Terminally Ill Onstage and Sugar and Vice in the World

Terminally Ill cast: undercurrents 2024

Hope Sze: Stefanie Velichkin-Hitgano

Elvis: Corinne Viau

Archer: Brandon Nguyen

Kameron: Malia Rogers

Ryan: Song Wang

Mme. Bérubé/Tori: Melissa Yi

Director: Micah Jondel DeShazer

Playwright/Producer: Melissa Yi

Stage manager: Tamara Laplante

Writing is lonely. We want to connect with readers, but even bestseller Lee Goldberg says he may never see people reading his books in public with the advent of ereaders.
Solution: TURN YOUR BOOK INTO A PLAY. That’s what I did! The header photo is our final cast for the undercurrents festival.

Photo above of Stefanie Hitgano as Hope Sze resuscitating Melissa Landry as Elvis (photos by Jen Derbach from the TACTICS workshop).

And here you see Kameron (Eponine Lee) stepping forward. She played Juliet in R+J at Stratford. Shakespeare, Melissa Yi, same, same. 😊 Tucker was Dora-Award winning theatre maker Richard Lee, sitting with Hope, and Micah Jondel DeShazer, our director, sits above them.

Well, now it’s time for Terminally Ill to debut at the undercurrents festival in Ottawa Feb 8-10, 2024!

February 8: 8:30pm

February 9: 7:00pm

February 10: 3:30pm

Buy your tickets here: https://ottawafringe.com/show/terminally-ill/

Strictly optional: would you like to cosplay?

The audience can be part of the show if you want. Some ideas:

  • A medical outfit like scrubs or a white coat, in honour of Dr. Hope Sze
  • Elvis gear because our escape artist is also an Elvis Presley tribute artist
  • Protestor wear. A group called Nelvis wants to ban Elvis!

Have fun!

I’ll have a merch table, which means you can also buy the book Terminally Ill if you like.

I’ll also have copies of the brand new Hope Sze thriller: Sugar and Vice! In case you hadn’t figured it out from our “sweet” photo at the top.

Yahoo! Massive thanks to our donors for supporting the arts!

Little Ms. Weird, Part I

I used to think I wrote for everybody. You know, we all love books. We are are all one.

Then I realized that Code Blues, the first Hope Sze mystery, opens with a swear word.

Code Blues is character-based and contains a sex scene, sarcasm, and a reference to racial injustice before Black Lives Matter. Cue the angry reviews. Cue even more because it’s free at the moment.

Okay! Well, Notorious D.O.C. sticks much closer to the mystery genre. Hope tackles a cold case on psychiatry after a woman asks her to investigate her daughter’s death. Not controversial at all, right?

Shoot. Maybe not everyone wants to read about poo on the first page.

Most readers immediately grasp the gravity of Stockholm Syndrome, where a kidnapper targets Hope and a woman in labour. But I don’t hold back on my description of the obstetrics ward, and one agent told me his assistant almost threw up after reading my first paragraph. I thought that was was pretty impressive considering that the first paragraph is literally two words: Birth smells.

Guess my writing ain’t for everyone after all.

When Kristine Kathryn Rusch first read my stories, she said, “They will have to create a new category for you. You’re so direct, you’re almost scary.” She paused. “You’re not supposed to compare writers, but Bob Jeschonek is the same way, for another reason. If you ask him to write a story about a space ship, he’ll write from the point of view of the space ship.”

Which may explain why I’ve always been fascinated by Robert Jeschonek’s writing. I hoover up stories in all genres, but he always does new things that had never occurred to me. For example, in A Pinstriped Finger Puppet’s My Only Friend, he starts off a section called Tomorrow.

Mind blown. How can you start in tomorrow? But he does wild things all the time, wandering in and out of the R-rated section, constantly inventive and challenging.

That’s why I’m honoured to take part in the Weird Bundle he curated at Storybundle. For once, my strangeness becomes a feature, not a bug.

Pay what you want. If you choose $20 or more, you unlock all the books, including Robert Jeschonek’s exclusive Dog & Pony Show and my own Dog Vs. Aliens, Grandma Othello & Shaolin Monks in Space, and you can contribute to the charity Able Gamers. Only available for 21 more days, right here.

Let’s do this!

Your Soufflé (and Your Rigid Expectations) Must Die

DeAnna Knippling interview!

DeAnna is a truly inventive writer and friend. Come celebrate her offbeat culinary cozy, Your Soufflé Must Die, and see how she subverts interviews and genre expectations.

Melissa Yi:  Are you more sugar or more vice?

DeAnna Knippling: While I do love both sugar and vice, I’m probably more tart than either sugar or spice! 

A while back I sorted out what emotions seemed to be most strongly associated with what flavors, and what genres with what flavors, just as a goofy mental experiment. Sweetness as a flavor goes with falling in love, family, and social connections–a lot of romance! While crime fiction, on its own, tends to have a very dry, intellectual, complex flavor, like the bitterness of coffee, a seared steak, or chocolate.

I’m not really a sweet person or a drily intellectual one, though. I’m more of a sour person, craving the zing of excitement, challenge, and wit. I look for a layer of humor in everything I read and write, and I try to layer it in too, even in the darkest tale. 

That being said, I do love both sweetness and bitterness–but the sourness comes for me, as a flavor and perspective on life.

MY: Interesting. One of the restaurants featured in Sugar and Vice is Tart of Darkness. Maybe you, or your heroine Sam, might fit right in!

YSMD makes me believe you’re a cook! Are you really? Or just a writer practiced in the art of deception?


I love to get up to various shenanigans in the kitchen. I’ve been playing a lot with sugar syrups lately. How to make them, how to flavor them with little bits and pieces of leftover things from other projects, how to add them to both sweet and savory dishes. I’m not a serious cook, mind you; I’m just messing around. As I work with syrups, though, I’ve discovered that they’re a good way to preserve a flavor; they’re basically runny jelly! I recently also discovered that a gelatin-based mousse is basically just a sugar syrup with cream and gelatin in it, too. Jelly, syrup, mousse, caramel, taffy, marshmallows, hard candy, Turkish locum…they’re all kind of different expressions of the same basic idea of sugar crystals suspended in liquid, able to be transformed and translated between dishes, and pretty cheaply, too.

But I am also nowhere near enough disciplined to be able to do what Sam, the heroine of YSMD, does in the kitchen. I recently wrote a side-story, “COOKIE MADNESS!!!” about her making Christmas cookies for her catering company and figured out that she made something along the line of two thousand cookies. (She did get help decorating and packaging.) No way I could ever do that. I just don’t have that kind of attention span.

So if someone reads the book and thinks, “Wow! I bet the author knows her souffles!” well, that’s a lie. But I am a cook and I liked to mess around with recipes to try and understand why food does what it does, both physically and in what food means for us.

MY: Apart from the food, I really like the camaraderie and friendship in YSMD, but am driven slightly mad by her love life. How do you build complex relationships in your fiction?

Something that annoys me about a lot of romance novels is that they aren’t as messy as real life. Most romances are like, “You know what? You, and you, I want you to meet in a cute way, be attracted to each other, have some external conflicts to resolve, and BOOM, you’re done.” A lot of romances aspire to be simple and straightforward, maybe as a relief from the complexities of life.

And yet if you look back to Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, what you’ll see is that the main character hates her real love interest, falls for some other guy, gets tired of him, decides she hates him (and then has to deal with him as a brother-in-law), continuously roasts her real love interest, gets set up with some douchebag by her mom, rejects him, accidentally seduces her real love interest, rejects him, finds out he’s a genuinely decent guy even if he is a socially awkward idiot, and finally decides he’s worth pursuing, even if it means admitting that she’s made an ass of herself.

I have no problem with the way most romances are written. They just aren’t for me.  Here, I was reaching for romantic conflicts that reminded me of Jane Austen-level silliness. I really don’t think Sam’s love life could be any other way! I hope it pays off for the reader a little bit like the way Price and Prejudice paid off for me.

MY: This was seriously a fun read. I learned a lot about cooking, but also friendship and how to write setting, like sitting in a leather chair and waiting for it to deflate, or really wild chocolate or alien-themed feasts. YSMD doesn’t follow the usual cozy rules, which some readers will enjoy. Give it a whirl!

DeAnna Knippling writes eclectic crime, mystery, romance, and other stories with characters whose sense of justice gives them a bittersweet view of life. Her hobbies are cooking, taking long walks on Florida beaches, digging into the realm of open-source intelligence, fangirling over history, science, and psychology—and reading lots of fiction, graphic novels, and web comics while her tea goes cold. Author of the Sweet Granadilla and Dark & Cozy mystery series, you can find her at WonderlandPress.com.

Sugar and Vice’s Kickstarter ends Sept 26th at 9 pm. Join us!

M. H. Callaway Talks Snake Oil and Sugar

M. H. Callaway has helped investigate a murder, toured the 3000 foot deep Falconbridge nickel mine and even met the Queen of England (though not all at the same time). She turned to writing, and her many distinctions include a nomination for the CWC Award for Best Novella for “Snake Oil,” which you can now preorder as part of her new collection, Snake Oil and Other Tales!

Fortunately, I got to interview M.H. before she ran off on her next adventure.

Melissa Yi: Do you prefer sugar or vice?

M. H. Callaway: Well, I have to admit that I lean to the dark side, both in my reading and writing. Readers have told me that some of my work, like my novellas, Snake Oil and Glow Grass, are really horror crossovers. That’s hard to wrap my head around, especially since I never read horror and avoid watching scary movies.

I’m not sure why I have such a dark vision and why it creeps into my stories. Perhaps it’s due to my unsettled childhood or fighting to make it in several male-dominated professions like science and management consulting! I’m delighted to see the progress that women have made in the last several decades. 

But I’m not totally into Vice / Noir. Every once in a while I need to cleanse my palette with a cuddly cozy – and when I do, I enjoy every word. I’ve even written lighter work and to my surprise and delight, my two cozies published in 2022 were both short-listed for a CWC award. That said, Erik De Souza didn’t find “Must Love Dogs – or You’re Gone”, that light-hearted – perhaps it works as a black comedy. 

MY: Does real life inspire your tales, whether dark or cozy?

MHC: How did you guess that I used a real small town as my inspiration for Amdur’s Ghost? In fact, Dunlop is a thinly disguised version of Goderich, Ontario where we have our family cottage. I’m afraid that none of the characters were inspired by and friends or family; they are all figments of my twisted imagination.  They all come alive and speak to me as I write. Many times, the characters are what we wish for: they fight for justice.

Dr. Benjamin Amdur is the kind of civil servant we would want. He’s dedicated to looking after the people of Ontario and committed to saving our public health system. He’s a bit of fish out of water in Dunlop, an outsider in Dunlop, because he’s a “city rat” from Toronto and he has much to learn about rural culture in Ontario. He finds that there are many dedicated people just like him though different – in a good way.

So even though I don’t use real people as the basis for my characters, I am shameless in stealing settings! In Glow Grass, I used our family cottage and my husband maintains I used our own house as inspiration for Snake Oil.

MY: I did an ob/gyn elective in Goderich and I live in rural Ontario now. I don’t know if I steal settings so much as details like food. 🙂

MHC: Sugar and Vice is at the top of my cozy reading list. What a great idea to use the seven deadly sins to frame the new Hope Sze mystery series! And what better sin than gluttony? Everyone can relate to the delights of food, especially me!

MY: Sugar and Vice isn’t exactly a cozy. I tried to write a cozy thriller, so I’m afraid it’ll scare the real cozy fans away. You’re right about the food and gluttony, though!

MHC: I especially enjoyed the sensual details in Sugar and Vice. I can taste the yummy Chinese and Korean food while delighting in Hope’s witty assessments of the Dragon Boat competition, life, love, the universe and everything. It’s funny and light-hearted and draws you in: I can’t wait to find out who is fated to die and to have Hope catch the killer.

MY: Well, I can’t wait to read Snake Oil and Other Tales! I’m preordering it as a birthday gift to myself. Thank you, M.H.!

Introducing Melodie Campbell and Sugar and Vice!

Do you know Melodie Campbell? You should! Melodie has won the Derringer, the Arthur Ellis, and eight more awards for crime fiction. She didn’t even steal them.

Perpetually witty and generous, this famous (infamous?) crime writer agreed to an interview and then turned the spotlight on me. You know how these mystery writers love to pull reversals on you!

Melissa Yi: Sugar or vice? Meaning, do you prefer sweet and cozy or edgy?

Melodie Campbell: You could have knocked me over with a cannoli when I saw people were calling “The Merry Widow Murders” a cozy!  It’s neither sweet nor cozy, with many references to the aftermath of WW1, and the deep grief felt from Lucy, my young widowed protagonist.  It is, however, the type of book I like to read myself.  A traditional mystery where the reader is challenged to race along with the protagonist to discover the murderer.  In my case, I can’t help adding a lot of comic relief, mainly in the form of Lucy’s pickpocket-turned-maid Elf, and the banter that takes place between the two of them.  

So I like a bit of an edge with my crime; a balance, so to speak.  You can’t be laughing all the time, or it becomes banal.

MY: Yes, exactly. You don’t want to turn into a laugh track. Still, as “Canada’s Queen of Comedy,” do you find it effortless to incorporate humour into your writing, or is it like a muscle you have to work?

MC: I am reminded of the old performers’ adage: “Dying is easy. Comedy is hard.”  So I have to smile and say, no, it’s not easy, but writing serious suspense is even harder for me!  It takes me a year to write a novel.  I can’t stay in a dark head-space for that length of time.

Perhaps it’s habit.  I got my start writing comedy in the 90s; I wrote standup for comedians, and had a regular humour column in two papers.  I had 24 short stories published before I even tried to write a novel.  Surprisingly, many of them were dark, with twist endings.  But when I came to write a novel, I fell back on what I do naturally: make it funny.  To be honest, I’ve tried to write straight, but every time I do, a natural quip comes to me that I just can’t resist, and the tension breaks when it shouldn’t!  So I’ve given up, and admitted that I will never be the Margaret Atwood of Mystery.  Instead, one reviewer for Ellery Queen called me “the Carole Burnett of Crime.” 

MY: What a compliment!

MC: Melodie speaking:  Turnabout is fair play!  I have a few questions for Melissa now.

MC: First, a comment:  I absolutely love the first chapter of Sugar and Vice.  That last sentence is a textbook way to end a first chapter; perfect foreshadowing.  It also provides a terrific example of my comment above:  you need a balance between bathos and pathos.  The dialogue between Hope and friends is full of fun, but…here’s the ‘awe’ moment.  We know there is going to be something serious at stake, and Hope will be in the thick of it.  Her own self could be at risk!

MC: Melissa, like you, most of my career has been in health care.  I’ve seen a lot of things I wish I could forget.  Do you find writing humorous fiction a welcome escape from your day job?

MY: Yes! Sometimes I like to write about medicine straight up, like in the essays in The Most
Unfeeling Doctor in the World
collection, which I started after a patient called me the most
unfeeling doctor he’d ever met. I do change patient details, but sometimes I want to write, “This
happened,” with or without humour.
Other times, I escape hard stories outright by writing comedy, fantasy, science fiction, or
romance with a happy ending and/or a new world. It makes life a lot more cheerful and bearable.

MC: Why crime?  I know you also write Sci-fi (as I have) but most of your fiction is steeped with crime.  What drives you to this genre?

MY: Ooh, I’ll have to read your SF too!
Crime means that no matter what happens, you end with a sense of justice. Sometimes other
writers blow my mind with the cleverness of the villain and therefore the sleuth.
Although my residency in Montreal was tough at the time, like my family medicine clinic had no
running water (I literally had to run down the hall to heat up a metal speculum), I can look back
at laugh and write about it now. I love a doctor who saves lives and fight killers.
Readers do ask for more Hope, even if they can’t pronounce her last name. Psst, it’s Sze, which
you can pronounce like the letter C.

And who says you have to choose? In Hope’s Seven Deadly Sins series, paranormal elements
infiltrate Hope’s world, starting with ghosts in The Shapes of Wrath and dragons in Sugar and Vice.

Back the Sugar and Vice Kickstarter before Sept 26th for the exclusive dragon cover!

MC: ‘Sugar and Vice’ is the best title I’ve seen in years, and spot on for our genre. I’m miffed I
didn’t think of it first!  What was your inspiration for this particular story?

MY: Thank you! I knew I’d write about gluttony as Hope’s second deadly sin, but how and why
would people would die over food? I wrestled over that for a long time.
I started researching mukbangs, videos where people livestream their meals, sometimes in
unusual ways, like discussing true crime over cheesy lasagna. Strange but true.
I also took a look at dragon boat racing.
Somehow, my brain invented the Dragon Eats festival, which combines dragon boat racing with
food competitions. I knew Hope would run into murder there!
As for title envy, nothing quite fit, and I wished I’d come up with another great title, Sugar and
Spite. While walking my dog, I realized that Sugar and Vice fit my book even better!

I have to thank cozies for the inspiration, since I named The Shapes of Wrath after reading The
Crêpes of Wrath.
I steal, I mean, get inspired, by everything. 😉

Melodie, thank you for this interview. I’ve long admired your talent and kindness, and I hope more readers get to devour your work, starting with the Merry Widow Murders. Happy reading!

P.S. The Kickstarter for Sugar and Vice has unlocked the exclusive dragon cover. That means if you love dragons like me, back now to grab Sugar and Vice in its first worldwide edition, dripping with dragons. Otherwise, wait for retailers to stock the doughnut cover in February 2024.

Thank you so much!

My Two-Legs, by Melissa Yi

This is my Derringer Award-winning story, now a finalist for the Macavity Award, first published in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine in July/August 2022.

I’m including it here for the consideration of any Mystery Readers International members who want to read and vote. And for my lovely readers. Following the voting period, only the opening will remain, so read it while it’s hot. Thank you!

My two-legs is gone.
I stick my nose out the window opening and sniff, hoping to detect his unique
scent. When he slammed the car door, I enjoyed the final tang of his two-leg male sweat,
soap, and lemon shampoo. But I can no longer detect Sunil’s smell. He is too far away.
And he is gone too long. My bladder feels uncomfortably full. Even with the rain
pattering on the car roof and the cool, misty wind blowing through the snout-sized cracks
in the windows, I feel too hot in the back seat. I shake my shaggy yellow coat and
whimper twice, panting loud and fast.
I hear footsteps, the light slap of an adult female two-legs’s shoes on pavement in
the rain. She grows closer. I whine louder and paw the worn beige upholstery under the
She approaches my window. She smells like garlic tomato sauce and her sweat
scent is sweeter and fainter than my two-legs. She is not Sunil. But she peers at me with
kind brown eyes. I rear up on my hind legs and scrabble my front claws on the window.
Urgent! Urgent!
The garlic two-legs seems to understand. She even says “Sunil’s dog,” so she
knows who I am. I wag my tail extra hard.
She surveys the few other cars resting in the evening shadows of the Lighthouse
Inn before she turns back to me. Her eyes linger on the black knob that locks the door.
She says “Sunil” again and some more words. Some of them I understand, like “Look for
I bark, high-pitched. Right! Sunil! I can help you look for him. I can smell him. I
know his steps. I know he was wearing his old leather boots caked with mud from our
gravel driveway. His maroon sweatshirt that still smells like gasoline from the time he
spilled a drop on the right sleeve. His oldest, softest pair of jeans, that he doesn’t mind me
jumping up on, even if he scolds me. I know his voice, gravelly and irritated when he
yells “No!” and his nonsense love syllables when he rubs my stomach. I know his hands,
the firm grasp of his hands on my collar, his absent-minded pats on the head. I know
exactly how tall he is: when I jump up to say hello, my paws reach the top of his
stomach. He is shorter than the alpha male two-legs who moved in with us, but only by a
few inches.
The garlic two-legs says, “Stay, Star.”
Star. She knows my name! But she’s telling me to stay. That’s when Sunil wants
me to sit down and not move. Why would I do that when Sunil is missing?
I jump and paw the windows again, whining high and fierce.
This two-legs says some more, like “Good girl” and “I’ll be back,” but she’s
walking away! Just like Sunil did! These two-legs don’t understand anything!
I bark. Urgent! Urgent! My two-legs is gone. Urgent! Urgent! Urgent!
A couple emerges from the heavy wood front doors of the Lighthouse Inn. Not
Sunil, not garlic Two-Legs, not Sunil’s alpha male. They walk slow, clutching each
other’s waists. The female stumbles on the pavement. She falls heavily on her knees and
stays on all fours, laughing, until the male hefts her up by both elbows. Even then, it
takes them two tries for her to rise to her feet.
I keep barking. I try to rouse them from their stupor. Urgent! Urgent!
The male drops his keys on the pavement with a metal tinkle. He curses and
stoops next to my car. He smells like tomato sauce, fried chips, stale male sweat, but
mostly beer. Like Sunil’s alpha.
I know these two are hopeless, but I keep barking. They might be able to open the
door. Urgent! Urgent! Urgent!
“Damn dog,” says the woman.
The man laughs, a mean, low laugh. He presses his face against the window.
I bark. I scratch. I yelp.
The man sticks his tongue against the window, red flesh blanched dead white
against the cold glass. The smell of beer floods my nose. I whine before I bark, bark, bark
some more.
“What the hell,” says the man. I know this phrase. Sunil’s alpha male says it all
the time, usually before he does something that makes Sunil leave the room. On a good
day, Sunil will clip the leash on me and we’ll get a good, fast walk out of it, even if Sunil
is making angry noises into his metal rectangle phone the whole time.
This adult male’s fat hand reaches through the window opening, but his forearm
gets caught. His fingers are only five inches shy of the black knob. I stay very quiet,

panting my heat away, fogging up the windows while he wiggles his arm and curses, but
it’s no use. This two-legs can’t release me.
He withdraws his arm, swearing and rubbing the forearm that got caught in the
jaws of the window. I jump and bark frantically. Try again, two-legs! Try again! You can
do it!
The adult female laughs at him until he says something in a flat, low voice. She
sways on her feet and sticks her arm through the window, muttering something about
“him biting me.”
I know what biting is. Sunil shut me in a crate after I nibbled his hand when we
were playing. So I don’t bite anyone. Not even Sunil’s alpha.
I sit back on my heels and try to be very quiet, except for my panting.
The woman’s skinny arm waves through the window, poking forward hopelessly.
The man says something and she reaches downward, complaining the whole time, but her
hands brush the black knob.
I bark. She jumps and curses. But her fingers pluck the knob upward!
The man opens the door. “There, there.”
But I am already leaping past him. No leash. Feels good. Feels free. The man tries
to grab me, but I race past him, streaking through the parking lot, into the rainy darkness
and the garden at the back of the Inn. I sniff wildly, retracing our pre-dinner walk. The
patch of grass where I peed–I cannot resist squirting another hot stream of urine on the
same site, covering up the scent of a male German shepherd, who sprayed it after me.
I dash to the top of the nearby hill of sand, topped by an overturned wheelbarrow.
I find the wrapper for the piece of cheese I scavenged, and the delicious scent of squirrels
and spoiled hamburger, but no Sunil.
I’m barking. Help! Help! I sprint around the little garden, the lavender bushes, the
overhanging trees, the patio with a mermaid statue.
No Sunil. Only old Sunil smell, washing away with the rain.
My stomach growls. I whine. Sunil, Two-legs, where are you?
I tilt my nose in the air, sniff for him. My nostrils are flooded with the smell of
food. Two-leg food, the spaghetti sauce and garlic and the beer. I can’t resist. I dash to the
back door of the restaurant and sniff the open crack. Light spills on the cool patio stones.
Moist, heavy, sauce-scented air billows toward me.
I want to track Sunil and drag him back to our little cabin at the Lighthouse Inn,
with its soft red carpet, its sofa covered in my dog blanket, plus my plastic bowls of food
and water, and my bone. Our small space. Safe space.
I launch into the restaurant. Urgent! Urgent Urgent! Sunil! Sunil! Sunil!
My heart thunders in my chest. I dart around a two-legs standing next to the
closest table. A woman screams. A man shouts and jumps on a bench, hollering like I bit
Crash! Someone drops a water glass, shattering five feet in front of me. Water
sprays onto my nose. I whine, bark, manage to skid to a stop, while two-legs scream and
shout around me.
“A dog! A dog!” they scream like they’ve never seen one before.
The two-legs who smells like garlic tomato sauce, the one I thought might let me
out of the car first, flies into the room. She says, “Star!” and runs straight at me with her
arms outstretched.
I veer away from her and I smell, then see, one two-legs still eating his spaghetti
in the corner like nothing’s going on.
I scramble out the back door, still barking. Worried! Worried!
Sunil’s not there. I didn’t see or smell him anywhere, even though I know he
walked through the heavy wood front doors like the rest of these people.
I am afraid.
I am running back to the sand pile, shivering and barking, tongue dry, bone tired.
Back in the restaurant, the man calmly twirling spaghetti on his fork was Sunil’s
alpha. The two-legs I thought we had left behind, along with my stainless steel water dish
and my tasty kibble.
What is he doing here? And where is my two-legs?
I should run. I still hear two-legs yelling inside. I hear the tinkle of someone
sweeping up glass. Soon someone will come and sweep me away where I can’t help
But first, I creep back to the back patio. A shallow puddle of water has collected
in the hollow curve of a stone tile, and I must quench my thirst.
I lick the puddle until I am licking cool, damp stone.
An adult male two-legs throws open the back door.
I retreat behind a clump of pampas grass. I don’t dare run while his light shines on
me. He yells into a phone, “ … find that damn dog!”
Garlic two-legs yells back at him from inside.
The phone two-legs surveys the courtyard. I watch him carefully between the
stalks of grass. If he chases me, I can run faster than him, but he will call other two-legs
and eventually, they will catch me.
He swears. He yells some more into his telephone. But already, he is looking over
his shoulder, back into the restaurant.
He grunts and pulls the door closed behind him.
And I am safe for one more minute.
I nose in the pampas grass. I don’t smell anything except the grass, earth, and
I need to smell Sunil two-legs. If I could smell him, I could find him.
I sit on my behind and lift my rear paw to scratch my right ear furiously. Sunil
two-legs did not come out of the front door. I was watching from the front parking lot.
He could still be in the restaurant, but I know my two-legs. If he heard me
running, he would spring to my side.
So maybe he came out the back door.
The light shines through the back door. The back door is too close to the two-legs.
They could snatch my collar. They could throw beer bottles at me, like Sunil’s alpha did
one time.
Sunil’s alpha. He could take me away in his car.
I scurry to the back door anyway.
The air smells like spaghetti and other two-leg food, but I dig my nose deep into
the prickly doormat. I smell long and hard.
Is that mud from Sunil’s boot?
Yes. A speck of old driveway mud with a bit of gravel dust and a bit of my old
Sunil was here. In the past hour.
I cast my nose around, sniffing, searching the stone patio. Even with the rain, I
should be able to smell him better than this–
And then, at the edge of the patio, I finally catch a smell of something that makes
my hackles rise.
Sunil’s blood.
Fresh blood. One spot about as big as my paw pad, hardly diluted by rain.
I whine. Two-legs! Two-legs hurt!
I circle the stone patio and the mulched earth at its edge. No more blood, but I
smell Sunil stronger now–mud, a little sweat–and something else.
Someone else.
One other adult two-legs. A new one. He smells like cigarettes and black licorice
and something wrong, something dangerous yet familiar that makes my hackles rise
This licorice two-legs smells like sex. Sex with Sunil’s alpha.
I bark. Worried! Worried!
I hear a shout from the restaurant, but I keep going, nose to ground, sniff sniff
sniff run sniff sniff.
Following Sunil and Licorice Two-legs. Licorice has bigger, deeper footprints
than Sunil.
Sunil. Walking crooked. Leaning on his right. Leaning on Licorice. Here, his boot
dragged in the mud. I sniff a gum wrapper that fell out of Sunil’s pocket, but it’s empty
and smells like mint and his laundry soap. It’s already damp from the rain.
Sunil smell is very strong here.
He fell down. I nose the imprint from his body. He couldn’t walk anymore.
I nudge a clump of his hair, tangled in a stick on the ground.
Yes, Sunil collapsed here. But his scent keeps going south, out of the woods.
I circle around this strong Sunil spot, check the scent trail backwards and
Forward, I don’t find any more Sunil prints. Only Licorice boot prints, even
deeper than before. And more Sunil hair and Sunil blood.
Licorice is dragging Sunil! But where?
I bark. Sunil! Sunil!
I hear two-leg voices. I hear a car door slam near the Lighthouse Inn. I hear two-
leg footsteps.
They are tracking me.
They are coming to get me.
Sniff run run. Sniff. It’s easier to track Sunil now that his head is bumping on the
ground. More blood. More hair. More sweat.
Licorice smells stronger too, a tangy sweat. Fear sweat.
I break into the parking lot of the next building. A street light shines on me, but I
don’t care.
I can smell Sunil stronger now, mixed with fresh blood and sour vomit and wine.
I’m barking now, loud barks, alarm barks, as I race toward the big green dumpster in the
parking lot.
Wedged between the dumpster and the building, covered in rain and blood and
bruises …
I lunge forward, knocking a soggy cardboard box off his body. I lick his cold cold
nose, his cold cheek, his neck, his ear.
His eyelids flutter.
I lick his head. I lick the blood seeping from his scalp. His blood tastes salty and
metallic, mixed with the smell of lemon shampoo.
He groans. He shifts his head.
I keep licking.
A two-legs in uniform runs up yelling and shines a light on us. He swears and
grabs his phone. Soon I hear sirens wailing and more two-legs in uniforms screech up
with their cars and their flashing lights. But none of them are Sunil’s alpha or Licorice.
We are safe.
I curl up close to Sunil, using my body and my fur to keep him warm. I always
take care of my two-legs.


Dedicated to my bestest dogs, Olo and Roxy

Rapunzel Could Win a Prix Aurora Award

What do you know about Rapunzel?

Here’s what I heard: her father trades her to a witch after dad stole from her garden to feed his wife’s (Rapunzel’s mother’s) pregnancy cravings. Rapunzel grows up imprisoned in a tower, and the only way in or out for anyone else is her hair, which grows so long and thick that she would toss it down as a rope for the witch to climb.

A prince hears the witch call



Let down your hair!

And does the same. He climbs up her hair. He and Rapunzel fall in love. The furious witch lops off Rapunzel’s braid. The next time the prince calls,



Let down your hair!

The witch lets him climb up on the severed hair, but when the prince sees her instead of Rapunzel, he jumps out of the tower, into thorns that blind him. He wanders the world, unable to see. Eventually, during his travels, he recognizes Rapunzel singing, and the two lovers reunite.

–> When I heard this story as a kid, the most important part was the blind prince. I needed glasses since I was six years old. Going blind was my greatest fear. I skipped straight over the tower, imprisonment, people climbing up my hair, and worried about losing my eyesight.

However, as an adult, I reread the story and was shocked that in some versions, Rapunzel and the prince have sex. When Rapunzel gets cast out, she ends up wandering the desert WITH TWINS. Not as bad as losing your eyesight, but no one would choose that fate lightly, either.

To go from a lifelong prisoner to her first sexual (? consensual) relationship to a solo twin mom in the desert? Ooh.

I decided to write about Rapunzel in this liminal space. On Spec published it (#122 VOL 32 No 4), and now, Canada, you may vote on it for the Prix Aurora Award until July 29th, 2023. For $10, you get a whole package of material. Join here and vote here. Thanks for your consideration!

Rapunzel in the Desert
by Melissa Yuan-Innes
My once-soft hands
Roughened by sand and wind
My breasts, continually swollen and emptied
By ravenous twin mouths
My eyes, gritty with still more sand and wind.
Still, I sing and weave
Trading for rice and dates
And the occasional bite of camel or lamb.

Mother Godel sheared my head.
Now I pluck the hairs myself
To make strong, fine sewing threads
Or to plait into sturdy belts or ropes
My voice, I raise in song
For the mother fatigued by hours of labour,
For the couple joined in ceremony,
Or for the soul laid to rest.

I trade my story to fellow-travellers.
“That tower! No stairs or doors.
Yes, my cousin told me of such a tower!”
They know of my prince who came.
“So sad. He jumped to his doom.”
“No, no. He lost the sight in both eyes and wanders,
Calling for you.”
A third jumps in. “No, he married a princess.
Of course her hair is not so fine as yours.”
My children learn to walk.
Their skin is stained blue by the clothes
Of their adopted people.
I continue to sing, to weave, to laugh and cry.
I am not the first woman to love and lose her prince
With only two new hungry mouths to show for it.
And yet my heart expands.
Instead of the stone walls of my tower,
I breathe the dry desert wind
And lift my eyes to the wide open sky.

It’s okay to outgrow your clothes

TW: body image

When I was in university, a masters student said she outgrew her clothes. I liked that. You know, like a kid. But I struggled to accept the idea for myself.

As an female of Asian heritage, I grew up with the idea that I’m supposed to be tiny/slim or else it feels like I’m letting down the team. As a Westerner, I’m supposed to have big, sexy curves.

How to reconcile these two extremes? Starve yourself and get breast and butt implants.

I’ve always done a bit of exercise for fun. Inline skating feels like flying. Yoga’s emphasis on listening to your body and chilling out was a welcome antidote to the Go! Go! Go! attitude at school and home. But I have to admit that most of the time, I exercised because I didn’t want to get fat or to get osteoporosis later (too thin is a risk factor for that).

But I never pushed myself to exercise to excess, or even a lot. Medicine is a non-stop slog. Writing can feel that way too. My children need(ed) me 24/7, especially as babies and toddlers. I refused to add tons of exercise to my to-do list, and especially not a punitive regimen.

In elementary school, my son’s teacher drew a distinction between individual and group sports. My son and I like to do our own thing. I started the Couch to 5K in 2019, after Dr. Saroo Sharda recommended the NHS program, because I don’t have easy access to nice paved roads, but you can kind of run anywhere.

Joining Jake’s fitness community for female Canadian physicians finally got me strength training, which I try to balance with cardio Monday-Wednesday-Friday and yoga every other day.

However, I resisted dieting because it makes me crazy. My friends convinced me to log my diet and then add fibre and protein. I do like the app Chronometer, but my kids hated me monitoring every calorie. “Health nut. Mom is a health nut,” said my son.

Still, adding 10 g of fibre decreases all-cause mortality 10 percent, so I’m glad to add chia seeds and beans to my diet and let the rest go.

All that said, I still didn’t fit into my clothes and felt kind of miserable about it. The selfie above is one of a series of me trying to love my body even though my bigger, stronger glutes and quads didn’t work with my pants from residency.

Here are three comments that helped me:

“I’m too powerful for my pants,” said a friend’s little daughter.

“That’s a pants problem, not a you problem,” said Dr. Rshmi Khurana.

“The only point of exercise is to get bigger!” said my exasperated husband, Matt.

I finally bought new pants. And this picture below made me feel better. I’ve always had strong legs, but visible definition, not so much.

In yoga, we say, “Let go of the thoughts that no longer serve you.”

Trying to let go of pants and thoughts that no longer serve me, and to love myself and this body that has served me loyally for years without complaining.

Capitalism wants us to hate ourselves so it can sell us shapewear, creams, therapy, and surgery.

Give capitalism the middle finger.

Love yourself.


Terminally Ill: Taking Shape on Stage

Elvis Will Enter the Lab O Building Saturday, May 13th, 2023, at 6:30 pm

Elvis the escape artist nearly drowns. Dr. Hope Sze struggles to save his life. And … it’s a comedy?

Terminally Ill cast: Photo front row (L-R): Melissa Yi, Eponine Lee, Stefanie Hitgano, Melissa Landry
Back row (L-R): Brandon Nguyen, Jon Dickey, Micah Jondel DeShazer (director), Richard Lee

Yes! My novel, Terminally Ill, has been transformed into a play. Come sample the opening as part of the TACTICS Development series on Saturday, May 13th at 6:30 pm (our play starts at 7).

Look at our wonderful cast!

Stefanie Hitgano (Dr. Hope Sze): Communications Assistant at the Queensway Carleton Hospital by day, playing detective doctor Hope Sze by night. Bachelor of Arts in theatre from the University of Ottawa and in her final year of Professional Writing at Algonquin College.

Richard Lee (Dr. John Tucker): winner of 3 Dora awards, two for performance, one for sound engineering, and co-founder of fu-GEN Asian Canadian Theatre

Eponine Lee (Dr. Tori Kameron /Kameron): fresh from the Stratford Festival, where she played Juliet in R+J. She was a finalist for the Toronto Arts Foundation’s Breakout Artist Award in 2022. And she’s only in grade 10. Imagine what she’ll do in the next ten years!

Richard jokes, “You should call the play Terminal-LEE Ill.”

You may also have heard of Richard’s wife and Eponine’s mom, Nina Lee Aquino, the award-winning Filipino-Canadian director and dramaturg, the founding artistic director at fu-GEN, who is now the Artistic Director at the NAC.

Melissa Landry (Elvis): aerial acrobatics, stilt walking, fire manipulation, poi and fan dancing skills. For her role as Elvis, she’ll break out the aerials

Jon Dickey (Archer): a University of Ottawa’s Theatre Arts graduate known for his leading role in “The Last Days of Judas Iscariot” and for making Shakespeare accessible in A Company of Fools

Brandon Nguyen (Ryan Wu): Brandon graduated from Carleton in 2016 with Bachelor of Music in Performance on classical flute before he obtained a Bachelor of Education from the University of Ottawa. He also performs in musicals, including Avenue Q, Spring Awakening, and American Idiot

Micah Jondel DeShazer (Director): a performer, director, collaborator and the Co Artistic Producer at TACTICS, the Theatre Artists’ Co-operative: the Independent Collective Series. Recently he was the musical director of Memphis at Orpheus Musical Theatre

Melissa Yi/Yuan-Innes (playwright/producer/Lucia/Mrs. Bérubé): emergency physician turned playwright. Her play I Am The Most Unfeeling Doctor in the World (And Other True Tales from the Emergency Room) was selected for the Stage One Festival of New Canadian Work at Calgary’s Lunchbox Theatre.

This ain’t your traditional play. Micah Jondel DeShazer directs Saturday’s workshop presentation of the first half Terminally Ill, where Hope solves the near-murder of Elvis the Escape King, played by aerialist Melissa Landry.

That’s right, you can ooh and aah over the sight of Elvis “underwater” on aerial silks. You can bend your brain trying to solve the murder. You can even get up from your seat and follow characters around to try and score additional clues.

Check out the opening excerpt of Terminally Ill as part of TACTICS’ workshop series on May 13 at 1830 in Lab O!

May is Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. What better way to celebrate than to preview Terminally Ill?

Stefanie and I are also bringing our moms for Mother’s Day. Come play with your mom!

Massive thanks to our sponsors!

Winning the Derringer Award

Congratulations to the Derringer Award finalists of 2023:


“Catch and Release” by April Kelly (Mystery Magazine, May 2022)

“Acknowledgments” by Karen Harrington (Guilty Crime Story Magazine online flash fiction, April 2022)

“Easter Spam” by John Weagly (Shotgun Honey online flash fiction)

“The Final Chapter” by James Blakey (Yellow Mama, October 2022)

“Where Palms Sway and the Surf Pounds” by Curtis Ippolito (Shotgun Honey online flash fiction)


“Double Trouble” by M.E. Proctor (Bristol Noir online, March 2022)

“Hiding Out in Cedar Key” by Sharon Marchisello (White Cat Publications online, April 2022)

“The Shape of Australia” by Christine Poulson (Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, July/August 2022)

“My Two-Legs” by Melissa Yi  (Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, September/October 2022)

“Digging In” by Andrew Welsh-Huggins (Black Cat Weekly #40)


“The Vigil” by Toni Goodyear (Carolina Crimes: Rock, Roll and Ruin anthology)

“Tethered” by Marcelle Dubé (Crime Wave: Women of a Certain Age anthology)

“The White Calf and the Wind” by Mike Adamson (Black Cat Mystery Magazine #11)

“The Donovan Gang” by John M. Floyd (Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, Sept/Oct 2022)

“Negative Tilt” by Bobby Mathews (Rock and a Hard Place issue 7)

“Something Blue” by G.M. Malliet (Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, November/December 2022)


“The Wraith of Bunker Hill” by Paul D. Marks (Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, Sept/Oct 2022)

“Two Shrimp Tacos and a .22 Ruger” by Adam Meyer (Guns & Tacos, Down & Out Books)

“Dead Men Tell No Tales” by Liz Filleul (The People’s Friend Special, issue 225)

“The Refusal Camp” by James Benn (Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, Sept/Oct 2022)

“Ripen” by Ashley-Ruth M. Bernier (Black Cat Weekly #48)

“The competition is fierce, and this is a big deal. Well done, especially considering the huge number of stories entered this year,” said Melodie Campbell, who should know. She won both the Derringer Award and the Crime Writers of Canada Award of Excellence.

Checking my e-mail before taking our kids to the bus Monday morning, I received this from M.H. Callway:

Umm, what? I logged into the Short Mystery Fiction Society and blinked.

The Derringer Awards celebrate the world’s best short mysteries, in English. The international Academy Awards for mystery short stories, if you will.

I was a finalist in the flash category in 2015 with “Because.”

“My Two-Legs” is a mystery where a dog named Star solves a crime and saves her two-legs (her human, Sunil), inspired by our dog named Olo.

Winning the Derringer Award calls for getting dressed up and taking pictures with my dogs. Bell first, because Roxy had flopped on the porch. This is the first dog photo of the day.

Then Roxy, who looked good except I had to clean out her eyes. She basically fell asleep while I tried to get a decent picture of the two of us.

In addition to my wonderful dogs, my husband Matt and our kids, Max and Anastasia, I’d like to thank Kristine Kathryn Rush and Dean Wesley Smith. Kris assigned me and Cindie Geddes to write a story from the point of view of a dog at the Anchor Inn. The Staunch Prize longlisted “My Two-Legs” for best feminist thriller. The editor of Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, Linda Landrigan, published “My Two-Legs.”

The Review and the Standard Freeholder celebrated my shortlist. CBC Radio’s All in a Day’s Alan Neal asked me good questions like “How many people vote?” and “When do you find out if you win?” The Crime Writers of Canada, Capital Crime Writers, and International Thriller Writers were all proud of my nomination. And of course never forget the Mesdames of Mayhem, who are sweeping the Crime Writers of Canada Award of Excellence!

I now know that approximately 900 people are eligible to vote. Thank you for reading and voting, Short Mystery Fiction Society Members. Thank you from me and the dogs!

Congrats to all the finalists and all the winners!

My Dog and the Derringer

Or, how a dog saves your life

Do you know what a Derringer is? A pistol small enough to fit in the palm of your hand. Small, but with a large bore. Considered effective at close range.

Hence the Derringer Awards, created to honour the best short mystery stories in the world. Short, but packing a deadly punch.

Now, I don’t own a gun. I’m an urban Canadian at heart. 😉 But I am a finalist for the Derringer Award this year for “My Two-Legs,” a story starring a dog named Star.

“My Two-Legs” started off as a writing exercise with author Kristine Kathryn Rusch in Oregon. She was teaching a bunch of writers how to shore up our writing weaknesses. There was at least one other group focusing on setting and a third group on emotion. Cindie Geddes and I had picked information flow. Kris told me before, “Your stories are powerful” and, in the same breath, “People are confused.”

Yes, that’s fair. What to do about it? Well, among other things, Kris had me and Cindie follow a cat around Oregon’s Anchor Inn. Then we wrote from the point of view of a dog. I invented a dog named Star who wanted to save her human, whom she calls her two-legs.

You can see the gentleness in Olo’s eyes

Star is inspired by our dog, Olo, the first dog I ever had, the golden retriever mix my husband and I adopted from the SPCA when we moved to the country. Olo means “surfboard of chiefs and kings” in Hawaiian. When we adopted Olo, they gave us a T-shirt that said “I have a friend for life.”

My husband found a kitten abandoned across the road, and Olo let her fall asleep between his legs

We got Olo at seven months after his previous owner put him in a kennel and never came back for him. Olo would nudge my elbow when I wrote for too long, making sure we both got exercise and fresh air. His puppy teeth fell out on the floor–excruciating to step on, worse than Lego blocks. I kept Olo on a leash at first, but when he ran, I thought, That is one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen, and I let him go free on our dead-end road and nearby forest trails. He always found his way home, although sometimes dragging a treat with him like a deer’s skull or, most memorably, a rib cage complete with a spinal cord.

My dad with the pet bed he and my mom made for Olo

My dad with the pet bed he and my mom made for Olo

When I came home from an ER shift at 1 or two a.m., Olo would sit by the door, waiting for me. When we lost our first pregnancy at 20 weeks, I sobbed into Olo’s soft fur and he stood by, confused but ready to shoulder my tears. Olo visited my dad in the hospital when Dad got brain cancer. Olo made friends with every other dog. When we welcomed our new son Max, Olo never got jealous. I’d take both Max and Olo for stroller walks (squirrels!). Later, my husband Matt pointed out that Olo would move so he could watch Max at the sandbox, quietly keeping tabs on our toddler.

So when I wrote about Star, I made her the hero of the story. Star’s two-legs is in trouble, and Star must save that two-legs.

Me and two of my boys

I didn’t sell “My Two-Legs” for a long time. Then it was longlisted for Staunch Prize, the international feminist thriller award reserved for fiction where no women are abused or killed. A few months later, editor Linda Landrigan accepted for at Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine and it was published in the Sept-Oct 2022 issue (v67 #9/10).

And now “My Two-Legs” is a finalist for the Derringer Award for the best short story of 2022.

Sadly, Olo passed away at only five years old, the year after my father died. I still miss both of them. No one will ever replace them.

However, we do have two more rescue dogs under our roof. Roxy the Rottweiler mix is my girl. As soon as we met her, she lick lick lick lick licked my hand, and I knew she would never hurt me. I didn’t expect to take home a Rottweiler, but no one had adopted her for a month, probably (unfairly) afraid of her breed. Anastasia favoured one of the other dogs. I only had eyes for Roxy.

Her only faults: Roxy would take off after squirrels no matter who was on the other end of her leash. Anastasia literally flew through the air over the porch. Max remembers getting his face dragged through gravel. But our kids are now too big to soar, and we all adore her. Roxy still “talks” and barks a lot, and she’s scared of storms.

Bell is the mouthy mountain cur on the left from North Carolina. We don’t know much of her history, but she was skinny and scared and came to us with only the stump of a tail. We’re grateful that Bell has much fewer accidents now, but if you thought Roxy was loud, whoa. Bell yells what feels like 100% of the time.

All this to say, dogs are wonderful and you can vote for the 2023 Derringer Award until April 29th if you’re a member of the Short Fiction Mystery Society.

Instructions: go to https://shortmystery.groups.io/g/main

Search for the files to download the stories and read ’em all. Then search for polls to vote. “My Two-Legs” is part of the short story category (not flash, novella, etc). Congrats to all Derringer Award finalists!

How does a dog save your life? In my story, Star literally saves Sunil’s life (spoiler in a good way). Keeping it real: my dogs have also yanked me face-down on the ice, and I see dog-walking fractures in the ER pretty often. But my dogs make me laugh, take me on walks with my husband, teach our children empathy, keep me warm, lower my blood pressure, and build bridges between my friends.

We would not be our family without our beautiful dogs. And now our dogs have inspired a story considered one of the best in the English language in 2022.

Thank you, my loves.