Cover for Sugar and Vice, Melissa Yi's new novel, image of dragon on cover

Sugar and Vice: Interview with Author Melissa Yi

The sin of gluttony comes calling for Dr. Hope Sze at Montreal’s first Dragon Boat Festival, as she volunteers for an unusual eating contest.

Hope Sze is a creation of a friend of mine, emergency physician Dr. Melissa Yuan-Innes, also known as Melissa Yi.

Something you should know about Melissa: she is fast. She thinks fast, moves quickly, acts decisively. Plus every time I get a chance to hang out with her, I’m blown away with how incisive she is, able to get straight to the point.

When you pick up a piece of her fiction, it’s very fast-paced, with stakes going from casual to catastrophic very quickly–while casually tossing off insightful observations (and the occasional, terrible pun).

Melissa asked me if we’d like to exchange interviews–she’s running a Kickstarter for her novel–with me interviewing her on Sugar and Vice and her interviewing me on YOUR SOUFFLE MUST DIE.

Of course I said yes!

If you have a moment, check out her Kickstarter now, before it goes away–there are some cool rewards available, including a virtual cooking class to make some of the dishes in the novel!

The Interview!

1. I apologize, but there’s no way we can start with books when there’s food to be talked about. I’m going to really put you on the spot and ask…what’s the most meaningful meal you’ve ever made or eaten? How long ago was it? What stands out the most for you?

Easy! In June, I took my two children on an eating vacation. We systematically ate our way through Vancouver, soliciting recommendations and stopping every time we saw something good. One restaurant stood out, The Fish Man. The seafood fried rice was so good that my daughter asked for seconds, and when I went to take a picture, they refused to stop eating long enough for a photo. You know how rice can be just filler? The Fish Man’s rice alone was so delicious that I asked them not to waste a single grain. I had never enjoyed such buttery crab. I prepared myself to start scraping the clam shells, but no! The meat practically fell out of the shells with a bare minimum of coaxing. My kids started playing castanet with the clam shells, and I kept one as a momento. Absolutely incredible. We went twice because, as I explained to them, that when a chef is a culinary genius, you must maximize the experience. When we flew in, we went straight to The Fish Man from the airport, and it was our last restaurant, so I consider it the alpha and omega of our vacation.

2. The main character of Sugar and Vice, Hope Sze, is the main character of many of your stories and is a physician (just like you!). This question is kind of a two-parter. First, how would you say Hope is different than you? How does she resolve problems differently than you do? What makes her an escape for you to write about her?

No one has asked me this before!

a) The most obvious aspect is that we’re both doctors, but in her spare time, Hope doesn’t write, she solves murders. I stick to solving medical problems, although I am considering becoming a coroner.

b) Hope gets embroiled in a love triangle, whereas I started dating my guy in high school and never stopped. “Love how the Asian girl gets all the men!” said one of my friends, and I definitely found it cathartic to imagine a more complicated love life.

c) I also made Hope a bit smarter, since people expect physicians to have all the immediate answers.

d) Hope has to build her own friend group when she moves to Montreal for residency, whereas I had married Matt by then and carted him to Montreal with me. (When you graduate from medical school, you participate in a national match and must prepare to move across the country, or even change countries, which can make medicine very lonely, moving away from family and friends for your career.)

e) Now I can look back and laugh at some of the things that happened during residency. Like how the security guards took over the paging system at night, and they never knew what they were doing. “Page the staff!” I kept telling one guard in a crisis, and he’d paged me. I’d call him back and say, “No, that’s me! Page Dr. X!” and he’d page me again. I put that in The Shapes of Wrath, and it seems funnier now. It totally wasn’t at the time.

Second, can you tell me how the books are meant to be grouped together, and why? Hope Sze has a main series, and now a side series for the Seven Deadly Sins. Can readers read the books in any order? And why branch off into a new series?

You can jump in anywhere because each novel contains a murder that is fully solved, but I find that most readers ask, “Is it the same character?”

When I say yes, the novels centre on Hope, 90 percent of readers want to start at the beginning, which is Code Blues, in a nine-part novel series that starts in a decrepit but beloved Canadian community hospital and ends up with Hope finding a killer on airplane (Death Flight), or in Egypt (Scorpion Scheme), or solving a crime from 19th century England (White Lightning).

I wouldn’t call Hope’s Seven Deadly Sins a side series. It’s a progression. I wrote a story about Tori Yamamoto, one of Hope’s best friends in Montreal, and Tori said, “I can see ghosts.” This unleashed a whole other world for Hope, where ghosts actually exist and a new paranormal element will unfold in each book. Dragons dominate my newest gluttony thriller, Sugar and Vice! Not only will Hope explore each of the seven deadly sins, but a separate series allows readers to choose their level of realism.

For more reality, ripped from the headlines mysteries and thrillers, stick to the Hope Sze Medical Crime Series. If you love crossing genres (medical AND paranormal), go for the Seven Deadly Sins.

P.S. Hope doesn’t shy away from swearing, sarcasm, social justice, and spice in either series. Be warned.

[Editor’s note: you can find all Melissa’s books using her website.]

3. Most of Sugar and Vice takes place at a Dragon Boat Festival. I’ve been to the one in Denver and it was a hoot! What background do casual visitors need to know in order to really enjoy a dragon boat festival?

Go and have fun! I’ve only visited one festival to research this book, the Concord Pacific, but it is the biggest dragon boat festival in North America.  I know my friends who paddle enjoy the teamwork and camaraderie of dragon boating. As spectators, my kids and I laughed at the athletes chanting things like “Sponge Bob Square Pants!” and enjoyed the dragon dance. I bought salmon from an indigenous fisherman. They gave away free cake, and had enough pieces for 10,000 people, plus it was delicious! A friend’s daughters got their faces painted, and our girls participated in an art contest. My son bought earrings for his girlfriend, and you could buy books and cards and other items. You could do good too, like get tested as a stem cell match. My only caveat is to be respectful, since the entire festival honours Qu Yuan, the minister and poet who ended up sacrificing his life for his king, and breast cancer survivors will race and cast flowers in the water in memory of those who have passed. But in general, it’s a good time.

4. So…the seven deadly sins. Sugar and Vice is about gluttony. While protecting the innocent (and even the guilty!), what’s a story about gluttony that you can share with us as an emergency physician?

My favourite gluttony, more as a family doctor, is seeing newborns breastfeed until their little tummies fill up and they fall asleep. When tiny ones eat and flourish, it does your heart good!

5. I’m going to indulge in a little writer-to-writer talk here. You write a lot of mystery and crime stories, and even your other work that isn’t strictly mystery or crime has a lot of mystery and crime to it. How do you see mysteries and/or crime from the inside? Me, I tend to write about people’s perspectives on the world, so to me a mystery or crime revolves around understanding how someone else sees the world. How do you see it?

Now that you mention it, I do like envisioning the murderer’s perspective. I try to understand why someone would commit a crime–I have a bachelor’s degree in psychology and enjoy figuring out how people tick. I’m on team “Anyone could commit murder under certain circumstances (war, starvation, cruelty, etc).” Overall, I see murder and crime as the story’s driving force, the engine, because a reader wants to know whodunnit or if, in a thriller, can the protagonist prevent the onslaught of badness. My job, as the writer, is to make sure justice gets done in the end. But I definitely relish how a character changes. Really, Hope is the alternate me, if I had to fight crime on top of saving lives. I enjoy watching her, her family, and her friends evolve and surprise me.

6. Bonus question! What else would you like to promote right now?

Sugar and Vice! Ends Tuesday, Sept 26th at 9 pm, so please come on by! Even if you don’t like to read (boo, hiss), my talented friends are offering cooking lessons, custom aprons, maple syrup, and honey.

[Editor’s note: I’m about a third of the way through the book and really liking it so far!]

The Author!

Melissa Yi could slice your throat and sew it back up again. Legally. Because she’s an emergency doctor. This background inspires her to create her heroine, Dr. Hope Sze, who leaps from fixing ingrown toenails to solving full-blown murder. Melissa won the 2023 Derringer Award for the best short mystery in the English language and the Prix Aurora Award for best speculative poem in Canada. She lives with her family, including two rescue dogs, in Eastern Ontario. Please find her at and receive a free gift with a newsletter subscription.

A whole lotta links (yay!):

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