Essays is a new line of writing for me. It started out with the occasional request to write a journalistic piece, say, on a political demonstration. These days, my essays range from book reviews to craft discussions, OpEd pieces to feature articles, and onward toward creative nonfiction and the lyric essay. Here they are.
For some time now, I’ve been learning to write lyric essays. Thanks to a couple of wonderful workshops with Joanna Penn Cooper, a deep dive into the work of lyric essayists like Claudia Rankine, Jo Ann Beard, and Maggie Nelson, and some good hard pokes from my writing buddies, I took the plunge. I submitted an essay for the 2022 Kenyon Review Short Nonfiction Contest.
“Fish Tales” is an essay about childhood, Los Angeles, and leaving home. These topics have been swimming in my mind ever since my father passed away in 2020. They came to the surface when my mother moved out of Los Angeles and I had no choice but to say goodbye to all that.
In selecting “Fish Tales” as the winner of the 2022 contest, Maggie Nelson wrote:
‘Fish Tales’ has great rhythm and propulsion. It’s pretty then gross then sad then worrying then exciting. It slips in and out of weird synecdoche, swerves with grace between divergent forms of address. It treads on cultural fault lines, familial discord, sensory experience, the move from childhood to adulthood, without wasting time explaining. I’d read a book of it.Maggie Nelson, Kenyon Review 2022
“Fish Tales” will be published in the Nov/Dec 2022 issue of Kenyon Review.
The Cleaver Quarterly
From concept pitch to live date, it’s been a three year long journey for my essay, “Lord Millet.” This is my thought experiment on the evolution of millet in the Chinese kitchen, as told through the eyes of six avatars.
Should he plant his millet today or next month? Will it grow better in the shadow of his home or close to the reeds where the wild millet grows? He is the first in his family to try to tame the millet that runs wild along the banks of Lake Baiyangdian. Who can he ask but the gods?Karen Kao, “Lord Millet” in The Cleaver Quarterly
From neolithic times to modern-day Aohan, it was a hoot to research this essay for The Cleaver Quarterly. And a true learning experience to write and re-write this piece as I struggled to master the fine art of the long-form essay. Why work so hard on one piece? Because “The Cleaver Quarterly tells you everything you wanted to know but never knew to ask about Chinese food.” Publication date: 22 Nov 2021
The Habtic Standard
I had never tried my hand at journalism before, let alone a feature article. But thanks to friends in high places, I got my first chance at The Habtic Standard, an online magazine
dedicated to providing a singular, authoritative voice in the opportunistic jungle of corporate wellness.
My article, The Long View, offers a perspective — historical, geographical and multidisciplinary —on how businesses could learn from coronavirus. Publication date 06.07.2020.
How cool is this? The Long View makes it into the top 5 favorite reads in The Habtic Standard. Don't believe me? Read it in the words of editor-in-chief, Mindy Ran. Publication dated 25.06.2021
Another first! An OpEd piece for the 2021 new year’s issue of The Habtic Standard. My job was to say goodbye to 2020. Publication date: 15.01.2021.
Another OpEd piece on one of my least favorite habits: corporate jargon. Also known as Lost in Translation. Publication date: 15.04.2021.
A little bit off the beaten track for me in terms of publishing venues, but why not write for a group of fanatical hikers? Expat Hikers is a community of hikers and a great platform for me to write about hiking while traveling around the world.
- Sunrise Trekking in Taiwan’s Alishan National Forest. Publication date: 12.09.2019.
- Hiking among the Temples of Angkor Wat. Publication date: 26.09.2019
- Japan’s Long-Distance Trail – The Nakasendo. Publication date 05.12.2019.
International Writers’ Collective
I teach at the International Writer’s Collective. Level 1 creative writing for poetry and fiction. It’s a wonderful experience watching these writers grow. I’m hoping that they will go all the way: to finish that great short story or poem they brought to class. For some of them, writing is an end in and of itself. But for those students who want to see their names in bright lights, here’s an article I wrote: If you want to get published. Publication date 24.07.2019
How to write historical fiction: well, the title says it all. This time, I’ve drilled down to the building blocks we teach at the International Writers’ Collective — plot, characters, description, dialogue, and setting — to look at their respective roles in the theater called historical fiction. Publication date: 08.04.2019
For my students and aspiring writers everywhere, I wrote about the ways in which I trick myself into writing every day. Getting started is the hardest part for some. Getting unstuck is the challenge for others. Me? I just stay in bed for My daily practice. Publication date: 01.12.2020
The Common is an online and print literary magazine hosted at Amherst College. Its mission is to deepen our individual and collective sense of place. And since I’m obsessed with the city of Shanghai, I’ve had my eye on this literary magazine as a place to get published. They post the coolest essays.
So you can imagine how proud I am that my piece, The Mapmaker, made it into The Common Online. My essay is a work of creative nonfiction that blends memories, real and imagined, of my first trip to Shanghai. Publication date: 11.07.2019.
Can you believe it? The Masters Review chooses "The Mapmaker" for its July edition of New Writing on the Net! Publication date: 25.07.2019.
This is nice. "The Mapmaker" gets included in The Common's reading list to honor Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. May 2022
A 7 month trip around the world was bound to offer inspiration. But I had no idea that coronavirus was going to be the impetus for this Dispatch for The Common Online. Going Home is about sheltering in place while on the road. Publication date: 25.03.2020.
In my never-ending quest for world domination, I’ve cast my eyes about the blogosphere and particularly in the direction where Asian books rule. There is only one book review site that qualifies for attention: bookish.asia. This is what they say about themselves.
Bookish Asia is a book review site dedicated to showcasing quality fiction and non-fiction works about Asia. It is the creation of the three founders of Camphor Press: Michael Cannings, John Ross and Mark Swofford.
I’ll be writing occasional reviews for these fine folks. Here’s my first review of the Japanese classic: Palm-of-the-Hand Stories by Kawabata Yasunari. Published 21.06.2018.
And here’s review #2: The Stolen Bicycle by Wu Ming-Yi, long-listed for the Man Booker International Prize 2018. Published 16.09.2018.
My most recent review for Bookish Asia is a whopper. The three Han Kang novels that have been translated to date into English: The Vegetarian, Human Acts, and The White Book. Published 30.03.2019.
Review #4: Wild Geese Sorrow: The Chinese Wall Inscriptions at Angel Island. New translations by Jeffrey Thomas Leong. Published 20.04.2019.
My 5th review is of Hong Kong Noir, a short story collection edited by Jason Y. Ng and Susan Blumberg-Kason. Published 20.06.2019.
Of course, this is only a small selection of my book reviews. You can find the rest here, Book by Book.
Authors Electric is a platform for independently-published authors who like to write about writing. Starting 10.04.2018, I became a regular contributor. Here’s my list so far:
- On the importance of setting in fiction 10.04.2018
- What exactly is creative nonfiction 10.05.2018
- The next big thing: sensitivity readers 10.06.2018
- The not-so-gentle art of editing a novel 10.07.2018
- Fear of rejection 10.08.2018
- On blogging 10.09.2018
- Writing as a second act 10.10.2018
- Origami for authors 10.11.2018
- When to end a short story 10.12.2018
- Starting over 10.01.2019
- Writing between languages 10.02.2019
- How to write (violent) historical fiction 10.03.2019
- On 100 rejections 10.04.2019
- To teach or not to teach 10.05.2019
- On rage, fear, and hope (aka manuscript revision) 10.06.2019
- How to write interlocking short stories 10.07.2019
- On labels and Charlottesville 2 years later 10.08.2019
- On navigating a city using a mind map 10.09.2019
- Why point of view is a critical writing choice. 10.10.2019
- Finding a good critique group 10.11.2019
- On hermit crabs and memoir 10.12.2019
- On how not to write historical fiction 10.01.2020
- Being mindful 10.02.2020
- On the art of translation 10.03.2020
- How to write dialogue 10.04.2020
- Can I write while on the road? 10.05.2020
- On writing and making choices 10.06.2020
- On the dangers of cultural appropriation 10.07.2020
- The accident of becoming a book reviewer 10.08.2020
- On the language of women 10.09.2020
- Serendipity 10.10.2020
- Leaving blood on the page 10.11.2020
- The sounds of writing 10.12.2020
- How to craft characters 10.01.2021
- On writing historical fiction 10.02.2021
- Writing the other 10.03.2021
- My writing practice 10.04.2021
- Shadow box 10.05.2021
- Oh god | Omniscient Narrators 10.06.2021
- Crafting the Mosaic of a lyric essay 10.07.2021
- Read to Write | Annie Dillard 10.08.2021
- Close Reading | Francine Prose 10.09.2021
- Russians | George Saunders 10.10.2021
This is a serendipitous tale. My friend Tori Egherman is looking for sources to use on a story she’s writing about the rise of racism in the Netherlands. I say, hey, I’m writing about the same thing, here’s my draft. Lo and behold: we both end up on the website of Global Voices, a borderless community for citizen media reporting and my essays on current affairs begins. Global Voices published Hitting a Low Point in the Low Countries on 21.03.2018. As of 10.04.2018, that piece has been translated into 繁體中文, 简体中文, Ελληνικά, Malagasy, Français, Deutsch, Español, Nederlands and Italiano.
Article number three! The Cop and the Showgirl was republished on 01.11.2018. It’s also about China, this time its newest and most frightening detention system called liuzhi. Also available in Italiano and Español.
Nunum.ca is a brand-new website that blends flash fiction with visual art from its home in Canada. Editor Geoffrey Miller found me through a short story I wrote for Cha, a Hong Kong literary journal, and asked if I would write something for his blog, something about writing, because he liked my voice. Notes on a Palm-of-the-Hand Story is a riff on flash fiction inspired by the eponymous collection by Kawabata Yasunari. Published 14.02.2018.
Don’t miss my short story Frogs also published by Nunum in the Fall 2018 issue!
The Shanghai Literary Review
It was a long-shot for me. A competition for essays on the theme of Concrete. I started writing and ended up with Memory Palace, a work of creative non-fiction about the way memory feeds into my fiction. It had little to do with concrete but lucky for me, the editors at The Shanghai Literary Review liked it. Published in Issue No. 2, December 2017.
News flash: The Shanghai Literary Review nominates Memory Palace for The Best of the Net anthology. Read more here.
I have struggled my entire life with labels. I don’t want to count toward any diversity quota. Don’t look at my gender, ethnicity or immigrant status. Don’t treat me differently because I’m one of them.
But in order to succeed as a writer, you need to carve out a niche for yourself. And now I’ve found mine. We Are Not Labels was published on 20.07.2017. This first in a long series of essays on gender and race.
Then I changed my mind. You can check out my thinking these days in Labels and Charlottesville.
This online platform dedicates itself to the quality of women living a fearless life after fifty.
Kitten Heels is about how I transformed myself from corporate lawyer to writer. And why it would have been impossible to write my novel, The Dancing Girl and the Turtle, at any age other than the one I am now: 57. Published by Fiftiness on 29.06.2017 and republished with permission on my blog.
As my 60th birthday has since come and gone, I guess I won’t be writing any more essays about being 50.
Blessed Are the Cheesemakers is a guest blog post (published 26.01.2017) that I wrote at the request of Femflection.com founder Anja Uitdehaag. She asked me to report on the Women’s March in Amsterdam. My first attempt at political essays. Here’s my take on the Women’s March and my own slow transformation from apathetic sideliner to activist.
Ping-Pong: The Editing Process is a joint blog post for my publisher Linen Press. Director Lynn Michell and I talk about the editing process. Read how we transformed The Dancing Girl and the Turtle from a promising manuscript into a polished novel. (She was Ping and I was Pong. Or the other way around, I forget.) Published 23.01.2017.
In the direct aftermath of the Trump election, I wrote my American swan song. That piece, Amerika is mijn land niet meer, ended up on the OpEd page of the Dutch national newspaper NRC Handelsblad (11 November 2016). This is the first of my OpEd essays to appear in Dutch and English. You can read the English version under the title These Boots Are Made for Walking.
I loved being backstage at the Stadsschouwburg, the Amsterdam temple to theater. The occasion for this visit was TEDx Amsterdam. You can read about that madness in one of my earliest essays, The View from Backstage – TEDxAms 2015 (November 2015).
This webpage was last updated on 23.10.2021.