Tag Archives: creative writing

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, the 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 April. The book is called Touching JB and is a mix of writing about travel, VR/AR, Johor Bahru, Singapore, Southeast Asia, food, history, gaming and memoir. I am excited about this and hope I can 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

Touching JB: intro to the new book by Stephen Black

Touching JB: I am very very hugely, remarkably, extremely mega-excited about this project. Adrenaline, research, romance, Johor Bahru and assam laksa. Onward!

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!)
         

Borg 9 Flats Livestream

A woman my age sat down next to me. Her hands were wrapped in fresh white bandages. “What happened?” She stared at me with different emotions, hatred mostly. “You wouldn’t understand. You got 100 ringgit?” I was livestreaming Borg 9 Flats on Twitch. I wasn’t doing a marathon or anything.  Just seeing if anyone would show up. Maybe I could sell something. Only rosenervegas was watching. “You want one?” I pointed to the shrimp crackers by my keyboard. I wanted to see those bandaged hands  try to pick up a shrimp cracker. She reached in. I jiggled the camera so she was in the video. ”Smile, you’re on candid camera.” “What’s that for? You CIA or something?” “Can I buy you a Coke?” “lol,” rosenervegas wrote. She reached across to get a cracker, almost touched me. badcarmel: feed that walrus rosenervegas: lol The schoolgirls came in and logged on.     Monsterbaby:  you got emo one looks like creepy pasta princessbluesky12: like love hina ravertravel1: hand transplants Jordanthe2: she can juggle my balls Our bodies were in the little rectangle at the bottom of B9F, between the map and the skinlist.  We were grainy and green, like bad reality TV. The cameras here are crap. I watched myself watching her as she spilled Coke on her bandages. Everything on Twitch, every warrior and weapon in B9F, was glowing and vibrant. Especially the  castle. Everywhere around us were deep crashing sounds and little boy yelps and curses, Swordfight clangs and techno. Amongst all the kids thrashing in their chairs, me and the woman with the bandaged hands were like snails. Ugly clowns. “You’re alone, right?” She sighed and sat back. It was just me in the grainy green rectangle again. hawkfire: where mummy go? bleakshywire: wa happen 2 hr handz? Dontiana came in. No one was leaving. Rayviking: handburnbaby where’d she go? "Drink your Coke," I said. She asked where the toilet was. No one else watched her walk  to the back. When she returned, she was different. Like she’d put on makeup. She reached in for another cracker and the camera picked her up. rosenervegas: she’s baaackkk.
The woman gestured with her bandaged hands. “ I can't understand you,” she said. I found a pencil. She winced when I slid it into her bandages. I thought I was careful. This would be entertainment, two players on the same piano. Dontiana: is she gonna write or play B9? Frenchmeow: got bandage hand emotes? Monsterbaby: wat is hapn I gently moved her hand over the Q W E keys. I use D for Flash. I jumped into my smurf account and started driving.  She caught on, and started stabbin’ the keys. I was throwin’ stones. Five new people showed up. We started screaming.We were scoring. Not much, but we were scoring. (the background to this story is explained here.) and yes, WordPress destroys my formatting. Every time.

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

I am a Cat

Last night, an old woman gently pushed my nose towards a  newspaper covered with fish bones and lemongrass. A rat ran over one of the sparkly shoes under the table full of women from The Golden Place and two of them screamed. The man who sells pens came by, so did the man with the folding rattan chair. Distracted by  the hissing of an intruder, I stepped on a hot cigarette butt. The man with the burnt face gave away perfume samples he pulled out of a new duffel bag. The monk looked into the eyes of everyone, offered his bronze bowl to a few.  I listened to happiness, drunkenness, boredom, and suspicion. Music played from little radios. Barefoot children stared at me. Now it is morning and I’m lying in the shadows of the red plastic chairs. Coins are being counted on a metal table and the man behind the Chinese newspaper is smoking and drinking coffee. When I used to live in the place with big windows I only worried about rainy days. I had no scars, no friends and both of my eyes.

Are You In a Film or In Reality?

We’re on one of the few picturesque streets in the old quarter of Johor Bahru. We see three Malaysians loading a truck with furniture that they are carrying out of a big red colonial house. Now we see a man quickly walking; he is late: BIFF DANKLE, an American with long hair that may or may not be fashionable. He pulls at it constantly; BIFF’s nervousness is obvious. He's carrying a manila envelope. BIFF approaches SIMON MURRAY and smiles respectfully. SIMON crushes his cigarette and puts his hand out. He is in his early sixties, in excellent shape, and with movie star good looks. BIFF immediately gives SIMON the envelope and sits down. The two are on a black wrought iron bench in the shade of a frangipani tree in full bloom. The weather is unpleasantly hot and humid, the sky is blue and filled with big white clouds. Strings of round Chinese lanterns hang over the street like strands of red paper pearls. SIMON reads quickly. BIFF pretends not to study SIMON’s face. BIFF again recites to himself some of the films that SIMON worked on: The Last Emperor, Life of Brian, Titanic, Distant Voices Still Lives, La Vie de Boheme, Indiana Jones... He’d seen photos on SIMON’s website; his pals like Madonna, Michael Douglas and Robert Downey Jr.. SIMON is humble, but not afraid to mention those with whom he’d enjoyed himself, famous or not. One moment SIMON might mention Sir Laurence Olivier, the next moment, nearly in tears, he'd describe the cheerful, sweet innocent face of Jimmy Wu, the bespectacled little boy with Backlington Syndrome who had hobbled six miles through a minefield in the snow in the dead of night to gaze upon the glasses that SIMON had made for Harry Potter. One moment SIMON might explain the influence his mother had upon British postwar playground design; the next he'd be describing an Oscar party he’d attended with both Playboy’s Miss January 1983 and a former Miss Texas who had “worked with Elvis”. BIFF remembered wistfully how SIMON once had effortlessly segued from a naughty casting couch story set in a Viennese penthouse to a description of his father’s meeting with Gandhi, to tips on how to get building permits in Los Angeles. SIMON knows both the dark secrets surrounding the present location of the Beatles’ Sergeant Pepper costumes and the simple joy of sharing 
sewage pipe in the middle of the road “This is surreal,” SIMON says. BIFF’s heart leaps. He hadn’t thought that the script he’d risked his health and sanity for would be considered “surreal”. But if SIMON MURRAY thought it was surreal, then his script was surreal, goshdarnit! Great! Actually, BIFF’s aim was to write a mashup; something like Waiting for Godot meets Mission Impossible. One draft had been titled Waiting for the Pink Panther. “Absolutely surreal” SIMON repeats. Eventually, BIFF understands, sadly. His script is not surreal; SIMON's mind is preoccupied with Something Else....The  Meaning of Life. The Undefinable Power Which Pervades Everything Yet Cannot Be Proved. Malaysia. Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown.The fact that Life is unscripted, yet filled with countless scenes containing countless varieties of brutality, no matter how much we think otherwise. SIMON lights another cigarette. We hear only the sound of diners in the cafe across the little street. BIFF becomes aware of  the aroma of herbal soup. ”OK… No bulldust”, SIMON says. “Your script. Some good ideas, but... don't do  two things at once. You can’t be both opera and MTV. Ballet or gangsta rap. You must decide. Hemingway or The Bard. Whattsap. Commitment. Your  Mr. Yellow character is unbelievable; I am unclear as to whether he has Parkinson's or just a silly walk. Your script should be a ticket away from reality. It's not." SIMON looks at the truck. "I had hopes..." Suddenly SIMON  starts barking like a big basset hound; the loudness he makes is the sound of being upset and surprised yet happy. The men packing the truck stop. SIMON is amongst them immediately. He shows them how to pack properly.