Monday, March 22, 2021

Melissa Yi Interview - Scorpion Scheme: Death and Danger on the Nile

Photo Credit: Jordan Matter

Melissa Yi is an emergency physician and award-winning writer. In her newest crime novel, SCORPION SCHEME, Dr. Hope Sze lands in Cairo and discovers a man with a nail through his skull who might hold the key to millions in buried gold. Previous Hope Sze thrillers were recommended by The Globe and Mail, CBC Books, and The Next Chapter 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.

Tell us your latest news.
My new thriller, and my first book set in Egypt, was inspired by my trip in 2019. Dr. Hope Sze lands in Cairo and tries to save a Johannesburg man with a nail through his skull. This man may hold the key to millions of dollars in buried gold.

I refused to write a generic pandemic thriller because I'm an emergency physician and I needed a break from that. I wanted to show the beauty and generosity of modern Egypt, while still keeping up the suspense and staying honest about problems like poverty. One of my favourite scenes is Hope eating shawarma and walking through the Cairo night with juice dripping down her arms. There is a clue to the mystery embedded in that scene, but I mostly enjoyed eating through her!

Can you tell us when you started SCORPION SCHEME, how that came about?
A travel organization, NARAT, asked me to travel around the world and write books. The first country was Ecuador and the Galápagos, and the second country was Egypt.

I knew that I would write a book of my own set in Egypt. However, I was surprised when a bomb exploded outside the Egyptian Museum on the day that my tour group visited the Great Pyramids. No more spoilers! You'll have to read the next interview (or the book!) for the gory details.

What do you hope for readers to be thinking when they read your novel?
I want you to think about Hope.

Dr. Hope Sze, my protagonist, is a resident physician who solves crimes in addition to saving lives through medicine.

She's smart, funny, tough, and resourceful, like I was in training, only magnified ten times, because I very rarely see people deliberately kill each other, and I never had to juggle a love triangle. Also, residency is arguably the worst time in medical training: you're an MD, but you're still doing two to seven years of additional training, so you get thrown in the deep end, work literally day and night, and while patients may yell at you and sue you.

So I want you to feel her struggle. But I also want you to laugh—because Hope is always cracking jokes, even in the depths of despair—and I weave in some wisdom, pop culture, and alternate points of view.

For example, in TERMINALLY ILL, the third Hope Sze mystery, an Elvis impersonator/escape artist gets chained and nailed in a coffin and lowered into the St. Lawrence River. Steve Steinbock, the reviewer for Ellery Queen mystery Magazine, was impressed how I integrated the theme of magic and mentioned Dan Ariely and his theories of behavioural economics.

I also write non-fiction books about everything from Buddhism to back pain under my legal name, Melissa Yuan-Innes. I always strive to be clear and honest and humorous.

Come for the mystery, stay for the fun!

If you could introduce one of your characters to any character from another book, who would it be and why?
It would be super fun to introduce Hope Sze to Octavia Ling. Octavia, who calls herself V, stars in my more cozy mystery series, which begins with THE ITALIAN SCHOOL FOR ASSASSINS.

For her 40th birthday, V flies to Italy to learn speed, strength, and silence at the Italian School for Assassins in Florence, Italy. In real life, V is a public servant who works for the Department of Fisheries and Oceans in Ottawa, so she is completely unprepared to discover that her roommate, as well as every other student, is perfectly prepared to assassinate her for practice. Fortunately, V has a few skills of her own, and befriends Dario, a sexy Italian guy, while she's at it.

The series is extremely fun and lighthearted, and is set in a different country every book, as her relationship with Dario deepens.

V could be a role model for Hope. Although V also gets into scrapes, she's grounded from four decades of normalcy, she trusts herself, and is financially secure. They could be friends and mentors for each other. Thanks for the idea for future book!

What was the single worst distraction that kept you from writing this book?
COVID-19. I increased my work at the hospital, not only clinical work, which is what we call looking after patients, but also in devouring any incoming information

It may seem like a long time ago now, but our main worry was Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). Canada did not have enough as COVID marched its way towards us. Over 150 Italian physicians and 40 nurses died, partly because of overwork and lack of PPE.

I spearheaded a petition for a coordinated effort in Canada, which garnered over 200,000 signatures. I was invited to speak nationally and regionally on TV and radio. It was important work, and I consider it an honour to protect my colleagues on the front lines and to look after my patients, but I didn't write for at least a month. However, I know everyone was struggling, potentially worse than I was. This whole year has been brutal. So it was an enormous personal victory for SCORPION SCHEME to hit the shelves.

What part of Hope did you enjoy writing the most?
I love having a fictional alter ego who is fearless in the face of medical emergencies and can still engage in hand-to-hand combat with killers. She's not the most brilliant doctor or the most physically strong athlete. She makes do with what she has, and it's enough.

I also enjoy writing her love triangle. I married my high school sweetheart, and never really dated anybody else. So when it rains hot, attentive men, that's a thrill for me, even though it's tough for Hope. She truly loves both Ryan Wu and John Tucker, which is not accepted in our society, and more importantly, by the two men themselves. They each want her. Each pressure her to make a decision. It's the best of times, it's the worst of times.

What is something you think everyone should do at least once in their lives?
Everybody should try something that makes your heart sing. Even if it makes you look foolish. Maybe especially if it makes you look dumb, incompetent, a beginner, whatever you want to call it.

I tried an Ido Portal handstand workshop, thinking they'd teach me how to do handstands. Wrong! Everyone else there already knew how to do them. I was the weakest person in a room of competitive athletes. Oh, well. I stuck it out.

More recently, I wrote a popular memoir, THE MOST UNFEELING DOCTOR IN THE WORLD (AND OTHER TRUE TALES FROM THE EMERGENCY ROOM) . I turned that into a one-woman play in the Ottawa fringe Festival, and ended up winning Best of Fest. But if I hadn't won, it still would have been worth it. Try and fail. Try again.

Best date you've ever had?
We went to Hawaii—more a vacation than a date, but it's possibly my favourite part in the world. We drove the road to Hana, on the east coast of Maui. It's so narrow that you have to honk around corners to let people know that you're coming. It's a rainforest microclimate with painted eucalyptus trees and bamboo, both of which I'd never seen growing before. We woke up early and walked onto the shore, as the sun rose in the mist, and the waves pounded towards us. It truly felt like a sacred place.

I also have a special memory of camping in Prince Edward Island. When I came out of our tent at night, I could see stars almost all the way to the ground, like a bowl around us. For the first time, I understood a line by Sharon Butala about walking through the sky.

If you could go back in time to one point in your life, where would you go?
Maybe to my son's infancy. I spent so many hours sitting in a chair with him, holding him and nursing him. He would fall asleep, and I would read. One librarian was amazed at how I powered through books, but I only needed my eyes and one hand to turn the page. Max was a smart, determined, happy baby. He was also my parents' first grandchild. It was such a time of joy.

What are 4 things you never leave home without?
  • 1. My glasses. I can't see without them, and I now have dry eyes, so I can't wear my contact lenses often.
  • 2. My phone. I'm obsessed with tracking steps on my pedometer.
  • 3. Clothes. Yeah, I'm not a nudist.
  • 4. Shoes. I choose comfort over fashion, so my stilettos rarely get a turn. Although I do have some magnificent pairs of boots!
What is the weirdest thing you have seen in someone else’s home?
A rat.

My friend invited us for a Halloween party, and there was a fake rat in the bathroom, surrounded with real banana peels and other things. The genuine garbage made me think that the rat was real for a second.

First Heartbreak?
I had useless crushes on multiple different guys. I'm an intense person, when I was in grade seven, I used to stare at my first crush, to the point that other people noticed and made fun of me. Not heartbreaking, but embarrassing. Except I was so intense that I kept staring anyway.

Where is the best place in the world you’ve been?
I told you about Maui and the Maritimes. I enjoyed South Africa and Egypt. I also really love home in rural Ontario, Canada. We have two kids, one dog, and 12 acres, and we're planting thousands of trees.

Which would you choose, true love with a guarantee of a heart break or have never loved before?
'Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.

All love ends eventually through some sort of separation, including death.

I don't think you have truly lived unless you cared deeply for something. In my mind, this does not have to another human being. It could be a beloved pet, saving the earth, or literature. Love is love.

  • 1. Alex Dyck. The first man Hope Sze meets in Montréal, Canada. Hope's here to learn family and emergency medicine, but she won't turn down the right guy either.
    Sparks fly with Alex, her fellow resident doctor (formerly known as an intern). He's hot and smart and funny, and they bond over people making fun of their names, as in Sze-sick and Dyck-face. After Hope finds a dead man on her first ER shift, Alex encourages her to investigate. The only problem? Alex takes her out for sushi and disappears.
  • 2. John Tucker. Also a resident physician. But while Alex flirts and smoulders,Tucker's more awkward, making jokes about diabetes to try and get Hope's attention. That's a big nope. Until she figures out that he's smart and loyal and genuinely interesting, learning Arabic and German and practicing magic tricks. He's not bad-looking, either. So she'd consider Tucker, except …
  • 3. Ryan Wu. Hope's only had one serious relationship in her life. Ryan is a gorgeous, kind engineer who runs, so he's got the legs and the cardio to literally go for miles. Hope would have married her "first, last, and always," except she's agnostic, and he's a serious Christian who goes to the same church as her grandmother.
    On the upside, he would never cheat on her. On the downside, he feels guilty about premarital sex, and he wasn't crazy about her going to the other side of the province for medical school. So they broke up—until he shows up in Montréal in August.
  • 4. Kevin Sze. Hope's much younger brother. He's an outspoken nine-year-old who knows social media better than she does. He's the first one in their family to realize that as Hope solves more mysteries, people around the world grow increasingly fascinated by the "detective doctor." However, she faces a lot of backlash from armchair Internet detectives.
    Hope ignores the attention, good and bad. It's up to Kevin to polish her reputation, block the worst trolls, and deal with the negative fallout.
  • 5. Mr. Sze. Hope's father is an electrical engineer. He's quiet – at least compared to Hope's mom – but he always supports her, both financially during medical school and emotionally with steady logic. Although she didn't love physics enough to become an engineer, she loves and respects her dad and would've liked to follow in his footsteps. Mr. Sze, Ryan, and Kevin all get along.
  • 6. Dr. Callendar. Annoying jerk who enjoys torturing Hope with endless medical quizzing. Unfortunately, he also supervises her on family medicine once a week, and sometimes he tortures her in the ER too. Ugh.
  • 7. Dr. Kurt Radshaw. The most beloved physician of all, introduced in CODE BLUES. When Hope shows up late to orientation, he laughs and tells her to ask him for help, day or night. "I know what it's like to have problems. I have Type I diabetes myself. So call me anytime. My pager's always on." Unfortunately, the next time she sees him will be under more dire circumstances …
  • 8. Elvis Serratore, "Elvis the Escape King." This TERMINALLY ILL character was inspired by Dean Gunderson, "the world's greatest escape artist." When Dean was 19 years old, he pulled a Houdini and got chained and nailed into a coffin and lowered into the river—but Dean couldn't escape. He essentially drowned in the coffin, and they had to resuscitate him before he went on to I wrote to Dean and asked if I could turn this into fiction, with Hope (and Tucker) as the doctors on the pier who save him, and Dean said yes. In June, TERMINALLY ILL will appear on stage as a workshop theatre production, with an aerialist playing Elvis!
  • 9. "Mr. Money." I attended Writers' Police Academy, a conference where writers learn about law enforcement and forensics, and met author Katherine Ramsland. Her book, The True Stories behind CSI, described a case where a group of passengers subdued a passenger who was out of control—but when they landed the plane, the man was dead, and no one knew who amongst them had killed him.
    I researched air rage, which is like road rage, but on an airplane, and learned that one factor is often alcohol, but another is the class system. People are more likely to get angry if they have to walk through First Class.
    So in DEATH FLIGHT, Hope and Tucker board an overdue flight in L.A. and can't help but notice "Mr. Money," an overbearing producer in business class, talking on his phone and doing "the man spread, legs akimbo, taking up a few crucial inches of the aisle, so that people had to wheel their suitcases around his left knee."
    Yeah. Someone's going to kill him. But who?
  • 10. Unknown. After the chaos of STOCKHOLM SYNDROME, which involves a hostagetaking. Hope needs to retreat. She chooses a month at a stem cell lab in Ottawa, which is inspired by two real life stem cell researchers, Dr. Bill Stanford and Dr. Lisa Julian.
    Unfortunately, while Hope walks to the lab with Ryan and his new foster dog, they find a dead man with a garbage bag tied over his head.
    I can't tell you much more without giving away spoilers, except that HUMAN REMAINS is probably my most critically-acclaimed novel.
    So there you have it. It's raining men in the Hope Sze medical crime series. Love 'em or hate 'em and love 'em some more, because we've got the full spectrum of men, from sexy to sweet to slimeball, all testing Hope at the centre of this vortex.
The Journey to Writing SCORPION SCHEME by Melissa Yi
"Would you write adventure novels in exchange for free trips around the world?" That's essentially what a travel organization, NARAT, asked me.

The inaugural trip was to Ecuador and the Galápagos, which was the first place I ever dreamed of visiting, when I learned about the Galápagos in grade 3.

The second country was Egypt.

I flew over with very little background knowledge. For example, I visited Hatshepsut's mortuary temple after the Valley of Kings and Queens, and I only knew her story because I'd borrowed a graphic novel for my daughter about great female leaders in world history.

Our guide told me that Hatshepsut was seen as an usurper of her stepson. I found that difficult to reconcile with the Western idea of girl power and her success as one of the greatest leaders that Egypt had ever known. It made me realize that I knew almost nothing about Egypt. I'd heard pharaohs married their siblings, and I'd seen King Tutankhamen's death mask, but I didn't have a good sense of its legends, its political history, or what had happened during and after Arab Spring. So I had to do tons of research after the fact.

SCORPION SCHEME begins with an explosion.

When my tour group explored the pyramids, they heard a boom and felt the earth shake. One of them cried, "What was that?"

"Nothing," the tour guard replied, hustling them away uninjured.

Later, they discovered that an IED had exploded across from the Grand Egyptian Museum.

I missed the it completely because I was in Canada with my son for his birthday. I took a later flight. However, because Dr. Hope Sze always has great adventures, I incorporated the IED into SCORPION SCHEME.

I added other details from my own travels, like the fact that, when I landed in Cairo, the airport toilet sprayed me from chest to feet with what I hoped was clean water.

However, I don't want to exaggerate the dangers. My trip to Egypt was very safe. We took a cruise down the Nile from Luxor to Aswan. I was invited to try a hot air balloon ride over the Valley of Kings and Queens. I swam in the Nile, where the water was clear, and walked along the Red Sea during the call to prayer. So I don't want people to think that there isn't beauty and joy in Egypt.

In SCORPION SCHEME, Hope and her boyfriend, Tucker, pursue a killer, but they also make friends, eat shawarma, and dance to "Walk Like an Egyptian." Especially during a pandemic, I want readers to revel in the pleasures of everyday life as well as join in Hope's fight for justice.

Dr. Hope Sze doesn't need a free trip to Egypt. 

She can't afford the flight to Cairo, or the cruise down the Nile, so she'd keep studying in Canada-except her fiancé, Dr. John Tucker, yearns to patrol the pyramids and confront the curse on King Tutankhamun's tomb. 

So when a company offers them both a free stay in Cairo in exchange for a month's work in an emergency department, Tucker lobbies for a pre-honeymoon in the Valley of Kings and Queens, investigating the windswept temple of Hatshepsut, or scuba diving in the Red Sea. 

Instead, within 90 minutes of arrival, Hope drops to her knees outside the Grand Egyptian Museum, desperate to save a now-comatose 87-year-old Johannesburg man who'd raved about Kruger and treasure after receiving a nail through his skull. 

Tucker fixates on their one chance at the legendary Kruger Millions, a rumoured fortune that many believe lies secretly stowed somewhere in South Africa. 

Since their combined student debt load totals half a million dollars, Tucker can't pass up the possibility of a treasure trove in buried gold. 

Hope launches into her first mystery based in a birthplace of human civilization. 

Where the evil god Set battled righteous Horus and Isis in an 80-year war. 

Where wealth and power clash with political revolution. 

Where Antony fell in love with Cleopatra. 

Where Hope and Tucker must outwit, or fall prey, to a ruthless criminal mastermind.

You can purchase Scorpion Scheme at the following Retailers:

And now, The Giveaways.
Thank you CREATIVE EDGE for making this giveaway possible.
Winner will receive a $15 Amazon Gift Card.


  1. I believe I am a Circle as life has definitely connected my experiences and revisited the feelings and memories.

  2. I think a circle would be calming of sorts. What goes around comes around.

  3. "If you were a geometric shape what would you like to be?" You can make anything with a line, so I will say a line.