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


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…

Anthony Bourdain/Stephen Black/Street Food/An Embarrassing Encounter

 The World Street Food Congress is again happening in Singapore. It seems as though Mr. Bourdain is not attending this time. What follows is something I first posted on Scribd, shortly after the first WSFC…..
Me and the CNN Famous Food Guy (Eight thoughts)
It was about sharing. (Yeah, call me “hippy-dippy”.) I had a two tiered, lacquered Chinese basket containing four items: A, B, C and K. Mr. Bourdain first picked ‘K.’ He was in a good mood, it seemed. K was a package of kueh dar dar, from Galicier in Tiong Bahru, the best Peranakan pastry shop in the world.
The problem was that I RAN to get the basket and RAN back. The securityofficers interpreted my act of running as something dangerous. Suddenly my little amusement was not amusing. “Pick another letter,” I blurted as the thick-armed security guard parked himself between Mr. Bourdain and me.Everyone’s eyes started rolling. The entourage looked antsy. “Another guy who wants something,” everyone said, without saying a word. A guard barked,“You should leave now.” He wore black gloves.
I reached into the basket and gave Mr. Bourdain ‘C’. He and his group walked away. It was over in about 30 seconds; I had expected only 10 but, obviously,I was hoping for the full 2 minutes that had been discussed with AB’s management.
Earlier in the day, the staff of the World Streetfood Congress told me where Mr. Bourdain was eating. I saw him enjoying himself as he strolled around after he ate. Should I have approached him then? No. I had been told by the Singapore TouristBureau/Makansutra (the organizers) that I would have two minutes with Mr.Bourdain. These two minutes were to be part of a press conference/booksigning…. This was the first book signing I have ever attended where bookswere not on sale. I did not have a book and could not buy one. This meant that it would be strange to stand in line. I quickly described my situation to Mr.Bourdain’s assistant and things seemed cool…
Back to the basket. ‘A’ was an ang ku kueh artwork. The Chinese pastries were made by one of Singapore’s most highly regarded kueh-making families. However, these kuehs were artworks; all were shaped like my thumb.
‘B’ was for book, my book entitled I Ate Tiong Bahru. I am the publisher. The sequel is about 70% completed. Mr. Bourdain has his own imprint under Harper-Collins. Bottom line: these books, as well as the others I’ve written, all involve food. My four books have intentionally not been marketed. Are they good? The following was sent to me by author and blogger Carla Bonollo . At the time we barely knew each other. (The following is used with permission.)What Carla wrote humbles me; embarrasses me…but it also describes how I approach all of my writing.
Dear Steve,….first of all thank you for the gift. Reading “Furikake” was a real pleasure, a great book! I liked the idea of writing nine stories linked by a different declination of furikake,like a recipe book full of different ingredients. Your interpretation of Paul Theroux’s book was brilliant, the scene with the American friend who burst into tears was very moving, like a mirror game where one can see various fragments of oneself.Maybe you know Tiziano Terzani, an Italian journalist who traveled all over theworld, lived in India and Asia, a very interesting figure. He died of cancer someyears ago, but was and still is such an inspirational person, well-informed and so wise that it’s always a pleasure listening to his tales.Your book is very intense, it has everything, it’s humorous, delicate, sad, euphoric. The idea of using Theroux’s subplot like a recurring theme was pure genius, perspective and lack of perspective is a focal issue in any kind of narrative and you know it well. Like you, I’ve lived on different islands, (Venice,Dublin in Ireland, London), I don’t know if this makes us feel less lonely, surely inclined to some kind of nostalgia. And I agree, “the best way to open one’s mind is to open one’s mouth”, very true.
7. The first time I saw Mr. Bourdain was in Les Halles in the late 80/early 90s. I was there with a very good friend. We didn’t eat or drink…something about somebody had to “meet a guy.” Something like that.
Story ideas for magazines, books and TV segments: the places I used to eat and drink at in Fukushima (now radioactive shells:ghost towns), the fishing societies suffering from overfishing and the aftereffects of the tsunami(still). The Hungry Ghost Festival banquet in Tiong Bahru, my mom and her friend’s 40+ year-old tradition of making Christmas candy. The chef on thebanks of the Mississippi who roasts coffee the steampunk way. These stories and others I am very connected to. They are stories I’d like to share.
So… that was my experience with the Parts Unknown host.Oh yes…Thanks to the Foodwalker    ‘B’ (the I Ate Tiong Bahru book) was given to someone who issupposed to pass it on to Mr. Bourdain. And, despite the security guards and thechaos, Mr. Bourdain did get ‘C’, ‘C’ being the CD full of Christmas music sung by Joey Ramone at his last concert.

Book Merah Projects, Indonesia-related (Hello Frankfurt Book Fair!)

Notes on the Fay Weldon Interview in the Independent (March 4, 2015)

Fay Weldon interview: ‘Abandon your dignity and write a racy page-turner’ Writers should “abandon literary dignity” and write page-turning versions of their thoughtful masterpieces for the e-book audience, the acclaimed author Fay Weldon has suggested.

Not my kind of headline…

The 83-year-old author, who has written more than 50 works including The Life and Loves of a She Devil, told an audience at The Independent Bath Literature Festival that a different type of reader needed a different type of writer.

ah… Ms. Weldon is from the write-for-your-audience school. Fine. I prefer to explore the art of writing, then see if anyone is interested in my discoveries. Also, regardless of one’s intentions as a writer, marketing is key.

Authors should write a literary version for publication in print form, and a racier “good-bad” version for those who use e-readers such as the Kindle. Weldon revealed she had considered expanding a recent e-book novella for print.
I like the idea of two versions. Coincidentally, I have been experimenting with a novella form of my latest novel, Bali Wave Ghost.However, the amount of “raciness” in both are the same:almost none.
When I am able to do so, I will execute a plan in which every copy of one of my novels is unique.

“Writers have to write now for a world where readers are busy, on the move and have little time for contemplation and reflection,” she said. “The writer has to focus on writing better, cutting to the chase and doing more of the readers’ contemplative work for them.”

In terms of mobile and ebooks, I agree, almost completely.However,I think the experience of reading a printed book is still rich and meaningful and allows for contemplation and reflection. But both of these points are dependent  upon the reader and the reading experience.

Weldon expands on the theme on her blog, quoting a survey in The Bookseller last year which showed that 90 per cent of book buyers read e-books with genre and commercial fiction comprehensively outselling literary fiction. (This seems to be the link, though it displays as being posted in 2014.) One e-reader company, Kobo, also revealed the most read books last year were romance, followed by crime and thriller novels and fantasy.

In August, academics presented a study that showed Kindle users were “significantly” worse at recalling events in a mystery story than those reading in paperback. A European research network studying the effects of digital text reading said “research shows that the amount of time spent reading long-form texts is in decline, and due to digitisation, reading is becoming more intermittent and fragmented”.
This information is not surprising. Now, “everything is mobile” supposedly. I am cautious of studies and surveys. As I write this, a woman is sitting outside reading a paperback. She seems to be deeply engaged with it, and has been for the past 45 minutes at least.

Alice Mangen, of Stavanger University in Norway, a lead on the study, said it “might make a difference if the novel is a page-turner or light read…compared to a 500 page, more complex literary novel.”

There are so many variables connected with the acts of reading and writing that this statement is difficult for me to comprehend.Writing for the sake of art and writing for the sake of sales are not mutually exclusive ideas.Ms. Mangen’s statement appears to be either/or.Harry Potter: isn’t it a complex literary novel that is also a page turner?

Weldon wrote on her blog that the works that sell best in e-book form were fast-moving event-driven stories “with no lingering on obscure complicated ideas,” and that authors should “abandon literary dignity” and write two versions of the same novel. She added: “Writers can’t expect the same version of their book to serve both markets.”
Very interesting idea.I wish there had been follow up questions: Thoughts on sales figures of both versions? What would publishers think of this and how would the different versions be marketed? The two markets: something like “fluffy entertainment” and “lit er a ture”?

She continued: “What the new reader wants is surprise, suspense, entertainment and it doesn’t make you any less of a writer, just a more accomplished one. But maybe something is lost just as it is gained.”

I believe “old readers” wanted those attributes as well.

Her novella The Ted Dreams appeared originally as an e-book before it was published in her new collection Mischief, which provides a survey of her work over five decades.
The Ted Dreams was exactly the same in both versions?

“I thought for The Ted Dreams I might expand on the themes in print that I had thought might be boring,” she said. “I could still do that but I’d rather get on with what I’m doing now.”
I am unclear….so, she did not practice what she is preaching?

She said that she can read books by writers such as Martin Amis in book form, but “in electronic form I tire”.
Eye fatigue? The weight of the ebook reader? Unpleasant feeling in general? Why?
I became aware of this article because of an email notification from Digital Book World. The link to the article was entitled,”Should Authors Write Differently for Digital (the Independent)”
I was hoping to read about the following:
Imagine a new genre, one in which trending keywords are “writejacked”, that is to say that the authors of (mostly) pre-written novels wait until the moment when they can integrate trending key words into their novels and immediately publish them. The MO here is part 24 hour writing competition, part SEO optimization exercise. I have written a short story that experiments with this idea. Not much to report yet, but drop me a line if you would like to learn more.

Would love to learn about non-vampire, non-TV show related fan fiction. Certainly there must be some great books being produced as fan fiction which are not related to mainstream pop culture. I am also experimenting with this in my collaboration with Ezio Barbero, a novel series based on food and the history of the Majapahit Empire, including  excursions into  the time of Alexander the Great and  WWII. (Mulan meets The DaVinci Code with a dash of Anthony Bourdain).

Kindle Worlds Joe Konrath/Kindle Worlds. Michael Bunker.(Full Disclosure: Michael and I have a project in the works.)Nick Cole There are many others; collaborations have been going on since humans learned to do whatever it is that humans do.

So much is happening that it is hard to keep track of. Wattpad.Reedsy Uncovered Books, Unglue It, Kickstarter I have experimented with several of these sites. Am always looking for ways to connect with people in the most efficient manner possible.Hopefully I can keep whatever is left of my dignity.

Book Merah 2015

Book Merah was established by Stephen Black in 2007. Book Merah publishes ebooks, books and art portfolios. Authors include Stephen Black and Cyril Wong. Project discussions are now underway with Sylvie Chandra Nalini Paluselli, who is working on a book about indigenous spiritual practices in Bali and Bernard Harrison, part of the team that created the stunning Singapore Zoo. Finally, Book Merah will be working on a historical novel with novelist/chef Ezio Barbero.

Other Book Merah projects include:

minimalist book cover

I Ate Tiong Bahru by Stephen Black

Soon to be an audio book voiced by Mirai Booth-Ong, the paperback version of I Ate Tiong Bahru has become as Singaporean cult classic, one soon to become an official best-seller. More info on IATB here.

Michael Bunker! CRASHING men, children and metal.

Michael Bunker’s classic. Terminator meets Anne Frank.

USA Today bestselling author Michael Bunker and Stephen Black join forces! Scooby Doo meets Asian film noir with a dash of Herman Hesse. A slapstick detective story set in the underworld of Singapore, featuring dozens of donuts, questionable personal hygiene and almost no full frontal nudity…what more do you want?
Michael Bunker is a reasonable man who lives off the grid. He created the genre known as Amish science fiction. Michael also wrote a remarkable book called Hugh Howie Must Die in thirty hours. If you want to know more about one of the most interesting writers around, click here.

Bali Wave Ghost

“a mad work of genius” Richard E. Lewis, author of Bones of the Dark Moon

“For three years, this book has been the center of my professional life. It is about Bali, love, crime and how the morning light makes a bowl of rice look magical… I have attempted to create an experience, not just tell a story.”-Stephen Black
There are several posts related to Bali Wave Ghost on this blog, including samples like this.

Virtual gallery curators at the opening of their exhibition

Stephen Black and Eugene Soh, the men behind SPOKEN.

SPOKEN is a phenomenon of virtual reality, creative writing and art. The eclectic group of creative people involved include Stelarc, Xu Xi, Sjon, Yasumasa Morimura, Carla Bonollo and The Lagos 2060 group. To visit the gallery, click here. (There is a small download.) This blog has many posts related to SPOKEN


Samples from Furikake can be found here.

Five star Amazon review:
“Tourists don’t know where they’ve been, travellers don’t know where they’re going.”

Paul Theroux

Furikake is a book inspired by a mixture of spices, a dry Japanese condiment meant to be sprinkled on top of rice. Nine tales set in the Far East, mainly Singapore, linked by a different declination of furikake, like a recipe book full of savoury ingredients.

… this is a truly enjoyable reading, between a memoir and a travel diary in which one can easily recognize fragments of oneself.

There’s a recurring theme, the literary device of a story within a story; excerpts in form of well-thumbed photocopies of Paul Theroux’s The Happy Isles of Oceania offer a refreshing, creative view on the narrator’s fictional life. Perspective and lack of perspective become key elements, the past is constantly reinterpreted in order to form an ever changing frame.

The tales compose a very intense narrative, sometimes humorous (Writing Furikake, Furikake on Facebook), others nostalgic (Puccini liked it on ham, Who will bite my head) or euphoric (Variety is the spice of life); in any case a human comedy that won’t leave you indifferent.

Obama Search Words by Stephen Black

Extracts from Obama Search Words can be found here.

With documentary-style short stories and interviews, Obama Search Words captures the spirit of one of the most exciting campaigns in American political history, as well as scenes from Barack Obama’s life.The book also touches upon the work of civil rights leaders such as Philip Randolph and Dr. Martin Luther King. With charts, original and historic photographs, Obama Search Words vividly captures the life and times of one of the most dynamic politicians of our times.  On Amazon.


Red chairs, cyril wong and FIRES

An ebook of poetry by award-winning Singaporean poet Cyril Wong. Available on Amazon.

Contact With Shadow in quotes book cover

Printing history and romance collide in this novel by Stephen Black. And…this book is coming UNGLUED!

red and black text, Palatino bold

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

Much work has been done on the sequel to I Ate Tiong Bahru. Considering a crowdfunding campaign… A sample of the writing is here.

Le Mayeur, le mirage (an excerpt from Bali Wave Ghost)

Hello… Thank you for your interest in my latest project–over two years in the making. Printed versions of Bali Wave Ghost are now available in Bali. The ebook version will soon be online. There are other posts about Bali Wave Ghost on this blog.Thanks again for your interest. If you would like more information, just write in the comments section. Onward! SB

HMMMMMMM! I will continue trying to fix the spacing…it looks fine in preview mode, but obviously something changes when it is published. EGADS! The spacing is now almost perfect, but now WordPress is making the whole thing italic! I will try again later!

Le Mayeur, le mirage

    Search words: The sea of Hiroshi Sugimoto, the land of Gauguin

    The old man on the small pony and I are lost in magnificence. A brilliant, endless whiteness shines over a rich, deep blackness; both are filled with barely perceptible motions. The horizon is a vibration of grays. There are no jets nor stars; no sun nor moon. The wind moves slowly through this cosmic black and white photograph. We are in a long exposure on a beach in Sanur. Silver, platinum, waves and sky…. A red butterfly punctuates our rapture.

    A woman has been standing beside the man on the pony. Gracefully, she twists to look behind us. I look also and become transfixed. The woman and I are looking at a huge painting— no, a massive, delicate
    sculpture made of countless sensations of color. The sun is invisible, but its powers are everywhere. Colors, colors, colors; they form a villa, make a jungle, create the impressions of space and light. The woman starts walking away. Her footprints are blue.

    The man on the pony is Adrien Le Mayeur de Merpes, the painter. The bare-chested Balinese woman is Ni Polok. The two were married after she retired from dancing. She was 15, he was 53.

    I am Mr. Orgasm Donor; Odie. Reality TV star and writer of books. Though I am in the midst of surreal awesome, inspirational beauty, I cannot stop thinking of Bruce Jenner’s transformation into a woman.
    This, in turn, has reminded me of what Quincy Jones once told me about Michael Jackson. We were waiting for the start of a show at the Moulin Rouge.

    ”When I first worked with Michael, he was a poor black boy. But the last time I worked with him…“ Quincy tugged his sleeve back over his watch, then looked me in the eye,” Michael was a rich old white woman.” He smiled without using his mouth.

    I am thinking about all this because Bruce Jenner is a reality TV star. Le Mayeur’s life on Bali was like a reality TV show. My adult life has been a reality TV show. Jenner was a gold medal Olympian who raised the Kardashians. Le Mayeur was the Last Impressionist; the host of parties that celebrated Balinese culture and attracted international celebrities. I’m famous because my wife was wearing a sexy T-shirt when she died in a terrorist blast.

    I think it is now 2018. Le Mayeur died in 1958, Ni Polok in 1985. So, what year actually is this? Here between the lines of the sea and the colors of the jungle there are no timepieces. This is a tropical stage built for colossal operas, a place for gigantic dramas. Gods could perform poems here.

    But we are not gods. We are, simply, three people who are intimate with the mechanics and power of fame. We know how legends are made. Le Meyeur brought his wife to Singapore a few times. She danced at his art shows, wearing only a skirt and flowers in her hair. The sales from his first exhibition, in 1957, allowed him to buy the land and construct the villa behind us. As for me, I have a clever agent who
    tells me whom to date, where to eat and what to wear. She knows what my hair will look like three months from now.

    Again I wonder what year I am in, but the question is much less urgent. My thoughts demand attention. Ni Polok now walks in the world of colors, her dark skin part of the composition. Le Mayeur still stares at the sea. “Beauty, silence and sunlight,” he’d once told a journalist, in reply to a question about why he lived in Bali, “these things define Impressionism, and I, good sir, am an Impressionist.” I can imagine Le Mayeur becoming dramatic and passionate when talking about painting. I can imagine him interacting with painters from Singapore; interactions that created the Nanyang style of painting, a fusion of Chinese and Western styles. I can imagine Le Mayeur as ringmaster of the Bali Night Cafe, where torches shone on Legong dancers,gamelan orchestras and topless maidservants. I can imagine
    the man on the pony as a shrewd businessman, showing his gaudy canvas souvenirs to tipsy tourists stuffed with food and drink. I can imagine Le Mayeur giving them the opportunity to buy.

    Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India, enjoyed himself at the Bali Night Café and so did Soekarno, the first President of Indonesia. Not everyone was invited, however. The Dutch governor made frequent
    threats to close the place down. Finally, Le Mayeur wrote a letter to his cousin, the king of Belgium, who, in turn, wrote to Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands. She wrote a letter in which she told the
    governor to stop bothering the Bali Night Cafe.

    September 20th, 1906

    The Dutch wear dark uniforms.

    Like the Rajah, most of the Balinese wear white, though some of the men are in red or black. The Rajah himself is wearing traditional cremation garments, magnificent jewelry, and a ceremonial kris. He rides
    in a palanquin carried by four men and is followed by about 250 officials, guards, priests, wives, children and retainers. Babies are in the procession too. Everyone–even the children, are carrying a kris or a long lance.

    The Dutch don’t know what to expect. At nine o’clock in the morning they had entered Denpasar from the North. They marched through deserted streets towards the palace. There, they heard drums and
    saw smoke. The Rajah had burned his palace down and ordered everything in it to be destroyed. Now, the Dutch watch and wait as the Rajah and his procession silently approach.

    The Rajah steps down from the palanquin. Calmly staring at the Dutch, he signals a priest. The Rajah thrusts his chest at the Dutch and barely nods his head. The priest plunges a dagger into the Rajah’s
    chest. Red flows over the Rajah’s garments.

    The leader of the Dutch, Captain Schutstal, tells his interpreters to tell the procession to stop. The procession continues. Again the order to stop. The Balinese quicken their pace. The Dutch now understand that this is Puputan, a fight to the death. The Balinese start running with their krises above their heads. The Dutch fire, and fire again.

    The Balinese start killing their wounded comrades. Women throw coins and jewelry at the Dutch, then point to their breasts, demanding to be shot. If no bullet hits them, they lower their heads and wait for
    the blade of the kris. The procession disintegrates. The air smells of blood, fragrant oils and gunpowder. An old man starts stabbing anyone who is still alive. The Dutch shoot him. The procession becomes a pile of a thousand bodies. The Dutch take what they can and move onto the palace.

    The Rajah had not rashly decided upon this most serious course of action. The Dutch had started their activities in Indonesia in 1600. Since that time they had became richer as Indonesia became more colonized. The northern part of Bali was already under Dutch rule, and a Dutch takeover of the rest of the island seemed unavoidable.

    In May, 1904, an incident occurred which gave the Dutch justification for military action. A ship called the Sri Kumala had struck a reef and sank. The ship’s Chinese owner complained to the Dutch that the
    Balinese were diving to the shipwreck and taking anything they could, including coins of copper and silver. The Dutch decided to blockade the Straits of Badung until the Rajah compensated the owner. The
    Rajah did not compensate. The Dutch began making threats, expecting that the Rajah would pay, run away or fight. Instead, the Rajah chose Pupitan.

    The Sri Kumala sank near the beach of Sanur, the area where the Dutch later launched the invasion that triggered the Pupitan.

    Le Mayeur studies the waves like a sea captain studies the stars. He nods occasionally, as though the movements of the sea’s surface are sentences composing a great message. The details and mechanisms
    of our daily lives have fallen away. We are in an immense pureness but I am a fool who cannot help thinking about the man on the Wheaties box who became the woman in Guess jeans. If I had my phone I
    would Google Bruce Jenner.

    I am aware of my mental instability. I know that I sometimes think in long, graceful lines. Other times: scary, epileptic and random. I am at the mercy of my brain’s wondrous ability to make connections,
    stories and emotions from electricity and chemistry. Here is what I know now: I am in the gift shop of the Le Mayeur Museum, looking at a black and white photograph of the painter and his wife. He is on a pony, she is topless; they are on the beach. Francesca is outside with her friends. Fran is my anchor, I know she loves me.

    “So that’s Mr. Orgasm Donor. He’s thinner than he looks on TV,” Mikhail said. “He’s so skinny you wouldn’t need nothin’ but a fist.”He turned to Sergei and told him about one of the men he had beaten
    to death. “That guy was fat though. Had to start on his face. Got his jaw broke, then knocked him out. Blood and bones got in his throat. Like choking.”
    Francesca said, ”Why do you look so happy when you talk like that?”
    “I like my job,” Mikhail said, “I don’t have to carry things all day long. I can breathe.”
    Sergei said, “And you can be your own boss.” Mikhail puffed up his chest and glared at
    Sergei.” Sometimes,” Sergei continued, “but only when everybody knows it’s the best way.”
    “The best way is the way that is planned.”
    “What about Fatty and Blondie? You took them shopping?” Fran said.
    “Bought ‘em everything, from shoes to sunglasses. Then took ‘em to the Greek place on Poppie Lane.
    After we stopped and ate gelato. First time for Fatty to eat gelato.” Mikhail said. “He loved it.”
    “Gelato?” Sergei said. “That shit’s expensive.”
    “Yeah, it’s expensive,” Mikhail said, “but it’s cheap insurance. It was like we were a family eating ice cream. They became like little kids. Started telling me what they were gonna do with the money. Was very sweet.”
    “Now you sound like you’re their father.”
    “No, none of that shit. Five kids is enough. Once they’re in the airport, that’s it.”
    “Everything ‘s been checked?”
    “Everything ‘s been checked. You think this is my first time? You think I’m stupid?”

    They all stopped so the tension would go away. Sergei pretended to play guitar.
    “Your boyfriend really likes that picture of that topless dancer. Hasn’t moved an inch.”
    “Unpredictable. He is so unpredictable. One minute he’s like a stupid popstar who can’t pay attention
    to anything. The next minute he’s a philosopher, trying to make connections from random things.”
    “He’d be right at home in Ubud. You’d have a whole new territory up there.”

    Fran stunned Sergei with a look.
    “Like Mikhail said, the best way is to have a plan. And for now the plan is Sanur. Maybe you haven’t
    been listening, brother.”
    She whispered it like a killer.
    “OK guys, go enjoy Lombok.”
    They all emptied their bottles of Bintang. The two men took off their shoes, rolled up their pants and
    walked towards the boat.
    Fran knew Sergei and Mikhail wouldn’t be sober for the next two days. She reviewed her plans as she headed towards the gift shop. Odie was still staring at the black and white photo of the old man on the pony and the topless woman besides him.

    Fran and Odie had left their villa at 4:45 in the morning. They went to the local market (not the Sindhu market) where they bought green oranges, warm soymilk and various kinds of kuehs. They walked past a temple guarded by a goddess with huge breasts and fangs. Then, they jumped into a bemo, paid the driver five thousand rupiah and arrived at the beach just before sunrise. They held hands as they strolled past fishing boats and yawning tourists. The sunrise they witnessed was spectacular: dramatic clouds, Mount Agung, and the sea.

    The beach quickly became filled with the activities one sees on a sunny weekend afternoon. The walkway and sand became covered with long shadows. Silver clusters of helium balloons and brightly colored inflatable toys suddenly appeared. Matronly women in traditional clothes carried baskets on their heads, kids raced on bicycles and motorbike riders impatiently inched their way toward parking spaces. Foods of all kinds began to be cooked. Souvenir shops started playing music and babies cried. Local boys and girls strolled together. Surf shops put out signs and prepared brochures. Tourists looked at maps. Dogs barked and chased each other. All of this as the huge orange ball of the sun rose over the dark waters of the Bali Sea.

    A guy at a desk selling tours played a song. The song was simple, only a guitar and a voice. Fran and Odie both stopped at the same time to listen. The song was like them: as youthful as a children’s game, as wise as an old, dark-skinned man. A jingly-jangly simple melody, ferocious a little. The song was serious but light-hearted. Havana Moon, by Chuck Berry: the perfect soundtrack for the two of them at that moment.

    She watched him as he swam. He was OK, swimming almost gracefully at times; sometimes floating on his back and kicking water up into the sky. Silhouetted tourists stood on the rocks of the promenade,
    taking selfies. A man with huge wraparound sunglasses and a black knit cap stood in water up to his chest and sang. Neither Odie nor Francesca recognized his language. The song seemed sad to them.

    They had coffee at a warung and overheard a foreign man explaining an unusual story. Some local boys up north had made a dare and the prize was a kite. They managed to convince a six-year-old boy to
    pretend to have sex with a pig, a 142 kilogram sow. Pictures went on Facebook. The village went into an uproar because of the cosmic disturbance. The pig was sacrificed and floated out to sea. The boys were stripped naked and bathed in a special ceremony. The boys’ families paid for everything and the owner of the pig was compensated.

    They walked into the Le Mayeur Museum. They were shocked by the way the sun and the sea air had damaged the paintings. They wandered around beneath the huge sea almond tree and read a plaque about how the
    shrine there was meant to protect against gerubug, a “disease disaster from hell”. They stood near a small square pond full of lily pads and red dragonflies. Broken stone statues of fierce gods guarded the pond, all softened with patches of green moss and lichen the color of rust.

    Overlooking the pond, were two busts made of white stone. Carved by I Made Panti, the Caucasian man wears a shirt with a collar, the buttons undone. His hairline is thin and his face is lined. Beside him is a full-faced Balinese woman, beautiful and serene. A sarong covers her breasts. Both wear headbands of real fabric and both are adorned with fresh frangipani blossoms. Fran barely glanced at them; Odie was
    captivated, looking at the faces and the words beneath them again and again. The words beneath both began with ‘In Loving Memory’.

    A.J. Le Mayeur de Merpes
    Born: February 9, 1880
    Bruxelles (Belgium)
    Arrived in Bali 1932
    Died in Peace: May 31,1958
    Bruxelles (Belgium)

    Ni Nyoman Pollock
    Born: March 3, 1917
    Kelandis Village
    Died in peace: July 21,1985
    Kelandis Denpasar

    Francesca and Odie then entered the house of Le Mayeur and Ni Polok. They were silent in the small, ornate bedroom. They walked out through the gift shop. Fran met her waiting friends, Odie stayed in the gift shop, having discovered a black and white photo of Le Mayeur on a pony. In the photo, Le Mayeur’s wife stands next to him. They are on the beach of Sanur.

Snakefruit Epiphany (from Bali Wave Ghost)


The backpacker walked in, ordered turmeric tea and began pulling books and pamphlets from her bag. Half an hour later, the blonde arrived in a motorcycle sidecar that looked exactly like a very big bottle of champagne. She caught the eye of the waiter the moment she stepped in. Neither she nor the backpacker recognized me.
Though seated at the same table, the two women ignored each other; the reading materials were like a wall. Finally, the backpacker cleared her throat and began to read from a pamphlet.

Trunyan is an ancient village in Bali, whose inhabitants call themselves “Bali Aga” or Old Balinese. In the center of the village is a temple called Puser Jagat, meaning ’The Navel of the Universe.’ The temple’s architecture is unlike any other on Bali. It stands under a massive banyan tree.

The backpacker is a freckled cherub with tattoos and a pierced nose. Calm and factual at first, now she slowly raises her hands like a wizard performing a spell.

When a villager passes away, the body is placed under the banyan tree. The tree emits an arboreal fragrance that masks the stench of death.

Her hands flutter back onto the table.”Lovely perfume Francesca.”
“It’s Krasnaya. Lovely of you to comment.” On the other side of the room the waiter holds up a carafe. Francesca nods. The waiter points to a red table cloth. Francesca shakes her head. He points at the crotch of his white apron. She smiles, then briefly glances at the backpacker. “I notice you still don’t use perfume,” Francesca pulls cigarettes and an ashtray from her purse, “nor deodorant.”
The waiter brings the wine, a glass and bruschetta: toasted slices of bread, basil, cubes of tomatoes and cloves of garlic. Francesca picks up her glass, the waiter pours and the backpacker reads again.

Once a sleepy village, Jimbaran lies on Bali’s southern peninsula. Its pristine sand beckons you for long walks along its coast. Or, enjoy dining at one of the beachside seafood restaurants. A reef provides protection from the wave action, allowing excellent swimming. Jimbaran is known for its spectacular sunsets.

“Speaking of sleepy villages, how’s Perth? Everything running smoothly at the orphanage? Oh wait, you volunteer here, in Bali. And the orphanage is in, is in… Denpasar? No, that isn’t correct is it? The orphanage is in Singaraja? No, that’s not right. Oh yes, I remember. The orphanage is near Ubud, in a jungle valley with a river. With a bar and a pool overlooking rice terraces.”
“We have a karaoke once a month in the dining hall. And it’s a pond, not a pool.”
Francesca refills her glass. Another passage is read, this time with the voice of a pirate.

In the 1830s Kuta was a bustling slave market and a base for a notorious variety of international lowlifes.

The backpacker again clears her throat and almost looks up.

Hippies and surfers began arriving in the 1960s. Kuta is now one of the busiest tourist areas in the world, a wonderland of sun, surf, hotels and bars.

Fran moves her glass over one of the books. “Eat Pay Leave. Your pirate voice might make it interesting.”
“Must you always emit such massive negativity? You’re like a… like an…Anti-Eat Pray Love Person! Why don’t you write your own book? Three years here, for sure you know everything about the real Bali.”
“The real Bali? The real Bali is a ten minute kechak dance during happy hour. Or the beach in Kuta. Makes me ill. Anti-Eat Pray Love Person? Me? No, no, no… I am the most positive person you’ll ever meet. Just ask your father.” She says this slowly, in between smoking and looking at her phone. The table has become a boxing ring with a vase of frangipanis and crisp linen napkins. One fighter starts tapping at Facebook, her opponent points at maps in a Lonely Planet guide book. Francesca finally looks up. “Gattopardo! Finally! I have you all to myself. Sit down!”
Gattopardo remains standing, smiling and serene. “Francesca! Amore! Beautiful to see you and your charming friend. Your invitation is very kind. But, sad to say, my morning delivery just arrived. Now I am a headache.” He looks at Francesca, slowly rubs his hands. “Amore, of course you know I would enjoy with you a bottle of wine. Or champagne. “
“Both.” Francesca leans back and runs her fingers through her hair. Her eyes are locked on Gattopardo. She is petite; when she extracted herself from the champagne sidecar, she did so with the grace of a ballerina. Francesca leans forward, looks directly into the eyes of the backpacker. “Gattopardo, am I a lush?”
Gattopardo gazes out at the rice fields. He looks over the golden umbrella above the small stone shrine in the parking lot. The bottom half is wrapped in a black and white checkered cloth; a saput poleng. Gattopardo looks at Francesca. “Amore, you are most certainly not a lush,” he says quietly.

Twenty minutes ago I experienced an epiphany because of Gattopardo.
He didn’t sing me an aria as I ate spaghetti; he hadn’t taught me a Sanskrit mantra. He didn’t read my palm. Gattopardo simply served me a plate of snakefruit pasta.
“Tagliarini al salak,” he said. The moment he placed it before me I began moving my nose through the delicate steam swirling above the glistening noodles. Like a magician, Gattopardo then reached into his chef’s jacket and produced a heart-shaped, reddish-brown leathery fruit.”A snakefruit, a salak.” He placed it on my table. “Bon appetito.”
Heavy yet soft, the pasta was a perfect balance of egg yolk and double zero wheat flour. Shavings of roasted almonds, the sweetness of mascarpone cheese and a whisper of seasoning. The crunchy snakefruit, delightfully sour, had been sliced very thinly—and frozen!
As I ate, I drifted.
I contemplated my hand’s relationship to the fork it held. I saw new colors when I looked outside. I went to the wheat fields of the place where I was born. I imagined what a salak tree looked like. The food was transformative. One moment I was in a happy credit card commercial, the next I was confronted with a huge, messy map of my destructive life. You are here.

“Join me,” Francesca purrs to Gattopardo, swirling her chest, running a finger along the stem of her glass. “Just one.”
“Amore, my heart says yes, my schedule says no.” Gattopardo pushes his glasses to the top of his nose. “But I promise we soon have a sweet time together. You have my word.”
One of the cute Japanese women sitting in the corner gets up and approaches my table. She’s smiling and holding a camera. I know she’s going to say something I’ve heard millions of times.
“Excuse me, Mr. Orgasm Donor, can I take a picture with you?”

Voila! The debut of a new dish, tagliarini al salak. The dish has yet to be actually created but was conceptualized by Chef Ezio Barbero, owner of the La Bruschetta restaurant in Sanur, Bali.

The above is an excerpt from Bali Wave Ghost will soon be published. Artist/writer Stephen Black has written several other books including the Singaporean cult classic I Ate Tiong Bahru.

What is the Language of Dreamland?

This post refers to this website.

What is the Language of Dreamland?
Dreamland is the name of a popular surfing spot in Bali. Bali attracts surfers from all over the world… Question: What languages are spoken in Dreamland?

Twitter is the source for the data.Tweets containing the words ‘Dreamland’ and ‘wave’ were collected. Hitoshi Wada then wrote original programming to create this application as an answer to Stephen Black’s poetic question.
Please note that not all surfers in Dreamland use twitter and this project is not meant to be an accurate report.

Project Background and Future Plans
Hitoshi Wada and Stephen Black met at Hubud in Ubud on January 8, 2015. They decided to create a project combining art, creative writing and programming. Work began at 12:30 AM on January 11. The concept was defined and the majority of the work was finished nine hours later. A final polish occurred a few days later.
During the creative process, many ideas were generated. A future project will compare the tweets of Balinese/Indonesians with the tweets of people from other countries. The topic of garbage may be the first to be presented.

Hitoshi Wada
A freelance programmer, Hitoshi is now completing his masters at JAIST(Japan Advanced Institute of Science and Technology). He made this:

and this:

Stephen Black
Artist/writer Stephen Black co-produced SPOKEN with Eugene Soh. SPOKEN is a virtual gallery/creative writing project. Stephen is now completing a novel called Bali Wave Ghost. www.blacksteps.tv

La Bruschetta Restaurant in Sanur.
Probably the best pizza in Asia.


Sanur Bagoes Guest House in Sanur
Short and longterm stays. sanur.bagoes @yahoo.com