Tag Archives: creative writing

red dot SAD (Stories, Art, Digitalia 2002-2017)

red dot SAD is a collection of stories, essays and images created during Stephen Black's fifteen years in Southeast Asia, mainly in Singapore. An American who has also lived in Tokyo, Manhattan, Hong Kong and Paris, the book documents a creative life that knows no boundaries.

Topics include virtual reality, performance art, network television, food, music, photography, and art projects of all kinds. Physical locations range from an abandoned "haunted" hotel to facilities stacked with IT machinery, from wet markets and beaches to construction sites, the Singapore Biennale, and government built housing complexes. For those interested in Singapore and anyone who enjoys visual arts and well-researched, dynamic writing.

red dot SAD is also an experiment. Presently the book is about 150 pages. Eventually the book will be printed on paper. Those who buy the earlier editions of the ebook receive the updated versions free of charge. For more information on how red dot SAD is re-inventing Amazon and crowdfunding, click here.

To see the current list of topics, click here.

red dot SAD on Amazon

Reviews of i ate tiong bahru, Black's bestselling book are here.

Interviews with Stephen Black and descriptions of his other books are here.

minimal book covers

red dot SAD (Stories Art, Digitalia 2002-2017) book by Stephen Black

red dot SAD reinvents Amazon (kinda)

red dot SAD is a snapshot of Stephen Black’s creative life in Singapore, from 2002 to 2017. The nonfiction topics include art, AR, VR, gaming, 3how, photography and daily life in Singapore.

The red dot SAD book project:

1. Offers money for value: the 99 cent, 129 page book contains stories, images and essays, including an extract from i ate tiong bahru, a national bestseller in Singapore.

2. Continually adds content to create new versions that replace the existing version on Amazon.(Latest additions here.)

3. Sends, by email, the new versions to those who have purchased a previous edition.

The reasons for this trial are:

1. Crowdfunding-in-disguise. Directing a “fan base” of readers towards Amazon means they can immediately receive an ebook and join in the rdS experience. Even a small number of sales is beneficial. Although there is a less concentrated effort than a crowdfunding campaign, an equal or greater amount of funds can be generated over a longer period.

2. The crowdfunding-in-disguise idea can stimulate Amazon’s algorithms, further generating interest. Increased rankings and positive “list activity” can result.

3. Those who request updated versions likely will contribute some form of feedback

4. Ideally, a percentage of these readers will leave reviews, and share the book info with other readers.

minimal book covers

red dot SAD (Stories Art, Digitalia 2002-2017) book by Stephen Black

The Amazoncentric ideas I am experimenting with are not that different from those used in the serialization of novels. What is different is that a new ebook, with a considerable amount of new content, is being sent to those who purchased previous editions. In the world of physical art and books, limited editions hold value for collectors. This may prove to be also true for the “outdated” offline digital versions of rdS.

Related to this, I am now researching the possibilities that have just arisen from a partnership between Reedsy and Blurb. Reedsy’s book editor has been invaluable to me. If the workflow with Blurb is what I hope it is, the files of new versions can be easily replaced, This, in turn, means that older print versions will become limited editions.

Ultimately, I hope that the final version of red dot SAD, with a few hundred pages,either becomes a very successful self-published project, or is picked up by someone like as Phaidon or Steidl. The result of fifteen creative years in Singapore, I believe red dot SAD will be an interesting visual and written document. The book's journey is, and will be, an interesting one.

(The image used in the header of this post is a photograph of a sculpture called Manifold, by Gerald Leow.)

Bubi and Conquest (part 3 of 3)

part one is here

A cat zipped from under one table to another. It had been outside.

”It isn’t any fun to be a poor kitty in a downpour.”

In the back of the prata place, on something like an altar, is an aquarium. A teaspoon of red tetras circle in the corner, and a bland piranha paces back and forth. The altar is covered with artificial grass. Pink cloth flowers are tied to the tree branches that are stacked around the aquarium. Like everything else here, everything’s big except a little naked doll standing in a circle of plastic roses.

“Bubi! How are you?”

I take two steps towards the aquarium and sit back down with the doll.

“Bubi, this is Mysteriouswomanpool. Mysteriouswomanpool, this is Bubi.”

She is obviously happy to see the doll and relieved that no one is watching. I lean Bubi against the clear plastic bag of buns that have black lips.

“I met Bubi years ago, when I lived in Minnesota. She used to go out with a classmate of mine, a Norwegian hockey player named Bjorn Free Vikingstad. In the summers we often enjoyed banana and ham pancakes.”

She laughs a big laugh and I laugh a bigger laugh. Together we laugh very very bigly.

I quit while I'm ahead. “Bubi must go back to Minnesota now. We can call her later, though.” I push my empty glass to the edge of the table, she does the same. Now, the place is empty. I count coins and put them on the table.”

“Three eighty boss.” He slides the coins onto his palm.

We walk out into the heavy rain, down the slope of Jalan Pahang. Our inkblot shadows float on a river of silver fingerprints. Despite our hopes, we’ll be back here in a few hours, when the sky will be blue and rich with the smell of freshly baked banana bread. The laundry shops will be busy, the tailors will be arriving and the trendy two story cafes will still be closed. The cracks and potholes will be dry. The people who work here will again wonder what is wrong with us; same clothes, same three plastic bags. Now, though, we cling together against the cold ocean of night, plodding through glistening nets full of streetlights, neon and stars. Flowing, flowing, everything’s flowing toward the Great Attractor.

She taps my elbow and I pull her closer. “Can we call Minnesota?” she says.

Bubi and Conquest (part 2 of 3)

Part 1 is here.“It’s for kids? Adults?”

“Both. It’ll be a novel, but some parts are like movies. Horror movies! Fairytales. Some areas will be for newlyweds. You can ride with God in an elevator. I plant the stories and then they rewrite themselves based on interactions with people and the environment.“

“OK... The characters will get old?"

“Some.”

“How do you come up with ideas for all of this?”

“In my workspace I have little pictures of James Joyce, J.K. Rowlings, Robin Williams and Tarantino. I imagined them making a game together. Didn’t work. Now, I think of them as a band. Williams on vocals, Tarantino on guitar, Joyce on drums and Rowlings on bass. What would their music be like?”

“And that makes you creative?”

“Not really...”

Without warning, the South China Sea falls upon the tin roof.

“You have to think of music. First person shooters are guitar solos. A character’s stories and skills are important, of course, but it’s all about harmony. And improvisation. MPGs are symphonies. With Spring Valley I want to make a game that gives the players power. Like, instead of being chased so that you fall into a pit filled with spears, what if you fall into something soft that recharged you? What if other players gave you healing powers instead of bullet holes?

Musicians give each other energy. The audience absorbs their interplay and sings along or cries or something, right? Harmonized decision making in microseconds. Play music. Play. So important."

....................30............ The conclusion .

Bubi and Conquest (1 of 3)

I am currently in Johor Bahru, Malaysia, where I am working on a book. The following is a work in progress.

“There’s this Great Attractor thing, and no one knows what it is. Maybe a monster sphere made of gravity waves or something. Maybe a magnetic hole in the universe big enough for all the galaxies. Our sun and the other planets are flowing towards it, right? Flowing at millions of miles an hour. And then there’s the surface of the Earth…”

“...which is spinning.”

“Correct. Spinning and traveling ‘round the sun. Superfast. So, this ramshackle little prata place we’re in is actually moving at a zillion miles an hour. At least.”

Three something in the morning; we’re exhausted. Waiting. One minute feels like a long week. The policeman near the door flicks his lighter and the friction of its little rough metal circle is heard everywhere. Outside, in the canyon of night, a big motorcycle rides past, its roaring engine like a huge threat.Overhead, eight fluorescent lights: six are working. It will rain soon.

Sleeplessness stretches and magnifies perceptions-- very big bunches of bananas are upon the very big tables in this very big mamak stall. Big buns in clear plastic bags are are also on the tables. They hover like clouds. My kopi and her teh halia o kosong are the size of glass oil barrels. Half-formed dreams float into logical thoughts, then disappear. There are three huge customers. “Hotel California” blares, a reggae version.

The guy who took our order is probably a Bangladeshi. I catch his eye, point at the speaker and move my little hand down. “Great cover, but we can’t talk.”

“No problem, boss.”

“ Bob Marley?”

“Could be, boss. I’ll check.”

I look at my glass like I’m seeing coffee for the first time. Maybe her head is moving slightly back and forth to the rhythm. Relax said the white man, we are programmed to deceive. “It’s reggae and Mexican music together. I saw The Eagles once. I like it when musicians mix styles. Hybrids. Like Ziggy Stardust was rock and chanson.”

“Who? Ziggy Sparkle?”

“Bowie. David Bowie...Ziggy Stardust?”

“Sorry.”

“Boss, that’s the Moonshiners.” He’s carrying a huge cone of tissue prata on a silver plate.

“Thanks.”

The tops of the floating buns have burn marks that look like big black lips.

“You only listen to classical, right?”

“Not really. All kinds.”

“Like what? What was the last thing you downloaded?"

“A Chinese dance song. "My Little Apple"...”

“That seems about right. You remind me of a lawyer. But you’re not in thousand dollars an hour mode now, right? Maybe I’m wrong, wrong to say that. Hard to think straight right now...”

She rotates her glass mug. It’s half full. Looks around, looks at me. “So, is this speeding intergalactic prata place in your game?”

“Maybe. It’s interesting because it’s not interesting. Boring comes first. Then, back end stuff like static variables and resolution issues. I do what I can to keep the frame rate high. Make everybody happy without them knowing it. You make the little dull things exciting, the big things go boom. Megaboom! When a player actually enjoys an office level-- that’s gold. It’s about death and self-portraiture. Like all great art.“

“Great art...” She stops herself, rubs her finger on her glass of tea. ”And the Chinese asked you to make a game for Spring Valley?”

“Yep, biggest site-specific AR game ever. There’s a stadium. Four artificial islands with everything, like a city. There’s gonna be four, five hundred thousand residents. A million times better than Pokemon.”

.......................30................................ the next section is here.

Can We Call Minnesotapool?

I am now working on the second draft of a 60,000 word book that has been written during my three month stay in Johor Bahru, Malaysia. The book combines fictional stories with essays on travel and food in JB and notes related to my proposed VR/AR startup. The book is called Game of JB.

As she sleeps, I look for bruises on her hands. Last night she kept smashing--really smashing--her fists into the knuckles of Errol, a Swiss martial artist. He’s also a bon vivant, but a hard working one, uninterested in kiss-kiss party talk. We discovered him on the hotel’s rooftop patio.

Errol left a government job to work with his wife, Olga. Together, they document vanishing or unusual cultures. They are in JB for Chingay, the huge procession dedicated to Guanyin, the Goddess of Mercy. A comparatively “easy” documentation perhaps, as hot water is everywhere. No waist-deep mud, no clouds of mosquitoes and, at the end of the day, beds with blankets and pillows instead of thin mats on dirt floors.

“Tsuyoi, tsuyoi, tsuyoi!” Errol had started by barely tapping her hands. “Tsuyoi! Tsuyoi! Tsuyoi!” The tapping became a revolving dance, then a serious boxing match. She surprised me with her ferocity; my little lawyer desk mouse had become a tigress. “TSUYOITSUYOTSUYOITSUYOTSUYOI!” Bigger than the roof,their voices; bigger than JB, big enough to be heard in Woodlands! Their fist-banging empowerment ritual happened in the middle of a night filled with the serious conversations of travelers. We leave tomorrow.

Next to the patio was the penthouse, now a subdivided maze of plywood and sheetrock with locks on flimsy doors. These were the cheapest rooms. The patio, with its stone carvings and arches, was an Art Nouveau time capsule, but with laundry racks and tiny bathrooms in yellow structures that looked like Porta Potties. I showered there this morning, when the world was dark indigo. I stepped out naked. I thought about the two letters- my father’s initials, upon a building to my right. Singapore was across the water, on my left. The ledge. The street below my feet. Finally, the dawn began and I went back to our room with something like certainty.

We had talked on the couch, on the tile floor and as we leaned on the balconies overlooking the night market and Meldrum Street. We watched the comings and goings at the musical lounge and the 123 Cafe. Our conversations flowed: Papua New Guinea, Geneva, John Zorn, Iggy Pop, parallel universes, Kryon and time travel. Visas and immigration, of course. Ender’s Game, but no one knew if an actual Ender’s Game game had been made. I listened to Errol’s advice about Wordfence security and how to enhance a media library. We drank cheap brandy. There was a crescent moon.

At one point in the night she asked me a question, not knowing that Errol had returned from the toilet. He was right behind her.“Can you call Minnesotapool?”

“Headpool!” We yelled the word at the same time.

Errol acrobatically tumbled over the couch and down onto the tiles. He rolled over and got up on his hands and knees. “Woof woof,” he said, with a slightly Swiss accent. “Dogpool!” we answered, like game show contestants hoping to win a million in prizes.

He stood on his knees, made himself childish and pretended to hold a sword.

“Kidpool!”

He acted like he had very big boobs and pointed an imaginary gun. He thrust his hips.

“Wada Wilson,” I said,”Lady Deadpool,” she said. “Two correct answers! We have our winners!” We stayed up on that patio ‘til very late.

Until Sarina finally showed up at Western Union, our life was hard, frozen and dry. We’d met her just two days ago. Zero passports plus hunger minus sleep equals desperate logic. Big leaps of faith.But, she showed up. We then ate ham cha and drank ginger soymilk. We found a place where we could check in. Then, healing sleep. We woke up at twilight and found an excellent five ringgit vegetarian buffet. Came back, explored the hotel and met Errol. “I feel alive again,” she said, as we got into bed, “tonight was like high school.”.

“Everything Is Important and Serious. Decisions are heavy dates on calendars or sudden, unexpected jumps through doors, behind which consequences are feared or ignored. Obligations to society or personal growth, sometimes both. Rarely both. Now of course, we know we have almost no control over anything. We’re all puppets. Sometimes we perform for thousands, sometimes we wait in a dark box.” I recited that to her. It was written by my high school sweetheart a long time ago.

“She was so mature at times! I kept that letter from her forever, memorized every line. Her signature was small and cute. Later, she said she wanted the letter back, said the poems were terrible. My first real girlfriend… Do people even write letters anymore? The stamp was the face of angel, looking up at Love USA 55. I remember everything. Our love is a fast summer sea sun in an ice age year. She became a jockey, can you believe that? A jockey, then a financial consultant. A very successful one.”

“Did she like Deadpool?”

I don’t hear her question. I am thoughtfully looking off into the distance. I run my ginger through my hair. My gingernails are wrong. I accept my mistakes and the incorrect suggestions from Autospell as my destiny. Intentional confusion is not confusion. No puppet, no puppet, you're the puppet.

“Did you two attend the Highschoolpool prom?”

“Stop! Can’t you see that ours is a serious narrative and I am a troubled game developer who wants to prove himself as a Serious Writer by writing an angst-filled postmodern novel about love, tribulation and exile during a Millennium of Darkness? Nihilism, woman, nihilism! Not funny stuff.”

“Can we call Minnesotapool?”

“A curse upon you! Woman, I am deaf to your tomfoolery! I shall recite a touching poem that meant so much to me in my use. Then I will hurl a pillow upon your human form.” I again gaze into the distance, again move my ginger through my hair and think of the girl who broke my hat.

Let the Chinese and English lunchroom gang gossip continue; it is not ours. Moonrise is ours, our eyes. Twilight is ours, our ears. La Vie En Rose is ours, our hearts. Galloping, galloping; never drive me home.

“Never drive me homepool...” She laughs at me. ”This is Johor Bahru 2017, dear, not some black and white French high school yearbook. We’re old teenagers now, with jobs and commitments and Trump and Alzheimer’s waiting in the wings. So what? This, this, this… this is our new normal. We've got to make sense of things. Look here. I hate that view. It’s like the condo I had before my ex trashed everything. Holland V Big palm trees and green benches, a little park and a path where I walked my dog. Same fence with barbed wire. I bet there’s a pool in front. And barbecues.”

“What kind of dog?”

“A hairless Chihuahua. Peaches, sweetest dog in the world.”

“Peaches. A hairless Chihuahuapool.” I threw a pillow at her.

The room we are in is cheap; a dirty little rhinestone. A black dusty TV screen on one of the faded blue walls, old white curtains and a yellowed air conditioner. The bed is beneath a small window. She is still deeply asleep. Graceful.Her occasional twitches are like small, calm lightning. I study her knuckles one last time. They are a little red, but she is fine.

.................................30..................>

Olga and Errol's documentation of Chingay is here

.

Two in the Afternoon (microfiction from Touching JB)

We were sitting on the chairs in front of the wood burning stove when they materialized. Their arms were like Japanese Easter eggs. Finally, the young man stopped with his thumbs and looked up from his phone. On top of his peppery skull was a filet of pink hair. Circular wire eyeglasses, yellow irises. He moved his head a little, then reached for the curry puffs. Started eating before he paid. The girl took hers without looking up.

The man behind the counter smiled sincerely, thanked them. Behind him, a wall was full of photos and newspaper clippings, most from when the man’s hair and beard weren’t white. Near the cash register: two playful photos of him and his wife at the Taj Mahal. Once, at the 123 Cafe, he'd told me that theirs was an arranged marriage. She passed away. Lung cancer. He didn’t say more.

The chairs we are in are comfortable. I am eating a piece of cream bread, she is chewing and studying her red bean puff. Saluddhin’s bakery has an authenticity that would usually capture my attention, but now I cannot help thinking about a game called Firewatch. It’s about a man living alone in the forests of Wyoming, a man whose wife may have early-onset dementia.

..............30.................

I am on target to finish a 50,000 word book by the end of May.The setting is Johor Bahru, a city that borders Singapore. There are other excerpts on this blog, but if you'd like to see the latest edited draft, drop me a line. I am excited about this and determined to stay on schedule.

 

Biff “Graybox” Enum: Game Developer

Powerfrog Troopers Revolution Quest 2: The Croak Goes On (100 million units sold). Who wrote it? Me. Is my name on it? No… Tungsten Fortress Golf Romancer III Seventy-five million units. Eight months of my life, a nice chunk of change and another iPhone, but did I get any work because that? NO. Alekhine Defense of Immortal Soccer Regends. Twenty-three million units. Writing nonstop to meet that deadline nearly blinded me, but after launch was my inbox flooded with job offers? No, no and no.

Hi. My name is  Biff Enum and I’m a game designer. “Grayboox “is my middle name and scripting addictive interactive stories is my game.

I”ve contributed to projects that have sold over 585 million cross platform units and yet you’ve never heard of me? Why? Cause I’m a secret agent man. White labellissimo. Ghosty stylee. Incognito.That’s me.

Let’s pretend you are in Kyoto, visiting an “entertainment company” and you are escorted into a room to “have a cup of tea”. You are left alone in a room that looks like the  Videogame Hall of Fame. You correctly sense that if you take a photo, your broken camera and/or body part will remain in the room. Before you can memorize anything, a kawaii OL enters and says,” I am sorry. It is mistake of room, you can drink with tea upstairs. If you mention this room to anyone you will be disemboweled, regardless of your global location. Shall we go?”

My CV is something like that. Guys who are ethically challenged would like to “have a word with me” if I tell anyone about the complete list of projects I’ve worked on. I have been called a “game developer’s game developer” which means my ideas are uncredited and stolen .It’s not always a problem, this whitelabel business. When a clunker like Revenge of Epic of Bloopy Babies falls flat on its face, I’m  search engine safe.

Why do I work so hard for no recognition? Money! I am a narrative artist and since I was a child I wanted to write, with passion, stories that shake and explore the emotional blindspots of people. I want to fundamentally compel them to confront our modern world with all of its contradictions so as to engage better with their fractured lives. My novelistic work is disturbing.The only game I have worked on which references my literary sensibility is Quest of the Galaxy Dancemaster Ninjas.

With the money I’ve earned as a ghostwriter, I am self-publishing a cross-genre novel that combines elements of GTA with an Undine legend, Switezianka, which is about a hunter and a water nymph. Do subscribe to my blog for updates on this unforgettable postmodern tale of fickle love, European women wearing wet clothes, gunfire and ultrahighspeed Pegassi car chases.

Thank you for stopping by.

Biff

For Arleen Schloss (a poem)

This poem first appeared on Softblow, a  Singapore-bases website for poetry. Arleen's work greatly influenced me. I worked on a few videos with her and she is one of the artists in the SPOKEN virtual gallery  I produced with Eugene Soh. For Arleen Schloss  "The world is a collage"
All of the following words describe scenes. All of these scenes contain signs. The signs may not obvious, but they are there. In some cases, there may be a large number of signs, in which case, all are to be included. The colors of the signs, the numbers on the signs and the text and language of the signs are to be emotionally and chaotically combined on one huge imaginary and ever-present canvas, a painting dedicated to Arlene Schloss. The signs exist in the following situations: Nurses talking near hospitals before they begin work on autumn days when the moon is full, mailmen who drink canned coffee by themselves, retirement age janitors at the Louvre looking over new tools, miners in dangerous elevators, mechanics with legs sticking out from underneath cars with oily radios pouring out 20 year old music in the background, people with hangovers standing near open graves, hippos that go into the ocean, gardeners driving to buy trees with roots wrapped in burlap, people leaving yellow cabs in a hurry at night, an urban area full of people flying kites, parades in cold weather, parades in hot weather, soccer games, baseball games, snow on windowsills that overlook Broome Street, mushroom hunters on private property, tennis games, weavers of silk carpets, football practice, smugglers who do so to feed their children, archery ranges, barbecues for groups of people ranging from three to three thousand, streets being paved for the first time, clothes being hung to dry, hunters who do not drink when they are hunting, the tallest building in Manila, fishermen who drink but stay on shore, fireman, the drawers of mothers of Texans, trappers who do so with respect, amusement park employees who have lost their keys, children who sleep in tents in their backyards, photographers stranded in Mozambique, moviemakers who sleep well, people who use handphones during meetings and housepainters who do a good job. Places where elephants are, shelves full of books about ferns, silver airplanes that seem like paralyzed flying birds, the happiest person in Uganda, red weather balloons, magazines launched in the '70s, instructions for assembling tents, Vietnamese tour guides, the cost breakdown for a satellite dish to be installed in Yugoslavia, ugly public sculptures, the Vatican, Domino Pizza, Mecca, the Holy Land, toothpaste factories, a place where a picnic table was accidentally burned, a barnyard, a waterfall, flocks of thin white birds, grey lines of highways, the only stuffed armadillo to be found in South Africa, lakes holding sailboats, a Paris metro ticket, canoes on rivers, the oceans slapping big ships, the most loved Swedish politician, the most elegant shoe store in Mumbai, fog eating a city, organic apple orchards, alphabets, Christmas tree farms, strip mined landscapes, desserts full of unwanted testing, an environmentally friendly golf course, a fireworks display watched by an Amish family in a bus station between Chicago and Kansas City, bonfires, the diets of djs, traffic accidents as a result of animals crossing highways, unemployed male prostitutes in Taipei, railroads used by bikers, places that serve take out prata, housing subdivisions, the Empire State Building, the Pyramids, the shopping list of newlyweds in Bowling Green, Ohio, the first Chinese cookbook in Peru, the Tokyo Dome, a kindergarten in Bonn, the most depressing high school in Teaneck New Jersey, the harbor of Rio de Janiero during an eclipse, the Great Wall of China being discused by mathematicians, Red Squarebeing discussed by visiting Irish tourists, Kmarts in Canada, driving schools, elephant orphanages, missile testing ranges, forest fires, a Gutamelan dentist's office, power plants in Minsk, black boxes of intergalactic spacecraft, Kyoto florists located within the train station, the insects which live in the main Xian post office, the humidity within the Sydney Opera House, the deli on the corner, New Orleans classical musicians, Microsoft paper useage files, cloud seeding programs, glider competitions in Norway, ancient light houses, beaches where there are no beach towels, umbrellas on Avenue A, Coney Island, the dreams of a Singaporean civil servant, a painting of the the Great Lakes hanging in a Green Bay bar, the video collection to be found on a typical North Sea oil rig, the Rocky Mountains, the garage of the grandson of Dali's least favorite barber, the Amazon, the Urals, the Andes, the Great Rock, Mt. Fuji, the Pyrennees, Ireland, India, Idaho, Inokashira, Iran, Iraq, Iowa, people on horses, goats in trees, the Statue of Liberty, every bridge in the world, every phone line in the world, every bit of dust on Broome Street, every modem, every email ever written in Spanish and the oceans.

Touching JB: a relaxed description of a book and photo project set in Johor Bahru, Malaysia

so far, the best introduction to this project.... Touching JB is being crowdfunded... thanks for thinking of it... https://www.zingohub.com/#/en-GBL/c/touching-jb unrelated