Human Remains. The First Chapter.

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

It suddenly occurred to me that I could do this.

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

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

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

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

jasika roswell IMG_7372

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

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

I also had conversations like this at the hospital:

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

Me: Yes. Of course.

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

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

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

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

It didn’t have to be good.

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

“Rejection is like chicken. It’s either yummy or yucky. Depends how you cook it….Just ask.” —Jia Jiang, @17:56


by Melissa Yi

Chapter 1

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

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

My phone buzzed with a text from Ryan.

Where are you?

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

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

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

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

My phone buzzed again. Are you on Lynda Lane?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My gloved hands clenched on the steering wheel.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“How old is she?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

I nodded. “You?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

I laughed. My heat started beating again.

Ryan dropped back to pet Roxy, smiling a little.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ryan swore.

roxy snow IMG_6926Roxy barrelled east, toward the Lynda Lane.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He pointed at Roxy.

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

A body with a black bag over its head.

Human Remains child cover 6x9 72

Not ready for order. But if you want more, I’ll be sending it out to my newsletter subscribers first!

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

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

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

I was wrong.

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

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

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

Attack of the tree sloth!

Attack of the tree sloth!

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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



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


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

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

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

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


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

Tom Berklund

Tom Berklund

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

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

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


My Hollywood Connection: The Roswell Award for Short Science Fiction

I’m a finalist for The Roswell Award for Short Science Fiction!

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That means I could fly to L.A. to watch a professional actor read my short story, “Cardiopulmonary Arrest” (yes, the title is a pathology joke). And I could win $1000. The catch is, they won’t cover any of my expenses. So if it were you, would you go?

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My new friend Ellen en route to San Francisco. That’s Chris Isaak’s guitar pick and some fortune cookie slips. She thinks I should go.

I worry a lot about money. Multiply that by ten if it’s my writing money. In fact, that’s the basis of the following seven things you didn’t know about my writing, thanks to Rob Brunet and Doug Smith
tagging me. Interestingly, they’re all about writing and money. I’ll append the Roswell letter below. But first, seven things!

1. For a long time, my writing was handicapped by my cheapness. I was so afraid of losing money on my writing that I did stupid stuff like use Times New Roman 12 pt to fit the maximum words on a page, even if the editor from Weird Tales sent me back a letter saying, “Your font is too small.”

2. If you do stuff like this, your work is less likely to sell, and it becomes a vicious cycle. Fortunately, Kris Rusch glared at me and said, “It’s too small. I don’t care if it’s 12 points. An editor’s eyes are her livelihood.” I increased my font to 14 points.

3. Another cheap story: when Writers of the Future flew me out to LA for the week-long workshop, I found a used book I really wanted, poemcrazy. I agonized over it. William, my “twin” (writer I was paired with for the week), just looked at me and said, “Would you get six dollars’ worth out of it?” I bought the book. I still love it, especially the part where her son is shaking a lilac bush and instead of screaming at him, she asks him what he’s doing, and he says, “I’m stirring the sky, Mama.” I wanted to have kids who would make me see the world in a different way.

4. Medicine changed my writing because I had to condense a lot of information (history, physical exams, and investigations) into half a page. Jason, one of the nurses, said, “You use a lot of abbreviations.”

5. I did feel stifled for a bit, writing “72 y.o. M, DM, CHF, SOB x 3 d…” until I let it go. I never liked other people telling what to write, absolutely loathed the five paragraph structure in high school, and spent years NEVER explicitly writing medicine into my fiction, even though everyone else told me to write like Michael Crichton.

6. After years of writing in almost every genre, from werewolves to picture books, I like creating the Hope Sze medical thrillers, but it’s the most draining type of work, for me.

7. However, I find it relatively easy and therapeutic to write medical non-fiction about the ER, and some of my essays should appear in the Medical Post in the near future—with a columnist photo! (This entailed a lot of setting up the tripod and running to the wall and getting our dog over-excited.)

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And what do you think about L.A. in 2015? The downside: spending money, CO2 footprint. The upside: L.A., fun, and rubbing shoulders with SF and Hollywood peeps. Tell me what you’d do! I might quote you in my column on Monday, where I’ll be mulling over the question in more detail.

Dear Ms. Yuan-Innes,
On behalf of SCI-FEST LA, I’m excited to announce that your story, “Cardiopulmonary Arrest,” is a finalist for The Roswell Award for Short Science Fiction. 
Your story is one of just six finalists chosen from over 300 submissions received from around the world. Your story will be presented in an Awards & Staged Reading event featuring our celebrity guest readers on Saturday, May 23 at 7:00pm at the Acme Theatre in Hollywood.
At the reading, each of our finalists will be officially recognized and the award for the best short science fiction story will be presented.
Our judges who will determine the competition winner include:
* Jack Kenny (Executive Producer, WAREHOUSE 13 & FALLING SKIES)
* Jordan Roberts (Screenwriter, BIG HERO SIX)
* Mike Werb (Screenwriter, FACEOFF & Writer on EXTANT)
And others soon to be announced!
We hope that you will join us! However, you do not need to be present to win the competition. If you plan to join us, please let me know as soon as possible. Unfortunately, we are not able to pay for travel expenses to Los Angeles.
Our finalists will soon be posted on the SCI-FEST LA website, along with information for attending the Awards & Reading!