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

11 July 2017

Criminal success: Success and/or Challenges You've Faced in Writing Crime


Kris Nelscott: I’m amazed at how easy it is to find information that I shouldn't be able to find. In my Smokey Dalton series, the books are set in the late 1960s. One book, The War At Home, deals with bomb-making. I found, in a memoir by a former member of the Weathermen, the recipe for their bombs. I used a part of it, but left out several ingredients on purpose. My NY copy editor added them back in. No, nope. No. I'm not going to give anyone a roadmap into bomb-making. Or other crimes, for that matter.

Rebecca Cantrell: I love meeting readers, although I once had a reader come up to me and say: "Your mystery is so good! I bet you could even write a real book!"

Annie Reed: The challenges for me pretty much all stem from having to step inside the head of a truly bad person in order to write from their point of view. Basically putting myself inside the head of a psychopath to write from that person's perspective.  Oogy stuff. The successes come from writing something that forces me to write outside my normal comfort zone.

O’Neil de Noux: The greatest challenge was learning my craft. No one can teach you how to write. You can learn the basics, the ‘how to’, but you have to do it yourself to get it done.
Successes are few. Sales have never been big. A little recognition in the media at the start of my career was nice. The awards are certainly nice. Being recognized by my peers. My writing has been awarded a SHAMUS Award, a DERRINGER Award, the UNITED KINGDOM SHORT STORY PRIZE. Two of my mystery stories have appeared in the BEST AMERICAN MYSTERY STORIES and my novel JOHN RAVEN BEAU was named Police Book of the Year by police-writers.com.

Dean Wesley Smith: I suppose that at first I thought it would be too complex for me to figure out. Turns out, for me and how my mind works with puzzles, they are the easiest books to write.

Melissa YiMy definition of success keeps changing.

First, I desperately wanted a professional publication, because it meant that I was a “real writer” in my mind. I was good enough that someone wanted to pay me for my words.

Then I was anxious to sell repeatedly, for more money, in more magazines. 

My next skill leap was jumping from short stories to novels. I had to talk myself into it by saying, “Look, novels are just connected short stories … “

So then the next rung was selling my novels and making some money.

In 2010, my collection of light-hearted medical essays, The Most Unfeeling Doctor in the World and Other True Tales From the Emergency Room, hit the Amazon bestseller lists. For the first time in my life, I was reaching lots of readers, and money hit so quickly that I ended up with a bunch of cheques in British pounds that I didn’t even have a bank account to accommodate.

Now I was ringing the money bell, certainly not to the tune of six figures a month, the way some writers seemed to, but way beyond anything I’d accomplished before or since. But it didn’t make me as happy as I thought it would. My fiction wasn’t getting the same audience, and I got a lot of blowback in the form of hate mail and vigorous one-star reviews. So I made up a new definition of success: Writing connects me with people, places, and things that excite me.

You can see my evolving definition of success here, which is sort of a writing bucket list. When I look back at it, I realize that in 2010, writing was giving me money, but no fun. Once the critics came out with their knives, I froze up a bit at writing non-fiction. 

Since then, I’ve made a point of having fun. Or at least trying new things. Probably the most bizarre thing I did was a two-day Ido Portal handstand workshop when I’ve got minimal upper body strength and rarely hang out upside down. But I also went to Los Angeles twice as a finalist for the Roswell Award, and I headed down to New York and Boston for the Jewish Noir book tour. All awesome.

However, now that I’ve had some fun and can no longer crack Amazon’s algorithms, I’d like to make a living with my writing. Or, as I put it on my bucket list, I want to be able to say, I could quit my day job and write full-time, whether or not I choose to do this.

 Click here if you want a link to all platforms.And for success, I’m thrilled to report that Canada’s national book show, CBC Radio’s The Next Chapter, chose Human Remains as one of the great summer must-reads of 2017!

(If you’d like to join the Human Remains party, the e-book's only $3.99 on all platforms. You can download it for free on Kobo with the code HRemains. This code only works on Kobo, not Amazon, and will only last until July 31st.)

Looking at my fellow writers' opinions, I see that a lot of my writing goals and dreams are very external. I don’t have a lot of control over which editors publish my work, how much money flows to me every year, or how my books are reviewed. 

I should set some writing goals that I can control, like how many words I write per week, or how many stories I submit to magazines, or craft goals, like improving my setting.

What about you? How do you define writing success and/or challenges?

20 June 2017

The Darkest Crime

by Melissa Yi, Patreon

I managed to collar some of my favourite writers for an interview.

Melissa YiWhat attracts you to writing crime? In other words, "But you look so normal!"
Rebecca Cantrell (New York Times bestseller): Don't I just? That's how I lure them in...readers, I mean. I love writing crime because I have an overblown sense of justice and, despite having heard many warnings to the contrary, I want life to be fair.

O’Neil De Noux
 (winner of the Shamus Award and the Derringer Award): Grew up reading a lot of crime fiction. My father was a police officer, my brother was a cop, two of my cousins were cops. I became a cop, served as a road deputy (patrol officer), organized crime intelligence officer and homicide detective. I also worked as a private investigator for eight years. I always knew I’d write and took notes throughout my career. In the middle of it, I started writing novels.

Annie Reed (finalist in the Best First Private Eye Novel contest sponsored by St. Martin’s Press and the Private Eye Writers of America): I love stories that impose some sort of order on chaos. Since mysteries/crime fiction has to be resolved by the end of the book, they're perfect for me. Plus, I love figuring out puzzles. And, you know, I'm the quiet one in the corner that your mother warned you about. *g*

Dean Wesley Smith (USA Today bestselling author): I love the puzzle aspects of mystery and crime. I never know who did what when I start off, so I get to entertain myself as my characters solve the crime. So I love to read mystery, I love to write it as well.

Kristine Kathryn Rusch (New York Times bestseller who is also an Edgar and Shamus Award nominee): Oh, my, such a convoluted question. I used to work part time for a forensic psychologist. I would administer his Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Tests to the criminals (and others) who came in, as preparation for court. (I met a number of murderers and arsonists. The murderers didn't scare me. One arsonist scared the crap out of all of us.) One day I took the MMPI myself, and scored exactly the same as both the cops and the criminals. Now, I remember when the first cop scored similarly to a criminal; my boss told me that was common. Cops and criminals are two sides of the same coin. But I scored high there too. I showed it to him (fearless person that I am.) And he said that I scored that high because I lived "outside the norm" which is what it measured. But I wonder. Maybe I'm just predisposed to seeing the dark side of human nature--and being fascinated by it.

Reader: Wait a minute, Melissa. How did you meet such illustrious authors, along with Anthony Award finalist Libby Fischer Hellmann and New York Times and USA Today bestselling author J.F. Penn?

Melissa Yi: Er, I hang around with famous people all the time.

Reader: <cough, cough>

Melissa Yi: Shh! They were just about to tell me about some of their favourite books!

Rebecca Cantrell: My main character, Joe Tesla, has agoraphobia and can't leave the tunnels under New York. In this book, I got him a submarine and let him explore the ocean with his service dog.
Did you know dogs can scuba dive? I didn't before I started this book.

Melissa Yi: I didn't, but dogs are pretty amazing.

Annie Reed: Parents walk a tightrope trying to figure out how much freedom to give their kids while trying to keep them safe from the creeps and predators in this world. The internet makes it so much easier for the bad guys to get their hooks into unsuspecting kids, and it's not always obvious who the bad guys are. I had to walk that tightrope with my own daughter when she was in her teens. We got lucky. A lot of families don't. That's the reason I wrote PRETTY LITTLE HORSES.

O’Neil De NouxGRIM REAPER was my first novel, written at a dark time not long after I left the homicide division. It has a lot of anger in the book – showing the pressure and often numbing effect of witnessing repeated violence. It’s raw. It’s the most realistic book I’ve written.

Dean Wesley Smith: Actually, the series is close to my heart. Having retired detectives working on cold cases in Las Vegas has numbers of elements I love. First off, retired humans feeling worthwhile by helping put to rest mysteries that have left families always wondering. And Las Vegas is my favorite place on the planet. So all win for me.

Kristine Kathryn Rusch: The opening to Spree, that van on that highway, was a vehicle I had actually seen. I hate that highway in Nevada. The remoteness scares the crap out of me. And I knew that van had a story. I wrote the story very fast, and it surprised me, so I figure it'll surprise readers too.

Reader: Hang on. There's something familiar about all these books. Melissa, didn't you write a book about a hit and run?

Melissa Yi: Yes, NOTORIOUS D.O.C. Eight years after a woman is killed in a hit and run, her mother is still searching for justice, and Dr. Hope Sze is the only person crazy enough to take on her case. After I gave birth to my son, I read the first draft of the novel and said to myself, This book is about a mother's love for her kid. I threw away the first version and wrote a whole new and more powerful story.

Reader: I know what this is. This is a Storybundle!

Melissa Yi: Wait a minute. Who's running this interview?

Reader: I'm serious! I know what this is. You pay as little as $5 for five stellar crime books, or if you beat $15, you unlock another five bonus books! But it only lasts for two more weeks. I even found the link: https://storybundle.com/mystery

Kristine Kathryn Rusch: You left out two things: the way it introduces readers to new writers and the way that it brings in charities. I really love the charitable aspect. This bundle's charity is AbleGamers, which I think is extremely worthwhile.

Annie Reed: As a reader (and a bargain hunter), I love getting a bunch of great fiction at an insanely low price, and at the same time being able to support a wonderful charity. As a writer, I'm thrilled to be included with a group of awesome writers, some of whom are new to me, and I can't wait to read their work!

Melissa Yi: Okay, you've outed us. How did you get so smart?

Reader: When you read, it's a chicken and egg sort of question.

Melissa Yi: “Until I feared I would lose it, I never loved to read. One does not love breathing.”

Reader: Harper Lee. To Kill a Mockingbird. Which is not part of this bundle, but it should be.

Melissa Yi: Amen, brother. Amen.


30 May 2017

My Favourite Shape: the Love Triangle


I’m going to break away from mysteries and death for a moment, because no book is 100 percent blood, and talk about the negative space between them. For me, that’s love and relationships, Dr. Hope Sze has a relationship with two different men.
Love triangles fascinate me.
Once Sting said something like, “‘I love you and you love me’ is boring. But if I love you and you love someone else … ” As a kid, I was riveted by that talk show interview.
As an adult, I married my high school sweetheart. So it’s only on the page that I create worlds where women have choices, shall we say. Not in all my books, but one major engine of the Hope Sze series is that two men vie for her affections.
“When are you writing a new Hope book?” asked Kat, one of the nurses.
“I’m working on it,” I said.
“Well, write faster! I need to know what’s happening to the guys.”
I didn’t start by conscious design, but it so happens that Hope solves quite complex mysteries in each book, yet her personal life remains even more complicated.
The first serious man in her life is her ex-boyfriend, Ryan Wu.
As Hope explains in Code Blues, Ryan and I had basically been set up by our grandmothers. He was a smart, hard-working, good-looking Chinese boy. In other words, Grandma’s idea of manna from heaven, and not far from mine, either.
The problem was, his engineering job tied him to Ottawa, while Hope was studying on the other end of the province. They broke up before she made it back to McGill for family medicine, until a chance encounter throws him back in her life.

In the meantime, she meets a mouthy resident (doctor in post-graduate training) who doesn't make much of an impression at first.
John Tucker was a white guy with a shock of wheat-coloured hair. I wondered if he dyed it, while he said in a baritone voice, "Call me Tucker. Everyone does. You can call me Tucker, Tuck, Turkey. I'll answer to anything." He winked at me.
I wrinkled my nose. He was trying too hard. Not my type.

Tucker doesn't know how to flirt or tease the way other guys do, but he ends up proving himself, especially during the hostage-taking in Stockholm Syndrome.

Was it a stupid idea to have more than one love interest? Jennifer Crusie points out in her excellent blog, “Readers/viewers pick a side, and then if their side is the one that isn’t chosen, the story fails for them.”
Another commenter, also named Jennifer, summed it up like this:
“Love triangles usually are a case of:
1. Twilight–the “triangle” is a joke because clearly the game is rigged
2. Stephanie Plum–this … will just drag on forever.
3. Lost–gee, two jerks, which of the jerks will Kate choose? Who cares?”

What do you think? Should it be all monogamy, all the time? More romance? No romance, just plot-plot-plot?

While I solicit feedback, please let me know what you think of my new quiz at http://melissayuaninnes.com/doctor-nasty/ ! You don't have to opt in to get your results, but I'm setting up a free gift for new subscribers by the end of the month. Cheers!



09 May 2017

The most important thing in the world

  Family Fortnight +   Leading up to the International Day of Families on the 15th of May, we bring you the eleventh in a series about mystery writers’ take on families. Settle back and enjoy!

by Melissa Yi, Patreon

“Mom. You don’t spend enough time with us.”

“I finished the Wimpy Kid book and read most of Big Nate to you!” I told my grade one daughter, Anastasia, and my grade five son, Max, in turn. He likes Wimpy Kid too, but he’s finished them already.

“You’re always on your computer.”

“Right. Right. When I’m done, I’ll play with you.”

“But you’re never done!”

This is true. And yet, somehow we manage, much like Melodie Campbell pointed out. Still, there’s a reason that I grabbed Ayelet Waldeman’s book, Bad Mother, and ripped through it. I’d already enjoyed her Mommy Track mysteries, long before I had kids.



On the other hand, there’s this:

Anastasia: I wrote a book!

Me: Wow, that’s really good. I like the first three pages.

Anastasia: Now, you draw one page, Mommy.

Me: Oh, okay. I see it’s all blond girls. Let me draw one with brown skin.

Anastasia: I don’t like people with brown skin.

Me: But that’s us! That means you don’t like us. Clearly, we need to hang around with more brown people. [I draw a brown girl anyway.]

Max: Do you want to sell your book?

Anastasia: Okay.

Max: I’ll give you 24 cents.

Anastasia: Okay.


Mixed feelings. On one hand, my kids have learned to make, sell, and buy books. On the other hand, I obviously have to work on race relations and self-love.



“That character is obviously Max,” said my husband, after reading about Kevin. “He takes off his pants and squashes your blanket? No contest.”

“That’s me,” said Max.

But actually, I started writing Hope’s little brother after I graduated from residency, years before I had him. It’s scary how long I’ve take to write these books, since now Max is older than Kevin, who’s turning nine. But he has definitely been incorporated into Kevin. When I was working with Kobo on a promotional campaign, the creative guy said, “I don’t know what eight-year-old boys like,” and I said, “I’ve got you covered.”

“Where’s me?” said Anastasia.

“She doesn’t have a little sister or cousin in this series. Maybe later,” I said.

She nodded. She’s good about stuff like that.



So family and writing has a variable relationship for me. Family cuts into my time, but also inspires my writing and makes my life so much richer and more vibrant.

John Wooden says, “The most important thing in the world is family and love.”

I feel torn about this. For sure, without my family, I could have medical and writing success, and I, personally, would feel empty.

On the other hand, I truly need a room, time, and mental space of my own in order to create.

How do we balance this?




In other news, Human Remains debuted April 25 th and hit the Kobo top ten, plus I made some inroads on Amazon. Celebrate with a free copy at https://www.kobo.com/ca/en/ebook/human-remains-5 with the promo code HRemains!

If you don’t know how to use a promo code on Kobo, I made a page here: http://melissayuaninnes.com/how-to-use-a-kobo-promo-code/.

Please note that the code HRemains does not work on Amazon.com, Amazon.ca, Amazon UK, Amazon international, iTunes, iTunes Canada, B&N, or Google Play, but it’s only 99 cents on all platforms today.

Speaking of human remains, here’s a photo from my Montreal launch at Librairie Bertrand. Someone asked, “How many people here are doctors?”

I said, “Half. Hey, why don’t we get the civilians to lie on the floor and the doctors can pretend to resuscitate them?”

They thought I was nuts, but they’re my friends, so…

Aren’t they awesome?
Dr. Chryssi Paraskevopoulos with author Day's Lee, who interviewed me here;
Dr. Ted Wein with author Su J. Sokol; Dr. Melissa Yi with artist Jessica Sarrazin.
Not pictured: Dr. Rob Adams and reader Maria, and artist Jason Jason de Graaf

18 April 2017

Help(,) Police!


Imagine feeling like every kiss goodbye to your loved ones each day might be your last kiss. Police officers and their families feel this way every single day. Karen Salmansohn

Let me be clear - no one is above the law. Not a politician, not a priest, not a criminal, not a police officer. We are all accountable for our actions. Antonio Villaraigosa


The police feel besieged. Like they can’t get anything right. Everyone wants them to save us from the bad guys, yet never persecute or killing any innocent people. That’s the ideal. They’ll never live up to it.
I feel for police. I relate to them. As an emergency doctor, I also have to deal with the most violent, most ignorant, most manipulative people, and I'm not allowed to make mistakes.
And yet we’re all human. We’re all going to make mistakes. Mistakes that sometimes kill people.
It's so easy for those outside the system to point their fingers and talk about how awful we are, yet those same critics never step in the arena.

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat. Theodore Roosevelt

That said, I am a Black Lives Matter supporter. I never want to detain or kill innocent people. It is never acceptable.

But I feel for individual police officers who are doing their best, who are trying to save the public, who are literally putting their lives on the line every day and every night, for very little thanks and little pay, and a ton of screaming abuse.
So how do we support the police and make sure that the people are protected?
And how do we write about them?
“Where are the police?” Dean Wesley Smith asked me, about my first draft of Code Blues.
Look, they match!
Please admire my new cover.
The truth was, I didn’t know much about the police, so I wrote around them at first and had to add them to subsequent ones. 

Dead bodies? Check. A daring doctor who solves the crime and saves the day? Check. But the police who’d be investigating the murder? Hmm. They came in and dragged away the bad guys at the end of the book, but what about the beginning and middle?

I tried to correct some of my ignorance by attending Writers Police Academy in August.
I’ve written about some of the seminars I attended, but it really made my day when they critiqued my police interrogation scene in Human Remains. Writing about officers is a balancing act. I want to be realistic and portray the police as neither saints nor Satan, but somewhere in between. I want to create tension and drop clues to the murder, yet stay in Dr. Hope Sze's PTSD point of view.

Paul M. Smith wrote, “In a nutshell, the interview sounds very realistic and I don't really have any suggestions for change. You did a good job.  The only thing I could think of is that prior to any interview/interrogation the officers would have read her her rights, even if she wasn't a suspect. Otherwise, if at sometime she would become a suspect none of the interview would be admissible in court.”

Colleen wrote, “The questions you asked are very relevant and realistic. Cops love timelines and nail down timelines  - for suspects. When the timeline doesn’t match, then we begin to peel back the layers of deception for the truth. Nice job.”

Officer Matt wrote, “It looks good and sounds real. The use of the word Billy club is good. Cops call it a baton, but to the normal citizen, it is appropriate.”

Mike Knetzger wrote, “Yes, these are realistic questions. You might also want to explore the cognitive interview technique for some additional insight into questioning people about what they did before a significant event, such as finding a body.”
When Hope asks for a lawyer, Mike suggested that the officer reply, “I can’t give you legal advice.”
At the end, when Hope points out that they’ll be able to track her and her boyfriend’s footprints in the snow, Mike wrote, “When people mention footprints to me, I often reply, “‘Footprints? Are we looking for Big Foot or are we looking, instead, for shoe prints?’”
It made me realize that language has to be precise, especially when you’re dealing with legal matters. So yes, it would be shoe prints (or boot prints, because we’re in Canada), not foot prints.
Mike Knetzger probably had more to say because he’s an author himself. His stepdaughter was killed by an impaired driver one night when he was on duty, and he was unable to save her life. In response, he wrote the book Ashley’s Story, and he speaks out against impaired driving across the Midwest. You can support his cause by buying his book, as I did.

My profound thanks to these officers, and the ones who keep us safe in our beds every night.

Support our police. Support our people. Surely we can do both.

28 March 2017

How to be a Hero: Debra Komar



Trigger warning: sensitive souls should not read this. [NSFW. NSFL.]

Dr. Debra Komar spent over two decades investigating war crimes as a forensic scientist for the United Nations and Physicians for Human Rights. She testified as an expert witness in The Hague.
In other words, she’s a smart, hard-working, funny and unflinching real-life hero who now writes historical crime fiction.
Capital Crime Writers featured her as a speaker this Fall. I wrote as fast as I could, but I still couldn’t get everything down. I recreated it as best I could, in an interview format, to give you three simple lessons on how you can be a hero too.


1. Work hard.
Melissa Yi: I’m an emergency doctor, so I know how to work hard. But I have no idea what it’s like to do a genocide investigation. What does it involve?
Debra Komar: “Start with witnesses and aerial photos. Go in. Exhume. Take photos. Identify the remains. Return them to families. Create the narrative.”
So when you’re on the ground, what is your day-to-day life like?
“In Iraq, there were shipping containers around us, 75 people in a room. Only eight of them were the scientific team, but you need that many to get you out safely and back in. For six months, you work twenty hours a day, in the desert, with people shooting at you, emptying graves and doing autopsies all night.”
That sounds…
“Soul-destroying.”
I’m not sure  I could do that.
“It was the same 19 of us who’ve shown up for the past 20 years. You’re considered retired after ten missions. I did 18.”
Debra Komar and Melissa Yi. Photo by Patricia Filteau.


2. Learn how to laugh.
How did you deal with it?
“A lot of people in my industry drink too much. My way was to turn off emotion…and [use] morgue humour.”
Komar teaches forensic science, and she has some popular sessions like Museum (autopsy lockers full of interesting specimens. One of them was filled exclusively with rectal foreign bodies, i.e. items pulled exclusively from a rectum).
They also played Spot the B.S. They’d play a clip from TV, and students would call out the errors.

3. Learn how to leave.
How did you become a writer?
“I always wanted to write. I had a quiet agreement to myself: I’d do this work as long as I could, and then retire.”
So you’re retired now?
“It’s hard to retire. I still have students, and I appear in court.”
Was it hard to make the transition from genocide investigation to writing?
“When you work in a morgue, you realize life is short. I was prepared to fall on my face and fail, but I wasn’t willing not to try.”

When Komar started writing true crime books, she chose to write historical crime. Which doesn’t mean she pulls her punches.

For example, in The Lynching of Peter Wheeler, she describes the Nova Scotia case of 14-year-old Annie Kempton in 1896: someone clubbed Annie with a piece of firewood and slit her throat three times with a kitchen knife, then sat down and ate a jar of homemade jam, leaving a spoon covered in bloody fingerprints, before abandoning her body.
Peter Wheeler, a “coloured” man, found her body when he came to the house to buy milk in the morning. In this book, Komar explains why Wheeler was innocent and how racism, the court system, primitive forensics and the media played a role in convicting and hanging him. {Publisher link; Amazon link}
In her most recent book, Black River Road, Komar follows teenaged berry pickers in Saint John, New Brunswick, in 1869, to discover the decomposing body of Maggie Vail and her child. The accused? John Munroe, an architect, the lover of Maggie Vail and father of her child, who claimed he was innocent because his character would not permit him to commit such a heinous act. Komar explores the role of character in the court of law in a world before forensic science became the star witness. {Publisher link; Amazon link}
*
After I met her at CCW, Komar generously agreed to read an excerpt of my novel, Human Remains. In the second chapter, Dr. Hope Sze and her boyfriend Ryan confront a dead man, thanks to a Rottweiler named Roxy.
Komar wrote, “It's clear you are a doctor, not in a bad way.  You keep it simple and define terms were necessary - all very good.  You also do a great job of capturing the na├»ve enthusiasm of a resident - wanting to help, even in the face of a clearly deceased individual.  We've all seen (and been) overanxious eager residents that think they can bring people back to life.”
She explained that Hope shouldn’t disturb the scene and the forensic evidence, but the operator would defer to Hope’s medical expertise in resuscitating, because saving a life takes precedence over preserving evidence.
I should mention that she said the operator wouldn’t normally put Ryan on hold to debate the point, but I kept that bit in as creative license. All this to say that Komar was exceedingly generous with her time, and I am grateful to Capital Crime Writers for the opportunity.
*
Komar recently completed a writer-in-residence position at Pierre Burton House in Dawson City, Yukon, in preparation for her next book. If you follow her on Twitter, you can see some photos of dogsledding and a thermometer hitting almost -40 in both Celsius and Farenheit.
In other words, when you’re a hero, you may never stop creating adventures for yourself and your readers.

Long may she reign.

Melissa Yi is an emergency physician and award-winning writer. Find her on her website, Facebook, and Twitter.
Dr. Debra Komar is on Twitter.

07 March 2017

PTSD and Human Remains

by Melissa Yi

“I hate how Miss Marple solves murders and remains completely unaffected by them,” said my friend Jessica. “I like that Hope is real.”
Dr. Hope Sze is real to me, too.
The problem is that Hope has gotten a little too real in my latest book, Human Remains.
After the hostage-taking in Stockholm Syndrome, Hope has post-traumatic stress. Which means I have a few problems, as a writer.
1. PTSD may not be compelling to read about. Hope is numb and antisocial and angry. Not the cute little pixie detective your average reader might want to get to know.
2. Hope has a lot of backstory. For starters, I have to mention the hostage-taking and the fact that she has two boyfriends, without too many spoilers.
3. Normal writer concerns: I try to set up character, setting, and a problem in the first paragraph, ideally in the first sentence. I also need to establish that she’s an Asian female physician and that the story is set in current-day Ottawa, Canada, just before Christmas. Finally, I have a clear voice for Hope.

Here are the first 201 words.

Next, I'm coding it based on these three main concerns.
You may argue about how successfully I've accomplished my goals, and how well I'm telling a story, which is the ultimate bar for a novel, but one of the things I like about writing is the problem-solving. You get more skilled, but there's always another part of the craft that needs work.

The "My name is Hope Sze" paragraph is not my first choice, because I prefer subtlety in explaining the hostage-taking backstory, but in the end, clarity and accessibility to new readers were more important than my poet's sensibility. Also, I feel like it's a tribute to Sue Grafton, because I would smile in recognition when she'd start off, "My name is Kinsey Millhone..."

I generally have to add setting in afterward. Mysteries are all about plot, to me; I already have Hope's character and voice; but especially for this one, where she works in a stem cell lab, I had to tour Dr. Bill Stanford's stem cell lab, quiz him and Dr. Lisa Julian, and still ask questions months later. Even then, Michelle Poilly, a local college science teacher, asked me pertinent questions about adding shakers to the virology lab or explaining plasmids differently.

I don't pretend to be a PTSD expert, either, but at the Writers' Police Academy last summer, I had the opportunity to meet Paul M. Smith and his service dog, Ted. Paul is a counsellor for traumatized officers and their families. Paul suffers from PTSD himself, so he has a service dog named Ted. At one point, when students surrounded Paul with questions, Ted came up to Paul, reared up on his rear legs, placed his paws on Paul’s shoulders, and looked him in the eyes, grounding him.

Maybe that's why Hope befriends a dog named Roxy in this book. I believe animals are a wonderful way to rebuild ourselves.

What about you? How do you balance all the information you have to convey with the story you must tell to hook the reader?

And how do you talk about the serious issues in the world?

MD/Ph.D. Dr. Stephen M. Stahl points out that PTSD is an increasing problem. Of the soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan, he estimates 1 in 1000 died, and 1 in 100 were injured, but as many as 1 in 5 ended up with a mental illness (PTSD, depression, or suicide). Twenty to thirty veterans die from suicide every day.

As writers and readers and citizens, how do we acknowledge these terrible realities, yet continue to create and shape a better world?


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, a Chinese New Year celebration is starting up, 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.
And in case you ever want to sign up for my list, it's very chill. The picture of my kids in squid balaclavas was very popular. https://landing.mailerlite.com/webforms/landing/x6d4e4