I’m thrilled to have a guest post by Mia Tsai to share with you today! Her debut novel, Bitter Medicine, is a xianxia-inspired contemporary fantasy book about a magical calligrapher descended from the Chinese god of medicine working with a half-elf security expert. It will be available in trade paperback and ebook next week—on March 14!


Cover of Bitter Medicine by Mia Tsai
Cover Art by Jialing Pan
More Information & Book Excerpt



In this inspired contemporary fantasy, a Chinese immortal and a French elf navigate romance, family loyalty, and workplace demands. In her debut novel, Mia Tsai has created a paranormal adventure that is full of humor, passion, and depth.

As a descendant of the Chinese god of medicine, ignored middle child Elle was destined to be a doctor. Instead, she is underemployed as a mediocre magical calligrapher at the fairy temp agency, paranoid that her murderous younger brother will find her and their elder brother. Using her full abilities will expose Elle’s location. Nevertheless, she challenges herself by covertly outfitting Luc, her client and crush, with high-powered glyphs.

Half-elf Luc, the agency’s top security expert, has his own secret: he’s responsible for a curse laid on two children from an old assignment. To heal them, he’ll need to perform his job duties with unrelenting excellence and earn time off from his tyrannical boss.

When Elle saves Luc’s life on a mission, he brings her a gift and a request for stronger magic to ensure success on the next job—except the next job is hunting down Elle’s younger brother.

As Luc and Elle collaborate, their chemistry blooms. Happiness, for once, is an option for them both. But Elle is loyal to her family, and Luc is bound by his true name. To win freedom from duty, they must make unexpected sacrifices.

The Case for Aftermaths

I love endings. They’re easily my favorite part of the book both to read and write, so much so that when I read a book, I often peek at the ending well before I get there just to get a sense of what I should expect. It’s reassuring, in a way, to know that things will coalesce and turn out for good or ill. As a writer, I write toward my ending; I never start a project without knowing exactly how it ends.

Endings are predictable: the hero wins or loses following a stirring climax, which is often a confrontation of some kind. The reader walks away from the book (or the arc, or the chapter, or anything that might constitute an ending because books are full of endings) with the satisfaction of the win or the ache of the loss and many feelings, depending on the complexity of said win or loss. It’s often here that an author will stop the story (or start a new story) because it’s a logical place to stop.

But what I love more than endings are aftermaths.

I’m a character-driven reader and writer. No matter the magic and wonder in a book, especially in a fantasy, I’m drawn to the realities and contradictions of being human. We’re messy and flawed and have emotions we sometimes can’t control. We take action and then face the consequences of those actions. Characters in books go through so many traumatic events, events that form endings—and then very little is said about what happens immediately after. Sometimes, I think about the ending of William Goldman’s The Princess Bride, where—spoiler alert, if you haven’t read it—he has his heroes ride off into the sunset, quite literally, allowing the reader to bask in the happy ending until “S. Morgenstern” inserts a series of awful things that happen five minutes later. Goldman then has to cut in to make sure the reader gets the satisfying ending that was promised.

Except I wasn’t that reader. I had questions, you see. How was Westley supposed to sit a horse after his ordeal? For that matter, how was Fezzik supposed to sit a horse? And aren’t they all being chased? Is that book two material?

I think about what happens next all the time because storylines are not lines, but cycles. Stories can be engines of perpetual motion, where every ending becomes a beginning. Where, after the big conflict, you sift through the ashes and find the seeds of growth. I like to joke, except I’m being very serious, that when I find a place of maximum pain in the story, I go and press on it a little more to see what happens. I write five minutes past the ending to see if there’s something more the characters can give. The instinct is to stop where it hurts, but sometimes, if you push further, you’ll find the scene extends in ways you hadn’t anticipated. That five minutes can turn into ten minutes, and then suddenly, there’s a new depth of emotion.

So: the aftermath. The denouement. I am invested in a denouement where the sun still rises on the next day. We don’t often get to see the climactic story events reverberating through the text, especially not in the direct thereafter, but those ripples are the story to me. I want to ask What now? and get an answer. I want to see how characters approach rebuilding, because that can be more difficult than the fighting, or how they heal their minds and spirits along with their bodies.

Two examples of aftermath stories come to mind: the Scouring of the Shire and the end of Suzanne Collins’s Mockingjay. The Scouring of the Shire, when I first read it as a kid, felt tacked-on to me, as if it were just one more way for Frodo, Sam, Merry, and Pippin to suffer. As a child, I loved the neatness of Sauron’s fall, of Aragorn’s crowning and wedding and Praise them with great praise! As an adult, though, I see the necessity of the Scouring. War exacts a heavy toll and nothing remains untouched by it, and I respect Tolkien for staying with his characters—and himself—and showing us the human toll. Likewise, in Mockingjay, we see (spoilers once again!) how life is not always happy for Katniss and Peeta, and how their new normal, for however long it stretches, is only bearable if they have each other.

This really hits, for me, at the heart of what it means to tell a story. No matter the trappings of the setting, no matter the cool factor or the ooh, shiny!, the story is about human emotion and connection at every level. An aftermath, then, is a way to extend those connections and get deeper insight on who the characters are, to reveal their frailties in the best and worst of situations.

I’ll admit, though, not everyone likes to see what comes after, especially if a story isn’t supposed to be that deep. And Western media likes to present solutions like they’re event horizons to be crossed. It’s much easier to imagine the big win will fix everything. But the reality of it is that nothing is tidy, not even in worlds where everything is made up. Embrace the idea of looking beyond the goal. Use an aftermath to show that the sun will still rise tomorrow. Give us aftermaths so we can process alongside our heroes.

Photo of Mia Tsai
Photo Credit: Wynne Photography
Mia Tsai is a Taiwanese American author of speculative fiction. She lives in Atlanta with her family and, when not writing, is a hype woman for her orchids and a devoted cat gopher. Her favorite things include music of all kinds (really, truly) and taking long trips with nothing but the open road and a saucy rhythm section. She has been quoted in Glamour once. In her other lives, she is a professional editor, photographer, and musician. Mia is on Twitter at @itsamia and on Instagram at @mia.tsai.books.