The Roswell Award vs. Max’s birthday parties

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

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

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

And this year…

Dear Melissa,

Congratulations (again!)!

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

The Roswell Award for Short Science Fiction

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

What? No way.

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

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

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

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

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

When I asked Max, he started crying.

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

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


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

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

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

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

LA Farmer’s Market & LACMA: City of Angels, Day 1

So first, I woke up to find out that my airbnb host had cancelled my reservation because of flooding. Which meant I was flying to Los Angeles with nowhere to stay. I started frantically messaging people, looking for a new place, hit Montreal’s rush hour traffic, missed the first turnoff to the airport, and almost missed my plane.

I boarded at 7:33 a.m. It was scheduled to leave at 0745.

I actually wasn’t the last person on board, but I don’t recommend this. The security guys made fun of my running and panting, but I hardly noticed. I had a plane to catch.

Luckily, Bri from airbnb was messaging me almost instantly. I highly recommend Brianne & Boris to anyone looking for an airbnb apartment in West LA, because I’ve stayed at a few airbnb’s, but I’ve honestly have never met such a fantastic communicator. She was booked for Saturday, but would’ve let me stay Friday & Sunday. She suggested a local hotel and kept me from going crazy until I managed to make contact with Sasha, who has this lovely, enormous apartment.

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This is just the living room, with the balcony opening into a view of sky and palm trees. And my hand.


Ford truck & old-time gas station, plus someone else’s cute kid.

Sasha drove me to the farmer’s market, one of her favourite spots in LA. She was born here and said that if she had time, she would’ve liked to show me the ocean, the desert, and the most beautiful houses. I said, “Gee, we never really think of LA like that. More like…plastic surgery.” She was horrified.



I decided to eat my way around the farmer’s market. Sasha said she doesn’t like to eat a lot, and I said, “I’m the opposite. I love to eat.” (When I explained to my friend Becky why I wanted to go to Asia, I was like “Japan. For the food and the culture. China. For the food and the history. Thailand. For the food.” I paused to think, Do I just travel for the food? But Becky nodded in understanding.)

In LA, first I ate Brazilian barbecue for the first time: sirloin tip, garlic beef, a small sausage, and spicy chicken. I’m vegetarian-friendly, which means that I try to be vegetarian until I decide that I really want to eat something badly enough that I would’ve killed the animal myself. Sets a high standard.


They didn’t have Max or Anastasia, but Matt and I get to represent. More Hispanic names, too. Jesus gets a license plate.


Then I hit the New Orleans booth. I’ve always wanted to go to New Orleans, for Mardi Gras, food, and jazz (told ya). I decided I wasn’t in the mood for gumbo, but my first shrimp po boy hit the spot. Fresh deep-fried shrimp and lettuce on a foot-long piece of bread, with slices of lemon to lighten things up. Truthfully, I ate half and was too full to continue my eating tour, but I bought fresh cherries and some sliced fruit for later.

The news stand was cosmopolitan too. Not only did I pick up a few comic books as presents, but I spotted Vogue Italia, Vogue Paris, and Vogue Bambino as well as the usual Vogues (Vogue, Vogue. Cue Madonna).


I’m not a huge plant person, but these fuzzy red flowers were adorable.


Everyone’s carved graffiti into these grey-barked trees. They make me think of elephant skin: tough survivors, but for how long?


I walked to LACMA, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. To get my money’s worth of $15 admission, I hurried around the museum buildings, determined to

Someone scrawled "9-11-01 HA HA HA" on this gated community.

Someone scrawled “9-11-01 HA HA HA” on this gated community.

see at least 15 things. Highlights:

1. Three miniatures at the Japanese pavillion: a catfish, an “earthquake snake,” I think it was, and the most feral crouching tiger I’d ever seen.

2. Gigantic structure. Size matters.


3. Free jazz band.


4. In the contemporary area, I walked right up to the most interesting piece. It turned out to be Centaur, by Pablo Picasso, arresting in its simplicity and more striking in 3D than 2D. I always thought he was hyped, but this was a good work.

5. Red elevator as big as five freight elevators



6. 6. “Oranges on fire.” These guys bought billboards, ripped off images, and added nonsensical slogans

7. Margarine guy (not the title). It’s a picture of a bound guy in a chair. He pressed his body into margarine, then lay on the paper and sprinkled pigment on it to reveal the image. The image is bounded by the American flag to question American justice. Made in 1970, obviously still relevant today.

8. Porn series. Sultan took pictures of porn actors hanging around the set. My favourite was the naked guy staring out the window above the kitchen sink, like he was longing for something.

9. Sultan’s parents. He took a picture of his mom with a turkey, and the dad was furious at such a traditional image. Sultan told him, “Dad, she’s your wife but my mother. All of your pictures of her look like a model selling something.”

10. Andy Warhol’s soup can. Interesting because it’s not behind glass, so you can go right up to it. I definitely think Warhol was over-marketed, but I liked seeing it for myself.


11. Roy Lichtenstein’s Cold Shoulder. Right next to the soup can. This one is behind glass, and the card points out that her hello bubble is surrounded by icicles, that he was obsessed with comics, and reproducing the look of comics by hand. I have hand-painted open-toed shoes modelled after Ray Lichtenstein.

12. The Illegal Operation: the equipment set up for abortion. The artist made it after his wife had an abortion. It made me uncomfortable. We still use basins that look like that in the hospital, only now they’re made of plastic. This piece must have cost a bundle, because a lot of people had to donate to bring it to the museum.

13. The bench covered in woven fabric that looked like leaves, in the Pacific art section.

14. Finish fetish: a guy painted and varnished a big plywood board 30 times, so that it would capture every the change in light. Is it art? I dunno, but it did gleam.

15. Sultan’s Dubai photo. The striking woman wearing a robe and seated in a chair in a power position; the woman in the mirror is wearing traditional Arabic garb.

16. The stores had a few interesting pieces, like ARTISTS WANTED painted on the wall. Our society treats 99 percent of artists like crap, so it was great to see artists sought-out and valued (or at least sold to—you could buy buttons and posters with this slogan).


A few bummers: the children’s museum closed at 5 p.m., so I never got to see it. And the top floor of the contemporary museum was closed, so I couldn’t climb up to the top to see the Hollywood sign, which I was going to take a picture of for Max. His souvenir request was a tiny Hollywood sign. My son loves tourist kitsch that I can’t stand. I didn’t pay for the extra Hudson River exhibition, but you could watch a titan-sized video of people throwing balls through the glass front of the Mike & Laura Resnick building. I mention the name because he’s a big SF name, and I’m here for an SF award ceremony, the Roswell award.

I’ll leave out how I got saved by an Orthodox Jewish woman last night.

Much obliged if you share or leave a tip on your way out, on Patreon. Tune in for Day 2, when I head to the Acme Theatre for the first time!


Writers Guild of America.