Meet My Character Blog Hop: Hope Sze Meets the Society of Reluctant Detectives

Thank you, Shirley McCann, for inviting me on a Blog Hop. Shirley just released Anonymously Yours, a mystery about a Missouri waitress who tries to return a wallet and discovers a body. Shirley’s giving away a $50 Amazon gift card if you review her book!

I’ve been preoccupied with my own Going Going Gone contest: Kobo’s awarding $5000 and a Kobo Aura H2O if you download my three, free Hope Sze Gone Fishing stories and solve three riddles, as I blogged about here. My next posts will be a behind the scenes sneak peak at how I got the deal.

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In the meantime, this is Hope. She deviates from the usual blog hop formula. Of course. My deviant detective doctor decided to visit a fictional self-help meeting.

The Society of Reluctant Detectives Meeting, November 9th, 2011

Moderator: Could you introduce yourself?

Hope: I’m a resident doctor at one of Montreal’s community hospitals. I’d rather just be a doctor, but I’m kind of getting a rep as a detective after solving three murders.

Woman: I know you! You’re Dr. Hope Sze, the detective doctor. You were the Montreal Journal’s 2011 Thanksgiving Woman of the Year.

Hope: Um. Yeah.

Man: We’re supposed to be anonymous, Chloe.

Hope: That’s all right.

Woman: You poor thing. You look exhausted. Three murders, eh? I heard about the one with the escape artist who dressed up like Elvis Presley, chained and nailed himself in a coffin and almost drowned, just because he wanted to act like Harry Houdini. You saved his life. [Terminally Ill]

Hope: Yes, ma’am.

Woman: And then he hired you to figure out who had sabotaged his act, but you got mixed up in another case…

Hope: I’d rather not talk about it. We’re still wrapping up that inquiry, with more details forthcoming. [Student Body, launching September 20th, 2014 at Books & Bodies]

Moderator: What brought you to the Society, then, Hope?

Hope: I kept telling people I didn’t want to be a detective. The first time, I just happened to find…someone deceased.

Woman: Dr. Radshaw! Face down the men’s change room. On your first day at St. Joseph’s hospital. [Code Blues]

Hope (wincing): Right. I have to admit, I was the one who took the lead on that case, even though the police told me to step aside. I thought it was a one-time deal, but then a grieving mother told me her daughter had been killed in a hit and run eight years ago, and I just had to help her. [Notorious D.O.C.]

Man: Yes. Dr. Laura Lee. A tragic case.

Hope: Right. Plus, you already mentioned Elvis the Escape King, who insisted on hiring me to figure out who tried to kill him. But even when I was just trying to take my dad fishing for his birthday, I ended up on another investigation [Gone Fishing/Going Going Gone $5000 Contest].

Moderator: I know what you’re saying. We’ve all gone through it. Reluctant Detective Syndrome, or RDS.

Hope: Really?

Moderator: Naturally. Even professionals suffer from this, although in their case it’s more a question of burnout. For amateur detectives, it can be socially isolating to solve criminal cases. At first, we receive attention and accolades…

Man: I was the Montreal Journal’s Man of the Year in 1973 after I caught the Smoked Meat Mangler.

Hope: Oh. Wow.

Man: Not the Thanksgiving Man of the Year. The Man of the Year.

Hope: Congratulations.

Man: For all of 1973.

Hope (slightly sarcastic): No way.

Moderator: After the first few cases, however, friends begin to make excuses, frightened that every time you go out to dinner, the woman sitting next to you may choke on poisoned pasta.

Woman: That was just the one time, but they started calling me the Mystery Magnet.

Man: It’s not about you, Chloe.

Woman: It’s always about me.

Hope: So what’s the cure?

Moderator: Excuse me?

Hope: Well, I’m a doctor. You’re describing the symptoms of Reluctant Detective Syndrome, and believe me, I understand. But what’s the treatment for RDS? Is there a cure?

Moderator (speechless): That’s the purpose of our group. We come together. We support one other.

Hope: Okay. Well, thank you very much.

Moderator: You’re leaving?

Hope: I’ve been here an hour, listening to the case of the Smoked Meat Mangler from 1973. I’ve got to go.

Woman: I bet I know where. Is it Tucker or Ryan tonight?

Hope (blushing): Excuse me?

Woman: Oh, don’t play coy, Hope. We all know about your love triangle. We’ve even taken bets on it.

Man: John Tucker is a sensible choice, given that he’s a fellow physician.

Woman: I hope you pick Ryan. I love dark-eyed men, especially if they’re Asian.

Hope: Ew. I mean, thank you. Good-bye!

Moderator: We meet every Monday, Hope. We’ll be waiting for you.

Download Hope’s next adventure on September 16th, Trouble & Strife, and enter to win $5000 and a Kobo H2O Aura!

Tune in September 16th to these talented writers’ blogs. I just asked them if they’d participate, so I have no idea if they can or not, but read their books anyway. 1) They write marvellously, and 2) They’re stand up people.

Michael La Ronn. Eaten. A broccoli terrorist with nothing to lose.

Rob Brunet. Stinking Rich. His debut mystery caper, called “deviously funny.”

Tim Reynolds. The Broken Shield. Action-packed adventure between light & dark.

Michael F. Stewart. Assured Destruction, called “Sybil meets Lisbeth Salander,”

Lisa de Nikolits. The Witchdoctor’s Bones. Sixteen strangers on a tour bus in South Africa=murder.

Krista D. Ball. Hey, I just saw that she’s getting married, so she won’t participate, but she’s hilarious. I’m now reading
Hustlers, Harlots, and Heroes.
I’m running off to CHEO, so I’ll fix this later. Thanks!

Camping Can Be Criminal#5: Rob Brunet, Ryan Aldred & Steve Steinbock

I chose to publish this today because my EQMM buddy, Steve Steinbock, got his “What I’m Working on Now” column published at Sleuthsayers. Yay, Steve!

We’re heading into the August long weekend in Canada. Perfect camping time, should you choose to do that kind of thing. I don’t, but my friends do.

I’ve already waxed eloquent about Rob Brunet, the up-and-coming mystery writer whose first novel, Stinking Rich, will debut September 8th. His short stories will appear in Ellery Queen, as well as just about every other mystery magazine, and is just an all-around good guy. Bought a round of drinks at Bloody Words 2014, too (I don’t drink much, but I admired his generosity). Check him out:

The smell of a tent is distinct. The vinyl (?) bottoms of the new ones vs. the canvas of old. True dark when the fire burns low. Super bright stars. What’s on the ground? Bare rock, pine needles, well-worn hard-packed earth. Crickets or frogs at night. Birds in the morning. The smell of the fire. Coffee that you wouldn’t touch in the city but sooo good in the bush. God, I miss it.

Ryan Aldred is an interesting guy. I met him at Bloody Words as well, at our banquet table of young, hungry writers, and he was the first person to seriously suggest joining Reddit. He started the Bar on a Beach mystery series, with its inaugural novel, Rum Luck.

Cicadas in the treetops on a hot day. Clothes that smell like wood smoke for days afterward. Three feet of warmth at the top of a Canadian shield lake and the fifty feet of inky cold beneath. Looking up in the sky and seeing hundreds of thousands of stars. The whoosh and sizzle of a marshmallow catching fire. Moths the size of your palm bumping into the globe of a lantern. Haunting loon song as you fall asleep at night. Beads of moisture running down the outside of the tent after a morning dew.

Like what you read? Both Rob and Ryan will read at Noir at the Bar in Toronto on August 20th, along with the always-intriguing Tanis Mallow.

I’m working on today, but I would have liked to see the sold-out Majinx tribute to Houdini at l’Orignal Jail. I might still see if I can sneak by.

You see how I did that? Turning a holiday weekend into a hotbed of criminal writers and performers? You’re welcome.

What I’m Working On Now: Hope, Noir & My First #Walkcast [#MyWritingProcess Blog Tour]

First up, props to Rob Brunet. I first got to know him because a contact at Ellery Queen mentioned he’d sold a story to the magazine, so I Tweeted a hi and congratulations, and Rob was like, “Uh, hi. So…who are you and how did you know that?” Only much more polite, because Rob and I are Canadian, yo.

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Rob, a.k.a. Canada’s Carl Hiassen, will launch his debut novel, Stinking Rich, in September. Meanwhile, he’s beavering away at the sequel, Ka-boom, “a story about a bible camp gone bad.” Love it. Read more about him and his process here.
Rob tagged me in What I’m Working On, a writing blog tour where we each answer four questions:

What am I working on?
I’m mostly wearing my mystery hat right now. I was invited to submit to two anthologies, Jewish Noir and Montreal Noir, so I just finished two Hope Sze medical mystery stories for them. And I’m 12,000 words into Stockholm Syndrome, the fourth Hope Sze book, but first, I want to finish editing a fun cozy mystery, The Goa Yoga School of Slayers.

Early cover which will need fixing. Feel free to critique.

Early cover which will need fixing. Feel free to critique.

Non-fiction-wise, I should polish the next collection of Unfeeling Doctor medical humour essays, Breaking Bones.

breaking bones cover

We just finished editing the audiobook for The Most Unfeeling Doctor in the World, which I hope to distribute on ACX. And I just started doing walkcasts (walking podcasts), thanks to Michael La Ronn. So. Bref (as the French would say), I’m juggling a few different balls in the air.

My first #walkcast is about multitasking: Secrets of Highly Efficient Writers Tip #1: Make Writing a Habit. We’re called the Creative Doctor & Dog because I generally walk with our dog, Roxy. Anastasia appears in later walkcasts too.

My first #walkcast is about multitasking: Secrets of Highly Efficient Writers Tip #1: Make Writing a Habit. We’re called the Creative Doctor & Dog because I generally walk with our dog, Roxy. Anastasia appears in later walkcasts too. This is a photo of a different doctor & dog, by David Mark.


How does my work differ from others in the same genre?
I’m such an oddball, I don’t worry about sounding the same as everyone else. But I like to make jokes, and I’ve been told I’m very direct, maybe not at the same time. For example, when I wrote about a patient giving birth and passing stool, my editor commented, “Is this necessary?” I was just like, “It happens.” I call ’em as I see ’em, which is part of the reason not everyone gets my writing. But when they do, heaven.

Why do I write what I do?

For fun. Or profit. Or both. If I’ve had a bad ER shift, it helps to write about it, even if I never publish it. Fantasy, science fiction, children’s books, and YA are even more of an escape. Mystery means delving into the worst of human nature, but also seeking justice. And who doesn’t need a little more romance in life? So I just kind of spin from one thing to the other, which amuses my hummingbird brain, but does add to the chaos.

How does my writing process work?
My rule of thumb is that I do 500 words a day if I’m working in the emerg, 1000 words a day if I’m not working. Small but consistent goals. I like to wake up and write right away, before working in the ER and/or before my kids wake up. Then I can relax because I feel like I’ve done my homework. Otherwise, it weighs on me. My kids are like, “Mommy, I’m a train,” and I’m like, “I haven’t even broken 200 yet! Go play by yourselves!” But if I’ve done my words, I’ll say, “Choo choo.” I do try and get one day a week to myself to write and do yoga, which means that I rely heavily on our babysitter, Aly.

Thanks to Rob for tagging me. Next, I’ll pass the baton to Steve Steinbock, the Jury Box reviewer at Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine who introduced me to Rob and invited me to Bloody Words. See? Full circle. Take it away, Steve.

Rob Brunet & Steve Steinbock, eager to tell you about their writing process.

Rob Brunet & Steve Steinbock, eager to tell you about their writing process.

Why should I go to a mystery convention? To prostitute myself, of course. Bloody Words, Part I.

I was very worried about losing money at Bloody Words 2014.

Kris Rusch and Dean Wesley Smith had beaten into me that the surest path to success in writing is simply production. Sit in your garret and write, day and night, month after month, year after year. Your craft will improve, and once you have hundreds or thousands of items for sale, someone will take notice. You don’t need to go to cons and promote if you don’t want to.

But then I got this Facebook message from Steve Steinbock:

Melissa, I decided to come to Bloody Words this year. Here are seven (or so) reasons why you should come: (1) To push Terminally Ill, (2) to join me, Howard Shrier, and Ken Wishnia in a Yiddish cussing contest, (3) celebrate the publication of your short story in Ellery Queen (whenever it comes out), (4) administer first aid when I fall off the dais, (5) sign my copy of Terminally Ill, (6) buy a drink for the reviewer who plugged your book in Ellery Queen, and (7) be the final name on the attendees roster (beating out S.G. Wong).

How could I say no? I plunked down $190 for the conference fee. I’d already booked that weekend off for Yocomo, the Montreal yoga conference. But I’d go to Bloody Words instead. Maybe I’d sell a few copies of my book.

Then it started to haunt me. What if nobody bought my book? What if I spent $199 per night at the Hyatt Regency and just went into debt? I started calling my friends to angst about it. My friends Bob Jeschonek and Richard Quarry told me not to think about it like a return on investment, just go and network.

My friend Kandy said to have fun. “You get to go to Toronto. You’re getting away from your kids. You don’t have to cook or do dishes. What are you complaining about?”

“OH MY GOD,” said her husband, Vince. “You’re going to a con? GO AND PROSTITUTE YOURSELF, LIKE ANY AUTHOR.”

So I did.

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This is me. On Pixabay. Obviously.

I drove myself to downtown Toronto and hurried to Scene of the Crime Books, the book dealer who would sell my books during the con. Right afterward, I realized that I had lost my phone. With cash in the case.

Aaaaagh! After worrying about losing money, I’d just lost an smart phone plus cold, hard cash.

I’ll save you the suspense. Someone had already turned it in. THANK YOU.

I don’t know what I would have done with myself next, since everyone else was saying “Hiiiiiiii! It’s so good to see you!!!!!!” and I was more like this tree:

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Fortunately, I already had plans. I headed out to dinner at Aroma Fine Indian with my Medical Post editor, Carol Hilton. I tried the fiery Goan prawns, in honour of my most recently completed book, The Goa Yoga School of Slayers, sequel to The Italian School for Assassins. We talked about everything from medical politics to technology to travel. Kind of like the Medical Post, actually. Thanks, Carol!

Did you know that Carol has a degree in marine biology? Pretty nifty, eh?

Did you know that Carol (on the left) has a degree in marine biology? Pretty nifty, eh? And did you know that it’s hard to take a selfie in front of a window?

I hurried back to Bloody Words for Steve’s cool panel called The Sage, the Saint, and the Sleuth (religion, philosophy, and the “modern” sleuth). I didn’t want to rush up and mob him at the end, and it was possible he might not recognize me from my teeny Facebook photo, but he walked up to me, hugged me, and said, “It’s my newest best friend.”

Aww.

Steve Steinbock & me, "Melissa Yi." The bag is medical swag because Mrs. Steinbock is a radiation oncologist who helped take care of Stephen King. And Steve interviewed Stephen King for Ellery Queen. I move among royalty now, people. Kings and Queens.

Steve Steinbock & me, Melissa Yi. The bag is medical swag because his wife is a radiation oncologist. Another fun fact: Steve interviewed Stephen King for Ellery Queen. I move among royalty now, people. Kings and Queens.

We ended up having dinner and drinks with Tanis Mallow, a Noir writer, co-host of Noir @ the Bar in Toronto, and a warm and funny person; John McFetridge and his wife Laurie, who would whip out appropriate props like his latest book, Black Rock, and the newest issue of Quill & Quire with John on the cover. (Wow!) I’d already Tweeted Rob Brunet, because he’s a fellow Canadian who had a story accepted to Ellery Queen, as well as many other markets—he tries to have a new story published every month, and his novel, Stinking Rich, will debut in September. Ken Wishnia did show up to offer some Yiddish swear words, but it turned out that his writing has also been nominated for the Edgar, the Anthony, and the Macavity Awards. Uh huh.

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Rob Brunet & Steve Steinbock

Steve said these mystery conferences are like Brigadoon, a town springing out of nowhere. What I saw was a tribe of intelligent, crime-loving writers and super readers who enjoyed meeting like-minded people. One thing I find really sad about general North American society is that intelligence is undervalued. “You’re smart, aren’t you” isn’t always a compliment. Neither are the terms “intellectual” or “perpetual student.” Asian and Jewish cultures value scholars, but outside of universities, you’re a bit isolated. But here, you’ve got a bunch of people who like the same things you do! What a miracle!

I have to give a special shout-out to Steve Steinbock, though, and not just because of this, which I already blogged about here:

By a stroke of luck, all Bloody Words participants received this copy of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine. The one where Steve pronounces Hope Sze an "utterly likeable character." I'll just keep repeating that. When I'm on my deathbed, I'll be like, "utterly likeable character," and my great-grandkids will be like, Wot?

Steve signed this and wrote, “Thanks for sending me Hope!” Words cannot express the goodness of this man. By a stroke of luck, all Bloody Words participants received the July 2014 copy of Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine. The one where Steve pronounces Hope Sze an “utterly likeable character.” I’ll just keep repeating that. When I’m on my deathbed, I’ll be like, “utterly likeable character,” and my great-grandkids will be like, Wot?

Steve is a walking encyclopedia, certainly of the mystery genre, but of Jewish mysticism and, I’m sure, other topics. He was embarrassed that I called him a scholar, but it’s rare enough to meet people who genuinely love learning. Not for a degree, not because of publications or prestige or money, but just to discover. Perhaps more importantly, he’s kind and caring. Rob Brunet said that Steve had taken him under his wing a few years ago, and Steve’s obviously doing the same for me. Most people have their group of friends and figure they’re busy enough, but Steve will recruit newbies and make sure they’re not just standing in the corner, looking agonized.

I did buy Steve a drink (he said I didn’t have to, but I spoke to the waiter), and ended up paying for his salad too, which embarrassed him again, and Steve and Tanis and Rob walked me back to my apartment, since I stayed at a lovely airbnb instead of the Hyatt.

Henry David Thoreau wrote, ‘Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.’

I have two things two say about this. Nowadays, most people lead lives of unseen desperation. They’re not necessarily quiet. They may be loud. Buy my book! I have a new car! Check out my abs! I am so smart! My cat is cute!

The problem is, it seems like no one else cares. For example, you may write a book, but no one reads it. Or they read it and tell you it’s terrible.

Steve read Terminally Ill. And when I asked him if he understood how the plot twists incorporated the idea of magic and illusion (one of the book’s themes is magic, and Steve is a magician as well), not only had he understood it, he told me the magical term for it: misdirection. He said that in the past, mysteries used to rely on plot twists more than an escalating body count, and he respected that. He told me that my greatest strengths were my character, the fascinating setting, and the plot. When I said, okay, so what are my weaknesses, he looked at me and said, “No weaknesses. Just keep working on your strengths.”

You can tell that, between medicine and writing, I’m always waiting for the left hook.

I respect Steve even more because, I, personally, would find it hard to listen to desperate writers blather on and on about their work. It would be easier to turn away and say, “Don’t worry. Have a drink.” And I’ve heard that many critics grow bitter, forced to read and review books they don’t like. So imagine Steve going to a con on his free time and surrounding himself with writers instead!

Steve Steinbock & Melissa Yi, without the medical swag. Why am I repeating our names? I heard it's good for SEO optimization. But I know it's annoying. Sorry.

Steve Steinbock surrounded by writer Melissa Yi, without the medical swag. Why am I repeating our names? I heard it’s good for SEO optimization. I know it’s annoying. Sorry.

To get back to the Thoreau quote, I’m generally cheery. My friend Yasmin once told me I was one of the happiest person she knows. But between medicine, writing, and life in general, I have tasted despair.

With Steve and the rest of my new friends, though, happiness wins.

And I loved how the people at Bloody Words were singing their song, loudly and clearly. The rest of the world may not understand or appreciate their writing or their weirdness, but they kept on singing.

I finally realized that Bloody Words was not about making or losing money. It was about friendship.

Also creativity and craziness. Like this.

What are these shenanigans?

Oy oy oy oy oy. Oy.

Why am I wearing a sign with my book cover? What am I doing to Ken Wishnia? Did I sell any books? How can a con inspire creativity? Tune in to my next blog post, Bloody Words Part II, for the answers.