It's my pleasure to welcome a fellow Mesdames of Mayhem and award-winning writer, Melissa Yi, to this page!
First, love the pix. Are we Canadian or what? Red heels in the snow! (great title for a short story, don't you think?)
Here we go!
I absolutely love the first chapter of Sugar and Vice. Your first line is brilliant. That last sentence is a textbook way to end a first chapter; perfect foreshadowing. It also provides a terrific example of my comment above: one needs a balance between bathos and pathos. The dialogue between Hope and friends is full of fun, but…here’s the ‘awe’ moment. We know there is going to be something serious at stake, and Hope will be in the thick of it. Her own self could be at risk!
1. Melissa, like you, most of my career has been in health care. I’ve seen a lot of things I wish I could forget. Do you find writing humorous fiction a welcome escape from your day job?
Yes! Sometimes I like to write about medicine straight up, like in the essays in The Most Unfeeling Doctor in the World collection, which I started after a patient called me the most unfeeling doctor he’d ever met. I do change patient details, but sometimes I want to write, “This happened,” with or without humour.
Other times, I escape hard stories outright by writing comedy, fantasy, science fiction, or romance with a happy ending and/or a new world. It makes life a lot more cheerful and bearable!
2. Why crime? I know you also write Sci-fi (as I have) but most of your fiction is steeped with crime. What drives you to this genre?
Ooh, I’ll have to read your SF too!
Crime means that no matter what happens, you end with a sense of justice. Sometimes other writers blow my mind with the cleverness of the villain and therefore the sleuth.
Although my residency in Montreal was tough at the time, like my family medicine clinic had no running water (I literally had to run down the hall to heat up a metal speculum), I can look back at laugh and write about it now. I love a doctor who saves lives and fight killers.
Readers do ask for more Hope, even if they can’t pronounce her last name. Psst, it’s Sze, which you can pronounce like the letter C.
And who says you have to choose? In Hope’s Seven Deadly Sins series, paranormal elements infiltrate Hope’s world, starting with ghosts in The Shapes of Wrath (https://windtreepress.com/portfolio/the-shapes-of-wrath/) and dragons in Sugar and Vice (https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/melissayi/sugar-and-vice-a-novel-of-death-dumplings-and-dragons)
3. ‘Sugar and Vice’ is the best title I’ve seen in years, and spot on for our genre. I’m miffed I didn’t think of it first! What was your inspiration for this particular story?
Thank you! I knew I’d write about gluttony as Hope’s second deadly sin, but how and why would people would die over food? I wrestled over that for a long time.
I started researching mukbangs, videos where people livestream their meals, sometimes in unusual ways, like discussing true crime over cheesy lasagna. Strange but true.
I also took a look at dragon boat racing.
Somehow, my brain invented the Dragon Eats festival, which combines dragon boat racing with food competitions. I knew Hope would run into murder there!
As for title envy, nothing quite fit, and I wished I’d come up with another great title, Sugar and Spite. While walking my dog, I realized that Sugar and Vice fit my book even better!
I have to thank cozies for the inspiration, since I named The Shapes of Wrath after reading The Crêpes of Wrath.
I steal, I mean, get inspired, by everything!
Melissa Yi is an emergency physician and award-winning writer. In her latest crime novel, WHITE LIGHTNING, Dr. Hope Sze’s romantic getaway at a Windsor Prohibition hotel morphs into a ghost-ridden historical crime scene with potential links to Al Capone. Previous Hope Sze thrillers were recommended by , and as one of the best Canadian suspense novels. Yi was shortlisted for the Derringer Award for the world’s best short mystery fiction. Under the name Melissa Yuan-Innes, she also writes medical humour and has won speculative fiction awards. http://www.melissayuaninnes.com/
MELISSA AND MELODIE SWITCH PLACES!
1. Sugar or vice? Meaning, do you prefer sweet and cozy or edgy? You can interpret this how you like.
You could have knocked me over with a cannoli when I saw people were calling “The Merry Widow Murders” a cozy! It’s neither sweet nor cozy, with many references to the aftermath of WW1, and the deep grief felt from Lucy, my young widowed protagonist. It is, however, the type of book I like to read myself. A traditional mystery where the reader is challenged to race along with the protagonist to discover the murderer. In my case, I can’t help adding a lot of comic relief, mainly in the form of Lucy’s pickpocket-turned-maid Elf, and the banter that takes place between the two of them.
So I like a bit of an edge with my crime; a balance, so to speak. You can’t be laughing all the time, or humour becomes banal.
2. As "Canada's Queen of Comedy," do you find it effortless to incorporate humour into your writing, or is it like a muscle you have to work?
I am reminded of the old performers’ adage: “Dying is easy. Comedy is hard.” So I have to smile and say, no, it’s not easy, but writing serious suspense is even harder for me! It takes me a year to write a novel. I can’t stay in a dark head-space for that length of time.
Perhaps it’s habit. I got my start writing comedy in the 90s; I wrote standup for comedians, and had a regular humour column in two papers. I had 24 short stories published before I even tried to write a novel. Surprisingly, many of them were dark, with twist endings. But when I came to write a novel, I fell back on what I do naturally: make it funny. To be honest, I’ve tried to write straight, but every time I do, a natural quip comes to me that I just can’t resist, and the tension breaks when it shouldn’t! So I’ve given up, and admitted that I will never be the Margaret Atwood of Mystery. Instead, one reviewer for Ellery Queen called me “the Carole Burnett of Crime." If only I could find Tim Conway...