by Dr. Melissa Yi
KWL: Hi, Melissa. How come you’re wearing a white coat?
Melissa: Because I’m an emergency doctor. I also have one husband, two young children, and a big Rottweiler. Plus my sixth Hope Sze medical thriller, Death Flight, debuts on September 6th. So people often goggle at me and say, “How do you do it?”
Now, I’m not saying I literally do everything. That would be impossible. There are people who do more than me, but most of them lost their sense of humour in junior high. I still try to have fun. So here are my tips.
1. Sample everything first.
I encourage new medical graduates to start off with as big a practice as possible (say, family medicine and obstetrics and hospital medicine) because you can always narrow it down later, when you start to procreate, but it’s hard to add it on after a decade of practice, because the College of Physicians and Surgeons discourages it.
Writing-wise, I started off in fantasy and science fiction because my then-boyfriend, Matt, pointed out that they pay for short stories. I wrote short stories that I could finish in my summers off instead of novels that I’d nibble at over years. In my final year of medical school, I was a winner in Writers of the Future. They awarded me $750 U.S., flew me to L.A. for a week of writing workshops, plus paid me professional rates for my short story, Skin Song (No entry fee, but it is funded by the estate of L. Ron Hubbard.)
Since then, I’ve written everything from werewolf thrillers to crime novels to non-fiction to children’s books to romance.
2. Then Triage
A big part of emergency medicine is triage. You have to decide who is the sickest, and they get seen first. The ones with the sniffles are not going to die in the next four hours.
So triage through what you’ve tried and what you’ve enjoyed. Figure out what has to come first, and what your plan of attack will be.
Only my medical thrillers starring Dr. Hope Sze, my medical non-fiction, and my fantasy and science fiction have found an audience. Since my time is ever-limited, I mostly follow Hope, with essays for The Medical Post, and occasional forays into F&SF.
Don’t know how to triage? You need to…
3. Follow Your Leads
I’ve been writing for The Medical Post since 2009. Anyone who’s written for independent newspapers can tell you about the change in the industry, but my first indie hit was The Most Unfeeling Doctor in the World and Other True Tales From the Emergency Room, a collection of essays from The Medical Post, plus a few bonus pieces. The Med Po, as I fondly call it, has been very good to me.
A much newer example: Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine recently accepted one of my stories, “Dueling Dojos,” about a black belt trying to set up a karate dojo in Death Valley. Soon after, AHMM accepted Blue Christmas, a Hope Sze short story where guests start collapsing at the stem cell lab holiday party, and takes place after the fifth Hope novel, Human Remains. I’ve been submitting to AHMM for years, to no avail, but now that this road has opened, I’ll follow it as long as I can. I promptly submitted a third story. If readers like my work (pretty please!), they’ll be glad to get another tale from me.
My relationship with Kobo is an example of following a lead. I signed up early on and happened to win a contest for a professional cover. That was luck, but as an early adopter, my chances of winning were higher.
Then I happened to meet Mark Leslie Lefebvre at a conference because he was a speaker—something of a coincidence, but it was up to me to take the next step. I buttonholed him to ask, “Is there anything else I could do with Kobo?”
“Sure,” he said. It turned out he already knew my writing because he’d also been my editor on Tesseracts 16, but we hadn’t realized it because he writes as Mark Leslie and speaks as Mark Lefebvre, while I write crime under the name Melissa Yi but fantasy, science fiction, and non-fiction under my real name, Melissa Yuan-Innes. Just to add to the confusion.
Anyway, Mark paved the way for me to write a blog for KWL. He interviewed me for a podcast. Then Kobo planned a big launch to coincide with Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl and their Aura H2O waterproof reader. They created the Going Going Gone campaign where a writer would create three original stories with clues. Readers would piece the clues together, and one lucky reader would win $5000.
They needed a writer—a fast writer, a thriller writer, preferably a woman—to write those stories. “I think I know someone,” said Mark.
Yep. I wrote the Gone Fishing trio of stories for Kobo. Loved it.
Mark wrote a cool article explaining that going to conferences and being a nice, normal person can create opportunities for you, as it did for me. And I blogged about how it felt, because to me, writing feels like toiling away in the dungeon most of the time. I choose to toil, and I’m creating important work, but very few people see it.
Partnering with Kobo has been a way of following my leads—and dragging myself out of the dungeon.
4. Lower your expectations
It’s normal and healthy to vary your expectations. At one point in my life, I said, “I can write a novel any time. But I can’t have children any time.” I laser-focused on having and then relishing my children. When my kids were teeny, it was a miracle to get several hours of sleep in a row. That had to be my life right then. I had trouble coming up with plots because I barely had the energy to empty the dishwasher. So I wrote poetry and I reimagined fairy tales. My Chinese version of Cinderella and Red Riding Hood were published in Ricepaper Magazine (no need to come up with plots when you can borrow age-old ones!). Now that my kids are a bit older, and can read and entertain themselves and each other, I can build more of my writing empire.
The end result? When I’m in the ER, I’m in the ER.
When I’m at home, I try to treasure my family instead of yelling at them.
And on the writing front, I write kickass books that range from heartwarming to horrifying, sometimes on the same page.
That’s my everything. Go find yours.
Melissa Yi is an emergency physician obsessed with writing. Her Hope Sze novels have reached the Kobo Top 10 with Margaret Atwood and have been recommended by CBC Books, The Globe and Mail, and The Next Chapter’s Mystery Book Panel. Her latest medical thriller, Death Flight, debuts September 6th. (See book trailer here!)
For a short period of time, read Death Flight for free with the Kobo code FLYHOPE.
Connect with her on Facebook @MelissaYiYuan-Innes and on Twitter @dr_sassy. She also sends a free welcome gift if you sign up for her mailing list at www.melissayuaninnes.com.