A Generalist is not a Specialist ~ Outside the Margins with Atom Yang

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When I was a kid, I used to watch The Incredible Hulk. Besides the science fiction and comic book aspect of the show, I think I related to the Hulk in much the same way that people who feel they are outsiders and misunderstood relate to other misunderstood outsiders—whether it’s X-men or vampires or black rappers.

In addition to the kinship I felt to a man who tried to keep a green anger monster under control, the show impressed upon me this idea of a wanderer who would help people in need wherever he went (it’s the premise of many a show, including Kung Fu, which Samuel L. Jackson’s character breaks down in a great scene from Pulp Fiction), but more than that, somebody who would do odd jobs as a way of supporting his adventure.

Well, not so much an adventure for him as it was for the audience—for Dr. Bruce Banner, it was self-exile for the safety of others. I think in writing this, I realize that as a kid, I connected with him on the sense of shame that there was something inherently wrong and unlovable about him. But I digress.

I took it upon myself as a young writer and would-be adventurer who followed in the footsteps of his role models and heroes (TV and book characters) to learn about the world and have as many jobs and careers that interested me. To date, and this won’t be an exhaustive list, I’ve worked as:

Certified Massage Practitioner

Bank Teller

Medical Transcriptionist


Comic Book Writer

American Sign Language Interpreter


Suspect Sketch Artist

Personal Coach


Fine Artist

Interior Designer

And many more…

I’ve learned a lot, from the work itself and the people who did the work. I’ve met cool people who are still friends and others I hope I’ll never meet again.

During those years of wandering—and I’m not sure I’m done yet—I sometimes doubted the success and worthiness of my life. My friends were starting families, buying houses, saving for retirement. I felt lost, and maybe part of that was my inner monster kept me from knowing what I truly wanted to do, because I somehow didn’t deserve to do it.

However, I have wasted nothing in this endeavor to tell stories to you. I bring everything I’ve experienced, learned, heard, and questioned into my stories. I bring my curiosity, persistence, and I hope some humility to this opportunity and privilege to entertain you as we spin on this Earth together.

Bruce Banner searched for a cure: how to get rid of his monster. This quest took him places, he did many things, and he helped a lot of people in the process.  Not merely in spite of the monster, but because of it.

So the lesson for me in the end isn’t to banish the creature and avoid emotions, but to let the so-called monster out, and embrace its incredible, unstoppable ability to move me forward in what is to me, a great adventure.

~Atom Yang


Title: Red Envelope
Author: Atom Yang
Publisher: MLR Press
Publication Date: 12/04/2015
Cover Artist: Kris Jacen
Genre: Contemporary, Drama, Fiction, Gay, Gay Fiction, Gay Romance, Humor/Comedy, New Adult, Other Holiday, Romance, Winter Holiday


The Lunar New Year is the biggest holiday in the Chinese calendar, a time for family reunions, and for saying goodbye to the past and hello to the future. Clint, however, doesn’t want to bid farewell to what happened after last year’s celebration, when he and his Cousin Maggie’s handsome Caucasian friend, Weaver, shared an unexpected but long-desired passionate encounter. East is East and West is West, and Weaver seems to want to keep it that way, but maybe Clint can bridge that great divide this coming New Year, and show Weaver what it means to be loved and accepted.



Growing up, I lived two lives.

In one life, I watched the same programs and played the same video games as the other kids in my neighborhood. We skated, made friends, got into fights, and did most of our homework. My name was Clint, and I was named after Clint Eastwood because my maternal grandfather loved the TV show, Rawhide, cowboys, and the Wild West (despite how the Chinese were treated during that time and place) and wanted me to have a real American name. I’m grateful they didn’t pick Rowdy.

In my other life, I went to Chinese school on Sundays where my teachers called me by my Chinese name, and I got extra homework on how to be more Chinese. I had to learn to read and write in a language I rarely saw in my daily life, although I spoke and heard it every day from my parents. It was a bummer, but I suppose it made me realize how much being Chinese was about doing Chinese things, and how much being American for me was about doing twice as many things, and being who you are was about doing one thing: staying true to yourself.

Once I understood that, I didn’t live two lives anymore. I lived one.

Chapter One

I called up my mom to make sure I had the family recipe right for mapo tofu. It’s a spicy dish that’s usually made with ground pork, but I told her I was leaving the meat out to offer an option to my favorite aunt and host of the celebration, Shirley, who had become a vegetarian since the death of my uncle last year.

“Your mapo tofu is not vegetarian,” my mother said in Mandarin, “it has garlic in it.”

“Garlic is not slow meat that got stuck in dirt, Ma,” I replied testily in Mandarin. My generation spoke to each other in English, but to our parents and elders, we spoke Chinese.

“I’m not criticizing you, don’t be so sensitive!” my mother shot back. “I’m only telling you so you’ll know. Onions and garlic, they’re not considered vegetarian.”

Yes, I’m going to ask it, because some Chinese ways were foreign to me. “Why are they not considered vegetarian?” I said in a calmer tone. Mea culpa for snapping at my mom.

“Oh, it increases your yang,” she answered.

“Are you saying it makes you, uh, makes you want to, um…” What was the word for horny and sex in Mandarin? I never learned that vocabulary in Chinese school.

“Make love,” she said conspiratorially with a giggle. The words were translated literally from English.

“Ma, that’s silly. I’ve never noticed that when I’ve eaten garlic.”

My mother heaved a dramatic, disyllabic sigh. “Hai-ya, you think you know everything. What about Italians?”

“They’re not all wanting to…make love,” I said, feeling squeamish about using the new words with my mother. “Anyway, I hope Aunt Shirley will eat my tofu.”

My mom laughed again, a sound like wind chimes that’s tickled me as far back as I can remember. “Don’t say that! Eating someone’s tofu means you are, ah…” She searched for the English word, knowing my limitations, and quickly completed her thought in Chinese: “Touching someone’s body where you should not.”

“Really? Ha! Thanks for letting me know!”

“Oh, I almost forgot to tell you. Weaver will be at the celebration.”

At the sound of his name, the laughter in my throat stilled and I found myself annoyed with my mother again. “Weaver is Maggie’s friend.”

“You like talking to him. Every year, since you both were little.”

“Since we were twelve. And I talk to everyone at the party, especially if they’re around my age.”

“Has it been that long? I remember you would talk about him all the way home and for weeks after. He has grown to be such a handsome man, don’t you think?”

“I wouldn’t know,” I mumbled. It’s not that I never noticed Weaver—his brown hair bleached by the sun, lightly toasted skin, and eventual six-foot height made him an easy game of Where’s Waldo in a crowd of my family members. I couldn’t help but notice him, and the way he had grown into his broad shoulders, big hands, and large feet that seemed so awkward when we were boys. It didn’t escape me, the way his square jaw, softer when we were both in middle school, became chiseled over time, and sometimes covered in stubble the color of burnt caramel flecked with ginger and bright gold.

She went on as if I had said nothing. “I love to look into his eyes! They’re so blue, like marbles! It’s so strange!”

My mouth went dryer than the Gobi. I tried to swallow, but failing that, I cleared my throat. “Yes, his eyes are very blue.” They reminded me of sea glass: navy in the evening, like the traditional changshan he wore to last year’s celebration; and the brilliant blue of a summer sky, which I saw on the winter morning before he left.

That morning was the first day of the Lunar New Year, and traditional belief held that the people you see on this first day would be the ones in your life for the rest of the year.

This didn’t turn out to be true.

“I thought you would be happy to know he’s coming back from China to visit. Maggie says he’s met somebody over there.”

My shoulders, which had been trying to say hello to my ears, dropped and I hunched over a little, a boxer weathering a punch. “I’m sure Maggie will be happy to see him,” I said, trying to sound cheerful. “Okay, I have to…do stuff. Get ready for tonight!”

“Are you upset about something?” My mother was either telepathic or she had secret cameras in my apartment, and I hoped for the latter; I glanced around suspiciously. “Mama knows when you’re unhappy,” she added in a soothing tone when I took too long to answer. When she spoke in the third person, I knew she meant business—there was both a formality and an intimacy when she talked like that; it wasn’t cute like “mommy knows best” or generic like “a mother doesn’t have to guess.” She meant, “I am your mother, you are my son, and I know you because you are a part of me, I raised you, and I want you to be happy.”

Yes, it’s kind of codependent compared to American individualism, but it’s kind of normal in a highly interdependent culture. There was something about her concern for my happiness that formed a lump in my throat, and made me wish I could hug her, tell her my hurts and cry them away on her bosom like I did when I was a child.

My throat tightened as if I had failed Darth Vader for the last time. Shit, my mother was part of my sadness. I couldn’t tell her what happened between Weaver and me after last year’s celebration because she would be upset—and for all the wrong reasons. I didn’t want to risk losing my relationship with her, and I didn’t think she would try to understand.

“Mama understands you,” she said.

Great, she’s telepathic. Hidden cameras would’ve been nicer. Creepy, sure, but at least my heart would be private.

I took in a controlled breath, hoping that she couldn’t hear on the other end as I ironed flat my emotions.

“I’m okay, don’t worry; a little nervous about making the dish correctly. I’ll see you later tonight.” She was quiet on the other end, and I knew my refusal to share what was bothering me hurt her feelings. And I had lied. “I love you,” I said in English.

We never expressed this to each other in Chinese, because it wasn’t something said in Chinese culture; the emotions were too strong, the words too coarse, and besides, it was assumed that parents and children loved each other. Still, my mother and I, we chose to be indelicately Western with this feeling, which meant we had to say it in our other tongue.

“I love you,” she said in singsong English. She hadn’t given up, and I knew she’d press me again later, or ask one of my relatives to get me to divulge what was bugging me before too long. “Okay, bye-bye!”

“Okay, bye-bye,” I echoed, and hung up, and stood there.

And stood some more.

Weaver was coming back


Red Envelope on Goodreads
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About Atom Yang

AtomYangPicApril292016Atom was born to Chinese immigrant parents who thought it’d be a hoot to raise him as an immigrant, too–so he grew up estranged in a familiar land, which gives him an interesting perspective. He’s named after a Japanese manga (comic book) character, in case you were wondering.

Farewell Giveaway
I have a number of paperbacks, most of which are signed, to giveaway. Over the between now (11 Mar 2017) and 31 Mar 2017, every comment on the blog (this post and all other new posts), will be entered to win 1 of these paperbacks. There are also some misc swag items, so there will be a few packs of these to give away as well.

Thank you so much for your support over the last 4 years. Prism will be closing its doors on 1 April 2017. All content will remain available, but no new content will appear after 31 Mar 2017. As such all request forms have been turned off. Again Thank you,

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3 thoughts on “A Generalist is not a Specialist ~ Outside the Margins with Atom Yang

  1. That was an awesome post, Hulk. Thank you for sharing that bit of insight from childhood. I think many of us looked to the outsiders we saw portrayed in popular culture and thought, “I am like that person.” Obviously, you let this empathy guide you. Good job. I love the idea that garlics and onions are not vegetarian! haha. Good excerpt.

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