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


Gelato/Slide show test

Experimenting with Google Slides…later I may add music to this. Maybe text.

Yes, in some of these images the intent is to convey information beautifully. However, in a few of these, as well as in future images, I hope that something more is portrayed.

Food has soul.

A Star is Born or Something

I’m huffing and puffing and carrying a large ironing board.

I still have tons of things to do. One is to print out 60 copies of the show sequence. After that I have to attach cardboard fins to the ironing board and cover it all with aluminum foil. I need to make jaws out of paper plates or something. Where’s Susan’s classroom? I zip around the third floor. Finally I find the right room.

Inside is a curvy, beautiful Chinese woman. She’s naked. She’s surrounded by people. She smiles at me. “Wow,” I think, “I really should get some sleep.”

The shocked students in Susan’s nude drawing class watch me retreat. Stepping backwards into the hall, I knock down an impeccably dressed student. I apologize by asking where the printer is. He stares at the ironing board as he gets up. My wild eyes meet his. The electric hair clipper falls from my overloaded bag. Then, the big ball of aluminum foil drops and rolls right in front of his fancy red shoes.

“You’re an artist or something?”

“Yep. An artist or something.”

He steps towards a door and waves a plastic card near a space-agey thing. Like a scene from Star Trek, the door slides open, revealing a room full of grey desks. The student must leave, but he introduces me to Ginette. Ginette is what they call “a fixture on the underground music scene.” She’s just come from the airport after “my little show in Paris.”. She’s helpful and cheerful. She is attractive. Very attractive. She takes my thumbdrive and inserts it into her laptop.

Yes, I know what you are thinking and I was thinking it too, but Ginette is a Singaporean superstar and I’m just a guy carrying an ironing board. Twenty minutes from now I’ll be onstage, reading a sad story about hairless Chihuahuas. But yes, if I had time and we’d had a few drinks, I would certainly ask Ginette if I could insert my thumbdrive into her laptop again.

Anyhoo, the printer’s near a magnificent window and I spend three seconds taking in the sprawling dynamic, culturally diverse Singaporean nightscape before me. Yada yada yada. I finish, pick up my ironing board and profusely thank Ginette. I put my thumbdrive back in my pants and fly downstairs.

Amith and Mel met each other for the first time about ten minutes ago. I introduced them just before I bumped into the naked woman. Amith plays acoustic guitar and Mel plays the nose flute and some kind of electronic thingy he made from an ice cream container. The y will play music while I read. I pass them the freshly printed show sequence. I say we’ll do a quick runthrough when I “come back in a minute.” I run off to finally make the shark from the ironing board.

I reach backstage and suddenly ten people ask me twenty, thirty questions, all at once. I ignore them all.

“Will you be a shark?” I say to Luke. Luke is a tall, thin Indian guy, dressed in black. Against the dark stage, he will be nearly invisible and it will seem as though the aluminum foil shark is magically and ferociously pursuing Joe the diver. As Joe is singing and being attacked, I will loudly proclaim that, “Joe the diver does not exist!”

Luke adjusts his glasses worriedly? “Me, a shark? How, sir, shall this effect be realized?”

“You see this ironing board? It’ll be wrapped in foil and it’ll have fins. I need to make some teeth. Anyway… just hold the ironing board shark and jump around like you’re a bloodthirsty wolf of the sea!”

Luke looks like he wants to write this down. “Bloodthirsty wolf of the sea… Understood. When, sir, shall this jumping occur?”

“Just wait for the diver to start singing. Then, count to ten and start stalking. Stalk him like, like, like he’s a chicken, a chicken dinner! Yeah, he’s a chicken dinner and and you’re a wildly hungry jumping starving sea wolf! Ignore my screaming and DO NOT attack me!”

I walk backstage and answer hundreds of questions while using the last bit of happy face Scotch tape and some Band-Aids to attach the fins to the ironing board. Amith’s gonna kill me because the tape and Band-Aids are going to leave gooey marks on the ironing board for sure. In the corner of the backstreets of my mind I am in a yoga position, cross-legged, chanting a long soothing mantra:Luke will be invisible. The ironing board shark WILL float menacingly and magically towards Joe as he sings his Air Supply song.

The little yoga guy in my head can already see panties and bras being thrown onstage. The yoga guy can hear five hundred people in the audience screaming “Wow!” and “Magnifico!”

Thato, one of the poet/performers from the Serengeti, patiently taps me on the shoulder and asks for his cue. Thato will perform his poem called “I’m Coming.” Mel will accompany him with the nose flute. Then, Andrew will come onstage and will slowly gyrate his hips. In his best Barry White voice, he will read about the Armenian Church and pie dough. I cannot find Andrew. My Lady Gaga ringtone blares from the bag with the foil. I finally find it. It’s Ben. He’ll be here in ten minutes. I go on in five. My hair clippers are missing. I tell the musicians to forget about the hair performance art piece. Savinder pushes me and I nervously join Amith and Mel onstage…

It was great. The music was incredible. As I ranted about not being able to see Joe the diver, the audience saw Joe walk onstage with his flippers and air tank, sounding like Darth Vader on his honeymoon. Then Luke the shark appeared. Joe tried to run but his mask was fogged and he plowed into Mel. Luke chased Joe semi-invisibly. His glasses fell off and he got lost in the stage curtain. Amith later said he was laughing so hard that he was in tears. Joe couldn’t sing at first because using the oxygen tank on land made his throat dry. I couldn’t hear anything. I was calmly reading to the four remaining members of the audience, expressing my frustration that it is impossible for the reader to accurately visualize the events which take place in a writer’s head.

3how CD: The Riverwalk Session, co-produced by SB

Mel Araneta and Stephen Black are featured in SPOKEN, a virtual exhibition

a man wearing a diving mask and tank on stage

Performance by 3how at LASALLE college of the Arts. part of the Lit Up festival organised by Word Forward. 2010

Hello to those who know J d’S!

Hello to everyone that has arrived here because of Judith d’S’s Facebook post. Thank you for your interest. And thank you, Judith, for being so helpful and receptive at that beauty shop in Spottiswoode!

I am sharing the following information with you for a few reasons.
The first reason is that I would like to offer you a free ebook version of IATB. I firmly believe that this will not hurt Kenny/BooksActually/sales of the paper version. The more readers a book has, the more discussions there will be about it. And, maybe many people, like me, believe that nothing can match the feel of holding and reading a book made with paper and love.The link to the free ebook, as well as a few blurbs, is here.
red and black text, Palatino bold

graphic statement about To Eat Tiong Bahru, the sequel to I Ate Tiong Bahru

The second reason is to ask for your help. This year the theme of the Singapore Writers Festival is Singapore. As I have completed three books which are set in Singapore, I hope to make a presentation to speak about them, as well as my experiences in the world of ebooks and indie publishing. This Facebook page is a light-hearted attempt to knock on the door of the SWF. I hope you will visit and click something.
Another of my books about Singapore,and one involved in a revolutionary ebook movement!
Finally, I humbly ask you to review IATB on Amazon or wherever you can. From my point of view, there is nothing better than an honest appraisal of a book. The whole point of writing is to create an experience for a reader. And, by an honest review, I mean just that. If you hate IATB or find it confusing…share that! Your thoughts will make me a better writer.
Again, thank your for stopping by. It is strange for me to ask for your help with reviews and the Singapore Writers Festival. I probably appear self-serving and/or conceited. But… I am an independent. Three years of self-funded research went into IATB. I don’t have the government, a university or a publishing company to help with publicity and marketing.
I hope my books are able to connect with people and one of the reasons why is that I believe a variety of viewpoints is a good thing. Perhaps my experiences will enable readers to feel more comfortable with independent publishing AND will encourage other writers to consider all of their options when it comes to publishing.
Stephen Black
PS I am committed to completing the sequel to I Ate Tiong Bahru. I may do a crowdfunding project. If you are interested in learning more about this, drop me an email or follow BOOK MERAH on Facebook.

Singapore: 100 Images (2002-2015) #6

An Indian man wearing sunglasses sitting a table outside.

Raj (Devaraj Krishnan) in a thoughtful moment. January, 2011

Singapore: 100 Images (2002-2015) #5

This gallery contains 1 photos.

Singapore: 100 Images (2002-2015) #4

VR TV talk show set created i

Zoltan Giber’s first sketch for a set design at the Esplanade for Yaw Productions (HK). Creative direction: Stephen Black. May 2010

Singapore: 100 Images (2002-2015) #3

Indian festivities

2013 Chingay

Singapore: 100 Images (2002-2015) #2

 a circle with veins

a table in front of a wall

Singapore: 100 Images (2002-2015) #1

Willie and Jackie

Singaporean resident Willie Koh with American tourist Jackie Black (Little India, 2006)

Cui$ine de la Michi (World Street Food Congress 2015)

Street food is, and has been, a huge part of my life.

In the morning I will review my notes and write my thoughts on the 2015 World Street Food Congress. At the moment, I am tired and quite unhappy, mainly because $40 was spent on lunch today and we both went away unimpressed–and hungry. That forty bucks did not include drinks. Let me get some sleep. Hopefully I can be more positive in the morning….

7 hours later…

1. Music…You lost me the moment I heard the “mall techno”  blaring. No, you don’t have to play “world music”. But please, if you think that music is important enough to have, then give it some thought. The WSFC is supposed to be about taste, uniqueness and tradition, but that music was disposable, commonplace and annoying.

2. On Friday night we were told the food we wanted required a two hour wait: the queue was very, very long.This is understandable. We were lucky to live nearby and decided to come the following day, 30 minutes before opening. We wanted to try the  lechon truffle suckling pig with rice.

When we finally tried it…it was OK. I naively though there would be tiny bits of truffle. Stupid of me. The fat of the pork was delicious. But everything else  didn’t work for me. At all.

It seems as though the dish uses truffle oil, not truffles. (Yes I know truffles are extremely expensive.) Here is part of the Wikipedia entry about truffle oil:

“Their one-dimensional flavor is also changing common understanding of how a truffle should taste,” Daniel Patterson complained in a New York Times article.[3]

Gordon Ramsay has referred to natural truffle oil as “a chef’s dream”,[4] and to synthetic truffle oil as “one of the most pungent, ridiculous ingredients ever known to [this] chef.”

Anthony Bourdain said, “Let it be stated here, unto forever and eternity, truffle oil is not food.”[5]

Martha Stewart expressed her dislike of truffle oil in a 2014 post on Reddit, stating “I think truffle oil is one of the few ingredients that doesn’t belong in anyone’s kitchen. It’s ruinous of most recipes.”[6]

Joe Bastianich said, “It’s made by perfumists. It’s garbage olive oil with perfume added to it, and it’s very difficult to digest. It’s bad for you. It’s bad for New Yorkers. It’s bad for the American people. So, stop it.”. [7]

If real truffle oil was used, its magic was lost on me.

(Despite the biblical pronouncement above, Mr. Bourdain was not present, though he appears in publicity photos and on the website. He was definitely at the first one and I was glad to have made a fool of myself in front of him.

We ate Vietnamese food and some Indian sweets. The portions came on small white plastic plates. No napkins, of course. (What would have been a brilliant conceptual touch would have been toilet paper rolls on the tables–just like in many of the  street food stalls across Asia.)

In short, this was a chance for Singaporeans to “go slumming” and gain culinary street cred. The signs explaining the food were great. I was interested in the cooking demonstrations. However, I wish the food had not been so expensive and the portions so small. The lines I can deal with, but the overall feeling was sterile, as though we were examining samples in an expensive laboratory set up in a big white tent in Bugis.

The WSFC website ends with this:

Food prices start from affordable prices of $4.50


I say bring lots of money and patience and hope for the best.

10 hours later

I just discovered this in my pocket:

ticket vouchers for food

Coupons from World Street Food Congress 2015 in Singapore

So…do I walk for ten minutes to the WSFC and try to use these to get a small $2 bottle of water? No… as you can see, it is printed that the ticket is valid from April 8-12, but is rubberstamped that the ticket is valid on 11/04/15… not worth the risk of possibly having a discussion about this. On a related note, the “truffle” lechon was $13.80… small issue, but why 80 cents when the coupons are only for 50 cents and 1$? (I gave them 30 cents in coins.)If I could have paid cash, I wouldn’t have these useless coupons…