BITTER MEDICINE Gets Pushed
Surprise! A second blog post from me in two weeks!
But yes, it's exactly what it says on the tin: Bitter Medicine's publishing date has been pushed back to March 14, 2023. Suffice it to say that I have a lot of emotions about this and I'm doing my very best to put a positive spin on it, but I was born a pessimist and learned how to be a realist and optimism grates on me, so it may be a while before I truly believe that the bright side is the bright side (in my personal relationship, I am the grumpy and the husband is the sunshine).
The reasons for the push are not mine to articulate in this blog post. What I would like to articulate are some of my feelings regarding the process, because what is a blog but a public processing of feelings? I'm upset, of course. I'm angry and frustrated and extremely disappointed. I'm not patient by nature. It's Aries season; I'm an Aries. I'm an Aries sun and an Aries moon and by the grace of god, I am not an Aries rising. Patience has never come naturally to me. Knowing that I have to wait a year from now before this book is out of my hands has a huge negative impact on me.
And patience is something you need in droves in publishing. The book is slated now for early 2023. I turned in my copy edits for it in late 2021. Publishing is a lot of silence, followed by a lot of scrambling, followed by more silence. But patience sometimes feels to me like swallowing food I haven't finished chewing, food that hurts going down and makes you wonder whether it'll get stuck in the esophagus.
I hope I have enough patience for the next year.
I said up above that optimism grates on me. Hope is a filthy liar, after all. But optimism is necessary in publishing as well, though I hesitate to call it optimism. There's nothing else ahead of you in this business but the next book. Nothing but your own words is within your control. I have another work in progress; I have multiple ideas sitting and marinating right now. Is it optimism to write the next book, or is it dogged determination? I don't have to write stories. I have other things I can do. But I made a decision to keep going and keep challenging myself, which is why there is a next book.
What the publishing delay does, however, is influence when this book can go to editors. (There's that patience again.) I believe in Key & Vale (most of the time). I want to get it out there, I want to stick the landing, I want it out of my hair, I want to move on to RED ENVELOPE HUSBAND. I've already queued up Netflix with Taiwanese dramas for research purposes. But with this delay, I have to reshuffle my timeline. I'm a life planner by nature. I usually have a plan for the next month, the next half year, the next year, the next five years. The fact that publishing is so wildly out of my control but has an outsized impact on my personal life gets me agitated. Agitated. And that's just one more thing I have to square as I go through processing what this delay means.
Earlier this year I was trying to learn how to let go, how not to have feelings about publishing. It's really not possible to be emotionless about it, and maybe I am trying to let go of the wrong things or trying not to have feelings about the wrong things. Maybe I should be learning how to not be a control freak, or talking to my therapist about potentially outsized reactions to things messing with a schedule I set, which is a result of childhood trauma. Whatever happens, all this shit is messy, the future is shifting, the ground is falling away from rock to sand, and all we can do is find new footing. Sometimes while crying.
The Texas Hold 'Em Structure
I went a small bit of viral over the weekend because of a Twitter post I made for modeling a novel on the game of Texas Hold 'Em. (Rules here: www.texasholdemonline.com/texas-holdem-rules/). Now, I've been prone to saying in the past that I think you can write using any structure, whether that's a structure found in literature or an actual physical structure, like a gas station (narrator POV stays rooted in time and place; characters come and go and have conflict with each other; time of day/customer rush determines where the climax is). By the way, I just made that one up, so if you decide to write a short story, novella, or even a novel based on this structure, do let me know how it works out. Is this a true narrative structure? Not really. Can I map one-to-one each gas pump in the station, the roof overhead, and the convenience store with each part of the story? I cannot. It's more of a gas station in spirit.
Anyway, I started thinking about Hold 'Em because one of my writer chats was talking about structure and 3-acts/Save the Cat, and someone suggested looking at kishoutenketsu, a Japanese 4-act structure (4-acts are also widespread among the other East Asian countries). And on the fly, I suggested writing a story according to the beats of a Texas Hold 'Em game.
This wasn't completely random: I want to steer non-Asians away from kishoutenketsu. Selfishly, or maybe not so selfishly because I know how easily theft occurs in the West, I want Asian authors to use that structure first. I want them to write stories that follow the beats they know so well. The surprise third-act antagonist, new arrival, or out-of-nowhere situation? Kishoutenketsu. So while thinking about Hold 'Em might have been random, wanting to show off already-extant examples of 4-act dramas in the West was not.
(I also enjoy exploring 2-act structures because I love musical theater and opera, and both are by necessity split in half because of intermission, unless there are two intermissions like in Parsifal or Der Rosenkavalier. The mid-point break and subsequent big change in status quo are among my favorite things. See also: the time skip between Naruto and Naruto Shippuden. Anyway, that's a different blog post.)
I started playing Hold 'Em in university, where one of my best friends would invite everyone to his house for poker nights and we'd all throw in twenty bucks, get ridiculously, wildly drunk, and try to outbluff each other on hands we all knew were utter shit (except that one time there was a four of a kind, and boy was I glad I had folded the second I saw my hand). I love the dramatic tension of a Hold 'Em game even through the haze of Southern Comfort (100 proof) and lukewarm Coke. Who at the table is the biggest bluffer? Who at the table plays cautiously and therefore is less likely to bluff? Who at the table is the agent of chaos? Who's the one trying to count cards? And who's the one addicted to pushing all in because their BAC is too high?
In case you missed the thread, here it is. And here's the Thread Reader App unroll.
The four-act structure of Hold 'Em allows for a lot of flexibility as far as character decision and writer herding skills are involved. As long as you hit each of the acts, things should go fine. There's conflict and drama built in because of that reversal of fortune and the consequences of character actions coming back to bite them in the ass. This structure would work very well for mysteries, thrillers, action-adventure, and heists especially. It's a structure designed to crank up tension nonstop until the very end. Think films like Ocean's 11, Inception, The Italian Job, which are all three-act films, if I remember correctly, but in a novel form can be made into four. In fact, you might need four just so you can get all the characters in. Introducing characters in a movie, with makeup and hair and costume design and set design and all that, is much easier than in a book. All that description!
I'm curious to see how well this structure works, so if you ever write a novel using this structure, please think of little ol' me and tell me about what you did. I'd love to see how well it maps to what you're planning.
PS: Once Bitter Medicine is released, I'll do an act breakdown. It's not a three-act but a two-act, and once I made that realization, the editing process came together.
Mia is a musician, teacher, writer, editor, and occasional photographer whose formal education is in music, psychology, and pedagogy. She enjoys reading a lot, thinking while on long drives, finding songs for each moment, and snoozing with her cat.