My daughter had rejected a box of 32 Shopkins valentines. I thought of passing them on to my nieces, but maybe they, too, would turn their noses up at Shopkins before next year.
The obvious solution was to hand out valentines in the emergency department. First, I laid the box on the counter and said, “Let’s give out valentines!”
The nurses paused to give me an odd look.
Ah. If it’s going to be, it’s up to me…ER edition.
I handed valentines to my patients, ages one to 71. The baby was sleeping; his mom accepted and said it was only the second valentine of his life, since he’d received one as a newborn. I passed one to a ten-year-old boy, who looked unenthusiastic, but his dad said he could give it to his niece.
Full-grown men smiled. They tended to ask for the one that said “You got style!” or “Happy Valentine’s Day!” rather than the glitter cupcakes, but they didn’t refuse.
One middle-aged woman was obviously touched. “For me?” she said.
“Yes! For you!” It made me happy to give them something in addition to medical news.
A nurse told me that a couple had been fighting in the waiting room. I had no idea, because after I handed them their valentines, they laughed and left our department smiling.
One woman whispered that this was the only valentine she’d get, and that she would treasure it.
Only one two-year-old said, who’d been running and crawling and trying to play with the slit lamp, told me straight out, “No.”
“He doesn’t like cards,” said his dad.
“Would you like a sticker?” I showed him a sheet of heart stickers.
“Stick-ah,” he said, and it calmed him right down. When I finally got his blood test result, hours later, he was playing with the heart I’d placed on his bracelet.
I gave valentines to our hard-working staff. I gave them to our unit coordinator, to phlebotomists, nurses, an emergency care attendant, and a medical resident. One nurse was off on break at the time. She’s a tough cookie. For example, when a patient said, “You look young. Do you know how to put in an IV?” she responded, “Can you let me do my job?” and socked in the IV. All that to say, I didn’t know how she’d respond to a “Have a sparkly day!” kind of valentine, but when I came back, she had taped it to the monitor of her portable computer, and I was touched.
Admittedly, it was a good shift. A steady stream of patients, but not so many that the charts piled up. A good team of people. I worked fast track, and only one case was overly involved. I had a resident I enjoyed teaching, and we clicked.
But even if it had been a brutal day, I believe it would have changed the energy in the ER. So much of the time, they patients feel beleaguered and unwanted, and we feel overwhelmed by trivial complaints and/or an onslaught of pain and trauma of all stripes. Often patients leave dissatisfied because they waited too long, or they didn’t get all the answers, or they’re still in pain. If I hand them a valentine, even if not all their problems are solved, they feel welcome.
“No one comes to the emergency room for nothing. Remember that,” a preceptor once said fiercely.
In the same vein, no one leaves my emergency room empty-handed. In the end, I give them the best medical care I can. Plus a valentine.
Originally published in The Medical Post. This will form part of a new Most Unfeeling Doctor in the World book, tentatively titled MD: Mistress of Distress. Just felt like sharing this today.
What happens if two Olympic champions fall in love, but fall apart off the ice?
“I love this story.” Kristine Kathryn Rusch, editor
Olympic Ice Dance Final (February 19th)
Jacinta Pham had imagined winning the Olympics’ ice dance competition with Wes Allan thousands of times.
Every time they strapped on their skates at 5:30 a.m. Every time their breath puffed out like dragon smoke in the cool, humid air of the rink. Every time she fell on her butt, or wrist, or even nose-first onto the ice. Every second she had to learn to walk again after not one, but two separate operations on each leg.
Reality was better.
She stared down at Wes—he had “died” in her arms during their free skate to Bizet’s “Carmen”—while the crowd roared around them and pelted the ice with roses and teddy bears. She knew that media and fans filmed their faces, their hands, their every gesture.
But this moment was for them. No one else would intrude for a few precious seconds.
She could still feel Wes’s hands imprinted on her back, arms, and thighs.
No matter what happened next, they would always have this. No judge could steal the magic they had woven with their music and their ice dance.
Not even her or Wes.
6 Months later (August 15th)
Can you come over?
Jacinta stared at her phone.
She and Wes had stopped talking after their triumphant post-Olympic gold skating tour of Japan and North America.
Of course, during the media frenzy that followed, they’d scored dozens of interviews and media takeovers. They’d kept up a good show on Instagram and Twitter for a few months. Well, she had, while Wes had mostly ignored social media.
But offline, when they didn’t have an event scheduled for them to smile and wave at the cameras, they’d fallen strangely silent. To the point where it felt awkward to text and truly uncomfortable to call each other.
Jacinta heart beat so hard, she could feel it in her throat as she began to type. What’s up?
He answered right away. Bert got pneumonia.
Jacinta’s stomach squeezed. When they were kids, Bert Allen, Wes’s grandfather, used to pick them up from the rink sometimes when their parents were in a pinch. Bert smelled like pipe tobacco and offered them apples, because he and his wife owned an apple orchard in Navan, Ontario, just east of Canada’s capital. In the Fall, they sold apples and pressed apple cider and apple-cinnamon donuts. In the summer, they were famous for their crab apple sorbet. Everyone loved Bert, especially Wes.
Jacinta glanced at the clock now, which read 5 p.m. The clock sat on a French provincial dresser near her room’s south-facing window. She’d curled up with a romance novel in her tiny, white bedroom with its antique metal bed frame.
Even this room reminded her of Wes. She’d modelled it after an apartment she’d loved in Paris, after Wes had said, “This is totally you.”
But she couldn’t think about that now. Wes needed her. As a friend. Nothing more.
She called him back, walking to the kitchen, trying not to notice the little apple charm on the windowsill, a gift from Wes’s grandmother. “Oh, Wes, that’s awful. How’s he doing?”
“Hey, J, I don’t want to worry you. The doctor said that he could go home on antibiotics, but he’s a bit confused. He wants to check the McIntosh and Honeycrisp trees, and he said your name.”
“Really? He said Jacinta?” It was an odd name in Canada. It meant hyacinth flower, and until she and Wes started placing at competitions, she kept having to explain that she pronounced her name as Ja-sin-ta Fam.
“Yeah, we’re pretty sure. I know it seems a bit random, and my grandma doesn’t know what to make of it, but do you think you could come to Navan? I’ll text you the address. I know you’re busy, and you’ve got all these sponsorship deals … ”
She blinked back a few tears. He had to ask? If it had been the other way around, Wes would have broken the time-space continuum to zip to her side. It was one of the things she lo—appreciated about him. Not only his broad shoulders, his yeasty smell, and the way he managed to joke before either of them had sipped their morning coffee, but his loyalty. Nothing mattered more than his family. He’d once said that he’d die for his two brothers, and she knew he meant it.
“I’m on my way,” she said, already grabbing her keys and shutting off the lights.
Ahhh. I became a Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir superfan after they won the Olympics for the second time. When Kris Rusch asked for “a romance short story for a pretend anthology called First Loves, Lost Loves,” I jumped at my chance to give my fictional ice dance heroes a happily ever after together.
This story cheers me up. I relate so hard to Jacinta’s “perfect” image and uncertainty. I’d love to write about Wes’s brothers finding their partners in related stories. I can imagine creating grace and beauty on the ice, and becoming tongue-tied before, during, and after falling in love.
But I worried about ever selling this story. Magazines don’t publish romance short stories.
Kris loves holiday stories so much that WMG will send out 39 stories, one to your inbox every day during the holiday season. Mine will appear in Candy Cane Kisses, the romance anthology, but of course I’m excited about Crooked Little Christmas and Time Travel Holidays too.
AND they let me share “Ice Dancing and Crab Apple Sorbet” here until Dec 5/22 at 1300.
Plus I already got a note of appreciation:
From: Filip Wiltgren Subject: Thank you for Ice Dancing and Crab Apple Sorbet
Dear Dr. Yi,
I’d like to thank you for the opportunity to read your Ice Dancing and Crab Apple Sorbet in this year’s Holiday Spectacular. You carry the routine strongly through the entire story and stick the landing hard enough to make me cry! Thank you for sharing the story with us.
Respectfully Yours, Filip Wiltgren
Thanks, Filip. Thank you, Kris and Dean and WMG! Thank you, readers. Ho ho ho!
My last holiday sale in person:
Saturday, December 3, 10 am-3 pm, 19641 County Rd 19, St. Mary’s Centre, Williamstown
I’ve always loved fairy tales, so I cannot resist A Fairy Tale Magazine, formerly called Enchanted Conversation. “I want to be published there,” I said as soon as I saw it. Now you can meet the editor, Kate Wolford.
Kate Wolford: I’m not an especially angry person as I think it’s almost always an unproductive emotion, but, of course, I do get angry. One thing that makes me furious is the way people condescend to those of us who live in the world of fairy tale writing and retelling. I mean, fairy tales focus on power, love and money, the things that motivate humans the most. They deal with loss and family trauma and transformation. Why is it so funny or lightweight to write fantastical stories that plumb the depths of human needs? Or to study those stories? Why is that trivial? Yes, this makes me mad, and even after more than 15 years at this, I get angry and hurt when people laugh at what I do. Who wouldn’t?
MYI: Unfortunately, anything connected to women gets trivialized, even today. I’m glad we can tell our own stories more easily nowadays. How do you deal with that anger?
KW: I usually read. That’s how I cope with everything—I read my way out of it. I don’t have a specific genre that I read, I just pick up a book and focus on the story, and let the feeling pass. That’s probably not the greatest way to do it, but it’s the method I have.
MYI: 100%. I wish more of the world had this response. Instead of invading other countries or beating people up, start reading! I love it. Would you like to add anything?
At the same time, in the West we do not see nearly enough fairy tales with Chinese protagonists, so the stories felt new. I read a lot of fairy tale retellings and fairy-tale inspired stories, and it’s hard for me to find something fresh, but these stores feel new even though they deal with very old ideas. Plus, I liked all of the characters (even when I didn’t).
MYI: Wow. Thanks so much for taking the time to answer my questions about anger and fairy tales, and compliment my new collection of fairy tales!
For any writers, you can see how editors yearn for new interpretations and voices. A prosaic but memorable expression I’ve heard is “Old meat on new forks.” Make sure you submit and publish your work, especially if you have a perspective the world doesn’t usually hear. Innovative readers want exciting interpretations they’ve never heard before.
I do love Chinese Cinderella, Fairy Godfathers & Beastly Beauty. Four pieces were originally published in FTM, including “Death and the Mother,” where Snow White’s mother plays a key role in holding Death at bay, and “A Half Century of Beauty,” where we visit Beauty and the Beast on their 50th wedding anniversary.
As for wrath, dudes, please stop trivializing fairy tales to try and make your dick look bigger. It doesn’t work and it’s not a good look.
Agree or disagree below. 🙂 And please check out my Kickstarter for The Shapes of Wrath! Not only does Dr Hope Sze explore a haunted hospital in the first thriller in a brand new series, but we’re unlocking cool goals. Today we unlocked the mini wrath cookbook!
Author’s note: Yes! A NEW Hope Sze medical thriller in a brand spanking new Hope series tied to the seven deadly sins, with paranormal elements! (See Hope’s red eyes?)
The Kickstarter launches TODAY at 1 pm. Please support me! It’s my birthday, and you can contribute as little as $1. I’ll tempt you with a free sample of the prologue below.
Everyone else waits until February 1st, but you can preorder The Shapes of Wrath outside of Kickstarter at this universal link.
And now the preview!
University College Hospital, September 14, 07:58
Gordon Cole didn’t expect anyone to die that day. He’d chosen anesthesia as a specialty one year ago partly because 99 percent of the time, everything flowed smoothly in the operating room. As a junior resident doctor, Gordon helped put patients to sleep for surgery, kept them alive during the procedure, and gently brought them back to consciousness afterward. His epidurals eased the pain of childbirth so much that one new mother named her baby after him. Gordon helped wean chronic pain patients off dangerously high doses of narcotics. Ninety-nine percent of the time, anesthesia stayed calm and well-controlled. The other one percent of the time, the patient crashed before his eyes. A woman’s airway swelled shut, blocking her breathing. A man bled out after a stab wound to his heart. Worst of all, a baby with an abnormal connection between her trachea and esophagus had choked in front of him. Then anesthesia had to control the airway and breathing, support the circulation, and take control of the situation. That terrified Gordon. Luckily, today’s attending physician, Dr. Burns, handled pretty much everything. Everything except the world’s meanest surgeon. Gordon got along with most surgeons. Some of them joked non-stop. Nearly all saved lives on the regular. Gordon especially admired the skill of two female attending surgeons. But the one dinosaur left in Canada dwelled at Montreal’s University College Hospital. “Come on, Singlit!” shouted Dr. Vrac before kicking the OR table hard enough to jostle the unconscious patient, Joan Finn. Mrs. Finn’s sedated body didn’t stir more than a centimetre, but the scrub nurse, Trent, gasped. “I’m right here,” replied Raj Singh, the general surgery chief resident at Dr. Vrac’s side. “I’m getting old waiting for the all-clear,” said Dr. Vrac. He watched the anesthesiologist, eyes glittering, without picking on Dr. Burns directly. Dr. Burns kept his lips pressed together as he double-checked the patient’s endotracheal tube, the tube that allowed Mrs. Finn to breathe during the surgery, and the CO2 monitor that measured her carbon dioxide level. “Stinks in here, gas docs,” Dr. Vrac told the anaesthesia team, sniffing the air through his mask while the surgical staff gathered around Mrs. Finn’s lower half on the operating room table. “I haven’t even used the cautery yet. Anyone else smell that?” The stench filled the confines of their white-walled room. It didn’t smell like inhalational agents like Sevoflurane, nor like cauterized, or burnt, tissue. Gordon shifted side to side and held his breath as he stood with Dr. Burns at the patient’s head and neck on one side of the blue drape. The surgical staff on the opposite side of the drape didn’t flinch at the smell of … well, human gas. Dr. Burns privately called the blue drape the “blood-brain barrier,” a joke both about the membrane separating the brain from the rest of the body and the fact that surgeons might deal with the flesh and blood, but anesthesiologists considered themselves the true brains of the OR. “Someone’s got a bad case of the farts today,” said Dr. Vrac. “As a general surgeon, I’m an expert in that. Pus, guts, or cancer, I’m your man!” He turned to his chief resident. “Too much daal, eh, Dr. Singh?” Gordon winced. The curly-haired medical student tsked, but the scrub nurse, Trent, snorted and laughed. Singh shook his head and kept his gloved hands sterile by pressing his palms together as if in prayer. “Running behind today?” Tammy called from the doorway. As the charge nurse, she made sure every OR ran on time. “No way,” Vrac shot back. “Just about to blow the belly up.” He cackled as if no one had ever heard his slang for inflating the abdomen with carbon dioxide for laparoscopic surgery. “Almost there,” said Dr. Burns, double checking a wire. Gordon knew better than to elbow his way in as a first year anesthesia resident. He’d run cases alone, but never with Dr. Vrac. Dr. Burns—who didn’t invite Gordon to call him by his first name, Bob—would tell Gordon if he wanted his help. Right now, Gordon stayed out of the way. “Might be done faster if we had an RT today, Tammy,” said Dr. Vrac. Gordon scowled behind his blue surgical mask. At UC Hospital, the respiratory therapist often assisted on the airway, but the ORs ran one RT short today. Dr. Burns had told Tammy that he and Gordon could manage on their own. “Want me to donate another 20K to the foundation to speed this up? Consider it done. I can always make more money.” Dr. Vrac wiggled his gloved fingers in the air. “Surgical hands. Magic hands. Girls love ’em. That’s why I’ve got more women than cars.” “So magical that he has no wife,” Dr. Burns whispered. He and Gordon exchanged a silent moment of understanding on their side of the drape before the older anesthesiologist let out an unmistakable ripping noise. “Fart attack!” Dr. Vrac laughed so hard that he almost fell onto the unconscious patient. “Excuse me,” Dr. Burns muttered, but no one else heard him while Dr. Vrac shouted, “Instead of Robbie Burns day, it’s Farty Burns day!” The humiliation writ large on Dr. Burns’s face was Gordon’s first clue that someone might die today.
End of prologue. Let me know what you think. Surgeons pointed out that the negative stereotyping of their profession, which I do address in the novel.
Today I won’t talk about awards or bestseller lists. I’m doing deeper.
I’ve been learning from Kris Rusch and Dean Wesley Smith since 2003, when I managed to cut together one week’s vacation and another rotation’s conference week out of my emergency medicine fellowship year to attend their two-week Master Class.
“They broke me down and built me back up again,” said Ilsa Bick, who had won Writers of the Future with me.
“I’m coming back to ICU. I don’t have time to get broken down and built back down again,” I replied. I also lived in Montreal, three time zones away from Kris and Dean in Oregon. So although they explained that a big part of learning was staying up late and talking, I’d already spent something like six hours in class per day, plus the writing exercises and technical assignments, including writing a 10,000-word story and two stories that were minimum 3000 words each (up to 8000 words, I think, but I never hit the upper limit). The second class ended at 10 p.m. their time, or 1 a.m. my time. The group would chat and learn from each other while I’d wave and hit the bed immediately.
I kept coming back to Oregon, and then Las Vegas when they moved. I kept learning. For example, at the first class, Kris told me flat out for a pre-printed story, “Your font is too small. I don’t care if it’s 12-point. An editor’s livelihood is her eyes. I could not read this story.” (Everything is paraphrased because it took place so long ago.)
Weird Tales had told me the same thing and asked me to use a 12-point font. But since it was already 12-point Times New Roman, I had continued to send out stories in the same font, destroying editors’ eyes.
And ensuring the rejection of my stories.
That was only a font issue. I endured two weeks of other writers tearing apart my words, or not reading my story past the second page.
Kris explained at the end of the Master Class, in her one-on-one session with me, that I was extremely different from other writers. “Publishing will have to create a new category for you. You’re not supposed to compare to other writers, but Robert Jeshonek is someone that, if they ask for a story about a spaceship mission, he’ll write from the point of view of the spaceship. You’re not like that. You’re extremely direct, to the point where it almost makes people uncomfortable. But you need to develop your toolbox. Read Jeffrey Deaver’s short stories.”
Kris and Dean talk about character, setting, plot, emotion, punctuation, etc. as tools in your writing toolbox. So I read Deaver’s short stories, as well as my fellow writers’ work, and was amazed at how theirs had improved. In fact, I burst into tears after one workshop at 3 a.m. PT (6 a.m. ET) because they had written so well that I felt inadequate, and the lovely and talented fellow WOTF winner Leslie Claire Walker had to talk me down and assure me that I, too, had levelled up. (Leslie also never shared a room with me after that, which I choose to think of as coincidence. I also do love the book that emerged from that conference, Dancing Through the Chaos)
Kris mentioned that she’d looked up from one of my early stories and said, “She’s brilliant.”
“I don’t understand her,” Dean said.
Kris instructed me that my level of detail was either way too vague or way too detailed. “People are confused.” I spent years fine-tuning that skill.
More pearls of wisdom from Kris and Dean:
Have fun. Go play.
You are responsible for your own career.
Me: Everyone else here wants to quit their day job. I’m not even finished becoming a doctor, and I don’t know if I’ll ever quit. I worked too hard to become a doctor.
Kris: [smile] That’s a good thing to know. Good for you.
I kind of stared at her, waiting for her to order me to fall in line with everyone else, but she continued to smile without adding anything.
Permission granted to continue my own path instead of following anyone else’s.
Dean: Kris won the Hugo … and then the Hugo again … so much success with the Smokey Dalton series …
Me, afterward: Does this mean you’ve done everything you ever wanted in writing?
Kris: Not even close.
Me: I get that. So you’re going to concentrate on the Smokey Dalton series now?
Kris: No! I need my sweet romances after I write Smokey.
Cool. More mountains to climb for all of us.
And permission to write multiple genres, when everyone else told me to choose one or I’d never succeed in publishing.
I e-mailed Kris I couldn’t write fiction after we lost our first pregnancy at 20 weeks. I thought she’d yell at me to be more efficient.
She said something to the effect of, I’m surprised you’re writing at all. You need to grieve. Don’t force it.
Wow. Permission to grieve. How about that? I worked hard to experience what was happening without trying to control it.
Eventually, I wrote again. Kris said that my writing had come back stronger and more heartfelt than ever. But first, and periodically, I waded through sorrow and anger and self-recrimination. I eventually wrote Your Baby Is Safe and Buddhish. It helped me understand my fellow humans with empathy. But as one woman told Sylvia Boorstein in It’s Easier Than You Think, “Cancer has made me a better person. But I would rather not have cancer.”
When I finally had a healthy baby named Max, I cut back on my writing and assumed Kris would fault me for it.
Kris: You will never get this time back. I love my nephew. He’s a wonderful young man. But I still miss that little boy.
I miss baby and toddler Max and Anastasia now too. As they were growing up, I tried to write enough to keep me sane, while spending time watching baby TV (staring at them), nursing them, and introducing them to the world.
I still remember visibly startling baby Anastasia by opening the cabinet door to reveal stuff behind it, including our rice container. And then the whoosh of rice as I poured it into the rice cooker. Her entire tiny body wavered in the air as she processed the wonder of the world.
The next time I made rice, she didn’t react. Old hat already.
Pema Chodrön pointed out, Babies are impermanence.
Much of this is not the actual mechanics of writing. Kris was instrumental in helping me fine-tune my left of detail, how to let information flow, how to integrate and even enjoy writing setting. Yet what I remember most is how to live, not how to write.
I also knew that Dean didn’t “get” my writing even before Kris told me, which didn’t bother me too much. You can’t write for everyone. Write for yourself. Write for your tribe.
Another sign that, even if I haven’t “made it,” at least I’m climbing the ladder.
The New York Times featured me in their business section, a spot I earned in part by my writing. They asked for financial stories, and I answered, knowing that the way I express myself would probably catch their attention, in addition to them likely wanting more diverse testimony. My financial approach is outlined in my three webinars. The first is an overview, the second explains exactly how to move to low cost exchange-traded funds, and the third describes FIRE, or financial independence and retiring early. You can buy all three at once. I’m not a licensed financial advisor, but we are financially independent, which means we walk the walk.
These accomplishments aren’t money. They’re not rankings. But when The Most Unfeeling Doctor in the World first hit the bestseller list, money didn’t make me happy. It made me anxious, wondering if it would continue. I can make money faster and more reliably through medicine if I want. I decided instead then and there that my goal was to have writing to connect me to “people, places, and things that excite me.”
Elizabeth Gilbert promised her writing that she would always take care of it. She didn’t mind working other jobs so her creativity could relax. “But to yell at your creativity, saying, “You must earn money for me!” is sort of like yelling at a cat; it has no idea what you’re talking about, and all you’re doing is scaring it away, because you’re making really loud noises and your face looks weird when you do that,” she wrote in Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear.
Of course I want to reach more readers, which means making more money. But I also want to relax and enjoy my summer and see my children.
So please pick up the Past Crimes Storybundle if it pleases you to read excellent books at a price you set, and you want to support both authors and a worthwhile charity.
Big thanks to sponsorship by the Winnipeg Library, The Writers Union of Canada, and the Canada Council. They’re giving us the auditorium so we can play with lights and staging during the readings.
If you need inspiration:
“Open a book this minute and start reading. Don’t move until you’ve reached page fifty. Until you’ve buried your thoughts in print. Cover yourself with words. Wash yourself away. Dissolve.”― Carol Shields, The Republic of Love
or, even more pertinent with the pandemic: “Here’s to another year and let’s hope it’s above ground.”― Carol Shields, The Stone Diaries
In honour of indigenous artists, I will also draw inspiration from Cree author/playwright Tomson Highway: “I like to convey joy. I want to convey that our primary responsibility on planet Earth is to be joyful: to laugh, and to laugh, and to laugh.”
So that’s it. Playwriting and performing at the library, drinking and reading at the brewery, and the Most Unfeeling Doctor hits the FRINGE! Wish me luck, this is only the second Fringe of my performing career! Plus I hear the mosquitoes are beyond bad this year, but never fear, I’m still coming. I’m that tough.
Massive thanks to my billets, who also own Across the Board Game Cafe, kitty corner from Cinematheque. I can play Scrabble in between shows. 🙂
Don’t be afraid to come. As Manitoba writer Guy Gavriel Kay wrote, “There are no wrong turnings. Only paths we had not known we were meant to walk.”
“So hard to apply for grants. You spend tons of time on them and get rejected,” I told other people in the theatre community.
“Yup,” they all answered, and gave me pep talk that boiled down to “Get used to it.”
Sadly, since our society don’t support the arts as much as, say, big oil, arts grants fill the gap. They make sure the performers, director, playwright, and behind the scenes technicians get paid and can continue to make more art.
The arts are good for you. For example, the 2018 Seattle ArtsFund study concluded, “low-income neighborhoods with cultural resources have 14% fewer cases of child abuse and neglect, and 18% less serious crime than low-income neighborhoods without cultural resources.” Who wouldn’t want to lower child abuse and crime? They also found that “71% of at-risk students with high arts involvement attend college whereas 47% of at risk-students with low arts involvement attend college.” Education for the win!
On the economic side, in Ontario alone, arts and culture contribute “$28.7 billion or 3.5% of the province’s GDP and 301,495 jobs” in a 2019 study by Statistics Canada.
Still, the arts land on the chopping block every budget. So grants for a new production, say of my play, Terminally Ill? Hard sell. Lots of no’s.
Fortunately, the City of Ottawa awarded the Hope Rises collective $4000 in 2021.
The Ottawa Community Foundation awarded us $10,000. We’ll spend the first portion on workshops with the indigenous community and the second portion on the production in 2024.
TACTICS selected us for the workshop series in 2021 ($3000) and, on Friday the 13th, awarded us a production grant for spring 2023 ($4000).
undercurrents, run by the Ottawa Fringe, invited us to New Play Tuesday 2022 and undercurrents in 2024.
So now I’m actively searching for indigenous teachers and reaching out to the community to see if we can do a cultural exchange, including a one-day workshop in Akwesasne.
In addition to Shirley Manh as Hope Sze, Melissa Landry as Elvis, Ray Besharah as Archer, and myself as the playwright, we can now add talent like Glenys Marshall as Lucia and dramaturg, and Adam Sakauye as Ryan. And we won’t stop there.
Instead of having everyone play up to 2 or 3 roles, more talent can join and elevate the show. The latest two stars, Adam and Glenys, I found through the Youth Infringement Festival. I love adding more of the 18-25 demographic to our team, although we’ll miss John Koensgen, who was called to Stratford, and Sheldon Parathundyi, now studying law at UBC.
Of course the grants require more work. It’s more like running a small business than writing. But with this investment, we can highlight the aerial (vertical theatre) component and get it right. We can invest in lighting and sound. We can experiment with the immersive element (hey, I wrote a new scene to highlight our newest performers).
Can’t wait. Thank you to the community, for believing in us, to the government for keeping arts funding alive, and to you, for paying your taxes and making art possible.
The International Thriller Writers sent a notice for their BIPOC Middle Grade crime novel contest. The prize? A scholarship to ThrillerFest 2022 with a $1000 stipend.
Had I ever written a middle grade thriller? No, but last year, I won the ITW contest for best first sentence, as selected by NYT and USA Today bestselling author Allison Brennan:
Why not write a middle grade novel to go with that sentence?
Well, COVID, for one. Our hospital exploded with cases, sidelining nurses, housekeeping, pharmacy, secretaries, and finally the doctors. Can you work? Can you work more? became the constant refrain.
For another, I planned to attend the Canadian Women in Medicine conference in Victoria, BC, June 2-4, 2022. Gin*Eco*Logic artisan distiller and gynaecologist Nathalie Gamache had created a gin in honour of my protagonist, Dr. Hope Sze. We planned a gourmet speakeasy June 1st to launch her gin and my latest thriller, both named White Lightning. The Playwrights Guild of Canada sponsored a play reading for me at Carr House June 2nd. Hooray!
Plus I’m already wrestling with my latest Hope Sze novel and the play Terminally Ill. I don’t need another project.
But what the heck. Chances were, I’d lose, and then I’d take a wonderful trip to BC and celebrate with Nathalie plus a hilarious ER physician; some of my wonderful workout partners at Fifty Shades of Slay; a beloved local surgeon and palliative physician; a radiologist who outbid everyone at the silent auction for the Hope Sze novels to raise money for Elena Fric’s children; and more marvellous humans. I’d get to visit Leah, one of my best friends from undergrad. I could almost smell the Pacific Ocean.
Except two days ago, I received an email from Kimberley Howe, the leader of the International Thriller Writers. I won, I won, I won! Eden Sze vs. The Red Rock Serial Killer won me a free ticket to ThrillerFest, CraftFest, and PitchFest.
“R.L. Stine was one of the judges and if you can make it to ThrillerFest, he would love to do a meet and greet with you.”
R.L. Stine? As my friend Michael said, ”That’s so cool, it gives me … Goosebumps!”
On one hand, I’d promised to celebrate with my crew of wonderful women and the Playwrights Guild of Canada and Carr House.
On the other hand, ITW had handed me a golden ticket.
Although I’ve tried to prioritize writing ruthlessly, I can’t always. See pandemic above. My children need me. But NYC beckons. Nathalie, the ginecologist, gave her blessing.
”Melissa!!!!!!! Congrats!!!!!!!!!!!!! You go girl!!!!! This is not an occasion you can miss!!!”
I can’t explain my gratitude for my friends, who tell me to go for it even when it messes up their plans.
Thank you. I‘ll miss you, Victoria. I hope to meet you another time.
In the meantime, New York and ITW and R.L. Stine? See you May 31st.
Mui Mui was born in 1980, which was too late for most things, including lava lamps, pet rocks, and most importantly, the Fairy Godfather.
Her brother, Trenton, was seven years old when he defeated the Fairy Godfather who’d threatened their parents at Guandong Barbecue, their Toronto family restaurant. Mui Mui, who’d been only three months old at the time, didn’t remember one second of the showdown
“It was a long time ago,” Trenton said, stuffing paper napkins into the steel container on the counter next to the cash.
“It was six years ago!” Mui Mui wiped down the display counter that would soon be filled with crispy pork and fresh vegetables. “You have to remember!”
Thanks for reading the opening. This story was eligible for the Aurora Award. It was originally published in FOOD OF MY PEOPLE, edited by edited by Candas Jane Doresey and Ursula Pflug.The Bao Queen will also be available in my forthcoming fantasy and science fiction anthology, tentatively titled CHINESE CINDERELLA, ANOREXIC ZOMBIES, AND GRANDMA OTHELLO IN SPACE.
On June 25, 2019, I submitted my first proposal to to turn one of my novels into a stage play. I deliberately picked the most challenging to stage: TERMINALLY ILL, where Elvis the Escape King is chained and nailed into a coffin and lowered into the St. Lawrence River.
In December, Bronwyn Steinberg, TACTICS Artistic Director and Series Curator, accepted Terminally Ill as a workshop so we could figure out how on earth to stage Elvis.
We were slated to open in June 2020, so I quickly assembled a talented Ottawa team:
John Koensgen, Dramaturg (Actor and award-winning director)
Shirley Manh, Actor (Dr. Hope Sze)
Sheldon Parathundyil, Actor (Dr. John Tucker)
Melissa Landry, Aerialist & Actor (Elvis, Kameron)
Ray Besharah, Actor (Archer)
Melissa “Yi” Yuan-Innes, Lead artist (Playwright, and author of Terminally Ill)
I’m thrilled to note that even though the scenes could have been Hope + 3/4 cis het White male dudes, our collective is 50% female and 50% people of colour. Our roots are as distant as China, Kerala, India, Mauritius, Africa, and Acadian New Brunswick and as close as downtown Ottawa. Our ages range from 20s to 70s and bring together theatre and circus performers in one brilliant show.
We had to work around commitments like John’s Waiting for Godot in Inuktitut, Melissa Landry’s tour in Ireland, and Sheldon’s scheduled research and graduate work. So we were all set for June 2020 when … COVID.
We scrambled to stage in 2021, seeking an outdoor space that would accommodate Melissa L’s 20’x20’x20’ rig. We had the support of TACTICS’ new Co-Artistic Producers, Ludmylla Reis and Rebecca Benson, but the answer is still COVID. So we pivoted online.
Tonight at 7 pm ET, please join us for a glimpse of Terminally Ill. This is a preview of the complete play, which I hope TACTICS will help us stage in 2022.
However, this night is a slice of history, since we may not be able to replicate our team again. Sheldon heads to BC for law school (congrats!), and the rest of our team may be touring or have other commitments.
And we have a very special guest: Dean Gunnarson, the star of Escape or Die and the very escape artist who inspired the Terminally Ill novel, will join us LIVE.
I always envisioned an extinction-level event entailing a lot more drunken revelry or sex with random strangers, and a lot less Soviet-style lineups for toilet paper at Costco or countless hours of sitting in front of a screen like the human blobs in WALL-E.
Scorpion Scheme is here! To celebrate, I’m starting a series on KamikaSze writers and readers–basically, people to whom my heroine, Hope Sze, would give the thumbs up.
First up, please welcome R.H. Nix. I met her in real life because we’re close friends with the same person, but we’re both enthusiastic book nerds who got together to watch Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir on their final skating tour.
You can see we’re kindred spirits because she’s the only other person I know who re-wears her wedding dress. Here’s a pic of her with her littles:
Now let’s have some book lovin’! The Golden One is a fun, light-hearted fantasy, but what struck me most is the love story. How would you describe your novel? I would describe it as a lot like me: short, fun, sweet and bubbly 🙂 Or I would say it was a young adult fantasy with a good romance. I like your description because that is what I was aiming for.
What drew you to writing your first book? I have always been a writer and have been thinking about writing a book for a long time and then this story came to me and I starting writing it down. I had a lot of support from other authors that I have met through this journey and that helped push me to get it over the finish line and out into the world.
What were the hardest and the best parts about writing? The hardest part of writing this book for me was the editing process. It was so hard to keep going through it and improving it – I have a wonderful editor who really supported me though and I am so happy with the final product. The best part of writing is getting the story out of my head and seeing where the characters take me. Every new chapter is a surprise.
Did anything surprise you about your publishing journey? I was pretty surprised that I actually published! The feedback I have received has also been so wonderful and a really lovely surprise.
Have you started on your next work? I have! I was originally going to tackle a different genre, but everyone likes this one so much that I decided to write another young adult. I am not sure if it will be a fantasy or a thriller, but I have the first few lines written and have promised myself to have it done by next Fall. Wish me luck!
What was it like to fall in love in real life? I am living a real life fairy tale – I met my husband on the bus, and it was love at first sight. We just celebrated our 22nd wedding anniversary.
How is that different from young love between Zava and Nate? Nothing can compare to that first love when you are a teenager. The first hand touch, the first kiss, the first snuggle. I love everything about falling in love so it is a fun thing to write about and experience again through my characters.