Five Ways to Kickstart Your Writing Imagination with a Mystery Con: Bloody Words, Part II

1. Dare to Be Stupid


Click on the pic to buy Terminally Ill from this crazy-looking chick.

I’ve never looked good in a surgical cap, whether it’s the guy’s kind or the poofy, blue, disposable women’s version. So why am I wearing a surgical cap, plus a giant poster of my book?

Well, at Bloody Words 2014, Canada’s mystery convention, they invited any recently-published author to join in a literary fashion show. They’d make a placard of your book cover. Caro Soles, an experienced fashion commentator, would describe your book in couturier terms while you sashayed down the sidewalk, wearing a hat appropriate to your book.

For the first time in my life, I Googled “how to walk like a model.” My favourite tips came from Chita Johnson: Step on to the ramp with your outside leg up, to block the audience’s view of your crotch. Who knew? I also mastered the half-turn and the fade, and learned the full turn.

Photo courtesy of Lisa. Note Michael Jecks, the international guest of honour, in the background. He's now my friend on Twitter, but be warned. Don't argue with the man about sheep.

No evidence of my modelling savvy in this photo courtesy of Lisa de Nikolits.

I also got to hang out backstage with Cathy Spencer, who won the Bony Blythe award the next day; Edgar award-winning author Wendy Hornsby, the Bony Pete award-winner, RJ Harlick; and the very sweet IPPY award-winner Lisa de Nikolits, who calls everyone “love.” Lisa explained how the cover art for her book, The Witchdoctor’s Bones, was created by a homeless, schizophrenic, now deceased South African man.

Arthur Ellis award-winner Melodie Campbell pulled a toy gun out for her turn on the catwalk, and someone else “shot” her at the end. Cool.

When I poised on the end of the runway, I pulled a syringe out of my top, and pretended to spray it in the air. I wanted to fill it with water, but didn’t have time. If I’d wanted to go all out, I would have used fake blood, but the cleaning staff wouldn’t have thanked me.

Look, I even included a blurry picture of myself with an apparent double nose.

Look, I even included a blurry picture of myself with an apparent double nose. I’m not proud.

Note Michael Jecks, the international guest of honour, wearing his book cover with the green background. He’s now my friend on Twitter, but be warned. Don’t argue with the man about sheep.

So get out of the house and try something different, even if you look silly. That’ll get your writing juices flowing. Even if all you write is, “I hate that doctor-writer who told me it was a good idea to dress up like a parsnip!”

2. Do the Group Thing
I was on a panel on the Sunday called The Science of Murder. The moderator was Alex Brett, author of the Maggie O’Brien mysteries. The two other authors specialized in infectious diseases. Jen J. Danna writes about forensic anthropology with her co-author, Ann Vanderlaan, and was an intelligent, polished speaker. Dr. Ross Pennie, who recently released the latest Dr. Zol Szabo mystery, introduced himself as Canada’s leading expert on flesh-eating disease.

Me, Ross, Jen, and Alex's arm.

Me, Jen, Ross, and Alex’s arm. Photo courtesy of Steve Steinbock.

So that left me to joke that I was Canada’s second most knowledgeable doctor on flesh-eating disease. I’m totally not. But hanging around with other articulate people took the pressure off of me, and afterward, one aspiring author told me that it was her favourite panel, and that I had “a lot of moxie.”

Who wouldn't love a group like this? Photo by David Mark

Who wouldn’t love a group like this? Photo by David Mark

Groups can be good. Critique groups get a lot of bad press because they can suppress your writing voice, but it’s a good idea to find some camaraderie. Writing is lonely.

Small groups are good. This is Rebecca Senese, a talented writer of horror, science fiction, and mystery

Small groups are good too. This is Rebecca Senese, a talented writer of horror, science fiction, and mystery, all at once.

3. Dress Up Like Somebody Else
IMG_2430 IMG_2437 IMG_2436 We were supposed to dress up like our favourite mystery character for the banquet. I’d bought a lovely blue, dropped-waist dress from Melow at the latest Braderie de Mode quebecoise. Actually, my friend Danielle and I bought the same dress, which is quite hilarious because she’s almost six feet tall, and I am…not. At the last second, I found a peacock fascinator that I’d forgotten I’d bought on Etsy. IMG_2442 Anyhoo, it looked like a flapper dress to me, so I decided that I would be Harriet Vane.


There’s an art to taking selfies. I obviously need more practice.

When Steve Steinbock greeted me, he said, “If I see Lord Peter Wimsey, I will send him my regards.”

I found my husband! Lord Peter Wimsey, showing off our family crest. Photo courtesy of his manservant, Bunter.

I found my husband! Lord Peter Wimsey, showing off our family crest. Photo courtesy of his manservant, Bunter.

Steve reading aloud for the Hammett awards (see statue in front of him).

Steve reading aloud for the Hammett awards (see statue in front of him).

Steve also tried on a new outfit. I think he looks very fetching.

Ken Wishnia looks pretty good, too.

Ken Wishnia looks pretty good, too. Look, their feet match. Must’ve done the modelling videos.

4. Give yourself a deadline.

Our panel was scheduled to run at the same time as “Bloody Idol,” the show where anyone could submit 250 words and read them aloud to a panel of editors and agents.
So, 1) I was pretty sure no one would come to our science panel, and 2) I wouldn’t get to check out Bloody Idol. But I wrote 250 words anyway, which forced me to start writing the fourth Hope Sze novel, Stockholm Syndrome.

My roommate, Merrill Young, generously offered to report back on the response. She and writer/editor/mothership Cheryl Freedman told me that all four editors and agents liked it, so eight thumbs up.

I will include that opening in my next newsletter. <incentive to join> <incentive to join> <just go to the bottom of the page> (In addition to SEO optimization, I’ve been reading about getting people to sign up for newsletters. It’s the next big thang.)

Then I was invited to submit to two anthologies. So now my writing cup overfloweth.

5. Get out of the con.

I made time for an hour of hot power yoga at Yoga Tree. IMG_2410 I walked the streets of Toronto. IMG_2411 S.G. Wong and I headed to “Kill like a Scandinavian” at the Toronto Public Library. Woo hop! Sometimes, you just need to get away. Now go forth and create.


For readers’ convenience, a link to the “entertaining and insightful” Terminally Ill is provided by clicking on this photo.

P.S. For anyone who’s wondering, did I sell any books?
Yippers. Not a ton. Eleven paperbacks, to be exact. But that’s more than I would have sold if I hadn’t come at all.
More sales may come later (autocorrect changed that to latex. Yes, I’m pretty sure latex will always outsell my books).

And if I sell to both anthologies that asked me to submit, I’ll make back my money, even without the book sales.

I keep having to fight my own cheapness. I get all bent out of shape over printing up my own postcards.

Meanwhile, one of the other authors, Ryan Aldred, said that he’d like to throw $1000 each at different promotions. Reddit, Google Ad words, Facebook. Just experiment.

My jaw dropped. I’m thinking too small. I don’t take a lot of risk, but I lose the reward, as well. I’ve read that it’s typical of women, to save and hoard expertly, but never take the big leaps that will let them level up.

I’m used to toiling in garrets. That’s how I became a doctor and a writer, after all. But sometimes you’ve got to bust out, get crazy, and make wild new friends. Done, done, and done. Now I just have to write some more.

My Year of Yes: If the Wheel Fits, Do It (or something like that)


Shri Yoga hosted a great seminar by Todd Norian last October, and I’d always wanted to go back. Mona, one of the owners, made several adjustments on me that I liked, even though they made me self-conscious (what? I can’t even do plank pose right?). So I thought I’d go back for my extended birthday celebration. (Note: this post written in September and not posted until now because…why blog in real time when you can blog two months later? Regardless, as my friend Amanda put it, it’s my year of parties.)
I arrived barely in time to pay and set up my mat. Someone pointed out the gorgeous bouquet of pink flowers on the counter, and Mona said, “It was my birthday yesterday.” Then she said the theme for the class was backbends.
No way. It was her birthday, too. And we were doing backbends. Nice.
I had trouble getting all the Anusara yoga corrections straight (e.g. Thighs and shins rotated in, arms up to the ears, but shoulders down…), but I liked it. Near the end of class, she told us to roll up a blanket and place it against the wall for Urdhva Dhanurasana.
OMG. Birthday wheel.
I’d been practicing with my triangle pillow, but I went along with it, palms on the ground near my head, feet planted, hips and back off the ground, but resting my head on the ground.
Mona rushed over to me and said, “Michelle, push up!”
It was the third time she’d called me Michelle. The first time, I let it pass. The second time, I said, “My name is Melissa, but that’s okay.”
This time, I said, “My name—is—MELISSA!” and pushed up into Urdhva Dhanurasana.
Hollywood moment.

Mona apologized profusely, but I didn’t care. I just did wheel pose with a blanket and a wall. I went from doing bridge poses for years to doing Urdhva on my head for years. And now, in just two weeks of refining my practice, I was @#%@#%@#ing doing Urdhva Dhanurasana.
I did it again. Feeling strong. Feeling good.
The third time, I was tired and not feeling it, but I left the class on a high.
Standard disclaimer: obviously, I’m not counseling beginners to jump into advanced poses. I’m a doctor, but I’m not your doctor. I’ve been doing yoga, on and off, for 18 years (geez). But I still stopped myself on handstand, headstand, crow, and wheel all this time.
Until now.
So much of yoga is in your head. I could have been doing Urdhva Dhanurasana for years, probably, even with my irregular practice. If I’d just dedicated myself to it. If I’d believed in myself.
My friend Genevieve wrote to me, when we first met, “Your many accomplishments me realize that I too can do anything I set my my mind to. That I have stopped myself from doing things for fear of not doing well.”
That’s what I was doing to myself with wheel. Now I don’t have to.
Best birthday present ever.

Illustration copyright 2012 by Craftyjoe/

If You Suck at Wheel Pose

I know. That’s a terrible yoga title. I should be more compassionate, more talking about modifications and opening your body, and less about judging.

And yoga has helped me so much with self-judgement and self-criticism.

I can't do wheel, and I don't care. Check me out rocking my undies. Photo by Belovodchenko Anton

“I can’t do wheel, and I don’t care. Check me out rocking my undies.” Photo by Belovodchenko Anton.

But if you want to get the job done, if you’re tired of doing Bridge pose while everyone else la-la-la opens up into full wheel, if you don’t have any injuries and just don’t know why you can’t do it, I’ve got a few tips.

The most useful video, hands down: Christina Sell doing Urdhva Dhanurasana.

She says something like, “There are some students who have the flexibility and strength to stay in the pose, but not enough strength to get off the ground.” So she sets up two bolsters on the floor and two blocks on the ground.

That’s me, I thought. But I don’t have any props.

So I pulled out my triangle pillow as a substitute.

And, with my arms shaking, I pushed up into urdhva for the first time in my life.

I felt miraculous and badass. And also a little nauseous.

So I came back down, like, two seconds later, panting but proud.

Once you get to full wheel on tiptoe, you get to rock your bra AND panties in the park. Photo by Talia22.

Once you get to full wheel on tiptoe, you get to rock your bra AND panties in the park. Score. Photo by Talia22.

My Year of Yes: Kali Yoga for My Birthday


For my birthday, I’ll be teaching two yoga classes. It took me a while to figure out what I wanted to do. Googling around just got me a lot of people wanting to sell yoga birthday parties to kids (“What kid would want that?” asked my husband. He is a yoga heathen. Ignore him) and a few people who attended classes on their birthdays, because some studios will comp you, but nothing about choosing asanas for your own birthday.

Then I found this article and quote by Beryl Bender Birch: “According to some traditions, on your birthday you should do one drop-back from standing to Urdhva Dhanurasana for every year of your life.”

Well, that’s not going to happen. But it got me thinking about wheel pose/Urdhva Dhanurasana/chakrasana, that thing where you’re on your lying on your back, push up on all fours, and either look like a super cool arch or, if you’re like me, you’re just hanging out on top of your head, wishing you could push up.

So I started researching that, and I came across this video by Dr. Melissa West. What? Another Canadian Melissa doctor who does yoga? Yes, but she’s a blonde who’s a Ph.D. in Madonna, so you probably won’t mix us up. And she’s how I figured out the perfect theme for yoga on your birthday: Kali.

Kali is one scary-looking Indian goddess. She’s got three eyes. She’s got four arms, one of which holds a sword and another holding a freshly-severed demon head. She’s black, so she won’t be starring in any Aryan films soon. She’s naked except for a garland of fifty human heads and a girdle made out of severed human hands. And you usually see her standing on top of her husband, Shiva. He’s lying on the ground, and she’s got her feet planted on him, sticking her, big, red tongue out.

Plus, she’s all about change. She will flatten you and hand it to you while you’re still reeling.

Yeah. You really want to invite her to your birthday party now, right?

But wait! Kali kills demons, not people. Always handy to have someone who can save the universe. In fact, that’s why she’s standing on her hubby. She was fighting a demon that, every time it shed a drop of blood, it formed a new demon from that drop. It was impossible to defeat, until Kali drank every molecule of blood. Then she went on such a demon-slaughtering spree that Shiva was afraid she’d kill everything, so he fell at her feet. When she realized that she was standing on top of her own husband, she stopped her rampage and stuck out her tongue, pleased as a dog with two tails. So, no matter how destructive Kali seems, she will always pause.

Wars always end.

As Theodore Parker said, and Martin Luther King, Jr., summarized, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

And all those gory-looking attributes? Pretty perfect for a birthday, or at least my birthday.

The name Kali means time. Her three eyes represent the past, present and future. Nice!

She’s naked, i.e., in her birthday suit.

Her lolling red tongue means that she has a voracious appetite for all flavours in the world, and I love to eat.

The fifty-head-necklace symbolize the fifty letters of the Sanskrit alphabet, or infinite knowledge. I like learning, now that I’m no longer burned out from med school and residency. I’m on right now, doing a course in Modern Poetry.

Plus the all-important demon-slaying thing. I can’t say that I invited Kali into my life, but I spent a lot of my last decade reeling anyway. At one point, I would wake up and say, “Is anyone in my life dying today? [Pause to think.] No? Then it’s a good day.”

Every day you’re alive and happy is a good day. A birthday is just an excuse to celebrate one more revolution around the sun.

Thanks, Kali.

Waste not, fun naught


I hate waste.  Unless food is pretty much inedible, I will clean my plate.  I hang on to old clothes, especially if they have sentimental value, because I figure someday I’ll make a quilt out of them.  It doesn’t matter that I don’t really know how to sew.  My parents raised me to work hard and squeeze penny until it screams.

Then Kris and Dean taught me to write fast.  So I pounded out my second mystery novel, 60,000 words.  But when I read it later, I realized it needed more of a plot, setting, and maybe more character and emotion–yes, just about everything.  I said to myself, “What’s at the heart of this novel?  A mother wants justice after her daughter is killed in a hit-and-run accident.  Plus one of my favourite themes, a love triangle.  Okay.”

I basically had to throw away the 60K and redo it from scratch, with just those ideas.  Another 75,000 words while taking care of our infant son, getting up every night to breastfeed, going back to work in emergency medicine, and my dad getting diagnosed with aggressive brain cancer.

I finished it, but I was so burned out, I didn’t write anything mystery-related or plot-heavy for, mm, almost two years.  I wrote romances instead. Now, romance was probably an escape from my life.  But it also curdled my milk to think of 60,000 mystery words gone to waste.  Sixty thousand!  You wouldn’t throw away 60,000 dollars, right?  So why throw away 60,000 words?

After a week-long tutorial with Kris, I realized that one of my psychological hang-ups was this waste.  I don’t mind putting in the writing time, but I would like to get paid for every word.  Every scrap becomes a poem, every paragraph gets knitted into a short story or novel and in the end, everyone fawns over me and gives me money for my work.  Sounds good, right?

Kris just looked at me.  “It’s practice.  You don’t think you’ve wasted time in medical school, learning with patients, do you?”

I had to think about that.  Sure, I’m grateful to all those patients who let me practice on them.  But if I could’ve just started practicing competently and making money at it instead of paying $8000 tuition, I’d take that.

I tried to come up with an example of practice not being a waste and what finally made sense to me was yoga.  I don’t usually have a specific goal when I do yoga.  I do it because it makes me feel good, because it’s like a physical form of prayer.  Yes, I grow more flexible and incrementally more strong, but I love the mental space it delivers to me.

I also realized that my parents had raised me to save, save, save.  Save money.  You’ll need that for university, for retirement, for the next generation.  Save your old clothes.  Everything comes back into fashion and you might get anorexia and fit into your jeans from middle school.

This served me well for most of my life.  I saved my money religiously.  We own our house and cars outright.  I don’t have student loans even though the government deregulated tuition when I was in the middle of medical school.  And so on.

But I didn’t have fun.  And I was afraid waste those potential money-making words.

So I’m slowly learning to let go.  The words come out.  I create new worlds, new people, new languages.  I may get paid or not.  But I try to have fun, even if I can’t monetize that phrase or even an entire novel or twelve.

Fun.  What a concept.

Copyright Melissa Yuan-Innes, 2010