisted stories. Whew! She’s also the CCW secretary-treasurer and reads Neil Gaiman, so you know she’s cool.

I’m proud of Ryan Aldred, whom I met at Bloody Words 2014. His novel, Rum Luck, is up for Best First Novel, Sponsored by Kobo.

I was super excited to hear that Gordon Korman was up for Best Juvenile/YA Book for Masterminds: Criminal Destiny. I love that guy. He was a cornerstone of my childhood, and Max likes him too, especially I Want to Go Home.

I feel a connection to Debra Komar, who is shortlisted for Best Nonfiction Book for Black River Road: An Unthinkable Crime, an Unlikely Suspect, and the Question of Character. She’s the forensic scientist who specialized in genocide and has testified in the Hague and across North America to put truly evil people behind bars. She came to CCW in September for a talk and was generous enough to critique the resuscitation scene of Human Remains, as you can see here. (She was appalled that Hope would touch the body. “The body belongs to me, the medical examiner.” I tried to explain that for an emergency doctor, everyone is fair game, because you don’t know if the person is truly deceased until you examine them.)

I also know Cathy Ace from Crime Writers of Canada. She’s shortlisted for “Steve’s Story,” one of the stellar authors in The Whole She-Bang 3.

I’m sure there are more luminaries I missed, if you want to check out here.

Next stop on my book tour recap: launch day in Cornwall!

Questions: will anyone show up? The Standard Freeholder and the Review got people excited in advance, but you never know.

Will anyone buy my book? How about you? For a limited time, you can grab Human Remains for free on Kobo with the code HRemains.

Stay tuned!

Plays, picture books, and pagodas with author Day’s Lee

Author Day’s Lee

Please give a warm welcome to Day’s Lee!

Help! Day’s Lee has been stabbed! Dr. Chryssi Paraskevopoulos to the rescue!

You don’t know who Day’s Lee is? Let’s correct that immediately.

I met her at Prose at the Park last summer, and this is the kind of generous person she is.

Not only did she buy my books and feature me on her blog here on May 1st to kick off Asian heritage month, but when I told her that I was worried no one would show up to my Librairie Bertrand Montreal book launch, she drove into Old Montreal to support me. All this after meeting me one time!
I asked attendees to pretend to be corpses (Human Remains, see). She was among the first to agree, and she asked staff for a weapon to make it even more dramatic.

When I meet someone like that—instant friend, ultra-supportive, and creatively nuts—I KNOW we’re going to have a good time.

And so will you!

Dr. Chryssi Paraskevopoulos with Day’s Lee, who interviewed me here; Dr. Ted Wein with author Su J. Sokol; me with artist Jessica Sarrazin. Not pictured: Dr. Rob Adams and reader Maria, and artist Jason de Graaf

Melissa Yi: You write a lot about your heritage. Is that a choice you’ve made artistically, a choice that’s influenced by market demand, or both?

Day’s Lee: It’s a bit of both. I started out by writing short stories about the immigrant experience of my parents’ generation. Then, one day, as I was flipping through some magazines, I wondered if they might be interested in some articles about the Chinese community. I sent in a couple of submissions, and when they were accepted, I realized that I had a point of view that would be of interest to publishers.

MY: You write short stories, picture books, and YA. What appeals to you about each of these genres?

DL: Actually, everything appeals to me: short stories, novels, plays, feature articles, and scripts.

MY: Me too! I don’t see the division between formats. It’s all storytelling. How do pick what you’re working on?

DL: I think of the story and then figure out which format it should take. For instance, I’m filming a documentary about my family’s restaurant now because it just feels right to do it that way.

MY: I would be into that. I love food, I respect the hard work that goes into the restaurant business, and I’d like to know the behind-the-scenes stories. So that’s taking up all of your time?

DL: I’m working on three projects: (1) the documentary about my family’s restaurant, Lee’s Garden, which my parents owned from the early 1950s to the mid-1970s, (2) the third draft of a play which is based on my short story The Red Pagoda, and (3) revising my next young adult novel which doesn’t have a title yet.

MY: Wow. Do you have a day job, too? Because that’s a lot of material to juggle.

DL: I work full-time as a legal assistant. The job has trained me to be organized, to pay attention to details, and how to read legal documents. All of that comes in handy as a writer.

MY: Yes! Business know-how makes the difference between writers who are one-hit wonders and writers who build a long term career. Do you find that your writing has changed over time?

DL: I hope I’m better at it.

MY: For sure. Any skill gets better with practice. I know I’ve enjoyed reading all your books. I’ve got to ask you, though, since you know contracts as well as the art of writing, what do you think of the changes in the publishing world?

DL: When I first decided to make a go at being a published writer, there were all kinds of warnings about how vanity press (that’s what self-publishing was called then) can ruin your chances with a publisher.

There were horror stories about writers who didn’t heed the warnings, had spent hundreds of dollars, and ended up with a garage full of books they couldn’t sell.

I think it’s great that writers can now choose their own path and find their readers. There aren’t any gatekeepers anymore, but the writer’s job has expanded as many publishers now expect writers to take part in marketing their books, and of course self-publishers have to wear all the hats.

MY: It’s worth it, though, right? I mean, why do you write?

DL: I love books. When I was in elementary school, the library was my favourite place and I never missed a chance to take out a book. I knew then that I wanted to be a writer.

MY: Me too. We’re totally twins. Do you have a secret dream book or project?

DL: I would love to write a Broadway musical.

MY: Whaaaaaat? I love the way you think! Looking forward to it.

Want to know more about Day’s? Yes, you do. Start at her website and fly from there. We love you, Day’s!