Guest Post: Confessions of a Reluctant Writing Gamer by Janet K. Smith

Writing games. I avoided them for years because I was short on time, not ideas. Once I lifted my head from my page, I realized my focus was all wrong. This one-hour-a-week “game” held incredible lessons I couldn’t get anywhere else.

So why the reluctance? That’s the easy part. Take a first-born, type-A personality with a novel in its final draft, multiple short stories out on rejection—oops, I mean submission, numerous other half-written stories, and a second novel that’s itching for a conclusion, then disrupt that work with “games” full of nonsensical sentence prompts, and odd pictures, and you’ll find a non-believer who prefers to focus on “real” work.

I’d occasionally pop into the session, but more often than not, I’d log out as soon as I heard it was a writing game and not the story discussion or feral writing time I’d expected. If I had a deadline to meet, anything with the word “play” was dismissed automatically. Who had time for play? For five and a half years, fun writing seemed like an oxymoron.
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Guest Post: Juliet Kemp On Writing as Play

Book with balloons and the words "Writing as Play"I admit to being a sucker for the Ticky Box. Which is to say, I am perhaps excessively motivated by having Lists and Ticking Things Off Them. I like setting goals for myself, and I’m good at breaking those goals down into smaller steps, rewarding myself for them, all that sort of self-management stuff. I’m keen to write, to write more, to write better; so I use my goals to manage all those things. And as far as it goes (and for as long as it works), that’s great.

The trouble is that sometimes all those lists and goals instead get me stuck in fear: fear of not meeting the goals, fear of not improving ‘enough’, fear of not writing the book of my glorious imaginings. (Spoiler: I am never going to write ‘the book of my glorious imaginings’, because my glorious imaginings are a cloud of inchoate vibes, not a collection of real actual words, and a book is a collection of real actual words, not a cloud of inchoate vibes. The best I can do is to approximate it.)

Fear is not good for creativity.
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It’s All About the Algorithms: My Take on AI Art

Four images generated on Canva's AI art tool, using the phrase "a pop art style cat rambo sitting at a desk writing"A day that I’ve been saying would arrive for about twenty years now is starting to loom on the timeline, and it’s taking a lot of smart people by surprise when it shouldn’t have.

I’m talking about AI (artificial intelligence) creations – art appearing in visual, auditory, and textual forms. Such creations are in the news lately because we’ve hit a point where what they’re creating is pretty sophisticated. Not sophisticated enough though (yet) – Clarkesworld Magazine just stopped taking submissions because of a sudden upsurge in AI-generated stories, none of them actually publishable. But the quality of that prose will improve and already people are talking about how to create systems to distinguish between a submission written by a human writer versus a machine-generated one.

Speaking as a former Microsoft employee and long-time technologist, I’m utterly unsurprised. In 2005, I wrote “Zeppelin Follies,” a story about a future “writer.” (You can find the story in my collection Near + Far if you want to read it in its entirety.) Here’s a section:

I forced a smile and patted Fitz’s shoulder. “Be ye of good cheer,” I said. “I think I’ve got that dialogue problem I was having licked.”

Fitz, as I well knew, hated getting drawn into the technicalities, so when I started to explain how reducing the adverbial modifier minimum downwards had tautened the syntactical delivery, he backed out pretty fast. I spent a few hours testing it out, and was pleased with the results. 90% of writing is putting together the formulas, so once I had this one, and a slight problem with the scenery equivalence parameters solved, I’d be sitting pretty, ready to generate a manuscript to hand over to Mikka the editor. Around three, I took a break and went out to sit in the Plaza.

In “Zeppelin Follies,” the writers don’t write. Instead they create the algorithms used to generate their fiction. Will there actually be a point where AIs can generate prose sufficiently adept to construct something that’s an entertaining read? Absolutely, and I would suspect that point is much closer than current writers would like to admit.

But I think the question that most people are deluding themselves about is this: will AI art reach the point where it touches the human soul, the way a Georgia O’Keefe painting can make you stand and stare or the way an Ursula K. Le Guin can make you stop and think, and perhaps even copy it into your notebook to ponder over later? I believe it will, because the consuming human soul remains a constant in that equation, and it doesn’t require another, second soul to be involved in creating the thing we’re appreciating: we can pause for a sunset, for a scrap of birdsong, or to admire the Fibonacci curve inside a conch shell. The experience of the aesthetic depends on the viewer perhaps more than the origin of the viewed.

We would like to think that there is something inside ourselves that recognizes “authenticity,” a word that is a little nebulous. What makes the words coming out of a biological entity’s mouth “authentic” in a way something created mechanically is not? Is it the intent behind the creation? Or something else? We would like to believe that we are more than biological machines, whose actions are on some level as predictable as those of the mechanical ones. We move in a cloud of delusion, in fact, thinking ourselves unique in this universe.

As far as the consumption of what is produced by machines versus what is produced by human hands goes, there are things we buy to use, and there are things we buy to enjoy. We usually don’t worry about the “authenticity” of the dishes we eat out of, but at a certain economic level, we may worry about it as a status symbol, a way to display affluence by using handmade rather than mass manufactured goods. And I don’t know that most people worry too much about the authenticity of what they enjoy, unless they are a connoisseur of it.

I used romance writing as my example in “Zeppelin Follies,” because romances are notoriously formulaic. But the truth is that every genre has its tropes, and that’s something that an AI can use.

Some artists have stopped putting work up online in order to keep it from being fed to artificial intelligences to use. I don’t know that will work all that well, but it’s worth thinking about. But art is also meant to be seen, music to be listened to, text to be read, and we cannot make it so humans are the only ones seeing, listening, and reading.

I think that one way writers will be able to survive a while is by holding onto the overarching ideas of their properties, and the things that make them distinctive and enjoyable. This is one reason why I plan to keep writing books about bioship You Sexy Thing and its crew, because I hold the rights to its world and character. But will AIs create new properties, new worlds? Beyond question, although they will be made of the fragments of other properties, recombined and reworked. Which is, I would argue, on some level what literature is about, replying to the stories that have come before.

Which makes me ask – will an AI be able to look, for example, at Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales and come up with something that is not a reworking, but an original thing that speaks to the Tales? That I’m not sure of. But I’m definitely looking forward to seeing what happens when one tries.

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Creative AI vs. Creative Humanity: Guest Post by Laurence Raphael Brothers

AI is coming for your jobs, creatives! Or… it will be, eventually. Not this year. But coming soon.

The last two years have seen surprising and indeed almost shocking advances in AI creative work. Image-generators like Dall-E, Midjourney, and Stable Diffusion that work from text prompts using diffusion models are capable of some amazingly high quality work at times, though admittedly their understanding(1) of fingers still leaves something to be desired. The even more astonishing ChatGPT can sometimes not just hold conversations that pass the Turing Test, but can also create working computer programs, compose poetry, and also write coherent short stories, apparently from scratch.

Some may reasonably argue the work of such AI systems isn’t creative at all, but is a mere regurgitation or combination of human efforts compiled from its training sets. But on the other hand, much of human art is based on pastiche and emulation, not to mention plagiarism, and both writers and artists have to spend years of training learning the techniques passed on by their instructors.

The State of the Art

Caption: Protagonist Bunny Häschen from my novel in progress. Generated by Stable Diffusion 2.1 using the text prompt “intersex bunny detective”. A generally rather appealing caricature, but note the odd left hand, the characteristic nonsense characters in the sign, the content oddity of them holding a sign at all, and the mysterious flap rising out of their cravat.
Source: Stable Diffusion

Recent developments are truly astonishing given previous struggles to get AI systems to create art, prose, and other works. It’s now possible to type a few words and get some art back in a minute that might have taken a human hours or even days to produce from scratch. The quality of the AI-generated art is quite variable; from one request to another you might get back commercially usable material or you might get worthless trash. But even considering that you may have to make quite a number of requests of the system to obtain a usable image, the results are still much faster and cheaper than using a human artist for the equivalent level of work.

It’s arguable that if created by a human, these AI-generated images would sometimes be direct plagiarism. Even when not clearly a direct copy of an existing work, it’s often the case that the AI system builders failed to obtain artist permission to incorporate their work into the system’s training data. The legal consequences of this failure will work themselves out in the courts, but for now there’s nothing stopping people from making use of these tools.

At present, complete high-quality AI art is generally unobtainable no matter how much time is taken playing with prompts, but on the one hand, commercial-grade art is often quite acceptable, and on the other hand, by using the AI’s art as a basis, a skilled digital artist can create a high-quality composite of human and AI art much more quickly than working from scratch. This, for example, is what Tor did with Christopher Paolini’s recent book cover.

In the world of prose, with suitable guidance ChatGPT can generate a coherent and consistent story, but not one that’s very high quality. Without substantial revision, the current quality of such text is typically mediocre, but at present it’s not inconceivable for some exceptional AI-generated story to make it past a slush reader’s quality threshold and at least be held for review. Quite the achievement considering the high level of competition many magazines impose on contributors. This is already motivating many AI-generated submissions, though it’s unclear if they are meant for prestige and profit for their pseudonymous submitters or to count coup. Clarkesworld, for example, has reported a recent spike in AI submissions despite their guidelines to the contrary.

The Future of the Art

Because these recent developments in AI art generation have seemed to come almost from nowhere, it’s hard to say how rapidly they will improve to match or even exceed human capabilities. We should keep in mind that autonomous cars were expected to be widely available by now on the basis of work done in the 2010s, and yet after a promising beginning, only slow progress has been made and such vehicles are still unsafe on real-world roads.

On the other hand, given the eagerness of many extremely well-funded tech groups to work in this area, including not just OpenAI but Microsoft and Google among others, it’s reasonable to expect further progress up to a point. What’s the limit? For current system architectures, I expect that limit is based on these systems’ lack of explicit real-world knowledge. Just as ChatGPT is capable of absolutely authoritative but totally incorrect and easily refutable statements, these systems will be hamstrung by the inability to reason until such capabilities are combined with their generative models.

Let’s establish three bars:

  1. Acceptable low-grade commercial art. The kind of graphic art that creative freelancers currently make to order for ad campaigns and other commercial applications without much funding, but which will still pay their rent. Equivalent prose would be acceptable for publication in some token and semipro magazines and for routine copywriting assignments.
  2. Acceptable high-grade commercial art. Commercial art produced for highly funded campaigns by major agencies and design firms, or prose and content that can be published in the better magazines and journals.
  3. Superior-to-human fine art. Masterpieces that would displace human efforts from galleries and museums and bookstore racks and win awards if AI and humans competed on a level playing field.

We’re currently just entering stage 1 for certain applications. This means that soon some semipro freelancers may experience serious competition from AI systems, and after a while some agencies and design firms may reduce their staff because their routine low-end work can be done by machine. There will still be plenty of human work involved in revising, incorporating, or compositing AI work into larger and higher quality artistic achievements, but the amount of human touch in the overall process will diminish.

At stage 2, entire industries will be turned upside down and the effects will shake up whole economies. For example, design firms may no longer require creatives, or else the few creatives they retain will largely be employed managing requests to AI systems. There will be no more need for human touch in photoshopping or otherwise compositing AI art with human-created elements as in stage 1; the AI will do all the work on demand. (Note that while some very high quality AI art has been created already, it typically requires considerable manual effort from a human to achieve such a level).

The good news is that my average-case guess for stage 2 is at least ten years, and it may well be generations before this level is achieved. The bad news is that I could be wrong and it could be next year. I was shocked by ChatGPT’s capabilities in 2022 after years of crappy chat bots that wouldn’t fool Turing for a minute, and so I may easily be wrong again. Still, I do think that without explicit real-world knowledge and reasoning abilities these tools will be unable to really excel for quite some time. At present no one has any idea how to give a generative AI system that kind of understanding.
At stage 3, humans start wondering why they should even bother creating art, especially if such superior work can be routinely requested of AI systems by anyone without incurring much cost.

Similar considerations apply for stage 3, which to my mind requires Artificial General Intelligence to achieve. Such a system is not absolutely out of the question. We just don’t know how to build one today, nor do we even have a good idea on a direction to follow to achieve such a goal.

Still, even stage 1 is problematic enough for human creatives. I’d guess full stage 1 will be achieved within five years, and whatever the courts decide about existing systems and their theft of artist work without permission, one way or another AI-generated art will become ubiquitous for inexpensive applications.

(1) Indeed, the reason that such systems don’t know how to draw fingers properly is they don’t even understand the concept of fingers. These systems don’t have old-fashioned knowledge bases that contain explicit facts or relations. The appearance of a hand is emergent from mysterious mathematical features derived automatically from the digitized training set. Discrete counts of things that characteristically appear in fixed numbers in nature but are often hidden from view in individual images can be problematic for such systems. Human images very frequently show two clearly identifiable arms and legs and so AI images get these right more often than not (not always however!) but hands in photographs less frequently show all five fingers clearly, and so generated images often don’t do so either.

BIO: Laurence Raphael Brothers is a writer and a technologist with five patents and a background in AI and Internet R&D. He has published over 50 short stories in such magazines as Nature, PodCastle, and Galaxy’s Edge. His noir urban fantasy novellas The Demons of Wall Street, The Demons of the Square Mile, and The Demons of Chiyoda are available from Mirror World Publishing, while his new standalone novel The World’s Shattered Shell has just been published by Water Dragon.
Pronouns: he/him.
Twitter: @lbrothers.

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Patreon Revamp, AKA Why You Should Join If You Haven’t Already

I have been wrestling with this for a while trying to figure out the schedule for the year but here’s what I arrived at. Check out Patreon if you would like to sign up!
$2 Campus Pass
  • Access to the Discord server, which runs about 100 members online at any given time,  and its over two dozen channels, such as #critclub for story critiques (and a chance to be the person whose story I pick for a crit each month), #marketnews for market information, #motivation for weekly goal keeping, and #cutebreak for pet pictures and other life-enhancing photos.
  • Informational posts (weekly events, writing games, internet rabbitholes) as well as fiction snippets.  Includes access to 7+ years of past posts.
  • Monthly class for Patreon supporters.
  • Weekly Zoom events: Wednesday Writing Games, Friday Clean and Chat.
  • Monthly Zoom events: Story Discussion group, special speakers, and Social Media talks.
  • Advance chance to sign up and special rate on live classes through the Rambo Academy, as well as early access to sales and writing retreat registration.
$5 Deluxe Campus Pass
  • Everything in lower tiers.
  • Access to recordings of past events and classes.
  • Ability to submit questions in advance for classes, special speakers, and social media talk.
  • Yearly limited edition sticker (sent out in December).
$10 Campus Pass plus Library Card
  • Everything in lower tiers.
  • Yearly ebook  (sent out in December).
  • 1 live or on-demand Rambo Academy class per year  (transferable but non-cumulative, starts on 3rd month).
$25 Scholar’s Edition Campus Pass
  • Everything in lower tiers, but live class is every 3 months  (transferable but non-cumulative, starts on 3rd month).
$50 Schoolhouse Rock Edition Campus Pass
  • Everything in lower tiers but live class is monthly and starts immediately (transferable but non-cumulative).
$100 Super Extra Deluxe Campus Pass
  • Everything in lower tiers.
  • A monthly 15-30 minute coaching session or story edit up to 4,000 words.
Everything from the $5 level up will also be available through Paypal subscription for people who don’t want to add Patreon to their addictions. I tried to keep everything equitable because I didn’t want any level to feel like I was taking away stuff.
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Guest Post: Liz Danforth on AI Art

Note: This originally appeared on Liz’s Patreon, which you can find here, and which I highly recommend.

Scrying the Future

The world will continue to argue the benefits, ethics, problems, and controversies about AI art and writing long past my lifetime, even if I live to be 100 years old. So I write this as a scene in media res, one drop in an ocean of ink and pixels already washing over us.

Please take it as a given that my opinions and understandings written here will also change over time, as I keep learning. And fair warning: this is a longform essay with no easy TLDR. I hope you’ll stick with me.
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Social Media Chat: Twittering in 2023

Hello! One new thing I’m introducing for 2023 is a monthly social media chat in which I’ll catch you up with the ever-changing social media landscape.

In the first one, I’ll talk about Twitter, places to migrate to if you’re leaving Twitter, tools that can make that migration easier, and why you might want to establish a presence on some even if you’re sticking with Twitter.

Date: Saturday, January 7, 10 AM Eastern time via Zoom. It will be recorded and will go up later on the YouTube channel.

Cost: free for Patreon supporters; $5 and up patrons will be able to submit questions in advance
$10 for non-patrons

To reserve a slot, mail me at, and if not a Patreon supporter or Rambo campus member, let me know how you’d like to pay.

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Annual Holiday Sale: On-Demand Classes

Hello! Time is slipping away on 2022, and I’m running the annual holiday sale on on-demand classes, where they are $5 each. Or you can grab all 21 classes on offer for $100. This offer is only good through January 2, 2023! (Some classes are going up in price next year, so snag them now!)

Here’s the list of on-demand classes, all of which are $5 if you access them through the link in this list. This is how the on-demand school breaks even each year, so please spread the word and feel free to forward this mail to anyone who might be interested.

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If You’re Shopping for Gifts that Don’t Need Shipping for a Writer

Are you holiday shopping for a writer? The Rambo Academy for Wayward Writers offers classes and community for writers ranging from those just starting out to published, award-winning writers. The virtual campus includes a moderated Discord server, a critique exchange group, and monthly Zoom events including special guests, discussion groups, and writing games.

If you know someone who would like membership in the Rambo Academy for Wayward Writers community, a story edit, a coaching session, a class, or maybe even a mix of all of the above, it’s easy to buy them a gift certificate, which can be printed out and stuck in a card or put under the tree.

You can buy a specific dollar amount or you can specify coaching sessions, edits, or classes.

Sample costs are:

  • A year’s membership to the Discord community and its events $50
  • A 30 minute coaching session $50
  • A story edit, $50 for first 5000 words, $10 for every additional 1000 words.
  • Online workshops range $59-$99; the full list through March 2023 is here.

To order, mail me with the details of what you’d like to buy, who it’s for, and how you’d like to pay (PayPal, Venmo, check, or some other mechanism).

You can find out more about the Patreon levels here.

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Guest Post: Writing Holidays with Evan J. Peterson

Every culture tells stories. We keep our history alive this way. We all have rituals, whether they are secular or deeply religious. When you’re worldbuilding, you can communicate a plethora of culture and history through the traditions and festivals your characters observe.

Coming up on December 10th, I’ll teach Christmas in Narnia: Creating Traditions for Fictional Cultures for the Rambo Academy for Wayward Writers. Pardon the frosty pun, but a fictional holiday is an excellent tip to the iceberg of your world’s history. Consider the wealth of similarities and differences of the festivals of lights that originate from the Northern Hemisphere of our planet alone:

During the season of autumn into midwinter, things get darker and colder in most of the NH. The further north you go, the more stark that dark and cold becomes. Many traditions originating in the Northern Hemisphere have celebrations and rituals revolving around light and warmth at this time. India and its diaspora bring us Diwali and Deepavali, two different but similar multi-day festivals of lights, color, and life. Judaism celebrates Hanukkah as the observance of a historical miracle–eight nights of light produced from barely any fuel oil. A fun side note: we eat fried foods like latkes and donuts on Hanukkah to represent the bounty of the oil! Who wouldn’t love a holiday that prescribes feasting on greasy carbs?

On Christmas, people celebrate the birth of the Christ child, destined to bring light, love, and goodness into a harsh world. As Christianity spread through Europe, this tradition appropriated, fused with, and replaced several midwinter traditions, such as the birth of God of the Wood on the winter solstice. This nature-based deity literally brings the light and warmth back into the world as the days finally grow longer instead of shorter. In addition to a festival of eating and drinking (lots of drinking), popular Christmas tradition involves putting candles and electric lights on everything, particularly an evergreen tree. That tradition did not come from Nazareth.

Notice that these traditions change over time and will even be different in each family or community. Just as no ethnic group is a monolith, neither is any religious or secular culture. There’s so much room here for worldbuilding, not to mention internal as well as external conflict. Some progressive Jewish families have introduced an orange among the symbolic food (roasted egg, lamb bone, bitter herb, et al.) of the Passover Seder plate, meant to remind us of the struggle of women, lgbtq+ folks, and people of color in Judaism as well as all who face intersectional struggles and are often left out of the popular image of the Jewish community.

I have a Jewish mother and an essentially Unitarian father. I grew up with secular Christmas as well as a heritage-rich Hanukkah, but I’ve always gravitated toward Pagan traditions. As a kid, I was particularly smitten with the Egyptian and Greco-Roman pantheons and stories, and I assume this is because I grew up in Miami, Florida. Flowers, fruit, and flowing water made more spiritual sense to me than the scarcity theme prevalent in Abrahamic traditions. This is the sort of subtlety that can communicate the history of a culture; temperate or tropical traditions are more likely to celebrate abundance and indulgence. Desert cultures are more likely to emphasize struggle, scarcity, and abstinence, but also patience and most importantly, charity. It’s no coincidence that Islam, Judaism, and Christianity share these values and emerged from cultures living under harsh political and geographical conditions.

This brings us to another important subtlety of cultural norms. How hot is “hot?” How cold is “cold?” For that matter, how far is “far?” Does “nice” mean polite and friendly, or does it mean kind and empathic? These are the questions that shape so many nuances of a community and its culture, whether macro scale or micro. And don’t overlook the secular traditions–what does Tax Day tell us about capitalist cultures? What about the Queen’s Jubilee? For that matter, what about Juneteenth?

For more on this, please join me for Christmas in Narnia: Creating Traditions for Fictional Cultures on December 10th. Happy holidays!


Evan J. Peterson is an author, game writer, and Clarion West alum. His latest book is METAFLESH: Poems in the Voices of the Monster (ARUS Entertainment), and recent work includes Drag Star! (Choice of Games), the world’s first drag performance RPG. His writing appears in Weird Tales, Arcana: The Tarot Poetry Anthology, and Queers Destroy Horror. Evan’s serial novel, Better Living Through Alchemy, will be published in 2023 by Broken Eye Books. can tell you more.

Twitter: @evanjpeterson
Insta: @evan.j.peterson

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