Terminally Ill Onstage and Sugar and Vice in the World

Terminally Ill cast: undercurrents 2024

Hope Sze: Stefanie Velichkin-Hitgano

Elvis: Corinne Viau

Archer: Brandon Nguyen

Kameron: Malia Rogers

Ryan: Song Wang

Mme. Bérubé/Tori: Melissa Yi

Director: Micah Jondel DeShazer

Playwright/Producer: Melissa Yi

Stage manager: Tamara Laplante

Writing is lonely. We want to connect with readers, but even bestseller Lee Goldberg says he may never see people reading his books in public with the advent of ereaders.
Solution: TURN YOUR BOOK INTO A PLAY. That’s what I did! The header photo is our final cast for the undercurrents festival.

Photo above of Stefanie Hitgano as Hope Sze resuscitating Melissa Landry as Elvis (photos by Jen Derbach from the TACTICS workshop).

And here you see Kameron (Eponine Lee) stepping forward. She played Juliet in R+J at Stratford. Shakespeare, Melissa Yi, same, same. 😊 Tucker was Dora-Award winning theatre maker Richard Lee, sitting with Hope, and Micah Jondel DeShazer, our director, sits above them.

Well, now it’s time for Terminally Ill to debut at the undercurrents festival in Ottawa Feb 8-10, 2024!

February 8: 8:30pm

February 9: 7:00pm

February 10: 3:30pm

Buy your tickets here: https://ottawafringe.com/show/terminally-ill/

Strictly optional: would you like to cosplay?

The audience can be part of the show if you want. Some ideas:

  • A medical outfit like scrubs or a white coat, in honour of Dr. Hope Sze
  • Elvis gear because our escape artist is also an Elvis Presley tribute artist
  • Protestor wear. A group called Nelvis wants to ban Elvis!

Have fun!

I’ll have a merch table, which means you can also buy the book Terminally Ill if you like.

I’ll also have copies of the brand new Hope Sze thriller: Sugar and Vice! In case you hadn’t figured it out from our “sweet” photo at the top.

Yahoo! Massive thanks to our donors for supporting the arts!

Little Ms. Weird, Part I

I used to think I wrote for everybody. You know, we all love books. We are are all one.

Then I realized that Code Blues, the first Hope Sze mystery, opens with a swear word.

Code Blues is character-based and contains a sex scene, sarcasm, and a reference to racial injustice before Black Lives Matter. Cue the angry reviews. Cue even more because it’s free at the moment.

Okay! Well, Notorious D.O.C. sticks much closer to the mystery genre. Hope tackles a cold case on psychiatry after a woman asks her to investigate her daughter’s death. Not controversial at all, right?

Shoot. Maybe not everyone wants to read about poo on the first page.

Most readers immediately grasp the gravity of Stockholm Syndrome, where a kidnapper targets Hope and a woman in labour. But I don’t hold back on my description of the obstetrics ward, and one agent told me his assistant almost threw up after reading my first paragraph. I thought that was was pretty impressive considering that the first paragraph is literally two words: Birth smells.

Guess my writing ain’t for everyone after all.

When Kristine Kathryn Rusch first read my stories, she said, “They will have to create a new category for you. You’re so direct, you’re almost scary.” She paused. “You’re not supposed to compare writers, but Bob Jeschonek is the same way, for another reason. If you ask him to write a story about a space ship, he’ll write from the point of view of the space ship.”

Which may explain why I’ve always been fascinated by Robert Jeschonek’s writing. I hoover up stories in all genres, but he always does new things that had never occurred to me. For example, in A Pinstriped Finger Puppet’s My Only Friend, he starts off a section called Tomorrow.

Mind blown. How can you start in tomorrow? But he does wild things all the time, wandering in and out of the R-rated section, constantly inventive and challenging.

That’s why I’m honoured to take part in the Weird Bundle he curated at Storybundle. For once, my strangeness becomes a feature, not a bug.

Pay what you want. If you choose $20 or more, you unlock all the books, including Robert Jeschonek’s exclusive Dog & Pony Show and my own Dog Vs. Aliens, Grandma Othello & Shaolin Monks in Space, and you can contribute to the charity Able Gamers. Only available for 21 more days, right here.

Let’s do this!

M. H. Callaway Talks Snake Oil and Sugar

M. H. Callaway has helped investigate a murder, toured the 3000 foot deep Falconbridge nickel mine and even met the Queen of England (though not all at the same time). She turned to writing, and her many distinctions include a nomination for the CWC Award for Best Novella for “Snake Oil,” which you can now preorder as part of her new collection, Snake Oil and Other Tales!

Fortunately, I got to interview M.H. before she ran off on her next adventure.

Melissa Yi: Do you prefer sugar or vice?

M. H. Callaway: Well, I have to admit that I lean to the dark side, both in my reading and writing. Readers have told me that some of my work, like my novellas, Snake Oil and Glow Grass, are really horror crossovers. That’s hard to wrap my head around, especially since I never read horror and avoid watching scary movies.

I’m not sure why I have such a dark vision and why it creeps into my stories. Perhaps it’s due to my unsettled childhood or fighting to make it in several male-dominated professions like science and management consulting! I’m delighted to see the progress that women have made in the last several decades. 

But I’m not totally into Vice / Noir. Every once in a while I need to cleanse my palette with a cuddly cozy – and when I do, I enjoy every word. I’ve even written lighter work and to my surprise and delight, my two cozies published in 2022 were both short-listed for a CWC award. That said, Erik De Souza didn’t find “Must Love Dogs – or You’re Gone”, that light-hearted – perhaps it works as a black comedy. 

MY: Does real life inspire your tales, whether dark or cozy?

MHC: How did you guess that I used a real small town as my inspiration for Amdur’s Ghost? In fact, Dunlop is a thinly disguised version of Goderich, Ontario where we have our family cottage. I’m afraid that none of the characters were inspired by and friends or family; they are all figments of my twisted imagination.  They all come alive and speak to me as I write. Many times, the characters are what we wish for: they fight for justice.

Dr. Benjamin Amdur is the kind of civil servant we would want. He’s dedicated to looking after the people of Ontario and committed to saving our public health system. He’s a bit of fish out of water in Dunlop, an outsider in Dunlop, because he’s a “city rat” from Toronto and he has much to learn about rural culture in Ontario. He finds that there are many dedicated people just like him though different – in a good way.

So even though I don’t use real people as the basis for my characters, I am shameless in stealing settings! In Glow Grass, I used our family cottage and my husband maintains I used our own house as inspiration for Snake Oil.

MY: I did an ob/gyn elective in Goderich and I live in rural Ontario now. I don’t know if I steal settings so much as details like food. 🙂

MHC: Sugar and Vice is at the top of my cozy reading list. What a great idea to use the seven deadly sins to frame the new Hope Sze mystery series! And what better sin than gluttony? Everyone can relate to the delights of food, especially me!

MY: Sugar and Vice isn’t exactly a cozy. I tried to write a cozy thriller, so I’m afraid it’ll scare the real cozy fans away. You’re right about the food and gluttony, though!

MHC: I especially enjoyed the sensual details in Sugar and Vice. I can taste the yummy Chinese and Korean food while delighting in Hope’s witty assessments of the Dragon Boat competition, life, love, the universe and everything. It’s funny and light-hearted and draws you in: I can’t wait to find out who is fated to die and to have Hope catch the killer.

MY: Well, I can’t wait to read Snake Oil and Other Tales! I’m preordering it as a birthday gift to myself. Thank you, M.H.!

Human Remains for Valentine’s Day: Chapter 2

I hardly celebrate Valentine’s Day. It’s not that I’m against romantic love; I figure one of the ace cards in my life is that I met Matt in high school and didn’t waste a few decades finding the right person. (This is us, struggling to say goodbye before he flew off to Greece on a school trip. Our friend Zygo took a picture of us through the bus window.)

So I’m not going to bludgeon you with flowers. Instead, I’m going to give you anatomical hearts and
circulation pictures and the second chapter of Human Remains, because nothin’ says romance like trying to resuscitate a dead body in the snow. This book is almost ready to rock and roll! Let me know if you want to be part of my “street team,” reviewing an advance copy.

And if you want to read Stockholm Syndrome first, they’re down to their last two copies at Librairie Paragraphe Books! Go grab it in the next 24 hours, support an indie bookstore, and rebel against the norm by reading about a hostage-taking while everyone else.

Human Remains

Chapter 2

The body wore a shiny, new, navy ski jacket. It lay crumpled on its left side, its black-jeaned legs slightly bent, and one arm rolled up underneath it, while the other arm hung forward, half-blocking the chest. Its skimpy black gloves and beat-up Converses didn’t look like much protection against the snow.

But of course, the most shocking thing was the black bag over its head.

Ryan stood frozen. His breath spun into the air, making white clouds in the night.

Roxy bent her head, tipping her floppy ears forward. Her nostrils flared and glistened under the dim light of the streetlamp.

“Let me check it while you call 911,” I said to Ryan. Even as I spoke, he pulled his phone out of his pocket. With the other hand, he reeled Roxy’s leash in tight to his body. He yanked off his left glove so he could work the buttons while watching the body.

If this was a crime scene, I shouldn’t touch anything, including the bag taped around its neck.

But I was a medical doctor.

Okay, a resident doctor. But still. My job was to make sure he was alive.

And if he wasn’t, my job was to bring him back.

There’s a saying in medicine, “They’re not dead until they’re warm and dead.”

Snow meant zero degrees Celsius or lower. This man was definitely not warm and dead.

I swallowed hard.

I had to do my job.

If only I could do my job with gloves and a face mask.

I crouched low. “Hello?” I raised my voice to be heard above the traffic, including the stuttering roar of a helicopter. Normally, I’d shake him, or do a sternal rub, but I didn’t want to touch the body.

More snowflakes landed on the jacket.

The bag didn’t flutter with the man’s breathing.

No airway. No breathing.

“Hope, he’s—” Ryan didn’t want to say it, but we both knew he was thinking the D word. Not Disability, but Death. “Don’t touch it, Hope.”

If only I had an ultrasound machine to do a sono pulse check, looking for a beating heart, instead of going skin to skin. “Just the radial artery,” I said. I reached for the closest arm, the right arm, sheathed in the painfully new ski jacket.

The wind carried Ryan’s words toward me as he spoke on the phone. “Ambulance. But maybe police. We found someone with a bag over his head. He’s not moving. He looks…gone.”

I touched the man’s sleeve first, through my mitten. His arm felt firm, even with that light touch, and it belatedly occurred to me that I didn’t have to check for a pulse if the man had rigor mortis.

The arm resisted me when I lifted it. It did move, but only a few centimetres before I’d have to apply greater pressure. The muscles had seized up. But it didn’t feel locked-in, like I imagined rigor mortis would.

On the other hand, it was literally freezing outside. Was I feeling rigor mortis, or one very cold person?

I didn’t trust my numb hands to undo the black tape around his neck, and surely there might be fingerprints or hair trapped in the tape that constituted police evidence, if this was a homicide.

I yanked off my mittens and used my nails to lift a bit of the right sleeve and expose the skin. In the dim light, I couldn’t detect bruising or obvious lacerations on his dark brown wrist.

Since I didn’t have any open cuts or sores either, it was probably safe to touch him bare-skinned.

Ryan was giving directions. “We’re near the corner of Lindsay and Bullock. Yes, just south of the hospital. My girlfriend is a resident doctor from Montreal. She’s checking for a pulse.”

I slid my hand just inside the radial styloid, pressing hard to compress the artery against the bone and maximize any pulse.

His skin felt slightly cooler than mine, but not icy. Faintly warm.

No pulse.

The radial pulse is the first to go. Unless you’ve got a blood pressure of at least 80 millimetres of mercury, the body shuts down circulation to the arms.

The blue lights of a police cruiser raced up Lindsay Lane toward us, its siren splitting the air.

“Ryan,” I hollered, above the din, “there’s no radial pulse.”

Roxy barked twice and jumped onto her back legs. I sucked my breath in. Nice dog, but she was still a Rottweiler who wanted to snack on a dead body, as far as I was concerned.

“No radial pulse. That’s right, no radial pulse,” Ryan yelled into his phone while winding Roxy back into place beside him.

“I’ll have to open that bag over his face!”

“What?” Ryan frowned at me, trying to triangulate between 911, Roxy’s antics, and my voice.

I enunciated short, hard sentences. “The bag over his head. He can’t breathe. Do they want me to rip it open?”

Ryan’s eyes were so wide, I could see the whites glowing under the street light. “What? No, Hope, he’s dead. I think they want you to leave it for the police!”

I was already reaching for the bag, bracing for myself for whatever sick smell that would balloon out at me as I tore it. “Just ask them. He’s still warm.”

“Uh…my girlfriend, the doctor…she’s worried about the bag over the head. Do you want her to take it off?” He shook his head. “Yeah, he looks dead, and he has no pulse, but he’s still warm…yes, I’ll hold.” He glared at me. “Hang on a second.”

I nodded. In the ER, the staff and I could make the decision, but in the field, at what could be a crime scene, with the police car screeching to a halt on the other side of the street.

I stood up, and my vision started to blacken at the edges. I hadn’t eaten much today. Too busy packing and driving from Montreal through the snow. I blinked, waiting for my vision to come back. I’d never fainted in my life. I had no intention of doing so over a corpse.

“Hope, they said not to touch the bag. Hope? Are you okay?”

“Fine,” I said, too loudly. My vision was starting to clear. “I’ll do CPR.”

I donned my mittens to nudge the body onto his back. He wanted to stay curled up. Ryan had to hold down the shoulder while I twisted the hips flat on the ground.

I dropped to my knees, interlaced my fingers, and extended my arms to begin CPR. The new Advanced Cardiac Life Support algorithm is all about CPR. Get that blood pumping. Even if he’s hypoxic with a bag over his head.

His ribs cracked under my first compression.

I’ve never broken anyone’s ribs during CPR. It’s one of the risks of CPR, but it’s never happened to me.

I could be puncturing his lungs with his own ribs, with each compression.

I swore.

“Over here!” Ryan’s cry pierced the night air. Roxy barked ferociously as a police officer bolted across the road toward us.

Another siren whooped.

The first police officer yelled on his radio while I continued compressions, gritting my teeth.

Roxy barked and leaped in response. Ryan had to beat a retreat, holding her back.

A second officer sprinted to my side and took over CPR while I checked for a pulse in the wrist. It was strong, thanks to his efforts.

“Good compressions. Can I take off the bag?” I pointed at the garbage bag.

Sweat trickled down the side of the CPR officer’s face as he pounded the man’s chest. He shook his head and glanced at the officer on his radio, possibly for a second opinion, before turning back to his compressions.

Two more officers crunched through the snow toward us, already calling on their radios for more back up, but I was most relieved when an ambulance jerked to a halt on Lindsay Lane.

Paramedics hustled to the scene with a stretcher, a kit, and a monitor. One of them sliced open the head bag with scissors, reminding me that it’s better to ask for forgiveness than permission.

The sour smell of vomit hit the air as chunks fell out of the bag hole. I held my breath while the other paramedic cut open the jacket to apply electrodes to the man’s chest. Yes, it did look like a man. No breasts.

The CPR officer was gasping, so I said, “Do you want to switch off?” He nodded, and I signalled another officer, who ran in, dropped to his knees, and started compressions so enthusiastic that the man’s slim, dark brown-skinned chest indented with each one.

We paused for a second to check the rhythm: an occasional narrow complex at 30 beats per minute. No pulse.

Hypothermia is one of the causes of pulseless electrical activity. So is hypoxia.

“Restart CPR! And I can get an airway in!” I called, moving to the head, but the airway guy was already on his stomach, shoving what I assumed was a laryngeal mask airway or a Combitube into the man’s mouth. It was hard to see what was going on, in the dark, with everyone shouting on their radios, and Roxy still barking up a frenzy.

“Got it!” called the airway guy.

“Great. Let’s get him warm and oxygenated. Can you get a sat?” I turned to stare at the yellow tracing on the monitor, which was just showing the jagged movement of compressions right now.

“It’s not picking up, but the CO2 detector is yellow.”

“Good job! Give him an amp of Epi!” I said. We had airway and we were providing primitive breathing and circulation. Epi is controversial in hypothermia, but you can give one dose.

“Let’s load him up and protect his C-spine,” said the second paramedic. I helped lift the legs on to the stretcher while they managed to get a cervical spine collar on him and some pads on either side of his head. A third officer took over CPR.

“I can take over compressions,” I told the CPR police officer, even though I’ve never done them while jogging along beside a stretcher, but he shook his head.

The patient’s belly looked distended. I opened my mouth to mention a nasogastric tube, when they had the chance, but a female police officer took my arm and said, “We have some questions for you. Could you come to the station with us?”

#

While you’re waiting for more Human Remains (deeeeelicious, I tell you), check out two mega-giveaways: science fiction and fantasy (I’m giving away Fairy Tales Are for White People!) and mystery/thriller (I’m giving away Code Blues, the first Hope Sze novel, in hopes that sane people will leave a good review).

Just to show you that I’m not a complete V-Day Grinch, I’ll end with another story. Remember Zygo, who took the picture of me and Matt in high school? When Anastasia was a baby, we attended Zygo’s own wedding with his lovely wife Jenny and a Tardis wedding cake. (Gosh, I miss that sweet little baby. However, I have to admit that Matt carried her around the entire time.)

Ah, love. I heard it makes the world go ’round. Of course, I’ve also heard that the earth’s spin is due to “gravitational collapse of accreting material,” but details, details.

Stockholm Syndrome, Chapter 3

Pre-order

Pre-order. Chapter 1 here. Chapter 2 here.

stockholm pic-defenseless

“I can get you Casey Assim,” I said, since at this point, I would have promised both my grandmothers. Not that I’d actually deliver them to this madwoman. But I’d lie up and down Main Street if it would buy me a few seconds. All was fair in love and at gunpoint.

“They just brought her in,” said the killer. “She’s in labour. It’s her due date. I know it’s her.”

Faulty logic, but my shoulders jerked as my hindbrain calculated, That’s a man’s voice. This is a man, not a woman. A man dressed in a burqa.

He was crazier than I thought.

I was deader than I thought.

“Okay,” I said.

“Get me to her room, or I’ll kill you, too.”

He wasn’t that much taller than me. Maybe five foot eight, but stocky, like a wrestler, with wide shoulders and firmly planted feet. And did I mention that gun?

“No problem,” I said, an expression my dad hates. He says, There’s always a problem. Why would you say there’s no problem? He had a point, especially when I was nose to nose (okay, back of head to nose) with Mr. Death.

Dad. I’m sorry. I love you.

I felt Mr. Death jerk his head toward the doorway. He knew that was the main entrance to the case room. He knew how to get there, but he wanted me to lead him, like a little Dr. Gandhi, while he kept the gun trained on my temple, the thinnest area of my skull.

He wanted me to play hostage.

Part of me thought, No. Run.

If only I’d run in the first place, when my subconscious brain must have recognized that the way he moved and the breadth of his shoulders didn’t jibe with a pregnant woman.

Now it was too late to run. The emergency department and hospital front desk had security guards. Obstetrics had nothing.

I must have glanced or somehow turned left, toward the elevator, because the bastard cocked his gun, and I felt as well as heard the hammer shift.

I don’t know guns, but I’ve seen enough TV shows to figure out what’s fatal.

I froze in place like an Arctic hare dropped in downtown Tokyo.

stockholm-runners-373099I’ve actually listened to a podcast about what to do when an active shooter enters a hospital. Running is your best option.

But running with a bullet in your brain? Not possible.

Without taking my eyes off the gun, I took a step toward the doorway. Toward triage.

“That’s it, bitch,” Bastard whispered.

I gestured at Stan’s unmoving body, which lay five feet away from us, blocking the doorway. I could smell Stan’s blood.

I have a strong stomach, but I had to hold my breath and not-think, not-think, not-think if was going to survive even the next few minutes.

Bastard didn’t answer, except to keep his gun pressed against my cranium.

I walked.

I walked with Bastard’s body cemented against my back. Have you ever had an unwanted guy grind behind you on the dance floor? Like that, times a billion.

I had to glance down as I/we stepped over Stan’s body, carefully picking my way to avoid his sprawled arms and the ever-widening pool of blood.

Stan’s yarmulke clung to his curly hair a centimetre above the bullet hole. I scanned the green felt for dots of blood and possibly brains. Then my eyes slid south. Was it possible that I glimpsed the pale, folded surface of cerebral cortex under the pool of blood dripping from the entry site?

stockholm-blood spatter file000666127574No. Probably my imagination. I clung to the fact that his religious symbol remained intact. Maybe he and I would, too. I sent a brief prayer toward Stan and any available deity: Please.

People have survived gunshot wounds to the head. I’ve never seen it, but I remembered a neurosurgery resident explaining to me, in detail, how a high-velocity bullet could hit a non-critical area of the brain and come out the other side, necessitating surgery, ICU, and a lot of rehab, but not a one-way ticket upstairs/downstairs.

The bullet had hit Stan in the occiput, so bye-bye occipital lobe. But I thought it was higher up than brainstem, which would have spelled instant death. So it was possible, if not probable, that he might pull through. But the longer he lay on the ground, the lower his chances of any meaningful recovery.

At least by drawing the gunman away from Stan, I was allowing the emergency crew to make its way toward him.

On the other hand, it meant I was drawing the gunman toward a bunch of defenseless pregnant women.

I might have yelled for them to run, but the fire alarm was doing all the screaming for me. The sound invaded my head, made it hard to think anything except Shut up.

My body walked anyway, with the diaphragm of my stethoscope banging a drum beat against my chest. I held my hands up in the air, both to calm down the gunman and so that anyone looking at me would immediately compute that something was wrong. Flee. Now.

The case room hallway looked deserted.

It didn’t feel empty, though.

First door on the right. Triage. I imagined all those exhausted pregnant women and men, plus the triage nurse, holding their breath and barring the door. I walked a little faster, hoping that Bastard wouldn’t pause and knock on that door.

He didn’t.

Now we’d reached the nursing station on our left. The long, white counter hung with tinsel, which the elderly ward clerk usually sat behind, answering the phone with her crystal-studded acrylic nails, and which I stood in front of to write my charts or answer my pages: empty.

Behind the counter, the communal wooden table and small alcove, where the nurses sat to chart and to watch the fetal monitors mounted to the wall, under Christmas balls dangling from the ceiling: empty.

Everyone had taken off. Or was at least out of sight, for the moment.

Bastard exhaled.

I tensed. He could easily yell, “Bring me Casey, or I’ll kill this chink!”

And then, if no one answered, he’d shoot me out of spite.

The alarm screeched on. Overhead, the hospital operator intoned, “Code Black, Fourth Floor. Code Noir, quatrième étage.”

Bastard’s left hand relaxed on my shoulder while he held the gun to my right temple.

Was he letting down his guard? I could try to break away from him now.

But which way should I run? Back toward the elevators and Stan? He’d shoot me before I got ten paces.

Around the hallway’s U-shape to the OR and then the ward rooms? Much, much farther. And at least fifty feet of hallway, where I could get shot.

Under the desk, so I could hole up like a mouse before he executed me?

So many bad choices, so little time.

The only thing I didn’t consider was running for a case room or triage. He’d whack me, then take potshots at anyone and everyone else in the room.

But he didn’t want me. He wanted Casey Assim.

The fastest way to figure out her location was by circling behind the desk to view the whiteboard linked to the desktop computer, which faced away from the hallway to protect it from prying eyes. That information would lead him right to her room.

So many women are killed by their partners and ex-partners. Should I aid and abet a murderer, plus get caught in the crossfire?

Um, no.

“Where is she?” Bastard said. He was still so close that I could feel the shift of his head as he glanced up and down the hallway.

Hiding from you, you maniac.

The fire alarm cut off suddenly, leaving my ears ringing.

That, too, was strange. Usually, the alarm goes on forever, and everyone has to close the exam room doors until the Second Coming, or at least until the operator says, “Code Red, all clear. Code Rouge maintenant terminé.

Were the police on the way?

“I don’t see Casey,” I said, which was true. I couldn’t see any living soul. Maybe if I acted useless enough, he’d leave me alone.

Or shoot me. This was turning into a Choose Your Own Adventure where 90 percent of the endings left me unconscious and bleeding. I was not a fan.

“Go get her,” he said.

How could I delay him?

Light bulb moment. I pointed to the beige phone sitting on the counter, its receiver slightly blackened and greasy from numerous hands. Less than ten minutes ago, I’d been answering Stan’s page on that phone.

That phone could be my lifeline to make contact with the outside world, if he let me.

My cell phone buzzed twice in my pocket. I couldn’t answer Tucker or Ryan or anyone else right now, but I wished them safe and far, far away. Tucker was just one floor above me, tending to his internal medicine patients at this exact moment. Strange to think of the fifth floor as a world away, and that I might never see him again.

“What if I called locating and asked if Casey’s registered?” I asked. “They might be able to give me a room number.”

I didn’t have to give him the room number. Well, maybe he’d rip the phone away from me and threaten the operator to get it. But first, I might be able to speak to someone who could call the cavalry, if they hadn’t already. And the more I delayed, the higher the chances that the police could storm in here.

Bastard shook his head. “I already tried that.”

Right. And he’d created enough of a ruckus that the clerk had asked for Casey in Manouchka’s room. They never do that. My first tip-off that something was awry.

“I’m a doctor,” I said. “They might give me more information, especially since I’m calling from within the hospital.”

Bastard snorted and glanced up and down the corridor. “I know she’s in here some place. I should just bust down the doors and shoot everyone.”

My heart thumped in my throat, but I tried to speak calmly. “You might hurt Casey by mistake.”

He stopped to think about that. I could tell from the stillness in his body, even though I was facing away from him and he was still covered in a burqa.

He took a step back from me. My heart leaped, but he just repositioned the gun from my head to my T-spine, between my shoulder blades.

Still. He was giving me some space. That had to be a good sign. Also, my mother would be proud how straight I was now standing, trying to edge a few millimetres away from certain death.

“If she’s registered, we can just go to the right room. That’s all we need. Right?” Now I was promising him Casey’s head on a platter again. I could hardly speak, my mouth was so dry.

I could hear Bastard’s glower through his voice. “I don’t want you calling the police.”

“You can do the dialing. You can even hold the phone, if you want.” The more non-gun things he used to clutter up his hands, the better.

Then I thought I heard a sound. Was it from Manouchka and June’s room?

I tried to glance over my left shoulder, at their closed door opposite the nursing station, but the muzzle boring a hole in my spine reminded me not to move.

Nothing to see, anyway. June had probably hurled the door shut at the first sound of gunfire. With any luck, she’d barricaded it.

The gunman noticed my head twitch, but instead of blowing me away, he said, “Is she in there?”

“What? No. Not the woman you’re looking for. It’s someone else.” I stared straight ahead at the wall above the nurse’s table, petrified that even a quick look could sentence someone else to death.

“You’re lying.”

“I’m not. That’s the one patient I saw before you. Her name’s not Casey.”

“Casey. Casey Assim. That’s who I want.” He grabbed my left arm and jerked me sideways, walking me the few crucial steps so I was now facing the first case room door. Obviously, all he heard was Casey’s name and nothing else. He was like a missile locked on detonate. “Get her out of there. Or get me in. I don’t care. She’s gonna have my baby.” He placed the gun at the back of my head now, which made me think of Stan.

Stan. Dead Stan.

Don’t think that way. He might still make it. Come on.

At close range, I finally recognized that insistent stink emanating from Bastard’s pores as marijuana. Lovely.

I forced myself to speak in a low, well-enunciated voice. “She’s not there. Let me call the operator. I’ll find you Casey.”

He pushed the gun a little harder against my occiput. “Open. That. Door.”

I stared at the edging etched into the white wood of the first case room door. If he shot me, could the bullet drive right through the wood and hit Manouchka or June too?

My hand dipped toward the metal door handle, but a sound caught my ear.

Not just any sound. A whistle.

On our right, echoing off the empty hospital corridor walls.

Someone whistling in the midst of blood and terror. It was as startling as if a bluebird had launched itself above our heads in this hospital hall of horror, singing a tale of joyful spring in mid-November.

I knew that whistle. My nails cut into my palms to stop myself from yelling. My breath rasped in my throat, and I know this sounds strange, but my nipples hardened.

I even recognized the song, “What a Day for a Daydream.”

It was the stupidest, most inappropriate song for this scenario, and that would have told me the whistler’s identity even if I’d been blindfolded and gagged.

It was one man I didn’t want trapped with me.

I wanted to scream, Run, Tucker.

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Read Chapter 1 here.

Chapter 2 here.

Stockholm Syndrome, Chapter 2

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I screamed. It happened so fast. I’d never seen anyone use a gun, except my dad fooling around with a BB gun in our back yard, and now Stan dropped to his knees before he caught himself on his hands, gurgling.

Behind him, the blonde woman and her husband ducked into triage and slammed the door behind them. Suddenly, only me, Stan and the gunwoman stood in the hallway.

“Call 911!” I yelled in the general direction of the nursing station, ignoring the gunwoman. The triage nurse had probably seen or heard enough to call for help, but it never hurt to sound the alarm.

Meanwhile, I’d focus on the A, B, C’s of resuscitation. Especially the airway and breathing. My eyes fixed on the bloody hole in Stan’s back, just below the point of his left scapula. Probably too far from the midline to cut his spinal cord, but right in “the box” where shrapnel could pierce a heart or lung or both, depending on the trajectory.

Stan dropped on to his stomach, still breathing, so his heart probably hadn’t been hit. I have zero experience with gunshot wounds, but they say that after a heart attack, if you have myocardial rupture, and the heart bursts open, the person dies in a few beats. He’d already made it past that.

I fell on my knees beside Stan, who was barely sucking air into his lungs. Did he have a pneumothorax? The hole in his chest could still kill him within minutes.

My first instinct was to turn him on his back, because that’s how patients always roll into the emerg on a stretcher, face up. Also, the exit wound in front of his chest would gape more than the relatively neat hole in back.

I stopped and grabbed the stethoscope hung around the back of my neck. Even with Stan face-down, I could listen to his breath sounds.

“Don’t touch him,” said the burqa woman.

I looked up.

She trained her gun on my face.

My hands stilled, slowly relinquishing the navy rubber tube of my stethoscope. It wasn’t that I’d forgotten her, but I had a higher calling here. I lifted both palms in the air. “Look. I’m a doctor. He’s a doctor.”

“I need Casey Assim,” the woman said. Her voice had descended into growl territory.

It took me a second to process that. Casey. That was the name the ward clerk had buzzed us about in Manouchka’s room. So Casey Assim must be a patient, a new one who hadn’t made it on the whiteboard yet. The one Stan had been on his way to deliver?

Stan tried to cough. He choked instead. The breath rattled in his lungs before he boosted himself on to his hands and started crawling on his hands and knees toward the open doorway. Toward the case room. Or the closed triage door. Or the nursing station. Any way you sliced it, civilization.

He knew where to go. His brain was still clicking. He had the strength to crawl. Should I try and distract the burqa woman? Maybe try and wrestle the gun away from her?

But that was an insane Hollywood move. And also, I couldn’t help noticing that Stan was deserting me while this woman held us at gunpoint.

I could distract her for the few crucial seconds while Stan got away, but I wouldn’t jump her.

I heard a nurse scream from further down the hallway. She tried to stifle it, which made it sound even worse.

From my view, at least thirty feet away, I could tell that they’d sealed all four case room doors, but the nursing station was an open desk area. The counter might protect you a little, but not the open table.

Maybe the staff would run toward the OR and back out the other side of the U, toward the ward. But could the patients run that fast?

The overhead paging system blared, “Code Black, Fourth Floor. Code Noir, quatrième étage.”

Then someone pulled the fire alarm. The high-pitched bell made my ears cringe.

“Is Casey the person you’re looking for?” I asked, raising my voice above the alarm. My arms quivered in the air. “I—”

The burqa woman looked down at Stan crawling and shot him in the back of the head.

The sound of the bullet echoed through the hallway.

His body flopped on the floor.

Blood coursed from the back of his skull.

I couldn’t make a sound.

I’d met murderers before. But they’d never killed anyone in front of me.

This was like an execution. And what had Stan done? He hadn’t broken patient confidentiality. He’d done the “right thing.” Now he was probably dead.

I didn’t want to die.

I really didn’t want to die.

I gazed down the case room hall, now empty of obvious human habitat, although I knew the triage room must be packed like Sonic dance club on the night of a full moon, and at least three out of four women labouring in the case room hadn’t made a break for freedom.

It was just me and the burqa murderer now.

The fire alarm shrieked overhead, a piercing scream that made my jaw ache and my arms tremble.

This couldn’t be happening.

Oh, yes, it could. I’d survived enough tight situations to know that real life could surpass any nightmare.

They call me the detective doctor. But it’s one thing to try and figure out any wrongdoing after the fact. It’s quite another to have someone a) pull out a gun, and b) shoot your senior resident in front of you.

“How may I help you?” I said, trying to sound civil, like this was normal. Like I wasn’t about to get whumped. I thought of my main man, Ryan. My first runner-up, Tucker, who made my toes curl. My little brother, Kevin. My parents. My grandmothers.

I love you. I’m sorry I never told you enough.

The burqa woman detoured to grab me from behind, her body a solid presence behind mine while she drilled the muzzle of the gun against my right temple. The muzzle was still cool after shooting Stan.

She’s right-handed, I noticed with the back part of my brain. Maybe it would make a difference, maybe it wouldn’t. But my shocked brain insisted on memorizing facts like this and noticing that she smelled like beer, tangy sweat, and something unpleasantly familiar.

“Get me Casey Assim,” she said. “Now.”

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Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000038_00067]

 

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Stockholm Syndrome: Chapter 1

Two doctors. One killer. One woman in labour.

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000038_00067]

A killer infiltrates the obstetrics ward of a Montreal hospital just before Christmas, taking one pregnant woman and one resident doctor hostage at gunpoint.
Dr. Hope Sze struggles to deliver her patient’s baby with blood on the floor and death in the air.

And when Dr. Tucker tries to rescue their tiny crew, only to end up hostage material alongside them, Hope’s heart just might break, even before the kidnapper drills a bullet through her skull.

Debuts Dec. 1st. Preorder here. Contact me at olobooks<at>gmail<dot>com to join the Facebook launch, or just show up to the live event Dec. 6th.

I will preview the first six chapters on my blog.

IMG_4084 - Version 2

Chapter 1

Birth smells.

I’m not saying it stinks—well, to some people, it does. I remember the classmate who finished our med school OB/gyn rotation without ever delivering an infant. He delivered half of the head, and then the look on his face was so horrid that the obstetrician delivered the rest of the baby.

I’ve got a stronger stomach than that classmate, but when I stepped into the delivery room at Montreal’s St. Joseph’s Hospital, it only smelled like sweat and a little blood. The odours would grow more intense once the amniotic fluid broke and the afterbirth emerged, but for now, I didn’t hold my breath.

My eyes adjusted to the darkness. The nurse had turned the lights off, except for a small fluorescent lamp beside the bed. The baby’s heartbeat chugged along on the fetal monitor. Whump, whump, whump at 162 beats per minute.

Most of obstetrics is nice and normal. Even our C-sections tend toward planned events instead of crash OR’s. They screen out congenital abnormalities at our small, Canadian community centre.

“This is the only happy area of the hospital!” an obstetrician told me on my first day. “Everybody’s smiling!”

The black woman labouring in the bed wasn’t smiling. She was sweating. Which made sense. “That’s why they call it labour,” the nurse often says, while the woman recovers from the latest contraction. That’s normal, too.

So I was pretty surprised when my obstetrics rotation transformed into a bone-chilling bloodbath.

IMG_4074But that evening of November fourteenth, I didn’t suspect anything except the fact that I might not get to eat the lentil casserole I’d stashed in the residents’ lounge for supper. I smiled at my newest patient, Ms. Beauzile. The nurse had cranked the back of the bed up so that the patient was half-sitting, squinting at me from her pillows, with her legs bent at the hips and knees, and her thighs spread over a foot apart. Can’t say I’m looking forward to the indignity, should I ever get the chance to procreate. Especially if I had to labour solo, like this lady.

According to the electronic whiteboard posted in the nursing station, Ms. Beauzile was 28 years old, or only a year older than me. This was her first baby, and she was at six centimetres, or sixty percent en route to pushing out this passenger. She also had a low-grade fever of 38.1 Celsius, but the med student had noted that they weren’t giving her antibiotics, because she had a runny nose and they figured it was a cold. Good call.

“Madame Beauzile, I’m Dr. Hope Sze. I’m the resident doctor on call for obstetrics.” I glanced at the top right hand corner to find the stamp with her first name. It was one I’d never heard before, and sounded Russian to me: Manouchka.

Now was not the time to inquire about how she got such an unusual name. Not when she clutched the white plastic bed rails, dragging herself forward with both arms, heaving herself to 90 degrees, and started to huff.

The nurse grabbed her hand. “Yes, Manouchka! That’s it!”

I took a step forward and said, “Yes! Keep going!” I felt silly, since I was crashing their two-person party and didn’t really know how to encourage her.

But after half a minute, the patient sighed and settled back down in the bed. The dim, yellow light reflected the sweat on her deep brown forehead. The baby’s heart rate, which had only slowed down to 139, climbed back up again. The mini-contraction was over.

“Next time,” said the nurse, studiously ignoring me. OB nurses generally hate medical students and residents. You have to prove yourself. They’d rather you left them alone while they coach the patient through labour and handle, well, just about everything else.

This Asian nurse was shorter than me, which always gets me excited, since I’m only five foot two and a quarter. (The quarter makes people laugh, but it adds up to 158 centimetres instead of 157, and I’ve got to treasure every millimetre.) Her hair was a short bob, not unlike the cut I’d sported over the summer, until I decided to grow my hair down to my shoulders. Like me, she wore glasses. When I’m on call, I’m all about the glasses. Not only do they dry out my eyes less than contact lenses, but they’re also a built-in eye shield from bodily fluids.

However, the nurse was probably twenty years older than me, wearing fashionista-frightening purple scrubs covered in owls, and scowled like she’d rather push my face into a newly-delivered placenta than shake my hand. Too bad. Sometimes, I’ll meet another Asian and we’ll nod at each other in recognition, but not this time.

The speaker built into the wall at the head of the bed crackled with static. “Do you have a visitor in there?”

The nurse pressed the red button mounted on the wall. “No, it’s just the resident.” She had a way of biting off her words that sounded maybe Filipina.

“The junior obstetrics resident, Dr. Sze,” I called out. I tell people to pronounce it like the letter C.

The nurse snorted. Her flowery name tag, clipped to her already-blinding purple scrub top, said JUNE, but she seemed more like a porcupine, to me.

The intercom crackled, and the unit secretary’s voice quavered, “We’ve got a woman here saying that her friend is in one of the case rooms. Casey? Maybe she’s with Dr. Beeman?”

“I can’t help you,” said June, letting go of the red button and turning back to Manouchka.

My pager beep-beep-beeped.

IMG_4066I had a feeling it was Dr. John Tucker, so I grinned even before I turned the pager so that its little plastic face could tell me who called. I shouldn’t have been smiling. I should’ve been keeping my distance from him, since I’d officially contacted the University of Ottawa about transferring so that I could finally move back to my hometown and back to Ryan Wu, my past and present boyfriend, ideally before the end of 2012. And I usually yell at Tucker for paging me when I’m on call, when I’m already pulled in ten million directions. But he was also on call, albeit one floor up, and I could use a friend plus or minus benefits.

It wasn’t Tucker.

It was 3361. My senior resident, Stan Biedelman.

I’d have to answer it back at the nursing station, since the phone in the room belonged to the patient, and I didn’t want to use up my iPhone battery or my personal minutes. St. Joe’s was too cheap to give every resident a hospital phone. “Excuse me, Ms. Beauzile,” I said. “I’ll be back.”

She turned her cheek away from me, her face puffy with pregnancy. Her hair tufted against the pillow.

I hadn’t even had a chance to check her cervix. I don’t always, because the fewer hands travelling up the va-jay-jay to contaminate the amniotic fluid, the better.

Luckily, the delivery rooms, or case rooms, are lined up one after the other, on the right side if you’re heading down the hall, and mine was directly opposite the nursing station on the left. So it was less than ten strides to the nearest beige phone sitting on the counter. I punched the four-digit extension in and introduced myself.

“There’s a consult in emerg,” said Stan, who’s only a year ahead of me in the family medicine program. “Vag bleed at ten weeks.”

That was slightly unusual. Nearly all our emergency consults are for vaginal bleeding at five to seven weeks, from women who may be miscarrying. Ten weeks is a bit late.

“It’s Dr. Callendar on, so you know what that means,” said Stan.

I did. It meant that he hadn’t done a vaginal exam. Theoretically, the emergency staff should do a complete physical exam, but if they’re lazy like Dr. C, they’ll slog it off on the specialty service. Tonight, that meant me. The rash on my ankles started to itch under the cuff of my socks. I started playing with the tinsel on the desk so that I wouldn’t scratch myself or say something I’d regret.

“Page me when you’re done, and we can talk to her together.”

“Thanks,” I said. Still holding on to the phone receiver, I walked around the counter to eyeball the whiteboard mounted above the clerk’s head. They keep it inside the nursing station for patient privacy. We only had three patients, including Ms. Beauzile. If I was going to deliver any babies before supper, she was my best bet. I grabbed the mouse, right-clicked her name, and added my name beside Ms. Beauzile’s, so Stan or the medical student shouldn’t try to swoop down and steal her.

I’d only delivered two infants as a medical student—not so many more than my queasy med school friend—but I had to liberate at least fifty this month, because St. Joseph’s has an unofficial quota. For every month on OB, you’re supposed to check off at least fifty newborns. If it’s a less fertile month, tough. Elbow the medical students out of the way and try and get the other resident to take over the wards while you run to the case room a minimum of fifty times.

So far, I’d delivered two babies in my first two days. Not bad, but I’d have to step it up if I was going to make quota before December tenth. I remembered something else to tell Stan. “Oh, by the way, the clerk said someone was looking for you. I assume it was you, anyway. Dr. Beeman?” Sounded kind of like Biedelman. I’m used to people massacring my last name.

“If they need me, they know where to find me.”

“Three-three-six-one?” I said, citing his current extension.

“Yeah. You got my cell phone, too, but don’t give it out to strange men.”

“Strange women okay?”

“Yeah. Just don’t tell my wife.”

We both laughed, and I hung up, forgetting to tell him not to steal my delivery. Oh, well. He was probably too busy eating Cheetos while I slogged away, but it didn’t bother me. Much. The junior always does all the work. Or, as Jade, a second-year resident, pointed out after a particularly terrible emerg shift, “Shit rolls downhill.”

IMG_7732The ER is kind of the mosh pit on the ground level where every man, woman, and child in Montreal ends up before we sort them out, and also where I want to work when I grow up. First, I had to get out of the labour and delivery area. I’m not sure why we call it the case room, because it’s basically a series of four rooms along the hallway, across from the nursing station. Up to four women can labour at once. If you continue past the case rooms to the end of the hall and turn left, along the bottom of a U shape, you’ll come out at the OR for emergency C-sections.

Instead, I forged a straight line in the opposite direction, toward the elevators. I passed a pregnant woman in a black burqa shuffling in the same direction. We often see women who wear head scarves—actually, I’m the one who gets them, because they invariably ask for a female doctor, and I often smile when I spot the trendy clothes underneath—so maybe this one would be my second delivery of the night. She was moving a little oddly, though. Not quite waddling, but kind of stiff-legged, although it was hard to tell because the fabric covered her from head to toe. The hem swept the floor, and the material hung over her hands, with only a letter slot opening for the eyes.

I turned sideways to pass the two couples waiting for triage. The women’s glazed eyes flickered past me. They were already tired, even before going into labour and actively pushing. Neither of them wore that eager, first-time relish. These women and men probably already had a kid or three at home, and wanted to get this over with so that they could start a new routine.

Triage is a doleful spot at the top of the corridor, because patients are waiting for one nurse to decide if they’re far enough along in labour to warrant being assigned to one of those four rooms, or if they’re going to get told to walk around and come back later. We also do non-stress tests here, or NST’s. Sounds horrible, but it just means a pregnant woman is strapped up to a monitor and we check the fetal heart rate for twenty minutes, to make sure it’s okay.

Usually, I’d sweep straight down to the emerg, the better to catch more deliveries. Instead, I glanced over my left shoulder. My potential new patient wore the most extreme sort of burqa, with a type of fabric grille over the eye opening. I couldn’t make out her expression, which freaked me out a little. Still, she was pointed toward triage, which was probably the right place for her, although it was hard to tell under all that cloth.

One lucky couple entered the triage room, leaving just the other couple in the hallway. Instead of queuing behind them, the burqa woman slowly passed them, following in my footsteps.

My eyes followed the burqa lady. My gut was trying to tell me something, although I couldn’t exactly tell what.

I had to finish the emerg consult before Manouchka delivered her baby. I should have shot right downstairs, but that nagging feeling made me wheel back toward the burqa woman, and I found myself saying, “May I help you?”

The figure in black turned toward me without speaking.

The same uneasy vibe made my scalp tingle and my voice rise. I said, “Were you asking for Dr. Biedelman? He’s a male physician. If you want a female physician, I can help you. I’m the junior resident on obstetrics and gynecology.”

The woman in black looked me up and down, still silent.

I was trying to peer through the grille of the veil. I figured I had to be able to look in so that she could see out, yet all I could make out was a bit of pale forehead and some deep brown eyes. The eyebrows seemed a bit bushy to me, which could’ve been a cultural thing. Or she didn’t have time to groom her eyebrows while she was in labour.

IMG_7730The triage nurse called out from her room, “It’s okay, I already paged Dr. Biedelman for another case.”

“Okay,” I said. I didn’t know why I was trying to save Stan more work. I was already doing the emerg consult for him.

I spun on my heel, toward the wider hallway in front of the elevators. I narrowly avoided running into a pregnant woman with bright blonde hair, a well-cut navy coat, and enough bling on her hands to blind an army. She clung to her husband’s arm. He was wearing a good-looking suit and surveyed the queue in front of him, his forehead already pleated with exasperation. They looked like money. You don’t see that often at St. Joe’s. Not that we don’t have middle class, but a lot of people are immigrants adjusting to a new country, not the Kennedys slumming it.

A set of elevator doors binged open to my right, and Stan stepped through the candy cane-stickered doors, coming toward me. He’s a big guy, probably six feet tall, made a few millimetres taller by a yarmulke. I’m not good at gauging heights. For me, most adults fall into the category of “tall” and “taller.” Anyway, Stan’s hilarious. I prize anyone who can make me laugh when I’m on call.

I started to wave at him. He said, “If I don’t answer my page, it’s because I’ve got a woman in labour.”

“Who?” I said. “The one at six centimetres, I’ve got my name down on her.”

“Mine just came in. She’s full term and fully dilated.”

“I want her!” I said.

He smirked. “Not a chance. The nurse called me about her directly. She’s gonna push. And you’ve got the emerg consult.”

I clenched my hands into fists. He glanced down at them with a little smile, so I forced my hands to relax as I asked, “Stan, how many women have you delivered so far?”

“Let me see.” He pulled out his phone and pretended to check. “Oh. Eleven.”

“I’ve only got two. Let me have her, and then I’ll go right down to do the emerg consult. Please.”

“Forget it. I’ve got to get to fifty.”

“But you’re already over 20 percent of the way there! And we’re on day three. Come on, Stan.”

He waved. “Hey, enjoy Dr. Callendar. I did, when I was the junior. Now it’s my turn.”

Right. His turn to cherry-pick the women in labour. I steamed.

“Your turn will come. You said you had your name down on the six-centimetre one. All in good time.”

With my luck, Manouchka Beauzile would deliver while I was in the emerg, at the exact moment when Stan miraculously stepped into the room. Then I could end up with zero deliveries during my night on call. I took a step toward him. “Stan.”

He waved me away. “See you later, Hope. Look, the elevator’s already open for you. Just ride it on down.”

As if on cue, the usually molasses-slow elevator doors slipped closed. Stan chortled.

I wanted to hit him. He was so smug. And anyway, I usually took the stairs, at least at the beginning of the night, while I still had some juice. The stairs were around the corner, closer to the ward rooms where moms cuddled with their newborns and a few women lay on bed rest, trying not to give birth to premature twins. I started toward the stairs, but the burqa woman said, in a muffled voice, “Excuse me.”

She stood before the single doorway to the case room, blocking Stan’s way in toward triage and the labour rooms.

Stan hesitated. “Yes?” He gazed over her head, down the hall, clearly already ticking off number twelve in his mind.

She didn’t have an accent, exactly, but she pitched her voice low. “What is the name of your patient?”

That was an odd thing to ask.

“Sorry, I can’t disclose any patient names,” said Stan, glancing at the triage line-up behind her.

“It’s important,” said the woman, crossing her arms over her shoulders, like she was cold and giving herself a hug.

“Just ask at the desk, if you’re a friend or family,” said Stan, starting to brush past her. I could already hear the triage nurse’s voice, raised in irritation at the blonde couple trying to cut ahead in line.

“Tell me,” said the burqa woman, louder now, with a strange note to her voice. The fabric billowed around her arms and chest.

“No can do,” said Stan, head down and bustling toward the case room and his next delivery.

The burqa woman pulled a big, black gun out of the folds in her robe and shot him in the back.

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Read Chapter 2.

N-n-n-na-notorious (book trailer)

What can I say? I love this book trailer. I would like to kiss it. The only thing I’d modify is the thumbnail, which I will if I have time before my (dum dum dum dum!) next secret partnership emerges February 24th.

My husband snorted and said, “Typical Hollywood,” but I was hypnotized by my own work. My eight-year-old son, Max, who showed no interest in my Hope Sze books prior, glommed on to the trailer and said, “Mommy, this is your best one.”

While we were brushing our teeth, he said, “Mommy, who does Hope Sze marry?”

“I can’t tell you, Max.”

“Why not?”

I laughed. “Well, for one thing, I haven’t decided yet. Maybe she doesn’t marry anyone.”

“You have to tell me.”

“Why?”

“Because I’m your son.”

I laughed and hugged him.

After I tucked him in bed, Max said, “Mommy, can we read the Hope Sze books?” (He pronounces it Zee. Close enough.)

“Um, they’re really grown-up books, Max.”

“Why?”

“Well, they have people killing other people and sex and stuff.”

“I still want to read them.”

“Okay.” But in the meantime, we’re reading Gordon Korman. He loved Bugs Potter (in fact, he liked Bugs Potter Live at Nickaninny even more than Who Is Bugs Potter?), and we’re just starting on Beware the Fish.

How ’bout you? What are you reading, and do you consider book trailers a godsend, or the downfall of civilization?

Behind the Scenes: Kobo’s Going Going Gone Contest #9: The Leap

Part 1: The e-mailPart 2: The CallPart 3: The ReadingPart 4: The WaitingPart 5: The TextPart 6: The “GO” CallPart 7: The Writing & Invitation, Part 8: The Party.

Today is the final day of Kobo’s Going Gone Gone Contest. So, y’know, if you could use $5000 and a Kobo Aura H2O, go for it. I’ll provide one last clue and a secret code here and one gigantic one in my newsletter that goes out later today.

But first, the conclusion to my behind the scenes posts! Da-da-da DUM!

#theface photo 3-2

Aaaaaaa! #the face by Robyn, me & Nathan. I’m wearing Tangente‘s White Jersey Dress with Ombre Ribbon Straps

August 26th, 2014

Since I’d travelled from Eastern to Southern Ontario for Kobo’s End of Summer Party, I wanted to thank Kobo’s senior people personally for choosing me for their soon-to-launched-but-presently-top-secret promotion.

One of the other writers asked me why I was doing this. “What would you say to him, ‘Nice device’?” He thought I was going to rave about the Kobo Aura H2O, which would be understandable, but…

“I just wanted to say thank you for choosing me,” I said, which sounds kind of ridiculous when I couldn’t even explain that I had a classified deal. It’s like saying, “Look! I’m engaged to the invisible man! Isn’t he gorgeous?” and everyone’s like, “Where? Where?”

Robyn came by, and I mentioned that I’d like to meet some people.

“Oh, Taka?” she said, and introduced me to the CEO, Takahito Aiki. I thanked him, and he handled it very gracefully.

The President had been carted off for photos post-speech, but once the spotlight died down, I noticed Rob Sawyer, the science fiction author/networker extraordinaire, who was the life of the party at World Fantasy 2000. I said, “Rob, you know everyone. Can you introduce me to the President?”

“Sure. We’ll just have to find him.”

Michael Tamblyn cheerfully greeted Rob, who introduced me. I shook the President’s hand and told him I appreciated his speech about Kobo as a David vs. Goliath, and that it was amazing that they’d chosen to highlight a relatively unknown writer like me, a David surrounded by New York Times-bestselling Goliaths.

“I like the way you network,” said my new friend Diane, afterward. “Some people are very single-minded about it, but you have a nice, natural way of approaching people.”

“Aw, thanks,” I said. It’s only recently that I’ve realized that most people aren’t offended and may, in fact, be charmed when you approach them nicely. Mark Lefebvre recently posted on KWL that I’ve “never been shy about getting to know other industry folks…in a professional and friendly manner.” Speaking of networking, here’s your daily clue. Have you noticed my latest Facebook friend? If you don’t know her already, check her out using the code HOPEGONE. If you still have no clue, sign up for my newsletter and all will be revealed.

I looked across the pool. “Now I’d like to talk to the girl with the purple hair.”

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Erika Szabo was on her phone, but I introduced myself anyway. She said, “I’m a YouTuber.” She did tech blogging before, but now she makes her living vlogging on old school video games, maybe looking at moving into dance (she does pole, yoga, and Parkour), with a backup in retail. She was a self-taught journalist for six years, but she wanted to do something different, y’know? She likes to try different things.

I can’t tell you how different that is from my family, which is more like: 1. Work on something safe until the day you drop dead. 2. Invest wisely. 3. Never spend money. So of course, I thought this was very cool. Then we took off to the CNE, which is only $6 after 5 p.m.!

Everything was enormous at the CNE.

My son Max loves the Williamstown Fair. This was a fair, too, but everything was bigger. Even the food signs looked a story tall, not just displaying but screaming EAT THIS! PLAY THIS! Come here! Do it now!

I was glad I hadn’t brought Max, because he would have tried to play every game, eat every food, and generally make himself dizzy and sick (but satisfied).

Me & Erika & butter Jabba

Me & Erika & butter Jabba

Me & Erika BEING butter Jabba. Taking the leap.

Me & Erika BEING butter Jabba.

One big thing was zip lining. I’ve done it in Costa Rica. I didn’t think it was that big a deal. It’s very safe, and you get to look at the wildlife. To be completely honest, my favourite part was when one of the zip line guys looked me up and down and said to Matt, “Is that your wife? Uh huh.” So when people were lip lining over the CNE, and Erika said, “That must cost $50,” I wasn’t too impressed.

But when we checked over the cost, and it was $20.

Twenty bucks.

What a way to cap off the night. and my whole experience, really, plunging into the unknown, fingers crossed for the best.

“We’re closing. You have nine minutes to buy your ticket,” they said.

“Okay. You in?” I asked Erika.

“I’m totally in.”

So we plunked down our money and lined up for about 45 minutes, but it went fast because we made a new friend, Laura, an ariel circus performer who was having her vacation at the CNE. Finishing off the night with zip lining. As one does.

I didn’t think too much about the actual zip lining until we started climbing the tower. Costa Rica wasn’t this high—just above the tree line—and the trees make it look less high. As it was, I was climbing and climbing flights of stairs, and my heart rate accelerated. I was trying not to think about that short story about a woman who’s climbing the stairs to a tower in the darkness, counting every step (600, 601…), but when she goes down, there are more steps than going up (602, 603…). Plus my feet hurt in my flats.

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When I got to the top, a cheery Aussie/Kiwi guy checked my equipment, and I said, “How high are we?”

“About fourteen stories. Are you scared?” He thought it was a joke. He’d commented on how another girl was shaking.

“It seems like not that steep an incline,” I said, trying to look at it logically. It wasn’t like a 90 degree drop to the bottom. Maybe 30 degree drop to give you a ride, but you still ended up at another tower.

“It’s not.” It was probably baby steps for him.

The problem was, no trees, nothing to break your fall. Just lights. We were higher than the Ferris wheels. And stepping off into darkness.

I said, “I assume it’s safe. How many accidents have you had here?”

“Zero.”

“Great. Could you just check my equipment?”

“That’s what I’m here for.” He said everything was fine. And I had realized myself, at nearly the last minute, that my shoes might fall off. For some reason, no one had thought to tape my flats on. I was not inclined to walk down 14 flights to get taped up and then climb up another 14 flights again, but thank goodness, someone had tape. They taped my flats so tight, they hurt, but I didn’t mind. I didn’t want to have to walk back to my apartment barefoot, plus bean someone on the head with my shoe.

The women ahead of us were so scared, they argued over how to count to three. They climbed down the stairs and sat on them instead of jumping off. And apparantly one of them spit or drooled as she took off. But they did it, screaming.

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Excuse me, is that Jabba the Hutt again? We’ve got to do the Jabba! (Before the zip lining.)


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Erika and I agreed to just go.

I have to admit, when I walked down four stairs that ended in darkness, I thought it was madness, sailing into the darkness in a ball gown. Was this how Cinderella ended up in the 21st century?

But I’d paid my twenty bucks. And if I’ve paid my money, I want my money’s worth.

“Ready?” Erika said.

I nodded.

We lifted our feet and—wheee!

For me, since the equipment felt secure, I felt serene, just flying along with the lights of the rides and the tents below me.

I felt fine, but I did hold on to the tower when I got off. The person had to ask me to take a step closer so that she could unhook me.

But I was glad I did it.

Every day is a risk.

Like Erika says, DO IT. Go for it. Take the leap.

KWL is in the house! With Jodi, Mark, me, Christina & Tara

KWL is in the house! With Jodi, Mark, me, Tara & Christina. Good luck!

Behind the Scenes: Kobo’s Going Going Gone Contest #4: The Waiting.

Hello, my beautiful people. Sorry for the blog silence, but I was exhausted from my Books & Bodies launch/birthday/Gen’s birthday/ER shifts. Now I’m ready to yank back the curtain once more to tell you all about my secret $5000 Going Going Gone contest deal with Kobo. Start with Part 1: The e-mailPart 2: The Call, & Part 3: The Reading.

The waiting

July 7

I texted Mark that I’d finished Gone Girl.

He replied, Cool. Marketing was going to get back to him about theme(s).

 

July 15

The movie premiere was October third. That wasn’t going to change. Surely, if they wanted me to write these stories, they’d have to figure it out soon?

Or…not do it at all.

 

Worried. Idle. Worried some more. Photo by Ryan McGuire Pixabay.

Worried. Idle. Worried some more. Photo by Ryan McGuire Pixabay.

 

Hey Mark, any luck?

Tomorrow. Fingers crossed.

Now I remembered the un-glamorous part of dealing with corporations: you have no idea what’s going on with their machinations. I waited months for CBC Radio to green light a pilot script for the Code Blues radio drama, with no idea if it would pan out or not.

One line from Mark stood out for me: Fingers crossed.

That was when I understood that my inside Director was pulling for me, but couldn’t guarantee anything.

My Secret Deal might mean No Deal.

Dang.

__

But for you, my darlings, the waiting is over! The third Hope Sze story, Butcher’s Hook, is now live, the Going Going Gone Contest is open, and YOU can win $5000 and a Kobo H2O Aura, the world’s first waterproof e-reader! Go forth, read, and make money!

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Meet My Character Blog Hop: Hope Sze Meets the Society of Reluctant Detectives

Thank you, Shirley McCann, for inviting me on a Blog Hop. Shirley just released Anonymously Yours, a mystery about a Missouri waitress who tries to return a wallet and discovers a body. Shirley’s giving away a $50 Amazon gift card if you review her book!

I’ve been preoccupied with my own Going Going Gone contest: Kobo’s awarding $5000 and a Kobo Aura H2O if you download my three, free Hope Sze Gone Fishing stories and solve three riddles, as I blogged about here. My next posts will be a behind the scenes sneak peak at how I got the deal.

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In the meantime, this is Hope. She deviates from the usual blog hop formula. Of course. My deviant detective doctor decided to visit a fictional self-help meeting.

The Society of Reluctant Detectives Meeting, November 9th, 2011

Moderator: Could you introduce yourself?

Hope: I’m a resident doctor at one of Montreal’s community hospitals. I’d rather just be a doctor, but I’m kind of getting a rep as a detective after solving three murders.

Woman: I know you! You’re Dr. Hope Sze, the detective doctor. You were the Montreal Journal’s 2011 Thanksgiving Woman of the Year.

Hope: Um. Yeah.

Man: We’re supposed to be anonymous, Chloe.

Hope: That’s all right.

Woman: You poor thing. You look exhausted. Three murders, eh? I heard about the one with the escape artist who dressed up like Elvis Presley, chained and nailed himself in a coffin and almost drowned, just because he wanted to act like Harry Houdini. You saved his life. [Terminally Ill]

Hope: Yes, ma’am.

Woman: And then he hired you to figure out who had sabotaged his act, but you got mixed up in another case…

Hope: I’d rather not talk about it. We’re still wrapping up that inquiry, with more details forthcoming. [Student Body, launching September 20th, 2014 at Books & Bodies]

Moderator: What brought you to the Society, then, Hope?

Hope: I kept telling people I didn’t want to be a detective. The first time, I just happened to find…someone deceased.

Woman: Dr. Radshaw! Face down the men’s change room. On your first day at St. Joseph’s hospital. [Code Blues]

Hope (wincing): Right. I have to admit, I was the one who took the lead on that case, even though the police told me to step aside. I thought it was a one-time deal, but then a grieving mother told me her daughter had been killed in a hit and run eight years ago, and I just had to help her. [Notorious D.O.C.]

Man: Yes. Dr. Laura Lee. A tragic case.

Hope: Right. Plus, you already mentioned Elvis the Escape King, who insisted on hiring me to figure out who tried to kill him. But even when I was just trying to take my dad fishing for his birthday, I ended up on another investigation [Gone Fishing/Going Going Gone $5000 Contest].

Moderator: I know what you’re saying. We’ve all gone through it. Reluctant Detective Syndrome, or RDS.

Hope: Really?

Moderator: Naturally. Even professionals suffer from this, although in their case it’s more a question of burnout. For amateur detectives, it can be socially isolating to solve criminal cases. At first, we receive attention and accolades…

Man: I was the Montreal Journal’s Man of the Year in 1973 after I caught the Smoked Meat Mangler.

Hope: Oh. Wow.

Man: Not the Thanksgiving Man of the Year. The Man of the Year.

Hope: Congratulations.

Man: For all of 1973.

Hope (slightly sarcastic): No way.

Moderator: After the first few cases, however, friends begin to make excuses, frightened that every time you go out to dinner, the woman sitting next to you may choke on poisoned pasta.

Woman: That was just the one time, but they started calling me the Mystery Magnet.

Man: It’s not about you, Chloe.

Woman: It’s always about me.

Hope: So what’s the cure?

Moderator: Excuse me?

Hope: Well, I’m a doctor. You’re describing the symptoms of Reluctant Detective Syndrome, and believe me, I understand. But what’s the treatment for RDS? Is there a cure?

Moderator (speechless): That’s the purpose of our group. We come together. We support one other.

Hope: Okay. Well, thank you very much.

Moderator: You’re leaving?

Hope: I’ve been here an hour, listening to the case of the Smoked Meat Mangler from 1973. I’ve got to go.

Woman: I bet I know where. Is it Tucker or Ryan tonight?

Hope (blushing): Excuse me?

Woman: Oh, don’t play coy, Hope. We all know about your love triangle. We’ve even taken bets on it.

Man: John Tucker is a sensible choice, given that he’s a fellow physician.

Woman: I hope you pick Ryan. I love dark-eyed men, especially if they’re Asian.

Hope: Ew. I mean, thank you. Good-bye!

Moderator: We meet every Monday, Hope. We’ll be waiting for you.

Download Hope’s next adventure on September 16th, Trouble & Strife, and enter to win $5000 and a Kobo H2O Aura!

Tune in September 16th to these talented writers’ blogs. I just asked them if they’d participate, so I have no idea if they can or not, but read their books anyway. 1) They write marvellously, and 2) They’re stand up people.

Michael La Ronn. Eaten. A broccoli terrorist with nothing to lose.

Rob Brunet. Stinking Rich. His debut mystery caper, called “deviously funny.”

Tim Reynolds. The Broken Shield. Action-packed adventure between light & dark.

Michael F. Stewart. Assured Destruction, called “Sybil meets Lisbeth Salander,”

Lisa de Nikolits. The Witchdoctor’s Bones. Sixteen strangers on a tour bus in South Africa=murder.

Krista D. Ball. Hey, I just saw that she’s getting married, so she won’t participate, but she’s hilarious. I’m now reading
Hustlers, Harlots, and Heroes.
I’m running off to CHEO, so I’ll fix this later. Thanks!

READ HOPE & WIN A KOBO AURA H2O & $5000: Kobo’s Going Going Gone Contest, featuring Hope Sze (Secret deal reveal)!!!!!!!!!!

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1. Do you like money?

2. Do you love to read? Like, all the time? At the beach, or in the bath, even?

3. Do you like my crime-fighting doctor, Hope Sze?

Well, now you can scoop up $5000 and read about Hope under the Atlantic Ocean, if you want to, through the generosity and creative engineering of Kobo!

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This is my Cinderella moment, so bear with me. I am so excited about this.

You could win five thousand dollars and a Kobo with Hope Sze, thanks to Kobo’s Going Going Gone contest!

Download three Hope Sze Gone Fishing mystery stories for free, solve one riddle per story, and you could win five thousand large and the world’s splashiest e-reader, the waterproof Kobo H2O!

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I love my readers, but I sometimes feel guilty taking your hard-earned money. Now Kobo is giving money to YOU!

Read it, solve it, and walk away five thousand dollars richer and one Kobo smarter.

Readers win.

Intelligence wins.

Okay, luck plays a role too. But come on. When was the last time someone paid you five grand and gifted you the latest Kobo for reading three stories?

Three stories that pay homage to Gillian Flynn’s hilarious, twisted, fierce novel, Gone Girl. Just in time for the TV show, Sharp Objects, and the Gone Girl movie.

In the intertwined Gone Fishing mystery stories (“Cain and Abel,” “Trouble and Strife,” and “Butcher’s Hook”), Hope escapes the hospital to take her dad fishing on the Madawaska River for his birthday, only to discover that her own family might represent the most dangerous wildlife of all.

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Yes! Please feel free to share the link http://www.kobo.com/gone, to brainstorm solutions, and of course to admire Kobo’s beautiful platform and their newest e-reader, the Aura H2O, which can go underwater.

Questions? Ask me here or at Books & Bodies on September 20th (https://www.facebook.com/events/339804726168479/), where the latest Hope Sze novella, Student Body, meets yoga and belly dancing.

And tune into my blog for some behind the scenes talk about how the secret deal unfolded.

So what would you do with five thousand dollars and the world’s most innovative Kobo?

Take Grandma out to dinner? Fly to Africa? Save the rainforest? Buy a new set of boobs? Pay off your debts? Buy more books? All of the above?

Your choice. Read Hope and win. #readanywhere