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!

I’m on TV today with Human Remains—and my first grader directed the cameras!

I was racing out the door for a television interview about my forthcoming book, Human Remains. My daughter, Anastasia, hopped off my husband’s lap. “I want to come with you.”

“Oh. I’m already late—”

“I want to come with you.”

My husband could look after her. That was the sensible option. Instead, reaching for my keys, I said, “Okay. Are you wearing clothes?”

“Yes.”

“Let’s go.”

We made it to CogecoTV with ten minutes to spare. I buzzed for entry. I’d already reminded Anastasia, “What are you going to do during my interview?”

“Play with my animals.” She’d brought tiny toy animals.

“And how are you going to do it?”

“Making no noise.”

This was dicey. Her brother, Max, understands rules and when his mother is not fooling around. Anastasia is more like what one of my rural neighbours said: everyone has one kid who has to pee on the electric fence.

And you never know how people are going to react to children. Most people claim to like kids, but as soon as you tow a small body into the room, just watch their face fall and their body language go on high alert.

I did it anyway. I think part of it is being a doctor; I’m separated from my kids more than with an average job. If they want to come with me, I bring ’em.

To my astonishment, everyone at the station took to Anastasia. The producer, Bill Makinson, showed her around the station and told her she could help him press the buttons for the cameras during my interview with the lovely Brenda St-Louis about Human Remains.

Bill told me afterward, “Anastasia figured it out. We use the wide angle if you’re both talking and switch to the other camera if you’re taking turns. She knew what to do. She can read really well.”

What? My six-year-old knows more about behind-the-scenes TV production than I do!

They even fired up the bingo machine at the end for her. She solemnly plucked each ball out and said, for example, “O 29.”

I love taking risks and having it turn out better than if I’d played it safe.

Human Remains will debut April 25th, DNA Day. If you’re in Cornwall, come on out to the library at 7 p.m. I’ll have DNA origami, an interview with stem cell scientist Dr. Bill Stanford, and the coolest people turning up—except for the Ottawa, Montreal, and Williamstown launches, of course! Thanks to the Review and Standard Freeholder for getting the word out. You can preorder it the e-book for only $2.99!

I know some of you have kindly agreed to review Human Remains. Thanks to those who have done the deed on GoodreadsAmazon changed the rules and won’t allow reviews on pre-orders, so thank you so much for your patience. Amazon reviews should open up on Tuesday, April 25th.

I should also have a special promo code for you on DNA Day, so please join my mailing list here.

In the meantime, tune in at I’m participating in this gnarly promo with other mystery authors today at http://annertan.com/free/ (yes, I’m last-minute. Did you miss the part about how I was almost late for my own interview?)

Tune in to Cogeco’s Community Matters today, which is Tuesday, April 18th, at 17:30, 18:00, 22:00, 22:30. This is bingo night!

Tomorrow, watch us all over again at 09:30, 17:30, 18:00, 22:00, and 22:30.

And then come celebrate science and literature with me!

Cheers,

Melissa

Human Remains is ready for pre-order, and I love the Medical Post

1. Human Remains, the fifth Hope Sze crime novel, is available for preorder online, including on Amazon.ca .com .uk/Kobo/iTunes/Nook/Google Play (all links here), and will debut on April 25th (DNA Day). Yay!

2. Now I have time to talk about other good stuff, like the fact that the Medical Post chose my article as one of the best of the year.

Dr. Yuan-Innes reflects on a old Welsh myth of the sin eaters that Margaret Atwood writes about in one of her short stories. “We study to the point of exhaustion and work inhumane hours for the privilege of seeing the worst of human nature,” Dr. Yuan-Innes writes. While she had gotten into medical school believing doctors were heroes, the revelation in Atwood’s story gave her pause: doctors are sin eaters in their own way, often shunned and depraved as a result of their work.
Shunned and depraved, c’est moi. If you want to read the full article, it’s here.
All the articles are gated (you have to make an account with an e-mail and password), but it means that the people who read them care. I love reading the comments and seeing what people have to say.

I wrote my first Medical Post article in 2009, “The Doogie Howser Dilemma,” when patients said I looked too young to be a doctor. It sounds like a compliment, but I could tell some patients were actively uncomfortable. They wanted me to look more, um, seasoned. Fortunately, time has mostly taken care of that one, although I did laugh recently when a patient said, “This appendix scar is 22 years old. I think it’s older than you.”
I wrote about that, too, in my mini-article that was part of a cover story on Misconceptions in Medicine (“What do you feel are some of the biggest misconceptions (or myths) that exist about being a doctor?”). I wrote back, “I’m not an old, white man who plays golf.”

Since then, I’ve raged about the Ontario government cutting physician pay and blaming doctors for their mismanaged care. I made a video called YMCA doctors, with the help of Dr. Christine Suess, Dr. Renee Givari, Dr. Tim Heeley-Ray, Dr. Akram Akbar, Dr. Diane Poilly, a beloved civilian, and three videographers, including Jeff Dorn and Dominic Gauthier—and the Medical Post and CareNotCuts.ca helped me spread the word.

Yep, that’s our Christmas tree in March. Rock on.

I’ve written about travelling to South Africa, including dissecting an impala and manually inflating its lungs with my breath. This article also appears in my book, The Knowledgeable Lion.
I’ve talked about how to balance motherhood and medicine, including my guilt over not diagnosing my own daughter’s hearing difficulty until she was old enough to turn up the TV and yell back at us, “Whaaaaaaat? I can’t HEAR you!”
The Medical Post has helped connect me with other doctors, including Dr. Shawn Whatley, who’s organizing the NonclinicalMD’s conference where I’ll be speaking in May. Hats off to Julie Connolly, a physician-author herself, who participated in my YMCA doctors video on health care cuts and tells tales from the single mother-doctor trenches—here’s her latest, which makes me flinch. The log of poop on the floor would’ve been the last straw for me. Julie makes the fact that we still have our Christmas tree up seem absolutely normal and unimportant. (My son, Max, said, “Leave it up ’til next year!” My daughter, Anastasia, said, “Let’s decorate it for Easter. When I told RN Mary B, she grabbed my hands and said, “God love ’em. Those are well-adjusted kids.”)
I feel so much gratitude toward The Medical Post. They’ve been an independent newspaper for over 50 years, reaching 20,000 subscribers, and providing a strong voice and current information for medical professionals.
On a personal level, the Medical Post was one of the first newspapers to publish my columns. In Cornwall and on my sojourns at CHEO or the Montfort, I met doctors who recognized me from my newspaper writing. Anna, a nurse at Glengarry, loved my article, “Are Women Ruining Medicine?”  She said, “I tried to photocopy it, but the paper was too big.” (That article also appears in Fifty Shades of Grey’s Anatomy.)

E-book, print, and audio!

Writing-wise, working with the Medical Post has been a professional boon. A collection of my columns, The Most Unfeeling Doctor in the World and Other True Tales From the Emergency Room, was my bestseller on Amazon. Last year, the 62nd Canadian Business Media Awards nominated my work for Best Regularly Featured Department or Column.
Thank you, Medical Post. We need independent, thoughtful, fact-based journalism more than ever.

Signing off from Mont Tremblant

Human Remains for Valentine’s Day: Chapter 2

I hardly celebrate Valentine’s Day. It’s not that I’m against romantic love; I figure one of the ace cards in my life is that I met Matt in high school and didn’t waste a few decades finding the right person. (This is us, struggling to say goodbye before he flew off to Greece on a school trip. Our friend Zygo took a picture of us through the bus window.)

So I’m not going to bludgeon you with flowers. Instead, I’m going to give you anatomical hearts and
circulation pictures and the second chapter of Human Remains, because nothin’ says romance like trying to resuscitate a dead body in the snow. This book is almost ready to rock and roll! Let me know if you want to be part of my “street team,” reviewing an advance copy.

And if you want to read Stockholm Syndrome first, they’re down to their last two copies at Librairie Paragraphe Books! Go grab it in the next 24 hours, support an indie bookstore, and rebel against the norm by reading about a hostage-taking while everyone else.

Human Remains

Chapter 2

The body wore a shiny, new, navy ski jacket. It lay crumpled on its left side, its black-jeaned legs slightly bent, and one arm rolled up underneath it, while the other arm hung forward, half-blocking the chest. Its skimpy black gloves and beat-up Converses didn’t look like much protection against the snow.

But of course, the most shocking thing was the black bag over its head.

Ryan stood frozen. His breath spun into the air, making white clouds in the night.

Roxy bent her head, tipping her floppy ears forward. Her nostrils flared and glistened under the dim light of the streetlamp.

“Let me check it while you call 911,” I said to Ryan. Even as I spoke, he pulled his phone out of his pocket. With the other hand, he reeled Roxy’s leash in tight to his body. He yanked off his left glove so he could work the buttons while watching the body.

If this was a crime scene, I shouldn’t touch anything, including the bag taped around its neck.

But I was a medical doctor.

Okay, a resident doctor. But still. My job was to make sure he was alive.

And if he wasn’t, my job was to bring him back.

There’s a saying in medicine, “They’re not dead until they’re warm and dead.”

Snow meant zero degrees Celsius or lower. This man was definitely not warm and dead.

I swallowed hard.

I had to do my job.

If only I could do my job with gloves and a face mask.

I crouched low. “Hello?” I raised my voice to be heard above the traffic, including the stuttering roar of a helicopter. Normally, I’d shake him, or do a sternal rub, but I didn’t want to touch the body.

More snowflakes landed on the jacket.

The bag didn’t flutter with the man’s breathing.

No airway. No breathing.

“Hope, he’s—” Ryan didn’t want to say it, but we both knew he was thinking the D word. Not Disability, but Death. “Don’t touch it, Hope.”

If only I had an ultrasound machine to do a sono pulse check, looking for a beating heart, instead of going skin to skin. “Just the radial artery,” I said. I reached for the closest arm, the right arm, sheathed in the painfully new ski jacket.

The wind carried Ryan’s words toward me as he spoke on the phone. “Ambulance. But maybe police. We found someone with a bag over his head. He’s not moving. He looks…gone.”

I touched the man’s sleeve first, through my mitten. His arm felt firm, even with that light touch, and it belatedly occurred to me that I didn’t have to check for a pulse if the man had rigor mortis.

The arm resisted me when I lifted it. It did move, but only a few centimetres before I’d have to apply greater pressure. The muscles had seized up. But it didn’t feel locked-in, like I imagined rigor mortis would.

On the other hand, it was literally freezing outside. Was I feeling rigor mortis, or one very cold person?

I didn’t trust my numb hands to undo the black tape around his neck, and surely there might be fingerprints or hair trapped in the tape that constituted police evidence, if this was a homicide.

I yanked off my mittens and used my nails to lift a bit of the right sleeve and expose the skin. In the dim light, I couldn’t detect bruising or obvious lacerations on his dark brown wrist.

Since I didn’t have any open cuts or sores either, it was probably safe to touch him bare-skinned.

Ryan was giving directions. “We’re near the corner of Lindsay and Bullock. Yes, just south of the hospital. My girlfriend is a resident doctor from Montreal. She’s checking for a pulse.”

I slid my hand just inside the radial styloid, pressing hard to compress the artery against the bone and maximize any pulse.

His skin felt slightly cooler than mine, but not icy. Faintly warm.

No pulse.

The radial pulse is the first to go. Unless you’ve got a blood pressure of at least 80 millimetres of mercury, the body shuts down circulation to the arms.

The blue lights of a police cruiser raced up Lindsay Lane toward us, its siren splitting the air.

“Ryan,” I hollered, above the din, “there’s no radial pulse.”

Roxy barked twice and jumped onto her back legs. I sucked my breath in. Nice dog, but she was still a Rottweiler who wanted to snack on a dead body, as far as I was concerned.

“No radial pulse. That’s right, no radial pulse,” Ryan yelled into his phone while winding Roxy back into place beside him.

“I’ll have to open that bag over his face!”

“What?” Ryan frowned at me, trying to triangulate between 911, Roxy’s antics, and my voice.

I enunciated short, hard sentences. “The bag over his head. He can’t breathe. Do they want me to rip it open?”

Ryan’s eyes were so wide, I could see the whites glowing under the street light. “What? No, Hope, he’s dead. I think they want you to leave it for the police!”

I was already reaching for the bag, bracing for myself for whatever sick smell that would balloon out at me as I tore it. “Just ask them. He’s still warm.”

“Uh…my girlfriend, the doctor…she’s worried about the bag over the head. Do you want her to take it off?” He shook his head. “Yeah, he looks dead, and he has no pulse, but he’s still warm…yes, I’ll hold.” He glared at me. “Hang on a second.”

I nodded. In the ER, the staff and I could make the decision, but in the field, at what could be a crime scene, with the police car screeching to a halt on the other side of the street.

I stood up, and my vision started to blacken at the edges. I hadn’t eaten much today. Too busy packing and driving from Montreal through the snow. I blinked, waiting for my vision to come back. I’d never fainted in my life. I had no intention of doing so over a corpse.

“Hope, they said not to touch the bag. Hope? Are you okay?”

“Fine,” I said, too loudly. My vision was starting to clear. “I’ll do CPR.”

I donned my mittens to nudge the body onto his back. He wanted to stay curled up. Ryan had to hold down the shoulder while I twisted the hips flat on the ground.

I dropped to my knees, interlaced my fingers, and extended my arms to begin CPR. The new Advanced Cardiac Life Support algorithm is all about CPR. Get that blood pumping. Even if he’s hypoxic with a bag over his head.

His ribs cracked under my first compression.

I’ve never broken anyone’s ribs during CPR. It’s one of the risks of CPR, but it’s never happened to me.

I could be puncturing his lungs with his own ribs, with each compression.

I swore.

“Over here!” Ryan’s cry pierced the night air. Roxy barked ferociously as a police officer bolted across the road toward us.

Another siren whooped.

The first police officer yelled on his radio while I continued compressions, gritting my teeth.

Roxy barked and leaped in response. Ryan had to beat a retreat, holding her back.

A second officer sprinted to my side and took over CPR while I checked for a pulse in the wrist. It was strong, thanks to his efforts.

“Good compressions. Can I take off the bag?” I pointed at the garbage bag.

Sweat trickled down the side of the CPR officer’s face as he pounded the man’s chest. He shook his head and glanced at the officer on his radio, possibly for a second opinion, before turning back to his compressions.

Two more officers crunched through the snow toward us, already calling on their radios for more back up, but I was most relieved when an ambulance jerked to a halt on Lindsay Lane.

Paramedics hustled to the scene with a stretcher, a kit, and a monitor. One of them sliced open the head bag with scissors, reminding me that it’s better to ask for forgiveness than permission.

The sour smell of vomit hit the air as chunks fell out of the bag hole. I held my breath while the other paramedic cut open the jacket to apply electrodes to the man’s chest. Yes, it did look like a man. No breasts.

The CPR officer was gasping, so I said, “Do you want to switch off?” He nodded, and I signalled another officer, who ran in, dropped to his knees, and started compressions so enthusiastic that the man’s slim, dark brown-skinned chest indented with each one.

We paused for a second to check the rhythm: an occasional narrow complex at 30 beats per minute. No pulse.

Hypothermia is one of the causes of pulseless electrical activity. So is hypoxia.

“Restart CPR! And I can get an airway in!” I called, moving to the head, but the airway guy was already on his stomach, shoving what I assumed was a laryngeal mask airway or a Combitube into the man’s mouth. It was hard to see what was going on, in the dark, with everyone shouting on their radios, and Roxy still barking up a frenzy.

“Got it!” called the airway guy.

“Great. Let’s get him warm and oxygenated. Can you get a sat?” I turned to stare at the yellow tracing on the monitor, which was just showing the jagged movement of compressions right now.

“It’s not picking up, but the CO2 detector is yellow.”

“Good job! Give him an amp of Epi!” I said. We had airway and we were providing primitive breathing and circulation. Epi is controversial in hypothermia, but you can give one dose.

“Let’s load him up and protect his C-spine,” said the second paramedic. I helped lift the legs on to the stretcher while they managed to get a cervical spine collar on him and some pads on either side of his head. A third officer took over CPR.

“I can take over compressions,” I told the CPR police officer, even though I’ve never done them while jogging along beside a stretcher, but he shook his head.

The patient’s belly looked distended. I opened my mouth to mention a nasogastric tube, when they had the chance, but a female police officer took my arm and said, “We have some questions for you. Could you come to the station with us?”

#

While you’re waiting for more Human Remains (deeeeelicious, I tell you), check out two mega-giveaways: science fiction and fantasy (I’m giving away Fairy Tales Are for White People!) and mystery/thriller (I’m giving away Code Blues, the first Hope Sze novel, in hopes that sane people will leave a good review).

Just to show you that I’m not a complete V-Day Grinch, I’ll end with another story. Remember Zygo, who took the picture of me and Matt in high school? When Anastasia was a baby, we attended Zygo’s own wedding with his lovely wife Jenny and a Tardis wedding cake. (Gosh, I miss that sweet little baby. However, I have to admit that Matt carried her around the entire time.)

Ah, love. I heard it makes the world go ’round. Of course, I’ve also heard that the earth’s spin is due to “gravitational collapse of accreting material,” but details, details.

I finished Human Remains!!!!!!!!!!!!! Hope hits Ottawa. And other good news.

human-remains-child-cover-red-antonio-6x9-72On November 30th, 2016, while my kids stayed up past their bedtimes, begging me to read to them and pay attention to them, I ignored their beautiful little faces and finished the first draft of Human Remains.

“What’s it about?” asked my new friend and author Su J. Sokol.

What would you do if you found a warm, pulseless man on the ground, with a bag over his head?

If you’re Dr. Hope Sze, you try to resuscitate him.

Then you try to figure out who killed him.

HUMAN REMAINS

the fifth Hope Sze novel

We’re talking human remains literally and metaphorically. In addition to finding a dead man, Hope has to rebuild herself after thwarting the hostage-taking on the obstetrics ward.

“Critical thinking without hope is cynicism. But hope without critical thinking is naïveté. And I I try to live in this place between the two.”–Maria Popova of BrainPickings.org

How do we strike this balance? Look around you. The world is excruciating at times. Imagine if you’re Hope Sze, running into murder and the depths of human perversion. How do you regenerate a sense of hope and optimism that’s still grounded in reality?

That’s part of what this book is about. And maybe part of the reason this book was so hard for me to write. But I diiiiiiid it, as my kids used to say.

Speaking of which, my kids survived my neglect. Anastasia was pretty cool about it. She worked on an Angry Birds activity book and set an alarm clock. She asked me to set it off when I finished, which I did.

Max waited for me to read to him, even though we’d just finished reading Harry Potter and the Cursed Child that morning. I read a little of A Wrinkle in Time, a book I love and first read when I was in grade five.

While you’re waiting for Human Remains to hit the shelves, you can buy my books in Ottawa at Books on Beechwood. Yaaaaaaay!

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You can always make new friends at Books on Beechwood. This lady asked my advice about children’s books, but was intrigued by Stockholm Syndrome and The Emergency Doctor’s Guide to a Pain-Free Back.

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Stockholm Syndrome is available in Montreal at Librairie Paragraphe Books. You can order it through Librairie Bertrand too (more on that later).

And if you’re in my neck of the woods, please support R&L’s Book Nook, The Review, Fassifern General Store, Penny’s Market, and the Cornwall Public Library. My books are also available in New York City and the Boston area. Woo hoo! Full list of retailers here.

I’ll be more active on my blog and social media in the next month or two, as I clean up Human Remains. Cheers!

P.S. Website comment:this didn’t post to Facebook and Twitter. Looks like Mailchimp may have discontinued their social plugin. Why, Mailchimp, why? I don’t know if likes or comments will post through to my blog any more. Sad face. But otherwise, wheeeeee!

Happy birthday, Anastasia!

Dear Anastasia,

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This is you last Christmas. Now you don’t like Elsa and Anna anymore, but you sure looked cute while it lasted.

I love you. My littlest baby is SIX YEARS OLD! How did that happen?

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Right now, we’re reading Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. You want the parts with the most lines.

So many things have happened this year. First of all, your Daddy is impressed with your reading. “I can’t get over how well she reads in English and in French. Some of the words are hard, and she doesn’t hesitate, or she sounds them out.” This summer, we walked into Giant Tiger, and you pointed at the wall and said, “This is French: bienvenue. This is English: welcome.”

Last night, at Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, you asked questions throughout the movie (!!!!!!), but you started reading the names in the credits at the end.

It makes sense to me because you’ve always been very independent. You want to read books (Captain Underpants, for example), so you ask, “Can we read?” And sometimes we say yes or no. But if you can read on your own—wow! The whole world opens up. You don’t have to wait anymore.

You take swimming and gymnastics. You claimed to like skating, but it was mostly glum plodding on the rink. Now you’re the smallest person in Level 3 swimming. It made you happy to graduate from whale into a number level, like Max.

There’s a lightness about you in gymnastics. You’re bouncing and leaping and seem to have having fun, even though you complain about having to go.

You don’t like having tubes in your ears. Your speech is normal now, so I thought we were over the hump, until you started yelling, “What? I can’t HEAR you” at Max. The audiologist found a 25 percent hearing reduction on your right side and mentioned that because your brain is developing, you can lose the ability to process sound. It made you cry that you’re going to get them redone, but I say, thank goodness for Dr. Ali Shahnavaz.

img_1767For your birthday…wow!

You initially wanted an ice cream cake, like Max, but ended choosing “the good cupcakes. Rhonda’s vanilla cupcakes” which became a gigantic heart cake.

Then you picked the piñata. “I want a doggy. No, Mommy. No, a cupcake!”
“A cupcake would be the easiest,” I said, and you blew up a balloon. It was the first time you blew up your own balloon for your piñata. Actually, this is your first piñata. You also helped build it.
img_1781Then you changed your mind about the shape. “I want Donald Trump.”
“What?”
“No, me!”
“I don’t think you want us to smash you. Do you really want—”
“DONALD TRUMP!”
“Okay.” How many nearly-six-year-olds pick Donald Trump for their piñatas? But you do.

I love you, my fierce, funny, thoughtful, kind, loving six-year-old girl. I love you forever. Thanks for coming into our lives.

Love,

Mommy

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Flames of Nevyana Blog Tour: Crawl into Edward Willett’s Mind. What Does Success Mean?

flamesofnevyanatour
Do you know Edward Willett? Well, you should! Award-winning fantasy of science fiction, fantasy, non-fiction, plays, science columnist, play
wright, performer, jewel of Regina, Saskatchewan…and brand new author of The Flames of Nevyana.
Whenever someone makes a living as a writer, I have certain questions I like to ask. Ed was kind enough to answer in detail.
Q. What does writing success mean to you? Awards, money, readers, all of the above?edward-willett
A. To me, what feels like success varies depending on the day of the week.
Well, not quite, but almost.
When I receive an award (and I’ve received a few—a Saskatchewan Book Award for my YA
fantasy Spirit Singer [Tyche Books]; an Aurora Award [the top award for Canadian science
fiction and fantasy] for my science fiction novel Marseguro [DAW Books]; even a City of Regina
Heritage Award for Historic Walks of Regina and Moose Jaw [Red Deer Press]), then naturally it
feels for that moment that awards are what writing success is all about.
When I sign a contract that means I will soon be receiving money with which I can a) pay the
water bill; b) get the car serviced; c) pay off Visa, then money certainly seems like the best
measure of writing success. Since I’m a full-time writer with no other source of income, this is
certainly one kind of success I’m constantly seeking.
When I find a glowing review of one of my books, particularly if it appears in a prominent
publication whose reviews are influential, then the getting of good reviews seems to me the
perfect measure of writing success. In the immortal words of Sally Field receiving an Academy
Award, “You like me, you really like me!”
When I write a sentence or a scene or even, if I’m lucky, a whole chapter with which I am utterly
and complflames-of-nevyana-coveretely satisfied, then that seems like a good measure of writing success. I have
pleased my most persnickety critic, myself. (To paraphrase Sally Field, “I like me, I really like
me!”)
But thinking long and hard on this question over the years, particularly when doubts as to the
wisdom of my chosen career arise, I’ve come to the conclusion that what meaningfully defines
writing success is readers. Writing is, ultimately, a form of communication. As writers, we strive
to transplant the ideas, characters, situations, and entire worlds we imagine into the
imaginations of other people. It’s a monumental task. When it works, your writing is successful
—it’s that simple, and that hard.
Alas, we don’t always know when we’ve succeeded. Most readers never bother to reach out an
author whose work has entertained, enlightened, challenged, or changed them. If you become a
bestseller you can assume you’ve reached a lot of readers, so perhaps that is a measure of
success, but the truth is, every writer is successful whenever he or she manages to bridge that
gap between his or her mind and the readers, to open up a new world of imagination.
I like awards, I like money, I like reviews, and I’d love to be a bestseller. But ultimately, I think
every book I write is a success—and therefore I am a success—so long as somewhere there is
a reader who loves it.
Thanks, Ed! I really appreciate you coming by to educate us. Now can you tell us about your new book,The Flames of Nevyana?
Blue Fire is both blessing and curse.
A gift from the gods, its mystical light and energy powers and protects the land of Nevyana, but it also divides her people into three distinct groups. In the wrong hands, it becomes a formidable weapon. When sacred objects for channelling Blue Fire are stolen, sworn enemies Petra, Amlinn, and Jin set out to find them, and their paths converge on a collision course with the truth. Can they bridge the centuries old division between their communities? Or will their search for the truth and the explosive power of Blue Fire signal the end of Nevyana?
Cool. Can I read more?
You can read the first two chapters here.
Wow. Thanks, Ed! May you find success in every shape and form.

Ottawa Monster Launch. Montreal Yoga. And Joy From Malaysia.

event-bannerOTTAWA MONSTERS

First of all, I’m so honoured to take part in this Monster Book Launch with Renaissance Press on Saturday, October 29th at 5 p.m. at the 3 Brewers in Ottawa (240 Sparks Street).

You could come in wolf ice POD cover.inddcostume! You could win a prize, including an author date with moi! You could hear me read from my werewolf thriller, Wolf Ice!

Authors include Jen DesmaraisEvan MayCait GordonKevin JohnsCaroline FréchetteS. M. CarriereÉric Desmarais, and me.

After that much awesomeness, you’ll want to decompress with some yoga, amirite?

MONTREAL YOGA

Luna Yoga:

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I brought my friend Genevieve here for our birthdays. She liked it so much that she yelled, “I love you, Melissa!” during class. True story.

I first met Frances at Yocomo, the annual yoga festival in Montreal. I was early to an 8:30 class on teaching yoga and adjusting students, and Frances walked up to me and said, “Would you mind if I gave you a massage?” As long as the volunteer is not a psychopath, the correct answer is always YES. Frances gave me a quick, firm massage, and I was hooked, especially since she was an excellent instructor. Last month, I made it to a Frances’s class at Luna Yoga,  I like the fact that she uses her whole body to adjust you. I like the fact that she lays her hands on every single person during classat least once, at least for a few seconds. Drop-in class: $19; introductory month: $49.

Shri YogaI did such a good yoga workshop with Todd Norian at Shri Yoga. Mona is a gifted teacher. She can tell at a glance if you’re off, and how to correct it. It seems like a cool community, too. After one class, we were wishing each other Shanah Tovah after a class on Rosh Hashanah; after another, a man was convinced that he’d met me before, even though I no longer live in Montreal. Drop-in class: $22; introductory week: $30

Montreal cheap & lovely DOLLWhy am I talking about prices? ‘Cause I like value and beauty at the same time. I even wrote a guide: The Cheap and Lovely Guide to Montreal: Food, Fun, Fashion, and Ze French.

 

When you migrate to downtown Montreal, don’t forget to pick up a copy of Stockholm Syndrome

at the one, the only Paragraphe Books! (It’s very exciting that they’re carrying my book, as I described here.)

And, if you can’t make it to Ottawa or Montreal, I’ve got two suggestions. One, my romance THE LIST is on sale for only $3.99 until Hallowe’en.

And–shh–The Emergency Doctor’s Guide to a Pain-Free Back e-book is on super-sale for $3.99 for the next 72 hours.

One last story…

JOY FROM MALAYSIA

Last month, my hospital called me to tell me that I had a registered letter. I was exhausted between hospitalist/shift work and didn’t want to drive in. “Could you sign for it?”Dr. back POD front cover 5x8 72

“No, you have to sign for it, but I’ll tell them to hold it for you at the post office.”

the list cover 2014 interracial YI-200It’s never a good sign when a doctor gets registered mail at the post office. You could be getting sued. Quebec used to send me registered letters telling me that I would lose 30 percent of my clinic billing if I didn’t do enough hours in the emergency department, obstetrics, or geriatrics (they have draconian rules for new doctors where they will just pull money out of your wages).

However, I was so tired that I forgot about the registered letter.

Yesterday, R&L’s Book Nook in Alexandria e-mailed me to say, “We’re sold out of your back pain book. You also have a letter at the post office.”

Holy crap! That letter! I drove in today to see what horror awaited.

I was astonished to receive this instead:
2016-10-26-19-14-48 2016-10-26-19-14-31 2016-10-26-11-56-29I ran into Steve Warburton on the way out. He said, “Hey, you have a real letter.”

“Yes, from Malaysia!”

“I thought it was from a fan.”

“I guess she is a fan, because she read my book and that’s how we got to know each other. But I just think of her as my friend. She’s a doctor now, too.”

“Cool.”

I drove away thinking how incredible it is that I have a fan/friend/fellow doctor on the other side of the world.

I may not sell as many books as my friend Lynda sells nut cheeses. But I am now on Athira’s bucket list! Awesome!!!!!!!!!

Stockholm Syndrome debuts in Montreal! (CBC’s Homerun & Paragraphe Books)!

Yo yo yo!

The first four Hope Sze books take place in this creative, crazy, multicultural bouillabaisse known as Montreal. I’d really love to get the word out in Hope’s hometown. But how does one accomplish this? 

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It’s surprisingly difficult to take a cool selfie with Stockholm Syndrome and Paragraph Books. I had to take a dozen to be sure.

<cue the fanfare of trumpets> Richard King of CBC Radio’s Homerun will review Stockholm Syndrome tomorrow, October 19th!

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In honour of this monumental occasion, Librairie Paragraphe Books is now carrying Stockholm Syndrome for the next three months. Please run over and snag a copy!

In honour of this, I’ll be celebrating Montreal throughout the next quarter. Stay tuned for inside tips where to eat, hang out, and do yoga in la belle province!


While I was at Librairie Paragraphe Books, I bought a copy of Jessica Hagy’s book, How to Be Interesting (preview here).

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Even if you don’t read, you need Empower-mints or Manly Mints, right?

It feels fantastic to support an indie bookstore in the heart of Montreal. They’ve got kid books, travel books, gift books, literature, Louise Penny’s latest novel, pre-orders for other people that you’ll want to touch but have to be instructed to leave alone (oh, maybe that’s just me)…

I could’ve stayed there all day, except my parking meter was about to expire. Support your bookstores!

Just don’t buy the Jessica Hagy book for Alexandra Beauregard–it’s my gift to her. 😉

When you come, here are some Montreal travel tips.

Construction is terrible. Use your phone or GPS. Get a parking space and walk if you have decent legs. As I strolled down Sherbrooke, I spotted not one, not two, but four police cars crowding down the single remaining lane of traffic. You can update your parking slip through an app, and be vigilant: they love to give parking tickets.

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Finally, I checked his screen. It says “Steve Jobs is dead.” Sobering reminder.

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I met a fellow writer, even if he was a statue.

So why show up, aside from hitting up the bookstores? Well, I love the incidental art.

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Everyone wanted a picture with this guy.

 

 

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Restaurant Park’s bar

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

FOOD:

Restaurant Park (in Westmount). Just look at those orchids. I chose the bento surprise lunch to go. I was pleasantly surprised to enjoy tempura vegetables, including a piece of squash that showed they were using seasonal vegetables; maki sushi; a refreshing beet salad; and tofu with ground pork, all fresh and delicious, for about $20. Wow!

The chef, Antonio Park, has a Korean background, but grew up in Argentina, Paraguay, Brazil, and Montreal before he trained formally in Japan.

I look forward to going back. Honestly, I felt like the beet salad spoke to me. It was so simple and so good. I tried to get my kids to eat it, but they’re scared of anything unusual. I was selfishly glad to polish off every bite. I’m not generally a tempura fan (is the frying worth the calories?), but this tempura was light and intelligent, if that makes sense.2016-10-05-14-22-07

2016-10-05-14-00-54 Momesso (NDG area): I used to bring my parents here. We’d descend into the basement, stuff ourselves with 14 inch subs, and feel good about the world afterwards. Check out the decor: old-style NHL hockey pucks. That’s what I’m talking ’bout.

This time, I was working a bunch of shifts, so I bought three subs. The best was the steak and sausage ($15.25 for a 14 inch sub before tax or tip).

Cash only & closed on Sundays.

Shopping

I didn’t buy any clothes that day, but Paragraph Books is the Golden Square Mile, so enjoy:

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2016-10-05-13-26-13 This one is from Westmount, but I was like, who decides which Canadian art is important?

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Before I bid you adieu, remember that your Thanksgiving/Christmas shopping can include Stockholm Syndrome at Paragraphe Books! In case you’re wondering, this is a slightly different picture that I like better (looks like a sky-scraper in the background, slightly reddish hair my hair in the face). I fit right in on the Golden Square Mile.

And tune in tomorrow to CBC Radio One’s 88.5 for Homerun with Richard King‘s review of Stockholm Syndrome. I’m working, so please let me know if you hear it!  Thank ye kindly.

Top 5 Moments at Writers Police Academy 2016

What’s the Writers Police Academy? A hands-on conference teaching you about law enforcement, forensics, and emergency medical services.

I’m a doctor, which means I expect conferences to teach me something (it took me a long time to realize that other people go to “network” and “hang out with friends”). I can’t waste a lot of time on useless retreats. So was WPA worth flying to Wisconsin in the middle of August? You can judge for yourself, based on my top 5 teachable moments.

Trigger warning: #3 has a staged but disturbing photo.

5. Talking about Killers

Most of us know that psychopaths lack empathy and remorse. I also knew that they’re easily bored and seem to need more stimulation. But I never fully understood the difference between sociopaths and psychopaths until this lecture by Katherine Ramsland.

Both types can kill. But here’s a thumbnail version of the difference:

From the notebook of author JC Andrijeski http://www.jcandrijeski.com/

Lecture notes from the notebook of author JC Andrijeski. ASPD is antisocial personality disorder.

SOCIOPATH: I may be absolutely ruthless with outsiders, yet care about people within my group. I’m like the mafia. I can have a brotherhood or sisterhood.

The key is the word “social” in sociopath.

PSYCHOPATH: it’s all about me. No one else matters. I might pretend to care, if there’s a benefit to me. But otherwise, back to me.

The great thing about Katherine Ramsland is that she based her talk on evidence. For example, not all serial killers are psychopaths. Not all psychopaths are serial killers. Although people like to believe it’s a direct relationship because it’s simpler, you should go with science. And always keep an open mind. If you jump to conclusions too soon, it will often be the wrong one.

4. Native Gangs

This vehicle was seized from a drug dealer. Photo courtesy of author Terry Odell.

This vehicle was seized from a drug dealer. Photo courtesy of author Terry Odell.

It’s always inspiring to meet real-life heroes. Arguably, I work with them every shift in the emergency room. But it’s a different type of heroism for someone like Officer Matt, who might have to break down the door of someone from his own tribe, looking for drugs, while the kids in that house sit blank-faced, staring at the armoured police, because it’s just one more thing they have to endure. But Officer Matt comes back later to bring them a Dr. Suess book so that they remember him for that and not just the violence. He also participates in the group blanket-making every Christmas

A per capita payment is the money that each tribal member receives from casino income. It can be minimal, like for the Oneida tribe, where they pool their money for health care, education, and other services, or it can be $10,000 a month. It sounds wonderful, especially for babies who are born into the system and have the money held in trust for them until they’re 18—except that gangs have sprung up to prey on underage kids who’ll turn over their “eighteen money,” without question.

3. Blood Spatter

2016-08-12-10-12-10We spent the first part of the class talking over real-life cases. The first took place in a remote cabin. Two children, 6 and 8 years old, went down to the beach without their mother for just 15 minutes and came back crying. The cabin owner called for help, but he was hysterical and couldn’t explain what was wrong except “She needs help, she needs help.” The police officer came in with his gun out, and his job was to clear the cabin. Even if he saw someone who needed help, he had to say only, “Stay there” and keep moving from room to room, making sure that the perpetrator wasn’t lying in wait.

Once done, he could circle back to the master bedroom, where the mother had been attacked, and determine if she had a pulse.

We spent the next part of the talk reviewing the fictional staged death scene in the next room (above), trying to piece together clues.

Hint #1: always think of blood spatter in three dimensions. Don’t forget to look at the ceiling and the walls as well as the floor.

2. Shoot/Don’t Shoot

Stand up. Pick up your modified gun, which uses a CO2 cartridge to fire a laser at the screen projecting the scenario. You are now an officer on duty.

You’ve been called to a domestic disturbance. An officer meets you in front of the house and says, “We heard a woman screaming. I’m going to take the back door. You take the front.”

Walk up the front door steps. You can hear your own breathing and hear your own footsteps.

What’s that in the front window?

You see a man standing and the woman on the couch. The man turns around, and what’s that he has in his hands—?

Shoot or don’t shoot.

Now, officer!

1. K-9

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Officer and K-9 Pal, as captured by author Terry Odell, who also wrote about WPA here.

I love dogs. I love their commitment to putting their pack above themselves. I love their shagginess and their sloppiness and their big, big hearts. I will always pick werewolves over vampires.

So no wonder I enjoyed reading Robert Crais’s Suspect and the sequel, The Promise. And no wonder I jumped on the K-9’s.

Meet Pal. Purebred German Shepherd direct from Germany. Four and a half years old, 92 pounds. His officer spent six weeks in Albequerque training with him, but now every day is training. Pal can sniff out drugs, but he most loves to track people. When he gets the command to bite, he will latch on to any available body surface area, and he will not let go until you choke him off.

He lives in a $2000 kennel that Dernbach built him out of his own money. The kennel is so large that he has his own couch, which he tears up. When the couch is completely shredded, Dernbach puts it out on the curb and picks up the next curbside couch for Pal.

He is not a pet. Do not pet him. He will, in fact, attack the officer’s other, personal dogs. He stays with his officer/trainer on duty and goes home with him as well. When he’s outlived his ability to serve, there are two options: euthanasia, or the officer/trainer takes him home. Fortunately, they never choose euthanasia.

Pal is a tool. And yet, he’s still a dog. He wags his tail. He loves the chew toy, and when Dernbach gets distracted by questioning, Pal chews the strap off the chew toy. He sneaks toward Dernbach when possible. He’s independent, not cuddly. “When other guys in the station would be lying on their dogs, Pal stayed five feet away from me. But it’s good that he’s bull-headed. Other dogs will start searching and then come back and keep checking with Daddy. Pal will keep going.”

Bonus: another dog! I also loved, loved, loved Ted, the PTSD dog. If Paul, the retired cop with PTSD who became a police counsellor himself, takes off Ted’s vest, Ted knows he’s off duty. He just wanted to explore the room, taste my friend Eleanor’s coffee, and trot up and down the aisles. At one point, when students surrounded Paul with questions, Ted came up to Paul, reared up on his rear legs, placed his paws on Paul’s shoulders, and looked him in the eyes, grounding him.

We were surrounded by bullets and bombs, both literally and figuratively at this conference, and more and more in real life. That just makes me love dogs even more.

The bottom line: was Writers Police Academy worth it?

Me and Tami Hoag. Would you like to know what I learned from her? Blog here.

Me and NYT bestseller Tami Hoag. Would you like to know what I learned from her? Sleuthsayers blog here.

I go to conferences for three reasons: so I can learn, so that I can meet people, and so I can write more and better stories. I learned a lot at WPA, and it was super easy to make friends. In fact, I hung out with the guests of honour an almost indecent amount as well as making new Facebook pals and deeper friendships. I even sort of crashed a birthday party on the last night.

Want to take $100 off your $395 tuition? If you join Sisters in Crime for the first time ($50 fee) and immediately sign up for WPA for the first time, WPA will take $150 off your tuition, a net benefit of $100. Sold.

Any cautions? Obviously, this conference is oriented towards law enforcement, and most people were also vocal gun advocates. Your political views may not overlap, but in general, most people are hard-working and good-hearted.

But in the meantime, WPA is an awful lot of fun.

My little white dress

My little white dress

Click to buy.

Now available at Montreal’s Paragraphe Books!

P.S. Stockholm Syndrome–CBC’s pick for one of the best crime books of the season–is now on sale in Montreal at Librairie Paragraphe Books, thanks to the magic of CBC Radio Homerun’s Richard King! More ecstatic raving to come.

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The Emergency Doctor’s Guide to a Pain-Free Back e-book is ON SALE, 50+ percent off! $3.99 U.S./$4.99 Canadian, until October 10th. Happy Canadian Thanksgiving!

Five Riddikulus-ly Fast, Easy Ways to Throw a Harry Potter Party

1. Pumpkin juice

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“Pumpkin” juice. Photo by dieraecherin via morguefile.

Pour orange juice into a pretty vessel. Call it pumpkin juice if anyone asks. Done.

2. Wands made of sticks or wooden dowels2016-09-18-16-15-59
You can make fabulous wands out of chopsticks and hot glue.

Or you could just clean up the sticks in your yard and/or go to a dollar store for wooden dowels.

Unicorn hair optional. More vegan that way.

I had vague plans about the kids decorating the wands, but only my daughter did. Good news: just reuse them for your next party! Or throw sticks back in the yard. You can also use whatever wooden dowels are used for.

Magic!

3. Sorting hat shortcuts

I was going to print out questions and put them in the sorting hat. Based on each person’s answers, I planned to yell, “Gryffindor!” etc.

This would involve printing out questions and cutting them up. Too much work.

Instead, we went online and did the entire quiz without killing any trees. Apparently, I’m secretly a Ravenclaw. Four kids ended up going into Hufflepuff, included two self-designated Slytherins, so I consider that my contribution to making the world a better place.

4. Force your kids to make the swag.

Are your children addicted watching YouTubers on Minecraft? Me too! So tear them2016-09-15-19-26-17off the screen and put them to work, making decorations for your party. It’s not as pretty as Pinterest, but that’s not the point. The point is to make them touch the 3D world and use their own imagination.

Don’t have kids? Borrow someone else’s.

Or, okay, just print stuff off the Internet. That’s easy too.

5. Pin the Harry and Ron in the Ford Anglia and Whomping Willow

My daughter, Anastasia, was asking about Harry and Ron missing the Hogwarts train and flying the Ford Anglia into the Whomping Willow.

willow-1516877_640And I thought, wouldn’t that make a terrific pin the tail on the donkey game?

We bought two sheets of Bristol board. I asked my husband to draw the Whomping Willow, because he’s more artistic, but he was already making two cakes and feeling quite overburdened, so I sketched it out, and Anastasia made the car. My son Max drew Harry and Ron, but he lost them, so he and another girl hastily drew another.

Spin the kids around (we didn’t bother with a blindfold. Too much work) and see if they can place Harry or Ron in the car!

If you make the car enormous, they’re guaranteed to win. Kids love this. (I’m sure adults love this too, but no one else wanted to do it except me.)

I realized that I’d forgotten to get any prizes, but then I had them pick the “wands” from #3 out of the sorting hat, and they were perfectly happy to pretend to kill each other with them. Mischief managed!

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Luna

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Mrs. Weasley and Hermione

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Muggles can teach you all about electricity, Mr. Weasley.

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A witch and Sir Cadogan

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Isn’t that the cutest Harry Potter card? Tip: I didn’t make it! My friend Tammy did. You, too, can rely on your friends to provide the magic.

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One of my favourite presents ever. Anastasia gave me a card I had to buy for myself from the grocery store; one of her favourite stuffed animals; a dime; and a rock from her rock collection.

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Art by Jessica Sarrazin/Mrs. Weasley.

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Human Remains Could Win a Free Writing Retreat–And So Could You! (Check Out The Shiny, New First Chapter of Human Remains. I’m Just Going to Keep Saying Human Remains. That’ll Make Me Win for Sure.)

I’m thinking of buying a ticket to Saint-Sylvestre-sur-Lot, France.

Why? Shouldn’t I be staying home, working in the ER, looking after my kids, and finally finishing the fifth Hope Sze novel, Human Remains?

Well, yes. That would be the sensible thing to do.

But at one time, my overarching goal for writing was to connect to people, places, and things that excite me.

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Not only does he write, edit, direct Kobo, and have a cool girlfriend, but Mark Leslie also carries me around on demand and fixed a loose thread on my hem–with his TEETH. Don’t mess with Mark.

Derek Murphy of Creativindie has rented a castle in Saint-Sylvestre-sur-Lot (as one does) and is holding a contest where you could stay with him and some other hand-picked successful authors, for free, for two weeks. This would force you to write like a demon. Then, in your off-hours, you would socialize and learn from other cool people and do castle-y things. Derek has taught me about colour, design, storytelling and fonts through his blog. Imagine what a group of us could figure out in person, in two weeks!

Even if I don’t win the castle stay–and I have to admit, I already have shifts lined up October-November, and I just remembered that I have to give availabilities for one of my hospitals, so this would be tricky)–ten people will win a free course from him. So there’s really no downside except some public humiliation, and I’m used to that!

And anyway, I wanted to show you the new opening chapter for Human Remains. After the gifted writers/editors Erik Buchanan and Mark Leslie Lefebvre put it through the wringer at Can-Con 2016, it’s kick@ss now compared to the first draft. Erik told me to put the PTSD/car paralysis up front, and Mark gave me advice on reader reaction.

Thanks, Derek! And good luck to everyone.

Do you want to enter the writing contest/retreat? Go for it! Deadline is September 20, 2016. http://www.creativindie.com/writing-contests/
P.S. I’ve got to scan pics of myself at Edinburgh Castle. I’ll add them later because my family is sleeping. In the meantime, please weigh in on blue vs. red cover!

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HUMAN REMAINS

by Melissa Yi

All-New Chapter One

Even if the terrorists don’t win, they can make your life an icy hell.

An ambulance siren wailed faintly in my ears. I was sitting inside my Ford Focus, only one giant, tree-lined block away from the Ottawa Health Science Centre, but I couldn’t make myself step out of the car and into the darkness.

I watched the fog build up on my windshield. It wasn’t so cold that condensation immediately turned to frost, even though it was mid-December in Canada’s capital. Once upon a time, my boyfriend Ryan Wu and I had made out for hours in his car at a mall parking lot, steaming up the windows like this. The police had rapped on the door to ask if we were okay.

That was long before 14/11, the hostage-taking last month. Technically, it was a lone killer, not a terrorist, who’d transformed the rest of my November into a sickening blur.

Now, I felt as dead as the corpses that haunted me.

I’d told my parents that I had to check out the stem cell lab tonight. And I did. I no longer rushed everywhere a few minutes late, breathless and apologetic and smiling. I had to check every location the night before. I didn’t speak to strangers. I turned off the ringer on my phone so that my mother couldn’t tell me that fresh pineapple was on sale at T&T Supermarket.

As a medical resident, I’m perpetually locked inside a hospital. It’s dark when I wipe my muddy boots on the hospital welcome mat and it’s dark when I step into the twilight of winter solstice. I felt trapped. I felt like screaming as soon as the automatic glass doors sealed behind me. I had to ditch Montreal, even though Tucker—

My mitten-clad hands clenched on the steering wheel.

John Tucker.

Thinking about him was a stabbing pain in my chest. Worse than Ryan.

I forced myself to breathe very slowly, in and out. I’ve gone to therapy now, you see. Sort of mandatory for PTSD people like me. I’m supposed to focus on what’s happening here and now instead of getting bound up in the clusterfunk that is John Tucker and Ryan Wu and the fact that my medical career was torpedoed a quarter of the way into my family medicine residency because just looking at a hospital makes me shake, and how am I ever going to graduate like that?

No. According to my therapist, I had to focus on “the present moment.”

Seeeeeeee the snowflakes dissolve as they hit my windshield. Feeeeeeeeel the cool air on my face. Heeeeeear my phone buzz with a new texxxxxxt.

Where are you?

Ryan.

My heart pounded in my throat, and for once, it wasn’t out of panic. There are only a few people in the world who still make me feel something, and one of them was texting me right now.

I pulled off my mittens. The iPhone felt cool in my hand, since I’d left it on the dashboard while I nerved myself up. I typed, I told you. I’m going to check out the stem cell lab.

Are you on Lynda Lane?

That raised a faint smile out of me. Ryan knew me so well, or at least he knew the pre 14/11 Hope Sze. Parking costs $13 a day, so while the sun shines and the clinics are open, everyone fights over the free spots on Lynda Lane, a small road south of Smythe Road. But for once, he’d miscalculated, if only because the police had set up a stop to catch drunk drivers, despite the fact that it was well before 10 p.m. No, because of the R.I.D.E. program. I took a right around the park.

Wait for me. I’ll walk with you.

Ryan drove from Nepean to the southeast end of Ottawa so that he could walk to the lab with me? I exhaled and shook my head. They probably wouldn’t let him inside. Well, I couldn’t blame him for playing bodyguard, although if I’d known he was coming, I would’ve worn my contact lenses instead of my glasses.

I flicked on my lights. Ryan’s an engineer with a lot of practical skills, but I could make it easy for him to find me while I concentrated on breeeeeathing.

A car drew into a space on the opposite side of the road. It was too far away from the streetlamp for me to figure out if it was Ryan’s black Nissan Sentra.

My breath hitched. I made sure my doors were locked, hating my own paranoia, but doing it anyway.

The driver headed for his back door. He moved like Ryan, with a long and easy stride. He looked about the right height too, but he was snapping a leash on a black dog with brown markings at the eyes and mouth.

I scrunched down in my seat. Ryan doesn’t have a dog. His parents, like a lot of Chinese immigrants, don’t care for canines. Dogs bark, they pee, they poop, they make for expensive vet bills. My dad likes dogs, but my mom fits the stereotype better, so we’ve never had one, either.

My eyes dropped to the dog. Maybe I should call it a puppy, because it seemed to have oversized paws and kept rushing all around instead of walking side to side. I smiled a bit despite myself. Puppies are funny, at least from a distance.

I watched the pair cross the road toward me, presumably heading to the park nestled between me and the hospital.

The man shielded his eyes from my headlights, shadowing his face. Closer up, he looked even more like Ryan. Those hips. That runner’s build, even hidden under a black parka.

I twisted in my seat, my heart thumping in my chest. Were there more than two guys in the world who could give me supraventricular tachycardia from ten feet away?

The man raised his hand in greeting.

The dog jumped into the air on its back legs. The guy leaned over, and the dog pounced on his legs with its muddy paws. The guy just laughed as he lifted the paws off his thighs.

I unlocked the door and popped it open. “Ryan?” I said through the crack, over the screeching protest of my car, because of my cardinal sin of leaving my headlights on.

“Hope,” he said, in his low voice, while the puppy danced around him.

This wasn’t what I was expecting. At all. I don’t like surprises since 14/11.

The dog was barking at me now. Yapping at me, really. Short, sharp barks, but it was wagging its tail. That gave me something to look at besides goggling at Ryan’s sharp-planed face and meeting his worried eyes.

I turned off the lights and slammed the door shut, locking it, which made the puppy bark some more and try to jump up on me. She was black, with floppy ears, except brown apostrophe-like markings around her eyes and chin and more brown on her underside and legs.

Ryan was watching me. He did that a lot now. Since 14/11. And maybe before then, if I were honest.

I wanted to hug Ryan and hit him at the same time. I did neither. “Who’s this monster?”

Ryan grinned at me. “Her name’s Roxy. I’m dog-sitting. My friend Rachel got her as a foster dog, so she’s making us all take turns walking and dog-sitting.”

Rachel. He never talked about anyone named Rachel before. And wasn’t that too cute for words—Ryan and Rachel and a puppy named Roxy. They all matched.

I tried to swallow down the acid and breeeeeeathe. Ryan was here with meeeeeee right now.

Plus, it’s harder to hiss with jealousy when a puppy barks, sneezes, and then barks some more.

I started to put my hand down to pet her head, and Ryan said, “You’re supposed to let her sniff you and decide if she wants to let you touch her first.”

I pulled off my mitten and let my hand hang where she could reach it. She started licking the back of my hand with her warm, wet tongue. I laughed despite myself, and Ryan’s teeth lit up the gloom as he laughed with me. “That’s the first thing she did to me, too. I thought she’d cheer you up.”

“How old is she?”

“She’ll be a year next month. She’s a Rottweiler shepherd.”

“A Rottweiler?” I snatched my hand away from her tongue. Roxy woofed and wagged her long, elegantly plumed black tail at me.

“Yeah. I looked it up. They were originally working and family dogs. They just have a bad rep. And Roxy’s cool. I wouldn’t have brought her otherwise.”

I touched the silky fur on her ears. She nudged her head against my hand, searching for more rubs. I laughed, and so did Ryan. He and I leaned together to pet her, our breath mingling in the cool air, only to bump heads hard enough that I said “Ow!”

We laughed again, me a little wryly while I massaged my head, and Roxy whuffed.

Ryan touched my forehead with his bare fingertips. “You okay?”

I nodded. “You?”

He smiled, and I blushed, which embarrassed me, so I concentrated on the silky fur between Roxy’s ears until his fingertips lifted away from my skin.

His other hand reached forward and our fingers twined together between Roxy’s ears.

Ryan’s eyes turned serious, watching me even as his body pressed forward. He was going to kiss me.

I felt numb, and not just because my naked hand was starting to cool off between Roxy-licks and the chill evening air.

Ryan’s head tipped toward me, still reading my eyes.

At the last second, he kissed the tip of my nose, just once, and lightly, like an exclamation point.

I laughed. My heart started beating again.

Ryan dropped back to pet Roxy, smiling a little.

I petted Roxy, too. “Um, I’m supposed to go to the lab. Get the lay of the land so I don’t mess up on my first day.” I left nothing to chance anymore.

But first, I grabbed Ryan’s face—one hand on each cheek, just like Hollywood—and kissed him hard, on his warm, full lips. If I died in the next five minutes, I wanted to go out knowing that I’d kissed one of the men I loved.

Ryan kissed me back so deep and so long that Roxy started trying to edge between us. She sat down, thumping her tail solidly on the gravel shoulder.

We both laughed. I said, against his chest, “How long are you keeping this dog?”

“Until Rachel picks her up tonight. But I kind of like her.” Ryan patted Roxy’s head, and I admitted, “I like her, too.”

Then I pulled my mittens out of my pockets and aimed my body north, toward the brightly-lit H of the Ottawa Health Science Centre’s Central Campus, and started walking into the park.

Parks are creepy at night. The empty swings. The blue plastic slide that could be hiding a marijuana stash, if not a guy with a knife. So I was kind of relieved when Roxy barked and Ryan fell into place beside me, our boots crunching together. He pointed east. “Don’t you want to take the road?”

I shook my head. Even here, through the meagre screen of trees bordering Lynda Lane, the police cruiser’s blue headlights flashed south of us in their bid to Reduce Impaired Driving Everywhere. There’s no proper sidewalk on the road, just cars wedged onto the shoulders, and a ditch, before the tree line.

I tried to avoid people as much as possible now. I’d rather walk past the empty climbing wall and kid-free jungle gym.

“This isn’t really a park, Hope. It’s okay during the summer because enough other people use it that they cut the grass. But in the winter time, it’s not a trail.”

“You can take the road,” I said, and when he frowned at me, I rubbed my eyes and tried to soften my tone. “I mean, if I get stuck, I’ll back track to the road. I’m not in a rush.”

Ryan sighed. But instead of arguing, he and Roxy followed me into the park.

Another siren whooped in the distance, setting my teeth on edge. As a medical student, I’d loved the sound of ambulances bringing me traumas and other fun cases to play with. That seemed like forever ago, but had been…last year. God.

Roxy drifted from side to side, testing the limits of her leash, before she sniffed a lump of snow with great interest. I glanced left, where some good-sized houses sat with their drapes drawn, maybe half a kilometre away. One of them had a TV screen flickering behind some cheap horizontal blinds.

My boots sank in the old, overgrown, dead grass and the few centimetres of snow that had accumulated on the ground. For some reason, snow that melts instantly on pavement will gather on any grassy surface and threaten to trap me. We only had to walk a kilometre—not exactly conquering the North Pole—but I paused at the foot of a half-frozen, rutted pond now blocking our path.

human-remains-child-cover-antonio-6x9-72Clearly, municipal money didn’t stretch to maintaining off-road paths in the off-season. I didn’t want to tromp around the lab with half-frozen, muddy feet.

I turned to admit defeat to Ryan, who was already lifting his eyebrows at me, when Roxy broke away from him, jerking her leash out of his hand.

Ryan swore.

Roxy barrelled east, toward the Lynda Lane.

Towards traffic. And drivers who might not see a black dog at night.

We both ran toward her, screaming, “Roxy! Roxy!”

I skidded on the snow. My right ankle turned over, and I wobbled, pain knifing through my lateral ankle.

Ryan spun around to catch me, but I was already righting myself and yelling, “Get Roxy!”

He broke into a sprint. He’s a runner, and even after I hobbled after him, yelling at our borrowed dog, teeth gritted—it was obviously a sprain instead of a break—I marvelled at the way Ryan cut through the row of skinny trees, never missing a step, despite the darkness and the uneven, slippery ground.

I cut into the trees, stumbling after Ryan. Shadows fell on me, but so did the street lamps and a bit of moonlight, so I concentrated on tracking Ryan, who had almost caught up to Roxy.

She wagged her tail, picking her way into the ditch bordering Lynda Lane.

Ryan scooped up her leash, but his back stiffened so abruptly, I rushed to his side, gasping, “What?” as cars whooshed on the road a few feet above us.

He pointed at Roxy.

She was sniffing something that looked awfully like a dead human body.

A body with a black bag over its head.