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!

Magic Words, Money, and The Roswell Award at Sci-Fest LA: City of Angels, Day 3

“I can’t understand why people are frightened of new ideas. I’m frightened of the old ones.” John Cage

Bullish readers, this will be a long post about money and mindsets. Brace yourselves.


“Learn how to manage your writing money,” said Dean Wesley Smith at one workshop. “If you keep thinking of it as found money, you’ll keep frittering it away. Then one day, you’ll wake up and realize that you’ve spent all your money.”

At break time, I went up to him and Kris Rusch and said, “I see how that’s a problem if you overspend. But why is it a problem if you’re cheap?”

They couldn’t really answer, so I kept on saving my pennies and working on my writing, same as always. Except in the past year plus, I’ve started levelling up in my writing career. A few highlights: Terminally Ill hit the Kobo bestseller list and was called “entertaining and insightful” by Publishers Weekly and “utterly likeable” by Ellery Queen’s Mystery MagazineKobo chose me as their thriller writer for their Gone Girl campaign; I got my first short story publication in EQQM (“Om”); I was shortlisted for the Derringer Award for the best short mystery stories in the English language; I flew to LA as a finalist for the Roswell Award for Short Science Fiction.

They say women are better than men at saving money, and worse than men at taking risks that make money.

I could feel this happening with me. Now. When I’m at a point in my writing career when I can feel the need to ascend.

Frugality has always been my double-edged sword. I can squeeze pennies like a champ, but when I think back on my life, I’m ashamed of some of the things I did to save money.

So I flew to Los Angeles, knowing I only had a 1/6 chance of winning the Roswell Award, but I got to meet actors and producers and entrepreneurs and ask them the thing that’s most on my mind: what made you decide to take the risk of moving to L.A. for a career in the industry? Isn’t that basically a crazy thing to do?

I’m going to paraphrase from memory. Actors, please correct any errors if I’ve misquoted you or you want to change something.


Me, sabre tooth cat & Betsy Zajko

There are more opportunities here, and less access to opportunities. If in a smaller town there are 1000 actors for every job, here there are 10,000 actors for every spot. But I knew I would be able to make something work.”—Betsy Zajko

Me: How?

Betsy: I just knew.

I explained to her Jennifer Cruisie’s rats with islands philosophy. Betsy’s a rat with an island.

Burl Moseley

Burl Moseley & skateboard

It’s like a circle. Sometimes you’re at the top, and everything is great. Sometimes you’re at the bottom and you think you’ll never get anywhere. But most of the time, you’re in the middle, heading toward the top or the bottom of the circle.”—Burl Moseley

Burl was working in New York, but he saw more opportunities in L.A. Getting his first break was tough. The whole “how can you get a job if you don’t have experience” trap, multiplied a thousand times.

For the first year, he spent his time acting at kids’ birthday parties. It took a year for him to get his first break, and two years for things to flow. Now he can’t do parties anymore because he’s too busy. We only got to talk a few minutes before he skateboarded away. (Like I said, everyone drives, and parking is a problem, so he skateboards to and from his car.)

He wasn’t worried. He knew he’d be able to figure something out. “It’s all about the mindset.” I told him he was a rat with an island, too. I wrote about rats with islands over here (just search for rats; all my LiveJournal posts got imported as one block).

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

Me & Cheryl Francis Harrington

Everyone wants to be a star without doing the training. I had the training.”—Cheryl Francis Harrington

I had no doubt. Not only was she a fine actor, but she was serious about her acting as a craft. She was willing to put in the time and energy.

Cheryl was the first actor to take an interest in my career and suggest I go on Imdb Pro and write a speculative script. “Did you go to the Writers’ Guild?”

I laughed. “I took a picture of the building.”

“You should go inside.”

I asked her about being a woman of colour in the industry, because even in 2015, it limits your options. She said, “Everyone gets pigeonholed. I’m a character actor.” Instead of worrying about politics, she said, “I’d rather be working.”

Tucker Smallwood is standing in a grey shirt.

Tucker Smallwood is standing in a grey shirt.

Only five percent of SAG members make enough money to pay into the pension and get health insurance. This is not a good industry if you want to play the odds. This is something you do because you can’t not do it. Artists don’t get to choose.”—Tucker Smallwood

Tucker: What does failure mean to you?

Me: Well, what if I write something and nobody likes it?

Tucker: So it’s not commercial. Is that a failure?

Me: Well, no.

Tucker: If you wrote something worthwhile, something you believe in, then it has intrinsic value. If I get to interpret something, illuminate a scene in a way that no one else has done before me, then that’s a success.


What kind of money are you talking about? A thousand dollars is nothing. Take ten thousand dollars a year, or whatever you’re comfortable with, and use that to get yourself out there. Go for it, girlfriend!”—Sasha

Sasha was my airbnb host. She was also an entrepreneur at the co-helm one international business before she spearheaded two more. She made me a feta omelette and toast for breakfast, and we talked on her little balcony. When I told her about my hesitation about spending $1000 to come here, a look of disgust swept across her face.

She believes in taking risks.

Doctors take calculated risks every day. The average American emergency physician gets sued every five years. So I’m used to taking risks at work. Just doing airbnb is a risk—my husband’s parting words to me were “Good luck, and stay in a hotel.” I take risks in my writing all the time, to keep it interesting for myself. I make friends with anyone.

But I never risked my writing money. I sat on $17,000 in my American bank account for four years because I thought “Better not touch that. I may never make another dime from my writing.” Which meant that I missed the big upsurge in index funds during that time. (Now it’s in the market, making a few hundred dollars. Well, better than nothing.)

It’s not that I’m suddenly going to spend $10,000 a year promoting myself. But I realized that I was asking these questions because my end goal is not selling a few books and patting myself on the back. I do want to explore every opportunity that comes by, on the off chance that something big might come of it.

Which meant I had to detach from my balance sheet. Yes, I would lose money on this trip to L.A. no matter what. And everyone here was saying, “So what?”

These are the dreamers, the artists, the actors and entrepreneurs who were all willing to move to the epicentre of the entertainment universe on the unlikely chance that they’ll make it. Or at least make it enough to keep on going.

For them, a thousand dollars was nothing.

Natalie Goldberg wrote a chapter in Wild Mind called “Who gave you permission?” She says that a writer will usually find someone who encouraged them along the way. For the past few months, subconsciously, I’ve been looking for permission to get a little crazy, more impractical, to stop counting pennies and start throwing down.

So I went to the Roswell Awards trying not to mind so much if I won or lost.

Robert Babish told me, "You remind me of Sandra Oh." He's not the first to say so, but he's the first who actually acted with Sandra on Grey's Anatomy! (As a surgeon on episode 4.)

Robert Babish told me, “You remind me of Sandra Oh.” He’s not the first to say so, but he’s the first who actually acted with Sandra on Grey’s Anatomy! (As a surgeon on episode 4.)

I’d decided to wear my beautiful full-length Oonu dress, a dress I could wear to the Oscars. And after my daughter Anastasia led me on a walk where she wore fairy wings and I wore a witch’s hat, I remembered the last time I was in L.A.: I won second place at Writers of the Future, and one of the artists, Aja, bought a large pair of red wings made out of real feathers and wore them down Hollywood Boulevard. Now I’m back for another award ceremony, I have a daughter I occasionally nickname Asia, and I would wear her wings.

The 300 submissions for the Roswell award came from around the world, including Russia, India, and the rest of Asia. Here are the final judges:

Katherine Fugate (Writer, “Xena Warrior Princess”)

Rosalind Helfand (Director, The Roswell Award)

Jack Kenny (Executive Producer, “Warehouse 13” “Falling Skies”)

Jordan Roberts (Screenwriter, “Big Hero 6”)

Mike Werb (Screenwriter, “Face Off,”  “The Mask”)

Maryelizabeth Hart (Co-owner, Mysterious Galaxy Books)

On stage for the Roswell Award for Short Science Fiction

On stage for the Roswell Award for Short Science Fiction

Rosalind stressed how difficult it was to choose the finalists, and for the first time, I thought, Hey. That is pretty impressive. It is pretty unlikely (a 2% statistical chance) of getting picked. It is an honour to be here.

I should’ve known that before, but I guess it’s a bit of imposter’s syndrome, that at the back of my mind, I think, Well, I did it, so it can’t be too major.

But look how hard it was to get here. Hats off to the honourable mentions! I’d like to read Catherine W. Cheres’s story. She seemed very cool, and not just because she shared her bruschetta with me.

Next, the Hollywood actors read our stories. They didn’t tell us ahead of time who was reading or what order they’d read.

1. Grandma’s Sex Robot by William Hawkins: well, what would you do if Grandma made her sex robot an active part of her life? Funny with a poignant ending, read emphatically and unapologetically by Gates McFadden, the Dr. Beverly Crusher on Star Trek: The Next Generation, so I was a little disappointed that she wasn’t reading my story, but she was perfect with this one.

2. Sowing Seeds by Donna Glee Williams: a story about giving your children up for an uncertain future. A touching story read beautifully by Jasika Nicole (“Scandal” & “Fringe”), a young woman whom I could just picture as a mother making this heartbreaking choice. Interestingly, she was the only actor who used an electronic reader. The others read their stories off of paper copies.

T. Lucas Earle thanked me for wearing my wings.

T. Lucas Earle thanked me for wearing my wings.

3. RN2399 / 2037 by Liam Hogan: a letter to the narrator’s alternate self, who could save the world. Armin Shimerman (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine) did such a good job on this one, flowing right through the jargon at the beginning to the meat of the story without a hitch.

4. Inside by T. Lucas Earle: Great story about a relationship where you have to dig past the surface, but the narrator likes to act instead of asking questions. Patricia Tallman (Babylon 5) rocked deadpan lines like “Sometimes he goes down on me….Sometimes I go down on him, but he doesn’t seem to like it, but he says it’s him, not me.”

5. Cardiopulmonary Arrest by Melissa Yuan-Innes. This one’s mine. By now I was really wondering who would read my story.

So when the bio said he was from London, I thought, yes, this calculating story would work so well with a British accent. And then Simon Kassianides (Agents of SHIELD) came out in his perfectly cut black suit and black shirt, and I was thrilled. Thrilled, I tell you. Look at him!

Simon Kassianides

Simon Kassianides

Plus I got to listen to him. Sorry, we weren’t allowed to record it, but he delivered the word “proboscis”—and the rest of the story—flawlessly.

After he finished, he mouthed the word, “Brilliant.”

Now, I know that British people throw the word brilliant around more than North Americans do, but it still felt good. The author stood up after every story, so I planted my feet and waved my wand at the audience while they applauded. And I loved chatting with Simon onstage afterward (more on that later).


6. Heaven Scent by John McCollum. A light-hearted story about a dog who discovers an aquatic man,  read comically by David Blue (Stargate Universe) who was dressed in a chicken T-shirt.

And the winner was…Grandma’s Sex Robot by William Hawkins! Who can resist a sex robot, after all?

Stop by my Patreon if you want to support my nutty adventures.

IMG_5288IMG_5297“Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.” ~Winston S. Churchill

“The three great essentials to achieve anything worthwhile are, first, hard work; second, stick-to-itiveness; third, common sense.”― Thomas A. Edison

“Creativity is inventing, experimenting, growing, taking risks, breaking rules, making mistakes, and having fun.” — Mary Lou Cook

TGIH: Thank Goodness I’m Home

I’ve been travelling a crazy amount lately, for me: Utah in March, Oregon in April, home and cramming in some shifts before driving to Toronto for Noir at the Bar, and now getting a few shifts in and orchestrating Max’s birthday party (homemade piñata! Ice cream cake!) before I fly to Los Angeles for the Roswell Award ceremony.

Which is glamorous but tiring.

Anastasia welcomed me home with a picture she coloured. "I didn't finish it. It was too boring."

Anastasia welcomed me home with a picture she coloured. “I didn’t finish it. It was too boring.”

Max made a whole package for me. One of them was a card saying, "Here come the licks." Then he called Roxy over, but she wouldn't lick me.

Max made a whole package for me. One of them was a card saying, “Here come the licks.” Then he called Roxy over, but she wouldn’t lick me.

So I wanted to write a quick post about how good it felt to come home. I love seeing new places, but I also love eating cereal with my husband. Even our dog, Roxy, wanted to sleep outside my door.


I put on my red suede ankle boots to go out. At the Oregon fantasy workshop, Kris Rusch had called all boot-wearers up to the front of the class to make the point that not all boots are alike, so you need to describe them instead of just saying “boot” (real details instead of fake details).

I understood the point, but I missed my boots.


The Lego spells I heart you. Max assures me it was hard to make.

Writing-wise, I’m trying something different now. I’ve joined Patreon, a new crowdfunding platform. Over the next week or two, I’ll explain what that means.

In the meantime, I’m clicking my ruby slippers together. Happy Victoria Day weekend!


Do what you are afraid to do: writing as a daring adventure

Me, Dave, Max & a bit of Philo's head.

Me, Dave, Max & a bit of Philo’s head.

Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all.―Helen Keller

David Farland, the New York Times bestselling author also known as Dave Wolverton, ran a Professional Writers’ Workshop over March break. He’d told me it was a business class, but since we each submitted 20 pages of our writing beforehand, I liked the idea of combining business with craft. Dave had a completely different approach to novel marketing from what I was used to, i.e. from Dean Smith, Kris Rusch, and Mark Lefebvre.

Dave’s approach is to use traditional publishing.

I’d turned indie in 2011, so this was a shocker. If you haven’t heard about author woes in legacy publishing, Kris outlines some of them in this article.

The whole point of indie publishing is that you don’t have to wait, you choose your partners, you decide how good a product to put out, and you pocket the profits. I like it.

Except for the sales numbers. I’d prefer world domination.

I listened to Dave and realized that he acknowledges all the problems that plague traditional midlist authors. But his solution is this: don’t be a midlist author.

Be a lead. Be a super lead. Go big or go home.

“I think you’re doing yourself a disservice by releasing Stockholm Syndrome as a small book,” said Dave, at our lunch over Italian sandwiches. “There is no question that you can write. You’re a Writers of the Future winner.” He’s the coordinating judge, so he sees a ton of stories every quarter, and sends just eight finalists to the judges every three months. “I was hooked on the proposal. There is nothing missing from it. I could see it as a movie. I’d like to see you go big.”

He knows big. He has guided several New York Times bestsellers like Brandon Sanderson and the one I know the best, Stephanie Meyer. You know that’s a good teacher.

I mulled this over. I’ve been writing for decades. I was a Writers of the Future winner in 1999. I’ve been working on my writing very seriously since 2003, a dozen years ago. My writing has progressed to the point where, yes, I’m shortlisted for the Derringer award this year, and also, perfect strangers on Amazon comment that my books get better and better.

Stockholm Syndrome focuses on a hostage-taking at a hospital, so that’s topical.

I’m a doctor writing medical thrillers. That’s marketable.

Of course all the curses of traditional publishing could befall me. I could not sell my book. I could get a crummy advance. I could lose the rights to my characters, if I didn’t know what I was signing.

But I’ve been learning the business all this time, too. I have the resources and the resolution to hire an intellectual property attorney.

And if I don’t sell it big?

Dave’s solution is to trunk the novel and keep writing until your skills and the traditional market converge and you get the deal you want.

My solution would be to go indie.


Me and Dave, with Justin in the background


Okay, I’d lose a year or more of indie sales by going traditional. But that’s not significant. I’m not reliant on our writing income, so I can afford to gamble.

I’m not doing it for my other books. I’ll keep writing short stories, essays, poems, and books of all stripes. It’s just the one Hope novel.

It sucks for my existing fans. I know that. They’ve supported me for the past few years, and now they’d have to wait years for the next Hope book.

It’s also scary for me. Dave already made some suggestions that shocked me like, “Oh, you could just throw in a sister who got killed, so that’s why she solves crimes.” Or, “Could this be the first book? Her first day on the job?” and wipe out three novels, a radio drama, and a novella in one swoop.

But I don’t have to deal with that yet. Just the possibility that, for this one project, the stars may align with trad pub. Or not.

If the stars align on indie, I get to keep building my world, building my craft, building traction until lightning strikes.

Of course, lightning may not strike.

I’m glad I did this workshop. I’m glad I’m learning from different people, including my classmates.


Dave asked Max to join the picture. I told Max he’d graduated from our class.


For some reason, I didn’t expect to make friends. I didn’t expect Jenn, Tara and Jeanette to offer us rides from Salt Lake City or Jacqui to drive us back and stop at two museums along the way. Y’know what I was saying about generosity?

And knowledge! I sat beside Ali Cross, the bestselling author who co-founded IndieRecon who does martial arts.

Jacqui worked as a nuclear chemist before she decided to throw down, learn everything she could, and write full time for the next two years.

Jean, Jeanette, and Janet are building second careers as writers–I really admire people who succeed at one profession and then set their sights and skills on scaling another.

Jason came all the way from China. He and Philo and Dave and Jacqui got to chat about the middle kingdom.

Justin and Brock are like me, hands full with a demanding day job but carving out time for writing.

Tara writes in a multitude of genres and Brit is an indie writer, like someone else I know.

Jenn and Katy are brand new fiction writers. Jenn had written articles before, but she met Dave at a conference and leapt right into a professional workshop with a dozen writers. Katy is a multiple Nanowrimo winner who excelled at asking other people questions without bragging about herself, but it turned out that she has eight children and offered that her husband could look after Max too, so you know how good she is. The fact that new writers trusted us with their work humbled me and reminded me that you should always be compassionate when you critique.

I didn’t get to know everyone, but it’s exciting to hang out with passionate people.

My whole life, I’ve been risk-averse when it comes to big ticket/tent pole aspects of my life. Choosing medicine first and writing second. Not having kids until I finished my emerg exams, but we started trying soon afterward. Paying off our mortgage ASAP. Investing conservatively. Holding on to my writing earnings in cash because I may never earn another penny from my words. The only way I let myself go was by writing whatever bizarre stories caught my fancy, by jumping into indie publishing, and by wearing funky clothes. Basically, I took a lot of artistic risks–my motto when I was 16 was Ralph Waldo Emerson’s “Do what you are afraid to do”–but not for “real life.”

Well, guess what? I’m ready to experiment now. Medical-wise, I got privileges at two new hospitals last year and started speaking at health care conferences. Financially, I did a lot of research and moved our money (including my sacred writing money!) into low-cost index funds and a few GIC’s. Writing-wise, I’m focusing on mysteries now, but I’m doing a fantasy workshop with Kris in April, just for fun. And I want Stockholm Syndrome to light up the sky.

Soar, eat ether, see what has never been seen; depart , be lost, but climb.―Edna St. Vincent Millay

If you knew that your life was merely a phase or short, short segment of your entire existence, how would you live? Knowing nothing ‘real’ was at risk, what would you do? You’d live a gigantic, bold, fun, dazzling life. You know you would. That’s what the ghosts want us to do – all the exciting things they no longer can.
Chuck Palahniuk

Zen Pencils did the best cartoon for daring greatly, both the Roosevelt and the Brene Brown quote.

Want to quit your job? Here’s the best rallying cry, by Jon Morrow.

And if you’re free tomorrow, come celebrate Fifty Shades of Grey’s Anatomy in Williamstown at 10:30!

Stockholm Syndrome talks about a Nickelback song, so now I’ve got these stuck in my head. And Wayne Gretzky could’ve stuck to hockey, but he took risks here:

And this is a revolution, no?

Because I’m a Derringer Award Finalist

I was toiling at the end of my emergency room shift when I got an unusual message. I turned to my colleague and said, “Hey. I’m a finalist for the Derringer Award!”


“Do you know what that is?”

“I assume it’s a writing award.”

“It is. For the best short mystery stories published in the English language.” I revelled in it for a second, and then I said, “Do you know what a Derringer is? It’s a pocket-sized knife–”

“It’s a gun, actually. A small one, easily concealed and favoured by prostitutes.”

I Googled it, and a bunch of gun pictures came up. “Well, still. Because it’s small, it’s a metaphor for the deadly power of short fiction.”

 A Derringer. Not a knife. Who'd have thunk it?

A Derringer. Not a knife. Who’d have thunk it? Plus, this one looks like it’s wearing lipstick.Photo by DuBoix on MorgueFile

“Favoured by prostitutes.”

“Why do you keep saying that?”

Anyway, the important part is that I’ve been shortlisted for the Derringer. So to celebrate, I’ve turned “Because” into an e-book with an essay detailing the genesis of the story at Kris Rusch and Dean Smith’s Oregon mystery workshop, plus observations on the writing life, and what it feels like to hit the Derringer short list, for $2.99.

because fuller

However, since I love you, my people, I’m giving the story away for free right here for the next seven days.

You can also download Code Blues, the first Hope Sze medical mystery, for free exclusively through the Vuze book bundle. Only until March 16th. Then it will disappear like a sociopath’s conscience. So grab it now!

While the Short Mystery Fiction Society votes on the Derringers, I do have one weapon in my back pocket. I’m the newest recruit for SleuthSayers, the world’s slickest crew of crime writers and crime fighters. Two of their members, Melodie Campbell and Rob Lopresti, have already won the Derringer (Rob won it twice)! So maybe they’ll help larn me.

In the meantime,


By Melissa Yi

Because you were so fat that I could count the rolls through your T-shirt, and know that they’d build across my belly and back in the exact same way.

Because you spent the check every month, and you never gave me a penny, not even if I needed a new eraser for school. “You just ask your fancy teacher for one. Go on, ask.”

Because I had to ask, and their eyes would burn me with their pity.

Because you’d spend hours painting your nails, but never let me touch any of the bottles, just because I broke one when I was two.

Because I hated the sound of your crinkling chip bags.

Because when Daddy said he was leaving, you said, “Go, then,” and let him walk out the door, even though I screamed and cried.

Read the rest in the format of your choice here ( Thanks for stopping by. Since people do seem to like freebies, I’ll give away more stories in the future. I may try and coordinate them with my biweekly SleuthSayer posts. The next one is March 23rd. Cheers!

My Ideal Work Space: ER/Writing/Motherhood

So Bullish asked me about my ideal workspace. Only I have at least three.


I had to do a fire safety course at CHEO. That red thing I’m wearing is a baby vest. I could transport 3 infants in front and 2 in the back!


Emergency Department

  • Cool patients
  • Fun colleagues
  • Learning-oriented environment
  • Money. No one wants to work for free. Unfortunately, this is at odds with a learning-oriented environment.
  • Close to home, although I did enjoy working with the Inuit.
  • Shifts that aren’t too long. Some doctors relish 12-24 h shifts. I am not one of them.


  • Innovative topics and styles. I’m the kind of person who generally won’t write the same story twice.
  • Money. Sadly for me, the way you cash in is generally build up an audience is by branding yourself and delivering a 100-book series. So I’m trying to consolidate a bit.
  • I’d really love to travel and incorporate different cultures into my writing.
  • I like the challenge of workshops and am looking forward to studying novels & business with Dave Farland in March and Kris Rusch in April this year. For the first time, I’m bringing my son to a workshop (March). Should be interesting.


Me, writing Max’s Magic Hat longhand when Max was 6 weeks old. I thought about not including this picture because it shows skin, but neither of us are R-rated, and it does illustrate how I like to write anytime, anywhere.


  • My kids are my life.
  • However, today I learned that Anastasia has mucoid serous otitis media with hearing loss, so I feel like that shoemaker whose kids have no shoes. This explains why I’m now sitting with her, watching Caillou (guilt).
  • My ideal work space for them would be more space: more time, more patience, more love.

Motherhood unite! Iris, Carolyn, Julie & me with two of our offspring.

Motherhood unite!
Iris, Carolyn, Julie & me with two of our offspring.

What’s your ideal work space? If you need any ideas, my Bullish colleagues have some suggestions. Cheers!


Why should I go to a mystery convention? To prostitute myself, of course. Bloody Words, Part I.

I was very worried about losing money at Bloody Words 2014.

Kris Rusch and Dean Wesley Smith had beaten into me that the surest path to success in writing is simply production. Sit in your garret and write, day and night, month after month, year after year. Your craft will improve, and once you have hundreds or thousands of items for sale, someone will take notice. You don’t need to go to cons and promote if you don’t want to.

But then I got this Facebook message from Steve Steinbock:

Melissa, I decided to come to Bloody Words this year. Here are seven (or so) reasons why you should come: (1) To push Terminally Ill, (2) to join me, Howard Shrier, and Ken Wishnia in a Yiddish cussing contest, (3) celebrate the publication of your short story in Ellery Queen (whenever it comes out), (4) administer first aid when I fall off the dais, (5) sign my copy of Terminally Ill, (6) buy a drink for the reviewer who plugged your book in Ellery Queen, and (7) be the final name on the attendees roster (beating out S.G. Wong).

How could I say no? I plunked down $190 for the conference fee. I’d already booked that weekend off for Yocomo, the Montreal yoga conference. But I’d go to Bloody Words instead. Maybe I’d sell a few copies of my book.

Then it started to haunt me. What if nobody bought my book? What if I spent $199 per night at the Hyatt Regency and just went into debt? I started calling my friends to angst about it. My friends Bob Jeschonek and Richard Quarry told me not to think about it like a return on investment, just go and network.

My friend Kandy said to have fun. “You get to go to Toronto. You’re getting away from your kids. You don’t have to cook or do dishes. What are you complaining about?”

“OH MY GOD,” said her husband, Vince. “You’re going to a con? GO AND PROSTITUTE YOURSELF, LIKE ANY AUTHOR.”

So I did.


This is me. On Pixabay. Obviously.

I drove myself to downtown Toronto and hurried to Scene of the Crime Books, the book dealer who would sell my books during the con. Right afterward, I realized that I had lost my phone. With cash in the case.

Aaaaagh! After worrying about losing money, I’d just lost an smart phone plus cold, hard cash.

I’ll save you the suspense. Someone had already turned it in. THANK YOU.

I don’t know what I would have done with myself next, since everyone else was saying “Hiiiiiiii! It’s so good to see you!!!!!!” and I was more like this tree:


Fortunately, I already had plans. I headed out to dinner at Aroma Fine Indian with my Medical Post editor, Carol Hilton. I tried the fiery Goan prawns, in honour of my most recently completed book, The Goa Yoga School of Slayers, sequel to The Italian School for Assassins. We talked about everything from medical politics to technology to travel. Kind of like the Medical Post, actually. Thanks, Carol!

Did you know that Carol has a degree in marine biology? Pretty nifty, eh?

Did you know that Carol (on the left) has a degree in marine biology? Pretty nifty, eh? And did you know that it’s hard to take a selfie in front of a window?

I hurried back to Bloody Words for Steve’s cool panel called The Sage, the Saint, and the Sleuth (religion, philosophy, and the “modern” sleuth). I didn’t want to rush up and mob him at the end, and it was possible he might not recognize me from my teeny Facebook photo, but he walked up to me, hugged me, and said, “It’s my newest best friend.”


Steve Steinbock & me, "Melissa Yi." The bag is medical swag because Mrs. Steinbock is a radiation oncologist who helped take care of Stephen King. And Steve interviewed Stephen King for Ellery Queen. I move among royalty now, people. Kings and Queens.

Steve Steinbock & me, Melissa Yi. The bag is medical swag because his wife is a radiation oncologist. Another fun fact: Steve interviewed Stephen King for Ellery Queen. I move among royalty now, people. Kings and Queens.

We ended up having dinner and drinks with Tanis Mallow, a Noir writer, co-host of Noir @ the Bar in Toronto, and a warm and funny person; John McFetridge and his wife Laurie, who would whip out appropriate props like his latest book, Black Rock, and the newest issue of Quill & Quire with John on the cover. (Wow!) I’d already Tweeted Rob Brunet, because he’s a fellow Canadian who had a story accepted to Ellery Queen, as well as many other markets—he tries to have a new story published every month, and his novel, Stinking Rich, will debut in September. Ken Wishnia did show up to offer some Yiddish swear words, but it turned out that his writing has also been nominated for the Edgar, the Anthony, and the Macavity Awards. Uh huh.


Rob Brunet & Steve Steinbock

Steve said these mystery conferences are like Brigadoon, a town springing out of nowhere. What I saw was a tribe of intelligent, crime-loving writers and super readers who enjoyed meeting like-minded people. One thing I find really sad about general North American society is that intelligence is undervalued. “You’re smart, aren’t you” isn’t always a compliment. Neither are the terms “intellectual” or “perpetual student.” Asian and Jewish cultures value scholars, but outside of universities, you’re a bit isolated. But here, you’ve got a bunch of people who like the same things you do! What a miracle!

I have to give a special shout-out to Steve Steinbock, though, and not just because of this, which I already blogged about here:

By a stroke of luck, all Bloody Words participants received this copy of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine. The one where Steve pronounces Hope Sze an "utterly likeable character." I'll just keep repeating that. When I'm on my deathbed, I'll be like, "utterly likeable character," and my great-grandkids will be like, Wot?

Steve signed this and wrote, “Thanks for sending me Hope!” Words cannot express the goodness of this man. By a stroke of luck, all Bloody Words participants received the July 2014 copy of Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine. The one where Steve pronounces Hope Sze an “utterly likeable character.” I’ll just keep repeating that. When I’m on my deathbed, I’ll be like, “utterly likeable character,” and my great-grandkids will be like, Wot?

Steve is a walking encyclopedia, certainly of the mystery genre, but of Jewish mysticism and, I’m sure, other topics. He was embarrassed that I called him a scholar, but it’s rare enough to meet people who genuinely love learning. Not for a degree, not because of publications or prestige or money, but just to discover. Perhaps more importantly, he’s kind and caring. Rob Brunet said that Steve had taken him under his wing a few years ago, and Steve’s obviously doing the same for me. Most people have their group of friends and figure they’re busy enough, but Steve will recruit newbies and make sure they’re not just standing in the corner, looking agonized.

I did buy Steve a drink (he said I didn’t have to, but I spoke to the waiter), and ended up paying for his salad too, which embarrassed him again, and Steve and Tanis and Rob walked me back to my apartment, since I stayed at a lovely airbnb instead of the Hyatt.

Henry David Thoreau wrote, ‘Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.’

I have two things two say about this. Nowadays, most people lead lives of unseen desperation. They’re not necessarily quiet. They may be loud. Buy my book! I have a new car! Check out my abs! I am so smart! My cat is cute!

The problem is, it seems like no one else cares. For example, you may write a book, but no one reads it. Or they read it and tell you it’s terrible.

Steve read Terminally Ill. And when I asked him if he understood how the plot twists incorporated the idea of magic and illusion (one of the book’s themes is magic, and Steve is a magician as well), not only had he understood it, he told me the magical term for it: misdirection. He said that in the past, mysteries used to rely on plot twists more than an escalating body count, and he respected that. He told me that my greatest strengths were my character, the fascinating setting, and the plot. When I said, okay, so what are my weaknesses, he looked at me and said, “No weaknesses. Just keep working on your strengths.”

You can tell that, between medicine and writing, I’m always waiting for the left hook.

I respect Steve even more because, I, personally, would find it hard to listen to desperate writers blather on and on about their work. It would be easier to turn away and say, “Don’t worry. Have a drink.” And I’ve heard that many critics grow bitter, forced to read and review books they don’t like. So imagine Steve going to a con on his free time and surrounding himself with writers instead!

Steve Steinbock & Melissa Yi, without the medical swag. Why am I repeating our names? I heard it's good for SEO optimization. But I know it's annoying. Sorry.

Steve Steinbock surrounded by writer Melissa Yi, without the medical swag. Why am I repeating our names? I heard it’s good for SEO optimization. I know it’s annoying. Sorry.

To get back to the Thoreau quote, I’m generally cheery. My friend Yasmin once told me I was one of the happiest person she knows. But between medicine, writing, and life in general, I have tasted despair.

With Steve and the rest of my new friends, though, happiness wins.

And I loved how the people at Bloody Words were singing their song, loudly and clearly. The rest of the world may not understand or appreciate their writing or their weirdness, but they kept on singing.

I finally realized that Bloody Words was not about making or losing money. It was about friendship.

Also creativity and craziness. Like this.

What are these shenanigans?

Oy oy oy oy oy. Oy.

Why am I wearing a sign with my book cover? What am I doing to Ken Wishnia? Did I sell any books? How can a con inspire creativity? Tune in to my next blog post, Bloody Words Part II, for the answers.

From to Google News, VankleekFM, and Cornwall Living

Bob Peters interviewed me for last month. Then he took pictures of me for a page in Cornwall Living Magazine. I got to feel like a movie star because I rushed out of the livestreamed North York Emergency Medicine Update conference to get my photo taken in the emerg on my lunch hour. Bob was great, and the nurses and clerks enjoyed getting their photos done too.

(Aside: I’d just worked the day before, which was hellish, but for some reason, that day, we didn’t have as many patients jammed in the hallways. Is that like how patients say, “I was sick until I got here”? Maybe we just need to hire a photographer every time we get overcrowded.)

The day after the article, my husband, Matt, sent me a picture. “You’re on Google News.”

Hey! I beat out dozens of gardeners on Google News!

Hey! I beat out dozens of gardeners on Google News!

Now, Matt had set his Google News to our small town. But even so. Kind of cool, non?

Today is the debut of the newest edition of Cornwall Living Magazine. Par-tay at 4 p.m. I’m bringing my kids.

Max is wearing a shirt by Fili. I love the African trim. I'll try to get a better picture, when he's not hurrying for the school bus.

Max is wearing a shirt by Fili. I love the African trim. I’ll try to get a better picture, when he’s not hurrying for the school bus

Anastasia refused to show her face. But you can see she likes Chirp Magazine, a gift from Helen, the SDG librarian.

Anastasia refused to show her face. But you can see she likes Chirp Magazine, a gift from Helen, the SDG librarian.

At 7:30 p.m., I’m appearing on the radio show Vankleek Cooley, in an interview with Louise Sproule, the publisher of The Review, a 121-year-old, award-winning community newspaper. This is my first show where the interviewer has read my novel, TERMINALLY ILL, in advance, so that’s exciting. Even wilder, it’s live radio, so anything could happen. Listen locally at 88.7 FM or livestream it here:

After today, my paperback Hope Sze books will be available for sale in the lobby of The Review. They’d make a perfect end-of-school present, Father’s Day gift, or “because you’re worth it” pick-me-up. Just sayin’.

 Here's my baby again. Hello, Terminally Ill! Soon to be distributed through Ingram Spark.

Here’s my baby again. Hello, Terminally Ill! Soon to be distributed through Ingram Spark.

As I’m gathering my wits and my books for Bloody Words 2014, I noticed an uptick in sales of TERMINALLY ILL. I fully credit, Steve Steinbock’s “utterly likeable” review in July’s Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine. I blogged about how I’d told Steve that Kris Rusch had pointed out the review to me, and that I’m a big Smokey Dalton fan. He’d never read any of her books, but after my tip, he just messaged me to say that her latest, Street Justice, rocks. (Well, he put it more poetically than that. You get my drift.) Sweet!

Speaking of giving credit, I’m appearing on because my friend, the artist and financial planner Jessica Sarrazin, bought TERMINALLY ILL and got Louise hooked on it.

Jessica’s father, Jean Sarrazin, started the radio station. He used to work for the CBC and is “a seasoned audio editor, harking back to the days of 1/4 inch tape, razor blades and china markers.” He “sliced out-takes of piano music for Glenn Gould with those blades.” And now he’s editing the audio book of THE MOST UNFEELING DOCTOR IN THE WORLD. Nifty, huh? (BTW, this book was cited in the Ultimate Reading List for Nurses.)

E-book and print available. Audio coming soon!

E-book and print available. Audio coming soon!

If you’re sick of books (say it ain’t so!), Jessica’s having an art show on June 28th at the Quirky Carrot. Support the arts! As one of Hope’s men, John Tucker, quotes from Dead Poets Society, somewhat tongue in cheek, “[M]edicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for.”

Ellery Queen, I love you. Thanks for reviewing TERMINALLY ILL. Plus, the new Hope Sze novella!

Kris Rusch sent me an e-mail titled “Good review.”

Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine reviewed Terminally Ill in its July issue. Kris said it was too long to type in, but had a good pull quote.

I liked the sound of too long. Better than a one-liner. I downloaded the July version, stat.

Melissa Yi, Terminally Ill, Olo Books, $17.99. Publicity-seeking magician Elvis Serratore, in tribute to Houdini’s visit to Montreal nearly ninety years earlier, allows himself to be chained inside a coffin and dropped into the St. Lawrence River. When the escape fails, Montreal medical resident Hope Sze is able to resuscitate him. Against physicians’ recommendations, the magician prepares for an encore, but wants Dr. Sze, with her reputation for solving crimes, to find out if someone wants him dead. Narrating in a sprightly style while sharing some of the nitty-gritty of a resident’s job, Hope Sze is an utterly likeable character.

I found the pull quote and highlighted it for you! You’re welcome.

If you got anything out of this post, join the team. Buy my book(s)!

Click to buy. You know you want to. And if you already bought, mwah!

I’m officially in love with the reviewer, Steve Steinbock, who also wrote in the intro, “The best of crime fiction—of any fiction—transports us to times or places different from our own while touching something familiar in us. All of the titles in this month’s column accomplish this in one way or another.”

Hmm. Wonder if I can use that, too.

The other authors he reviewed include Isabel Allende. Um, hi, Isabel. Excuse me while I faint.

I know the haters out there are like, Big whoop, so I’m just going to explain why I’m tooting my own horn. Again. And I still have some toots left over, so bear with me.


Haters, why don’t you resent this seagull instead? It’s much braggier than me. Photo by Pixabay.

EQMM is the longest-running mystery magazine in the world, founded in 1941. Stephen King declared Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine “the best mystery magazine in the world, bar none.” Dorothy Parker was a fan, okay?

From a business point of view, estimates EQMM’s circulation as 180,000. According to its own reader survey, more than 70% of EQMM readers buy books by the authors they first read in this magazine’s pages. Half of their readers devour more than 15 mystery novels every year.

So. I could pay Bookbub $1550 to advertise Terminally Ill at an over-$2 price. Or I could target 180,000 people who already like mysteries enough to subscribe to the premier mystery magazine. (Or both, but I’ll let you know if that happens.)

Plus, now I have a pull quote that spans the series, since it praises the character instead of one book. However, I’m still pushing Publishers Weekly’s “entertaining and insightful” as hard as I can. Which isn’t very hard. It’s on the book cover and the online blurbs.

I can’t say enough good things about EQMM. Not only has the editor, Janet Hutchings, always written me kind rejection letters, but they recently reviewed my story, “Because,” calling it an “experimental short-short” and the Fiction River: Crime anthology that published it “high quality throughout.”

Best of all, Ellery Queen bought one of my short stories, “Om.” So even if readers skip past both reviews, at some point, their eyes might land on my yoga murder story, and I hope to sell EQMM many more. Short stories can be gold like that, as Mark Leslie Lefebvre and I talked about in our Kobo podcast here.

Mark Leslie Lefebvre, unable to conduct a podcast interview because he's too busy being resuscitated as Elvis Serratore, the escape artist from Terminally Ill

Mark Leslie Lefebvre, unable to conduct a podcast interview because he’s too busy being resuscitated as Elvis Serratore, the escape artist from Terminally Ill. Photo by Margaret Caldbick of the Glengarry News.

Kris herself pointed out in her Business Rusch series, “Instead of paying $500 to buy an ad in a magazine that people might or might not pay attention to, the writer is getting paid $500 to publish a story in that magazine. The reader will look at the story longer even if the reader doesn’t read the story than if the writer had an ad in that magazine.”

Also, EQMM sent me a Christmas card. I freaked out when I got that. They paid me for a story, and they’re sending me a Christmas card in an gold-rimmed envelope? #livingthedream

Anyway, I just revived myself with smelling salts. Excuse me while I plotz. That’s Yiddish. I gotta practice because I’m heading to Bloody Words 2014 June 6-8th, and Steve Steinbock (yes, the very same Steve Steinbock. I’m swimming with the big leagues now) has challenged me to a Yiddish cursing contest.

One last cool thing. I Facebooked Steve a thank you and mentioned that Kris Rusch had tipped me off. He wrote back, “I have some of her books. I’ll have to give them a read.”

Wait a minute. I might help out an Edgar Award nominee?

The world is a crazy place. But I just love it sometimes.

While you’re waiting for the next Hope Sze novel, a brand new Hope Sze novella, Student Body, will appear in e-book imminently, at a temporarily low, low price before its official paperback book launch. I’ll announce it in my newsletter first. Here’s the cover:

Student body POD cover.indd

Student body EBOOk coverStudent body EBOOk cover

P.S. To my two Melissa Yin fans: I just finished the second draft of The Goa Yoga School of Slayers, the sequel to The Italian School for Assassins (with thanks to Italian writer Barbara G. Tarn for editing my dreadful Google translate Italian), so stay tuned for another silly, lighthearted mystery cozy!

[Note: Review copyright 2014 by Steve Steinbock. Have I mentioned Steve? Steeeeeve.]

Success: People, places, and things that excite me, from Shelagh Rogers to Bloody Words

Joanna Penn and Kris Rusch have blogged lately about success.

My success is minuscule compared to many writers, but my M.O. is not buckets of money. I like money, because it represents freedom, but I don’t neeeeeeed money or prestige.

I set out my goals here. I want my writing to connect with people, places, and things that excite me.

So when I picked up the phone and a neighbour named Rhonda asked me to join a new book club, and said maybe they could do my book for the next meeting, I was deeeeeelighted. (Also, surprised to hear that they’d hesitated to invite me, thinking I might be too busy. Ask me! I’m always looking for fun.)

Code blues cover 2013 EBOOK-200

Now starring the in the Glengarry book club! Will they like it? Guess I’ll find out next month.

And they did pick Code Blues, the first Hope Sze novel, which was awesomesauce. I just had to giggle in embarrassment when Rhonda told everyone it was a fun, quick read, and that they’d enjoy the Montreal references, but that parking tickets are now $52, not $30. Oops.

Steve Steinbock, the reviewer from Ellery Queen, Facebooked me seven reasons that I had to come to Bloody Words, the mystery conference in Toronto. (The list was hilarious. If I get permission, I’ll post it, but probably the funniest was (2) to join me, Howard Shrier, and Ken Wishnia in a Yiddish cussing contest.) I’d considered going after my friend Rebecca Senese told me about it, but the $190 conference seemed steep. After that message, though, I told Matt, “If Ellery Queen asks you to go to a conference, you go.” So I’ll be in Toronto June 6-8. And I have to say, it made my day that Steve was asking me to come. I’m a very small potato. Unbelieveable when someone higher up in the French fry industry says, Hey. C’mere.

Look. This incorporates both the theme of me as a small potato and the murder theme for me going to Bloody Words. You see how I did that?

Look. This incorporates both the theme of me as a small potato and the murder theme for me going to Bloody Words.You see how I did that?

Then Yasmin tweeted about my blog on Emergency Room: Life+Death at VGH, and I looked her up and realized that she’s one of the stars of the show. In fact, she got the closing words of the final episode. And the most hilarious parts is, she tagged my friend Anna to read the blog post…and Anna is the one who highlighted it in the first place, because she’s my Vancouver General Hospital friend who used to work in Montreal.

Yasmin ER star Screen Shot 2014-04-20 at 8.54.43 AM

So it’s come full circle, and the closest I’ve come to a blog post going viral. In this case, it’s more like my blog post going water cooler, because it’s a relatively small group of people, but still. Shelagh Rogers. Need I say more?

Another Twitter win was that a new friend/fan made up a hashtag for Dr. Hope Sze, #HopeIsCool.

#HopeIsCool twitter Screen Shot 2014-04-20 at 8.54.43 AM

I’ve never met @vmchick, so this here I am, connecting with new people who have excellent taste.  #livingthedream

“You’re quite the celebrity at the dentist’s office,” said my husband Matt, and in fact, when I made it for my appointment, Maria (the secretary), Dr. Levon Kichian (our dentist), and Kim (a dental hygenicist) all bought copies of Terminally Ill. “I started reading it already. Very intriguing,” said Dr. Kichian.

Loose Tooth

Look closely. Combines dentistry & bloody theme. Photo by Terri Heisele.

At the hospitals, they’re quite used to me writing, but if I call for a consult or for an admission, a staff member might say in passing, “Congratulations on your book” (which means they don’t plan to buy a copy, but they’re aware of my fifteen minutes of fame. Cool enough), or “I started reading your book. It’s beautiful. Now I have to buy the other two” (well, only Dr. Shah said that. But here’s hoping!).

One last win: Kobo’s Mark Leslie Lefebvre had pushed me to talk to bookstores. I found it hideously embarrassing, but I got over it, and now the Hope Sze books are available in the following select locations:

R&L’s Book Nook in Alexandria
58 Alexandria Main, Alexandria, ON K0K 1A0; (613)525-9940;

The Quirky Carrot
1 main street south; (613)525-2229; Facebook

Sunset Yoga
Église Ste. Marie de l’Assomption, Cp 119 4172 Route 34, K0C 1L0; (613) 662-YOGA(9642);

Penny’s Market
7340 regional road 23, K0C 1J0; (613)551-4806;

Coming soon:
Fassifern General Store; RR 5 in Alexandria, ON; (613)525-2144

You can also order any Olo Books/Windtree Press book from your local bookstore. Just go in and say, “Here’s my money,” and they’ll make it happen.

Thanks, exciting people. You rock!

“Only connect.” —E.M. Forster

Anatomy of a Bestselling Book Launch: 2. Come together

“It takes two flints to make a fire.”  Louisa May Alcott

Click here for Anatomy of a Book Launch 1: Just do it.

anatomy bestseller cover

I’m going to write this book about launching Terminally Ill and reaching Kobo’s Top 50 bestseller list. Yeehaw!

My friend Kandy said to put Terminally Ill front and centre. I just can't figure out how to put on a header. So, here. Relentless marketing for ya.

My friend Kandy said to put Terminally Ill front and centre. I just can’t figure out how to put on a header. So, here. Relentless marketing for ya.

The buzzword of 2014 is teamwork.

Not just because of The Lego Movie. Because good things can happen as part of a good group.

I was poking around Chuck Wendig’s blog one day, looking at promotional ideas, and danzierlea’s comment hit me upside the head, “So book signings, right? You…wait for people to show up. If you’re in a small town on a cold as polar whatever day, nobody shows. So much for all that work. My idea is, get a bunch of authors – like, at least ten – to collaborate and do a group book tour/signing.”

What a great idea!

If I’m promoting myself (look at me, buy my book, I’m sad, nobody likes me), it’s a turnoff, unless I’m a big name with a following already. My Cornwall hospital peeps may buy my book, but they generally don’t have time to come to a launch, since they work nights and weekends, just like me.

Plus, this winter has been as cold as a polar whatever. We still have snow, although it’s melting.

I sent out invites. Williamstown author Lindsay Below jumped onboard to read from new e-book, Stalking Shade, under the name L.K. Below. I knew she would do it. Lindsay is one of the few people I know who had the guts to write full-time right out of high school. She writes in so many genres that one day, she came to our writing meeting with a song she’d written for a musical about Sirens.

En plus, after I won a cover contest with Kobo (details on this blog and podcast), they have offered nothing but support. Including sending a representative from Toronto (about 5 hours’ drive away) for my launch.

“Amazing,” I said to Kobo’s Jodi White. “Listen. I want to ask you something. I’d like to do a re-enactment of the opening scene of Terminally Ill, where Elvis gets chained and nailed in a coffin. I could really use an Elvis. Or, I don’t suppose you feel comfortable dressing up as the girl in a bikini?”

C'mon. You know you want to rock out with Elvis. Art by rawclips.

C’mon. You know you want to rock out with Elvis. Art by rawclips.

Eventually, the Kobo director of self-publishing and author relations himself, Mark Leslie Lefebvre, volunteered to come instead and jump out of a coffin. Thrillsville. I’d only met Mark once, at a conference in Oregon, but I knew he was my kind of people and a phenomenal asset, never seen before or probably since in this rural area, i.e. a storyteller, brilliant at marketing and publishing, a true people person, and somewhat crazytown.

“Could you bring your skeleton?” I asked. “I have plans for him.”

But see, I’m already leading into Part 3: Entertain Us.

Who wouldn't want these kids at a book launch? Photo by David Mark

Who wouldn’t want these kids at a book launch? Except the KKK. And they’re not invited. Photo by David Mark

So I’ll bring it back to group love. More people participating=a bigger audience. More friends and family to hit up. They may buy books, they may not, but if you’re doing an in-person event, first of all, you need bodies.

Bring the bodies in.

Worry about the money afterward. I mean, don’t go into debt. But if it’s cheap or free, bodiessssssss.

It took a ton of anxiety off of me. If no one came, who cared? I’d get an hour or two to pick Mark’s brain. I could freely promote the book launch not just as a “C’mon, guys. If you really loved me, you’d come” sort of thing, but as a once-in-a-lifetime EVENT starring a premiere publishing phenom. “He flies internationally to speak at conferences. This weekend, he had to choose between South Glengarry and Paris. He chose us.” True story.

Even if you’re not launching a book, and don’t have access to star power, friendship loveship courtship* can help you. Consider joining a book bundle. Joanna Penn and 11 friends bundled their books together for 99 cents and hit the NYT bestseller list. Kris Rusch also did a very successful book bundle or three and discusses teamwork and discoverability here. Heck, if you’re very organized, do a book bundle AND a book launch while bragging that now you’re an NYT bestseller!

Now it’s your turn. Have you done group signings? Did they work for you? Or has group power ever backfired on you?


*I’m not insane. Well, maybe I am. But this is an Alice Munro reference. She won a little thing called the Nobel Prize for literature in 2013. And she’s a Western grad, like me. Coincidence?


“Teamwork. A few harmless flakes working together can unleash an avalanche of destruction.” Justin Sewell

If you got anything out of this post, join the team. Buy my book(s)!

If you got anything out of this post, join the team. Buy my book(s)! Now available in paperback at R&L’s Book Nook in Alexandria.

Cover+me? Yes, you!

I’m not a graphic designer, nor do I play one on TV, but I do have some cover tips for writers entering the wild and woolly world of indie publishing.

1.  Start with a good image.

I look at free sites (, but I also pay for images.  First of all, they’re artists who deserve to be compensated; secondly, they do a better job than me; and thirdly, at this point, it’s not worth my time to keep looking around or trying to shoot photos myself.

2.  Convey the information:  the title and author name.

a)  It must be clear, even as a thumb-sized image.

b)  Avoid pitfalls.  Kindle used to put a logo in the bottom right hand corner over the cover; don’t let them cover up your information.  Having just gotten a Kindle myself, I see how different covers look in black-and-white and now I’m doing high-contrast covers for the Kindle alone (which is worth it for me, since I sell much better on that platform right now).

c)  Play with the fonts.  I use and I adore it (again, I am willing to pay if need be).  So much of the spirit of your book is transmitted by the font, which is really part of the art.

3.  Play around in general.

Get a good graphic software (I’m using Mac’s GraphicConverter, but it doesn’t do layers or transparency for me, so I’ll try to figure out another one.  Gimp seems too hard.  I’m open to suggestions).  Then just move stuff around and see what you think.  Save multiple versions and ask for feedback.

One beginner error I notice in myself and others is the fear of running text over the image.  Here is an example of me demonstrating The Fear.  See how the info is pushed to the top and bottom:

Now I look at how graphic designers break that rule, but do it right.

Since I am still a beginner myself, without much free time, I search for images where I can add text without messing around too much.

4.  Train your eye.

I look at books to see not only what’s done right, but wrong.  I sometimes pick up (sorry) small press Canadian books and say, “Hmm.  This looks bad.  Why?” and try to analyze it.

I also found myself paging through magazine ads, which I used to consciously ignore, but they are masters of conveying information with a strong graphic.  Bored panda is a guru.

5.  Keep it simple and focused on the visual.

For example, last night I was playing with the cover for High School Hit List, my YA thriller about a high school bully who terrorizes the school vs. a Mohawk kid who talks to animals.

I couldn’t find a Mohawk visual that satisfied me.  Jimmy is not super into his culture and mostly I found stereotypical images of teepees and pow wows, some of which are beautiful, but not “him” at all.

So I went for a high school image.  I paged through lots of them before I chose this locker, which, for me, a) conveyed the claustrophobia of high school, and b) was easy to add text to.


I went through a lot of fonts, including punk’snotdead, which I loved but couldn’t make it really legible as a thumbnail, so I killed it.  My husband Matt voted for this font, Arslan’s blood (no, that’s not a creepy title at all!).

I still wanted to incorporate Mohawk culture, but didn’t have confidence that I would do it well, between my basic photo editing skills and the fact that I’m an outsider.  But upon reflection, I realized that I needed to bring in animals more than Mohawk culture.  So I searched for animal dingbats and ended up using Animal Tracks as punctuation.  And I lurve the final version.

Feel free to disagree!


6.  Keep a list of the pertinent info.

As the very intelligent Annie Reed pointed out, you should maintain a log of where you got the image, do you need to give credit, what font(s) you used, so if you do a series, you can maintain continuity.

For more wisdom, check the comments on Kris Rusch’s latest post here, where Carolyn Nicita gives a great rundown, as well as offers cover links on her own website.

Copyright Melissa Yuan-Innes, 2011