Showing posts with label Melissa Yi. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Melissa Yi. Show all posts

14 February 2017

Do You Do Artist Dates?

by Melissa Yi

“The Artist Date is a once-weekly, festive, solo expedition to explore
something that interests you.” Julia Cameron

An artist date is permission to play. Every week, you are supposed to explore something that makes you smile.

When I first heard about them, I was excited, but I circled around the idea cautiously, like an animal scenting something new. What is this thing called play? Am I allowed to indulge in it, or do I have to spend every waking moment working as a doctor, a writer, and a mother?

For me, because I live in the country, one of the barriers is physically getting to something that interests me. It takes me an hour to drive to Montreal, 1.5 hours to drive to Ottawa, and more if there’s snow or traffic.

And yet, it’s almost always worth it.

I think this is why writers love conferences. You go from isolation to a collective army of smart, funny people who love the same things you do (reading, writing, and Riesling). You can get some of the same vibe online, but it’s not as fun as in person.

Steve Steinbock & Melissa Yi at Bloody Words 2014
“It’s Brigadoon!” said Steve Steinbock, of Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, who suggested I come to Bloody Words, the former Canadian crime conference.

“Huh? What’s Brigadoon?”

He explained that it’s a town that materializes out of nowhere, and then it’s gone. “Brigadoon!”


“Brigadoon,” I repeated, still a bit confused, but enjoying his enthusiasm.

Another barrier for me is that I hate spending money. I went to Left Coast Crime last year, felt guilty about spending money, and quizzed other authors in attendance if they felt guilty, too. The answer: no, with the unspoken corollary of "Why are you wasting your time here worrying about it?" Stacy Allen was kind enough to answer in detail. She said something to the effect of, “You have a gift. Everyone here has a gift. It’s a crime not to use it.”
With thanks to Lisa de Nikolits for the photo!

I just spent a long, long weekend in Toronto. The main goal was speaking at OLA, the Ontario Library Association superconference, through Crime Writers of Canada, on the Friday. I spent my two minutes explaining the genesis of Stockholm Syndrome (chasing after an escaped prisoner, as I explained in my interview with CBC Radio's Robyn Bresnahan here), connected with new readers, learned of literary conferences in Renfrew and Kingston, met James Wigmore, an author who’s a retired forensic toxicologist, and Judy Penz Sheluk invited me to post on her blog.

I stayed extra-long so that I could sing in a mass choir with MILCK, my favourite new singer--a brave, talented, risk-taker whom I'd like to emulate in many ways.

How about you? Do you do artist dates? Do you spend money on your art, and on your writing career?

23 January 2017

Why does an author need an e-mail list?


by Melissa Yi, Patreon

People keep telling me to get e-mails from my readers. And they make good points. Like this:

“You can’t build your content on rented land. So many brands and companies build their audiences on Facebook and Google+, which is fine, but we don’t own those names – Facebook and Google do.” Joe Pulizzi, Founder of Content Marketing Institute

"You’re not just a status update that’s there and gone, you’re right in someone’s inbox, where they receive other important communication from their work, family, and friends." Nathalie Lussier, Digital Strategist at Ambition Ally

"Email marketing consistently generates 80-90% of our landing page traffic." Corey Dilley, Marketing Manager at Unbounce

But what really caught my attention was that my friend, Maggie Jaimeson, credits her mailing list with kick-starting her writing career. She took a Facebook ads course with Mark Dawson, learned how to make effective Facebook ads and how to band with fellow authors, and has recently celebrated a milestone: 10,000 subscribers.

Okay! Time for me to get some subscribers. I had a few hundred, mostly students who'd signed up after I'd spoken at health care conferences. Not the same audience as eager book-buyers.

I set up a landing page. I tried Facebook ads, but found them relatively expensive. What really worked for me? Instafreebie.

 You give away a free book--I used the short stories that Kobo had commissioned for the Gone Fishing mystery contest--in exchange for an e-mail address. My first one is here: https://www.instafreebie.com/free/qpGYY

Don't just use their free feature, because then you can't harvest the e-mail addresses. Instafreebie gives you one month free trial of "Plus" ($20/month) or "Pro" ($50/month). You can link it to your Mailchimp account and set up your mailing list there.

Then look on the Instafreebie forum and bundle with other authors in your genre. I bundled with a thriller group and got 350 downloads before I figured out that I had to upgrade to get the addresses (select "opt-in required"). So that was sad--except Instafreebie decided to feature me on their blog, resulting in 600+ e-mails. Altogether, 1000 people downloaded my book without me spending a dime, because I'm still on the free trial.


I'm currently doing a Horror and Suspense giveaway (http://www.craigmcdonough.com/horror-and-suspense-giveaway.html), a Chinese New Year celebration is starting up (http://wesleyrobertlowe.com/chinese-new-year/), and I can’t wait for the chick lit group on February 1st.

Of course, nothing's perfect. One author pointed out that you can end up with a lot of unsubscribers and complainers, because these readers are looking for free books and may get enraged if you a) have the temerity to send them a message, and worse yet, b) charge money for a book. However, I'm looking at my friend Maggie and her 10,000 subscribers. I want to be like her. And so I'm willing to try.

If you want to try, too, this is my Instafreebie referral link. No pressure. https://www.instafreebie.com?invite_code=cpSHuy8qdh

Another thing Maggie does is join with other authors to have contests. We're just finishing up the Transformations Contest on Jan 23rd at 11:45 Pacific Time with $250 in gift cards and $50 in book prizes. Depending on your time zone, you may be able to grab a free copy of EXPENDABLE and other terrific books: http://www.maggielynch.com/giveaways/transformations-contest/

I'm writing this past my bedtime, so please excuse any lack of lucidity. Please feel free to ask questions or provide tips of your own. I'm always looking to learn!


13 December 2016

Wrestling the Book Monster

by Melissa Yi, Patreon


“I’ve heard other writers say this: eventually you’ll struggle with a book. The plot will unravel, the characters will elude you, the theme will mishmash….
I just turned in my fourth novel, and I’m so happy to be rid of the Book Monster.”—Kate Moretti, author of The Vanishing Year

When I read Kate’s words on Writer Unboxed, my heart dropped in recognition.
Yes. I have spent over a year wrestling with one.
I never fully related to writer’s block. It’s not like I couldn’t physically write. The imagery of a single block didn’t appeal to me.
But a Book Monster? Some unknown, dripping thing rising from the depths of my subconscious swamp, its ichor and poisons hewn by my enemies, fearsome and loathsome, multi-tentacled and growing every-stronger?
Kate pointed out character and plot and author doubt problems in her excellent article. Now that I’ve finally vanquished the first draft of Human Remains, I’m going to share a few Book Monster symptoms with you, and see if any of you can relate.
How do you recognize a book monster?
How did mine get so out of control?

1. Plot? Where, where?
My plot popped and locked and waacked all over the place. I had lots of ideas, so I’d write 10,000 words with that murderer or 20,000 words with that subplot, only to change my mind the next week or seven.
I’ve always been a panster (“flying by the seat of my pants” kind of writer), because if I already know what’s going to happen, I won’t bother to write it.
After months of this, I considered plotting the book out properly instead. I also went to the Agatha Christie exhibit in Montreal and considered adhering to a strict formula like she did in And Then There Were None. Anything to stop the madness.
What finally happened was that I decided on a murderer and started writing toward that. If my mind said, Wait! Try this other murderer instead! Or Hey, you shouldn’t—, I ignored it and kept writing. No more changes. Well, some changes. But an inexorable overall structure.
Nanowrimo helped as well as hindered. I wrote 16,000 words before I stopped myself and said, No, Mel, no more words! Figure out what you’re doing with them first. But I enjoyed the feeling that the writers of the world were uniting to finish their manifestos, and it’s not a coincidence that I buckled down and finished on the last day of November.

2. No joy
Writers talk about suffering for their art.
As Walter Wellesley “Red” Smith said, “You simply sit down at the typewriter, open your veins, and bleed.”
But I used to like writing, or at least like having written. Most of the time, I still did—except when I’d stop and look at my latest manuscript chunk and say, “Wait a minute. How does that fit anywhere?” And, because I hate waste, writing over 250,000 words and knowing I was going to toss 75 percent was torture that I felt helpless to stop.
It made me not want to write. It made me want to read about Brad and Angelina instead of pounding out the words that were just going to get incinerated anyway.

3. Too much self-pressure
CBC Radio’s The Next Chapter chose Stockholm Syndrome as one of the best crime novels of the season.
I’d go to work and a nurse would say, “Where’s your next one?”
Mysterical-E published an excerpt of Stockholm Syndrome and interviewed me for their latest issue here: http://mystericale.com/current-issue/
I love it. But I also worried.
I’d strived to make every book in the series better than the last. But what if I couldn’t do it? I could already feel the Amazon reviewers filleting me and roasting me.
I felt relieved to hear Elizabeth Gilbert quote her mom as saying, “Done is better than good.” Because more and more, this Book Monster had to be done.

4. A symptom of a greater problem
One year ago, I battled back pneumonia during the book launch of Stockholm Syndrome. In retrospect, I’d never gotten physically sick for more than a few days. My body couldn’t heal up while I spent sleepless nights trying to work and write and publicize simultaneously.
Yep, I’m that doctor who was a terrible patient.
So finally I stopped and slept, and woke up and wrote. Because that is what I do. Only it came out in inefficient, convoluted bursts., so I wrote a back pain book instead. Then came back to my Book Monster, and which I called a Creative Drought at the time.
Looking back, I wonder what might have happened if I’d taken a break from my writing, the way I did from the emergency department. I’m good at powering through, don’t stop, don’t give in to fatigue or sadness or temptation. But sometimes it’s more efficient to take a rest and come back.
The trick is figuring out how to do that.

If you have a book monster, I’d like to hear about it!
’Cause misery adores company.

And also, because I have to do the second draft. But first, I’m taking a break! Partly because I just worked hideous hours in the emergency department, but also because maybe I’m learning something. Not only about writing, but about life.

04 October 2016

How to Kick @ss: Tami Hoag Edition

by Melissa Yi

I'm fascinated by successful writers. I've decided to launch a new series where I examine authors I admire and try to unlock their secrets to success.

I met Tami Hoag at Writers Police Academy in August. Yes, that Tami Hoag. The one who's hit the New York Times bestseller list thirteen consecutive times, including five separate books within 20 months. #livingthedream

I happened to sit with Tami on the bus, chat with her over lunch, and listen to her speak at the banquet. Here are five pearls from Tami Hoag.

1. “People say I look like a nice woman. And I am. But I am a competitor.”
I love this. All of us, especially women, are socialized to be nice and kind and “After you” and “Don’t mind if I do.” That makes for a smooth society. But if you want to be a #1 international bestseller, you will have to throw down like Tami Hoag.

Well, maybe not exactly like her. In an interview with myPalmBeachPost, she said, "I could knock [you] out with a single punch and can talk about serial killers all day long.” She got into mixed martial arts for stress relief, and rode horses competitively, although she had to heal up five fractured verebrae after a dressage accident in 2003.

The killer instinct doesn’t mean you have to assassinate your competitors. Just get ready to put your shoulder in it, because…

2. “Writing is a mental full-contact sport.”
This may be my absolute favourite line. That was when I realized I have to read more of Tami's books. She is so passionate, so committed to writing, her body reverberates when she talks about it. There are famous authors who want to sit back and enjoy the money and adulation, and I don't blame them, but Tami is still throwing herself into the ring with everything she's got.
Just bought it.


3. “Commitment is a four letter word to me. I am a total pantser. In all other areas of my life, I am highly organized."
The sweet, sweet sound of someone who writes my way, which is to say, flying through the darkness, making it up en route. As Tami put it, "I know what the central crime is. A third of the way through, I say, ‘I don't think he did it.’ I call the editor and say, 'That's not who did it. Do you want to know who did it?’”

4. “You can't please everyone. It dilutes the quality.”
She does get people contacting her to complain that her characters are swearing, but she said she writes exactly how she sees real police officers talking. "I use the vernacular." When readers complain, it "makes me want to go around my office and say #@#%^@# @#^ )()&.@#@"
That made me laugh. Of course, I also like to swear.

5. “Somehow it's all there. Somehow it's all good.”
In other words, trust the process. In the end, even if she has to get her editors to tell her whodunit, or she has to take back a book to rewrite it to her satisfaction, at the end of six or nine months, she's once again created a brand new, character-driven thriller that has a bajillion readers clamouring for more.

Do any of these pearls speak to you? Are you a competitor? Is writing or reading your mental full-contact sport? Sound off in the comments. And if you'd like to hear more about Writers Police Academy, I'll be blogging about it at my own personal website. Cheers!

13 September 2016

Viruses and you

by Dr. Melissa Yi/Yuan-Innes, emergency physician

“A crappy virus is one that kills its host.”—Agnes Cadieux of the Ottawa Hospital

At our Can-Con 2016 infectious diseases panel, Dr. Anatoly Belilovsky, a paediatrician and SF writer from Brooklyn, explained that the most virulent viruses have jumped from animals to humans, killing the host before figuring out how to be less destructive. (You can imagine that a dead human isn’t as effective at passing on the vector when the body is buried inside the ground.)
Dr. Belilovsky said, “Rabies is not a human infection. It’s happy on bats. When it jumps to dogs or humans, it doesn’t do so well.”
“It’s a virology drive by,” said Dr. Dylan Blaquiere, a neurologist in New Brunswick.
Agnes Cadieux talked about how herpes simplex, herpes zoster, and even HIV are evolving to co-exist with humans.
Dr. Anatoly Belilovsky, Dr. Dylan Banquiere, Agnes Cadieux, Dr. Alison Sinclair, Dr. Melissa Yuan-Innes, Pippa Windsong 

Pippa Wysong pointed out that often a flu virus will kill the very young and the old. With Spanish flu, the cytokine storm was what killed people. This targeted people with strong immune systems.
The Spanish flu killed over 50 million people, and that was in 1918. If a virus struck like that today, the consequences would be absolutely devastating.
One audience member asked about superbugs and antibiotic resistance. One key problem is patients asking for unnecessary antibiotics. I can tell you that I’ve spent many cumulative hours explaining that no, you don’t need antibiotics.
Them: But I’ve lost my voice!
Me: Yes. I hear your hoarse voice. And 90 percent of the time, laryngitis is viral.
Them: I’m coughing up yellow and green stuff!
Me: Those are just old white blood cells. You have bronchitis. Seventy-five percent of the time, it’s viral.
Them: My throat is red!
Me: Most of the time, your sore throat is viral. Strep throat only causes ten percent of cases. And even if it is strep throat, a normal immune system will kill the bacteria almost as quickly with or without antibiotics. The strep strain in our area does not attack the kidneys (glomerular nephritis) or heart (rheumatic fever).

There are exceptions, of course. For example, I prescribe antibiotics to people who have emphysema and two out of three of the following: more cough, shortness of breath, and/or a change in mucous, because they may go on to develop a devastating pneumonia. You always have to watch out for premature babies, transplant patients, people on steroid medication, HIV patients, and so on.
But most people are healthy, with perfectly good immune systems, that can and will fight off infection. As my friend Dr. Michael Sanatani pointed out, “What’s the one thing bacteria have never developed a resistance to?”
Answer: Our immune system.
Voltaire put it this way: “The art of medicine consists in amusing the patient while nature cures the disease."
Of course, we have many more powerful weapons than in Voltaire’s age, but the problem is that, as one doctor put it when he was trying to convince us not to use a too-strong class of antibiotics when we don’t need them (fluoroquinolones), “We’re using bulldozers when we can use shovels.” Because patients are demanding them. Because patients don’t want to hear “Suck it up.” Because it’s faster to write a prescription than explain over and over again that you should save antibiotics for when you need them, or else they won’t work when you do need them. Plus they cause diarrhea and other problems.
Viruses and bacteria are a normal part of our environment. In fact, viruses make up 8 percent of our DNA. I, personally, avoid antibacterial soap, which kills the “good” bacteria and allow the more dangerous ones to propagate. Thank goodness the FDA agrees with me.
It's time to stop the fear. Dr. Alison Sinclair said, "When have you ever heard the word 'virus' in the media without it being preceded by the word 'deadly'?"
The solution to fear is education.

I'll be writing more about Zika on my own personal blog, http://melissayuaninnes.com/the-zika-page/, so please follow me there if you want to know more.
To your health!

23 August 2016

Dare to Be Bad: Human Remains


Once upon a time, two writers challenged each other to write a story a week. It didn’t have to be good. In fact, their motto was “Dare to Be Bad.” But it had to be done at the end of the week.
If a writer failed to write a story, s/he had to buy the other a steak dinner. Because they were poor, this was great incentive.

They wrote a story a week. They mailed the stories to editors instead of obsessively rewriting. They got better and better. You may recognize their names today as Nina Kiriki Hoffman and Dean Wesley Smith. I met them when I was a winner in Writers of the Future in 2000 and found both of them inspiring.

Karen Abrahamson,
Jay Lake,
Dean Wesley Smith,
Leslie Claire Walker
After going to Writers Police Academy this month, I realized that part of the reason that I was locked up on the fifth Hope Sze book, Human Remains, was that I wanted it to be amazeballs.

Now I still want it to delight, entertain, shock, and thrill, but I also want it to be done. And I want to loosen up about making it perfect.

William Stanford, Ph.D.
I also got a jump start in June when I visited the stem cell lab of William Stanford, in Ottawa. He kindly gave me a tour and okayed the science in the following excerpt, which may or may not make the final cut of the book, but will probably teach you about CRISPR and other awesome innovations.

Rough draft excerpt of Human Remains, by Melissa Yi

“Do you know what CRISPR is?” said Tom, the head of the stem cell lab. He pronounced it crisper, which made me think about my parents’ overstuffed refrigerator and/or the best potato chips.
“I do.” I swallowed and tried not to look obvious about it. Medicine teaches you not to show fear. Tom’s eyes were kind and steady on mine, but I’ve seen preceptors act super understanding to your face and then sabotage you with a substandard evaluation. “At least I understand the concept of cutting genetic code with ‘scissors’ made of clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats.”
That’s another evaluation trick. If you can spout jargon immediately and correctly, they’re more likely to nod and leave you alone. I wasn’t getting the vibe that Tom was hostile—quite the opposite, actually—but I needed a good evaluation on this rotation, or Ottawa wouldn’t accept me and McGill might fail me, both of which would torpedo my career.
Tom rubbed his chin and gazed out his window. Of course, it was a sign of status that he had a corner office with a window, but I got the feeling that he would’ve hung out in a sun-free basement for decades as long as it meant he could research stem cells. I relaxed a smidgen. He said, “Do you know the back story? I wouldn’t expect you to, but it’s fascinating.”
I nodded and smiled. Yes, please. Tell me the story. If you get them talking while you ask intelligent questions, they recall you fondly on your evals, and there’s less of a chance you get tripped up on weird questions about DNA sequences.
He said, “Yoshizumi Ishino first noticed these repeating DNA sequences in E. Coli in 1987. They were separated by short unique clusters of DNA, which was strange, because repeated DNA usually appears consecutively.”
My mind was already ping-ponging around. E. Coli causes a lot of urinary tract infections and is therefore considered my personal enemy. But I tried to contribute to the conversation. “Yes, I listened to a podcast on it. They compared it to sounds. So the repeat DNA sequences sounds like”—oh, God, now I was going to have to do it. I honked. Tom stared at me while I honked like a duck, five times, my cheeks burning. “And the sequences in between are all different. Like…” I honked, made an eee! sound, honked, oohed, honked, clicked, honked, oinked, honked, and meowed.
Tom stared at me. “I have never heard it explained it that way before. Which podcast was this?”
“Radiolab.” My friend Tori had sent me the link. Thank you, Tori. “They had better sounds, of course.”
“No, I like yours. I’m going to use that in my next lecture. That should wake ’em up.”
“I’ll send you the link.” I don’t know if I’ve ever been more embarrassed in a professional lab. But I could also tell I’d won him over within the first hour of arrival, which boded much better for me getting a stellar reference letter. I resisted the urge to cross my fingers.
“Did they also explain what CRISPR does?”
“They said CRISPR was like a mug shot of the bacteria’s enemy viruses. Like, when a virus attacks, the bacteria send out the ground troops of their immune system, but most of the troops die”—just like marines. Just like Tucker and I almost did—“and so do the bacteria. But if the bacteria survive, their enzymes cut the viral DNA up and then store short sequences—the CRISPR—interspersed with their own DNA. That way, they can carry around mug shots, or most-wanted ID’s, of the viruses that almost killed them. So if they ever run into the same viruses again, they can ID them right away from the CRISPR and send out targeted forces to vanquish them, in the form of enzymes that will slice up the viral DNA.” Faster than cutting off a zombie’s head during the upcoming apocalypse, I wanted to add, but didn’t. He already thought I was weird enough. 
There were a lot of problems with my explanation. It was super basic. I wasn’t talking about B-cells or T-cells because Radiolab hadn’t. I couldn’t even talk intelligently about RNA. I was sketching the surface. If he asked me to dig deeper, I was pretty much toast. At least I got to sneak in the word “vanquish.”
“That’s pretty good,” said Tom, drawing his eyebrows together and pursing his lips. I couldn’t tell which way he was going, i.e. if he liked my explanation because it was understandable, or if it pained him because it was too low brow. “Did they talk about Cas?”
“Not so much, but I know they’re the enzymes that do the actual cutting.” On of the online science articles, a commentator had lamented that Cas9 and other enzymes do all the work, but CRISPR gets all the credit. Another commenter said that CRISPR had the sexier name. They were a team, though. CRISPR identifies the bad guys, and then Cas9 or another enzyme will step up and do the slice and dice. Like a sheriff and an executioner, although I don’t know the legal or immune system well enough to give a proper analogy.
“And do you know how CRISPR and Cas are revolutionizing research?”
My turn not to grimace. He was a tougher customer than I thought. “I know that this technique is faster, cheaper, and more precise way to cut a gene sequence than we’ve ever had before. I know that once you cut out the sequence you don’t want, all you have to do is plant another sequence you do want, and the bacteria will help mend it by replacing the bad sequence, so the media is already fantasizing about designer babies. I know that zinc finger nuclease and transcription activator-like effector nucleases can handle longer DNA sequences, but they’re slower and less likely to work.”
“And knockout mice?”
I was starting to sweat. I’ve never worked with mice. It’s a miracle I ever got into medical school. Luckily, Tori had told me a little about her research with mice whose genes that have been disabled, or knocked out. “You used to have to inject altered DNA from embryonic stem cells and hope that they’d get incorporated through homologous recombination.” He didn’t blink. Using jargon didn’t impress him. I guess, for him, it was about as jaw-dropping as an ingrown toenail was to me. Damn
it. “The mice that successfully incorporated the altered DNA were called chimeras. Then you’d hope that the chimeras would breed and make more mutant DNA, so by the third generation, maybe you’d get a mouse with both copies of the mutant allele. But with CRISPR/Cas9, the system edits the gene right away, and the first generation has the mutation.”
Tom smiled. “Why stop with one mutant gene? We could do five at the same time. CRISPR is also the best cross-species technique so far. We used to confine ourselves to mice, rats, fruit flies, zebra fish, and C. elegans, but right now, I’m waiting to see if there’s a species that CRISPR doesn’t work in.”
I hesitated, checking his eyes to see if my explanation was good enough. I held my breath, praying that he wouldn’t ask what C. elegans was. Dear Supreme Being, should you happen to exist and care to hear my pleas, if Tom doesn’t ask me about C. elegans, I promise I’ll look it up later.
He high fived me. “Good enough! You’re the first person who ever honked at me to explain CRISPR.”
I sighed, a mix of relief and despair, while he reached for the doorknob of the pale wooden door behind his desk. It opened directly into his lab. He said, “That’s great. You’re going to fit in here just fine.”
He waited for me to enter, so I did, and he said to my back, “You’ll have to tell me about the dead body another time, though.”

There you have it. I am officially daring to be bad. I'm posting the opening chapter of Human Remains on my website as well.

How about you? Dare to be bad?

10 May 2016

Lessons Learned in Hostage Taking

by Melissa Yi


April 2013: 22:20

During my first night shift at a new hospital, a prisoner escapes while awaiting medical attention. I chase after him through an empty hallway, open the door to a stairwell, push open a second door, and discover his footsteps in the snow.
Only afterward, when the police have rounded up the prisoner and I'm safely home, do I realize that I could have been taken hostage if the prisoner had been lurking inside the stairwell.
I begin researching hostage takings in hospitals. 

September 20th, 1991: 00:00

Richard Worthington storms into a suburban Salt Lake City hospital with a shotgun, a .347 magnum revolver, and a bomb. He screams, “My life was perfect! Dr. Curtis ruined everything! He butchered my wife!”
He wants to kill the doctor who performed a tubal ligation on his wife, which she'd requested after eight difficult deliveries. Worthington takes two nurses hostage, shoots the one who tries to wrestle the shotgun from him, and breaks into a room where 22-year-old Christan Downey, surrounded by her family and her labour nurse, is about to deliver her first baby.
Worthington orders the nurses to bring two other newborns into the room with them. Then he forces Christan's partner, Adam Cisneros, to retrieve the homemade bomb Worthington had planted at the front entrance.
Worthington tells one nurse, Margie Wyler, to call his wife. After the call, he shoots the telephone, yelling, "I'm going to die tonight, and so are all of you!"
Worthington decides to move them up to the third floor, where Dr. Curtis's office lies, even though Christan can't walk because of her epidural. She lies in bed, pushed by Adam and Margie; the two infants are carried by Christan's sister, Carre, and the second nurse, Susan Woolley. 
Christan's epidural begins to wear off. Susan whispers, "Margie, Christan must have that baby."
Christian, coached by Margie and Susan, delivers a healthy baby girl, Caitlin, at 3:23 a.m.
Police negotiations break down. Sometimes Worthington answers the functional phone lines, sometimes not. He demands to speak to his wife or to Dr. Glade Curtis. But he warms to Margie, calling her "a beautiful woman" when he discovers that she has 11 children.
By late morning, Worthington is screaming less and begins to weep. The adult hostages pray.
Eventually, Worthington allows Adam and the nurses to walk to the door, but becomes enraged when he sees the SWAT team. He pulls the nurses back in and demands to see his wife.
The police refuse, but Worthington allows Susan to come into the hall to repeat the request.
They refuse again.
"But you'll let seven of us die?" cries Susan, although she returns to the room.
Meanwhile, police negotiator Don Bell, knowing that a hostage taker is less likely to kill someone he cares about, asks Margie to hug Worthington.
"I don't know if I can," she says to him over the phone.
"You must," Bell replies.
She does.
"The next thing I knew, Susan and I were running down the hall--free!" says Margie. Susan is carrying one of the babies, Erich. Carre follows, holding a second baby, Bryan. Last to leave are the newest mother and child, Christan and Caitlin.
At 18:00, eighteen hours after the ordeal began, Richard Worthington begins to walk out of the office before dashing back in. The officers tackle him.
Worthington pleads guilty to criminal homicide, aggravated burglary, and eight counts of aggravated kidnapping. He receives 35 years to life. He claims that his now ex-wife, Karen, was responsible for his actions. In 1993, he hangs himself in his cell.
Alta View Women's Centre increases security at the hospital
Margie returns to nursing after only three weeks.
It takes 2.5 years of therapy before Susan finally comes to grip with her post-traumatic stress. She, too, returns to nursing.
Christan enters Alta View on November 1st, 1994, to give birth to her second daughter, Alexa. She asks for a different room.

Stockholm Syndrome


Pregnancy and giving birth is a time where you are intensely vulnerable, both physically and emotionally.
I started writing the latest Hope Sze mystery, Stockholm Syndrome.

I knew Dr. Hope wouldn't be pregnant ("I'm on the pill, thanks," she points out), but she is exactly the kind of person who would be sucked into a hostage taking. She would have to take care of a woman in labour. At gunpoint. Trying to outwit and outplay the killer.
This one is a thriller. This one, you can't put down. This one, I almost can't read any excerpt at a reading except the first page or two, because jumping ahead is such a spoiler.

"I was relieved when I finished it. I thought, at least this didn't happen in real life. And then I turned to the last page and I saw it did happen in real life," said Stephen Campbell, when he interviewed me on CrimeFiction.fm.

Sorry, Steve. CBC Radio Ottawa Morning's Robin Bresnahan and Ontario Morning's Wei Chen were also interested in the link between reality and fiction. And I'm ever so grateful that CBC Fresh Air's Mary Ito took the time to ask me about my "snarky" heroine and "very graphic" thriller.

If you want to hear more, I'm appearing at the Brantford Public Library on May 11th for Mystery Month. I originally wrote this post so I could upload videos for the talk, but I'm running out of time and will have to upload them later.

In the meantime, Happy Mother's Day. I say that without irony. In the end, if you look at the real-life hostage taking, who survived? Think of the courage it would take to have a baby, or return to nursing, in the same building where you were held at gunpoint for 18 hours.

I worked this Mother's Day, and it was busy, but much more peaceful than that other hospital in 1991. I'm proud of the book I wrote, and I think it's good practice to consider how we might act in terrifying situations, so that we have some mental preparation, if it should ever come to pass.

Hug your loved ones tight.

16 February 2016

Creative Drought

by Melissa Yi
I don’t usually talk about writer’s block because I’m more like a machine. Working in the emergency room? I’ll do 500 words before or after my shift. Not working? Bump it up to 1000. More if possible, but set the bar low so you can always hit the target. That was my recipe for years.

Usually, if the creative juices aren’t flowing, I can switch to non-fiction or poetry and get the job done. I can write about a patient I saw or the cuteness of my kids without batting an eye.

But recently, I’m not feeling it.

Only once before did I take a break from writing, after a death in the family. I’d been forcing myself to keep going, keep marching, soldier, at 2000 words/day, until I mentioned it to Kris Rusch/Nelscott, and she said something like, “I’m surprised you’re still writing. You could make yourself hate it that way.” Slowly, I let myself recuperate.

I found myself trying a few creative things like sketching or baking. The funniest example was that I made a zucchini chocolate chip cake with treats baked inside. My friend forgot to tell one of the construction workers who ate it and ended up chewing on a ring. And eventually, I started writing again.
Author Allie Larkin talks about balance here.
This time, it’s much more insidious. After burning myself out in December, and now starting a new job as a hospitalist, where I have to work every day, looking after admitted patients, instead of working erratic hours as an emergency doctor, I’ve gotten out of the habit of writing this week. I was working on a back pain book in January, so it’s not like I was overflowing with outlandish ideas before that.
This is not going to be a cheery list of ten ways to break writer’s block. Just a note that I’ve been here before. I had to refill the well, and then I carried on.

I recently picked up a book by David Whyte called The Three Marriages. His theory is that during your lifetime, you will generally marry another person, a career, and yourself.

By marrying yourself, you listen to your heart and what you want, not the external demands of money, prestige, or your partner’s demands. That can be hard to do. When I was sick but still dragged myself to the Cornwall Public Library’s annual party to celebrate volunteers, one of the coordinators asked me how I was doing as a person. Not as a doctor, not as a writer, but as myself. And I was silenced, because it feels like people approve of my accomplishments, but most of them don’t know the human being underneath.

After burning out, I decided not to flagellate myself anymore. I will do my best. But if the words don’t get written every single day or night, I won’t fret. I’ll just write again the next day.

The flip side is that during this week as a hospitalist, I haven’t made the time. But that’s okay. I wanted to spend my energy on medicine this week, and I did. My time is up on Tuesday, and then I have 24 hours before I start up as an emergency doctor again.

Buddhism talks about not getting fixed on ideas and labels about ourselves. “I am a writer.” “I am a doctor.” Labels change. Life is long. Things are fluid.

What about you? Have you ever encountered writer’s block? What did you do?

26 January 2016

Left Coast Criminals

by Melissa Yi

Hey, I'm heading out for the second mystery convention of my life, Left Coast Crime! Whatever shall I do? Especially if I want to save money?


Well, I’ve got three travel tips for you budget-conscious sleuths already.

1.     Register early. You knew this. I blew that one, waffling about whether or not I would attend. So, late registration for me. $275 U.S. at a time when the Canadian dollar is plunging. Luckily, I had enough USD to cover it.

2.     Google your flight.
 I used a lot of different flight sites, but I found them frustrating. A lot of them want you to choose both departing and return flights together, without offering good options (one gave me a 13 hour layover. Are you kidding me?).
For example, I’m appearing at the PoisonedPen Bookshop's International Fiction Night featuring Jewish Noir night at 6:30, so I have to arrive in time on February 24th. And flying back to Montreal on a Sunday is not a popular option. Only Google let me choose arrival and departure times for both flights, sifting impartially through different airlines.

3.     Airbnb
I’ve almost always had a good, and occasionally above-and-beyond experiences through airbnb, where you stay in someone's home. Although of course staying at the hotel is a swanky and convenient experience, I like meeting people, and sometimes they offer me food! Plus, what the heck. If you sign up with this link, we both get a few bucks off: https://www.airbnb.ca/c/myuaninnes?s=4&i=1

Now you're going to ask me, why go to a con?
1.     You could sell a book, like Michael J. Cooper sold The Rabbi’s Knight.
Michele Lang, Michael J. Cooper, and Melissa Yi. Yes, that's Jewish Noir instead of The Rabbi's Knight. Collect 'em all!
 2.     You could hook new readers. I live in rural Ontario. I can pretty much guarantee that no one in Phoenix has ever seen one of my books, let alone bought one.
3.     You could make friends. Travis Richardson told me a lot of writers hang out by the bar. He’s bringing his whole family!
4.     You could sell a short story or two. Hey, that's how I got into Jewish Noir.
5.     You could get some story ideas. I feel creatively listless right now. Maybe a con will help.
6.     It’s a vacation. I don’t remember ever going to Phoenix. My parents did drag me on a cross-continental trip to California one summer when I was little, so it’s possible I did go and don’t remember it except as a blur from the back of a van.
7.     Fanboy and girl squees. For me, this translates to “Dana Stabenow will be there!” I'll also be on a panel with Chantelle Aimee, Fan Guest of Honor (uh huh. Can't say anything more than that).
8.   Kenneth Wishnia told you to.

 
Why NOT go to a con?
1.     No time
2.     No money
3.     No interest
4.     Guilt
For me, it’s number four. I feel like I shouldn’t spend money on my writing. I should just slave over my laptop, ratcheting up my word count, sending out my stories, and get magically discovered by readers while I continue to work, work, work. I could be helping patients in the emergency room. I could be getting my kids on or off the school bus. Plus, I try not to travel because of carbon emissions.

Other people don’t feel this guilty. Theoretically, I’m allowed to have a vacation. My hair stylist, Christina Peeters, said simply, “I work hard. I deserve it.” Kris Rusch talks about how essential it is for writers to do continuing education. And the money’s mostly already spent.

Soooooooo…what about you? Do you go to cons?
And if you’re going to this one, see you at Left Coast Crime!

 

05 January 2016

Promote or write?

by Melissa Yi

Dear SleuthSayers,

My medical thriller, Stockholm Syndrome, hit the shelves December first. I slammed the promotion hard for three weeks before the holidays and managed to rise to #12 on the Kobo bestseller list. My question for you is, do I stop now?


I burned myself out last month. At least two people reminded me of the metaphor of a candle burning at both ends, and I replied, “Up ’til now, I’ve had enough candle!” But it was a good reminder that no one’s candle is infinite.
However, I have hardly made a dent in Amazon, which is troubling. Amazon gives you a month on its Hot New Releases list and then you drop into obscurity.
What I really want is to cut into the national (for me, Canadian), American, and international market. To do that, I can’t keep bugging my 700 Facebook friends. I need to get more sales outside as well as within my area. And for that, I need more exposure. Because when there are 2 million books on the Kindle, it’s hard to get readers to notice you. Discoverability—everybody wants some, but it’s hard to find.


Some writers go the organic route. Write good books, publish them often, and your readers will find you. Trust the algorithm. Spend your time writing, not shilling yourself on ads and shows that may or may not pan out.
Pro: you write a lot more books this way. I pretty much stopped writing in December, which is unheard-of for me, but it’s hard to promote full-tilt and write full-tilt and work and look after kids at the same time—hence the burn-out.
Con: It’s possible that no significant number of readers will find you and you’ll die with just a handful of fans.

The opposite route: pimp yourself non-stop and never write another book.
Pro: people will hear about you.
Con: they will get sick of you, you don’t have enough product to attract repeat readers, and you can impoverish and humiliate yourself while braying about your one accomplishment.

So what’s a girl to do? I see both sides. I wrote in obscurity for years, so I’ve amped up my stage presence over the past year or so. But I know that in the big scheme of things, I’ve captured only the most minuscule crumb out of the pie. Stockholm Syndrome is a seriously good book. I don’t want it to disappear after a hundred people read it.
On the other hand, I feel stupid talking about one book over and over. I like creating new things, and my brain will stagnate if I dwell on one item.
Here are some potential marketing choices/goals.
  1. Hire a publicist.
  2. Try to get more radio interviews.
  3. Try to get more television coverage.
  4. Try to cut into the Ottawa/Montreal market, which is pretty much untouched right now, for me, let alone national/international markets.
  5. Get some blog reviews--unlocked yesterday! Murder in Common's June Lorraine says, "A page turner....Dr. Hope Sze is a resident at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Montreal. She is on-call when the labour and delivery unit is turned into a danger zone.…An introspective thriller…A shaky, claustrophobic and menacing situation [with] reflective humour as chaos whirls around her."
  6. Get some print reviews.
  7. Get some awards.
Alternatively, here are some writing choices/goals.
Look carefully
and you'll spot my
EQ card at the top right.
  1. Write the next Hope Sze novel.
  2. Write related short stories. On Crimefiction.fm, Stephen Campbell and I talked about how a short story is the perfect ad for your work: the magazine or reader pays *you*, you get pages of exposure to your ideal reader, and Ellery Queen even sends you an annual Christmas card afterward.
  3. I’m also working on a collection of mystery short stories, called Reckless Homicide, at the request of a reader.
  4. Write something completely unrelated. This month, I aim to publish The Emergency Doctor’s Guide to a Pain-Free Back.
  5. Write something that has a high chance of getting published. In my case, the Medical Post has been very, very good to me, and I need to submit more columns.
  6. Write unrelated short stories/novels for fun.
  7. Market stories already written--something that has fallen off my radar with the time crunch, but I should be more aggressive about this.

So what do you think, SleuthSayers? I’m at a crossroads.

What would you do? What have you done, what have you learned, and which way do you lean? Do you write or promote?

Either way, Happy New Year, happy writing, and happy reading,
Melissa Yi