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

CBC Radio is commissioning a medical drama from me.

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

I am so happy!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It doesn’t have to be a book.

It doesn’t have to be an e-book.

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

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

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

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

Code blues cover 2013 EBOOK-200

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

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

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

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

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

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

wolf ice cover moon-200

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And today…

Drum roll please…

I got The Email from Tom.

He’s sending me a contract.

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



For my writing bucket list, I checked off this:

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

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

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


Code blues cover 2013 EBOOK-200

Writing Goals and Dreams, est. 2010, modified 2016

What does success mean to you?

Kris Rusch’s post on writing goals vs. dreams dovetailed with my exercises from Creating a Life Worth Living and my own reflections from my previous post.  Basically, I like people and I like excitement.  I would also like to save the world, but that’s a little harder.

So when I read Brad Torgersen’s writing goals, I was like, hmm.  These are so logical.  Of course it makes sense to catalogue your sales and set them up, brick by brick, until you make enough money to quit your day job.

But I like my day job.  I may never quit emergency medicine.

I get my jollies in other ways I can’t even anticipate.  For example, when I attended WorldCon after winning Writers of the Future, I bought my brother a first edition book by Guy Gavriel Kay.

The bookseller asked me my name.  He recognized it and said, “Thank you.”  Although I would never have stated that was one of my goals, it made me feel like I’d “made it,” in some small way, when a stranger–and clearly, a well-read book lover–recognized my name alone and thanked me for writing.

So, as the quiz pointed out, I’m an attention whore.  And I might as well work it.

Melissa Yuan-Innes, milestones en route to success:

(X) … I make my first professional sale.

(X) … I make my second professional sale.

(_) … I sell and publish short pieces regularly.

(X) … Someone recognizes me from my name alone and says “Thank you” for something I’ve written.

(X) … First fan letter.

(X) … Second fan letter.

(X) … I write and have kids.

(X) … I write and have kids and do medicine.

(X) … Writing connects me with people, places, and things that excite me.

(X) …  Glimpse enlightenment. Strange but true.  I didn’t think it would happen to me

( ) …  Maintain enlightenment. Turns out to be much harder

( ) …  Continue to do yoga and maintain balance in my life We’ll see how this one pans out. Addendum in 2014: losing the balance part. Yikes. 2015: completely lost it. 2017: trying to chill a bit and still achieve.

(X) … I help someone else achieve publication/creative success

(X) … Someone else makes something beautiful, inspired by my work

(_) … I gain a national audience for my writing*

(_) … I gain an international audience for my writing*

*Not sure what to say about these because I’ve started indie-publishing my novels.  So I do have a national/international audience, but it’s not exactly a following. Yet.

(X) … Publishers Weekly gives me a positive review.

(X) … A major trade publication gives me a positive review. Hooray for Ellery Queen (courtesy of Steve Steinbock, here and here)!

(X) … Newspapers and magazines write about me. Thank you, the Standard Freeholder and Glengarry News!

(X) … I appear on TV for my writing. Shout out to Cogeco and Rogers TV!

(X) … CBC Radio interviews me about my novel(s).

(X) … I’m interviewed across Canada on syndicated CBC Radio. Yay, The Emergency Doctor’s Guide to a Pain-Free Back! April 21st, 2016

(X) …my book appears on CBC’s The Next Chapter with Shelagh Rogers

Oh, the wonder. Oh, the loveliness. Stockholm Syndrome hits TNC as one of the “best crime novels of the season” on June 18th, 2016. Then Human Remains is declared one of the great must-read mysteries of the summer on June 19, 2017!

(_) …I appear on CBC’s The Next Chapter with Shelagh Rogers

( ) … I earn regular income from book sales. This comes and goes.

(X) … I hit an international bestseller list with a novel. Yup, I’ve got to keep bragging that I hit one bestseller list (Kobo Top 50) with Terminally Ill!

(X) … I hit an international bestseller list with a second novel. Kobo Top 50 again with Stockholm Syndrome.

(X) … I hit an international bestseller list with a third novel. Kobo Top 10 with Human Remains. Me and Margaret Atwood!

(_) … I make regular and significant novel sales. A more consistent sign of success.

(_) … My novels (note the plural) become bestsellers.

(X) … I make four figures a year from my writing

(X) … I make $5000 a year from my writing

(X) … I make five figures a year from my writing

(X) … I make five figures a year for two years in a row, from my writing

(_) … I make six figures a year from my writing

(_) … I see my books in the bookstore/on other people’s readers/in the library. Our local libraries support me. Yay! (I changed this from Max and Anastasia see my books, because they’ve seen them and they don’t care. It’s me who cares.)

(_) … People laugh and weep when they read my work and tell me about it when they line up for my autograph. Hey, people at the Cornwall library lined up for my book. I was very moved when one of them told me that, for health reasons, she hadn’t read a novel since 2010, until she picked up Code Blues. No weeping yet, though.

(_) … People ask me why I bother to do medicine because I’m such a writing goddess. When I’m wearing my writing hat, people do ask, “But you’re not still practising, are you?” Not quite the same thing, but getting there.

(_) … I could quit my day job and write full-time, whether or not I choose to do this.

(_) … People continue to read my work after I die

Yes, I know I can’t check the last one off.  Maybe my e-executor can do it for me.

Anyone else willing to share their goals?