Happy birthday, Anastasia!

Dear Anastasia,

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This is you last Christmas. Now you don’t like Elsa and Anna anymore, but you sure looked cute while it lasted.

I love you. My littlest baby is SIX YEARS OLD! How did that happen?

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Right now, we’re reading Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. You want the parts with the most lines.

So many things have happened this year. First of all, your Daddy is impressed with your reading. “I can’t get over how well she reads in English and in French. Some of the words are hard, and she doesn’t hesitate, or she sounds them out.” This summer, we walked into Giant Tiger, and you pointed at the wall and said, “This is French: bienvenue. This is English: welcome.”

Last night, at Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, you asked questions throughout the movie (!!!!!!), but you started reading the names in the credits at the end.

It makes sense to me because you’ve always been very independent. You want to read books (Captain Underpants, for example), so you ask, “Can we read?” And sometimes we say yes or no. But if you can read on your own—wow! The whole world opens up. You don’t have to wait anymore.

You take swimming and gymnastics. You claimed to like skating, but it was mostly glum plodding on the rink. Now you’re the smallest person in Level 3 swimming. It made you happy to graduate from whale into a number level, like Max.

There’s a lightness about you in gymnastics. You’re bouncing and leaping and seem to have having fun, even though you complain about having to go.

You don’t like having tubes in your ears. Your speech is normal now, so I thought we were over the hump, until you started yelling, “What? I can’t HEAR you” at Max. The audiologist found a 25 percent hearing reduction on your right side and mentioned that because your brain is developing, you can lose the ability to process sound. It made you cry that you’re going to get them redone, but I say, thank goodness for Dr. Ali Shahnavaz.

img_1767For your birthday…wow!

You initially wanted an ice cream cake, like Max, but ended choosing “the good cupcakes. Rhonda’s vanilla cupcakes” which became a gigantic heart cake.

Then you picked the piñata. “I want a doggy. No, Mommy. No, a cupcake!”
“A cupcake would be the easiest,” I said, and you blew up a balloon. It was the first time you blew up your own balloon for your piñata. Actually, this is your first piñata. You also helped build it.
img_1781Then you changed your mind about the shape. “I want Donald Trump.”
“What?”
“No, me!”
“I don’t think you want us to smash you. Do you really want—”
“DONALD TRUMP!”
“Okay.” How many nearly-six-year-olds pick Donald Trump for their piñatas? But you do.

I love you, my fierce, funny, thoughtful, kind, loving six-year-old girl. I love you forever. Thanks for coming into our lives.

Love,

Mommy

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Flames of Nevyana Blog Tour: Crawl into Edward Willett’s Mind. What Does Success Mean?

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Do you know Edward Willett? Well, you should! Award-winning fantasy of science fiction, fantasy, non-fiction, plays, science columnist, play
wright, performer, jewel of Regina, Saskatchewan…and brand new author of The Flames of Nevyana.
Whenever someone makes a living as a writer, I have certain questions I like to ask. Ed was kind enough to answer in detail.
Q. What does writing success mean to you? Awards, money, readers, all of the above?edward-willett
A. To me, what feels like success varies depending on the day of the week.
Well, not quite, but almost.
When I receive an award (and I’ve received a few—a Saskatchewan Book Award for my YA
fantasy Spirit Singer [Tyche Books]; an Aurora Award [the top award for Canadian science
fiction and fantasy] for my science fiction novel Marseguro [DAW Books]; even a City of Regina
Heritage Award for Historic Walks of Regina and Moose Jaw [Red Deer Press]), then naturally it
feels for that moment that awards are what writing success is all about.
When I sign a contract that means I will soon be receiving money with which I can a) pay the
water bill; b) get the car serviced; c) pay off Visa, then money certainly seems like the best
measure of writing success. Since I’m a full-time writer with no other source of income, this is
certainly one kind of success I’m constantly seeking.
When I find a glowing review of one of my books, particularly if it appears in a prominent
publication whose reviews are influential, then the getting of good reviews seems to me the
perfect measure of writing success. In the immortal words of Sally Field receiving an Academy
Award, “You like me, you really like me!”
When I write a sentence or a scene or even, if I’m lucky, a whole chapter with which I am utterly
and complflames-of-nevyana-coveretely satisfied, then that seems like a good measure of writing success. I have
pleased my most persnickety critic, myself. (To paraphrase Sally Field, “I like me, I really like
me!”)
But thinking long and hard on this question over the years, particularly when doubts as to the
wisdom of my chosen career arise, I’ve come to the conclusion that what meaningfully defines
writing success is readers. Writing is, ultimately, a form of communication. As writers, we strive
to transplant the ideas, characters, situations, and entire worlds we imagine into the
imaginations of other people. It’s a monumental task. When it works, your writing is successful
—it’s that simple, and that hard.
Alas, we don’t always know when we’ve succeeded. Most readers never bother to reach out an
author whose work has entertained, enlightened, challenged, or changed them. If you become a
bestseller you can assume you’ve reached a lot of readers, so perhaps that is a measure of
success, but the truth is, every writer is successful whenever he or she manages to bridge that
gap between his or her mind and the readers, to open up a new world of imagination.
I like awards, I like money, I like reviews, and I’d love to be a bestseller. But ultimately, I think
every book I write is a success—and therefore I am a success—so long as somewhere there is
a reader who loves it.
Thanks, Ed! I really appreciate you coming by to educate us. Now can you tell us about your new book,The Flames of Nevyana?
Blue Fire is both blessing and curse.
A gift from the gods, its mystical light and energy powers and protects the land of Nevyana, but it also divides her people into three distinct groups. In the wrong hands, it becomes a formidable weapon. When sacred objects for channelling Blue Fire are stolen, sworn enemies Petra, Amlinn, and Jin set out to find them, and their paths converge on a collision course with the truth. Can they bridge the centuries old division between their communities? Or will their search for the truth and the explosive power of Blue Fire signal the end of Nevyana?
Cool. Can I read more?
You can read the first two chapters here.
Wow. Thanks, Ed! May you find success in every shape and form.

Ottawa Monster Launch. Montreal Yoga. And Joy From Malaysia.

event-bannerOTTAWA MONSTERS

First of all, I’m so honoured to take part in this Monster Book Launch with Renaissance Press on Saturday, October 29th at 5 p.m. at the 3 Brewers in Ottawa (240 Sparks Street).

You could come in wolf ice POD cover.inddcostume! You could win a prize, including an author date with moi! You could hear me read from my werewolf thriller, Wolf Ice!

Authors include Jen DesmaraisEvan MayCait GordonKevin JohnsCaroline FréchetteS. M. CarriereÉric Desmarais, and me.

After that much awesomeness, you’ll want to decompress with some yoga, amirite?

MONTREAL YOGA

Luna Yoga:

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I brought my friend Genevieve here for our birthdays. She liked it so much that she yelled, “I love you, Melissa!” during class. True story.

I first met Frances at Yocomo, the annual yoga festival in Montreal. I was early to an 8:30 class on teaching yoga and adjusting students, and Frances walked up to me and said, “Would you mind if I gave you a massage?” As long as the volunteer is not a psychopath, the correct answer is always YES. Frances gave me a quick, firm massage, and I was hooked, especially since she was an excellent instructor. Last month, I made it to a Frances’s class at Luna Yoga,  I like the fact that she uses her whole body to adjust you. I like the fact that she lays her hands on every single person during classat least once, at least for a few seconds. Drop-in class: $19; introductory month: $49.

Shri YogaI did such a good yoga workshop with Todd Norian at Shri Yoga. Mona is a gifted teacher. She can tell at a glance if you’re off, and how to correct it. It seems like a cool community, too. After one class, we were wishing each other Shanah Tovah after a class on Rosh Hashanah; after another, a man was convinced that he’d met me before, even though I no longer live in Montreal. Drop-in class: $22; introductory week: $30

Montreal cheap & lovely DOLLWhy am I talking about prices? ‘Cause I like value and beauty at the same time. I even wrote a guide: The Cheap and Lovely Guide to Montreal: Food, Fun, Fashion, and Ze French.

 

When you migrate to downtown Montreal, don’t forget to pick up a copy of Stockholm Syndrome

at the one, the only Paragraphe Books! (It’s very exciting that they’re carrying my book, as I described here.)

And, if you can’t make it to Ottawa or Montreal, I’ve got two suggestions. One, my romance THE LIST is on sale for only $3.99 until Hallowe’en.

And–shh–The Emergency Doctor’s Guide to a Pain-Free Back e-book is on super-sale for $3.99 for the next 72 hours.

One last story…

JOY FROM MALAYSIA

Last month, my hospital called me to tell me that I had a registered letter. I was exhausted between hospitalist/shift work and didn’t want to drive in. “Could you sign for it?”Dr. back POD front cover 5x8 72

“No, you have to sign for it, but I’ll tell them to hold it for you at the post office.”

the list cover 2014 interracial YI-200It’s never a good sign when a doctor gets registered mail at the post office. You could be getting sued. Quebec used to send me registered letters telling me that I would lose 30 percent of my clinic billing if I didn’t do enough hours in the emergency department, obstetrics, or geriatrics (they have draconian rules for new doctors where they will just pull money out of your wages).

However, I was so tired that I forgot about the registered letter.

Yesterday, R&L’s Book Nook in Alexandria e-mailed me to say, “We’re sold out of your back pain book. You also have a letter at the post office.”

Holy crap! That letter! I drove in today to see what horror awaited.

I was astonished to receive this instead:
2016-10-26-19-14-48 2016-10-26-19-14-31 2016-10-26-11-56-29I ran into Steve Warburton on the way out. He said, “Hey, you have a real letter.”

“Yes, from Malaysia!”

“I thought it was from a fan.”

“I guess she is a fan, because she read my book and that’s how we got to know each other. But I just think of her as my friend. She’s a doctor now, too.”

“Cool.”

I drove away thinking how incredible it is that I have a fan/friend/fellow doctor on the other side of the world.

I may not sell as many books as my friend Lynda sells nut cheeses. But I am now on Athira’s bucket list! Awesome!!!!!!!!!

Stockholm Syndrome debuts in Montreal! (CBC’s Homerun & Paragraphe Books)!

Yo yo yo!

The first four Hope Sze books take place in this creative, crazy, multicultural bouillabaisse known as Montreal. I’d really love to get the word out in Hope’s hometown. But how does one accomplish this? 

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It’s surprisingly difficult to take a cool selfie with Stockholm Syndrome and Paragraph Books. I had to take a dozen to be sure.

<cue the fanfare of trumpets> Richard King of CBC Radio’s Homerun will review Stockholm Syndrome tomorrow, October 19th!

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In honour of this monumental occasion, Librairie Paragraphe Books is now carrying Stockholm Syndrome for the next three months. Please run over and snag a copy!

In honour of this, I’ll be celebrating Montreal throughout the next quarter. Stay tuned for inside tips where to eat, hang out, and do yoga in la belle province!


While I was at Librairie Paragraphe Books, I bought a copy of Jessica Hagy’s book, How to Be Interesting (preview here).

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Even if you don’t read, you need Empower-mints or Manly Mints, right?

It feels fantastic to support an indie bookstore in the heart of Montreal. They’ve got kid books, travel books, gift books, literature, Louise Penny’s latest novel, pre-orders for other people that you’ll want to touch but have to be instructed to leave alone (oh, maybe that’s just me)…

I could’ve stayed there all day, except my parking meter was about to expire. Support your bookstores!

Just don’t buy the Jessica Hagy book for Alexandra Beauregard–it’s my gift to her. 😉

When you come, here are some Montreal travel tips.

Construction is terrible. Use your phone or GPS. Get a parking space and walk if you have decent legs. As I strolled down Sherbrooke, I spotted not one, not two, but four police cars crowding down the single remaining lane of traffic. You can update your parking slip through an app, and be vigilant: they love to give parking tickets.

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Finally, I checked his screen. It says “Steve Jobs is dead.” Sobering reminder.

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I met a fellow writer, even if he was a statue.

So why show up, aside from hitting up the bookstores? Well, I love the incidental art.

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Everyone wanted a picture with this guy.

 

 

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Restaurant Park’s bar

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

FOOD:

Restaurant Park (in Westmount). Just look at those orchids. I chose the bento surprise lunch to go. I was pleasantly surprised to enjoy tempura vegetables, including a piece of squash that showed they were using seasonal vegetables; maki sushi; a refreshing beet salad; and tofu with ground pork, all fresh and delicious, for about $20. Wow!

The chef, Antonio Park, has a Korean background, but grew up in Argentina, Paraguay, Brazil, and Montreal before he trained formally in Japan.

I look forward to going back. Honestly, I felt like the beet salad spoke to me. It was so simple and so good. I tried to get my kids to eat it, but they’re scared of anything unusual. I was selfishly glad to polish off every bite. I’m not generally a tempura fan (is the frying worth the calories?), but this tempura was light and intelligent, if that makes sense.2016-10-05-14-22-07

2016-10-05-14-00-54 Momesso (NDG area): I used to bring my parents here. We’d descend into the basement, stuff ourselves with 14 inch subs, and feel good about the world afterwards. Check out the decor: old-style NHL hockey pucks. That’s what I’m talking ’bout.

This time, I was working a bunch of shifts, so I bought three subs. The best was the steak and sausage ($15.25 for a 14 inch sub before tax or tip).

Cash only & closed on Sundays.

Shopping

I didn’t buy any clothes that day, but Paragraph Books is the Golden Square Mile, so enjoy:

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2016-10-05-13-26-13 This one is from Westmount, but I was like, who decides which Canadian art is important?

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Before I bid you adieu, remember that your Thanksgiving/Christmas shopping can include Stockholm Syndrome at Paragraphe Books! In case you’re wondering, this is a slightly different picture that I like better (looks like a sky-scraper in the background, slightly reddish hair my hair in the face). I fit right in on the Golden Square Mile.

And tune in tomorrow to CBC Radio One’s 88.5 for Homerun with Richard King‘s review of Stockholm Syndrome. I’m working, so please let me know if you hear it!  Thank ye kindly.

Top 5 Moments at Writers Police Academy 2016

What’s the Writers Police Academy? A hands-on conference teaching you about law enforcement, forensics, and emergency medical services.

I’m a doctor, which means I expect conferences to teach me something (it took me a long time to realize that other people go to “network” and “hang out with friends”). I can’t waste a lot of time on useless retreats. So was WPA worth flying to Wisconsin in the middle of August? You can judge for yourself, based on my top 5 teachable moments.

Trigger warning: #3 has a staged but disturbing photo.

5. Talking about Killers

Most of us know that psychopaths lack empathy and remorse. I also knew that they’re easily bored and seem to need more stimulation. But I never fully understood the difference between sociopaths and psychopaths until this lecture by Katherine Ramsland.

Both types can kill. But here’s a thumbnail version of the difference:

From the notebook of author JC Andrijeski http://www.jcandrijeski.com/

Lecture notes from the notebook of author JC Andrijeski. ASPD is antisocial personality disorder.

SOCIOPATH: I may be absolutely ruthless with outsiders, yet care about people within my group. I’m like the mafia. I can have a brotherhood or sisterhood.

The key is the word “social” in sociopath.

PSYCHOPATH: it’s all about me. No one else matters. I might pretend to care, if there’s a benefit to me. But otherwise, back to me.

The great thing about Katherine Ramsland is that she based her talk on evidence. For example, not all serial killers are psychopaths. Not all psychopaths are serial killers. Although people like to believe it’s a direct relationship because it’s simpler, you should go with science. And always keep an open mind. If you jump to conclusions too soon, it will often be the wrong one.

4. Native Gangs

This vehicle was seized from a drug dealer. Photo courtesy of author Terry Odell.

This vehicle was seized from a drug dealer. Photo courtesy of author Terry Odell.

It’s always inspiring to meet real-life heroes. Arguably, I work with them every shift in the emergency room. But it’s a different type of heroism for someone like Officer Matt, who might have to break down the door of someone from his own tribe, looking for drugs, while the kids in that house sit blank-faced, staring at the armoured police, because it’s just one more thing they have to endure. But Officer Matt comes back later to bring them a Dr. Suess book so that they remember him for that and not just the violence. He also participates in the group blanket-making every Christmas

A per capita payment is the money that each tribal member receives from casino income. It can be minimal, like for the Oneida tribe, where they pool their money for health care, education, and other services, or it can be $10,000 a month. It sounds wonderful, especially for babies who are born into the system and have the money held in trust for them until they’re 18—except that gangs have sprung up to prey on underage kids who’ll turn over their “eighteen money,” without question.

3. Blood Spatter

2016-08-12-10-12-10We spent the first part of the class talking over real-life cases. The first took place in a remote cabin. Two children, 6 and 8 years old, went down to the beach without their mother for just 15 minutes and came back crying. The cabin owner called for help, but he was hysterical and couldn’t explain what was wrong except “She needs help, she needs help.” The police officer came in with his gun out, and his job was to clear the cabin. Even if he saw someone who needed help, he had to say only, “Stay there” and keep moving from room to room, making sure that the perpetrator wasn’t lying in wait.

Once done, he could circle back to the master bedroom, where the mother had been attacked, and determine if she had a pulse.

We spent the next part of the talk reviewing the fictional staged death scene in the next room (above), trying to piece together clues.

Hint #1: always think of blood spatter in three dimensions. Don’t forget to look at the ceiling and the walls as well as the floor.

2. Shoot/Don’t Shoot

Stand up. Pick up your modified gun, which uses a CO2 cartridge to fire a laser at the screen projecting the scenario. You are now an officer on duty.

You’ve been called to a domestic disturbance. An officer meets you in front of the house and says, “We heard a woman screaming. I’m going to take the back door. You take the front.”

Walk up the front door steps. You can hear your own breathing and hear your own footsteps.

What’s that in the front window?

You see a man standing and the woman on the couch. The man turns around, and what’s that he has in his hands—?

Shoot or don’t shoot.

Now, officer!

1. K-9

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Officer and K-9 Pal, as captured by author Terry Odell, who also wrote about WPA here.

I love dogs. I love their commitment to putting their pack above themselves. I love their shagginess and their sloppiness and their big, big hearts. I will always pick werewolves over vampires.

So no wonder I enjoyed reading Robert Crais’s Suspect and the sequel, The Promise. And no wonder I jumped on the K-9’s.

Meet Pal. Purebred German Shepherd direct from Germany. Four and a half years old, 92 pounds. His officer spent six weeks in Albequerque training with him, but now every day is training. Pal can sniff out drugs, but he most loves to track people. When he gets the command to bite, he will latch on to any available body surface area, and he will not let go until you choke him off.

He lives in a $2000 kennel that Dernbach built him out of his own money. The kennel is so large that he has his own couch, which he tears up. When the couch is completely shredded, Dernbach puts it out on the curb and picks up the next curbside couch for Pal.

He is not a pet. Do not pet him. He will, in fact, attack the officer’s other, personal dogs. He stays with his officer/trainer on duty and goes home with him as well. When he’s outlived his ability to serve, there are two options: euthanasia, or the officer/trainer takes him home. Fortunately, they never choose euthanasia.

Pal is a tool. And yet, he’s still a dog. He wags his tail. He loves the chew toy, and when Dernbach gets distracted by questioning, Pal chews the strap off the chew toy. He sneaks toward Dernbach when possible. He’s independent, not cuddly. “When other guys in the station would be lying on their dogs, Pal stayed five feet away from me. But it’s good that he’s bull-headed. Other dogs will start searching and then come back and keep checking with Daddy. Pal will keep going.”

Bonus: another dog! I also loved, loved, loved Ted, the PTSD dog. If Paul, the retired cop with PTSD who became a police counsellor himself, takes off Ted’s vest, Ted knows he’s off duty. He just wanted to explore the room, taste my friend Eleanor’s coffee, and trot up and down the aisles. At one point, when students surrounded Paul with questions, Ted came up to Paul, reared up on his rear legs, placed his paws on Paul’s shoulders, and looked him in the eyes, grounding him.

We were surrounded by bullets and bombs, both literally and figuratively at this conference, and more and more in real life. That just makes me love dogs even more.

The bottom line: was Writers Police Academy worth it?

Me and Tami Hoag. Would you like to know what I learned from her? Blog here.

Me and NYT bestseller Tami Hoag. Would you like to know what I learned from her? Sleuthsayers blog here.

I go to conferences for three reasons: so I can learn, so that I can meet people, and so I can write more and better stories. I learned a lot at WPA, and it was super easy to make friends. In fact, I hung out with the guests of honour an almost indecent amount as well as making new Facebook pals and deeper friendships. I even sort of crashed a birthday party on the last night.

Want to take $100 off your $395 tuition? If you join Sisters in Crime for the first time ($50 fee) and immediately sign up for WPA for the first time, WPA will take $150 off your tuition, a net benefit of $100. Sold.

Any cautions? Obviously, this conference is oriented towards law enforcement, and most people were also vocal gun advocates. Your political views may not overlap, but in general, most people are hard-working and good-hearted.

But in the meantime, WPA is an awful lot of fun.

My little white dress

My little white dress

Click to buy.

Now available at Montreal’s Paragraphe Books!

P.S. Stockholm Syndrome–CBC’s pick for one of the best crime books of the season–is now on sale in Montreal at Librairie Paragraphe Books, thanks to the magic of CBC Radio Homerun’s Richard King! More ecstatic raving to come.

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The Emergency Doctor’s Guide to a Pain-Free Back e-book is ON SALE, 50+ percent off! $3.99 U.S./$4.99 Canadian, until October 10th. Happy Canadian Thanksgiving!

Five Riddikulus-ly Fast, Easy Ways to Throw a Harry Potter Party

1. Pumpkin juice

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“Pumpkin” juice. Photo by dieraecherin via morguefile.

Pour orange juice into a pretty vessel. Call it pumpkin juice if anyone asks. Done.

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You can make fabulous wands out of chopsticks and hot glue.

Or you could just clean up the sticks in your yard and/or go to a dollar store for wooden dowels.

Unicorn hair optional. More vegan that way.

I had vague plans about the kids decorating the wands, but only my daughter did. Good news: just reuse them for your next party! Or throw sticks back in the yard. You can also use whatever wooden dowels are used for.

Magic!

3. Sorting hat shortcuts

I was going to print out questions and put them in the sorting hat. Based on each person’s answers, I planned to yell, “Gryffindor!” etc.

This would involve printing out questions and cutting them up. Too much work.

Instead, we went online and did the entire quiz without killing any trees. Apparently, I’m secretly a Ravenclaw. Four kids ended up going into Hufflepuff, included two self-designated Slytherins, so I consider that my contribution to making the world a better place.

4. Force your kids to make the swag.

Are your children addicted watching YouTubers on Minecraft? Me too! So tear them2016-09-15-19-26-17off the screen and put them to work, making decorations for your party. It’s not as pretty as Pinterest, but that’s not the point. The point is to make them touch the 3D world and use their own imagination.

Don’t have kids? Borrow someone else’s.

Or, okay, just print stuff off the Internet. That’s easy too.

5. Pin the Harry and Ron in the Ford Anglia and Whomping Willow

My daughter, Anastasia, was asking about Harry and Ron missing the Hogwarts train and flying the Ford Anglia into the Whomping Willow.

willow-1516877_640And I thought, wouldn’t that make a terrific pin the tail on the donkey game?

We bought two sheets of Bristol board. I asked my husband to draw the Whomping Willow, because he’s more artistic, but he was already making two cakes and feeling quite overburdened, so I sketched it out, and Anastasia made the car. My son Max drew Harry and Ron, but he lost them, so he and another girl hastily drew another.

Spin the kids around (we didn’t bother with a blindfold. Too much work) and see if they can place Harry or Ron in the car!

If you make the car enormous, they’re guaranteed to win. Kids love this. (I’m sure adults love this too, but no one else wanted to do it except me.)

I realized that I’d forgotten to get any prizes, but then I had them pick the “wands” from #3 out of the sorting hat, and they were perfectly happy to pretend to kill each other with them. Mischief managed!

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Luna

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Mrs. Weasley and Hermione

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Muggles can teach you all about electricity, Mr. Weasley.

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A witch and Sir Cadogan

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Isn’t that the cutest Harry Potter card? Tip: I didn’t make it! My friend Tammy did. You, too, can rely on your friends to provide the magic.

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One of my favourite presents ever. Anastasia gave me a card I had to buy for myself from the grocery store; one of her favourite stuffed animals; a dime; and a rock from her rock collection.

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Art by Jessica Sarrazin/Mrs. Weasley.

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Human Remains Could Win a Free Writing Retreat–And So Could You! (Check Out The Shiny, New First Chapter of Human Remains. I’m Just Going to Keep Saying Human Remains. That’ll Make Me Win for Sure.)

I’m thinking of buying a ticket to Saint-Sylvestre-sur-Lot, France.

Why? Shouldn’t I be staying home, working in the ER, looking after my kids, and finally finishing the fifth Hope Sze novel, Human Remains?

Well, yes. That would be the sensible thing to do.

But at one time, my overarching goal for writing was to connect to people, places, and things that excite me.

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Not only does he write, edit, direct Kobo, and have a cool girlfriend, but Mark Leslie also carries me around on demand and fixed a loose thread on my hem–with his TEETH. Don’t mess with Mark.

Derek Murphy of Creativindie has rented a castle in Saint-Sylvestre-sur-Lot (as one does) and is holding a contest where you could stay with him and some other hand-picked successful authors, for free, for two weeks. This would force you to write like a demon. Then, in your off-hours, you would socialize and learn from other cool people and do castle-y things. Derek has taught me about colour, design, storytelling and fonts through his blog. Imagine what a group of us could figure out in person, in two weeks!

Even if I don’t win the castle stay–and I have to admit, I already have shifts lined up October-November, and I just remembered that I have to give availabilities for one of my hospitals, so this would be tricky)–ten people will win a free course from him. So there’s really no downside except some public humiliation, and I’m used to that!

And anyway, I wanted to show you the new opening chapter for Human Remains. After the gifted writers/editors Erik Buchanan and Mark Leslie Lefebvre put it through the wringer at Can-Con 2016, it’s kick@ss now compared to the first draft. Erik told me to put the PTSD/car paralysis up front, and Mark gave me advice on reader reaction.

Thanks, Derek! And good luck to everyone.

Do you want to enter the writing contest/retreat? Go for it! Deadline is September 20, 2016. http://www.creativindie.com/writing-contests/
P.S. I’ve got to scan pics of myself at Edinburgh Castle. I’ll add them later because my family is sleeping. In the meantime, please weigh in on blue vs. red cover!

human-remains-child-cover-red-antonio-6x9-72

HUMAN REMAINS

by Melissa Yi

All-New Chapter One

Even if the terrorists don’t win, they can make your life an icy hell.

An ambulance siren wailed faintly in my ears. I was sitting inside my Ford Focus, only one giant, tree-lined block away from the Ottawa Health Science Centre, but I couldn’t make myself step out of the car and into the darkness.

I watched the fog build up on my windshield. It wasn’t so cold that condensation immediately turned to frost, even though it was mid-December in Canada’s capital. Once upon a time, my boyfriend Ryan Wu and I had made out for hours in his car at a mall parking lot, steaming up the windows like this. The police had rapped on the door to ask if we were okay.

That was long before 14/11, the hostage-taking last month. Technically, it was a lone killer, not a terrorist, who’d transformed the rest of my November into a sickening blur.

Now, I felt as dead as the corpses that haunted me.

I’d told my parents that I had to check out the stem cell lab tonight. And I did. I no longer rushed everywhere a few minutes late, breathless and apologetic and smiling. I had to check every location the night before. I didn’t speak to strangers. I turned off the ringer on my phone so that my mother couldn’t tell me that fresh pineapple was on sale at T&T Supermarket.

As a medical resident, I’m perpetually locked inside a hospital. It’s dark when I wipe my muddy boots on the hospital welcome mat and it’s dark when I step into the twilight of winter solstice. I felt trapped. I felt like screaming as soon as the automatic glass doors sealed behind me. I had to ditch Montreal, even though Tucker—

My mitten-clad hands clenched on the steering wheel.

John Tucker.

Thinking about him was a stabbing pain in my chest. Worse than Ryan.

I forced myself to breathe very slowly, in and out. I’ve gone to therapy now, you see. Sort of mandatory for PTSD people like me. I’m supposed to focus on what’s happening here and now instead of getting bound up in the clusterfunk that is John Tucker and Ryan Wu and the fact that my medical career was torpedoed a quarter of the way into my family medicine residency because just looking at a hospital makes me shake, and how am I ever going to graduate like that?

No. According to my therapist, I had to focus on “the present moment.”

Seeeeeeee the snowflakes dissolve as they hit my windshield. Feeeeeeeeel the cool air on my face. Heeeeeear my phone buzz with a new texxxxxxt.

Where are you?

Ryan.

My heart pounded in my throat, and for once, it wasn’t out of panic. There are only a few people in the world who still make me feel something, and one of them was texting me right now.

I pulled off my mittens. The iPhone felt cool in my hand, since I’d left it on the dashboard while I nerved myself up. I typed, I told you. I’m going to check out the stem cell lab.

Are you on Lynda Lane?

That raised a faint smile out of me. Ryan knew me so well, or at least he knew the pre 14/11 Hope Sze. Parking costs $13 a day, so while the sun shines and the clinics are open, everyone fights over the free spots on Lynda Lane, a small road south of Smythe Road. But for once, he’d miscalculated, if only because the police had set up a stop to catch drunk drivers, despite the fact that it was well before 10 p.m. No, because of the R.I.D.E. program. I took a right around the park.

Wait for me. I’ll walk with you.

Ryan drove from Nepean to the southeast end of Ottawa so that he could walk to the lab with me? I exhaled and shook my head. They probably wouldn’t let him inside. Well, I couldn’t blame him for playing bodyguard, although if I’d known he was coming, I would’ve worn my contact lenses instead of my glasses.

I flicked on my lights. Ryan’s an engineer with a lot of practical skills, but I could make it easy for him to find me while I concentrated on breeeeeathing.

A car drew into a space on the opposite side of the road. It was too far away from the streetlamp for me to figure out if it was Ryan’s black Nissan Sentra.

My breath hitched. I made sure my doors were locked, hating my own paranoia, but doing it anyway.

The driver headed for his back door. He moved like Ryan, with a long and easy stride. He looked about the right height too, but he was snapping a leash on a black dog with brown markings at the eyes and mouth.

I scrunched down in my seat. Ryan doesn’t have a dog. His parents, like a lot of Chinese immigrants, don’t care for canines. Dogs bark, they pee, they poop, they make for expensive vet bills. My dad likes dogs, but my mom fits the stereotype better, so we’ve never had one, either.

My eyes dropped to the dog. Maybe I should call it a puppy, because it seemed to have oversized paws and kept rushing all around instead of walking side to side. I smiled a bit despite myself. Puppies are funny, at least from a distance.

I watched the pair cross the road toward me, presumably heading to the park nestled between me and the hospital.

The man shielded his eyes from my headlights, shadowing his face. Closer up, he looked even more like Ryan. Those hips. That runner’s build, even hidden under a black parka.

I twisted in my seat, my heart thumping in my chest. Were there more than two guys in the world who could give me supraventricular tachycardia from ten feet away?

The man raised his hand in greeting.

The dog jumped into the air on its back legs. The guy leaned over, and the dog pounced on his legs with its muddy paws. The guy just laughed as he lifted the paws off his thighs.

I unlocked the door and popped it open. “Ryan?” I said through the crack, over the screeching protest of my car, because of my cardinal sin of leaving my headlights on.

“Hope,” he said, in his low voice, while the puppy danced around him.

This wasn’t what I was expecting. At all. I don’t like surprises since 14/11.

The dog was barking at me now. Yapping at me, really. Short, sharp barks, but it was wagging its tail. That gave me something to look at besides goggling at Ryan’s sharp-planed face and meeting his worried eyes.

I turned off the lights and slammed the door shut, locking it, which made the puppy bark some more and try to jump up on me. She was black, with floppy ears, except brown apostrophe-like markings around her eyes and chin and more brown on her underside and legs.

Ryan was watching me. He did that a lot now. Since 14/11. And maybe before then, if I were honest.

I wanted to hug Ryan and hit him at the same time. I did neither. “Who’s this monster?”

Ryan grinned at me. “Her name’s Roxy. I’m dog-sitting. My friend Rachel got her as a foster dog, so she’s making us all take turns walking and dog-sitting.”

Rachel. He never talked about anyone named Rachel before. And wasn’t that too cute for words—Ryan and Rachel and a puppy named Roxy. They all matched.

I tried to swallow down the acid and breeeeeeathe. Ryan was here with meeeeeee right now.

Plus, it’s harder to hiss with jealousy when a puppy barks, sneezes, and then barks some more.

I started to put my hand down to pet her head, and Ryan said, “You’re supposed to let her sniff you and decide if she wants to let you touch her first.”

I pulled off my mitten and let my hand hang where she could reach it. She started licking the back of my hand with her warm, wet tongue. I laughed despite myself, and Ryan’s teeth lit up the gloom as he laughed with me. “That’s the first thing she did to me, too. I thought she’d cheer you up.”

“How old is she?”

“She’ll be a year next month. She’s a Rottweiler shepherd.”

“A Rottweiler?” I snatched my hand away from her tongue. Roxy woofed and wagged her long, elegantly plumed black tail at me.

“Yeah. I looked it up. They were originally working and family dogs. They just have a bad rep. And Roxy’s cool. I wouldn’t have brought her otherwise.”

I touched the silky fur on her ears. She nudged her head against my hand, searching for more rubs. I laughed, and so did Ryan. He and I leaned together to pet her, our breath mingling in the cool air, only to bump heads hard enough that I said “Ow!”

We laughed again, me a little wryly while I massaged my head, and Roxy whuffed.

Ryan touched my forehead with his bare fingertips. “You okay?”

I nodded. “You?”

He smiled, and I blushed, which embarrassed me, so I concentrated on the silky fur between Roxy’s ears until his fingertips lifted away from my skin.

His other hand reached forward and our fingers twined together between Roxy’s ears.

Ryan’s eyes turned serious, watching me even as his body pressed forward. He was going to kiss me.

I felt numb, and not just because my naked hand was starting to cool off between Roxy-licks and the chill evening air.

Ryan’s head tipped toward me, still reading my eyes.

At the last second, he kissed the tip of my nose, just once, and lightly, like an exclamation point.

I laughed. My heart started beating again.

Ryan dropped back to pet Roxy, smiling a little.

I petted Roxy, too. “Um, I’m supposed to go to the lab. Get the lay of the land so I don’t mess up on my first day.” I left nothing to chance anymore.

But first, I grabbed Ryan’s face—one hand on each cheek, just like Hollywood—and kissed him hard, on his warm, full lips. If I died in the next five minutes, I wanted to go out knowing that I’d kissed one of the men I loved.

Ryan kissed me back so deep and so long that Roxy started trying to edge between us. She sat down, thumping her tail solidly on the gravel shoulder.

We both laughed. I said, against his chest, “How long are you keeping this dog?”

“Until Rachel picks her up tonight. But I kind of like her.” Ryan patted Roxy’s head, and I admitted, “I like her, too.”

Then I pulled my mittens out of my pockets and aimed my body north, toward the brightly-lit H of the Ottawa Health Science Centre’s Central Campus, and started walking into the park.

Parks are creepy at night. The empty swings. The blue plastic slide that could be hiding a marijuana stash, if not a guy with a knife. So I was kind of relieved when Roxy barked and Ryan fell into place beside me, our boots crunching together. He pointed east. “Don’t you want to take the road?”

I shook my head. Even here, through the meagre screen of trees bordering Lynda Lane, the police cruiser’s blue headlights flashed south of us in their bid to Reduce Impaired Driving Everywhere. There’s no proper sidewalk on the road, just cars wedged onto the shoulders, and a ditch, before the tree line.

I tried to avoid people as much as possible now. I’d rather walk past the empty climbing wall and kid-free jungle gym.

“This isn’t really a park, Hope. It’s okay during the summer because enough other people use it that they cut the grass. But in the winter time, it’s not a trail.”

“You can take the road,” I said, and when he frowned at me, I rubbed my eyes and tried to soften my tone. “I mean, if I get stuck, I’ll back track to the road. I’m not in a rush.”

Ryan sighed. But instead of arguing, he and Roxy followed me into the park.

Another siren whooped in the distance, setting my teeth on edge. As a medical student, I’d loved the sound of ambulances bringing me traumas and other fun cases to play with. That seemed like forever ago, but had been…last year. God.

Roxy drifted from side to side, testing the limits of her leash, before she sniffed a lump of snow with great interest. I glanced left, where some good-sized houses sat with their drapes drawn, maybe half a kilometre away. One of them had a TV screen flickering behind some cheap horizontal blinds.

My boots sank in the old, overgrown, dead grass and the few centimetres of snow that had accumulated on the ground. For some reason, snow that melts instantly on pavement will gather on any grassy surface and threaten to trap me. We only had to walk a kilometre—not exactly conquering the North Pole—but I paused at the foot of a half-frozen, rutted pond now blocking our path.

human-remains-child-cover-antonio-6x9-72Clearly, municipal money didn’t stretch to maintaining off-road paths in the off-season. I didn’t want to tromp around the lab with half-frozen, muddy feet.

I turned to admit defeat to Ryan, who was already lifting his eyebrows at me, when Roxy broke away from him, jerking her leash out of his hand.

Ryan swore.

Roxy barrelled east, toward the Lynda Lane.

Towards traffic. And drivers who might not see a black dog at night.

We both ran toward her, screaming, “Roxy! Roxy!”

I skidded on the snow. My right ankle turned over, and I wobbled, pain knifing through my lateral ankle.

Ryan spun around to catch me, but I was already righting myself and yelling, “Get Roxy!”

He broke into a sprint. He’s a runner, and even after I hobbled after him, yelling at our borrowed dog, teeth gritted—it was obviously a sprain instead of a break—I marvelled at the way Ryan cut through the row of skinny trees, never missing a step, despite the darkness and the uneven, slippery ground.

I cut into the trees, stumbling after Ryan. Shadows fell on me, but so did the street lamps and a bit of moonlight, so I concentrated on tracking Ryan, who had almost caught up to Roxy.

She wagged her tail, picking her way into the ditch bordering Lynda Lane.

Ryan scooped up her leash, but his back stiffened so abruptly, I rushed to his side, gasping, “What?” as cars whooshed on the road a few feet above us.

He pointed at Roxy.

She was sniffing something that looked awfully like a dead human body.

A body with a black bag over its head.

The Zika Page

What we know about the Zika virus is changing every day. This is a page of links to scholarly journals and media, updated between my work as an emergency physician and writer.

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Flikr photo by frankieleon, https://www.flickr.com/photos/23307937@N04/3779182508/

Zika is a mosquito-borne disease mostly spread by the Aedes aegypti mosquitoes. Also called the Asian Tiger mosquito because of those white markings on the legs.

Canada and Chile don’t have the Aedes aegypti mosquitoes that spread Zika. But what if the Aedes albopictus mosquitoes start spreading it widely too? (https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/the_americas/new-discovery-means-more-us-states-will-face-a-risk-from-zika/2016/04/29/497ffa98-0d59-11e6-bc53-db634ca94a2a_story.html;

Map from CDC: http://www.cdc.gov/zika/vector/range.html

So is Zika spread by mosquito in Canada? Not yet, but it could be in the future: http://www.cbc.ca/news/health/zika-mosquitoes-1.3426603

If you travel to an area with Zika, you must wear mosquito repellent for three weeks after you come home. Aedes aegypti are “sippers” who bite multiple people and can transmit infection. If you don’t take precautions, you are potentially spreading Zika.  http://www.mnn.com/health/fitness-well-being/blogs/zika-mosquitoes-aedes-aegypti-aedes-albopictus

Travel advisories: for Zika, from the CDC: http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/page/zika-information

http://www.cdc.gov/zika/geo/united-states.html (State by state breakdown)

Canada’s general travel advisories: https://travel.gc.ca/travelling/health-safety/travel-health-notices

CDC outline for the Dominican Republic, but has good tips on mosquito repellant that is safe in pregnancy and how to stay safe when you come home: http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/notices/alert/zika-virus-dominican-republic

You already know that Zika can be sexually transmitted: http://www.cdc.gov/zika/transmission/sexual-transmission.html.

Hang on, there’s a case in Utah where it seems like a high viral load means it can also be transmitted non-sexually (http://www.aafp.org/news/health-of-the-public/20160720zikaupdate.html).

Can Zika be spread through tears, saliva, urine, or something else? We trying to figure that out. it’s spreading faster than it should for a purely mosquito-transmitted virus. Viral RNA has been found in mouse tears: http://sciencebulletin.org/archives/4952.html

Zika can also be transmitted between mother and fetus, through blood transfusions, and in the laboratoryhttp://www.cdc.gov/zika/transmission/

If you’re pregnant, your fetus may have neurological damage no matter what trimester you got infected. The skull may be normal-sized at birth, but you’d better monitor developmental milestones to make sure the baby’s brain is okay. Preliminary article: http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMoa1602412

Follow-up article: http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(16)30902-3/abstract

Summary: http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2016/06/zika-after-30-weeks/489284/

What if we’re trying to get pregnant or already pregnant? First of all, don’t travel to endemic areas. Here are more recommendations from the CDC: http://www.cdc.gov/zika/hc-providers/pregnant-woman.html

So how long should we wait before we try try to conceive? Some recommend six months. Longer is, of course, better. If the man is travelling to an endemic area, it’s safe for him to provide semen before he travels and have the woman do intrauterine insemination. http://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2016/s0325-zika-virus-recommendations.html

 http://www.cbc.ca/news/health/zika-virus-1.3608713

If you’re in a place where it’s endemic, like El Salvador, they’re recommending two years (!): http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2016/01/zika-virus-women-told-delay-pregnancies-years-160122040824263.html 

Zika also causes joint problems (arthrogryposis) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27509902

Zika attacks adult brains too. It’s linked to Guillain-Barré, which can cause ascending paralysis: http://www.cdc.gov/zika/healtheffects/gbs-qa.html

Maybe Zika can affect adults’ memories or cause depression even if it doesn’t paralyze you or hurt your baby: case study only (http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/eid/article/22/12/16-1280_article. A case study means that it happened to only one person. That’s not high quality research. However, it can point out something that needs further research.

How many cases are in Canada? And other Canadian resources: http://healthycanadians.gc.ca/diseases-conditions-maladies-affections/disease-maladie/zika-virus/index-eng.php

Spraying for Zika is killing bees. http://www.iflscience.com/plants-and-animals/millions-of-honey-bees-killed-accidentally-by-zika-mosquito-spray/ As an environmentalist, I’m so sad about this. Even if you don’t care about the earth, bees account for 30 percent of pollination, and their populations were already devastated by colony collapse disorder. How would you survive a 30 percent drop in food supply?

Zika articles, free until September 30thhttps://www.google.com/url?hl=en&q=http://oxfordjournals-marketing.oup.com/c/1khuQzKUINIsgdH5t9lJYzci&source=gmail&ust=1474062105972000&usg=AFQjCNELHIH21Z1FYr1tA4Q9tcbJDAOBoA

If you would like to add a link or information that is based on science, please let me know.

Thanks,

Melissa Yuan-Innes, M.D.

Fantasy time: Fairy Tales Are for White People, By the Light of the Kumquat Tree, Can-Con, and other cool beasts

And now for something completely different. Some of you may know that my first published stories were fantasy and science fiction, for two practical reasons: 1. Speculative fiction pays better than copies-only literary magazines, and 2. I really wanted to escape school through my imagination. Especially once I was a red-eyed resident ploughing through family and emergency medicine.

Now, medicine (and, to a much lesser extent, medical and mystery writings) pay a good chunk of the bills. But I still nurture a love for mind-blowing fantasy and made-you-think-and-feel science fiction.

Fairy taleS are for white people Galen Dara correct

When I attended Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s fantasy workshop, she asked for–nay, demanded–that we write a story based on food. She didn’t care what kind of fantasy story it was, but she had to be able to see, smell, and taste the food. My mind leapfrogged to Jacques Wong and Ho Ho BBQ, whom I’d first met in Gourmet Magazine through this wonderful article by Francis Lam.

Let’s face it. When rich people are throwing down hundreds of dollars on restaurant meals, they’re not usually driving out to Scarborough’s strip malls and seeking out the cheap Chinese joints.

We stumbled upon Ho Ho BBQ in real life, after visiting my grandmother. Jacques gave my son some free pork skin and beamed while Max ate it. You could not get better food or more heart at any three star Michelin restaurant.

So first I wrote the title, “Fairy Tales Are for White People.” Then I started writing about a fairy godfather.

Climbing up the basement stairs with a duck carcass, holding the slippery neck far enough away from his body so that his knees didn’t clank into the dangling legs, Trenton Lo caught his first glimpse of the fairy godfather.

Fairy Tales Twitter illo Screenshot 2016-06-07 19.55.56

Fireside Magazine immediately accepted “Fairy Tales Are for White People,” and Galen Dara made the best art. Gorgeous and capturing the spirit of family and beauty and perseverance. I adore it. Read it here and enjoy the full art! Feel free to support Fireside Magazine, which makes a point of paying both writers and artists properly and promptly.

Fairy Tales Twitter OMG Screenshot 2016-06-07 19.57.09 Fairy Tales Twitter vibrant cropped Screenshot 2016-09-05 04.58.42 copy

Everyone loved “Fairy Tales Are for White People.” I’m not trying to brag; it’s just something that happens once in a while. A story falls down from the sky, almost fully-formed, and it’s a story that immediately resonates with readers of different ages and backgrounds.

It’s also available as a standalone complete story here, on all platforms. I’ve added an author’s essay about the genesis of the story, the workshop with Kris, the yumminess of Ho Ho BBQ in real life.

Fairy tales Twitter enjoyed Screenshot 2016-09-05 18.05.59

The last one is rated R, but I do love it.

Fairy Tales fucking hell cropped Screenshot 2016-09-05 18.04.13 copy

Next, I went to LA for the Roswell Awards this year again, as I mentioned here. (And by the way, Rico is committed to Humans ‘n’ Hot Dogs, but he booked a film in August, so he didn’t have a chance to record it yet, but he will! Our crowdfunding campaign is still alive!)

My new writer/ER doctor friend, John Burley, flew down to meet me. He thought I was nuts for staying at an airbnb, but look at the back yard I shared. We sat and talked and he pulled kumquats off the tree. I don’t know if I’ve ever tried kumquats before, let alone eaten them straight from the tree, rind and all. The first time, I made a hideous face, but I guess it’s like shots, you get used to them.

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Enchanted Conversations was taking submissions for their Midsummer issue. I decided to weave a small, poetic tale based on this setting, and BOOM! They published “By the Light of the Kumquat Tree” here. Make sure you read the other luminaries as well. I always wanted to get published in this fairy tale magazine, so yay!

Finally, I’m heading off to Can-Con this weekend. I’m on two panels.

  1. Rewriting Fairy Tales, with Dominik Parisien, Fanny Darling, Charles de Lint, K.V. Johansen, Kelsi Morris, Melissa Yuan-Innes. Look at me, with Charles de Lint! Woo hoo! I’m sure I’ll adore the other panelists as well.
  2. SARS, Ebola and Zika, the last Decade of Outbreaks, with Agnes Cadieux, Dr. Dylan Blaquiere, Dr. Anatoly Belilovski, Dr. Melissa Yuan-Innes, Dr. Alison Sinclair, Pippa Wysong (m). It’s 50 percent doctors and 50 percent non-doctors! Party on!

Oh, and thanks for all the comments on the Italian School for Assassins cover. Behold, the final version. It’s also available for sale on all e-book platforms here! (The print version will come in 2017.)

Italian School for Assassins 2016 Melissa_Yi_6_v4_2_1_1
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Which cover? The Italian School for Assassins, revisited.

AssassinsMelissa_Yi_6_fWhich one grabs you?

Which one shouts mystery, fun, romance, Italy, and badass Asian Canadian heroine to you?

Yes, I am revamping my covers with a terrific new graphic designer, Lisa.

I’m looking for as many diverse comments as possible, so I usually try not to say too much, but in case you were wondering…

Jessica votes for the orange. “I would read that,” she said. Twice.

Matt votes for green. He thinks it conveys the mystery better, because the orange could be a fantasy instead of a mystery/romance.

Either one is an improvement on the previous cover, but please cast your ballot!

I’m doing something different by posting it on my blog. Normally, I go directly to Facebook, because their algorithms favour a direct post. Let’s see if we can beat their algorithm! Yay!

It’s already available for sale as an e-book here. It’s on sale for $2.99 instead of the usual $5.99, so grab it now!

The print version is coming…

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I love the Killer School mysteries. They’re a hilarious antidote to the finger-biting realism of the Hope Sze medical mysteries. Fingers crossed that new covers mean more people will discover V and Dario, fighting crime and falling in love around the world!

Human Remains. The First Chapter.

At my request, my husband gave me Mighty Ugly, this cool book by Kim Werker. I was struck by the idea of Jasika Nicole and other artists’ challenges to make art *and post it* every day for 30 days. No matter what. It didn’t have to be good. It just had to be done.

It suddenly occurred to me that I could do this.

I could post excerpts from my newest novel, Human Remains.

I have been working on this book for what feels like aeons. In fact, I came across a note on my writing spreadsheet, saying “restarted Human Remains,” which means I’ve been slogging away for over a year on it. I can’t tell you how slow this is for me. I stopped and wrote a back pain book in the meantime.

I have over 158,000 words on it to date. The problem was, I kept changing the plot, the murderer, and the location. (Don’t worry, Hope Sze is still the main character. That, I didn’t change.)

All this means, I’m about twelve times as slow and unproductive as most of my writing friends. It’s like they’re running marathons and I’m like, “Um. Don’t mind me. I’m going to stretch over here, and maybe in a year or three, I’ll…walk.”

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Fun fact: Jasika and I have appeared on a Hollywood stage together twice for the Roswell Awards. Here she’s wearing grey and is looking adorable.

Now, art is something easy to post online. You can grasp it in a glance. Writing, not so much.

I also had conversations like this at the hospital:

Kat: So. Are you writing your new Hope book?

Me: Yes. Of course.

Kat: So when’s it coming out? I can’t wait to find out what’s happening with the two guys.

Me: Did you read the last book? I told you what was happening with the two guys.

Kat: She can’t do that forever. It doesn’t work for the guys!

Anyhoo…if I posted excerpts from my book, it would show my fans that I was, indeed, writing, instead of teaching myself hip hop on my days away from the ER (well, doing a little bit of that, too).

It didn’t have to be good.

In fact, I could issue a warning that this was raw, unformed clay.

“Rejection is like chicken. It’s either yummy or yucky. Depends how you cook it….Just ask.” —Jia Jiang, https://vimeo.com/70167462#at=1064 @17:56

HUMAN REMAINS

by Melissa Yi

Chapter 1

I nudged into a free parking space in front of a deserted park and opened my car door, squinting at the street lamps glowing in the night sky. Snow fluttered toward me, dotting my forehead. An ambulance siren wailed faintly in my ears, since I was only one giant, tree-lined block away from the Ottawa Hospital and the Children’s Hospital. Frosty air seared my nostrils and chilled my arms despite the bright blue parka my parents had bought for me.

I didn’t care. Inside, I felt as dead as the corpses that haunted me.

My phone buzzed with a text from Ryan.

Where are you?

For a second, I hesitated. There are only a few people in the world who still make me feel something, and one of them was texting me right now. I’d turned off the ringer so my mother couldn’t tell me that fresh pineapple was on sale at TNT.

I climbed back in the Ford Focus and slammed the door to text him back without the snow wrecking my brand new iPhone. I told you. I’m going to check out the stem cell lab.

I hesitated. I sounded flat. But how was that a change from the past month? If Ryan couldn’t take it, so be it. I pressed send.

My breath fogged up the interior of the car. It wasn’t so cold that it immediately turned to frost, even though it was mid-December in Canada’s capital. Another sign of climate change or, as I preferred to think of it, the upcoming apocalypse.

My phone buzzed again. Are you on Lynda Lane?

That raised a faint smile out of me. Ryan Wu knew me so well, or at least he used to know the old Hope Sze, the pre-hostage-taking Hope. Parking costs $13 a day, so while the sun shines and the clinics are open, everyone fights over the free spots on Lynda Lane, a small road south of Smythe Rd. And yet…No. The police set up a R.I.D.E. program there. Honestly, I know they want to catch drunk drivers, especially around Christmas, but 9 p.m. ridiculously early, no? And who parties around the hospitals? To be fair, this section of Smythe Road is also home to Ottawa University, but lots of students don’t even have cars. I had to battle my way through that mess just to look an officer in the eye and say, “No, sir, I didn’t drink anything but water today.” I texted, I took a right. You know, around the park?

Oh, you’re on Billings. Wait for me. I’ll walk with you.

Ryan was driving around Ottawa on a Sunday evening so that he could walk to the lab with me? He probably wouldn’t even be let inside. Well, I couldn’t blame him for playing bodyguard, although if I’d known he was coming, I would’ve worn my contact lenses instead of my glasses.

I watched the fog build up on my windshield. Once upon a time, Ryan and I would make out for hours in his car. Once we were in a mall parking lot and the police came and rapped on the door and asked if we were okay, and I was so embarrassed that I wouldn’t look at the cop. It felt like a lifetime ago.

If I was the one looking for Ryan, I would’ve blundered around in the growing darkness, cursing and stumbling on the gravel shoulder, trying to figure out which dark car held my boyfriend. But Ryan was an engineer and I was the doctor doing my residency in family medicine. Things that I found impossible, he found easy, and vice versa.

Just to make it easier for him, though, I flicked on my lights.

A car drew smoothly into a space on the opposite side of the road, but it was too dark for me to figure out the car’s colour, except that it was dark, so it could’ve been Ryan’s black Nissan Sentra.

The driver who popped open the driver’s door was a man who moved like Ryan, with a long and easy stride. He looked about the right height too, which is five foot ten. But his head was covered by a toque, his body was obscured by a black parka, and he was snapping a leash on a black dog with brown markings at the eyes and mouth.

Ryan doesn’t have a dog. His parents, like a lot of Chinese immigrants, don’t care for canines. Dogs bark, they pee, they poop, they make for expensive vet bills. My dad likes dogs, but my mom fits the stereotype better, so we’ve never had one, either.

I locked my doors and watched the pair cross the road toward me, presumably heading to the park nestled between me and the hospitals. The man shielded his eyes from my headlights, shadowing his face, and my eyes dropped to the dog. Maybe I should call it a puppy, because it seemed to have oversized paws and kept rushing all around instead of walking side to side. I smiled a bit despite myself. Puppies are funny, at least from a distance.

The closer the guy got, though, the more he seemed to move like Ryan. Those hips. That runner’s stride. I twisted in my seat, my heart thumping in my chest. Were there more than two guys in the world who could give me supraventricular tachycardia from ten feet away?

I wished it wasn’t so dark. Winter solstice was coming, and I’m always locked inside a hospital, so it seems like it’s dark when I get in the hospital and it’s dark when I leave. That’s one reason I had to ditch Montreal, why Tucker said—

My gloved hands clenched on the steering wheel.

Tucker.

I forced myself to breathe very slowly, in and out. I’ve gone to therapy now, you see. Sort of mandatory for PTSD people like me. I’m supposed to focus on what’s happening here and now instead of getting bound up in traumatic past events involving John Tucker. Seeeeeeee the snowflakes dissolving as they hit my windshield. Feeeeeeeeel the cool air on my face. Heeeeeear the guy and his dog’s footsteps crunching on the gravel shoulder…

The guy stopped in front of my car and raised his hand in greeting.

Version 2The dog jumped in the air on its back legs. The guy leaned over and get the dog to calm down. Instead, the dog pounced on the guy’s legs with its muddy paws, but the guy just laughed as he lifted the paws off his thighs. I still thought it was a puppy, but not as small as I’d first thought.

I unlocked the door and popped it open. “Ryan?” I said through the crack, over the screeching protest of my car alarm, warning me that I’d left my headlights on.

“Hope,” he said, in his low voice, while the puppy danced around him.

This wasn’t what I was expecting. At all. I don’t like surprises, ever since my hostage-taking on 14/11. The dog was barking at me now. Yapping at me, really. Short, sharp barks, but it was wagging its tail, and it gave me something to look at besides goggling at Ryan’s sharp-planed face and meeting his worried eyes.

I turned off the lights and slammed the door shut, locking it, which made the puppy bark some more, and try to jump up o
n me. She was black, with floppy ears, except brown apostrophe-like markings around her eyes and chin and more brown on her underside.

Ryan was watching me. He did that a lot now. Since 14/11. And maybe before then, if I were honest.

I wanted to hug Ryan and hit him at the same time. Instead, I said, “Who’s this monster?”

Ryan grinned at me. “Her name’s Roxy. I’m dog-sitting. My friend Rachel has a foster dog, so she’s making us all take turns walking and dog-sitting.”

Rachel. He never talked about anyone named Rachel before. And wasn’t that too cute for words—Ryan and Rachel and a puppy named Roxy. They all matched.

I tried to swallow down the acid and breeeeeeathe. Ryan was here with meeeeeee right now.

Plus, it’s harder to hiss with jealousy when a puppy barks, sneezes, and then barks some more.

I started to put my hand down to pet her head, and Ryan said, “You’re supposed to let her sniff you and decide if she wants to let you touch her first.”

I pulled off my mitten and let my hand hang where she could reach it. She started licking the back of my hand with her warm, wet tongue. I laughed despite myself, and Ryan’s teeth lit up the gloom as he laughed, too. “That’s the first thing she did to me, too. I thought she’d cheer you up.”

“How old is she?”

“She’ll be a year next month. She’s a Rottweiler shepherd.”

“A Rottweiler?” I snatched my hand away from her tongue. Roxy wagged her long, elegantly plumed black tail at me and woofed.

“Yeah. I looked it up. They were originally working and family dogs. They just have a bad rep. And Roxy’s cool. I wouldn’t have brought her otherwise.”

I touched the silky fur on her ears. She nudged her head against my hand, searching for more rubs. I laughed, and so did Ryan. He and I leaned together to pet her, only to bump heads hard enough that I said “Ow!”

We laughed again, me a little wryly, while I rubbed my head and Roxy whuffed.

Ryan touched my forehead with his bare fingertips. “You okay?”

I nodded. “You?”

He smiled, and I blushed, even which embarrassed me, so I concentrated on Roxy until his fingertips lifted away from my skin.

Our my hands bumped into each other again in the fur between Roxy’s ears.

Ryan’s eyes turned serious, watching me even as his body pressed forward. He was going to kiss me.

I felt numb, and not just because my naked hand was starting to cool off between Roxy-licks and the chill evening air.

Ryan’s head tipped toward me, still reading my eyes.

At the last second, he kissed the tip of my nose, just once, and lightly, like an exclamation point.

I laughed. My heat started beating again.

Ryan dropped back to pet Roxy, smiling a little.

I petted Roxy, too. “Um, I’m supposed to go to the lab. Get the lay of the land so I don’t mess up on my first day.” I was leaving nothing to chance anymore. I used to run in at the last second (okay, late by a few minutes); now I had to suss out every new environment to minimize the terrorists in every corner.

But first I grabbed Ryan’s face—one hand on each cheek, just like Hollywood—and kissed him hard, on his warm, full lips. If I died in the next five minutes, I wanted to go out knowing that I’d kissed one of the guys I loved.

Ryan kissed me back so hard and so long that Roxy started trying to edge between us. She sat down, thumping her tail solidly on the gravel shoulder.

We both laughed. I said, against his chest, “How long are you keeping this dog?”

“Until Rachel picks her up tonight. But I kind of like her.” Ryan patted Roxy’s head, and I admitted, “I like her, too.”

Then I shrugged and pointed north, at the H of the Ottawa Hospital’s Central Campus and started walking north, into the park.

Parks are creepy at night. The empty swings. The blue plastic slide that could be hiding a marijuana stash, if not a guy with a knife. So I was kind of relieved when Roxy barked, and Ryan fell into place beside me, our boots crunching together. He pointed east. “Don’t you want to take the road?”

I shook my head. Even here, through the meagre screen of trees bordering Lynda Lane, the police cruiser’s blue headlights flashed at me in their bid to Reduce Impaired Driving Everywhere. There’s no proper sidewalk on the road, just cars wedged onto the shoulders and a ditch, and those trees.

I tried to avoid people as much as possible now. I’d rather walk past the empty climbing wall and kid-free jungle gym.

“This isn’t really a park, Hope. It’s okay during the summer because enough other people use it that they cut the grass. But in the winter time, it’s not a trail.”

“You can take the road,” I said, and when he frowned at me, I rubbed my eyes and tried to soften my tone. “I mean, if I get stuck, I’ll back track to the road. I’m not in a rush.”

Ryan sighed. But instead of arguing, he and Roxy followed me into the park.

Another siren whooped in the distance, setting my teeth on edge. I remembered being a medical student, loving the sound of ambulances bringing me traumas and other fun cases to play with, which seemed like forever ago, but had been…last year. God.

Roxy drifted from side to side, testing the limits of her leash, before she sniffed a lump of snow with great interest. I glanced left, where some good-sized houses sat with their drapes drawn, maybe half a kilometre away. One of them had a TV screen flickering behind some cheap horizontal blinds.

My boots sank in the old, overgrown, dead grass and the few centimetres of snow that had accumulated on the ground. For some reason, snow that melts instantly on pavement will gather on any grassy surface and threaten to trap me. We only had to walk a kilometre—not exactly conquering the North Pole—but I paused at the foot of a half-frozen, rutted pond now blocking our path.

Clearly, municipal money didn’t stretch to maintaining off-road paths in the off-season. I didn’t want to tromp around the lab with half frozen, muddy feet.

I turned to admit defeat to Ryan, who was already lifting his eyebrows at me but thankfully not opening his mouth to say “I told you so,” when Roxy broke away from him, jerking her leash out of his hand.

Ryan swore.

roxy snow IMG_6926Roxy barrelled east, toward the Lynda Lane.

Towards traffic. And drivers that might not see a black dog at night.

We both ran toward her, screaming, “Roxy! Roxy!”

I skidded on the snow. My right ankle turned over, and I wobbled, a pain knifing through my lateral ankle.

Ryan spun around to catch me, but I was already righting myself and yelling, “Get Roxy!”

He broke into a sprint. He’s a runner, and even after I hurried after him, yelling at our borrowed dog, limping, teeth gritted—it was obviously a sprain instead of a break—I marvelled at the way Ryan cut through the row of skinny trees, never missing a step, despite the darkness and the uneven, muddy, snowy ground. At least the moon and the street lamps lit up the snow.

A few minutes later, I cut into the trees, stumbling after Ryan. Shadows fell on me, but so did the street lamps, so I concentrated on tracking Ryan, who was had almost caught up to Roxy as she wagged her tail, picking her way into the ditch bordering Lynda Lane.

Ryan scooped up her leash, but his body stiffened so abruptly, I rushed to his side, gasping, “What?” as cars whooshed on the road a few feet above us.

He pointed at Roxy.

She was sniffing something that looked awfully like a dead human body.

A body with a black bag over its head.

Human Remains child cover 6x9 72

Not ready for order. But if you want more, I’ll be sending it out to my newsletter subscribers first! http://melissayuaninnes.com/our-news/

CBC Picks Stockholm Syndrome as One of the Best Crime Novels of the Season, Free Unfeeling Doctor Audio Book, and Jewish Noir Nominated for Anthony Award

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First the most jaw-dropping news, to me. CBC Radio picked STOCKHOLM SYNDROME as one of their best crime books of the season.
Yup, for summer 2016, Dr. P.K. Rangachari, mystery novel enthusiast and professor in the faculty of medicine at McMaster University, told Shelagh Rogers, the mystery panel, The Next Chapter audience, and basically the planet that they should read my thriller about a hostage-taking on the obstetrics ward, where Dr. Hope Sze has to deliver a baby and get everyone out alive.
So why do I pair this news with a picture of me and Max in a helmet? Well, zip lining is not a bad metaphor for writing.
IMG_7485“What happened to you?” said a nurse last week, pointing at a purple and yellow bruise on my arm, just beneath my scrub sleeve.
I glanced at it and smiled fondly. “Oh. I went zip lining with my son’s grade four class.”

I’d gone zip lining before, in Costa Rica. Truthfully, my favourite part was climbing up the ladder and the guide saying to my husband, “Is this your wife?” and giving me an approving look. I also loved the toucan in the trees that had another guide yelling, “Toucan! Toucan!” and pointing, so that an oblivious tourist forgot to brake and crashed into the trees.
My least favourite part was that this was part of a possible horse riding/mountain hiking combination package, and another tourist complained, loudly, “I can’t believe they have horse manure! They should put up signs to warn us!”

That’s writing at first. Fun. Lots of adrenaline. Highs and lows. Can be expensive if you throw money into it. Surrounded by people who don’t want to do the work, crave easy success, and are utterly outraged they’re surrounded by feces.
IMG_7497Zip lining at Arbraska was harder. First of all, because safety regulations are so much stricter in Canada, we had to clip on carabiners all the time, even climbing up a ladder. There were fewer guides, since labour costs more and at least two schools had taken over the camp. And I was trying to keep an eye on a bunch of ten-year-olds, while not just pleasantly zipping from station to station, but also swinging on logs on chains, crossing rope bridges, crawling through tunnels, and so forth.
That’s what writing is like now. I’m conscious of how I’ve had to climb up one foot at a time. How, if I decided to take a leap, I have a whole family I’d potentially have to catch. But I’m also taking some risks and reaping some rewards.

CBC Next Chapter Stockholm Syndrome cropped Screenshot 2016-06-20 13.36.27 copy

Click to buy.

Click to buy.

I told you the big one: I’ve yearned for an interview with Shelagh Rogers ever since I was living in a windowless, TV, and Internet-free basement in my first year of Arts & Science at McMaster University. CBC Radio saved my brain. So, okay, I haven’t gotten an official interview yet. But my name has now appeared on her show, Melissa Yi (Canada) alongside Michael Robotham (Australia), Andrew Taylor (Britain), Sally Andrew (South Africa), L.S. Hilton (Britain), Steve Burrows (Canada), Naomi Hirahara (USA), Esmahan Aykol (Germany & Turkey), Belinda Bauer (England & South Africa), Sally Andrew (South Africa), Barbara Nadel (England), Dan Fesperman (USA), Craig Johnson (USA), Val MacDermid (Scotland), Adrian McKinty (Ireland).
I mention everyone’s countries because Shelagh asked if any of us were Canadian, and I was curious enough to look up the answer: only two of us. We are truly competing internationally, folks, when the CBC selects a few books as the best of 2016, and only 14 percent are homegrown. I’m not complaining, but nowadays, when you want to get noticed, you have to be the best in the world.

If you listen to the interview, STOCKHOLM SYNDROME is at 11:42.
So that’s me climbing to the eagle’s nest and zipping my way down, screaming in victory.

In celebration, all Hope e-books are now on sale. CODE BLUES is only $2.99 (50% off) and the other books are $3.99 (33% off) for a limited time only.

Code Blues EBOOK cover 2015 derringer kris storybundleNotorious POD SHOE front 5x8 brighter 2016-300TerminallyJUTOH ebook cover 2014
Italian Assassins cover POD front-FINAL with YI and skullyoga cover NEW octavia ganesha 6x9 with SKULLAlready read the Hope books? Meet Octavia Ling, Ottawa public servant by day, who celebrates her birthday by trying out THE ITALIAN SCHOOL FOR ASSASSINS. When her roommate gets murdered, assassin school turns all too real. On sale for 99 cents (a whopping 84% off) for a super-short time!
Octavia’s adventures continue in THE GOA YOGA SCHOOL OF SLAYERS, which Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine reviewer Steve Steinbeck called “a lot of fun,” at the cut-throat price of $2.99 (50% off)! (My yoga killer short story, “Om,” was published in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, and I had to keep playing with the idea of yoga murderers. I love Octavia and her squeeze, Dario, and India is a fascinating country. As Shashi Tharoor points out, “Everything is recycled in India, even dreams.”)

Today only, use the code 50JUN at Kobo. You’ll get 50 percent off any or all of my books, on top of these prices, so you could pick up THE ITALIAN SCHOOL FOR ASSASSINS for less than 50 cents plus tax. Cheaper and healthier than a lead-filled dollar store necklace!

Jewish noir cover

Who’s going to win an Anthony? Jewish Noir (we hope)!

E-book and print available. Audio coming soon!

Audio version new on Audible for only $6.95! Audio and eBook bundle on Gumroad for $8.99!

Other happy news: JEWISH NOIR was nominated for an Anthony Award, considered one of the most prestigious awards in mystery fiction!
And…THE MOST UNFEELING DOCTOR IN THE WORLD AND OTHER TRUE TALES FROM THE EMERGENCY ROOM is now available as an audio book on Audible, narrated by The Review editor Louise Sproule and edited by Jean Sarrazin of Vankleek.fm. I’m giving away a free copy to one of you lovelies, so hit me up online or offline!
I never pretend everything is fake-perfect, so I must assure you that I still see feces all the time, most recently in a toddler’s bathing suit, and of course in the ER or or the hospital wards. But I keep climbing, baby. I keep climbing.