Stories and Essays

Below are stories and essays that have been published; most are available online. If you like this kind of thing, stay in touch and get a copy of Between Here and Oblivion (a collection of my early work) for free.SaveSaveSaveSave

Stories from the woods of the Pacific Northwest to Korea.

“It was too late to correct his past, but he could try to do one thing right.” @joemilanjr‘s “Once, a little blue frog told his mother no.” was selected by @pronounced_ing as our #shortstory Fall Literary Contest winner. Read it now in #Friction10:

Short Story award winner, selected by Celeste Ng. F(r)iction #10

Every other Sunday night, Dad manned the rudder while we rowed the one-eighth replica Viking ship east across the bay. We took it up a stream, beached on a littered bank, and plundered expired cans of soup and battered bags of Gold Rush brown rice from the dumpsters behind the Value Dream…

Finalist for the “Show Us Your Short-Shorts Editors’ Prize” at the Flexible Persona

A photographer and a painter meet before the world goes dark.

Watching painters work was something I’ve always been drawn to. How they licked their lips. How they paced alone in cluttered rooms. How their eyes never seemed to blink – just stared at things as if defusing bombs and every breath was a hiccup from boom. When I watched them, I waited for that moment when everything was framed just right and they held their breath at that unspeakable moment of clarity. That’s when I’d snap. Seeing them in that way, for me, was diving into their minds. And when they looked back at me hovered over the screen of what I had just captured, our eyes would meet and I felt them diving into mine. Like we were tethered. Like we had done it together. We had made art.

Published in the Kyoto Journal #84

Two Bar fighters meet for epic combat.

Billy grew up on the streets of Manchester and would glass any Southy fairy that dared call him a manc. On Friday nights, he and his friends stalked the bars for brawls, supported Man City – as any self-respecting citizen of Manchester did – drank cider from the farms and warm Stella from the pubs. He named and tattooed his fists ‘Assault’ and ‘Battery’. When the job down at the Tesco gave him the boot for being late and rarely sober and his missus did the same for always being rude and never sober, he figured he ought to fly out to Korea and use his degree for something other than a wall hanger.

Published in BOOKSACTUALLY’S GOLD STANDARD 2016 anthology, edited by Julie Koh.

Taegun Lee cleans suicides from the train tracks. It is a job he was born to do, his purpose. When bodies start to disappear on impact, taking his job with them, Taegun must find a way to prove it’s all just a hoax and get his job back. 

For eight years Taegun Lee, team leader of the Seoul City Transit Authority Sanitation Special Decontamination Cleaning Crew, got up at six. And even after six months on unpaid leave he still did. He woke, drank and cleaned. His place wasn’t dirty – he had won the battle against the toilet bowl, executed the dust clumps that resembled dead mice clinging to power cords and cleansed the bachelor funk from all the pillows – no, he cleaned for the same reason he gulped soju in the morning: it made waiting easier.


Sharing a name with a famous ancestor is an honor. But for one North Korean Soldier watching the DMZ, living as a Yi Sun-Shin might prove to be suicide. 

They say at the height of Yi Sun-Shin’s last battle, dying, gasping, he demanded his nephew, his Lieutenant, to strip him of his armor and stand in front in his place. ‘Let no one know I’m dead.’ And that was it. His nephew took his place, and the battle was won. None of the soldiers knew of General’s death until after the battle. That’s what soldiers want to be. Brave. Glorious. A name.

Transnational Literature Vol. 7 #1

Just at the cusp of achieving Kpop Star fame, Tiffany, a member of 2Qtoo has a crippling pain in her stomach that might just cost her her dream and maybe even her life. 

At night, in a dance studio hidden in the bowels of the LPK Entertainment building in Gangnam, Seoul, with mirrors fogged and the speakers wailing like dying hyenas, the computer crashed. All four members of 2Qtoo collapsed to the floor. Violet (the “sexy” one), Jazmin (the “baby” one), and Mimi (the “dangerous” one) all cursed under their breaths. They held their sides and looked at each other as if to say the bastards are trying to kill us. Remembering that they were looking at their competition, they returned to their brave faces: masks that smothered daydreams of pulling hair and tossing each other down flights of stairs.

Eastlit December ’16 and The Danforth Review #54

Sometimes a Tsunami can take everything from the buildings right down to the foundation of love. 

Are you not listening? I’m trying to explain that maybe she thought it was safe, or she thought, if she left he would come and be trapped and die alone, I don’t know. But when I try to imagine my hands clasping onto a rail of the balcony, watching the wave coming, this dark wall of cars, dirt, sharks, sludge, just coming to kill me, I can’t imagine having so much faith. I can’t imagine saying, it’s okay. Like some enlightened grief counselor, it’s okay, you lived a good life, you did the best you could, you were loved.

Banana Writers

Some true stories, deep thoughts, and terrible moments I’ve written.

About the first time I got paid to write, and how failure connects us writers.

“The thing that binds all writers together is that we fail, a lot, and often.”

Literary Hub

A young family takes a risk to return from abroad.

In the last few years, when I’ve gone abroad it has become an increasingly bigger test of courage to state I’m from the U.S.”

Broad Street

Walking a baby through a British wood and a pandemic.

“It was a long, windy, and wet winter like all British winters, which are best described by inhabitants as ‘utter shit.’ These winters inspire people to emerge from their homes and risk the pandemic to feel this shock of spring sun.”

Broad Street

A young man starts his working life where others’ lives end.

We worked well together. We hustled. We batched. We finished our tasks quickly, all the while head-banging to Alice in Chains or nodding to the Ray Brown Trio. I thought I’d finally found my stride.

 Broad Street. Nominated for both the Best of the Net and the Pushcart.

In August 1976, an eighty-foot tall tree in full bloom obstructed the view of the UN guard post next to the “Bridge of No Return.” At that time, the Korean Joint Security Area, (a half mile wide bubble of neutral zone within the DMZ, northwest of Seoul), was truly “joint.” Both North Korean and UN guards moved freely throughout the zone to guard posts on both sides of the Military Demarcation Line that dotted the roads heading North and South.

The Rumpus.

“In 2007, I started my job as an English teacher in South Korea and spent my nights climbing the steep stairs to foreigner bars where teachers and US army soldiers drank and wrote their names in chalk on black painted walls. When you asked a soldier about a new Korean war, they’d snort…”

Published at BLARB and read live at Neon Lit

An essay about my father.

“Saltwater Cowboy” is a sharply perceived portrait of an extraordinary father, a man who served in the Navy, served on ships, all his life and left his son an indelible image of competence, courage, devotion and panache.

Numero Cinq Magazine

About living in Seoul.

Here with Joe Milan’s lovely, ever so slightly melancholy portrait of the Seoul he has come to know teaching at the Catholic University of Korea. This is contemporary Seoul, dominated by a priapic, neon-lit tower, the traditional architecture destroyed by war and rebuilt to resemble someone else’s urban dream. What should be his own world is strange to Joe Milan; his life in the city is punctuated by memories of home in America and rumours of war. His Seoul is a complicated place, riven with memory, tradition, absence and paradox. But sweepers shape the piles of raked leaves to look like hearts and the rice cakes his grandmother serves have the scent of pine.

Numero Cinq Magazine