The publication of my next book has been delayed again, to a year from this October or November perhaps. The finished manuscript remains with my editor.
A Story of Loss, Murder and Vengeance
“He came back from the Civil War both wounded and spent, only to find that his beloved sister and her family had been murdered in an unsolved and shocking crime. He is a tall man, quiet and watchful after three years of fighting. He is the son of a wealthy landowner of the old St. Louis French and had fought for the Union in Virginia. Now he must find his sister’s killer somewhere on the long road to Texas.
He rides into a land in chaos, but he is used to chaos now. He has forfeited his ancestral lands in Bonnemaison for this untethered life in search of a murderer, following the telegraph lines from St. Louis to Galveston. Using the new technology of the post-Civil War era in his search — the ambrotype and the telegraph — he is solitary and unshakeable in his determination to find justice for his sister and her family.
He travels light during a hard winter, his only friends a Remington New Model Army revolver and a Spencer carbine. When he asks for information he usually gets it one way or another. But as in any hero tale, the tall man accumulates companions along the way, including a redbone hound named Dixie, a plowhorse called Major, and the enigmatic Victoria Reavis, telegrapher, an unseen helper whose voice is made of dashes, dots and sparks. It is a bodiless voice, sane and comforting, and he is afraid to meet her.
Against the lush and forgotten background of the old French colonies of Missouri, the hard winter of Reconstruction in Texas in 1866 and the unsettled world of Oklahoma’s San Bois Mountains, a strange serial killer is tracked down to an astonishing conclusion.”
The cypresses along the Sabinal River are dying. I an see them from here, my house on the ridge. Long stretches of rusty-red color, dead trees.
I am trying to keep this little live-oak tree alive because it’s a kind of memorial to my friend Laurie Wagner Jameson. I wrote her about it and since she was an avid gardener, the care of any kind of plant or tree was pleasing to her. So I carry containers of water to it, as my hoses won’t reach that far. The blue planter has three holes drilled in the bottom so that the water soaks in slowly.
It’s a kind of little bonsai tree that has struggled mightily to stay alive and so I am helping it long.
Laurie wrote the most amazing memoir, When I Came West, years ago. I hope someday it is recognized for what it is, an ordinary girl somehow totally taken with the idea of living in the western wilderness with a writer’s skill and a poet’s eye. And so how do you do that if you’re not wealthy or well-connected or can manage an academic appointment at a western university? She just did it. Her attention to detail is amazing; she saw everything; goats, horses, pumpkin pies, bear hunts, mountains.
Having looked further into use of AI writing software used by authors, I have come to the inevitable end, which is a creeping paranoia; just how many and how much of the writing we see today is actually machine-generated? Some of the software programs cheerfully enthuse about generating blog content. Why work hard? Why work? Why? An AI program takes care of that bad thing called work. Also thinking. Also why?
AI can generate a blog post on any given subject in minutes! (Me; So then wouldn’t it be like everybody else’s blog posts?Same language, same sentence structure etc.)
But then…are all the girls on TikTok paid actresses with AI generated scripts? Are the news presenters all robots that have escaped the Uncanny Valley? Is there really a country called Ukraine? And so on.
Also entire novels! “Publish it on Amazon!”
So how many novels on Amazon are written by software programs?
One of the programs enthuses so:
—“AI novel writing software can be used for many different types of novels. For example: A Sci-Fi story set in the distant future where humans have become slaves of machines. A murder mystery taking place on an isolated island. An epic historical drama about a war that is fought between two ancient nations. Very fast and saves time.”
—“You can have a high-quality product that is also original and unique.”
—“You’ll feel more confident in writing your novel.” (Me; But I thought you weren’t writing it?)
—-“Enjoy seeing your story come to life in front of you.”
Then: more reasons to use this software:
—“It is helpful for people who have problems with writer’s block.” (Me: people who have writers block are either 1.) not writers and are writing something merely for the prestige of saying “I’m a writer” or 2.) They are writing the wrong kind of story that does not suit them.)
—“You do not need any experience in writing a novel nor do you have to write it from start to finish.” (Me; this is approaching parody and invites some sort of clever ridicule but I can’t think of anything right now)
—“Based on the information that you provide, your AI program will generate an original plot and well-developed characters.”
—-“People are using this to write books under 7 days!” (Me; I did not eliminate the ‘in’. The AI did it.)
Then, finally, it cries out, “Shout me if you need more help!”
Computer-generated fiction! What could be better? Think of the time you could save and the pacing up and down thinking and the thesaurus-thumbing.
I have not yet sampled its delights but I would have to start out with (click on) Hero story as opposed to (click on) relationship stories/beach reads. Then when I got to the option of Hero story I would have further options; (click) YA hero poor-with-hidden-magic-talents or military sci-fi commander or tortured-by-past hero or Empress of the Golden Plains.
And what about the dialogue? I find that intriguing. I imagine garbled AI voices as all your options implode and bot voices speak to one another, taking on lives of their own.
Lincoln Michel’s substack touches on this. His substack is called Counter Craft and it’s always interesting. The article is called ‘Outsourcing Originality’. He refers to an author that uses a program called Sudo-Write and I looked up that author’s book and it has not done well. In fact, abysmally.
So many authors that I read or try to read seem to have grown up in a netherworld of urban isolation, as if quarantined. They imagine their main characters as people who are subject to events and then have emotions about these events. Doingness or intelligent problem-solving is rare, most characters seem insolvent, in a psychological sense. It’s the fashion for victim characters, I suppose. They always seem holier and more pure than do-ers. (Using David Foster Wallace’s terminology). I wonder what Sudo-Write does with this situation.
On another substack site I came across this alarming statistic; “98% of the books that publishers released in 2020 sold fewer than 5,000 copies.”
Best seller, 9th Century
I just re-read 1984 and halfway through I grew really weary of Winston’s confused inertia. I suppose Orwell was trying to show how even the best-intentioned human being was overcome by television propaganda, but still. At any rate, I had forgotten that the girl worked in the Fiction Department.
…in Preparation for the Two Minutes Hate a girl (came into the room) whom he had often passed in the corridors. He did not know her name but he knew she worked in the Fiction Department. Presumably — since he had often seen her with oily hands and a spanner — she had some mechanical job on one of the novel-writing machines.
And It was the girl with the dark hair… as she came nearer he saw that her right arm was in a sling…probably she had crushed her hand while swinging round one of the big kaleidoscopes on which the plots of novels were ‘roughed in’. It was a common accident in the fiction department.
And …She enjoyed her work, which consisted chiefly in running and servicing a powerful but tricky electric motor. She was ‘not clever’ but was fond of using her hands and felt at home with the machinery. She could describe the whole process of composing a novel, from the general directive issued by the Planning Committee down to the final touching-up by the Rewrite Squad. But she was not interested in the finished product. Books were just a commodity that had tobe produced, like jam or bootlaces.
Futureology back in the Fifties had no concept of the digital. Same with Stanislav Lem’s Solaris. But one doesn’t mind, the stories that are told are so gripping. Who cares if they were using glass retorts and paper records in the space-station labs, I for one do not. And wonderful Ray Bradbury didn’t gave a damn one way or another, he had his spacemen stepping out of their spaceship on Mars and setting up a card table on which to spread their lunch sandwiches. Probably tuna.
When there’s a drought and very high temperatures, there’s a lot more work when you’re rural. Dragging hoses around trying to save trees, keeping animals cool, keeping self cool. I had to drive to Uvalde (40 miles away) to pay my Cricket phone bill and the temperature on the highway was plain scary.
But they had the Fourth of July parade anyway.
I didn’t stay too long, it was just too absolutely crushingly hot.
I manage to keep the upstairs study cool by putting those mylar space blankets on the windows and door. Makes it dark but at least I can work. I miss my big tall windows but whatever.
I’m working on putting all the Lighthouse Island books into shape. It’s the same future dystopian world of overpopulation/drought/civic dysfunction and rigid class structure that all gets swept away by floods. There are now three books. The fourth on the way and the final one (the fifth) will be very far into the future when human population is almost nil. In the first four it’s all the same timeline, with different characters and different plots. They do run into each other briefly. The location is a future Kansas City that has spread so far with overpopulation and slums that it is about to run into St. Louis. It’s life on the hot streets, and the survival devices and joys and miseries of the poor and the semi-poor.
In the fifth book the characters of the first four show up briefly in ancient video devices.
They are: Lighthouse Island (now called At Large) 2.) The Weaponsmaker — 3.) Action Figure —4.) (working title) Quinn. The final one, (working title), The Plague.
It’s fun! Keeps me busy.
Social life goes on as always, horses and music, also planning a trip to Coatepec with my DIL Nadine and stepson Jim, that’ll be August and God knows it will be cooler than here. A great visit with the Contreras family. Coatepec is at about 3000 feet, just outside Veracruz, at the foot of El Cofre de Peyrote and not too far from Orizaba.
Which, for my ancestors — the Giles’, the McCords, the Dobsons and others — I imagine was an enormous relief. They probably just heard the news of Cornwallis’ surrender in Yorktown and sat down and said Thank God at last, peace. North Carolina had been ravaged and burnt by Cornwallis and Tarleton. For seven years they’d been fighting mostly barefoot, always hungry, winter-ragged, and at last it was all over.
This is a contemporary painting of the 1st Maryland Continentals fighting at Guilford Courthouse, NC. They all look pretty healthy and well-fed, which they weren’t. In fact, most of the faces all look like the same guy. The artist must have had a template for ‘resolute fighting man’ and just re-used it. Anyway, I don’t have any pictures of North Carolina troops — that would have been the North Carolina milita, and of the Revolutionary War reminiscences I have read, the NC militia were said to talk funny, most were barefoot, slovenly and tended to go home after the battle was over to take care of the farm. But they helped win the war. You’re welcome.