A few days ago, I posted a picture on my Instagram, as well as a story, about my latest KitKat acquisition, the limited edition mini whole wheat biscuit (it tastes kind of like Teddy Grahams). I mentioned in passing that I have a whole spreadsheet of KitKat flavors and rankings thanks to my husband, and that I could probably blog about it. Turns out a number of people want to know about KitKat flavors!
So here's the blog post on the Japanese KitKats I have tried.
I'm not going to beat around the bush. Here are my top five currently:
Here's the list of all the other KitKat flavors we have tried!
KitKats from Japan aren't cheap by any means. I've built this list over several years at the Buford Farmers Market, which I'm lucky enough to access fairly easily, but my budget gets blown to hell if I decide to buy a bunch of bags. I wish we could have local KitKat tastings, honestly!
Where might you find these? I'd check your local HMart if you have one. Lots of online stores will sell these as well, most notably places like Bokksu. And if there are flavors you love (or hate), please feel free to leave a comment and let me know!
Some quick wrap-up stuff: the submissions period for JAMDAM is currently going! Subs close on April 30, 2023. Click the link above for full details. I'm looking forward to reading your submission packets! And the next blog post will be about the decolonization panel at Flights of Foundry, I promise.
Last weekend, I participated in my first Flights of Foundry, a free online convention for speculative fiction run by Dream Foundry. I had a good time and a pleasant experience, especially as someone who had four (4!!!) panels to speak on, as well as a chill-and-chat. Three of the panels were editing-related, and the fourth panel was on decolonization of (Western) narrative traditions.
The decolonization panel is going to need its own post and, quite possibly, a series of posts. I have strong feelings regarding colonization and how that's shaped Western science fiction and fantasy and our view of the Other because Western colonization has directly impacted how women of color are viewed and treated in Western society today. You can draw a straight line, basically, from things like the French invasion of Vietnam and Polynesia to violence committed against Asian and Pacific Islander women anno Domini nostri Jesu Christi 2022.
That's getting a bit dark for this particular post, so I'm going to put a pin in that (this is now a phrase I lean on a whole lot? Apologies). This first post is about my panel, "Fiction Critiques: What to Take and Leave Behind." I got to sit on this panel with my lovely moderator, George Jreije (author of Shad Hadid and the Alchemists of Alexandria), and co-panelists Nino Cipri and Monica Louzon. And we had a great time thanks to George's editorial experience and relaxed, conversational moderation style.
I did some prep prior to the panel, and I figured it'd be useful for newer writers or newer critics (sounds really judgy, yikes) to share that here. One of the most common questions I see is, "How do I give critique?" This is a broad question, so I ended up breaking it down into two categories: action feedback and vibes feedback.
But before I address what those mean, I need to lay some foundational work. The best critique experience you'll have as either a writer or a critic/reader is to be specific in your parameters about what you what. That specificity will inform the type of critique you receive. So often, writers will ask for feedback from a reader and receive crit that's too harsh and too specific, or too nebulous or too general. Before you send out something to be read, think about what your goals are. I promise that you do have goals more specific than, "Is this good?"
So: the types of critique. A lot of people talk about useful critique and not-useful critique, which makes sense to a writer because not all critique can be acted upon, whether it's because it's the wrong critique for you ("I don't get the Asian part") or critique that's incapable of engendering action ("I couldn't stay interested"). However, I'd like to reframe utility itself. Instead of calling crit useful or not, let's look at it as action-based critique and vibes/emotional/mood-based critique.
Action-based critique, or action feedback, is specific and nonjudgmental. It is feedback that points to concrete aspects of your story and may indicate a solution. For example, "Too many events feel crowded into the middle or end and not the front" is actionable pacing critique. "I thought the inciting incident happened in chapter x on page n, and that occurred too far in for me" is also actionable because you can compare what your reader thought to what you intended and retune your story if there's a mismatch.
Vibes-based critique, or vibes feedback, is vague and based on the reader experience. You can call vibes mood or emotion or feeling or gut. Vibes feedback is the reaction video of feedback. Reaction videos never give advice--and why would they? It's not like the creator of the video is able to fix anything now that the video is out. "The pacing felt off" is vibes feedback, as is "I couldn't connect to this character." This particular type of feedback has no immediate solution and may result in the writer going, "What does that mean? How do I fix this?" This doesn't mean vibes feedback isn't useful, though. It's data. Collect enough of it, and a pattern may emerge that you can then address in revision.
To get a good crit experience, arrive at the table already knowing what you want. Do you want a gut check/up-down vote? That's vibes feedback or data collection feedback and puts the least amount of burden on your reader. This is not a bad way to test out potential readers, actually. Swap chapters, read for vibes, give your opinion (notice I did not say assessment). If you want something specific and actionable, ask for it. Do you feel your pacing/characterization/worldbuilding is off? Ask your reader to look at those things. If there's other feedback, that's a bonus!
The opening moments of the panel were devoted to types of critique, and I rattled off several that got the audience asking questions. Essentially, as a writer, you can ask for a positivity pass, a gut check or first impression, or a detailed look at certain aspects of your story. These are and/or situations, but again, to alleviate reader burden, it's best to start with just one. A positivity pass is a read with positive feedback only. Gut checks ask the question, "Would you read on? Have I hooked you?" And the detailed look falls into the realm of the critique partner, the person who takes a magnifying glass to your story and zeroes in on its weaknesses.
Ah, the critique partner. This term can be interchangeable with the beta reader or exist along the beta reader-critique partner continuum. Personally, I divide my readers into alpha readers, beta readers, and critique partners. My husband is my alpha reader, the person who sees whatever it was I just vomited and gives some general opinion-based feedback. He operates in the Mr. Le Guin sphere where he reads my thing and says, "That's good, honey," and that's all I want or expect from him. My writing friends are potential beta readers who read a chapter or two or half the book or the whole book and cheer me on or yell at me as needed. And my critique partner, of which I only have one currently, is my microscope user who watches my progress from chiseling the rock out of the mountain, to hauling it back to the studio, to staring at it to find what I'm going to sculpt, to smashing my thumb multiple times as I am tapping away. She gives me detailed breakdowns of chapters, an overarching look at characters, pace, and plot, and points out discrepancies in timeline of events and language usage.
One warning, though, to close out this post, which is based on personal experience because we've all needed to start from somewhere (it's me, I was the asshole, and now I'm a copyeditor, so at least the nitpickiness was put to good use). Do not, unless the writer asks you to, "fix" grammar in someone's manuscript. Simply do not do it. It's overwhelming, first of all, and it's surface-level reading. Don't let the dressing of the writing distract you from the substance of the writing. Gently query the places where you are confused. But for the most part, you should be able to understand the intent and meaning of the piece you're reading without hauling the red pen out.
Okay! That's the end of this incredibly disjointed and bumpy post. Next time, hopefully, I'll talk about the decolonization panel, which needed to be much longer than fifty minutes and could just be a course in itself.
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.
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.
In music, the term "ad libitum" means exactly what it says on the tin: do this freely; at your discretion; improvise. And if you're wondering where "ad lib" comes from, it's this term. This is how I have ended up structuring things here on this blog. I manage to write blog posts irregularly. I see my last post was from the end of August, though it doesn't feel that long ago to me.
I wanted to get more in depth on certain topics (by the way, "in depth" takes a hyphen when it directly modifies something else, like an in-depth look or an in-depth study, but is open when it is not modifying; did y'all know you'd be getting copyediting tips on this blog? Me neither.) like story structure and something I'm starting to call story kinesthetics or story physics, but I am still under several deadlines, and this is a procrastination exercise, so I'll keep it brief. Update-wise, BITTER MEDICINE is off on its copyediting journey and will hopefully return soon. I left mistakes in. This might come as a shock to people who know me, but I am not at a place where my time is so unclaimed that I can do a full copyedit on my book.
I did, however, hand a partially filled style sheet to my editor because I have fiddly language usage rules and I don't think a copyeditor would pick up on the pattern, as I myself have not been consistent in my use. That's how language works, really. I set rules in BITTER MEDICINE to mirror code-switching as best I could. Code-switching itself doesn't follow a strict rule set and is instead determined often by speaker comfort, situation, audience, etc. I live in a city where folks code-switch all the time, and it's fascinating to me when I am considered in and when I am considered out.
At any rate, October has been one deadline after another. I had planned to take November for NaNoWriMo and December to finish Key & Vale, the next manuscript (untitled, as most things are, so Key & Vale is the project name, the same way "temp agency" was the project name for BITTER MEDICINE), but October has seen fit to push rudely into November, which means no NaNo for me. I'll be catching up on slush reading, reading for crit, and finishing my draft of Key & Vale before the end of the year. I speak it aloud. I put it into the universe. So mote it be.
Next year should, barring something disastrous, be a better year for blogging. If I increase my output by 200%, that still means only eight posts instead of four. So I think I'm doing pretty well. But seeing as I have the memory of a squirrel (do I have the memory of a goldfish, or are stress and sleep deprivation having a negative impact on my ability to form short-term memories?), I want to put out ideas for blog topics in future, as the Brits say.
Here's the short list. It's short not because I have no ideas, but because my brain is empty.
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.