The Next Big Thing (It’s Big! It’s Massive! It’s Chocolate Bun Cake Goodness!)

I kind of hated tag as a kid, because chasing other kids or running away from “it” just made me think, Why am I doing this?

“The Next Big Thing” is a much better sort of tag.

To wit, the insanely talented Cindie Geddes tagged me as the next big one so that I can talk about my next big one. I know, it sounds like a porno, but it’s actually writers hand-selecting other writers they admire to answer ten questions. Here we go.

1) What is the working title of your next book?

Terminally Ill

2) Where did the idea come from for the book?

The unofficial title is “The Escape Artist.” I was listening to a podcast of DNTO and they interviewed an escape artist named Dean Gunnarson who nearly died after he was handcuffed, chained, and nailed into a coffin that was submerged into a river on Harry Houdini’s death day. I’d already started writing the third Hope Sze medical thriller, but that plot required a lot of research. Plot is not my forte when I’m sleep-deprived between my small children and my shift work as an emergency physician. But once I heard Dean’s story, I immediately envisioned him coming to Montreal for his stunt, with Hope as the doctor resuscitating him. It was so much fun, I just started writing.

3) What genre does your book fall under?

Medical thriller

4) What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

To be honest, ideally, I’d like to play Hope myself. Yes, I am an actor manqué. But if not, maybe Zhang Ziyi with Sandra Oh’s voice? (Hope doesn’t have an accent and is not soft-spoken like Zhang. We already know Sandra can handle the hard-hitting doctor persona and medical jargon, but she’s so closely associated with Christina Yang on Grey’s Anatomy, people would keep projecting that character on Hope because, well, they’re both female Asian doctors! Can’t have more than two of those in the world.) As for Tucker, Ryan, or Alex, I’m not up on hot male actors because I rarely have time to watch movies. Can someone help me out?

On second thought, Hope is not transcendently beautiful like Zhang Ziyi. I’d rather give the part to an unknown who needs a break. Like, have you seen Elaine Marcos in Every Little Step? I thought she was great, but her Imdb profile is full of parts like “Sexy lesbian” or “Paramedic #2.” I’d love to cast some relative unknowns burning with talent and ambition. Underdogs unite!

5) What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

After Dr. Hope Sze resuscitates an escape artist who nearly drowns while nailed and chained in a coffin, she must deduce who sabotaged his act and wants him dead.


6) Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

Indie pub all the way, baby.


7) How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

Started it April 25th. Started winding it up October 8th. Now I’ve set it aside to gestate while I work on my African travel essays/poems, but I’ll pick it up again.

8) What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

I’m no good at comparing, but I’d love the readership of Tess Gerritsen and C.J. Lyons.

9) Who or what inspired you to write this book?

See #2.

I will add that I wanted to write a medical book because I returned to the ER after maternity leave, and I thought, I need to work hard on my skills so I don’t end up being “the dumb doctor.” If I write about medicine while I do medicine, I could kill two birds with one stone. Plus, nearly all my sales are from The Most Unfeeling Doctor in the World and my two Hope Sze books (Code Blues and Notorious D.O.C.), so the readers have cast their vote.

10) What else about the book might pique the reader’s interest?

Sheer awesomeness.

Seriously, I don’t know what to say, except I love romance, so there’s still the Tucker-Ryan love triangle going strong, with Ryan pressuring Hope to transfer to the University of Ottawa and leave Montreal (and Tucker) behind. There’s the escape artist angle, with a bit of Harry Houdini lore thrown in, so if you like magic/crazy people who risk their lives for fun, that’s something new. On a more serious note, I talk about palliative care and end of life issues. The escape theme runs throughout. Will Hope escape Montreal and her reputation as the detective doctor? When is death an escape from life? If your life was unbearable, what kind of steps would you take to escape from it? That sort of thing. I’m trying to describe the plot without spoilers. So hard. Moving on.

On December 12th, Maggie Jaimeson ( will take over the reins as the Next Big Thing. I consider Maggie one of the hardest working women in the writing business, combined with excellent business and research skills, not to mention a kind heart and a sense of humor—exactly what you need for long-term success in the field. Her latest romance, Healing Notes, is her best yet. I can’t wait to read her next big thing, Chameleon, an SF/Fantasy YA about lichen modifying human behaviour. Well, I guess it’s about the people. But I’m very excited about the lichen because I’m a geek that way.

Leslie Claire Walker (

My next Big Thang is Miss Leslie. I’ve been friends with Leslie since we were both winners and roommates at Writers of the Future in 2000. At a novel workshop seven years later, I literally cried because her writing was so good (and because I thought mine hadn’t improved like hers, but anyway). She writes about characters at the edges of society, about magic, about possibilities. Read Leslie. And read Hunt while you’re waiting for Demon City!

Three other writers I recommend, who are also Big Things:

Robert Jeschonek

Brilliant. I hate writers who bore me, and Bob never does. He’s got everything: heartfelt characters, thrilling adventures, humor, pathos, and a wild imagination. Run out and read him.

Steve Mohan, Jr. (also writes as Henry Martin)

I usually don’t read techno-thrillers because of cardboard characters (usually alpha male vs. The Bad Guy, with a love interest who isn’t very interesting), but Steve combines real characters with tough choices and stirring action, exploding genre lines.

Maxwell Innes

He’s six, so this is a long term bet, but according to me, his hopelessly adoring mother, he writes the most beautiful poetry I’ve ever seen.

Poker, Zappos, and the Writing Business

I have never bought a pair of shoes from Zappos.  I also don’t read a lot of business books, mostly because they bore me.

But I read Tony Hsieh’s book almost straight through because he’s cool.  He thinks outside the box even more than I do.  Like, it would never occur to me to write a sonnet in Morse code and say, “I’ll get an A or an F.”

I paid particular attention to what he learned from poker and applied to business.  A few struck me as applying to writing.  Click here to read his lessons directly on his website.

Now for my own 2 cents.


Evaluating Market Opportunities

.            Table selection is the most important decision you can make.

.            It’s okay to switch tables if you discover it’s too hard to win at your table.

  • If there are too many competitors (some irrational or inexperienced), even if you’re the best it’s a lot harder to win.


The table is crowded right now.  New York publishers are letting good editors go and the remaining ones are pretty gun shy.  I’m still keeping my hand in the ring.  I went to three major conferences in the past few months.  But I’m also open to the idea of switching tables, which is why I looked into radio drama.  Will it pay off?  I don’t know.  But if the traditional, straightforward methods aren’t working, I’m happy to go sideways.



  • The guy who wins the most hands is not the guy who makes the most money in the long run.

.            The guy who never loses a hand is not the guy who makes the most money in the long run.


I learned this lesson in “the Game” with Dean Smith, Kris Rusch and Loren Coleman.  Basically, Kris and Dean have a Master Class and the evenings are spent playing the game where you roll dice and pick random cards to establish your character’s traits.  For example, Karen Abrahamson, one of my classmates, ended up owning a Lexus and paying expensive rent, so she had to sell more books to make up for those costs.

I was lucky.  My expenses were moderate and I happened to write fast (6 books a year).  Steve Mohan, Jr., who happens to be a talented writer and all-around good guy, nicknamed me “Miss Six.”  But whenever Dean asked me if I wanted to risk more–say, roll the dice, and if I won, I could write seven books, but if I lost, I’d go down to five.  I’d always say, “No, thank you.”

Meanwhile, other people were risking more and getting up to my speed, but I didn’t care.  Steve called me risk averse, which is totally true.

When we had the end of class party, some veteran writers walked up to the board and said, “Who won?”

I found it a funny question.  “Gerry Weinberg made the most money and I sold the most books.”

Loren called my career “a typical midlist career.”  I sold a lot of books (won a lot of hands), but not for a lot of money each.  I got some good breaks, like one of my books got optioned by Hollywood, but I had to replace my roof twice, which wiped out some of that.

Was my fictional career a success?  Depends how you define a success.  But I’d have to say, although I didn’t lose many hands, I also didn’t make the most money.


Always be prepared for the worst possible scenario.

Not a problem for me.  Like I said, I’m always risk averse.  However, as Tony points out,

.            Go for positive expected value, not what’s least risky.

.            Make sure your bankroll is large enough for the game you’re playing and the risks you’re taking.

.            Play only with what you can afford to lose.

  • Remember that it’s a long-term game. You will win or lose individual hands or sessions, but it’s what happens in the long term that matters.

I’m slowly starting to take more risks.

For my book launches, this year, I ended up buying the books at an author’s discount and selling basically all of them (31 Indian Country Noir and 26 Dragon and the Stars).  I took the risk and I made the profit.

When everyone’s paid me for their copies, I should have approximately doubled what I made on straight short story payments.  I probably could have made more money by buying more copies and taking more of a risk, but we already know I’m taking baby steps at this.  Eric Choi pointed out that giving away copies can be good promo, which had honestly never occurred to me, so intent was I on making my money back.  But this time, I experimented on giving the occasional discount (once I’d made my money back) and the copy I’m shipping to Sandra Kasturi in T.O., I will only break even because shipping is prohibitive, but I figure it’s worth it because Sandra is a poetry editor and a reader and a way of expanding my audience.



.            Don’t play games that you don’t understand, even if you see lots of other people making money from them.

  • Figure out the game when the stakes aren’t high.


And now I’m looking at the future.

I have pretty much ignored e-publishing up ’til now.  I have written a bucketload of novels, but I had my heart set on printing them the traditional way.

I also have very little idea how to go about e-publishing–how to format it (Smashwords?), where to post it (sure, I want everything from Kindle to .pdfs, but this’ll take time), how to make a good-looking book cover (like pornography, I recognize it when I see it, but how do I create my own–book cover, I mean, not porn.  I ain’t that desperate.  Dean uses Powerpoint, but it’ll obviously be a learning curve).

Once I do feel comfortable, I’ve decided to put up some of my published work–short stories, poems, my medical non-fiction–and just have fun with it.   I’ve always kind of liked my photography.  Why not make a book cover out of some of my pictures?

If I make 35 cents on a 99 cent short story sale, cool.  If I don’t, I’ll live.  I’m pretty terrible at re-selling the rights to my stories because I can hardly manage to keep my encyclopedia of unpublished stories and novels in the mail (as well as aiming for 1000 words/day) without bothering about reprints.  This way, I’ll wet my feet in the e-market and maybe make a few bucks, but it’s the risk-taking that’s imporant and new for me.

One final word on Tony Hsieh.  One thing I like about him is that he’s not that interested in money.  He likes taking risks and building a tribe in pursuit of happiness.  He’s a millionaire, but more importantly, he seems happy.  His bio is that he lives in SF and “sort of has a cat.”

I’m no millionaire.  I’m not the richest doctor and I’m certainly not making a living off my writing.  But I know I would be miserable if my family consisted of a part-time cat, no matter how much money I made or how much my corporation and my friends reflected my values.  (I know he’s joking, but I’m just sayin’.)  I’d rather save a few lives, write and publish some good stories, and end the day with my sweethearts, none of whom are feline.

In the end, we are all authors of our own happiness, and that’s what’s most important.