I had the pleasure to meet Melissa Yuan-Innes in Toronto at the Ontario Library Superconference this past February. I was immediately struck by her inner kindness and boundless energy. I downloaded her first book in her Hope Sze medical mystery series, CODE BLUES (written under Melissa Yi) as soon as I returned home.
Judy: What’s the funniest thing that happened to you at work?
Melissa: Ha! I can answer three questions in one. Medicine is the best, worst, and funniest job rolled into one. For example, I got sprayed with pus the other day. I’m talking my face, hair, and clothes. I felt contaminated for the rest of the shift, even though I washed myself as best I could at the sink.
Later, some doctors started talking about the stench of retained foreign bodies (forgotten tampons, usually), which made me thankful I’ve never had to deal with that. And now, if I do, I will fill a bottle with water to quench the foreign body. They say it really kills the smell.
Judy: Have you quit your day job?
Melissa: Not yet. As long as I have enough energy, medicine is fun and keeps me out of the poor house. Even when the work itself is draining (and let me tell you, my last two shifts had me driving home with gritted teeth), I work with people that I consider friends. There is nothing like throwing yourself into saving someone’s life, or fighting for the best care for your patient, and trading war stories afterward.
That said, doctors often call emergency medicine a young person’s game. The nights and weekends weigh you down after a while. I limit my number of shifts so that I can continue to write and enjoy my children instead of yelling, “Mommy needs a nap! Be quiet!”
Judy: Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?
Melissa: Sure! Work hard and enjoy it.
That would apply to most things in life. But I think that the Internet, books, and Aunt Minerva are overflowing with so much advice, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. So in the end, you just have to jump in. You want to write? Write. Start there.
Also, when I interviewed author and editor Sarah Cortez, her parents told her, “Follow your dreams, but pay the freight.”
I paid the freight by becoming my own patron of the arts, using medicine to support my writing during years of learning the craft and selling zero short stories. Even if my writing never makes significant money, I want to write for the joy of it.
Other writers have take different paths, including teaching, crowdfunding, having supportive spouses/families, choosing dead end jobs so they can focus on writing, or just leaping into the abyss. All of these can work. Whatever you do, do it hard, and with your whole heart. And make some friends while you’re at it, because otherwise, writing is a lonely road.
About Melissa: Melissa Yi is an emergency physician and award-winning writer. In her newest crime novel, HUMAN REMAINS, one doctor battles bioterrorism. Previous Hope Sze volumes were selected by CBC Radio as a best crime novel of the season and called “entertaining and insightful” by Publishers Weekly. Find her at www.melissayuaninnes.com/