Selected Essays

lithub.jpg

Giving Thanks Is a Political Act - Lit Hub

An editor recently asked me to contribute to a Thanksgiving roundup piece. I’d like to create some positivity, he said; tell me what you’re thankful for. At the end, he added a stern one-line caveat: “I’m not using anything about politics.” Here’s what I wrote in response.

Read More


NYT logo.jpg

SCIENTIFIC METHOD - NEW YORK TIMES MAGAZINE "LIVES" COLUMN

The Betty Crocker from my mother’s cookbook is the quintessential all-American homemaker. But in 1968, my mother was neither American nor a homemaker. She was 22 and had just left Hong Kong for West Lafayette, Ind., where my father was starting a Ph.D. program at Purdue.

READ MORE


Glimmer Train.jpg

WRITING THE (QUIET) OMNISCIENT NARRATOR - GLIMMER TRAIN BULLETIN

This novel needed someone to tell the story purposefully, framing it for the reader, weaving these different stories—which took place over more than a decade—into one. In short, what this novel needed was (gulp) an omniscient narrator.

The idea made me incredibly uncomfortable. To me, omniscient narrator called to mind the Dickens model: a Big Booming Voice who bossed the characters around, a know-it-all who judged everything. Someone very unlike me. 

READ MORE


KR Online logo.jpg

CAPTIONING EMILY - KENYON REVIEW ONLINE

What I find is that I’m not the only one looking for meaning in Emily’s death. People who knew her even less well than I did—people who never met her—plug the hole of her death with their opinions. 

READ MORE


fwr-logo-hires-300x292.jpg

STRANGER THAN FACT: WHY WE NEED FICTION IN A WORLD OF MEMOIRS - FICTION WRITERS REVIEW

Unlike the memoirist, who promises to tell the truth, the fiction writer says upfront, “I am going to tell you a lie, but at the end you will feel that it is true.” He or she is a kind of magician who makes sure you know that the flames are only an illusion before letting you burn your fingers in them.

READ MORE 



Selected SHORT Fiction

STEFG Short Story Award.jpg

Every Little Thing - Sunday Times/EFG Short Story Award

First let me try and explain: it’s like falling into deep, deep water. A sudden plunge that knocks your breath away, and once you go under, you forget which way is up. One minute I’m in line at the bank, or crossing the street, or pushing my cart through the Sav-Mart. Then something trips me and my memory opens up and I tumble in. 

Read More


How to Be Chinese - Gulf Coast

Take pleasure in the surprise on people’s faces when you say, “My name is Mackenzie Altman.” When they ask, explain that yes, your mother adopted you from China; no, you don’t know your birth parents; no, you don’t speak the language. Smile politely when they say you have no accent.

Read More


Girls, At Play - Bellevue Literary Review

This is how we play the game: pink means kissing; red means tongue. Green means up your shirt; blue means down his pants. Purple means in your mouth. Black means all the way. 

Read More 



ON TWITTER

Does Twitter count as writing? I say yes, yes, a hundred and forty characters yes. For miscellaneous musings, check my Twitter feed (@pronounced_ing):