How do you know you’ve “made it” as a writer? (Part 1)

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.

Look how happy we are! I can’t even keep my eyes open!

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.)

We bought Kris a bell to summon us

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)

Leslie Claire Walker in Oregon, before we knew that you can’t sit on Oregon Coast logs in case you get swept out to sea (no joke).

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.

Nevertheless, I contributed to the fruit basket Dean is admiring 🙂

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.

Lisa Silverthorne (middle) treated me and Leslie to breakfast. So kind of her.

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.”

Max, my dad, and my mom

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.

Still, I was touched when Dean invited me to the Past Crimes Storybundle and called me a “rising star.”

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.

And keep reading and writing!

We’re off to the Winnipeg Fringe–and Library and Brewery!

My poster! Please admire it! Tickets HERE

Hooray! My skeleton and I are heading to the Winnipeg Fringe, the second-largest Fringe in Canada (and, I hear, maybe the most dedicated, where the whole city takes time off work to come). Come see us! You can buy Fringe tickets here: And/or come to a free workshop and reading, below!

Performance Schedule: 

Melissa Yuan-Innes: I Am The Most Unfeeling Doctor in the World (And Other True Tales from the Emergency Room) at Venue 7, Cinematheque

Thu July 14 12:45pm

Fri July 15 2:45pm

Sat July 16 10:00pm

Sun July 17 4:30pm

Tue July 19 7:45pm

Wed July 20 9:45pm

Fri July 22 6:30pm

Sat July 23 11:00am

Sun July 24 2:45pm

Winnipeg has also welcomed me with two pre-Fringe events.

Playwriting (and Play Reading) 101 July 12, 5-6:45 p.m. (FREE)

Millennium Library, Carol Shields Auditorium

It’s free! Dean Gunnarson, the legendary escape artist who inspired Terminally Ill, signed up!

Sign up in advance:

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.”

Eat, drink, and celebrate plays at Little Brown Jug on July 12th at 7:30 p.m.!

Play reading at Little Brown Jug, July 12th at 7:30 pm (FREE)

Hey! Are you thirsty from working all day and/or playwriting and reading with me in the evening? Then come on down to Little Brown Jug!

I’ll give a sneak preview of I Am The Most Unfeeling Doctor in the World (And Other True Tales from the Emergency Room), with enormous thanks to The Playwrights Guild of Canada and the Canada Council for sponsorship.

Two talents will join me. Brian Langlotz, a Winnipeg playwright-performer specializes in work inspired by wartime. He’ll preview a new work, “Letters: War Within.”

TJ Dawe, the “wry, spectacled, star soloist of the Fringe circuit”, who has wowed audiences for over 25 years, will read from his new show, “Blueberries Are Assholes” (my son kindly censored it for the poster above).

Please say hello to my latest costar, Lauren Cadham, a Winnipeg resident whose last name was inspired by the Cadham Provincial Laboratory!
Hitchhiking a ride to Winnipeg (that’s what the W means). Don’t try this at home, kids. Photo credit M. Innes
He can’t get away from me now! Photo credit M. Innes
We’re off to see the Winnipeg, the Wonderful Winnipeg Fringe! Photo credit M. Innes

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.”

Grants! Grants! Grants!

“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.

Engage Ottawa | Homepage

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.

Ottawa Community Foundation Logo

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.

L to R: Melissa Yi (playwright), Ray Besharah (Archer), Shirley Manh (Hope Sze), Melissa Landry (Elvis), holding tomato seeds from the Playwrights Guild of Canada, in honour of PGC’s 50th anniversary while reading Terminally Ill at New Play Tuesday 2022 #pgc50 #yearoftheplaywright #canadianstories

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’ BIPOC Middle Grade Thriller Scholarship!

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:

My mom told me I could do whatever I wanted for the whole summer I was fourteen, so I decided to find the Red Rock serial killer.

Melissa yi

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.

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.

The Bao Queen

by Melissa Yuan-Innes

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.

Terminally Ill Workshop Opening Night!

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.

Admire our video trailer:

And see you tonight!

RH Nix, KamikaSze writer & reader!

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.

Thanks for coming to my blog during my Scorpion month. Congrats on The Golden One, R.H.!

True love x 22 years+!
This is what happens when kids grow up taller than you!

#1. At last.

Yes. ‘Tis my baby, Code Blues. With the orange Amazon bestseller bar.
Check me out! #http://( in Medical Thrillers on!
You know, me hanging out with Dean Koontz, James Patterson, and Michael Crichton.
Also me, hanging out with Emma Donoghue, Samuel Shem’s The House of God, and (in another shot) One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. But this one captures me with Naughty Neuro and Gorgeous Gyno. Can’t resist them!
And #1 on Kobo’s Hard-Boiled list!

Hooray, hooray! Code Blues hit #1 in Medical Thrillers and Medical Fiction on ( AND #1 in Hard Boiled on Kobo (!

It’s also available on iTunes, but I didn’t see a bestseller list for them.

Anyway, it’s available everywhere, including your local indie bookstore.

Code Blues, the first Hope Sze novel, is on sale now for 99 cents, and the opening has been sharpened, so if you’ve already bought it, you can update it in the next 72 hours. Just contact your etailer, and they should be able to help you.

If you have a paperback, post a pic, and I can send you a pdf that’s all shiny and new!

This rank rise was brought to you by the magic of Bookbub. If you want to hear more about that, ask below.

Now, sales ranks come and go, so I’m immortalizing this now and keeping my fingers crossed that hundreds of new and hungry readers will now devour my writing.

As Hope herself quotes in the forthcoming Scorpion Scheme:

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –


Staunch Prize Longlist 2020

In 2018, British author and editor Bridget Lawless founded a prize for excellence in thrillers that do not portray violence against women.

In 2020, I have been longlisted for the Staunch Prize for short fiction for my story, “My Two-Legs.”

The heroine of my story is a golden retriever named Star who’s locked in a car when her owner (her “two-legs”) disappears. I enjoyed the challenge of a protagonist who couldn’t talk and who has no opposable thumbs, trying to escape a car, find her “two-legs,” and figure out who tried to kill him.

It’s a huge honour for me to join the long list of authors, chosen from hundreds of submissions around the world.

I believe in a prize that aims for a better world, namely a world that doesn’t rely on female victims for entertainment. You can still write those stories, as I have myself, but I’m fiercely glad there is a prize for those of us who choose to avoid it.

I spoke in favour of the prize on CBC Radio’s The Current in 2018.

Now I’m thrilled to join the ranks of Staunch’s longlisted authors:

Short Story Longlist

     Dalia Dehnavi  –  Anything In This Country

     Malia Márquez  –  A House So Beautiful

     Neal Amandus Gellaco  –  The Mechanic

     Raymond Lee  –  Carson McLure, Senior Sales Associate

     Haley Magrill  –  Flyer

     Susan Morritt  –  I’ve Got The Sauce If You’ve Got The Pasta

     Mark Putzi  –  Another Day

     Gabrielle Rupert  –  Manik

     Polly Sharpe  –  No Place Like Home

     Laura Stanley  – Mrs Hawkins and The Orchard

     Judy Upton  –  The Lion

     Melissa Yi  –  My Two-Legs

Flash Fiction Longlist

     Hayley-Jenifer Brennan  – The Woman In Red Takes The Stand

     Georgia Cook  – A Stickler For Convention

     David Davies  – When The Noise Stopped

     Mary-Jane Harbottle  –  Gold Shoes, Wrong Feet

     Ryan Hays  –  See You Later

     Tim Kelleher  –  Boxed In

     Jennifer Shneiderman  –  Medium Well

     Sophia Zhang  –  1950s Washing Day

On October 1st, they will share the shortlist, then announce the winner on October 12th.

Best of luck, everyone, and keep writing!

Olo is the original golden retriever who inspired “My Two-Legs.” You could not ask for a better dog or find a bigger heart.

A Grave Graveyard Shift

My latest Hope Sze thriller, Graveyard Shift, was inspired by a local police officer who stopped a massive medication theft. But I needed both his and the police department’s permission to talk about that, and I didn’t know the officer’s last name.
Then this happened: “Oh, it’s Dr. Yuan-Innes!”
I ran into Constable Michael Ménard, who recognized me and said, “You’re one of our favourite doctors.”
Gosh. I shook his hand, thanked him for making my day (turns out that part of their criteria is “doctors who don’t make us wait around in the department forever”), and explained my dilemma about how to find one of his officers post-theft.

“Do you know the case number?”
“Do you know when this happened?”
I shook my head. I remembered that I’d been in the middle of writing Death Flight. I took notes and swore this would be my next book. But I didn’t date my notes.
“You could call the department and ask.”
Wouldn’t that seem kind of fishy?
I asked at the hospital, and Margo Flaro figured out the officer’s identity. I contacted him through social media, but I also asked Const. Ménard if he’d mind letting S know, because it can also feel off if a near-stranger contacts you through social media. By the way, Const. Ménard was recently cited for ten years of service (…/recognizing-service-a…/), and has won an award for teamwork (…).
So now I can finally tell you that S, who appears in Graveyard Shift’s acknowledgements under only that initial, is actually Sgt. Scott Coulter!
You probably don’t know about that near-theft because he *prevented* it, after being alerted by the hospital security guards. Shout out to Nicole Spahich and other security guards, as well as all the police officers who keep us safe!
Massive thanks to The Review (…/local-hero-inspires-new-thriller-gr…/) and the Cornwall Standard-Freeholder Content Works (…/yis-latest-thriller-i…) for reporting this. We need more positive coverage about good work.
I’m excited that Scott’s getting recognition from the Cornwall Police Service itself:…/cps-officer-inspires-new-thr…

Thanks to CBC’s All in a Day for hosting us!

And @LetsGoCBC’s Richard King for reviewing Graveyard Shift.

Now some quick real talk. I didn’t blog about Graveyard Shift because I always figured I had time. I’d do it later.

Well, now we’re at the beginning of the Canadian COVID-19 pandemic. I have to work in the ER tomorrow. We’re an hour away from Ottawa, where public health has warned of community spread. I work in a tiny hospital with no CT, no portable chest X-ray, and bare minimum labs after hours.

Health care workers have more than 10 times the risk of catching COVID-19. We don’t exactly know why but assume it’s because we get exposed repeatedly over and over while exhausted and under-protected. American M.D.’s have to rewear their N95 masks post-intubation or have none at all, and we’ve learned of Italian doctors who died with no protective equipment, not even gloves.

So I started a petition two days ago that was immediately signed by 62 physicians and had the support of many more. We need to protect our workers NOW. Don’t wait until we run out of masks and gloves. Let’s go! This is the time for war-like measures. Our colleagues are dying around the world, and we have only a tiny window of time before it happens here.

“I hope we get to 1000 signatures in the morning,” said one of my new friends.

“I want thousands,” I replied. Dream big. You may not win, but you might as well try.
To my astonishment, has hit 64,000 signatures as we speak. Dr. Carol Loffelmann and Dr. Michelle Cohen and I have spoken to the media. We’ve been in discussion with entrepreneurs, puzzling out how to get that equipment made.

This morning, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that the government will work with existing manufacturers and may repurpose other industries in order to make PPE.

This is a crucial strategic move. Thank you.

However, I will relax more when we’ve covered everything in this petition. We want the PPE not only ordered but available to our front line workers, with masks and gloves accessible for the police and other essential services. We want to test patients properly and care for you with enough doctors, nurses, respiratory technicians, and other crucial personnel, using the correct medications and equipment. And we want everyone else to stay home and healthy.

So thank you, each and every one of you, for signing this petition and bringing us one step closer.

As Winston Churchill wrote, “Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”

Joanne Guidoccio: From Chemotherapy to Cozy Mystery Champion

  • Melissa Yi: Welcome, Joanne. You fell in love with cozy mysteries during chemotherapy. Do you mind telling that story?

Joanne Guidoccio: On the cusp of my fiftieth birthday, I was diagnosed with inflammatory breast cancer and forced to take a leave of absence. While undergoing chemotherapy, I searched for light and entertaining novels that would provide a healthy diversion. I was grateful for the bags of books dropped off by friends but couldn’t get into any of the storylines. I found the spiritual books too intense and the comedic books unsatisfying.

Instead, I gravitated toward cozies, those delightful murder mysteries that include a bloodless crime and contain little violence, sex, or coarse language. I was familiar with Agatha Christie’s novels and pleasantly surprised to discover more authors in the genre, among them Susan Wittig Albert, MC Beaton, Mary Jane Maffini, and Denise Swanson. I read voraciously, often finishing a cozy in one or two sittings.

Toward the end of treatments, I decided to experiment with the genre and considered the following scenario: What if a woman wins a major lottery, returns to her hometown, and then finds herself embroiled in a murder investigation involving four blondes? Can she prove her innocence and solve this case before it’s too late?

MY: Great hook! My only problem is that I felt guilty because you’ve read at least two Hope Sze novels, and Graveyard Shift is much darker. Do you have trouble identifying with more gritty thrillers?

JG: While I do read the occasional psychological thriller, I don’t think I could ever write that “dark” …it just isn’t in me. A fan of riveting medical drama, I enjoyed reading several novels in the Hope Sze series. I didn’t pick up on an extreme grittiness factor.

Would you like to comment on the division between cozies and noir? I had no idea this was a “thing” until I attended my first conference, Bloody Words, but it seems like there are two separate camps and for some, “never the twain shall meet.”

To be truthful, I am not too familiar with noir literature. In some of the articles, it has been described as a “disturbing mix of sex and violence.” Not something I would care to read or write.

I prefer more light-hearted mysteries, aptly call cozies. The crime takes place “off-stage,” and very few graphic details are provided. By the end of the story, the criminal is punished, and order is restored to the community.

I agree…” never the twain shall meet.”

One of the things I admire about you is that you’ve created a real community on your website and, I suspect, in your life. One of your heroines, Gilda Greco, is a career counsellor. The tagline for your website s “On the Road to Reinvention,” and you invite authors to blog about their “Second Acts,” where we talk about careers or lives we had before. Why this passion for reinvention? How important is friendship in your writing career and in your life?

Reinvention is a core theme of my own life. A cancer diagnosis at age 49 and a decision to retire at age 53 prompted me to reassess my life goals. An avid reader, I searched for fiction and nonfiction literature that would help me navigate these uncertain waters. And then I decided to write the books I wanted to read.

As for friendships—both IRL and online—I cherish all of them. I am grateful to all the friends who have supported me on my cancer and writing journeys. They have enriched my life beyond measure.

You wanted to be a writer in grade 13, but chose to go into teaching first. Yet A Different Kind of Reunion is dedicated to your former students, and the plot is clearly inspired by your teaching. What are the advantages and disadvantages of pursing a “safe” career before your dream career?

Pursuing a “safe” career made economic sense. I received a regular salary and qualified for health benefits. Throughout those 31 years, I toyed with writing a novel during weekends and vacations but never followed through. I enjoyed teaching but found it to be a very demanding career. I simply didn’t have the time and energy for much else.

That being said, I have no regrets about selecting the “safe” career. In retirement, I now have the time and space to pursue a creative second act. 

  • You called Between Land and Sea “a paranormal romance about a middle-aged ex-mermaid.” I find that your middle-aged heroines, both ex-mermaid and human, help expand diversity and representation. Is that important to you?

In my late forties, I realized that I no longer enjoyed reading novels with 20something and 30something protagonists. It felt like poking into the heads and hearts of young women who could easily be former students. While searching for novels featuring an older crowd, I discovered several late-blooming authors who had launched successful second acts. I was inspired and decided to populate my novels with Boomer women and their older sisters

  • How do you continue to improve your writing after five novels?

I take online courses and attend writing workshops. I also enjoy reading craft books. Two recent favorites: Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert and Writing with Quiet Hands by Paula Munier.

  • I enjoyed A Season for Killing Blondes. Then I picked up A Different Kind of Reunion, which starts off describing three different Barbie-like students, and the constable quizzes her about the email she missed from “Moody Barbie!” Do you have something against blondes? 🙂

For some reason—that’s unexplainable—I visualize certain characters as blondes. At some level, I may be trying to balance the brunette/blonde ratio in my novels. Most of the Italian characters in the Gilda Greco Series have dark hair. So, it makes practical sense to add more diversity with the new characters. Also, I like to have one Ken/Barbie couple in each book.

I do love the Italian characters–and the Italian food, family, and friendships. Thanks for coming on my blog, Joanne, and sharing your stories and your mysteries!

About the Gilda Greco Mystery Series

A cross between Miss Marple, Jessica Fletcher, and Cher (Moonstruck), protagonist Gilda Greco brings a unique perspective to the amateur female sleuth.

The teacher-turned-lottery winner returns to her hometown, only to find herself embroiled in a series of murder investigations. Before you start imaging thrillers with high stakes and police chases, pause and take a yoga breath. The three novels in the series—A Season for Killing Blondes, Too Many Women in the Room, A Different Kind of Reunion—are cozy mysteries, written in the Agatha Christie tradition. All the crimes take place “off stage” with very few graphic details provided.

While the pace may be more relaxed than that of thrillers and police procedurals, there are no steaming cups of herbal teas, overstuffed chairs, or purring cats in these contemporary cozies. Prepare yourself for interfering relatives who don’t always respect boundaries, adult mean girls, deserving and undeserving men, multiple suspects, and lots of Italian food.


A member of Crime Writers of Canada, Sisters in Crime, and Romance Writers of America, Joanne Guidoccio writes cozy mysteries, paranormal romances, and inspirational literature from her home base of Guelph, Ontario.