Wednesday, September 9, 2015


Robert Murray Davis has a review of The Confessions of a Number One Son in World Literature Today. Although brief, it features some incisive commentary on both the novel and its relationship to the overall arc of Frank Chin's career.

Here's the first paragraph, but check out the full review at the link below the excerpt:

As Calvin McMillin notes, and as longtime readers of Frank Chin’s work will realize, The Confessions of a Number One Son: The Great Chinese American Novel includes characters, episodes, and cultural references, most of them pop, that have appeared in plays, fiction, and essays, for to quote Chin, “It’s all part of the same kit.” McMillin has done a commendable job in assembling, from various scattered drafts of Chin’s novel, abandoned about four decades ago, a typescript of 662 pages and then cutting material used in later stories and novels to result in the version now published.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

PINBALL WIZARD -- A Look at Haruki Murakami's PINBALL, 1973

When I began reading Haruki Murakami’s work, the going rate on eBay for Kodansha’s English translation of Pinball, 1973 was well over $250 a copy. I couldn’t afford to pay that much for a novel (and wouldn’t if I could), but through a stroke of luck, I eventually scored a copy for fifteen bucks.  In my original 2010 review of the book, I wrote, "If Murakami ever allows the two novels to be released in the West, he’d do well to instruct the publisher to collate the two works as a single book. It’d make for more substantial reading." Well, that's exactly what happened. In August, Knopf released Wind/Pinball: Two Novels, a collection that includes new translations of both Hear the Wind Sing and Pinball, 1973.

Both Pinball, 1973 and its predecessor provide an interesting, if not entirely significant backstory to the events of Wild Sheep Chase — in fact, the three books are said to form the so-called “Trilogy of the Rat.” Characters and places featured in Wild Sheep Chase are actually introduced in Murakami's first two books: the unnamed narrator, his business partner, the aforementioned Rat, and J's Bar (not to mention J himself). In addition, both of these slender tomes provide an interesting primer to all things Murakami: references abound to all kinds of Murakami staples: elephants, ears, spaghetti, suicide by hanging in a forest, an old girlfriend named Naoko, and wells — the deep, dark, and bottomless kind.

Monday, August 24, 2015


“You keep looking at the sea and you start to miss being with people; you stay around people all the time and you just want to look at the sea. Funny about that.” 

-- Haruki Murakami, from Alfred Birnbaum's translation of Hear the Wind Sing.*

Published as Kaze no Uta o Kike in 1979, Hear the Wind Sing was later translated into English by Alfred Birnbaum in 1987. But funnily enough, despite Murakami's exploding global popularity in the years to follow, Birnbaum's translations of Hear the Wind Sing and its sequel Pinball, 1973 were not immediately made available to US and UK publishers. For the longest time, these English translations were exclusive to Japan as part of the Kodansha English Library. To my knowledge, Murakami has never provided a satisfactory answer as to why these works were withheld for so long, but I suspect the brevity of each novel might have factored into the decision.** Whatever the truth, thanks to a number of Japanese eBay sellers, these books did not remain completely out of reach for Murakami fans outside of Japan. In fact, I count myself among those fans lucky enough to purchase both books -- and at reasonable prices, too. But now, Murakami devotees no longer have to go to such lengths to obtain his early works. In August 2015, Knopf solved the problem by publishing Wind/Pinball, a double volume newly translated by Ted Goossen.

In a brand new introduction titled "The Birth of My Kitchen Table Fiction," Murakami fondly remembers the series of events that led to the writing of Hear the Wind Sing. While he was watching a baseball game, he suddenly became possessed with the idea of writing a novel, and so, while running a jazz bar with his wife, he would write for an hour every night after closing for the next three months. When the manuscript was completed, he submitted it to a literary magazine named Gunzo and, lo and behold, ended up winning its literary prize in the process. Not a bad start, eh? As a Murakami fan myself, I was already aware of this story, but what I didn't know -- and what Murakami reveals here, among many other things -- is that he sent Gunzo his only copy of the manuscript: "If they hadn't selected it, it probably would have vanished forever. (Gunzo didn't return rejected manuscripts.) Most likely too, I would have never written another novel. Life is strange" (xvi). Let that sink in for a second. That means no Wild Sheep Chase. No Norwegian Wood. No 1Q84.

Let's all send a note of thanks to Gunzo, shall we?

Wednesday, August 12, 2015


Eddie Chern, editor of Frank Chin's blog Chin Talks, conducted an extensive interview with me about my work on The Confessions of a Number One Son. We discuss everything from my background to my thoughts on what the novel's prospects might have been, if it had been published in the 1970s as originally intended. You can check out the full interview at link below:

Friday, July 24, 2015

Some Thoughts on ASIAN PULP

I wrote a piece on detective fiction, Asian American representation, and ASIAN PULP, alongside thoughts from fellow writers Naomi Hirahara, Steph Cha, and others. Below is an excerpt from my contribution -- check out the full article here.  

Down These Mean Streets: Asian American Pulp Fiction - See more at:

I have always enjoyed a good mystery. Even so, I didn’t recognize the genre’s true potential until I read Raymond Chandler’s The Long Goodbye. “The ideal mystery,” Chandler once wrote, “was one you would read if the end was missing.”* In other words, a good detective novel isn’t dependent on some big reveal, but on something more significant: “a certain intensity of artistic performance” involving character, style, and tone—among other things.** Inspired by Chandler’s literary aspirations, I began writing my own mystery novel featuring Sanjuro Jones—a half-Japanese, half-white journalism major searching for a missing student in a sleepy college town. Was I simply using the mystery genre to write about myself? Certainly not. I was a half-Chinese, half-white English major living in a sleepy college town—completely different. 

All joking aside, Sanjuro’s creation arose from necessity. Simply put, I noticed a dearth of compelling Asian and Asian American characters in detective fiction. Even in the Chandler novels I admired, characters of Asian descent served as little more than window dressing—perhaps less overtly racist than in the fiction of the time, but no less stereotypical. In fact, it seemed like the only existing Asian detectives in pop culture were walking, talking stereotypes—Charlie Chan, Mr. Moto, and Mr. Wong, all of whom were portrayed by white actors on the silver screen. Despite whatever heroic attributes these “Oriental detectives” were meant to embody, there’s no denying their blatant phoniness—in mannerism, accent, and appearance. “Yellowface” was never about casting the best actor; it was simply a product of Hollywood racism.

Read the rest here:

*Introduction to the 1950 edition of Trouble Is My Business.

**Letter to Erle Stanley Gardner dated January 29, 1946.


Martha Nakagawa wrote a positive review of The Confessions of a Number One Son for the Nichi Bei Weekly that also has some mighty complimentary things to say about yours truly. Check out an excerpt of the review below before reading the full critique here.

Calvin McMillin is to be commended for breathing life into a long-lost novel by Frank Chin, a writer who has been instrumental in shaping Asian American literature.

“The Confessions of a Number One Son,” although written more than four decades ago, is proof positive that Chin is a master wordsmith, whose prose brim with word plays, stream of consciousness and a cast of characters that only Chin could conjure up.

“Confessions” is a sequel to “The Chickencoop Chinaman,” and follows the adventures or rather, the misadventures of Golford Tam Lum.

Read the full review here:

Monday, July 6, 2015

ASIAN PULP is now available!

 My short story "The Sushi Bar at the Edge of Forever" is being published in Pro Se Productions' latest anthology, Asian Pulp! Check out the press release below. The book can be purchased in paperback or for Kindle on!



In April 2013, Pro Se Productions released ‘Black Pulp’, a collection of stories written in classic pulp genres featuring lead characters of African descent. Not only were readers captivated by the cast of characters featured in the book, they also saw the potential of future volumes, both of ‘Black Pulp’, and collections featuring other ethnicities in much the same way. Pro Se Productions proudly announces the release of ‘Asian Pulp’, featuring seventeen of today’s best authors, in both print and digital format.

Leonard Chang, novelist and writer and co-producer of the TV crime drama ‘Justified’, states in his introduction to ‘Asian Pulp’, “The world of pulp fiction was a world that I understood—it was a reaction to trauma, both as art and as catharsis. Personal trauma. Emotional trauma. Physical trauma. National trauma. This is why I responded to it, why I immersed myself in it. And why, whenever I was in a personal and artistic crisis, it saved me. Fiction is a reflection of and commentary on life, and I needed to find a reflection of and commentary on my life.

That there weren't any Asian Americans in the pulp I was reading wasn't a problem (or if there were Asians they tended to be dismissible stereotypes) -- no, not a problem at all, but actually an opportunity. I've always viewed writing as providing myself with more reading material. I write what I can't find out there. Why not have a Korean American act as a private eye, and infuse in his character all the traits I wanted to see but haven't? Why not write about Korean American gangsters, criminals, and detectives? And this is where we, as writers, all began moving toward: writing about people we want to see on the page, in lives and stories that speak to us.”

Following in the tradition of the best selling ‘Black Pulp’, from Today's Best Authors and up and coming writers comes ‘Asian Pulp’ from Pro Se Productions! A collection of stories featuring characters of Asian origin or descent in stories that run the gamut of genre fiction!

‘Asian Pulp’ includes works from Don Lee, Naomi Hirahara, Kimberly Richardson, Percival Constantine, William F. Wu, Gary Phillips, Calvin McMillin, Mark Finn, Dale Furutani, Steph Cha, Henry Chang, Sean Taylor, Gigi Pandian, Louise Herring-Jones, Alan J. Porter, and David C. Smith. The anthology opens with an introduction from Leonard Chang.

Friday, May 15, 2015


I am happy to announce that I am the proud recipient of a 2015 Sisters in Crime Academic Research Grant! I'll be using the award to help finish my book project on Asian American detective fiction and write a brand new chapter focusing on Asian American women and the mystery genre! Many thanks to Sisters In Crime!


For the first time, Sisters in Crime has awarded grants to support scholars who are studying gender and diversity in crime fiction. These grants will cover up to $500 toward the purchase of books needed for research. 

The four grant recipients are:

Jon Blandford – Reinvestigating Domestic Detective Fiction. Blanford, an assistant professor of English at Bellarmine University in Louisville, Kentucky, is conducting research on late nineteenth-century women writers of crime fiction with a domestic focus, which will be published in a history of American crime fiction to be published by Cambridge University Press.

Ellen Burton Harrington - The Rise of the American Woman Detective: Gender and Detective Genre in Green, Doyle, and Rinehart. An assistant professor of English at the University of South Alabama in Mobile, Harrington is also contributing to the Cambridge history, with a focus on contextualizing the work of Anna Katharine Green and Mary Roberts Rinehart historically, examining how these authors influenced one another and anticipated the rise of the hard-boiled feminist detective.

Calvin McMillin – Yellow Noir: The Asian American Detective in American Popular Culture. McMillin, who recently received his PhD in literature from the University of California, Santa Cruz and is currently teaching writing at Washtenaw Community College in Ann Arbor, Michigan, is working on a book project that will be the first critical analysis of literary and cinematic detective stories featuring Asian Americans. This grant will particularly support his research on a chapter on contemporary Asian-American women crime writers.

Catherine Oliver - Ordeal by Access: Issues in the Classification and Cataloging of Crime Fiction. Oliver, an assistant professor and metadata and cataloging services librarian at Northern Michigan University in Marquette, Michigan, will be examining weaknesses in the rules for cataloging fiction which particularly influence the discoverability of genres traditionally associated with women. With a goal of presenting her research at the Popular Culture Association and publishing her findings, Oliver will outline some theoretical concepts and provide practical idea to improve discovery in library catalogs. 

“These projects speak to Sisters in Crime’s mission, to promote the ongoing advancement, recognition and professional development of women crime writers,” according to Barbara Fister, board member and coordinator of an ongoing project to monitor the gender breakdown of book reviews. “We’re delighted to help these accomplished early-career scholars advance our understanding of women’s contribution to the genre.”

Friday, April 3, 2015

Frank Chin's THE CONFESSIONS OF A NUMBER ONE SON (2015) is now available for purchase!

In the early 1970s, Frank Chin, the outspoken Chinese American author of such plays as The Chickencoop Chinaman and The Year of the Dragon, wrote a full-length novel that was never published and presumably lost. Nearly four decades later, Calvin McMillin, a literary scholar specializing in Asian American literature, would discover Chin’s original manuscripts and embark on an extensive restoration project. Meticulously reassembled from multiple extant drafts, Frank Chin’s “forgotten” novel is a sequel to The Chickencoop Chinaman and follows the further misadventures of Tam Lum, the original play’s witty protagonist.

Haunted by the bitter memories of a failed marriage and the untimely death of a beloved family member, Tam flees San Francisco’s Chinatown for a life of self-imposed exile on the Hawaiian island of Maui. After burning his sole copy of a manuscript he believed would someday be hailed as “The Great Chinese American Novel,” Tam stumbles into an unlikely romance with Lily, a former nun fresh out of the convent and looking for love. In the process, he also develops an unusual friendship with Lily’s father, a washed-up Hollywood actor once famous for portraying Charlie Chan on the big screen. Thanks in no small part to this bizarre father/daughter pair, not to mention an array of equally quirky locals, Tam soon discovers that his otherwise laidback island existence has been transformed into a farce of epic proportions.

Had it been published in the 1970s as originally intended, The Confessions of a Number One Son might have changed the face of Asian American literature as we know it. Written at the height of Frank Chin’s creative powers, this formerly “lost” novel ranks as the author’s funniest, most powerful, and most poignant work to date. Now, some forty years after its initial conception, The Confessions of a Number One Son is finally available to readers everywhere.

The novel is available for purchase on and directly from the University of Hawai'i Press (click here for link). 

 Frank Chin is an award-winning playwright, novelist, and cultural critic. His first two plays, The Chickencoop Chinaman and The Year of the Dragon, remain seminal works in the history of Asian American theater. Chin’s books include Donald Duk, Gunga Din Highway, and Bulletproof Buddhists. He is also the co-editor of two landmark anthologies of Asian American literature: Aiiieeeee! and its sequel, The Big Aiiieeeee!

Calvin McMillin is a writer, teacher, and scholar. Born in Singapore and raised in rural Oklahoma, he received his PhD in literature from the University of California, Santa Cruz. He writes fiction and previously worked as a film critic for, a Hong Kong cinema Web site.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015


Photo by Nancy Wong

Frank Abe has written the first review of Frank Chin's The Confessions of a Number One Son for The International Examiner. Founded in 1974, The International Examiner has long maintained a mission "to serve the Asian Pacific American communities by providing accurate, in-depth, timely, and sensitive coverage of local, regional, national, and international issues which affect us." It should be noted that Abe has special insight into Frank Chin's writing, as he was not only a founding member of Chin’s Asian American Theater Workshop in San Francisco, but he later worked with the author in creating the first Day of Remembrance in Seattle. Read below for a taste of Abe's review before jumping over to The International Examiner for the full story.

The emergence 40 years later of a tightly edited, slimmed-down version of a long-lost novel from the writer who first defined Asian American literature is an unexpected gift.

That’s because to read The Confessions of a Number One Son in 2015 is to peel back the decades and discover the creative foundation of the plays and later fiction of Frank Chin, in the moment before he became consumed with the polemics of separating the real from the fakery in the work of others.

In an early 1970s America where the postwar generation was just coming of age—where the world still celebrated the model minority, the Chinese Christian autobiographies of Betty Lee Sung and Pardee Lowe, and the movie stereotype of Charlie Chan—Frank Chin was putting a self-proclaimed Chinaman voice at the center of his stories. It was an act of self-invention he was perfecting in tandem with his better-known stage plays, The Chickencoop Chinaman and Year of the Dragon.

Read the full review here:

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Welcome (Back) to RONIN ON EMPTY!

Tony Leung Chiu-Wai in Wong Kar-Wai's 2046

Hi, welcome to Ronin on Empty, the home of my personal blog. In the early days, this was intended to be a site dedicated to Asian and Asian American pop culture, albeit with a heavy emphasis on cinema. Ronin on Empty was previously housed at, and after a long hiatus, it returned briefly to its original home on I've retained the handful of reviews I wrote during that short period, but from this point forward, the blog will be much more free-form -- occasional news, reviews, musings, and much more -- especially since I now have some works of my own to share!

For those who might be curious, the title of this blog goes back to my college days. When I was an undergraduate at Oklahoma State University, I wrote a detective novel titled Ronin on Empty. Because of graduate school (among other things), I had to move on to other academic and creative projects, but the good news is that I will be revisiting the book this summer and may even attempt to convince someone to publish it! But for now, I'm more than happy to use it as the title of my blog (and Twitter handle!). So, that's the backstory...

Hope you enjoy Ronin on Empty!