The Roswell Award vs. Max’s birthday parties

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Simon Kassianides (formerly of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and a James Bond villain in Quantum of Solace, now directing and starring in his new Kickstarter-funded film “Trust No One”) and me, 2015

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Back row: David Dean Bottrell, comedy duo Charles, David Blue, William Hawkins, Gates McFadden, Catherine W. Cheres, Armin Shimerman, T. Lucas Earle, Patricia Tallman, Rosalind Helfand Front row: Jasika Nicole, Donna Glee Williams, Simon Kassianides, Melissa Yuan-Innes

One year ago, I was a Roswell finalist. You may remember my 2015 agonizing about spending the money to go to L.A. when I had a 1/6 chance of winning $1000. You can read about it here and here. I didn’t win, but I had a fabulous time.

And this year…

Dear Melissa,

Congratulations (again!)!

On behalf of SCI-FEST LA, I’m excited to announce that your story “Humans ‘N’ Hot Dogs,” is a finalist for

The Roswell Award for Short Science Fiction

Your story is one of just six finalists chosen from nearly 250 submissions received from around the world. Your story will be presented in an Awards & Staged Reading event featuring celebrity guest readers on Sunday, May 22 at 7:00pm at the Acme Theatre in Hollywood.

What? No way.

I ran through my usual reasons not to go. It will cost money. It will harm the environment. I should stay home with my kids. I should stay home and work. I should stay home and write. It’s too close to Max’s birthday, which is tomorrow.

Then I decided I wanted to go. Even though I’m sure I’m not going to win. “Humans ’n’ Hot Dogs.” C’mon. A comical piece doesn’t usually take top prize.

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But what about Max’s birthday? Up until now, Max has had fairly extravagant birthday parties. Not in terms of renting out the Ritz, but in terms of time and sweat. When he was four, I made Thomas and Annie and Clarabel train cakes. DSC01525

When he was seven, he decided he wanted the solar system for his piñatas, so I set about making nine celestial bodies and told him, “Max, we’re going to skip Pluto. It’s not officially a planet anymore.” He said, “Awww! But I like Pluto!” So I felt like I had failed him, even though when his friend Lucas told his mom and my friend, Jessica, “Max is having nine piñatas,” she said, “Oh, Lucas, I’m pretty sure Max isn’t having nine piñatas.” But of course, he was. And that made me realize that not every mom would make the solar system for her kid with her own hands.

The past two years, we’ve done water fights and a piñata. For his ninth, we even had a small contingent of girls. But this year, he just wanted to go see the Angry Birds Movie with a few friends. So I thought he might not notice if I went to L.A. for the Roswell Awards.

When I asked Max, he started crying.

Oops. I gave him a big hug. We agreed that I’d fly down on the Saturday instead. That way, I’ll be home for his real birthday *and* Angry Birds. Because you only turn ten once, and even though he ignores me when his best friend, Jacob, is around, it’s cool that he still loves his mom and wants her at his party. That won’t happen for too much longer.

Why do I want to hit L.A.? There were a few things I didn’t have a chance to do the last time. Well, I mean, many, but on my last night, I met Neil from Buzzfeed, and he said I could tour the office. That is WAY cool to me, because…Eugene Lee Yang. I like the Try Guys (the American Ninja Warrior episode hooked me), I like Buzzfeed Violet, I like lots of things. But in the end, Eugene.


My 2015 Roswell friend, Kevin, had invited me to tour Caltech. And Human Remains, the fifth Hope Sze novel, is set in a lab. The ZINN lab said I could stop by. I also reached out to Bill (Dr. William L.) Stanford, whom I’d met through the UOHS conference. He just told me that he’d give me a tour of his Ottawa stem cell lab when I get back! Yeah!

And when I told John Burley, my new ER doctor-author friend, that I was flying down, he said, “It’s only a short flight from San Jose.”

IMG_7234So that makes me feel socially sophisticated, that I have an author-doctor friend flying down to meet me in L.A. for the Roswell Awards. Of course I also feel environmentally guilty, but right now, I’ve decided to travel a little when it calls me. If you want to learn more about John and his cricothyroidotomies, you can read my interview with him here or his official website.

In the meantime, I made homemade vanilla ice cream cake, using whipped cream, condensed milk, and real Madagascar vanilla beans for Max’s birthday. I hope it’s good. I love you, Max! Happy tenth birthday!

La Brea Tar Pits & Sci-Fest LA: City of Angels, Day 2

I thought LA was all Botox, anorexia, and traffic jams under Hollywood lights.

I was wrong.

They do drive everywhere (my host, Sasha, couldn’t believe that I took the bus from the airport), but I’ve now met extremely talented Hollywood actors with mobile faces who eat!

As soon as I read that the Page Museum at the La Brea Tar Pits had a show with an animated sabre tooth cat puppet created by the Jim Henson Creature Shop, I realized that a) I had to go, and b) underneath the tinsel and the hype, Los Angeles is an arts town. Just like Montreal, but with an even higher bohemian index.

The Page Museum was my hands-down favourite LA museum so far. Why? Because museums can be boring, just staring at boxes on walls. But this museum had tons of people in orange shirts, holding out replicas of sabre tooth tiger and cat and dire wolf skulls, answering questions and telling me stories. I love that.

Attack of the tree sloth!

Attack of the tree sloth!

I had no idea that “tar pits” is a misnomer: it’s not tar, it’s asphalt (Natives would use it to quill arrows or seal shells long before it became an asphalt mine), and the depth is considered shallow for pits, since a lot of it was only a few feet deep, but that’s enough for a herbivore to wander on the leaf-covered surface, get stuck, holler for help, and have carnivores jump on top of it, only to get stuck themselves. A pile-on like this only happened about once a decade, but that’s enough to make this the largest collection of Ice Age fossils in the world. A little boy asked about dinosaurs, but sorry buddy, the dinos died 65 million years before the Ice Age (a mere 11,000-50,000 years ago).

I lined up early for the Ice Age Encounters. I liked the host, Jacquita, right away, and she integrated  a cool video into her presentation. And then…the sabre tooth cat! Yay!

I stuck around to ask a few questions of Betsy Zajko.
And we took a selfie with Cali the sabre tooth cat!


Next, Sci-Fest LA.
There was a line-up outside the theatre. Always a good sign.
I got a seat right in front. Fantastic.
Stan Lee did the “turn off your cameras” intro. Say what?
And then the plays!

Track “A”
Turnover. Keisha Thompson had me without saying a word: her character was immobilized for the first few minutes, while David Dean Bottrell (“True Blood”)’s fast-paced dialogue oscillated between sinister and funny. I won’t give too much away, but it certainly makes you think about murder in a different way.
Human History, written by Joel Silberman. It was Joel’s show yesterday. At the restaurant afterward, people would ask me, “How do you know Joel?” like at a wedding. I would say, “I don’t know Joel. I’m a Roswell award finalist.” But everyone else knew Joel. And what a clever play, a high school class on race relations after aliens have obliterated 90 percent of the human race, finely acted. Really well done.

Me & Tina Huang. I said, "I think you're beautiful. Can we do a selfie?"

Me & Tina Huang. I said, “I think you’re beautiful. Can we do a selfie?”

The Lunchtime Show was just fun. Here’s the monster.


Monster on the left, David Dean Bottrell on the right.



Everyone laughed at Neil Gaiman’s The Case of the Four and Twenty Blackbirds. I just want to point out the acting by Burl Moseley and Cheryl Francis Harrington.


“Black don’t crack and Asian don’t raisin.”–Burl Moseley

Cheryl Francis Harrington, ladies and gentlemen. Isn't she adorable?

Cheryl Francis Harrington, ladies and gentlemen. Isn’t she adorable?

Burl was Cock Robin as well as a bartender, and I noticed the gentle way he set down the glasses after polishing them, exactly the way you would if broken dishes came out of your pay. And Cheryl was so good in her comedic roles that when she posed dramatically as the dame at the closing scene of the play, I dearly wanted her to come back out again and start the show all over again.


Track “B”
A Billion Tuesday Mornings: Peter Gray Lewis just about broke my heart as the autistic man who invented an alternate universe machine, and Lily Holleman perfectly captured his frustrated, loving daughter. I only wish I could’ve seen more Tim Chiou. You just don’t see enough hot Asian leading men, and he was only in the opening scene.
Access: This one broke my brain open on how to use the theatre. Five men, all playing the same character simultaneously in different universes. Hats off to scriptwriter Spencer Green as well as the ten plus actors! I was excited to see Tim Chiou again, but only for about five seconds.
Efficiency: I wasn’t sure what I’d think of the world’s first science fiction play, but it was extremely well done. Because so many soldiers are dying and losing limbs on the battlefield, a doctor invents a way to turn them into cyborgs so they can keep on fighting. Lots of moral questions that continue to haunt us in 2015.

Tom Berklund

Tom Berklund

So. Impressive acting, strong scripts, inventive sets. Sci-Fest captures the best of speculative fiction, the curiosity and innovation that makes you think about the world today.

At the restaurant afterward, David Dean Bottrell shook my hand. I gave him my card, and he said, “I just realized who you are. Wonderful story.” As one of the founders of the festival, that was quite a compliment.

Tonight, a Hollywood actor will read that story, and one of the finalists will win the Roswell Award. Stay tuned, and pass by my Patreon if you want!