Best of 2019 Q&A: Michael Lista

Michael Lista appears on our Best of 2019 list for his piece “A Doctor’s Deception.” You can read it at Toronto Life.

GCL invited writers on the list to answer a questionnaire to give us further insight into their work. The following are Michael’s answers:

1. How did you start working on this story?
This was a story I was assigned. I love assignments more than pitches. It’s good for a journalist to be told: go and figure this thing out, which you might not have picked for yourself. It’s what being born must feel like, into our alien world.

2. How long did it take to write this piece?
It must have been about three months. We had to wait two months for the legal disclosure from the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario. Once we got the truth, things moved quickly.

3. What was the most challenging part of writing it?
Like so many stories, getting all the tiny nuts and bolts in place. That’s the hardest technical challenge. And then there’s the impossible work of not taking the horror personally. I struggle with that, and my very lovely editors rein me in.

4. What was the most surprising thing you learned about your subject (or in the case of a personal essay, yourself) during the process?
The horrifying thing about crime reporting is that the perpetrators are people, like you. Look for justice, and find just us. They were babies once, little kids, and someone loved them very much. And then they grow up into this—

5. What sort of reaction has your piece received from readers?
This one really was quite big. I think it’s because it had to do with the exploitation of women and babies when they were at their most vulnerable, and the obfuscation that ensued. It’s a disgrace, really. And that disgrace rang out into readers.

6. For any fellow non-fiction writers reading this, do you have a favourite writing tip to share?
My friend Jana Pruden would say: keep reporting, keep writing.

7. What writing projects are you working on currently?
More stories about bad men. They are innumerable, sadly.

8. There’s been some discussion recently on the outlook for Canadian non-fiction. How does its future look to you going into 2020?
Bright, lit by this reporter’s little lantern.

Find Michael on Twitter: @michaellista


This Q&A may have been edited for clarity and length.


A Doctor’s Deception

“The labour and delivery nurses were suspicious. Five pregnant women, all in rapid labour, arrived at the North York General Hospital triage on the same day—a Saturday in May 2016. The deliveries were happening fast—too fast—and because it was the weekend, the nurses were short-handed. One patient, at term in her first pregnancy, was fully dilated just an hour after being admitted and gave birth 25 minutes later. Another arrived suffering from uterine hyperstimulation—when contractions come too frequently or last too long, a serious complication of being induced. As a result, her baby’s heart rate was slowing ominously, and the staff had to deliver it via emergency C-section.”

Michael Lista – Toronto Life – July 2019

The Shock Absorber

Michael Lista – Canadaland – September 2015

House of Horrors

Michael Lista – Toronto Life – June 2018

The Great TTC Fraud

Michael Lista – Toronto Life – March 2018