Terminally Ill Tomorrow

Terminally Ill gets its world premiere tomorrow. And I’ll be…working in the ER with my posse. You think we’ll get any Elvis impersonators drowning while chained and nailed into a coffin?

Does that sound too bizarre? Actually, it’s based on real life. Here’s a clip of Dean Gunnarson, the man who inspired the book:

Yup, Sook-Yin Lee’s CBC Radio interview with Dean on DNTO really got my motor running.

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You won’t catch me chaining myself to a roller coaster track, but as the great Harry Houdini said, “Nobody wants to see a man die, but everyone wants to be there when it happens.”

You will catch me at the book launch Saturday, March 22nd, at 10:30 a.m. at the Alexandria Public Library and at 2 p.m. at the Cornwall Public Library. All paper copies will be only $15. Cornwall will also host a book draw, so you could win a copy of Terminally Ill absolutely free. And if you have any publishing questions, you can ask Kobo operations manager Jodi White, who will be travelling all the way from Toronto to attend.

Pre-order the e-book now for just $5.99 at Kobo and Smashwords. The trade paperback retails for $17.99 U.S. ($19.99 Canadian), and you can order it at your local bookstore. Plus, through our partnership with Kobo, if you buy a print copy, contact me for a coupon for a free e-book.

melissayi_terminallyill_eBook_final daisho



His breath whistled inside the coffin.

He heard the crowd cheering, although the plywood walls surrounding him dampened their yells. He could hear and feel the rumble of the crane lifting him and the coffin into the air.

He started to undo the chains on his wrists. Usually, those were the easiest.

He slid his wrists inward to gain a little slack, then twisted them to pop his wrists free.

The chains tightened on his wrists instead.

Meanwhile, the crane lowered his coffin into the St. Lawrence River.

Water splashed, and then he could hear the abnormal silence of the water surrounding the coffin.

He bent his wrists again.

The chains tightened once more.

Step two. He reached for the lock pick pinned on his left sleeve to jimmy the padlock on the chains. He always placed the pick on the inside cuff, where it would blend into his costume and he’d be able to reach for it blindly.

The pick was missing.

He reached for the pin secured to his right shirt sleeve, groping the fabric of his wetsuit to make sure he would not mistake the metal lock pick for a seam.


His heart hammered faster than usual, and his hard, hot breath seemed to fill the coffin. The wood underneath his body felt cold and damp, like water was already seeping inside.

He refused to panic. He could escape the chains. He always had and always would. They had built fail-safes into his act, including a fake chain with a middle cuff that made it easier to undo.

Using his fingertips, he skimmed blindly along the chain on his chest, only to realize that someone had removed the trick middle link.

He was handcuffed, chained, and nailed inside a coffin. In a river.

With no escape.

On Hallowe’en.


My Year of Yes: We Are Light Rays

Not one of Sook-Yin's pictures, since hers are copyrighted. This one is by Alvimann.

Not one of Sook-Yin’s pictures, since hers are copyrighted. This one is by Alvimann.

I pushed myself to go to We Are Light Rays at the Ottawa Art Gallery last week. My body desperately wanted sleep, my throat ached, I had chills, and my nose dripped, but I wanted to meet Sook-Yin Lee. So I forced myself to drive to Ottawa, through the construction, and listened to SYL.

What I love is how she can draw a story with a few details, and she’s completely open. About her childhood: “I had to come home from school right away. I had to have high marks. I was on the swimming team. All I could do was watch TV.” “My mother is like Kali. Don’t mess with her. She will destroy you.” “I never finished high school. I left home when I was 15 and joined the art scene in Vancouver.”

About other people categorizing you: “I was a VJ, so everyone put me in this box. ‘You’re a VJ.’ And some of my friends were like, ‘Why are you working for the man?’ and I said, ‘It’s just a new medium that can reach so many people.’” It hadn’t occurred to me that TV was what the Internet is now, a new medium to reach millions of people. TV was just TV to me. So I thought that was super cool.

She’d also made a lot of interesting artistic choices, like displaying her photographs on small light boxes instead of blowing them up huge like everyone else does, although she said she’d like to experiment with large photos printed on linen. It wouldn’t have occurred to me to use light boxes, but she works in film, so it’s more natural to her. And linen? Wow.

If you go see the exhibit, it’s an auditory as well as visual experience because she’s singing original music in the background. I was in a hurry because my parking metre had expired and I needed to sleep, but I still liked it, and the gallery person said that it’s cool to rotate 360 degrees and take in all the photos and the music.

I liked that SYL works in all sorts of media (radio–she’s the host of CBC radio’s DNTO; music; film) and tries different things. People already think I’m strange enough for writing in all different genres. And I asked her what she did when people told her “You can’t do that. Stick to one thing” or criticize her for succeeding, which happens to me.

SYL basically said that she doesn’t listen to naysayers. Sometimes she has doubts, but she creates the stuff first and then says, “Uh oh. What did I do?” afterward.

I missed her show the next day, How Can I Forget. I would have liked to see the interplay between her and her siblings (SYL said that the emotional highlight is a Skype call between her and her oldest sister, a successful businesswoman who refuses to dwell on sadness in their past, whereas SYL is the crazy artist who does nothing but dwell on “crap”). Unfortunately, I was still sick and a bit tired from my two Kali yoga classes, which will be the next post. But if you have a chance, go see Sook-Yin Lee. Go support living artists.