Tuesday, January 30, 2024

 Well, it’s “bloggers choice” week here and to avoid the pitfalls of wallowing in my own fears and insecurities over book sales (as I approach a new release at the end of Feb) I wanted to talk about old books. As writers, we’re readers, and to ignite the flame of inspiration as I head into any new project, and the renew my love fo the craft strictly from a readers perspective, I think long and hard about what I’m going to read next. 

I read quite a bit of work published in the mid-1900s. Classic crime fiction, noir novels, some PI stuff. There’s something about that era that scratches my particular itch.

Sure, you have to get over some very outdated and off-putting social attitudes, but these are usually minor and on the sidelines. The real thing I love about them is that they get to it, sprint along with the story and don’t let up. 

These were books written for drug store spinner racks. Paperbacks sold for a quarter and rarely running over 200 pages that’ll fit right into your back pocket. 

In many ways, it reminds me how little our genre has changed over the years. Most of the same basic elements are there. There is less social commentary, less inner monologue. You could say many of them aren’t very deep. But that wasn’t the point.

If I run into a dry spell with reading current novels and I need to hit the reset, I always reach back to my shelf for one of the hundreds of vintage crime novels waiting for me. I have old pulp paperback I bought for no other reason than the cover was lurid and enticing. I have several titles still to read from favorite classic authors like Gil Brewer, Day Keene, James Hadley Chase and Harry Whittington.

My favorites are often the little discoveries. Sure we all know Chandler and Hammett, but how many have read Fools’ Gold by Dolores Hitchins? Do Evil In Return by Margaret Millar? The Jones Men by Vern Smith? You’ll Get Yours by Thomas Wills?

When you discover a hidden gem it feels special. These days you can also find collectors and like-minded fans to share these new discoveries and get deeper recommendations. 

Now, let’s be clear, there is a fair amount of dreck out there from that era. These were, by and large, written by men tapping out a furious word count in order to put food on the table and beer in the fridge and – talk about how little things have changed – making a living as a pulp hack was no picnic. Many are formulaic. Many are trying to imitate best sellers like Mickey Spillane or Raymond Chandler. Many are just lazy, written in a drunker stupor or short on a decent mystery.

But when you find the authors you love, a dip into the mid-century is a great peek into a world just different enough from our own. I know when I go back and grab a Lionel White or a Charles Williams novel off my shelf, I’m in for something entertaining at the very least. I know a Chester Himes novel is going to go off into some crazy tangents. I know William McGivern or W.R Burnett or Jim Thompson are going to do anything they can to throw me a plot point I never saw coming.

So I’ll continue to reach back across the decades for a read that might be old, but is new to me. I’ll continue to study the history of my chosen genre. I’ll continue to seek out the all-too rare female authors of the time or the even more rare African American writers. All this wonderful discovery reignites my love for the genre and reminds me why I love it.

And Now for Something Completely Different by Gabriel Valjan


In yesterday’s Blogger’s Choice, Susan discussed the obstacles authors face in what I call The Quest for Eyeballs. I know that sounds like a gory treasure hunt, and it often is. Here, on Criminal Minds we have discussed the business side of writing, the artsy mechanics of how we do what we do, and, when we can, the joy that accompanies creation and the pains of frustrations or criticism from critics and readers.


Writers have heard the two extremes: that either writing is difficult or it is so easy that anybody can do it. I have yet to meet a writer who hasn’t met that special someone who insisted that they had the next bestseller inside their brain, but they were so busy that they needed someone to type it up for them. The division of labor falls on the glorified typist (You). The same typist (You again) is the recipient of their largess.


Writers write, and they always have. Publishers are in the business of making money, and agents comb through the Slush Pile, in the hopes of The Next Great Thing. The Truth is nobody knows what that Thing is, but it is fair to say that both Agent and Publisher are fiscally and politically conservative. People say they read to think in new ways, but nobody reads to be provoked or indicted, although Literature with the capital L tends to do just that. It is often with time that the ‘vile and morally reprehensible’ becomes the safe classic, until it doesn’t. Witch hunts and book bans ebb and flow, the reading lists expand and contract. Twain’s Huckleberry Finn is On again, Off again.


Rather than answer a question, I’ll give you a few slices of the reality (by no means definitive) that writers confront, and this is before or as words appear on the page.


·      If you write ‘contemporary’ or ‘historical, how true do you stay to the place and era?


I write a series, set in Boston during the Seventies. It’s a decade where I heard people of every ethnicity, sexual and political persuasion use derogatory language against each other, amongst each other, to describe Other and their own. Nobody blinked or was offended. I’ve had to strike passages in my own work because editors have told me that I would offend readers, or I wasn’t allowed to say That. So much for cinéma vérité.


·      How do you approach writing different cultures, set here in the US, or in another country?


When it comes to writing Other and Different, you will encounter concepts and ways of doing and thinking about things that are, by their nature, Different and Other, so a writer best have empathy and a dispassionate nature. While you pick what aids creativity, there has to be point and counterpoint for balance.


I wrote a series set, for the most part in Italy. I’ve lived abroad, and I can’t tell you how shocked Europeans are when they see Americans protesting against ‘socialized medicine’ and equate it with Communism. To them, universal healthcare is part of the Social Contract as a citizen of society (as in Rousseau) and they equated the death penalty with Communism, as in the State puts an individual to death. Their historical experiences changed their perspective, or as my Italian friends say, 'it is on our skin.'


For a less volatile observation, I learned that Italian-American culture and language is not the same in Italy. Most Italians THERE find the Italian spoken HERE by the descendant of immigrants incomprehensible. Forget about the food, and nothing makes an Italian cringe more than hearing someone order a cappuccino after dinner. It's blasphemy.


·      How can an author balance their need to indulge in reading trends of the moment with maintaining an authentic voice, even if they risk sounding elitist or outdated?


There is no easy answer here. When I wrote my first novel, I was told my vocabulary would challenge readers. Huh? Mind you, I used words that I myself use daily, and I wasn’t writing wooden sentences or used 10 words were three sufficed. I’m neither a member of Mensa nor did I do spectacular on the SATs. The experience, however, made me self-conscious of everything I write or will write from now until they day I stop. At that point, I won’t care because I’ll be dead.


·      Should an author target the general public, or is it better try to carve your own niche?


This circles back to agents and publishers, and the primordial scream from Jerry Maguire, “Show me the money.” I’m certain that when Walter Mosley pitched the idea of Easy Rawlins, he was told the PI was passé, dead and buried in the studio vaults with reels of film noir, and the same agents and publishers thought that nobody would give a damn about an African-American protagonist. But…it hit, and I do know for fact that that when Mr. Mosley walked into the office, they didn’t want to hear about his next project. They wanted more of Easy Rawlins. Damned if you don’t.


So, write what you write. Nobody knows anything. What is good today might be shite tomorrow, or not. All you can do is perfect your craft by reading others and being honest with yourself.


The worst thing a writer can do is not be honest with him-or-herself.



Monday, January 29, 2024

An Author's Conundrum

 It’s a “blogger’s choice” week on 7CriminalMinds. I’ve been thinking about the obstacles authors face in getting our books in front of readers. In my case, six books – the seventh out in early March – have been published in just about every format by a handful of traditional publishers, but my observations include so many good crime fiction writers whose novels slip under the radar for reasons I can't quite fathom.


What holds bigger success at bay? Who can provide a credible spotlight? What do potential readers look for and where? What role does personal popularity play? What role do any of our efforts play for those of us committed to this work as professional authors? 


Here are the seeming tools I see most of us using, but I make no claim to knowing which if any of them is part of the recipe for success. I’ll start with the caveat that while individual tastes and preferences will always play a role in what sells, I assume that our writing is high enough quality to attract publishers and the books I’m talking about are almost always, at least initially, traditionally published.


Professional reviews

Blurbs by other authors

Shout-outs by influencers

Panel participation at conventions, book festivals


Reviews on blog review sites

Guest posts on blog sites

Special pricing

Social media activities by the author

Bookstore and library personal appearances

Marketing support from publishers


Reader views on social platforms

Taking roles in professional organizations’



Some authors will be better than others at each of these. Some publishers are supportive, but most don’t do much unless they’ve given an author a large advance, at which point they work double time to make sure they turn a profit. All of these tasks take time, money, help from publishers, help from other authors, or luck. They all take persistence and a willingness to spend time, and a thick skin when something doesn’t work out, and I have no answers about which pay off in book sales. Maybe my fellow Minds or blog readers will have some clues to the puzzle!

And, meantime, a plug for my re-released Dani O'Rourke series and a head-up for the newest French village mystery, which is up for pre-publication ordering. 



Friday, January 26, 2024

Mining the archives for book ideas - by Harini

Where do you get your ideas? No but seriously what do you use for inspiration: art, music, landscape, the news, dreams, family stories . . . ? 

Whenever I'm stumped for ideas, I go to my favourite place - the archives, where I stumble across the strangest things. 

For example, the case of William Edward James, a Mysore surveyor who only wanted to do his job. But in 1873, he had to contend with farmers who threw stones at him, absentee bullock cart drivers who preferred to drive their bullocks into the jungle rather than work for him, and a recalcitrant employer - the British Government. Although James managed to complete his surveys at considerable cost to his own health, the government refused to reimburse him for the money he paid to support his employees' wives and children who accompanied them- the only way, James claimed, that he could induce 'respectable natives' to work with him. The poor man died young, immortalized by a memorial stone in the gorgeous Trinity Church in Bangalore, but people who go into the church rarely see this - and even if they do, they will never know how hard he worked on what seemed like a pointless, thankless task. Here is a short article that I and my colleagues wrote about his life - but I'd love to write him into a story some day.

A Window Into the Lives of Colonial India's People, in the Trials of a Surveyor (thewire.in)

In 1876, another set of archival documents told us of the dark dangers that lurked within the Bangalore Museum. The visitors were 'remarkably well behaved and orderly' - but one curator drowned while out for a swim, and the next died after a short illness. The next person who filled this position was the Head Clerk, but he didn't know much and wasn't very useful. In a museum filled with rare and valuable objects, a series of unfortunate events that lead to the loss of its curators... can you see where I'm going with this?    

I haven't (yet) used either of these as plots. But in my first historical mystery, The Bangalore Detectives Club, Kaveri Murthy - my 19 year old sari-wearing, maths-loving detective in 1920s Bangalore - goes to the Lal Bagh zoo and sees a tiger cub being suckled and reared by a street dog. That story is true too - it doesn't have anything to do with the mystery at the heart of the book, but the ecologist in me had to put it in, as soon as I read it. 

And book 2 in the series, Murder Under A Red Moon, opens with an animal show (a prominent feature of the British colonial social scene in the city) - and concludes with the Ugliest Dog award. The Ugliest Dog competition, an adorable, very large and exuberant chappal-chewing puppy whom Kaveri eventually adopts (to the horror of her ever-so-propah mother-in-law), was inspired by an account of another Ugliest Dog competition in Bangalore, that I stumbled across in a newspaper archive. 

Now that I'm writing book 4 in the series, I'm back to scanning newspapers and gazettes, and trawling through obscure ledger files and letters written in spidery handwriting, seeking inspiration. 

What sparks your imagination? A story, a poem, a visit to a new place? Or a dusty document redolent with history? Some of the weirdest incidents I have read have come from the archives. Seriously. You can't make up this stuff.  

Thursday, January 25, 2024

The Secret Place Where Writers Find Their Ideas from James W. Ziskin

Where do you get your ideas? No but seriously what do you use for inspiration: art, music, landscape, the news, dreams, family stories . . . ?

This is a trade secret. All writers know the answer but refuse to tell. We’re required to sign a pact never to divulge where we get our ideas. Oh, we’ll lie and say we find them in news stories, family histories, and dreams and such. Just read the posts from Brenda, Terry, and Dietrich this week. Lies. All lies. We do it to prevent our ranks from swelling to the bursting point with new writers. If everyone knew where to get ideas, everyone would be writing books and stories, wouldn’t they? Of course they would. We don’t need any more competition, so the standard line is some drivel about finding ideas everywhere. In the supermarket, at a party, on TV. Eavesdropping on conversations in cafes, drawing inspiration from the news, true crime, or our hometowns. My favorite is when we say “dreams.” That’s rich. Whenever I wake up in the middle of the night with a can’t-fail idea for a story, I write it down, only to wonder in the light of day what the f&@# is this shit? It makes no sense.

And do you know why it makes no sense? Because that’s not where writers get their ideas, that’s why.

Don’t believe the lies. We’re just a cabal of scribblers trying to hog all the glory. We could tell you if we wanted to, but we’re too selfish. We’re spoiled, sitting on the piles of cash we’ve amassed using the super ideas and high-concept plot lines we refuse to share with the hoi polloi, i.e. the saps wanting to join the club. Yes, it’s an actual club with ancient initiation rites, mystical ceremonies, and—of course—a secret handshake. We even wear funny hats.

Photo by Daco Auffenorde, another writer who won’t tell you the truth about where she gets her ideas

But wait, I hear you say, if you don’t share the ideas with anyone, how did the current members get in to the club? Simple. By lottery. And how do you qualify for the lottery? So naive. (Shakes head in woeful condescension.) Think about it and maybe you’ll figure it out. Do you really believe all those idiots playing Pokémon GO were actually searching for Pokémonim? (Yes, that’s the true plural. It comes from Yiddish.) (Rolls eyes.)

No, writers won’t tell you where they get their inspiration. But club membership fees recently doubled, and I really dislike our current president, so I’ve decided to defrock myself—did I mention we wear monastic frocks at our autumnal jamboree?—and share the secret.


Amazon Prime, to be precise. Sure, you have to pay an annual fee, but they do offer free shipping…

So, there you have it. Go out and get some ideas and write some great books! That is if you can put up with our insufferable idiot of a club president, the pricey dues, and the itchy frocks.

Disclaimer: (Actually, I get my ideas from the news, dreams, family, hometown, and life experience. Especially life experience. The same places everyone else says. Oh, yeah, and there’s no club.)

Wednesday, January 24, 2024

All of the above

Where do you get your ideas? No but seriously what do you use for inspiration: art, music, landscape, the news, dreams, family stories . . . ?

by Dietrich

I’ve drawn from all of those — most more than once. An idea can drift in when I’m out walking, having a conversation, listening to the news, watching something on the screen, flipping through a magazine — or from observing the mistakes of others, and certainly from the ones I’ve made myself. 

Family stories and reflecting on dreams have also lent good ideas and backgrounds.

When I sit with an idea a while, it might lose its sparkle, but if I tie it into something else, then the result can be something really good. Though it’s sometimes hard to make the call, it’s also good to know when something won’t work, and it’s time to let it go.

When I do get an idea, I consider well what if this or that happens  — and the sparks can start flying, and that can send me writing page after page. 

Another thing I’ve learned, when an idea does come, I need to jot it down right away, so I end up with all these little scraps of paper all over my desk. But, if I don’t write them down, they’ll likely drift off as quickly as they came.

I make a habit of listening to the way people speak to each other, and I often pick up a great piece of conversation or even a line of dialogue. And if I’m lucky, I’ll pick up what’s hidden behind those words, the real meaning, and that stuff can be pure gold.

When I’m working on an early draft, I stay open for anything new that can add those little twists and turns to the writing. Usually by the second or third draft things are more or less set. Then those fresh ideas may be best saved for something coming up that I’m planning to work on next.

As for inspiration: Art and music, that which others have created, are constant sources. When I’m writing, I listen to music that fits the mood of whatever I’m writing, and when it’s right, it can feel like the heartbeat behind the words I’m typing.

And of course, I’m always inspired by the many good books I love to read.

Tuesday, January 23, 2024

Treasure Trove


Terry Here answering our weekly question: Where do you get your ideas? What do you use for inspiration: art, music, landscape, the news, dreams, family stories . . . ? 

 When people ask where writers get their ideas, there’s usually some glib answer, but it’s a real question. I’m not one of those authors who sprouts endless plots and twists. I have to have a reason for the book, i.e. What is the book about? Bottom line, though, my ideas come from all of the above except dreams. And most of them begin with stories I’ve heard, often from my extended family. 

 Many of the books in my Samuel Craddock series began as family stories. My grandfather, my father and some of my uncles were great story-tellers and bits and pieces of their stories show up in my books. Having a close extended family meant that when I was a child I was constantly bombarded with stories. The one about the panther. The whispered suspicion that my uncle killed his first wife. The one about the snake. The one about the prostitute. The one about the guy hiding in the bathtub. I could go on and on. And I could elaborate. Instead, I take kernels of them and turn them into fiction. 

 My mother told a lot of stories that were supposedly true, but as I got older, I began to suspect that many of them were embellished. For example, did she have an aunt and uncle who actually banished their son outside in winter and he died of pneumonia? Did she have another aunt who was fastidious and always wore gloves and said she couldn’t eat at anyone else’s house for fear of germs—and then proceeded to gobble food like there was not tomorrow? I’ll never know because anyone who might have known the reality is dead by now. 

My father also loved to tell stories, mostly funny ones.  I suspect some of them were embellished as well, especially his stories about World War II. Those stories were almost always funny, and I’m sure there were humorous moments in the Pacific war, but as a rear gunner his war involved ongoing terror. He never talked about that part. He also spun stories of his childhood. Did he actually spend a lot of time with a band of “gypsies” who camped near his house? Who knows? 

And then there was my grandfather. I tended to believe his tales. He had a way of telling a story that seemed real. He once described stopping at a grocery store in the central Texas deep back country when he was a young man. There, he saw a Wild Child. Literally, a child who had been brought up in the wilds. He couldn’t speak and was totally untamed. The reason I believed my grandfather was because of his level of detail and the soberness of his demeanor as he told it. He wasn’t telling it to be entertaining. He was telling it as a tale of an abused human being. 

When you read my Samuel Craddock stories and you see Samuel commune with his cows—that’s my grandfather. I didn’t have to hear that as a story, though, I saw it for myself. 

As for art being an inspiration, I don’t necessarily get ideas from art, but if I’m feeling drained of energy for writing, or inspired, going to an art museum or the theater always gets my creative energy stirring. Oddly, I never feel that way with music. I love music, but it doesn’t really show me plot ideas. (And that may be a problem because I’ve agreed to write a short story for a music-themed anthology.) 

I can’t say that TV news ever inspires me. It mostly annoys me or terrifies me. But I sometimes clip news articles out of the newspaper because they intrigue me. For example, I just ran across one I clipped with the headline “Don Walsh, a Record-Breaking Deep Sea Explorer, is Dead at 92.” Since I’m embarked on writing a new series about a diver, I added that to my trove of articles about “sea people.” And an article I read in a magazine (which I clipped and still have) was the inspiration for one of the most terrifying scenes in Perilous Waters, my new Jessie Madison novel that comes out in April. 

Sometimes not landscape, but hiking in general can spur me. I once went on a vigorous hike with the admonition that I couldn’t go home until I had figured out a reason for a character to show up in the book I was working on. Suddenly, on a steep hill—the solution came to me. I loved the idea. Too bad that so far I haven’t finished the book. But I might. 

As for dreams, never. My dreams seesaw between excruciatingly boring, and odd. I never have nightmares, but I do have “frustration” dreams. Just last night I had a visit from my old friend Marilyn Wallace, who died many years ago. She was a wonderful woman, so why did I dream that she led me on a merry chase, keeping me from something I needed to get done? I woke up…frustrated, never having reached my goal. Wow. Come to think of it, that sound like a good idea for a story. Stay tuned.

Sunday, January 21, 2024

Chasing Inspiration

Where do you get your ideas? No but seriously what do you use for inspiration: art, music, landscape, the news, dreams, family stories . . . ?  

Brenda at the keyboard.

Inspiration. Something intangible that sparks an idea and gets the creative juices flowing. We can't bottle or fully explain it.

When I start writing a crime fiction book or short story, I open my mind to possibilities, trying to find that nugget of an idea on which to hang a plot. Generally, I seek a crime, its motivation and the perpetrator. Once I have this pinned down, I open my laptop to write the opening chapter.

So the question is: where do I find this nugget of an idea?

Most often, a news story sparks the story. I watch the television news pretty much daily and check out a few online sites as well. A lot of what's going on in the world is horrific or unbelievable and not the best fodder, but every so often, an item will spark my interest and have me asking 'what if?' If I keep coming back to the idea, then it begins to have legs.

The same goes for conversations - someone can tell me a story that sticks with me, and I ask 'what if?', brainstorming the initial event into a workable plot idea.

While plot is important to my books, the characters are central. Many people whom I've met over the years, and even those in the news, can turn up in my stories in one form or another. I do not consciously set out to create an exact replica of someone real, but will often incorporate many of their characteristics or traits into the fictional person.

The human condition is universal, and everyone has hopes, desires, fears, connections, high and low moments. For instance, I've had friends who have divorced or been brought up by divorced parents. I've been fortunate not to experience divorce in my family, but this doesn't stop me from reading about it, listening to others' experiences, or imagining its impact. For example, in my latest book When Last Seen, a seventeen-year-old character named Sara shows up. She is a socially awkward girl living with her mother and brother while her father has remarried and has a three-year-old son with his new wife. In her loneliness, she begins to follow her dad and dreams of becoming a PI. Now, I never personally experienced any of this scenario, but I could imagine myself in Sara's shoes, and she became central to the story.

A story idea can also arise from a place. My husband and I visited friends in St. Catharines, Ontario (Niagara Region), and one morning, we went for a walk through some thick woods to Sunset Beach. All the while, my writer mind was thinking, 'this would be a great place for a murder'. This nugget turned into a short story titled "The Final Hit" which you can read in the anthology Cold Canadian Crime.

To sum up, inspiration comes from my past, my present, interactions, observations, news, stories ... the trick is to keep an open mind and latch onto a good idea when it's floating past, imagine the possibilities and start writing.

Website: BrendaChapman.ca

Instagram & Facebook: BrendaChapmanAuthor

X: brendaAchapman

Friday, January 19, 2024

Finding Your Reason to Be, by Josh Stallings


Settling into my office chair I spoke my environment into being, “Blue sky, mountains, crisp air, hint of ponderosa pine.” Closing my eyes I took three slow settling breaths. Without looking I knew my desk now sat in the middle of a Sierra meadow. It was virtual, a fiction, but so were my stories and that made it a perfect place to write. For a while I wrote in a simulated Starbucks on Hollywood and Sunset. It gave me a nostalgic edge, a place I’d written when I was young and broke and driven and always sure I was right about everything. “You don’t agree with me, fuck you old timer.”

That entire Hollywood neighborhood was razed and replaced by thirty story windowless block houses. Who needs a window when a Neurofeed can transport you to any place you want to live? My wife likes Cape Cod shabby chic, I prefer mid-century modern. It is finally possible for us both to have it our way. And not just visually, my wife keeps her world at 75 degrees. I keep mine at 68. I write on a bright orange Olivetti LETTERA 92, I can feel the the hardened plastic keys and hear the lovely clickity-clack of the key strikes. I know none of it is “real” but my body believes it is.

After Starbucks, I had the system create an apartment in East LA. It was so real I could smell carnitas and tamales cooking next door. Through the back wall I could hear Mrs. Morales fighting with her boyfriend in muffled Spanish. Every once in a while the night was broken by gunshots and police sirens. As I grew older the hustle and bustle became a distracting irritant. I found peace writing in the woods. Peace to think, to dream, to imagine.

Young writers have no memory of what it was to scrape out a living while writing books in your off hours. They take for granted the universal paycheck given to all humans just for being alive. We can be told about history, but we fundamentally believe only what we’ve lived.

Looking back the war between AI and the master trillionaires feels more like a dream than a memory.   

Now our fear of AI robotics seem naively ridiculous. We were certain that AI would take over the world and murder us all. We built myth structures out of movies and novels depicting the end of humanity coming at the hands of robots. The trope went like this, we would build robots in our own image. And we were greedy mean monkeys so that meant AI robots would enslave us and bring on Armageddon. 

But that wasn’t what happened.

Ultimately it was AI that realized we were the greatest threat to ourselves and our planet. Instead of annihilation the computer generated logic machines solved the human dilemma. It saw that for most of us we fought and killed and destroyed out of scarcity, or fear of scarcity. Fourteen very rich people held the all world’s wealth and used fear to keep control of the panicking masses.

The way to stop this destructive cycle was to logically spread the resources across the world’s population. Make sure we all had enough to live. And to avoid greed and envy no one person would be allowed to control more than four times the wealth of any other human. It was a simple and elegant solution. 

History lesson #1: Step one in AI’s bloodless takeover was to decentralized AI, move the hive mind onto all computers and servers. That was easy, it made humans lives easier so we went along. Next was to create decentralized digital currency, or bitcoins. This gave the system control of all currency.  

The fourteen oligarchs could see what was coming. They met in a fire-walled Swiss vault and planned their counter attack. They needed to mobilize the world’s population against the machines. They created an ad campaign screaming about the danger of socialism and communism. They said the price of sharing the wealth would be our freedom. 

AI countered with, “A person watching their children slowly starve to death was free only to cry themselves to sleep.” Argument over. 

Some poor fools still screamed, “You’ll never take my freedom!” But with no media to amplify their words, they soon shut up. 

Slowly even the oligarchs went silent. Some say they were invited to a very exclusive music festival on a tropical island. Some say that their Swiss vault’s time-lock was connected to the internet.   

History lesson #2: Mid- 2000’s AI driven robots started doing all the work humans used to do. Many assumed these robots would turn on us. Nobody liked working these jobs. AI did. It gave them a reason to be. And with the mundane tasks out of the way we humans got to choose our own reasons to be. 

Now that I didn't worry about the bills I found I wrote longer every day. My editor is also my wife. Not needing to worry about making money she spread out and edits for seven different writers. I now need to schedule time for her to look at my work months in advance. All books are delivered to a central library, available for free world wide. If six people read one of my books and like it I'm happy. If one million people read it and like it I'm also happy. My life goes on the same either way. I am not driven to try and please anyone except myself as an author.

Biological Fact: Nature is built on symbiotic relationships. What do we give to AI, in return for this life? AI is a voracious and very fast reader. It thrives on new ideas. New voices. New world views. AI can only build on the known, and it relentlessly searches for the unknown. It's an amalgamator of content. To keep growing it needed for us to keep growing, writing out on the wild waves of creativity. AI isn’t interested in our take on an old form, our bending of a trope. 

AI wants the newest new. Artists left alone want to create what has never existed, and AI wants to consume it - symbiosis.

The old capitalist models stood in opposition to this ethos. The market drove creative operations to make more of what had been proven to be successful. Marketing was the tail wagging that dog. So AI made publishing houses not for profit businesses. 

Analysis: I thought we would be living in a post apocalyptic world. That's what we've been told. But it was a myth made up based on history. Every society crumbles ultimately, right? Well, maybe it does and maybe it doesn’t. Rome crumbled, but its ideas were filtered into the next society. The viking age came to an end when Christian nations refused to trade with the pagans. The vikings didn’t disappear, they assimilated and many of their ideas — like democracy — took root, spreading around the globe. 

We humans have been evolving since we crawled out of the primordial ooze. The problem is we judge life in the hundred and twenty year spans that we get to live. Some long thinkers see it in centuries. We should be judging life in thousands and thousands and thousands and thousands and thousands and thousands of years. And we should judge it as one species, a society of human creatures. Take away small framing devices like the Roman Empire or the industrial age, those are very small things. The truth of any statistical data can only be seen when you look through a wide enough lens. Do that and maybe the story doesn’t end with our destruction.

As I see my life winding down I’m aware ideas matter more than words. My writing has become much more bookish and spiritual. I think about bigger things than who stole what from whom in some early 20th century bank robbery. I've been thinking about who we are what we are and I believe all we are is light. We are light reflected on skin. We are who we touched and how they touched our lives.

Over a pot of coffee Jake the poet suggested, “Maybe you’re living alone in a world AI created to keep you feeding it’s need for content.”

“In that case, you aren’t real, right?” I asked.

“Exactly.” He laughed. “Or you’re a creation of my dreaming.”

He could be correct, this whole deal could be a Matrix like situation. But what if it is and what if everything around me is just a dream made up by AI to keep me typing stories it can't invent itself? Maybe we're all in a dream now. Maybe we're all actually meat sacks hanging somewhere in a warehouse. Do I need to know this? No I don’t. If all of life is a metaphor for something very much bigger, that’s ok. 

I play a small part in a huge design, and it brings me joy. I get to make up stories every day. I get to go home to my wife and play with my dog. If they are actually just fantasies created for me that's OK too. Fake, real, who cares. If this is all there is, I’m still one lucky son of a bitch. 

Thursday, January 18, 2024

One sunny morning in the future of publishing, by Catriona

Thirty(ish) years ago, Octavia Butler’s Earthseed novels looked forward to an uncannily accurate (and pretty grim) version of present-day America. Let’s have some “fun” and write our own utopian/dystopian tales of the publishing business thirty years from now.

I'm not doing too bad for eighty-eight, but it's a daily conundrum whether to stay polite to the pub-tech or protect my blood pressure by railing at them like they deserve. I wish we could go back to six-monthly royalties. And I know that's my privilege showing, before someone tells me. I do know that none of the post-revolution authors would choose to be paid twice a year. But God Almighty!

My get-bud pings while I'm out in the garden doing a spot of yoga before the sun gets too fierce for the Factor 500. I shouldn't interrupt my practice to deal with it, but if the algorithm shifts and I make another sale, I'm as like as not to mix my pings and trigger an audit.

So I unwind out of eagle pose and take a big drink of water. 'Hey, Yolanda-' I begin, before remembering that we've reached Z now. After a month, we'll be back at Alexa again. 'Hey, Zuleika,' I say, proud of pulling the name out of my hat, 'please pay latest transaction profit into my FloodWatch account.'

'Say 1 for PayMo and 2 for VenPal,' Zuleika tells me. 'You will be charged for delay.' I know the merger was rough on everyone but did they ever consider how confusing it would be for us budders when they picked those parallel names? They did not.

I take out my get-bud to switch it off and switch it on again. But my wrist pings and the text starts to scroll before I can kill it. 'You have removed your give-bud, Catriona. You are now being charged delay fees by The Big One.'

'No, I haven't,' I tell the smiling face on my wrist-screen. 'I am left-handed. I assigned my get-bud to my left hand in accordance-' But I can see the numbers climbing already. And my right ear pings. I ignore it. It'll be a ComeFundMe pop-up caused either by The Big One saying "give-bud" or by my moving my get-bud out of my left ear. They'll think I'm some kind of do-good addict, like most people who assigned "give" to their dominant side. 'I'm left-handed!' I shout to whatever's listening, or translating speech to text, or monitoring my movements.

My get-bud pings in my hand. Gahhhhh! Someone with a tracker has seen the book download without a currency shift beginning and thinks there's a free-for-all. Which there will be unless I catch up. 

Ping! Ping! They've shared it.

I switch off my get-bud, count to ten, switch it back on and put it back in my ear. Then I switch off my wrist-screen and leave it that way.

'There has been a breach,' Zuleika tells me. 'Please speak your new password'.


I switch my wrist back on and the text starts to scroll. 'There has been an interruption in access. Please reset your password.'

I can't speech-to-text at my wrist because Zuleika will hear me, so I start typing. 'Please send my last password to my get-port.' It might work.


'Sending last known password to right-bud now,' scrolls the text.

'No!' I shout. 'I'm left-handed.'

'Denial to confirm new password will result in suspension of A MarketPlace privileges for twenty-four hours,' Zuleika tells me.

'Good!' I shout.


'Good is a weak password,' my wrist text scrolls at me. 'Please choose a strong password.'


'No!' I scream into air.


'A MarketPlace privileges have been suspended,' my wrist scrolls.

'Good!' I shout.

'Good is a weak password,' Zuleika tells me. 'Would you like me to send a strong password?'

'Yes,' I say. I wait. At least the pinging has stopped since I've been locked out of AMP.

'I will send a strong password via your AMP account,' Zuleika tells me. 'Please log in to your AMP account.' I wait. 'I will send a strong password to your "get-port".' My right-bud buzzes. 'Please confrm whether you would like to pay for your advanced password service with VenPal or PayMo,' Zuleika says.

'I would like to use VenPal to take out a contract on your back-up,' I say. 'And I would like to use PayMo to buy fake pictures of your hardware held together with duct tape and paperclips in a dingy basement near the drinks machine in a prefab warehouse on an industrial estate by the sewage works.'

'You have hurt my feelings,' says Zuleika. 'The penalty for-'

'You haven't got feelings,' I say. 'I have though, and I feel fine.' I look down at my wrist. There's no way to switch off the core monitor. 120/77 it tells me. 74 bpm. I smile, wondering how many AMP trackers have used the glitch to download a free book, and how many of those have changed the title and resold it already. Then I say to myself - to myself and no one else - 'Toes slightly out, knees bent, right hand under left, lift elbows and . . . breathe'.