My adventures with AI or …

The movie War Games has been stuck in my mind for, what? Forty years? And having worked in the nascent modeling of meteorological data, I know that prediction is only as good as the data accessed and the decision tree established. By humans. Humans, too, build AI models. Meaning at some point, computers will take over. I know this, because of War Games, I Robot … the list is long.

That said, as a writer, I find creating marketing and cover copy difficult. This should be some sort of weird joke since I toiled in the advertising trade for years writing copy. But here is the issue — when writing about plums or kiwi fruit you are writing about something with which you have no emotional attachment.

Not so with your book baby. I find it disconcerting to write something like this: (Any book) is an action-packed and heart-wrenching tale of family, friendship, and loss that will leave readers captivated until the very end. I don’t want to over-hype, I worry about readers being disappointed when they aren’t captivated. I worry that someone will notice my baby has a big ____ (fill in the blank).

So, I reviewed several AI programs that touted their book marketing capabilities. Decided, I took advantage of a free trial offer from Anyword (the above is an example of the output). Here’s what I discovered. The output is only as good as the input. No kidding, the more honed your sales points are, the better the output.  Duh!

Anyword’s user interface is easy to navigate. Having selected the Amazon landing page option, I entered my bullet points. Three versions of AI-generated text popped out (you can pick fewer). Cool. I did this for my new book Unbecoming a Lady, then my series The Cooper Vietnam Era Quartet. Other than the glee of hitting a button and having words magically appear on the screen, I benefitted most immediately from some great closing sales pitches. But the landing page copy generated always required editing. Some of the text output was downright funny and once a bit scary. So, it takes time to edit the output, just as it takes time to develop the input for your book(s).

Further after three or four pitches, I noticed a pattern. The book was always exciting, wonderful, thrilling, suspenseful, ____ (fill in the hype word). You get the idea. Since the program (all AI programs) searches a database of successful like-product pitches, the text can be robotic and derivative.  In fairness, the blurbs do match every other Amazon sales pitch, including that for cat watering stations, light bulb changers, and, well, everything. Based on the language errors made in Anyword and errors seen on Amazon, I suspect AI, including Anyword, is used by many marketing firms to create pitches quickly with little editing.

In the end, your AI-generated book description is no more exotic or exciting than any other book’s. Good or bad? I don’t know. My years in advertising tell me no. This means, to stand out from the competition you will need to do more honing. And, yes, research.

My Conclusions?

Using AI to create book sales copy is freeing in that it gives you a totally non-human, unbiased swag at your book. A place to start. But it isn’t a time saver. Maybe an ego saver, if it saves you from hanky-wringing angst while writing the hype for your book baby.

Anyword has a hefty subscription fee, enough to give one pause, though it would give you the ability to endlessly redo your landing pages. And that is attractive, despite the little voice whispering: For crikey sakes, you worked in advertising. Yes, still?

As you can see, I’m undecided. Though, I admit I worry AI will soon write us all out of business. Remember, War Games haunts me.


Recently my little town of Springville hit the national news when one storm after another caused the Tule River to flood and fill houses with water and mud. We were among those ordered to evacuate because we live near the river—however despite the rushing water taking out trees and bridges as it headed toward the lake, we were in no danger. However, the first day the only roads to get out of town were flooded and closed.

Long ago I wrote a mystery called A Deadly Feast about a storm that caused a raging river to take out a bridge and strand those who lived on the other side for several days.

Raging Water is a Deputy Tempe Crabtree mystery written several years ago about the flooding of Bear Creek which forces people living along the river to evacuate and causes a huge mud slide which makes it impossible for anyone to leave.

Both books have a great similarity to what recently went on in our small town.

This is happened before.

I wrote Bears With Us when we had an occasional bear sighting in an around Springville. At the time, my grandson was a police officer in Aspen CO and many bear encounters he shared with me. I used his expertise to add excitement to the story.

Last summer several bears decided Springville would be a great place to dine. People reported bear sightings regularly. We had two different bears who decided to visit our trash trailer on different nights looking for hand-outs. One was a big black male, the other a smaller brown bear. They didn’t bother anything else, but were scary if you came home during their visits. Believe me, on those occasions we scurried into the house. We haven’t seen them since early fall.

Since I’ve written my final and the last offering in my Deputy Tempe Crabtree mystery series, I’m no longer worried about writing fiction that predicts future events. But it was fun telling readers about it.


Books and More

Like many others in my circle, I am in constant conflict with the standards of my culture. Collecting. But then disposing. 

This morning, after having coffee with a good friend, I stopped at the library to collect two nonfiction books I’d put on reserve and pick out one or two mysteries to read. This is a pretty normal visit for me—I usually leave with two fiction and two nonfiction, and keep them for the full three weeks, if not one or two more. I like to try different writers, so I’m usually in the New Fiction section, and the same is true for nonfiction. This doesn’t mean I have no books at home to read. Quite the opposite. Every room has books in it. But I’m one of those people who find going to the library a necessary activity, and borrowing books is about more than finding something to read. It’s partly the activity of discovery and partly the pleasure of just being around so many publications.

But I have a lot of books at home. And over the years thousands more have passed through my hands, rested on my shelves, been read and shared and reread, until one day I decided it was time for them to move on. It occurred to me today that I have no idea why a book suddenly comes to the end of its visit. Do I need the space? Of course not. There’s always room for more. Have I changed? Possibly.

One small shelf is dedicated to the books I had as a child and which have survived numerous cleanings-out. Another equally small shelf is dedicated to a few I kept from my teen years, including Conrad Richter’s trilogy and The Gloucester Branch by John Leggett. Another dozen or so are integrated into general fiction and nonfiction, but those that seemed to be seminal in my development as a writer are held discretely apart, and every few years I ponder the prospect of donating them to the library or a thrift shop with a book section. But it never seems to be the right time.

My mother, another reader, kept her Girl Scout’s uniform and another few dresses from her early years. I found them in the back of a closet after she died. My father never kept anything that could be recycled for those of greater need. A businessman since the age of 15 (this was before World War I when such was possible), his wardrobe was spare to say the least. My closet is more like his than my mother’s, and I avoid associating with anyone who might invite me to an event for which I would be expected to wear a fancy dress. You can’t take a book to something like that and read, so why would I go?

What else do I keep? Art. My walls are a record of the eclectic tastes of me, my husband, his family, and mine, not to mention our grandparents and other relatives. Furniture doesn’t interest me, though I concede its usefulness. I’ve disposed of plenty over the years.

I am convinced that any American dropped into any town or city on earth will in a matter of weeks have too many possessions to tolerate and have to set out weeding and recycling. And yet every day, on TV, the radio, in junk mail, we’re urged to buy more. As a good member of the larger community and culture, I comply and buy more books.

That’s 588 words on a topic I haven’t figured out yet. Sometimes as I sit at my desk, fingers poised over the keys, I wonder what I’ll write about. I look across the room, or to my left, at all the books piled up, sometimes neatly arranged, and I wonder about all those words. So many. Surely I have something to say about them. Then, again, maybe not. Except that they’re old friends and I can’t imagine living without them.

Cluttered Brain, Cluttered Office

I don’t understand how I became so disorganized. I take that back. If I’m honest, I know exactly what happened. During the COVID quarantine with all of its shutdowns, I craved a little more variety. No, I take that back, too. I became absolutely crazy to have a variety of activities and experiences again. Now my life is more chaotic than ever, and my office shows it.

Take my small bulletin board, for example. There’s a calendar with all sorts of reminders scribbled on it, from trips that I’m taking and happy hour dates with friends to mundane things like putting out the trash and paying estimated taxes. Yes, I’m old school like that. I find electronic reminders way too easy to ignore, especially since I have a tendency to leave my cell phone at home. (Hey, I’m hiking and kayaking and swimming and dancing; what the heck do I need a cell phone for?)

Then I have a couple of photos that make me smile. (Sorry, photographers, I long ago lost the identification for these magazine pages.) I love that image of the white polar bear against the white snow; seeing the black skin of its footpad and toes is such a startling contrast. The little weasel reminds me of wildlife surprises I experienced on hikes. This photo may be an ermine in its summer coat, or a long-tailed weasel. My weasel experiences were in Mount Rainier National Park and along the West Coast Trail (aka Lifesaving Trail) on Vancouver Island in British Columbia.

FYI: Never trust a weasel. They are cute devils, but sneaky and slippery thieves. Both times I was the victim of their treachery as I was eating lunch and enjoying the scenery while perched on a rock with a couple of food items spread out beside me. A slight rustling alerted me to see an adorable little red furry face appear from a rock crevice, snatch my most expensive food item, and vanish before I could even say “Hey!” I believe my thieves were martens, but all I know for sure is that they were fans of expensive cheese.

(Incidentally, if you don’t know weasels, you should watch the PBS documentary, “The Mighty Weasel,” and you’ll be fascinated, too.)

Also on my bulletin board, I have a list of knots I’m supposedly learning to tie. I did take a class, but now I’m so out of practice that I need to look up each knot on YouTube to even remember what those names refer to.

There’s a fantastic drawing of a gorilla, given to me by my artist friend Avery while I was working on my second Neema (signing gorilla) mystery. And then there’s the Blake Snyder Beat Sheet, which is an outline for screenplay structure but also serves as a great reminder for a suspense novel.

This all helps me to remember that I should be working on my latest novel, which is a crossover between my Sam Westin wilderness series and my Neema series. I look at this little bulletin board beside my desk and think about wildlife and gorillas and how I can get the two stories together. Somehow, this chaos will resolve itself into a readable book, in between trips and hiking and kayaking and dancing and such. At least I hope so.

Most people probably use bulletin boards to organize ideas or events. Somehow, mine just displays the chaos of my life. And that’s only my small bulletin board. You should see the rest of my office.

Is April the Cruelest Month? by Karen Shughart

In the poem, The Wasteland, T.S. Eliot writes, “April is the cruelest month….”

The month of April is a time of birth and renewal, and a time of hope. April may bring showers, but we have a reasonable expectation that it will also bring spring flowers. For Eliot, at least when he wrote the poem, nothing was crueler than hope because for him it often led to disappointment. It was safer to hold on tightly to cynicism and pessimism, because then he wouldn’t get hurt.

For most of us, though, April is not cruel at all.  If you live where I do, in the north, April is a time of anticipation, a time when we believe that, as Alexander Pope wrote in An Essay on Man, “hope springs eternal in the human breast.” Hopefulness, despite our challenges and disappointments, continues to renew itself.  Even the holidays observed by various cultures and religions this time of year celebrate the themes of birth, renewal, and hope.

We rejoice when tiny buds start to swell on the trees, when we wake up to birdsong, and daylight lasts longer. We delight in the first sight of bright yellow daffodils and brilliant-colored tulips  as they stretch towards the sun.  And the sun, weak and pale in the winter, shines brightly now, warming our bodies and souls and expanding our hearts to ever so many possibilities.

Photo by Jacek Mleczek on

We know that when the daffodils and tulips finally end their run for the year, we have a reasonable expectation that they’ll be back next year, and other flowers will follow. When we plant our gardens, at some point we will harvest what we sow. Soon, we’ll be seeing baby birds peeping out of nests; ducklings, cygnets and goslings swimming with determination behind their attentive parents; and tiny, newborn animals scurrying about. April, the spring, symbolizes youth, but even those of us who are in the autumn and winter of our lives can feel happy, young, and energized.

In northern climates the weather in April is fickle. It rains, sometimes it snows, and at times it seems as though winter won’t quite lose its icy grip; then there are those intermittent grey, cloudy days. Regardless of what Mother Nature throws our way, I am compelled to put away the heaviest of winter clothes, clean out the closets, and plan menus around seasonal foods with lighter ingredients.  I start to make a list of things I want to do to get ready for summer. I always know the rain will stop, the snow will melt, and the grey, cloudy days will be followed by brilliant sun. If April isn’t quite what I expected, there’s always next year.

Cruel? I think not. After April comes May with more abundance,  even warmer days, and the anticipation of summer.

Karen Shughart is the author of the Edmund DeCleryk cozy mystery series, published by Cozy Cat Press