Tag Archives: authors

SuperInterview: Lisa See

Lisa See is an inspiration to me. No, I have not yet read her books, but her writing is solid, as her  awards and reviews prove. What inspires is me is the way she starts with a core of personal relationships and then researches, researches, researches. The following superinterview covers her life, her relationship with China and her nonwriting-but-important-to writing activities. The following, from the Phillipine News Now website, nicely introduces us to Lisa... As she pours steaming water over tea in a mini-tasting ritual, See reflects on how a one-eighth Chinese, native Californian whose bright red hair, freckles and pale skin belie her Asian cultural roots, went from freelance journalist to one of the most prominent Chinese-American writers of her generation."I was what they called a critically acclaimed writer," says See, who is as witty in person as on the page. "What that means is you get really great reviews and nobody reads your books." That changed when, against the advice of publisher, agent, fellow writers, even friends, she decided to research a historical novel about two women growing up as best friends in rural 19th century China. Published in 2005, "Snow Flower and the Secret Fan" has sold more than 1.5 million copies. It not only established See as a serious literary force but gave her a template for future storytelling. Several deeply researched historical novels have followed, each featuring strong characters who, despite close friendship, sometimes betray one another. They are often day-to-day people caught up in the circumstances and traditions of their time, which can lead to situations running the gamut from laugh-out-loud comical to deeply, darkly tragic. ................................... The following is from Lisa See's website. Why do you write about China? I’m part Chinese. My great-great-grandfather came here to work on the building of the transcontinental railroad. My great-grandfather was the godfather/patriarch of Los Angeles Chinatown. I don’t look at all Chinese, but I grew up in a very large Chinese-American family. I have hundreds of relatives in Los Angeles, of which there are only about a dozen who look like me. Lisa's mother, Carolyn See, is also a writer. The following is from an interview the two conducted. Carolyn: You’re one-eighth Chinese but you’ve said many times that you’re “Chinese in your heart.”  You lived with me growing up, but I know your dad’s parents made a tremendous impression on you.  Could you talk specifically of your wonderful grandmother Stella See? I have a hunch you picked up many of your storytelling skills from her. Lisa: Did I? I thought I picked up my storytelling skills from you! I don’t remember my grandmother telling many stories, actually. What I remember most is her essence. She wasn’t Chinese (I got my red hair from her). She was very shy and fearful in many ways, but she also was filled with daring. She married a Chinese man when it was against the law. She lit out on a round-the-world trip with a couple of girlfriends when she was sixty-nine. She traveled through India third class. She was an adventurer and kind of wild in her own way, and yet she was afraid of so many things. She could be very blunt and earthy, but often she was afraid to finish a sentence. It was only when I was writing Peony in Love that I realized that a version of my grandmother has appeared in every book I’ve written. There’s a lot of her in Madame Wang (the matchmaker in Snow Flower), the neighborhood committee director in the mysteries, the grandmother in Peony in Love, and the mother-in-law in Shanghai Girls. Writing these fictional characters has allowed me to have my grandmother with me every day. ..................... From the same interview: But what really interested me about footbinding was that it seemed so tied to the Chinese written character for mother love, which is composed of two elements: one part means love, the other part means pain. Of course, mother love is experienced in all cultures and through all times. I used to think that mother love is what daughters feel for their mothers—because they bind our feet, brush our hair, and nag us to clean our rooms, do our homework, get off the phone, and not stay out too late—but I’ve come to believe that mother love is really about what mothers feel for their children. Any pain or suffering our children feel—a fever or an earache as an infant, getting in with the wrong crowd in high school, failures in business or love once they’ve gone out into the world—we bear for them (whether they know it or not) and carry in our hearts. I’m a woman, a daughter, and a mother. When I was a kid, I had very long hair. Remember what you used to say when you brushed it? “In order to be beautiful one must suffer.” That was coming from you—one of the most liberated, smart, and open people I know. These things are just so deep in every culture ................................ For Snow Flower, she traveled to a remote area of China—where she was told she was only the second foreigner ever to visit—to research the secret writing invented, used, and kept a secret by women for over a thousand years.(THIS IS THE BOOK OF LISA'S THAT I WOULD LIKE TO READ FIRST-SB) Amy Tan called the novel “achingly beautiful, a marvel of imagination.” Others agreed, and foreign-language rights for Snow Flower were sold to 39 countries. The novel also became a New York Times bestseller, a Booksense Number One Pick, has won numerous awards domestically and internationally, and was made into a feature film produced by Fox Searchlight. Ms. See was born in Paris but grew up in Los Angeles. She lived with her mother, but spent a lot of time with her father’s family in Chinatown. Her first book, On Gold Mountain: The One Hundred Year Odyssey of My Chinese-American Family (1995), was a national bestseller and a New York Times Notable Book. The book traces the journey of Lisa’s great-grandfather, Fong See, who overcame obstacles at every step to become the 100-year-old godfather of Los Angeles’s Chinatown and the patriarch of a sprawling family. Research shapes Lisa's signature style of storytelling.  The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane, her latest book, is about the lives of a Chinese mother and her daughter who has been adopted by an American couple. The book  features the  customs of a Chinese ethnic minority, the Akha. The Akha grow and produce  Pu'er tea. Lisa did research, not exactly a little bit of poking around on the internet...
The next day, we flew from GuangZhou to Xishuangbanna, arriving in JingHong late at night. After being picked up by our driver, Mr. Lee, we drove an hour and a half to our hotel in Menghai. The next morning, we met up with my tea master, Vesper Chan, at our hotel. Also with us were Jeni Dodd of Jeni’s Tea in NY and Buddha Tamong from Nepal. Master Chan and his associate, Mr. Liu, drove us up the mountain to Mengsung, a well-known pu-erh producing area within Xishuangbanna Prefecture. Upon arrival, a delicious lunch of the local cuisine had already been prepared for us. After we ate, we toured Mr. Liu’s tea processing factory and hiked into the ancient tea garden.
That is an excerpt written by Linda Louie, from the Bana Tea Company. Lisa and Linda spent time together researching tea. One of the results of this is the Book Club Tea Tasting Guide, a package that includes teas featured in the book. The questions I have for Lisa are:
  1. Exposition can really block the flow of a story. Can you provide an example, maybe an excerpt, in which exposition pushed the story or became invisible? It would seem that often you must explain things and I am  wondering if you have a pattern, or patterns, for explaining complex concepts to your readers.
  2. Logistics for appearances and publicity. Do you have an assistant? How helpful is your publisher? It seems you make a lot of appearances and I am curious how you manage, especially with things like having books o hand for signings.
  3. China has seen very difficult times. Our planet is now seeing some very difficult times. Is there a Chinese expression which  expresses the importance of Hope, or perhaps encourages a positive long term view when the short term view is dark?............These questions were sent to Lisa on April 1st, 2017...stay tuned!)

Let’s Spend the River Together

the writing spree begins now; in  Johor Bahru, Malaysia at 2AM... What a delight it is when unplanned events suddenly enrich our lives. A small example: I wanted to research the possibilities of short story/gaming mashups. This search led me to the work of Marc Laidlaw.  His words and ideas helped shape the legendary Half-Life.  His blog post about writing for games  is a burning  Panthunian crystal, set high on a hill; guidance  for the  hooded, tired traveler that was my question. However, what was delightful is this: I have been researching hands, especially all that is profundis , as well as writing about photography. Mr. Laidlaw had once been approached about doing a “cover version” of The Viewfinder by Raymond Carver.  Hats off to  Larry McCaffery for that idea. Fingers and a camera figure prominently in Carver’s story! My  “cover” of The Viewfinder is now in its second draft and will be in the JB book. I will do my best, but it will never be as good as this story about a musical cover: http://www.blacksteps.tv/the-greatest-music-of-all-time/   PS: Just discovered this, about the use of photography in The Viewfinder:  https://www.scribd.com/document/263990334/Raymond-Carver-in-the-Viewfinder   PSS Here is the latest draft of my cover of The Viewfinder.           Weaselspittism

Superinterview: April Eberhardt,”literary change agent”

I wish I could find the  Digital Book World article that gave me the first glimpse into the work of April Eberhardt. The article included a mention of her--or, maybe she made a comment.(Found it! It was actually on Publishers Weekly.) I looked at her website and immediately sent an email, asking if I could interview her. She agreed. That was about five months ago. Both of us have been busy. If you know me, you know that my father sold/sells books. You also may know that I have been involved with the creative/writing side of the internet for quite a while. When Amazon began selling a device only for reading books in 2007, I finally committed myself to writing books/ebooks.  Since then, I had been waiting for someone like April Eberhardt. I didn't think that traditional publishers would drown in the wave of  self-publishing, but I did believe that there would be a third possibility. When I saw the phrase "literary change agent" connected with April Eberhardt's name, I was thrilled. Although I may be an April Eberhardt fanboy, I am not writing this to kiss her elbow and hope she will pick up my books. I don't think she works that way, number one. And, number two, it is premature for me to think about changing the course I have chosen for my writing career and my other pursuits. This post is mainly for my own reference and enjoyment... it's something like an experimantal portrait. OK..here we go... We open with an excerpt from a recent interview conducted by  Chicago Women in Publishing.
You describe yourself as a literary change agent. What does that mean? 
The publishing landscape is changing rapidly and drastically, to the benefit of the informed author. I embrace that change, and seek to help authors understand the full range of their choices and how to select among them strategically and successfully.
Continuing on that thought, from an interview with Ms. Eberhardt conducted by Naomi  Rosenblatt from Heliotrope Books. The interview appeared on the Blk Neon website.
"I live in San Francisco,” April Eberhardt explained in her indie publishing seminar. “I overlook the bay, and watch big tankers struggle to change course—unlike the agile sailboats that navigate easily. But of course tankers have the advantage of more power than sailboats. This has become my metaphor for the respective strengths of big publishing conglomerates and smaller indie presses.”
Next, a description of Ms. Eberhardt from the Art Of Writing/ A Writer's Retreat in Tuscanny Workshop...
April advises and assists authors worldwide as they choose the best pathway to publication for their work be it indie or traditional, digital or print. She serves as an industry advocate for establishing quality standards for non-traditionally published work to increase the acceptance and success of independent publishing. April works frequently with authors to critique and hone their manuscripts prior to submission or publication. She describes her approach as “kind but clear” with an eye toward commercial success. “There’s the sheer enjoyment of the writing from the author’s viewpoint,” she says, “and then there’s the expectation readers have for a sharp, compelling story. My objective is to help authors achieve both. I focus on identifying and underscoring the strengths that each author has, while at the same time finding ways to keep the story lean and taut with strong reader appeal.” Above all, she says, she wants to “encourage each author’s momentum and sense of satisfaction with the process and result. We want you to keep writing!” Math! Needles in haystacks!  How does Ms. Eberhardt find a great book and how often does that happen? from Chris Jane, of 5 On, a regular feature found on the extremely helpful website of Jane Friedman. CHRIS JANE: ... Of the 10,000 submissions you receive every year, you’ve said, you find fifteen to twenty to be exceptional. Is “exceptional” a matter of substance, marketing potential, both, or something else? APRIL EBERHARDT: To me, “exceptional” means an utterly compelling story, one that’s original, beautifully written and tightly told, one that I can’t put down. I see five to ten of these a year. Marketing potential comes second. While I realize that the traditional market may be looking for something easier to sell (translated, that means similar to other recent successful work), when I find a wonderful manuscript, I’m prepared to champion it until it gets published (which increasingly is via indie means—either partnership publishing or self-publishing.) From the same interview: Why are publishing houses ignoring the same perfectly good writers you’re passionate about helping? It’s their bestseller/blockbuster orientation. The most common reason cited by editors turning down the manuscripts I submit is, “We can’t break it out big enough,” meaning sell thousands of copies in a period of a few weeks. There are now a million books published annually. It usually takes more than a single swift push to bring a good book to the attention of its readers. Big Pub can’t afford to do more than that for most. They put their money on a relatively few books that are similar to recent successes. Next, from the Hippocampus website, from an interview conducted by  Lori M. Myers, Senior Interviews Editor. Lori: I’ll never forget what you said during your presentation at Chautauqua. It went something like “Traditional publishers aren’t failing, but they’re flailing.”   April: Big publishers continue to believe they’re the arbiters of taste, and the most desirable gateway to being published. That’s all changing–the internet has opened a multitude of possibilities. Most importantly, readers and authors can connect directly without middlemen, and readers decide what’s worth reading and recommending. So should writers steer away from “Big Pub?” While some authors do desire traditional publication, its value proposition to authors is weakening. Until Big Pub figures out a way to give more to authors (which involves a complete overhaul of their financial and operational model,) other new, profitable and more satisfying ways of being published will continue to lure authors away from traditional publishing. Having options is good, but there seems to be so many! There’s partner publishing, assisted publishing and hybrid publishing, along with self-publishing.  As one attractive new option, partner publishing offers high-quality services from publishing professionals, along with curation and distribution, enabling authors to pay for selected services and receive a top-quality book. Next up: a 2014 interview between Ms. Eberhardt and Mary Rowen, author of LEAVING THE BEACH (a 2016 IPPY Award winner) and LIVING BY EAR. MR: In addition to traditional and self-publishing, there are so many other options available now. For example, there are many publishing companies that will edit, proofread, design, and publish a book for a writer for a fee. The books produced by these presses often look very professional, and many writers are drawn to them. But from what I’ve heard, they’re not all great. Are there any pay-to-publish presses that you’d recommend? Any that you’d advise writers to avoid? And what sorts of things should a writer look for in a pay-to-publish press? AE: Above all you want experience, transparency and references in a partner publisher. You also want curation and distribution. Companies like She Writes Press, White Cloud Press and Turning Stone Press are led and managed by people with long experience in traditional publishing. All are open about their approach, costs and clients. They are selective about which authors they publish, and have clear contracts granting all rights to the author, along with offering distribution, usually through Ingram. The legitimate ones will happily refer you to other authors who have published with them so you can learn more about their experiences. I’d suggest steering clear of subsidy presses like Author Solutions that accept any and all manuscripts, tend to produce inferior-quality books priced at non-competitive prices, don’t offer distribution, and sometimes pressure authors to buy more services than they need. Research, email exchanges and the links above answered all of my questions about Ms. Eberhardt except for three. She replied to my first two questions with her latest bio. It summarizes some of the points above. SB: Was there one moment when  you decided to enter into a business that was not yet clearly defined? Was it a well-researched plan or a leap of faith?
AE(from her bio):April Eberhardt is a literary change agent and author advocate passionate about helping authors be published in the most effective and satisfying way. After 25 years as a corporate strategist and consultant, Ms. Eberhardt joined the literary world, where she saw strategic opportunity to play a role in the changing world of publishing. Ms. Eberhardt advises and assists authors worldwide, as they choose the best pathway to publication for their work, be it indie or traditional, digital or print, and serves as a consultant to new publishing startups. Ms. Eberhardt divides her time between San Francisco, New York and Paris. She also is a reader for the Best American Short Stories series published annually by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 
AE (continuing via email): The above may in part answer your question as well—how and why did I get into agenting and publishing consulting? I entered the field with the intent to play a role in the evolving world of publishing. While I recognized that the direction and speed of change would be unpredictable, I was completely comfortable with that. It’s exciting to be part of an industry undergoing a major transition, especially publishing since its product—reading—is of such keen interest to many of us. Good consulting is about keeping an eye on the shifts and trends, asking thoughtful questions about a client’s (in this case, an author’s) goals, dreams, likes and dislikes, and aligning the two. There’s always a lot of experimentation that occurs, and it’s easier to discern the right next steps when you’re working as a team vs trying to navigate it alone.
SB: E-books can be said to symbolize the possibilities of self-publishing. What was your first
e-book experience?
AE: E-books are obviously an important format in publishing’s evolution, particularly since they allow for experimentation in a broad number of ways (content, marketing, etc.) and provide a relatively easy, inexpensive way to make quick adjustments. I don’t remember the first e-book I read. 
I would like to sincerely thank Ms. Eberhardt for taking the time to be a part of this informative experiment. I enjoyed it very much and hope many others will as well.
And, if you are in Boston in May, Ms. Eberhardt will participating in the Grub Street Writers Conference: THE CHANGING FACE OF PUBLISHING: WHAT ALL AUTHORS NEED TO KNOW In this illuminating workshop, Literary Change Agent and author advocate April Eberhardt examines the state of publishing today along with the implications and opportunities for authors. She presents five different paths to publication, including a candid discussion of the advantages and disadvantages of each approach from an author’s perspective. Discover what partnership publishing is, along with hybrid authorship, and collaborative (also known as cooperative) publishing. Learn how to choose the right path for you and your work, which sometimes involves different paths for different projects, and how to develop a publishing strategy and approach that meets your goals, dreams, timetable and budget. Ms. Eberhardt's home page: http://aprileberhardt.com/  

notes on the book Seen and Unseen by Russell Darnley

Russell Darnley's experiences in Asia are somewhat like my own. We've both spent considerable time in Bali, Singapore, and Indonesia, where Russell lived for a number of years. I lived in Japan, another place that Russell wrote about. Russell is Australian; I'm American.  Seen and Unseen is  a collection of short stories  based on Russell`s memoirs but, as I read, I often found myself remembering similar situations, or comparing his descriptions of a certain place with my own. Russell's  ability to speak Indonesian put him in the midst of the hospitals and makeshift morgues of Kuta immediately after the Bali Bombing. Reading his words, I felt like I was there. This sense of being beside  the author occurred  throughout the book, and thankfully, often in much more positive places than Kuta during that terrible time. Russell's writing style is, for the most part conversational. He recreates dialogues and places them within a chronological structure. This simple method allows him to provide easily understood insights into complex matters. Russell gracefully overcomes the challenges of using non-English words in an English language text. We can understand, for example, an Indonesian word because of its context or by the way it's used by a character. Russell  spent a significant portion of his life in Indonesia. The result of all of this is that we can how political decisions affect peoples lives, especially those political decisions involving more than one country.

photo of Russell Darnley from www.anza.org.sg

In short, I enjoyed reading Seen and Unseen because it was like having an intelligent older relative sharing with me the details of a life well lived. To give you an idea of the scope of the book, I present you with a few titles of the book's twenty-nine chapters: Sid Thompson and D Company Red Poppies and Janur An Encounter With White Australia Surviving the Sixties Balikpapan: Looking Backwards and Forwards Kampanye- The Campaign Procession An Unusual Kind of Thunder Singapore 43 Years on I should mention that Russell gave me a copy of Seen and Unseen in the Tiong Bahru Market, which is where we met. Finally, I wrote  a book, Bali Wave Ghost, that constantly makes reference to the Bali Bombing. Seen and Unseen on Amazon FWIW, Russell has been spotted in The Oak Bar. (I apologize for the formatting of this post. I am unsure as to why my previews always show a much more attractive spacing and layout, but once I publish, the posts look like this one...)  

The Oak Bar

Hey everybody! Russell, Pavle, Xu Xi and Bernard! I'd like to introduce you to O'Brien Brown and Carl Adams! I've written about them elsewhere on this blog. Carl wrote about the first slave freed by Abraham Lincoln, a woman named Nance. O'Brien wrote coming of age story set in the Sixties. So, do poke around on the links and enjoy your selves! The next round is on O'Brien Brown! .....Oh yeah! My crowdfunding campaign reached 130% in the first three days! But yeah, there are still some great rewards left!http://www.zingohub.com/en-GBL/stephenblack/i-ate-tiong-bahru-limited-glassware-edition...... (first post on the blog follows...)I like to introduce people. My hope is that some of the people here will look at some at some of the links of the others, possibly interact, as well as  introduce other people to "drink with". Pavle Radonic... Fresh toddy in JB, a bottle of the good stuff at Vic's... Here is the bio used in the text and photo project we did together: A Melbourne, Australia writer of Montenegrin heritage, Pavle Radonic has been living and writing intensively in the South-East Asian tropics for five years. Oddly and unexpectedly, in this time he has become a kind of minor Malay Archipelago specialist, at least from the Western perspective. Pavle has divided his time between peninsular Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia (Jakarta & Jogja in particular). In Australia his writing has been  published in a range of literary journals and magazines; more recently his work from this region has appeared in Ambit Magazine (UK), Big Bridge (US) and The Literary Yard (India), among others. A literary miscellany more than blog can be found at: www.axialmelbourne.blogspot.com   Xu Xi... Yes, we have had a few drinks together; Hong Kong, Manhattan and Singapore. Her latest novel is called The Man in Our Lives. The Jakarta Post did this very thorough interview with her. Russel Darnley... We drank coffee in the Tiong Bahru Mouth! I'm hoping we can exchange words about our books...his, called Seen and Unseen, includes a chapter on the Bali Bombing, the event which, tragically, launched the career of Mr. Orgasm Donor, a character in my novel entitled Bali Wave Ghost. Russel, fluent in Indonesian, did volunteer work immediately after the Bombing and the notes he began taking at that time became the first steps towards Seen and Unseen. Bernard Jann... At  least once, Bernard probably had a glass near his computer in Europe and I probably had a glass near my computer in Asia. So there ya go. Bernard's website is here. He once helped me research some Croatian oldies:
.....................cheers! SB...................

Exciting New Cemetery @Isetan Wisma Atria

stephen black exciting new cemetery; involvement with tiong bahru mouth, 3how, photography, Obama Search Words,video,Lorong 16,self-publishing, Fires, Singapore art from 1965-2017, Singapore Personal Art Metadata,SPOKEN,Furikake,limited editions,Contact With Shadow, the art of conversation,Flame Magnet, thumb-shaped kways, Big Homer,Beach Road, Bali Wave Ghost and i ate tiong bahru @ isetan wisma atria from September 6-October 3 The Stephen Black is present everyday except Monday. This will be finalized very soon, but will involve talks,books by Stephen Black, exhibited artworks, digital artworks,artworks for sale, free screenings of the Beach Road 360VR movie, hands on interaction with SPOKEN, the virtual gallery co-created with Eugene Soh and much, much more.... exciting new cemetery jpeg


Hello... To see me bray like a donkey as I briefly describe the books, click here. To see an informative interview shot in Bali, click here. For complete descriptions of the books being given away, click here. The schedule.... FIRES Red chairs, cyril wong and FIRES free downloads over for now... ........................................ FURIKAKE photography as part of book cover designiron fire riceballs and red thumbkway All the free days have passed... ........................................ I ATE TIONG BAHRUIATB_front in Singapore, available at Booktique, Naiise and Books Actually ............................................ OBAMA SEARCH WORDS Obama Search Words by Stephen Black free downloads over! ................................ BALI WAVE GHOST black and white book covers  Free downloads on Amazon: September 27,28 and 29.   Interactive Fiction...Go to the site to find PICASSO IN THE RAIN! https://ifcomp.org/   I ATE TIONG BAHRU AUDIOBOOK SAMPLE  Video interview about the books   Kickstarter coming soon!! Thank you for stopping by... Drop a line! And, honest reviews on Amazon or Goodreads are always appreciated! THANKS   Stephen Black

Amazon Book Reviews: Different Presentations to Different Countries?

If you think that Amazon posts the same reviews, and the same number of reviews for each book, think again... OK, all of this first happened before I had coffee. Now, twelve hours later, I can tell you the following pieces of information are  worth writing about...
  • There are now only two reviews displayed on the Singapore Amazon page, which I think is the same as the UK Amazon page..
  • If you notice, on some of the pages it says, below the star rating chart, there is a sentence written in green: Published on Amazon.com... that seems obvious, so there must be something I' m missing. I mean, if I am on the Amazon page and I see the review, it is published on Amazon. com, correct? But then why does that green sentence NOT appear on the Singapore page? (Which only has two reviews?)
  • At one point this morning, the score was: Canada 3, USA 2, UK 2, Singapore 2... these "scores" were all tabulated at almost the same time... And not all of the reviews were the same. I think maybe six people have written reviews in total, but I have yet to see them all displayed on the same page.
  • 13548828_10157031666075125_1006338799_o 13524140_10157031694765125_1438300248_o 13555991_10157031666070125_619470784_o
  • Stralia! The Australian Amazon page shows no "star" reviews, but has two reviews, one for four and the other for five stars....And, from the screenshot below, it seems that an individual country, in this case Australia, does not use the yellow bars of the star system unless the review was posted on that country's Amazon.au site.... To put it another way, reviews  show up definitely on the Amazon page of the country from which the review was sent. But Amazon's algorithms may not share that post internationally and equally.
13392157_654679868020560_3445337553130063924_o So there ya gooo A big thank you to Stuart Rankin! Oh yeah! Bali Wave Ghost is here...and there are plenty of posts about it on this blog, as well as a link to a video interview. And if you would like to get a free ebook of Bali wave ghost, click here... Don't get me started on the way that this WordPress version presents lists...99% of WordPress is fantastic, but lists and numbering...    

Inari, Bali and Snow

  • The Author Show audio  interview with Stephen Black on the Furikake book.
  • On Saturday, April 23, Stephen Black will be reading and presenting the thumb kway artworks and a new artwork entitle Miso Furikake Riceballs. Details here.
  • On April 22, this will be added to the book entitled Furikake.
  • This is the final version of Inari, Bali and Snow, replacing other versions of this story that were posted on this blog.

February 21, 2016

Man, this miso stuff is serious!

Mom and I'd been talking about food as social art. Edible, nutritious art. Public sculptures of popcorn and haikus made of glutinous rice. We discussed the pigmentation of palm sugar, sesame seeds, coconut oil and pink Himalayan salt. Mom explained how roasting changes miso's color and texture. I introduced Mom to the artworks of Ferran Adria and el Bulli. I explained how and why I made kways shaped like my thumbprint. I learned that, in Japanese, “tekka” is written with two kanjis and means “iron fire”. And, in Kyushu, 'tekka' means someone with a strong, focused and energetic personality. Like Mom, who just told me that miso has anti-radiation properties and was used as medicine at Hiroshima. Man, this miso stuff is serious...

Mom has a healthy glow. Her eyes are bright and full of depth. Calm with wisdom, yet the signs of overwork show through. Mom is one of those people who are truly aware that we are all in the same tiny boat on the vast River of Time, sometimes going with the flow, sometimes lost without a paddle.

Bamboo Spirit is a center of social energy; a tie-dyed campus at the top of the Penestanan Steps. A Hindu place, a Russian place, a Japanese place...a  quietly glorious Balinese place. Next to a stream, the house-like, open structure is old and made of wood and stone.. From the second floor and the small strange cozy space on the third, one can see rice fields and the hills of Ubud. People celebrate food here. Mom sells her products here on Sundays.

Alex introduced us. Barefoot and standing on the hard ground, we were soon discussing fermentation, the laphet I brought from Myanmar and the tekka miso from her farm. Above us, a canopy of yellow cloth warmed and softened the light, giving everyone and everything a golden shadow. I gave Mom laphet and she gave me mimosa tea. I told Mom I would visit her farm as soon as I could. The farm is in Mas, just outside of Ubud, which is on the island of Bali in the country of Indonesia. In Spanish, 'mas' means 'more'.

Furikake stars:

Faint, bittersweet sands of time

swirling clouds; rice ball.

I Am a Muddy Path With No Banana Leaves

I drove to Mas in darkness.

Mom welcomed me: "Six o'clock. You are on time. Like the Japanese." She gave me her husband's boots. My first task was to water "our plants". That was on Level 1. Later in the morning, Rachel watered Level 2 and Liisa looked for okra on Level 3. There's a teepee on the edge of Level 4. Mom was everywhere. Lined up at the windows of their classroom, the children from the school yelled "Hello" and "Good morning", their cute voices and uncontrolled enthusiasm strong enough to cross the big field between us. Later, we heard them singing Balinese songs. I used a sickle on the plants surrounding the wild peanuts and discovered okra blossoms. As she walked in, as though she were laughing, Alex asked me how I was doing.

Breakfast, then, in Mom's bamboo house. Papaya,okra salad and rice balls, everything full of flavor. Rachel mentioned something she'd read about how the visual appearance of food influences t digestion. Another topic: the ideal state of mind for those people who prepare food. Manny talked about food, air, water and McDonald's and we all discussed furikake, laphet and mimosa tea. I wore the green shirt my mom bought for me, now faded and with a hole between my left shoulder and my heart. During the four hours I was at Mom's, I was in the center of a beautifully slow and flowing sequence of events, thoughts and exchanges. I drank no coffee. 🙂

But my muddy path task is what made the strongest impression upon me. The farm has a network of paths and the recent rain had made some sections very slippery. Mom told me to make mats from the old leaves and stalks from the banana plants. If I did that, traction and safety would be improved. You don't want someone falling with a large, sharp cutting instrument in their hands... I didn't need a plan; in such a cosmic place, everything would be naturally perfect. But, my thinking was wrong.

I should have gained information about: a) the number of banana leaves available, b) the number of trouble spots, c) the "danger rating" of trouble spots, d) "danger ratings" vs. frequency of use, e) location and f) time available to complete the task.

I should have improved the most dangerous high-traffic sections first, starting with the steps between levels. Then, I should have used my limited amount of banana tree resources to prevent new trouble spots from developing. With whatever time was left, I should have put at least one leaf on all of the remaining areas, which would have warned others of danger.

But as it is, many parts of the paths on the farm are still very slippery and one small area in Level 1 is very safe.

Gold furikake

being sprinkled on blue snow,

Hanazono dawn

During my first winter in Asia, my home was a little tatami room in Yotsuya. There, on the morning of January 28, 1985, I awoke well before dawn, bundled up and set out to wander through a snowstorm that, with a continuing, powerful grandeur, had shut down Tokyo. I was hungry; had nothing but coins in my pocket and a camera loaded with black and white film. The glass door made the rolling, shaky noise it always did when it was opened. I stepped out. Immediately my nose and lungs were stung by cold air. I trudged through a maze of snowdrifts until I reached Shinjuku-dori. Then west, past the Sun Music Building that the singer had thrown herself off of. Then Yasukuni-dori, with the thought of going right and visiting Yasukuni Shrine. I’d sat in Yasukuni's cafeteria once, with a veteran from World War II who said I looked like Gary Cooper. We drank green tea beneath a Mitsubishi Zero attached to the ceiling

But no, I wandered left, towards Shinjuku san-chome, where I stood beneath a traffic light and watched its colored lights tint the swirling snow. Eventually, Mitsukoshi and the other department stores, each big enough to occupy an entire block. Further west, across from the station, the gaudy lights, billboards and neon of Kabukicho had become soft pastels. On small side streets, I passed darkened yakitori-yas, convenience stores and round red akachochins topped with snow and ice. The quiet. The cold. The feeling of being immensely alone. And lost. Lost, lost, lost. Delightfully so.

Flower garden. A French friend and I went drinking near here one night and he told me that the Chinese characters carved in the monument now before me mean Flower Garden. Hanazono Jinja. Hundreds of years ago, the Hanazono family built this shrine dedicated to Inari, the androgynous god of fertility and worldly success. Inari, the god of the arts.

I walk forward, between two dull grey buildings. At the end of the passage, a torii; waiting like a strange goal post, or a letter from an alien alphabet. Tubular, wooden and orange, the torii is a relic from a ceremony of whispers. The people of Tokyo are warm in their beds and sleeping; I am in the cold and dreaming.

The stone basin for washing one’s hands and rinsing one’s mouth; the ice within it is now covered by a lace made of wire mesh and snow. The ema, the small, thin wood plaques covered with neatly written hopes and wishes, are bunched in rows, nooses connecting them to the display stand. The temple grounds are barely lit and surrounded by modernity. And then!

The clouds part and—for an instant– the sun rushes in like a spotlight. Against the dark blue snowy sky, golden light strikes the temple’s black tortoise shell roof, the white frost on the pine trees, and the stone foxes standing guard. The fresh vermillion paint for Oshogatsu, the corridor of red toriis, the simplistic arabesques of gold trim, the precise and clean concrete stairs; the sun is behind me, throwing itself forward everywhere. The gigantic shrine vibrates like a massive, noble flame of Japanese architecture. The vividness of details, the vividness of the whole… Then–just a glimpse– the full moon. Asahi!

I stood alone in that quiet heaven of color until the threat of the freezing cold could be ignored no longer. My feet and hands were paralyzed and one leg was becoming numb.

I vaguely recognized the steps at the back of the shrine, thought they’d be a shortcut to the Dunkin Donuts on Shinjuku-dori. At the top of the stairs, however, I saw that I was overlooking the two-story wooden shacks and alleys of Golden Gai. Somewhere in there was Shunchan’s. Like a wounded cowboy I limped down the stairs into that little white Japanese ghost town. Golden Gai: one of those places that teen aged Western boys imagine they will one day find themselves in. Prostitution, gambling, rendezvous spots, cheap drinking places, yakitori shops, bars specializing in all kinds of music; all connected by very narrow walkways lit by red paper lanterns and old cheap plastic Suntory signs. I was sure Shunchan wouldn’t be there. I was wrong.

Irrrashai!” He said it not with the loud bellowing mechanical style of most shop owners, but as though he were quietly sharing an inside joke. It was 7AM, in a frozen and snowbound Tokyo, but Shunchan smiled at me like it was late on a crowded Friday night after payday. Both serene and slightly nervous, Shunchan is the perfect host. He carefully stabbed the chunk of ice in his hand with a pick while I thought about my order.

Was Shunchan a great friend of mine? No–but he was an anchor, a touchstone.I was a regular; he and his little bar provided a sense of normality in a city full of extremes of all kinds. Always an interesting crowd, packed in around Shunchan and his bar. Whether they were Japanese, Russian or Australian, Shunchan made the hostesses feel relaxed. He treated the English teachers and backpackers like locals. Celebrities, artists and musicians brought in great mixtapes, his drinks weren’t that expensive and Shunchan laughed a lot. He was good friends with the young woman in the bright orange dress.

I sat where I always did, under the old, big posters of bent-over Japanese girls in bikinis on beaches holding mugs full of beer. Even when Shunchan’s was half-full, you had to stand behind the people seated at the bar and couldn’t help but sometimes touch them. Shunchan put down the ice pick and adjusted the kerosene heater at his feet. My hands treasured my glass of hot water and whiskey as my frozen pants started melting.

Then, like the sudden appearance of a deer in a forest, a naked and attractive young Japanese woman tiptoed down the stairs. With her finger, she moved her hair behind her ear. She politely smiled at me, then leaned forward and watched Shunchan make her tea. I immediately became fascinated with the smoke-stained chirashis promoting last year's offerings of underground movies, independent music, butoh and avante-garde theatre. She was a pixie, flush with the color and smell of sex. She was steamy. She went back upstairs. Shunchan said nothing, I said nothing. A moment later, a young naked Japanese man came down, got a drink and went back up. Then another. Shunchan, smiled at me and began to look for his ice pick. My unforgettable morning was, for him, just another day at work.

So... Tokyo, for quite a few years, New York for a year, then The Handover in Hong Kong, then Tokyo for the millennium, then the excitement of crashing the dot-com boom party. Singapore then, to create Second Life, but before Second Life; and to lay the foundation for something like Youtube, but before Youtube. My indefinably star-like daughter, all the while shining... Scholarly friends, friends who needed a bath like me, friends who drove around in new cars and threw cigarette butts out the window. Supernova relationships with boundless vigor. Roommates with holes in their socks and roommates who blessed me with hearty breakfasts and made me feel like family. Roommates who cheated me. A three-legged cat and driving away from a lover's home in Paris; the sun rising and the taxi driver playing a ney all the way from the Port of Clouds to Orly. Medicinal mushrooms. The Bioneers, just after 9/11. Sitting in a Clementi coffeeshop, a cheap mobile phone to my ear as I learned how they took a long blood vessel from his leg and put it in his chest to repair his heart. Chemo and radiation treatments. I'm working another shift on Mom's farm and thinking of all of these things, especially the chemo and radiation. I'm planting black beans and watching the sunrise. Chemo and radiation, chemo and radiation.

The clumps of clay and the big mud stains on my blue jeans give me a Sense of Accomplishment. Komang, myself and the WWOOF volunteers, are having another wonderful meal in the bamboo house. We sip amazake and Sayuri listens to us tell stories. Mom and I discover that we'd been neighbors. We'd very likely waited for trains at Higashi-Nakano station at the same time. There, we could have stood together, maybe almost touching, as we looked inside the ninja school across from the station. We'd both definitely eaten in the Mongolian tent behind the KFC, and both of us remembered the books the owner had made: one about a circus and one about his autistic daughter. Sitting on the tatami at Mom's, I remembered the life I had lived thirty years before; all of the chaotic, energetic activities with chaotic, energetic people. Mom and Shunchan had been great friends. She'd shared a bed with him--in a nonsexual way-- and once pretended to be his fiancee so Shunchan's mother would stop yelling at him to get married. I'd heard bits and pieces of these stories. Maybe Mom had sat next to me at Shunchan's and I'd thought of very lustful things.

Earlier, when I was working in Level 3, Komang gave me okra pods that were like striped, brittle antelope horns. Three seeds in a hole. I planted as carefully as I could but then the light was fading and I sped up. Not good to leave something undone. Komang may have seen me rushing, maybe not. He came over and helped. "We always plant with love," is all he said.

It should be obvious that I consider furikake to be a magnificent concept. A plain riceball is a canvas; furikake makes it an artwork. A composition of furikake, created by culture, geography, science and chance-- is placed into the mouth. The brutal critics—the glands, teeth and tongue, decide if the work is something to be savored or spit out like poison.

During many of the days described in this story I wore ragged boxer shorts, shreds of white Japanese cotton shreds patterned with torn, red goldfish. The soft rags that covered my loins were more painful than a hairshirt. The gentle white cotton bit me harder than any cilice. Those boxer shorts were bought for me on the morning of the day we watched the harvest moon rise over the Pacific Ocean. That magical day was one of many moments we shared in that little coastal village that had the best seafood and the richest sake. Silently, we often observed the changing seasons while soaking in the hot spring of our ryokan, located just a couple of train stops from Fukushima.


Aspects of VR in Bali Wave Ghost, the novel by Stephen Black

black and white book covers Beach Road is a short VR film made by Stephen Black and hiverlab. Free download here. (The image at the top of this post, of the parking lot attendant, is a still from Beach Road. Bali Wave Ghost is the latest novel by Stephen Black. Along with three other books, it is a free download until April 12. Bali Wave Ghost is a story and a reading experience. The story aspect is simple: an American reality TV, star, Odie Holmes, returns to Bali twenty years after the Bali Bombing, in which his wife died along with 200 other victims. He has a stomach problem and the prescribed medicine has side effects, including hallucinations. He drinks, but he shouldn't. Odie's mental landscape is contrasted with the different realities of Bali: the island's tropical paradise ambience, the touristic gaudiness of Kuta, the seaside village of Sanur, and Ubud, the hilly, artistic center of Bali. Odie's new-found love is a Russian/Dutch/Balinese "event organizer" and his neighbors include a well-known Japanese photographer and Will Sun, a surfer. Balinese people weave in and out of Odie's life as well. Bali Wave Ghost vibrates between the neutrality of a fly-on-the-wall style documentary, the passion of a love story and the wildness of unleashed spirituality. Lost in Translation meets Hunter S. Thompson on the Island of the Gods. So...VR... Bali Wave Ghost features a fictitious VR viewing headgear called a SeeThing. SeeThings were conceptualized before I had actually experienced VR and created anything in VR. Bali Wave Ghost is not a "cyber" book; SeeThings are described as common objects and are more "spice" than "main course". SeeThings appear throughout the book and, in terms of literary approach, are about as "unusual" as mobile phones are now. Simply, SeeThings are just another piece of technology in the year 2022. (The book is set in that year, as the twentieth year remembrance of the Bali Bombing is an important event for Odie.) Just as 360 VR allows the viewer to be in the middle of an all-surrounding "stage", I have at times, written scenes in which the reader is aware of everything in front of him or her, as well as in back and on both sides. In VR filmmaking this is a challenge because the viewer may not want to always make the effort to turn to look behind. With words, however, the reader is always comfortably in the center of the action. No need for swivel chairs when you read a book! from Bali Wave Ghost

The bottom level of the market is where I now find myself, in a dark corner lit by dim bulbs. I slow down to watch a woman move her hand in circles before she positions red flowers in a yellow wooden shrine the size of a cereal box. The front of one stall is lined with cones of brown waxed paper containing rice, chicken and cooked green leaves. Behind them, an old woman rhythmically scoops and wraps and makes more cones. Beside her is a column, topped by a shrine draped with faded yellow cloth. The shrine holds burning incense, and next to the cloth is a spectacular, perfectly circular spider web. The web and the fluttery incense smoke are precisely defined by shafts of sunlight. The spider web reminds me of Seashore’s flat, where dreamcatchers hang in every room.

In front of me, a small rickety table is covered with bowls of food and surrounded by Balinese housewives. Without knowing exactly what is being served, I join the queue. Soon I’m seated, looking over a plate of nasi campur, a dish of rice and various kinds of meat. A woman grills satay right behind me. When she fans the flames, smoke moves over the table.

The passage above was rewritten after I had experienced VR. It literally sets the stage. The next paragraphs introduce the actors. If this were the cinematography/storyboard for a VR movie, the basement market scene would be dynamic in all dimensions before settling down and allowing most of the action to take place in front of the viewer's 180 degree field of vision. I am very interested in the relationship between VR and the way our eyes perceive the light reflected from objects (reality). In Bali Wave Ghost, I have sometimes used my ideas on these topics to create "stages of text" that allow for drama and a distinctive reading experience.Hopefully the results are more emotional than theoretical. Here is a link to a good explanation about how the eye perceives what is in front of it, as well as a comparison of the field of view(FOV) of different VR headgears.