Sunday, January 12, 2020

#121 Inside the Emotion of Fiction Melissa Yi's GRAVEYARD SHIFT

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Melissa Yi’s GRAVEYARD SHIFT is #121 in the never-ending series called INSIDE THE EMOTION OF FICTION where the Chris Rice Cooper Blog (CRC) focuses on one specific excerpt from a fiction genre and how that fiction writer wrote that specific excerpt.  All INSIDE THE EMOTION OF FICTION links are at the end of this piece. 

Name of fiction work?  And were there other names you considered that you would like to share with us? GRAVEYARD SHIFT.  Let me tell you, this was a tough one. Next contender: Night Shift. In the end, I thought Graveyard Shift was more descriptive, even though I call them night shifts or nights myself. Either way, Stephen King has a lock on both Graveyard Shift and Night Shift! 

Code White: some readers voted against this because the first book is named Code Blues Remains Silent: I do like this, because it's creepy, implying both forced silence and death, but Hope Sze #5 is Human Remains, which I thought was confusing

Has this been published? And it is totally fine if the answer is no.   If yes, what publisher and what publication date?

Nov 1/19 with Windtree Press,

What is the date you began writing this piece of fiction and the date when you completely finished the piece of fiction?

Hmm. I'd have to check. It took me almost a year, because I started it before NaNoWriMo 2018, where you write 50,000 words in November, and I was still doing edits in August 2019. I wrote another novel in between, The Age of Secrets, which is set in Ecuador and the Galapagos. (Left:  Overlooking the Nile at the Old Cataract Hotel in Aswan, Egypt)

Where did you do most of your writing for this fiction work?  And please describe in detail. 

Gosh. I wrote part of it in Egypt. My photos were mostly wiped out (remember, kids, back up your work and your photos!), but I have a few pictures of the Red Sea and the Nile. Right)                                  

What were your writing habits while writing this work- did you drink something as you wrote, listen to music, write in pen and paper, directly on laptop; specific time of day?

Mostly, I wrote on my MacBook Pro, which is limping along at the end of its life. Hang in there, buddy. You're only seven years old! I bought an iPad with a keyboard case, which was fast but its memory got completed clogged up, so I finally bought a desktop iMac. Yea, verily, this was an expensive year. All that switching around between devices was part of the reason I lost my photos.

I prefer to write in the morning, after my kids get on the school bus, and take a nap before I start a new task for the afternoon. Ideally, I do yoga before they get up. 

Psst! Sometimes, I relax and walk our Rottweiler, Roxy,(Right) to get my 10,000 steps a day. Writing is MUCH more chill than working as an emergency room doctor, which is my day/night job, so I try to enjoy the flexibility.


What is the summary of this specific fiction work? Three word summary: Worst. Night. Shift. Ever.

Official blurb:

Drugs. Alcohol. Violence. Chaos.

All in a night’s work for Dr. Hope Sze, aspiring Montreal emergency physician—until someone tries to strangle her with her own stethoscope. Then Hope’s lover disappears.

A second woman barely escapes throttling before her beloved vanishes too. Hope slogs through the pneumonia and hemorrhoid patients cramming the ER while a psychopath stalks the empty, post-midnight hallways of St. Joseph’s Hospital. Waiting. Waiting patiently. Until everything explodes.

Can you give the reader just enough information for them to understand what is going on in the excerpt?

Dr. Hope Sze, an emergency physician in training, confronts a drug addict.


Please include the excerpt and include page numbers as reference.  The excerpt can be as short or as long as you prefer.

p. 1-3:

"I just need a refill, doc." The emaciated, over-tanned woman glared at me from the black vinyl bed of St. Joseph's ER exam room number 4. "I ran out over the holidays. My stomach hurts so bad, I want to puke."

"Right, Ms. Goody," I said, eyeing the crumpled bag of chips she'd tossed at the garbage can and missed. Whenever the triage nurse wants to indicate that the patient's 10/10 abdominal pain is B.S., she'll write, Says pain 10/10. Eating chips.

And guess what? Narcotic addicts often complain about stomach pain, nausea, and vomiting.

It was 23:06, Lori Goody was my inaugural patient on my first emergency room night shift back in Montreal, and I was in no mood for bull when I had nine horrid hours to go.

I handed back her empty, yellow pill bottle. "The problem is, you refilled this prescription a week ago. You should have enough Dilaudid to last you until next month. It’s only January eleventh."

The patient pushed herself into a sitting position, her brown eyes narrowed behind fake eyelashes. Since she looked like Miss Anorexia, I secretly marvelled that she had enough muscle mass to prop herself up. "What’s your problem? You a doctor?"

"Yes. I’m Dr. Sze." I showed her my badge and adjusted the stethoscope hung around the back of my neck.

"We're trying not to prescribe narcotics because over 17,000 Americans died from prescription opioids in 2017." It hit Canada, too—about half that number in the past two years—although most of them overdosed on synthetic Fentanyl bought unlabeled on the street. "Ms. Goody, I checked the blood work from your last visit. Your potassium was slightly high—"

She waved her hand at me. "I heard of you. Hope Sze." She pronounced it like Zee, which is close enough. "You’re the one who’s always running around with murderers."

Stung, I said, "I don’t run around. I've solved a few cases—"

"Get me a real doctor. One who's not in school anymore, and one who doesn’t think she’s the police."

I glanced at the door behind me. I could grab the supervising physician. Even though I'm a doctor, I'm what used to be called an intern, and I think patients have the right to refuse trainees.

On the other hand, I'd have to bug Dr. Chia, who was finishing up her evening shift with me on the ambulatory, or walk-in, side. I’d already messed up an intubation with Dr. Chia at the beginning of my medical residency six months ago.

No, I'd battle it out for a few minutes with a narcotic-seeking patient instead of immediately weeping on my staff. I tried to smile. "Ms. Goody, I am an M.D. doing my post-graduate residency training—"

"Right. You're a resident. That's useless. Get me the real doctor."

I sucked in my cheeks and checked the door to my left and then the one behind me again, wishing that Lori Goody would take off.

The white-walled examining room barely felt big enough for the two of us plus the examining room bed, a chair, and the newly-added ledge that squashed me against the right wall as I checked the monitor for St. Joe's brand new electronic record system, SARKET.

"Got it? Or maybe you no understand Engleesh?" The patient jabbed a pink acrylic nail at me.

Oh, my God. She'd noticed my Asian heritage and was trying to mimic a Chinese accent. My instinct was to face punch her, but as a doctor, you have to act professionally and smile even though patients will report you at the drop of a nun's cap.

"Maybe because you're too busy making Fentanyl?"

Ugh. She must have read those headlines like China Is Poisoning America With Fentanyl. I gazed at her, ignoring her T-shirt slogan, BL♥W ME, I'M IRISH. "Actually, China made Fentanyl a controlled substance, Ms. Goody—"

"For fuck's sake. Get me the real doctor. My heart is racing. You're giving me a heart attack." She placed her palm on her chest and hyperventilated, exaggerating the stringy tendons of her neck as well as minimal boobage.

Lori Goody was 35 years old. She'd only have a heart attack with seriously nasty genes and/or cocaine and speed.

Although, speaking of drugs, she had that look, the one my new boyfriend, Tucker, called "rode hard and put away wet": bleached brown hair, darker skin than me even though she was white enough to insult my ancestry, uneven teeth, frosted pink lipstick that might have looked good a few decades ago, and grimy running shoes with no socks despite the icy January weather.

I approached her cautiously, reaching for the navy stethoscope draping the back of my neck. "I can listen to your heart—"

She seized both ends of the stethoscope and wrenched them in opposite directions, to strangle me.

Why is this excerpt so emotional for you?  And can you describe your own emotional experience of writing this specific excerpt?

It's maddening that a patient tries to strangle Hope, but that's the reality we face. Hospital staff get attacked all the time. One of the nurses in the book says, "I've been kicked, I've been punched ... " That's a direct quote. I've tended to nurses who've been bitten, hit, and throttled. One doctor broke a rib or two in a fistfight with a patient. No one talks about how it's dangerous to deal with sick people, at night, with minimal security.

That said, this is not an emotional excerpt for me. I turn my emotions off when I step through the doors of the emergency room. I couldn't do my job if I allowed myself to feel everyone's emotions. Of course the staff does cry. I especially remember a code on a child where the orderly did chest compressions with tears pouring down her face. But I, personally, try to feel compassion without overt tears. When a life is at stake, I try to follow the algorithm and make clear decisions. Crying can come later.

That's probably why a patient called me "the most unfeeling doctor I've ever met," which inspired my non-fiction series.

Were there any deletions from this excerpt that you can share with us?

 I changed her T-shirt slogan a few times. If you look up offensive T-shirts online, lots of them were for St. Patrick's Day, which seemed appropriate for Lori Goody. I played with "I ♥ FUN" before I settled on "BL♥W ME, I'M IRISH."

Other works you have published?

ZOMG. This is the seventh Hope Sze book. I've also written other mysteries like The Italian School for Assassins (Octavia, a mild-mannered public servant, joins an assassin school on a lark and falls in love—and murder), romances like The List (where a soon-to-be divorcee makes a list of all the guys she coulda-woulda-shoulda and decides to run through them all simultaneously), and fantasy and science fiction and medical essays under the name Melissa Yi.

Anything you would like to add?

No one has asked me about emotion in my work before, so thanks for that. I do feel more emotional about other scenes, and readers have told me that they've cried over my books, but I tend to reserve emotion for later. Gotta take me out to dinner first!

Melissa Yi wields a stethoscope and a scalpel as an emergency physician. She also pens the Hope Sze medical thrillers, which have been named one of the best Canadian suspense books by the Globe and Mail, CBC Books, and The Next Chapter. Yi was a finalist for the Arthur Ellis Award for best crime story in Canada and shortlisted for the Derringer Award for the best short mystery fiction in the English language. Sometimes, she sleeps.

Connect with her on Facebook (

Twitter (@dr_sassy), or best of all,


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