Today we sit down with Stephen Black. He is an interesting author that is going to tell us about his writing, his published work and his inspiration.
Please enjoy this edition of 20 Questions:
Q1) When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
I grew up surrounded by books, shelves of books and big cardboard boxes of books. My father sold books and educational materials to grade school libraries. Reading and basic writing were not difficult for me. After I graduated from college, however, I learned the challenges associated with poetry and writing lyrics for songs.
Later, I combined my photographs with words for magazines. Had fun making serious fanzines. In the Nineties, in Tokyo, I wrote a novel and put it away.
In 2007, there were huge changes in my life, and Amazon released the Kindle. The Kindle stunned me: a device only for reading ebooks! It seemed like that I should finally get serious about writing books.
Q2) How long does it typically take you to write a book?
It seems that if I want to write a book, I should block off three years. I ate Tiong Bahru took three years and its sequel, Tiong Bahru Mouth, took another three on top of that. Bali Wave Ghost took almost four years. Obama Search Words took a couple of years. The others were a little faster.
Q3) What is your work schedule like when you’re writing?
In 2007 I made the extremely difficult decision to just write and do art. I did, and do, take jobs to keep the wolf from the door. But as much as I can, I get up as early as possible and work until breakfast or, when I am in Bali, a walk to the market.
Then, work until lunch. Then, a nap followed by more writing. Then dinner, and whatever the night may bring. Maybe writing again before bed. But I wouldn’t call this my schedule…things always happen and this pattern doesn’t occur that often.
Q4) What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
I sit on tacks; when the writing is headed in the right direction, most of the tacks are forgotten.
Q5) How are your books published? (traditional, indie, etc.)
I now live between Bali and the city-state nation of Singapore, where I was probably the first to self-publish on Kindle. All of my books except a book of photography (Bus Stopping) and I ate tiong bahru were ebooks. I ate tiong bahru has become a national bestseller and I am now preparing for the second printed edition.
Q6) Where do you get your ideas for your books?
Newspapers, the internet, riding on the bus, drinking coffee in public places, listening to the monsters and angels that whisper and fight in my shoes.
Q7) If you don’t mind sharing, when did you write your first book and how old were you (or how many years ago was it)?
I pretended to write books when I was in kindergarten. My first epublished book was about Obama, though I had published a book of photographs a couple of years before that. When I went to Jakarta to research Obama’s life, they didn’t know who he was.
Q8) What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
Experimenting with food as edible sculpture. Learning about Myanmar. Doing what I can to support mycological bioremediation. Arting.
Q9) What is your favorite book?
On Beyond Zebra
Q10) What do your family and friends think of your writing?
They are supportive, with quizzical tendencies. Worried about my weight and caffeine intake.
Q11) What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating your books?
Learning about how a book’s journey can be affected by social media and algorithms.
Q12) What do you hate most about the writing process?
The way the seasons change when you rewrite a sentence.
Q13) How many books have you written? Which is your favorite?
Eight books. If my family can agree on which one they like, then that is my favorite also.
Q14) Do you have any suggestions to help us become better writers? If so, what are they?
Just write and rewrite again and again.
Q15) Do you get feedback from your readers much? How and what kinds of things do they say?
I ate Tiong Bahru is about an area and a community in Singapore. A woman once approached me and told me that she read it to her children. That was a touching moment. In general the response to my books has been very positive and I am thankful for that.
Q16) What is your preferred reading audience?
Thoughtful, adventurous readers with a sense of humor.
Q17) What do you think makes a good story?
I am not so interested in telling a story; I’m interested in creating reading experiences. I hope to get to the point where there is no story, only a meaningful exchange of words, thoughts and silences between reader and author. Music and painting do not always tell stories; books do not have to either.
Q18) As a child, what did you want to do when you grew up?
Photographer,or artist or tree scientist.
Q19) Where can we find your books?
Amazon and stores like Booktique, Naiise and Books Actually in Singapore.
Q20) Will you give us an excerpt from one of your own favorite works?
This excerpt is from Lipstick and Snow, a story which will be included in Flame Magnet, a collection of stories with a cover featuring artwork by David Severn.
I vaguely recognized the steps at the back of the shrine, thought that they were a shortcut to the Dunkin Donuts on Shinjuku-dori. However, from the top stair I recognized the alleys and two-story shacks 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 teenage Western boys imagine they will one day find themselves in. Prostitution, camaraderie, gambling, rendezvous spots, gangsters and gangster wannabes, cheap drinking places, yakitori shops and bars specializing in all kinds of music; everything connected by narrow dark walkways barely lit by red paper lanterns and old plastic Suntory signs. I was sure Shunchan^s wouldn’t be open. I was wrong.
Shunchan said it like he was nonchalantly sharing an inside joke. It was, maybe, 7AM and Tokyo was snowbound, but Shunchan smiled like it was 9 PM on the payday before Golden Week. Shunchan, the perfect host. Serene, yet attentive to the point of appearing slightly nervous. His eyes were like an adolescent’s, his eyes were like a grandfather’s. He casually stabbed the chunk of ice in his hand with a pick while I thought about what to order and struggled to move my fingers. My hands were very red..
Was Shunchan a great friend of mine? No– but he was an anchor, a touchstone. His tiny bar provided a stabilizing sense of normality in a huge city full of extremes. I was a regular. Always an interesting crowd at Shunchan’s. Whether they were Japanese, Russian, Chinese, Thai, Filipina or Australian, Shunchan made the hostesses of Shinjuku feel relaxed. He treated the English teachers and backpackers like he treated the 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 twenty-one year old woman whose lipstick was as red as the dresses she wore.
I sat where I always did, under the big, old posters of bent-over Japanese girls in bikinis holding mugs full of beer. My hands surrounded a glass of hot water and whiskey. Shunchan held up a few CDs, I shook my head and he went back to stabbing ice. I could hear the sounds easily. The warmth in my stomach was good.
After a while, Shunchan put down the ice pick and adjusted the kerosene heater at his feet. A naked, attractive young Japanese woman tiptoed down the stairs. She was like a deer appearing in a forest.
She politely smiled at me, then leaned forward and watched Shunchan make her tea. Her finger drifted through her hair. I forced myself to look at the wall covered with smoke stained chirashis for last year’s underground movies, butoh and bizarre concerts. She was flush with the color and smell of sex. She was steamy.;an athletic pixie, beautifully cushioned.
She ascended the creaking wooden stairs. Her ankles , the very pale softness of the soles of her feet… Shunchan said nothing, then I said nothing. After a moment, a young naked Japanese man came down, got a drink and went back up. Then, down came another young naked Japanese man.
About Stephen Black:
Stephen Black likes doing different things in different places.
Find Stephen’s Books:
I ate Tiong Bahru
Obama Search Words
Bali Wave Ghost
Contact With Shadow