Wolf Ice. And the wonder that is ChiSeries, with Kate Story & James Moran.

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James Moran, Marie Bilodeau, Melissa Yuan-Innes (me), Matt Moore (in hat), Nicole Lavigne, Kate Story.

This is a story about a woman who’s a wolf. And a wolf who’s a woman.

When ChiZine’s Sandra Kasturi invited me to their reading series in Toronto, I said, “Sure! You know I don’t live in Toronto, though, right?”

Fortunately, their Ottawa division invited me on June 9th, and I scored a CHEO shift that very day from 10-5. So I was already going to be in town. Perfect. All I needed was some speculative fiction to market.

Namely, Wolf Ice. My werewolf thriller.

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“Is swearing okay?” I asked Nicole, the ChiZine organizer extraordinaire.

“Sure. We’ll just put you last, in case any children come and the parents can discreetly usher them out before your reading.”

I could censor the opening, but I knew I’d rather let the four-letter words fly. So don’t read on if that’s not your cup of sake.

First up, Kate Story read “Show and Tell,” her doll tale that will appear in The Playground of Lost Toys. Wicked story. It would have to be, since the editors warned us that most people had written about dolls and stuffed animals, so the one chosen story would have to be exceptional. I look forward to delving into Blasted, her first book. It had never occurred to me to read a short story, even though I will appear in the selfsame anthology with my story, “What Not to Expect in the Toddler Years.” Kate seemed like a hilarious, talented powerhouse. Even before the reading, she was talking about how the president of Iceland headed up the gay pride parade, whipping a bunch of men in diapers who were actually her ministers, and all the Icelanders nodded approval and clapped, like this was normal. I was never tempted to visit Iceland until now.

Then James Moran read Town & Train. It’s a fictionalized version of Cornwall. How could I not buy that! He said that every time he sold a copy at the Cornwall Pop Event, he and his neighbour would fist-bump. When we were gathering ’round for photos, he put his arms around me and Kate and said, “Wow, you’re both tiny. Do you jog?”

“No! Hate jogging! Never do it!” cheered Kate.

Do we jog? James, me & Kate

Do we jog? James, me & Kate

Finally, I read Wolf Ice. My mother was in the audience. I tell you, I hesitated before I said the word “nipples” in front of my mother. But she didn’t flinch. She never used to read my stories, but this time, she took photos of me, bought a copy AND couldn’t put it down, as I described in my Sleuthsayers article. This is a bit weird, since it’s my racy-est book, but if she can handle it, maybe you can, too. Here’s the first chapter:

I hopped into Elena’s red Honda Odyssey, which vibrated so hard from the White Stripes’ bass line that I felt, more than heard, my door thump shut. Elena tossed her blond hair and bared her teeth. “Ready to rumble?”

I threw back my head and howled my answer. It kicked ass to desert Montreal once a month and go wild. If my biological clock didn’t demand it, I’d have to do it anyway.

Elena threw the van into reverse. “Good. You’re gonna need it, Leila.”

At first I thought she meant she was going to spar with me when we got to the campground I’m negotiating to buy, but her glance flicked to the rear view mirror. She grinned.

I checked out our compatriots in the rearmost seat. We always carpool. It’s more environmentally sound, plus, worst case scenario, if one of us ‘shifts too much on the way, someone else can drive. Elena almost always drives and I ride shotgun. Mac and Laurent usually fill the back seats, plus one to three other pack members join us.

I said hi to Mac, our resident redhead. He’s a few years older than us, which means he’d broken through the big 3-0, but he still looked like Richie Cunningham. Like me and Elena, he doesn’t ‘shift until almost the last second the sun disappears and the full moon rises, so he drives occasionally.

Laurent’s the opposite: bad five o’clock shadow two days before the full moon. We practically have to smuggle him out as our wolf dog if we leave too close to evening. Today he hung out by himself in the van’s rearmost seat like a French Canadian version of Slash. What makes it more hilarious is that in the Real World, Laurent is a clean-shaven lawyer.

I twisted to look directly behind me and hissed involuntarily, baring my teeth.

“Nice to see you, too,” said Jack. Also known as Jack Meng, paramedic, or as I prefer to call him, scum-sucking motherfucker.

I turned back to Elena. “His lips are moving, but all I hear is, ‘Hey! I’m an asshole!'”

“Yeah, I’ll bet that’s what you’re hearing.” She merged on to the Décarie Expressway, gunning ahead of a police cruiser.

Was I that transparent? I sure hoped not. Of course, I also hoped I was impervious to Jack’s Chinese-Canadian werewolf charms, but my triple-digit heart rate testified otherwise. My parents had always hoped I’d marry a guy who a) was Chinese like me, b) scored a good job, c) had sprung from a decent family, so we could d) make nice yellow babies. Until Jack, I’d never met an Asian guy who rang my bell. Before I could bring him home, though, Jack showed off his true player colors. Finito.

I changed the radio station and lowered the volume before the first, familiar chords of “Werewolves of London” came on. I stiffened.

“Aroo,” said Elena.

“I’ll change it.” I reached for the button. The song was pure cheese. The only one that bugged me more was “Layla,” by Eric Clapton, because kids used to tease me that the song was about me.

Laisse-le,” growled Laurent. Leave it.

“Yeah, don’t you have any team spirit?” said Mac.

Elena laughed. I snorted.

Only Jack didn’t say anything. Maybe he remembered how we used to laugh and kiss and do the wild thing to this song.

The chorus kicked in and we all howled along with it. Jack’s tenor rose in the air. The hair on my neck prickled and my nipples stood at attention. I crossed my arms, but there was no way to get around it. Scummy motherfucker still sounded—and smelled—like heaven.

Eventually, I relaxed to Sheryl Crow while Elena munched beef jerky and gunned it along highway 20, weaving through April’s early tourists and bad-tempered commuters. An hour later, we crossed the provincial border into Ontario. First exit, Curry Hill, toward the fifty acres of land our pack’s going to buy.

I love nature. I love mosquitoes, sweat, and mud that sucks off your sneakers. I love to run and scream out of pure joy, and it doesn’t matter because no one can hear you, or if they can, they’re running and screaming too.

In four short weeks, this would be our new stomping ground.

Elena still drove like she was in Montreal, passing a tractor even though a black GMC truck was already pulled over on the shoulder. She took a left at the faded sign for KOA CAMPGROUNDS. Maples, ash, and pine trees unfurled their new leaves and needles in welcome. We bumped over the frost heave potholes in the dirt road.

“We’ll have to fix the road,” grumbled Laurent.

“The water and sewage hookups still work,” I countered. “And wait ’til you see the river.”

“The mighty Beaudette river,” Laurent said.

“You can fish in it,” I said. “Maybe not now, but next month.”

“Awesome,” said Elena. I grinned at her until she rolled down her window to toss a beef jerky wrapper on to our new homeland.

At my look, she stuffed the wrapper back in the cup holder.

“Thanks,” I said. I sniffed the fresh air. I loved the smell of damp earth, that gentle hint of warmth and spring. I inhaled deeply, closing my eyes, and smelled Jack. Even for a werewolf, I’ve got quite the nose.

I blushed, which made me mad. I tried to concentrate on Elena instead. She smelled like herself, calendula, and beef jerky. She gets hungry before she ‘shifts. Like PMS times a thousand.

“Great place,” said Jack. “What’s the closest city?”

I laughed. “Two towns, about 20 minutes north and west. This land’ll be all ours. The Ottawa wers’ve been calling me, though. They want in on it, too.”

Elena couldn’t pull right up on the campground because the ground was too boggy. We carried our tents about 20 feet from the dirt road.

I set up my tent, trying to ignore Jack working on his to my right. My tent is a two-person job from Mountain Equipment Co-op, kind of like a little white nylon igloo held up by retractable metal poles. A tall five-year-old could set it up.

So I had plenty of time to watch Jack’s forearm muscles and biceps as he set up his blue four-man wonder, the kind with an awning that’s practically a porch. He probably held orgies in there. Somehow, this did not detract from his arm muscles. I love well-used muscles in a guy. Not steroid-induced, tanning bed, poser muscles, but the kind you get from hauling wood, running, and generally being a man.

Or a wolf.

“You have good taste,” he said.

“What?” I snapped to attention. Conceited bastard, saying I have good taste for gawking—

“This land. I like it.”

Oh. Right. Only the entire focus of my work life. “Yeah, thanks. I wanted a green space not too far from Montreal.”

When I tore my eyes away from Jack’s intense brown irises, Elena’s little red tent caught my eye. It was still sitting in the open trunk of her van.

I started toward it, still feeling Jack watching me.

“Leila!” Mac flagged me to the south side of the campground.

I glanced at Elena’s tent again before I jogged toward Mac. Jack matched me stride for stride.

“What’s up?” I asked Mac.

His face looked paler than usual under his growing ginger beard. “Elena’s missing.”

I must shout out to ChiSeries. It was the most professional reading series I’d ever participated in. Not only did they pay an honorarium to each speaker, they manned a book table for us and did NOT take a percentage of the earnings. No wonder they were nominated for the Aurora Award.

To help make ends meet, they did pass the hat. Literally. Marie Bilodeau, a professional storyteller, told a hilarious tale about how she picked out the hat. If we reached $50, emcee Matt Moore would wear this beauty for the rest of the night.

They didn’t reach $50 on the first pass, but my mom was so excited, she made a trip to the donation table with $5 and that was enough to tip them over into hat-wearing territory.

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Note that the hat is made of straw. Matt is allergic to wool. As in, he will faint if he wears it for too long. So he almost dropped the first time he unwittingly did the hat trick with wool. Mystery authors, yet another bizarre way to kill someone! Death by lanolin.

I also got to speak briefly to Marie, who quit her day job. I adore her blogs about this:

AND IF I FAIL I’LL EXPECT YOU ALL TO SCREAM IN TERROR WITH ME AS I GO DOWN IN FLAMES!! I shall make it spectacular!  I shall make it impressive!!!

Marie mentions Roomy in her blogs. Not only did Roomy come, but she made brownies of Matt wearing hats! Especially delicious if you hurried from CHEO with no dinner.

I shook hands with Derek Künsken, who’ll become a full-time writer for the next two years. Everything he’s writing is selling at a high level, he’s got interest in his first novel, he’s got the financial cushion, and he wants to spend more time with his ten-year-old son. Derek also carried my rolling suitcase of books upstairs, so extra good luck to him.

In sum, if you’re an author, do your best to claw your way on to the ChiSeries reading series! Well, we’re Canadian, so we’d probably just send a polite e-mail. But you know what I mean.

And if you’re a reader, ChiSeries is curating new and exciting voices across Canada. So, yes, T.O., Ottawa,  but also Vancouver, Winnipeg, and Peterborough (I have a soft spot for Peterborough because I did two locums in Lindsay, Ontario). You can’t ask for better.

I said this story was about a wolfish woman. Of course I was talking about Wolf Ice, but I also consider myself a wolf. As in, I love my pack, which is better than ever now that I’m in ChiZiner territory. Big kisses.

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P.S. I missed the Ottawa Fringe Festival, so I’m writing this while listening to the The Dirty Dozen Brass Band at the Ottawa Jazz Festival. Fabulous.

Role Playing, Werewolf Style

After the creator of Role Pages sent me e-mail, I  decided to join up and see what happened at his role-playing site.

I don’t role play. My brother used to try and bribe me into doing Dungeons & Dragons (“C’mon, Mel, I’ll give you all 18’s”–so I’d be the most strong and powerful character around, you see). I also wandered into a Internet role-play once and ended up virtually locked in a bathroom with a guy, which made me shut down my entire computer.  But that was many moons ago, so I decided to try again, this time as Leila Fan, my 27 y.o. alter ego, the trash-talking Montreal eco-activist werewolf who stars in my novel, Wolf Ice.

I thought the RolePages site was beautiful, full of lovely women, striking men, and other creatures’ profiles.  As I set up my profile. I had to wonder if most people rp (look, I’m using the lingo) in order to hook up, since the first question was “Relationship status” and the second was “Romantic interests.” Since my real-life baby was in a mediocre mood, I answered in as few words as possible, although for the latter, I waxed eloquent, i.e. “intelligence, passion, generosity, creativity, humour and animal chemistry.” I realized that I left out stuff like gender and age, but figured that’s what rp-ing was all about, baby.

Immediately, I got messaged by someone who was “touched” by my profile and wanted to send me her pictures. Soon after, another woman interested in a “good friendship” also sent me her e-mail address, I assume with similar intentions. One guy said hi and offered to help me out, so I messaged him back.

I joined the Werewolf “world,” along with 184 other werewolves, but it was mostly one guy who obviously wanted to be the alpha saying, “We need to name the group!…No, not that!” I wandered over to the vampires, but they are an exclusive club for vamps only.

So far, I like the creativity of choosing your profile picture and the idea of creating a whole new self (the slogan is, “Where anyone is possible”). I’m sure this place is a rockin’ good time, if I just knew what I was doing. If anyone wants to point this newbie in the right direction, just shout out. Thanks!

Hallowe’en, Part I: Wolf Ice

My friend R.G. Hart wrote a Hallowe’en blog, thus inspiring me to write about Hallowe’en and my horror-flava-ed books.

This year, my son Max wants to be Superman.  Fingers crossed that there will be a suitable costume left in Cornwall by Friday. Last year, he was Batman.  Fortunately, our baby will just let us dress her up in anything.

I never had too much fun as a kid on Hallowe’en because my parents were too cheap to buy me a new costume.  I was a princess for, like, five years in a row. Ah, well.

My first featured book is not strictly about Hallowe’en, but it is about werewolves.  I’m a werewolf fan.  Team Jacob all the way.  Like my Bewere the Night bio states, I prefer werewolves (warm, furry) to vampires (cold, dead).

Wolf Ice

Wolf ice killed Leila’s best friend.  And now it’s stealing Leila’s self-control.

Wolf ice disinhibits werewolf brains:  it makes them act like animals.  Lusty, angry, hungry animals.

Wolf ice drives Leila straight into the arms (and on to other anatomical parts) of her ex-boyfriend.

Wolf ice could slay all Montreal wers–in fact, all wers around the world–unless Leila stops him.

Can she fight past the lust in order to save her species?

Available on the KindleiPad, Kobo, Nook & Sony ereader formats

Me, the CBC, and my medical radio drama (!)

CBC Radio is commissioning a medical drama from me.

Squee!  Snoopy dance!  Yahoo!  Rah rah rah!  Boing boing!

I am so happy!

How did it happen?  Well, it all began when I was an 18-year-old university student, living off campus in a basement apartment with no windows, no TV, and no Internet.  Yes, Virginia, I was that poor and cheap.

I started listening to CBC, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, because it was one of the few stations I could get on my Consumers Distributing pink clock radio.  I got hooked on Morningside, the Peter Gzowski show, and then on public radio itself, for the stories.  Radio is all about the story and creating pictures in your own mind.

I promptly wrote a radio drama and submitted it to the Ottawa CBC.  I got a nice letter back, full of feedback, much more encouraging than anything else I’d gotten thus far.

Even so, I did what a lot of new writers do.  I got discouraged.  I filed the letter and didn’t write any more radio dramas.

But I kept writing short stories and poems and, a few years later, novels.  I went to writing workshops.  I joined a critique group or two.  I won some awards, published some stories and poems, got rocked hard by life, but got back in the writing ring.

Meanwhile, some of my friends achieved the Holy Grail of novel publication.

Not me.  Boo.  But after I did some local book launches for my anthologies and people started recognizing me from my face in the newspapers, I realized that I’d achieved minor success anyway.  If all I wanted was to see my name in print and for strangers to congratulate me, I’d done it already.

I still wanted My Novel.  Or rather, My NovelS.  But in case you haven’t heard, the novel biz is in a tizzy.  Smart, hard-working New York editors who were receptive to my work, sometimes who had my novels on their desks, lost their jobs or traded jobs (in one memorable case, got a better offer from the Girl Guides Association, and more power to her).

Also, I realized that a physical book wasn’t the be all and end all of success for me.  What I really want, as I mentioned in my writing “bucket list,” as Cindie Geddes succinctly put it, is this: Writing connects me with people, places, and things that excite me

It doesn’t have to be a book.

It doesn’t have to be an e-book.

I just like to create and get my work out there so people can react to it and I can have fun.

So one day, when I was Googling around, I came across the CBC site, Pitch a Show to CBC Radio.

And I said, hey.  New York is sinking and hasn’t figured out how to swim.  But what if I got on national radio instead?  After spending time and energy flogging my books, I love the idea of my friends and family and, yes, strangers just turning on the radio or downloading a podcast to hear my work, for free (that’s your tax dollars at work.  You’re welcome!).

So what should I pitch to the CBC?  Well, it was a no-brainer.  My medical thriller, Code Blues.  I already knew they liked true behind-the scenes-medical stories based on their show “White Coat, Black Art” (catchphrase:  “This is medicine from my side of the gurney”), so why not a medical radio drama written by moi?

Code blues cover 2013 EBOOK-200

Side note:  I wanted to be a writer before I wanted to become a doctor.  But I’ll be honest.  I didn’t want to starve and I don’t like risk (see my poker vs. writing blog).  So I said, “Hey, I’ll just become a doctor and it’ll give me something to write about!”, not computing how tiring and time-consuming medicine would be because I was used to doing everything I want.  Well, I was 22.  I’m soooo much humbler now.  But anyway.

Now, I really could combine medicine and writing.  I’d already written the books to prove it.  So I wrote a pitch.  I knew it was much better than what I’d done when I was 19 because I’ve been honing my writing skillz in the meantime.  I’d also done a few things with CBC radio, like my Outfront piece, “Dying to be a Doctor,” a round table discussion featuring me and my friends about medical school.  From this, I knew that the CBC likes stuff set in Quebec, and my book is based on my residency in Montreal, only embroidered (sex, drugs, and murder.  You’re welcome again!).  The info said you could get feedback from your regional contact person, so I sent it to the contact person for Montreal, Carolyn Warren.

She emailed back, like, two days later, and we set up a meeting.  Wow!

We had to reschedule, so by the time we met, she said, “I’m going to Toronto in two days to meet with the other drama people, so if you’re able to get that to me by the end of the day tomorrow, believe it or not…”

I checked my watch:  almost lunchtime.  She needed it in 28 hours.  Done.  Luckily, I wasn’t working that day or the next, and I know how to write hard and fast and beg online for instant critiques.  She warned me that the CBC has a very limited budget, but I figured everything’s a long shot right now, so why not try?

She met with the drama people in Toronto and said they were interested in Code Blues and my werewolf story (Wolf Ice, at the time my most recently-finished novel, featuring sex, drugs, murder AND werewolves.  De nada!).

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No way!  CBC and werewolves?  Okay!  I quickly outlined a cast list and ten episodes for Wolf Ice, too.  More begging for instant critiques.  Got that one out in 48 hours.

Then waiting.  Summer vacays=waaaaaaaaaiting.  I suppose Buddhists would say that’s good practice for impatient people like me.

In the Fall, Tom Anniko, head of CBC Radio Drama and Comedy, emailed me to set up a phone meeting.  Palpitations time!

He said that CBC won’t do werewolves (sigh), but medical dramas have got “CBC DNA” all over it (more palpitations).  He needed me to pitch the show, but without murder and love triangles.  Realism.  Patients in the hall, long wait times, what are the doctors really thinking.

I can do that.  I sent him my original pitch from July.  He made a few suggestions and sent it to other producers.

Then Tom needed an outline of the first episode.  I admit I felt a bit less sprightly in the last stages of my pregnancy+working in the ER+writing other stuff+looking after my family, but fortunately, in my earlier burst of mania, I had already written most of the first episode.  So I turned it into an outline and shot it back.

Then it was Christmas time and budget machinations that I wasn’t privy to.  I didn’t mind since I had my hands full, literally, with a newborn baby girl.

And today…

Drum roll please…

I got The Email from Tom.

He’s sending me a contract.

We’re aiming for a rough draft mid-February, polishing, and a final version at the end of March.

Hence,

SQUEE.

For my writing bucket list, I checked off this:

Writing connects me with people, places, and things that excite me

Hey, I’m living it every day now.  I just had to realize that.

I also added two new categories, national and international recognition.  That’s really what I want.  The medium doesn’t matter so much, so I bumped the novel goals.  I still have those goals, but now I’m looking at radio.  I’m thinking about a new audience.  I’m thinking about Real Actors performing my work!

WowWowWowWowWow!

Code blues cover 2013 EBOOK-200