Iraq: The faces of California’s War Dead

On this day in 2003, the United States, along with coalition forces primarily from the United Kingdom, initiates war on Iraq

CA War Dead, Iraq

The toll can be told partly in who they left be­hind: nearly 300 chil­dren, more than 200 spouses, 35 brides and two grooms who nev­er made it to the al­tar.

In cit­ies and towns across the state, me­mori­als can be found for the 483 Cali­for­ni­ans who have died dur­ing the con­flict in Ir­aq.

Their faces and stor­ies are re­cor­ded here:
Iraq: The faces of California’s War Dead – California’s War Dead – Los Angeles Times.

See my post Thoughts on the end of the war in Iraq.


Writing Well

WishingWellAdvice I’m following to write well

My writing stinks.

That’s what the negative voice inside my head tells me as I struggle to compose these blog posts.

Writing is such hard work. Having an angry, hypercritical perfectionist perched like a vulture in my brain doesn’t make it any easier. “You’re too boring and stupid to write,” the voice assures me. “No one wants to read your crap.”

Flinching from vicious self-criticism, I struggle to find my way, trip over tangled thoughts, stumble on senseless sentences, frantically toss words in and just as frantically toss them out.

I’m never happy with the results. “Proof you’re an idiot,” sneers my harsh Inner Critic, whom I imagine looks like Simon Cowell.

Simon Cowell

Steve, this post is idiotic 

You’re not a writer, never will be

Give up!

Just as I’m about to give up, conceding that my Inner Critic is right: I have absolutely no talent at all for writing, I come across wonderful examples of truly bad writing, and from people actually paid to write!

plan plan plan


Bad writers lift me up. To my abusive Inner Critic, that unrelenting voice in my head that delights in crushing any creative effort I attempt, I can smile and say, “See? I’m not that bad!”

The late Carlos Fuentes, Mexico’s most celebrated novelist, said that writing is a struggle against silence. I say writing is a struggle against my Inner Critic.

Where to get help if your Inner Critic won’t shut up…

Four Ways to Silence Your Inner Critic
by Marelisa Fabrega
“Our inner critic develops early in our lives, absorbing what we hear from others and what society expects from us. It’s not a voice that’s meant to go unchallenged, but rather a part of ourselves, which we can choose to ignore or confront. In addition, we can choose to listen to our inner critic only at the appropriate stage of the creative process.”

Writing A Draft? Silence That Inner Critic!
“Every writer I know or have ever heard of has an inner critic or inner editor that, if not silenced, at least while they are working on a rough draft, means nothing gets done. We need that voice that helps us edit our work, but not until we’ve got some work to edit.”

Why Your Inner Critic Is Your Best Friend
by Mark McGuinness
“If you think about it, you’d be in big trouble without an Inner Critic. Without some kind of internal quality filter, you’d be happy to churn out any old rubbish – and join the ranks of mediocrities. A finely honed critical faculty is one of the things that separates a creative professional from the legions of amateurs.”
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The Lazy Writer’s Way To Riches

Hey! I found a way to become a successful published author without having to knock my brains out writing or ever hear a peep from my caustic Inner Critic. My computer will do all the dirty work; I’ll rake in the cash and glory!

Patented Book Writing System Creates, Sells Hundreds of Thousands of Books On Amazon
A computer programmer has “written” 800,000 books using an algorithm, reports David J. Hill in this eye-opening post on Here’s an excerpt…

“Philip M. Parker, Professor of Marketing at INSEAD Business School, has had a side project for over 10 years. He’s created a computer system that can write books about specific subjects in about 20 minutes. The patented algorithm has so far generated hundreds of thousands of books. In fact, Amazon lists over 100,000 books attributed to Parker and over 700,000 works listed for his company, ICON Group International, Inc.

“Now these books aren’t your typical reading material. Common categories include specialized technical and business reports, language dictionaries bearing the “Webster’s” moniker (which is in the public domain), rare disease overviews, and even crossword puzzle books for learning foreign languages, but they all have the same thing in common: they are automatically generated by software.”

“Because digital ebooks and print-on-demand services have become commonplace, topics can be listed in Amazon without even being “written” yet.

“To be clear, this isn’t just software alone but a computer system designated to write for a specific genre. The system’s database is filled with genre-relevant content and specific templates coded to reflect domain knowledge, that is, to be written according to an expert in that particular field/genre. To avoid copyright infringement, the system is designed to avoid plagiarism, but the patent aims to create original but not necessarily creative works. In other words, if any kind of content can be broken down into a formula, then the system could package related, but different content in that same formula repeatedly ad infinitum.”

Sampling of books attributed to Parker:

– Webster’s Slovak – English Thesaurus Dictionary for $28.95

– The 2007-2012 World Outlook for Wood Toilet Seats for $795

– The World Market for Rubber Sheath Contraceptives (Condoms): A 2007 Global Trade Perspective for $325

– Ellis-van Creveld Syndrome – A Bibliography and Dictionary for Physicians, Patients, and Genome Researchers for $28.95

– Webster’s English to Haitian Creole Crossword Puzzles: Level 1 for $14.95

So if it cost Parker, say, fifty cents to generate a book, even if he sells only a handful of copies, that’s a great profit! Parker and his company have more than 800,000 titles on Amazon… you do the math.

Here I am dreaming of writing a book that sells lots and lots of copies (“Never happen,” snaps my Inner Critic) while Phil Parker makes big bucks “writing” lots and lots of books and selling, at best, a few copies of each.

But it’s the last part of the article that really set my head spinning:

“So, what’s the next book genre Parker is targeting to have software produce? Romance novels.

“Although a novel is a work of fiction, it’s no secret that certain genres lend themselves to formulas, such as romance novels. That may not make these works rank high for their literary value, but they certainly do well for their entertainment value. Somewhat surprisingly, romance fiction has the largest share of the consumer book market with revenue of nearly $1.37 billion in 2011.”

Read the entire article here. Includes video of Parker explaining his process. 

I’ve heard about artificial intelligence, but artificial creativity? Artificial imagination? I doubt it.

Could Parker’s software really produce a novel in twenty minutes? Damn! I’ve been working on my mystery novel for seven years (thanks to the discouragement of my Inner Critic).

I can’t imagine the reading experience with a computer-generated novel. I could never get lost in the story. I’d always be aware that a non-human — a computer system – “wrote” what I’m reading.

Readers feel a close relationship with the author of a book they enjoy. You can’t have that warm, human connection with a cold, impersonal computer system. Author appearances? Autographed copies? Forget about it.

But I think I figured out how this could work.

Parker’s success is that he can compile, or customize, a book that fills a specific audience’s need or desire and do it super fast and super cheap. Doesn’t matter if that audience is really tiny – it could be just one person.

Parker could write  hundreds of thousands of custom romance novels.

Romance Novel CoverA reader who loves romance novels could customize a novel. She could pick the novel’s time period and location from a pull-down menu – medieval Britain,  Antebellum South, a modern-day village on the coast of Maine.  She could pick scorching sex (as in Fifty Shades of Gray), soft porn, or G-rated everyone-keeps-their-clothes-on (for the Christian evangelical market). Pick everything she enjoys in her romance novels. Even pick the central character’s name, which could be her name.

Parker’s program could generate a novel packed with the reader’s favorite elements and based on the tried-and-true formula all romance novels follow.  She’d have her customized romance novel e-book in less than half an hour.

Imagine ordering a novel as you would a pizza with your choice of toppings!

Up till now, Parker has been happy to go after tiny, underserved audiences (how many people want a English-to-Haitian Creole crossword puzzle book?). How his system will work in the highly competitive, billion-dollar-plus romance novel market is anyone’s guess.

Oh, the first novel written by a computer was published in Russia five years ago. And Parker himself has written three books the old-fashion way.
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Seven Writing Tips for Better Writing

from Stephen King’s On Writing

  • Get to the point
  • Write a draft. Then let it rest
  • Cut down your text
  • Be relatable and honest
  • Don´t care too much what others may think
  • Read a lot
  • Write a lot

I’d like to say I have these writing tips from Stephen King taped to my computer monitor or that I religiously follow them, but I don’t. As Mark Twain said, “The only thing to do with good advice is pass it on.”

“Here’s some good advice,” snarls my Inner Critic, “don’t publish this post. You’ll just embarrass yourself if you do.”
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Where I go for inspiration and to learn the mechanics of writing well 

See all my Writing Well posts. I’d love to hear your comments, unless you echo my Inner Critic.

Steve's Romance NovelNow, excuse me, I’m working on a list of what I want to see in the first romance novel I order from Phil Parker as soon as he has his system up and running.

Here’s my dream cover. I want a story where the hero — a young, handsome, talented writer named Steve — is persecuted by a sadistic critic but saved by the love of a beautiful, sex-starved blonde.

Unbelievable, Steve. You're hopeless!

Unbelievable.  You’re pathetic, Steve.