Spoken images

 SPOKEN Table of Contents

CG game cloudy night silhouette jumoing over moon

David over the Moon by Eugene Soh

black and white image of man dropping vase

Ai Wewei, Yesim Agaoglu, Stephen Black, Eugene Soh collaboration in gallery.sg

Avatar drinking

Nhung: overhead perspective

Jeff Koons Balloon Dog in SPOKEN

Nhung: Floating

low tech in hi tech

Works created with ink

SB & 3D (Why I’m excited to be in Eugene Soh’s virtual gallery project)

THIS post was written before SPOKEN started. SPOKEN is a project I am doing with Eugene Soh, an experiment in which art, text, virtual reality and social media intersect. Learn about SPOKEN here.

To enter gallery.sg and experience SPOKEN, click here.
Here is the extremely short version: from 2002 until 2008 I was involved with a visionary virtual reality project that combined educational practices with gamemaking and multimedia. However, the spiritual captain of the project was part Disney, part Microsoft and part Sex Pistols. An unexpected death, treachery, incompetence, inexperience, bureaucratic boondoggles and more made my life “interesting”… I have pages of notes about the events and the spirit of the times. We were doing things like Youtube and Second Life before they started. The project was so close… and yet so far away. (Actually, now that mobile technology has settled down, I hope that the lessons and products of that experience can be revitalized. But that’s yet another story.)
In 2006, as a way of showcasing our technology,  I entered a gamemaking hackathon. A theme was given on a Thursday morning and the next day at five the results were judged.The theme was something about healthy eating, I think. Working with my programmer in Hong Kong, we made a game in which the viewer learned about the calorie count of certain foods. The player competed with an AI character.  It was fun to do.
However, what I remember most was a team that made an incredible flash game. I don’t remember if they won or not, but I do remember two guys on that team very well. George Parel and Eugene Soh were full of energy, knowledge and bursting with creative ideas.
They still are.
I’ve been lucky to work with George and Eugene on a few projects since then. In 2008 I finally had to put the educational gamemaking project on hold while I waited for a programmer and the mobile device situation to stabilize.I put more time into writing and art projects. George and Eugene (that dude from Singapore) however, have kept on doing remarkably creative things with IT, art, design and more.
Virtual reality may seem to be an artificial place, but the gallery Eugene has created fills me with memories and hope. I am honored and very thankful for I Ate Tiong Bahru to be on display in gallery.sg
IATB in virtual gallery
Cheers, Eugene! Cheers, George!

Ebooks: Born to Click (1 of 3)


This informal essay is my way of marking the end of a certain era in ebook history. It’s part snapshot, part reference materials, part journal.At the end of this post are notes about me, my experiences and my books.
Thanks to Doug Rolph for his insights on economics, Eric Hellman for his input and my dad for having taken care of our family by selling books.

το πνεύμα του Ιανού

After I finish writing eight books, I will begin marketing. Until then, I’ll probably study the ebook world less and hopefully do more writing, arting and engaging with Life. When it does comes time for me to contribute to the marketing conversation, I hope I have something to say. For now, I present the following notes, quotes and thoughts as a means of punctuating a phase in the development of ebooks as I have seen and experienced it.

This is an exciting time. The ebook delivery platforms are finally stable, self-publishing has proven to have great value and a number of services have recently appeared that shorten the distances between readers and authors. It seems to me that indie ebooks and ebook marketing are about to enter a new era.

This blog post makes little mention of traditional publishing. This is simply because, as much as I would like to enjoy the benefits of being a Big 5/6 author, that fruit is not now within my reach. I am however, considering joining the Author’s Guild.

Although I’ve done almost no marketing, I have studied the environments in which ebooks are created, presented, bought and sold. Some observations:

1. Except for uploading, nothing about ebooks is easy.
Writing is the anti-social social media, full of long, long hours of pressure-filled solitude. Assembling an error-free book is never simple. The social part, finding an audience, is an immense challenge. I respect all of the authors mentioned in this post for they have successfully met these challenges and more.

Talent is cheaper than table salt. What separates the talented individual from the successful one is a lot of hard work.
Stephen King

Based on my experiences, the work breakdown of an 88,000 word novel looks something like this: 1000 words a day (88 days) or, more likely, 500 words a day (176 days). Call it 200 days to prepare something for a proofreader. Two months for corrections, art, and ebook conversion. So, a book takes about 300 working days to finalize. About…
And then there are the thousands of actions needed to connect with readers… The title of Guy Kawasaki’s excellent book says it all: APE, meaning Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur

This document, by Mark Coker, the founder of Smashwords, is a data-based analysis of the ebook market. Highly recommended, it covers topics important for newbies and veterans. It touches upon issues like word count, pricing, marketing and more. For instance, his research shows that the average bestseller on Smashwords is 100,000 words, and the average romance is 112,195 words. (There are more links to resources at the end of this post.)
Very few traditionally published authors became bestsellers; the same is true for ebook publishing. My goal is not to become a bestseller, but to connect with the largest possible community of people who enjoy the art of reading.

2. A great writer or a great marketer…
….or, the frustration of being caught between not doing enough writing and not doing enough marketing. A writer writes, a salesman sells.
Self-publishing does not equal self-marketing. Spending money wisely on promotion money means income and time to write. (See the links below)
Twitter, Goodreads, FB, LinkedIn and blogging? All have their advantages and disadvantages…

3. There are no independent, hugely successful ebook-only self-publishers.
Note: Two days after this post went up, I became aware of this great piece by Dana Beth Weinberg on Digital Book World. Thank you Jacqueline Church!

Amazon is huge, Apple is huge, Kobo and Smashwords are very big. Unless you are selling from your own website or the back of your car, you’re not truly independent.

OK, A bit of an attention grabber there…but the author’s need for a partnership with Amazon and ebook distributors is a dependence that cannot be overlooked. These “automatic partners” will always protect their interests first. They call the shots. Amazon is a business, not an author.

Amanda Hocking is a hugely successful author. At one point, the average daily sales figure of her self-published ebooks was 9000. Again: average DAILY book sales: nine thousand! Her success was based on hard work, technological first mover advantage and an indirect tie-in with Hollywood.
-the successful and pioneering integration of ebook readers into tablets and mobile as well as the launch of the Kindle (2007) and the iPad(2010)
-the large demographic of young women who bought readers and tablets
– the fact that, having written many books, Hocking could quickly provide a new and large market with a variety of new titles
– writing books about the paranormal when Hollywood is pushing the same cannot hurt. Twilight, the hugely successful series of movies about teen vampires began in 2008. Hocking’s first book, My Blood Approves, began selling in 2010.

E.L. James’ book phenomenon began in the fan fiction chat rooms for Twilight. The characters in Fifty Shades of Grey were originally the characters from Twilight. Could Master of the Universe, as her series was originally called, have achieved its success without an existing network of thousands of Twilight fans?

These two women made their mark upon society in two different ways. As shared, collective book-based experiences: WOW!
However, the writing is…”not terrible” or worse

I remember SF/F authors complaining (back in 2011) that their readers hadn’t switched to e-books yet, casting jealous eyes at the outsized romance audience. But as readers did move across, we saw people like David Dalglish and BV Larson breaking out, and the rest of “genre” fiction soon followed.

There are “indie success stories” about authors who “rode into town” on the backs of traditional publishing. Funded by Big 6 money these “indies” were advertised and publicized, sent on book tours and given things like business cards. Possibly, audiobooks were made. Hundreds, if not thousands, of their books were given away, many to reviewers.
As the ‘first mover’possibilities of the ebook market became clear and realistic, these authors, knighted by the Big 6 and armed with credibility and connections, rode onto a battlefield with little opposition… Undoubtedly hard work was involved, but to label them as indies brings to mind the quip about George Bush: “…was born on third base and thinks he hit a triple.”

There certainly are “ebook only” indies connecting with many readers and enjoying sales. I just don’t know of any. (FOUND SOMEONE: LINDSAY BUROKER Please tell me about others! them! Somewhat related to this, are there any “ebook only” awards?

Here, authors talk about their sales experiences.

4. The ebook world evolves to reward the reader; the prepared author benefits from this.
Fan fiction. Goodreads. Ebook readers on mobile phones. The mashup between big data and metadata. Entrepreneurs with vision who see ways to connect authors and readers in a new ways.

It is an exciting time.

Ebooks: Born to Click, Part 2 of 3

visit www.blacksteps.tv for parts 2 and 3 of this post, as well as information on art, books and ebooks


The weekend I won an Oscar, a Grammy, the Nobel Prize and a Golden Horse.

To give you some background…

I’m a transnational artist/writer. Born and raised in the United States, I have lived in Japan, Hong Kong and Paris. Since 2002, my base has been Singapore. I am writing this from Bali. In the physical world, I am somewhat friendly, but am definitely not one who joins groups. I don’t really use social media.
To give you some background…
I Ate Tiong Bahru is a portrait, a lyrical documentary about a place I lived in Singapore.
IATB was self-funded. The cover is stark: just the four word title,written in black letters on a white background. The back cover is completely white. My name isn’t on it, there isn’t a photo of Tiong Bahru’s Art Deco buildings. I didn’t ask a famous person for a blurb. For the most part, The Straits Times and other Singaporean media organizations seem to be unaware of IATB.
To give you some background…
The day I “won all of the awards”, I hadn’t slept for about forty hours. I had arrived in Singapore at 9AM, which meant that I left Bali about 6AM, which meant that I was at the airport about 4 something, which meant that…
The bus stop incident is part of this. At the bus stop, I squeezed an uncooperative container of sunblock. The top shot off covering me with goo. Blobs of white sunscreen dried on my shirt and pants, most of them around my crotch.
My meal of laphet is part of this. After I dropped off my bags, I ran errands. I had to pick something up at Peninsula Plaza. In Peninsula is a food stall that serves the best laphet in Singapore. Laphet is tea leaf salad, a Burmese traditional food. I love it. I ate some, including the many little cloves of garlic. I
The unwanted books are part of this. A book shop (in Tiong Bahru, of all places) decided not to carry IATB. So I was carrying a bag full of my books that had been rejected.The plastic bag that the books were in was becoming frayed and holes were appearing.
And it began raining. I got very wet. I have forgotten to mention that my shoes needed to be replaced.
AND SUDDENLY I WAS AT AN ART OPENING. I had planned to go to the opening AFTER I’d had a nap, a shave and a shower. After I’d put on fresh clothes and bought new shoes. But, one of my errands took me very near the art space and so….
I went and I was welcomed. Not just welcomed, but treated like a celebrity! (I have never, ever wanted to be a celebrity, let me make that clear.) Attractive, intelligent women wanted to be photographed with me! Handsome, successful men looked me in the eye, shook my hand and listened to me! I was given wine and special curry puffs and a very good otah-otah!
This is what I mean by “winning awards!”
I am sharing this because the excitement was real. Genuine.I Ate Tiong Bahru, and the writing within it, had connected with people. Those people were interested in me not because of where I had gone to school, not because of my sexuality, not because of advertising or FB “likes”, not because I’d been endorsed by the media, not because I was in the right clique, not because we were in a slick art space or trendy book store etc. etc… My clothes and shoes were wet. The rain made my hair look like a mop. I resembled a homeless person(in more ways than I care to admit), but the words in my book had been perceived as having value.  IATB was referred to as an “icon”!
The next day, I was at the Tiong Bahru market from 7AM to 2 PM. Then I was Booktique, from 3-7. Again, I was overwhelmed. A woman living in Tiong Bahru told me that she read the book to her son! And she wanted two more copies! I smiled and thanked her, but inside I was close to tears. Other people also came up to talk about their experiences with the book.
Another thing you should know I that I do not write to please the reader. I write to challenge the reader, albeit in a caring and thoughtful way.  IATB is not” feel good nostalgia”.
So the weekend was unforgettable. No red carpets, none of the “friends” that always appear at openings and book launches, no reviews in influential media…just that indescribable feeling that occurs when a genuine, heartful connection has been made.

SPOKEN Louder (how to share the phenomenon?)

A video still o an artwork by A

image from a videowork by Arleen Schloss

Sunday afternoon, Bali. Working on an extension of SPOKEN which appears on Wattpad. For that, I needed a link to a photo. So, for now, this is it. Soon this will be an essay on the challenges of promoting the phenomenon at www.gallery.sg

Have not yet rewritten the essay on the chaqllenges of self-promotion, but this just happened, which is related.

SPOKEN: text pieces by Carla Bonollo and Sjon

I am very pleased to present three word pieces influenced by the SPOKEN experience. Following are two works by Carla Bonollo, an Italian writer and blogger; as well a poem by Sjon, the noted Icelandic author. The following works will make their way into The Spoken Handbook and/or will become part of artworks, perhaps something like these.

I thoroughly enjoy the works which follow. Not just the ideas, rhythms and structures of the pieces, but the fact that they were submitted in a spirit of open-ended experimentation. Expressive beyond words, these pieces are…


Words in progress

Happy as Larry

Apparently the original English expression was “happy as a sandboy”. North America: plenty of clams everywhere; contented with what one’s got. Happy as a clam.

In an old dictionary (1823) the sandboy was “an urchin who hawked sand around the streets”. Was it illegal? I don’t know…later the expression became a synonym for being merry…basically Larry was happy because he had a few pints. Larry was also a reference to the Australian boxer Larry Fowley (1847-1917); oh yes that Larry, now everything is as  clear as a middleweight undefeated champion. Happy as Larry (Fowley). Larry Fowley was happy, it’s a fact. For those who love Thomas Hardy and his novels, “larry” was a dialect word meaning “in a state of excitement”. The US variation with clam came from the east coast, and to be even more precise, one should say “happy as a clam at high water.”

Having said that, I’m very happy to be part of the SPOKEN PROJECT, so here are a few “larry” connections.

Larry was already in the air in 1596:

The grey-eyed morn smiles on the frowning night,

Chequering the eastern clouds with streaks of light,

And flecked darkness like a drunkard reels

From forth day’s path and Titan’s fiery wheels:

Now, ere the sun advance his burning eye,

The day to cheer and nights dank dew to dray, I must up-fill this osier cage of ours

With baleful weeds and precious-juiced flowers.

(Friar Laurence in Romeo and Juliet, Act II, scene III, 1059-1066)

Come, come with me, and we will make short work;

For, by your leaves, you shall not stay alone

Till holy church incorporate two in one.

Things didn’t go according to plan, but Larry was happy to play his role, Father

Laurence reappeared in a mysterious way four centuries later in a famous prog

song, Genesis’ The Cinema Show. He’s no longer Father Laurence but he’s Father

Tiresias, a blind prophet of Thebes, famous for clairvoyance and for being

transformed into a woman for seven years. This adds a new spin on

Shakespeare’s plot.

Home from work our Juliet

Clears her morning meal

She dabs her skin with pretty smells

Concealing to appeal

I will make my bed

She said, but turned to go

Can she be late for her Cinema show? Cinema Show?

Romeo locks his basement flat

And scurries up the stair

With head held high and floral tie

A weekend millionaire

I will make my bed

With her tonight, he cries

Can he fail

Armed with his chocolate surprise?

Take a little trip back with Father Tiresias

Listen to the old one speak of all he has lived through

I have crossed between the poles

For me there’s no mystery.

For us the mystery remains, Larry knows better.

What follows is Carla’s second contribution.

In the city fields

Contemplating cherry-trees

Strangers are like friends.

-Matsuo Basho

What haiku do you want? was a collection of 68 haikus I wrote some time ago; 17 haikus for each season, following the rhythm framed in a precise sequence of syllables, 5-7-5 (=17 syllables). The original idea was to create a game of chance on an imaginary boardgame.

Here’s a small selection for every season, inevitably adding some variations in the English version, from Italy with love.

Think of a number between 1 and 17 and select the corresponding haiku. And


Un Coup de Dés Jamais N’Abolira Le Hasard – A Throw of the Dice will Never Abolish Chance:


Ghostly mulberries

Facing obscure lands

No goals in their life


Deserted avenues

Motorcycles whizz by

Just bullyboys’ races


The past perfect is

Like the present perfect mode

Undeniably past


A restless secret

Held inside for too long

Blooms and vanishes


Gentle cold wind outside

Whistles brief and intense sounds

They ring a bell, the same


Butterfly collector loves art

A PhD in French medieval history

Even part-time, starts NOW


I have learned the I Ching

Simply by reading and reading them

Perseverance is all


Looking at the golden sand

Nobody on the horizon

Just waves and waves



Under layers of moss and grass

A blue, rare mosaic


A red bud in the rosebush

Bows its head listlessly

A rose is a rose, is it?


I dream of going back

To places that I don’t inhabit

Any longer exactly like you


White lights crossing the sky

Bouncing quick intermittent rays

Waiting for the traffic light


Inside my heart I recognize

Voices that I hardly sing

More cautious than sorry


Snippets are dangerous

Un-solving the cryptic crossword

Not a sausage today


A sweet flute playing

A duet with a melancholic viola

The fugue is much better


Fast but not too much

A glass-house sails in the garden

Surrounded by pink stones


The bread was a rock

The Parmisan tasted like sawdust

Farewell, adios, addio, ciao.

Teeth and tea

Teethcups by Lily Su

the dental age


our world is young and still teething


front teeth grow on mountain ridges

in the corners of abandoned parliaments


incisors push out of the flesh

of bananas and window panes


canine teeth sprout from the finger tips of lakes

and from the backs of arm chairs


the molars speckling the black skin

of the western slimy salamander crush the sky


when it snows we salute

all the teeth lost by every human ever born


each morning we raise our cups

towards the teething sun

Bali Wave Ghost Synopsis and Writing Samples

Coming soon.
For now, this:

Bali Wave Ghost SlideShare Notes

Bali Wave Ghost reality check…

-First draft of 100 pages(30,000 words) completed.Expected total word count is 80,000 and heaven and earth are being moved to complete BWG by January 2015.

-The SlideShare includes a request for financial assistance. To be a sponsor or a patron, simply send me an email: blacksteps () at () gmail DOt com. It is also possible to have your name/personality appear in the book. YOU CAN BE A CHARACTER IN BALI WAVE GHOST! Certainly a unique Christmas present or birthday gift…

– The SlideShare was created with haikudeck and I enjoyed working with it. However, there are two small things I would like to change, as well as add one more slide. Though I looked and looked, couldn’t see how to do this.

As I write this, on December 2, I am still pondering how to get Bali Wave Ghost out into the world. Self-publish or traditional publishing? Both have plenty of good points and challenges. I am researching agents.To prepare a presentation for an agent is a very good thing, as it forces me to focus on things besides the story itself. For example:genre. BWG is a love story, but it is also a dark comedy. It is full of history yet very contemporary. It touches upon spiritual themes, surfing, Indonesian food, environmentalism, holistic healing, drug abuse and Kerokoban prison…never a dull moment!
Related to the financial issues surrounding BWG. I did consider crowdfunding. I am all for crowdfunding, but I fully realize that for it to work a great investment in time must be made. At the moment, I am obsessed with refining the writing of BWG, aiming to complete it within the next 60 days. A crowdfunding project would make that goal difficult to reach, if not impossible.