There’s a lot of talk right now about using artificial intelligence (“AI”) to write books. Now, all I know about AI is that I could use it to write an article on AI. But I wouldn’t. Any more than I’d use it to write a book, although for different reasons.

I wouldn’t do the first because I don’t know anything about the subject (see above). Which means that there’s nothing I could add, and in fact my article would probably only be a copy of what someone else already wrote–or rather, someone else had his AI write. So what would be the point?

But for the second…now that’s a more sophisticated question, with different answers. First, I wouldn’t do it because I don’t believe most publishers would be interested. I can only imagine they’re already getting plenty of these (I know the magazines are), and they’re probably not that good. And there’s a good chance that a publisher would think very poorly of an “author” who would submit such work, an attitude that no aspiring author wants to encourage.

Second, there have got to be better ways to earn a few bucks. Anyone who goes into writing fiction for the money is headed for a cold shower. Even if you were to sell your book to a publisher, it would be two years before it hit print. And if you self-publish? Then you’d find that writing the book is only the beginning. Selling it is actually more work. So what have you saved yourself?

You’ve saved yourself the satisfaction of completing a project that many begin but few finish. You’ve saved yourself the joy of selling that project–whether to a publisher or directly to readers–because if you haven’t put in the work, your only reward is financial, and the real reward of selling a story or a book is much more than that. And you’ve saved yourself from ever having self-respect, because while you might call yourself an author, you’re really not, and you know it. (Funny thing, AI-written works can’t be copyrighted, so anyone else could take your work and call himself the author with just as much legitimacy.)

So by not writing the work yourself, you’ve robbed yourself of the greatest–and perhaps only–reward you’ll get from it. When I finished my first novel, my friends got together and threw me a surprise party, not because I had sold something (it never did), but because I had achieved something. They were celebrating my work, not my success. It is still one of the highlights of my writing career.

It was a heartfelt tribute; there was nothing artificial about it.

A friend of mine said she had dreamed that she was tasked with writing a paper which compared Star Wars with the works of Jane Austen. She tossed it off as an odd imagining, and I encouraged her to write a book on the theme, which by my reckoning could not help but become a best-seller. She scoffed, claiming no such connections could be made, to which I said: “If you can’t compare Mister Darcy to Han Solo, you’re not even trying. To wit: ‘I love you.’ ‘I know.’

Mic drop.

So now I have a new project (since my friend has far too much sense and is too sensible to entertain the idea). The primary problem, as pointed out to me, is that this would require not only reading the entire canon of Jane Austen (not an exhausting task), but watching all of the Star Wars movies and shows that I have yet seen, which presents a problem, since I swore off Star Wars after “no. 7.” Still, if there’s money to be made…

Which means I need to come up with enough parallels to persuade myself that such a book would be feasible. I mean, we’re talking 50,000 words minimum. Is there enough material to warrant the effort?

Let’s see… Kylo Ren could be Lydia from Pride and Prejudice, seduced by the Dark Side, standing in for Wickham. Comparing Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru to Mr. and Mrs. Bennett is tempting, but I’m not sure it works. And if Han is Darcy, who is Bingley, Luke or Chewie?

C-3PO could make a serviceable Collins, although Artoo is certainly not Lady DeBurgh. Perhaps I could shoehorn Leia into that role, since she presses Threepio into her service.

You see my problem: There’s apparently quite a bit to work with here, and I’m only drawing material from one of Austen’s books. Heaven knows what I’ll find if I expand my scope to the rest.

And that’s where you all come in. I’m sure there are better Austen scholars out there, and bigger Star Wars fans. There must be someone more suited to writing this book.

So help me, please. Someone stop me before I ruin two franchises…

I’m happy to announce that the sequel to Alien House, Wasted Space, is now live on Amazon. Just when you thought our erstwhile hero, Phil Collins, Freshman Prince of Newton College, Alpha Tau Ceti pledge class (yes, the entire pledge class) of 1979, and former invader of Earth-turned college student, had resolved all of his problems, gotten the girl of his dreams, and–just incidentally–saved the Earth from an interstellar invasion by his own people, well…you were wrong.

It turns out there’s a little more to saving the planet than stopping one space broadcast, there’s more to solving college than passing English 1, and there’s more work in keeping a girlfriend than in getting one. Your guess as to which of these revelations is the most important to our young gentleman.

And now, on top of the fact that Phil and Robin can’t seem to get a night alone for love or money, Alpha House is in serious jeopardy because of Phil. The Earth is still in danger in spite of Phil. And his love life is going nowhere, largely (but not entirely) because of Phil.

If the Alphas can’t raise $15,000 by the end of the school year, they’re going to be evicted and their charter dissolved, which means there will be no one to watch Phil’s former comrades and keep them from making another try to inviting party-crashers from another planet. But aside from obtaining an unending supply of beer, the Alphas have never shown any aptitude for making money, and the idea of any of them (other than Phil) getting a job is laughable. So it’s going to come down to him, again, to save the day, again.

But there are big obstacles in his path–college parties that serve more than beer, co-eds who want to meet a Prince, and the fact that Phil’s life-pod, the vehicle that got him to Earth and serves as the most visible evidence of his extraterrestrial origins, has just disappeared.

Can Phil get a night alone with Robin? Can the Alphas save their house? Can they solve the mystery of the vanishing spaceship? And can they keep the supply of beer running through finals?

It won’t be easy. But as the Alpha Tau Ceti motto says: “When in doubt, keep drinking till it goes away.”

My Brain is a Traitor

Yeah, it’s happening again. I’ve been working on a new novel, the last step in a plan that I’ve had in place for months, a plan that was supposed to keep my mind on my work by allowing me to compartmentalize each of the projects that I had in place. Every Vella serial, every novel, everything was laid out on a timeline. That way I could attend to all of my serials in rotation, and on completion pivot to my next novel (which, being a sequel to the one on submission, is time-sensitive), all without worrying about overloading myself. Plus, I had the luxury of knowing what my workload was going to be months in advance, which helps me focus.

So why, now that I’m four chapters into the new novel, is my brain saying, “Hey, I got this new idea! It could be really fun! Let’s do it!”

Because my brain is a traitor, that’s why.

It doesn’t help that my brain is right. This is the kind of idea that would lead to a fast-paced, fun, and easy-to-write story that would fit Kindle Vella, offering me up-front money that I could spend on a handsome cover before I self-publish it as a novel. And since I recently worked on three serials at once (it had been four but that was crazy), I could certainly devise a schedule which would allow me to juggle a lousy two stories at the same time.

“But I don’t wanna write two stories at the same time,” whines my common sense–and when you think of your common sense as “whiny,” let me tell you, you’ve got a problem.

“But think of the money,” my brain reminds me, and it’s got a point. One of the best parts of Kindle Vella is that it pays every month, starting with the month after you start. As my brain so craftily puts it, “You want to make money, don’t you?” and who doesn’t know the answer to that one?

There’s still hope: I’m several thousand words into the first novel, with a relatively well-developed outline. This interloper is no more than a couple of lines on a page labeled “outline” in the most hopeful sense. At the same time, there’s that “money” issue, and as it happens my work schedule has recently been rearranged in a way that would allow easy allocation of my available time to both projects without confusion or admixture. Already the back of my mind is laying out that new schedule.

And that’s how I know that, in reality, there is no hope. This new animal is going to snuffle around my back door until I let it in, give it a bed and a bowl of milk. It may take some time, but it’s going to happen. And then I will be a multi-tasking author again. Heaven help me.

Heaven is going to have to help me, because it’s obvious I can’t count on my brain.

I recently tweeted that “The hardest part of sitting down and writing a book–is sitting down and writing a book.” This truism is proven by the fact that I am blogging when I am supposed to be–you guessed it–writing a book.

Now, I will give myself some space by saying that I’m still sitting in the same chair where I’m writing my book, and I have in fact put down nearly a thousand words today already (it being early afternoon as I write this). So while this blog is a respite from writing the novel, I’m not actually procrastinating…it’s more like taking a working vacation.

My tweet was not meant as a joke; it’s serious. The hardest part about writing a book is sitting down (which is easy) and typing out words (which can be easy or not by turns). At this point in my process (I’m starting chapter three), I try to hit a thousand words a day at a minimum. I don’t always make it. But for me, the words at this early stage do not come easily. I’m still trying to set up the situation and introduce the characters, a necessary step even for a sequel, like this one. In some ways, it’s tougher, because you have to explain enough so that a casual reader who may not realize this is a sequel to find his way about, but you don’t want to bore the reader who’s already read Book One.

Which means that the beginning of the book, unless the previous installment ended on a cliffhanger, is like lifting a rocket into space from the ground: It takes a lot of effort. Later on, the course corrections require less thrust, and the writing is easier. When I’m well under way and I have a defined goal, two thousand words a day is not hard to reach. When I’m barreling through the final chapters, three or four thousand is not unusual.

But while you could certainly write the last chapters first (you don’t have to write a book sequentially!), I couldn’t do that, even if I knew how the book was going to end. When I know the ending, I use the anticipation of writing it to pull me through the parts of the book that are harder to compose. Writing the ending first would result in a boring process, and likely a boring book.

So there’s the hard part: Pushing yourself into that chair and onto that keyboard knowing that the process is not going to be easy, at least until you have a firm handle on the plot and know where it’s going. Given that I am an inveterate pantser, it often means that this part of the book is not reached until I’m 85% done. (I’m trying to outline, honest!)

There are those, of course, who do not have this excuse. They outline the book so well that it could practically be the book, producing detailed synopses that can run dozens, if not scores, of pages. To me, that seems like writing two books, but it works for them. I guess however you do it, that’s the right way for you. And we all have something in common…

…we’re all afraid that if we look up from our keyboards, some AI will have stolen our plot.

I am proud to announce the release of the novel-length version of my serial, The Grey Phantom.

When the police and the politicians have thrown in with the criminals, there is always one who will fight back. In Capitol City, that one is the Grey Phantom, an enigmatic figure with twin silenced automatics who leaves his calling card on the bodies of his enemies. But the rot in Capitol City runs deep, and he is only one man…

And there is a new crimewave in Capitol City, but don’t ask anyone what happened–because they can’t remember…

For fans of adventure, this is a fast-paced thriller introducing the Grey Phantom, a lone crusader in a city fighting for its life when all hope of survival has already perished. Relying only on his wits, his twin silenced .45-caliber automatics, and an uncertain alliance with a beautiful newspaper reporter, the Grey Phantom blazes a violent trail through the bodies of murderers, gangsters, and hijackers–and no one, not even you the reader–knows his true identity.

The Grey Phantom, available today on Amazon.

I am very happy to be able to announce that I have signed a three-book deal with Water Dragon Publishing to bring out new editions of my Stolen Future trilogy, The Invisible City, and The Secret City, and The Cosmic City.

The Stolen Future is the story of Charles Clee, an American volunteer in the British Army in World War I, prior to the United States entering the war. Scouting an enemy position, he escapes an ambush and finds himself in the middle of a time-travel experiment from the future. Accidentally entering the time machine, he is hurled 800,000 years in the future, when the world has radically changed: The population is reduced, ruined cities hide horrifying monsters, and humans have been relegated to second-class status by invaders from the stars.

Forced to run for his life, Clee becomes a symbol of resistance, the first hope humans have had in 300 years. But when he finds that a working time machine may still exist that could return him to the 20th century, he must make a choice: Return to his own time to save the men of his command from a German surprise attack, or remain in the future to try to lift mankind from its slavery?

Whatever his choice, a world is doomed.

Christmas Sale

For the next week, The Choking Rain is free on Amazon, and the other two books in the series, The Scent of Death and The Killing Scar, are reduced to $2.99. This is your chance to follow the adventures of Nemesis and his intrepid crew as they pursue mysterious happenings and exotic murders from Los Angeles to the Himalayas, from the Amazon jungles to the nightclubs of 1930s Berlin.

At the same time, my science fiction comedy Alien House is also reduced for the holidays to $2.99. When his spaceship crash-lands outside of Newton College, would-be invader Phil finds himself hiding in a fraternity house–but this is no ordinary house, it’s the “animal house” of Newton College, where no self-respecting alien should be caught dead–or alive. But this is no ordinary campus, either, and it has secrets of its own, none of which will matter until Phil makes his choice: conquer the planet or go to a toga party?

And finally, my non-fiction book How to Know if Your Stockbroker is Ripping You Off is also on sale for $2.99. (I must be full of the holiday spirit.) Every year, thousands of people find themselves at a loss (literally) because their investments have taken a dive (this year in particular!). Some have only themselves to blame…but many have been taken advantage of and don’t even know it. This book is designed for those who know just enough about the stock market to get into trouble. If you’re an investor who’s taken losses, or if you’re thinking about getting into the market but you’re scared to give your money to a stranger, this is the book for you.

Tonight is Halloween. Or perhaps I should say tonight was Halloween, since as my better half put it when we turned out the lights and brought in the decorations because we had actually run out of candy for a change, “There’s another Halloween in the books”– even though it was only eight o’clock–because we had, as I say, run out of candy and brought in all the decorations we had used to advertise our contribution to the sugar-bombing of other people’s children. (To which I can only say, “You’re welcome.”)

But tonight was an unusually successful Halloween, not only because we gave away all of our candy (only a couple of pieces for ourselves! That’s the horror.), but because early on we were not getting a lot of traffic. The way our house is set up, on Halloween you can only see that we’re open for business if you walk down the nearest cross street in our direction. Then you cross the road and meet us in the driveway where we like to set up (figuring it’s easier for us and easier for parents than letting their kids walk all the way to our front door). But tonight, someone was having a party in the neighborhood, and one of their guests parked his car in a red zone directly across from our house, blocking the view of children coming from that direction.

Since we couldn’t move the car, we changed the visibility of our operation. I took a lantern down to the end of the driveway and waved it slowly whenever kids came into view. Now what you have to know is that I was wearing a hooded cloak (we like to dress up, too), and whenever someone would come along, I would use the lantern to indicate where the candy was located–but I wouldn’t speak. It freaked out more than one kid and even some parents. One guy (an adult) actually said he wasn’t sure I wasn’t a robot until he saw me up close. Yay me! I got your Halloween scary right here, folks! (Same time next year.)

But the point is that I created a convincing illusion by means of a simple cloak, a lantern, and an attitude. No mask, no other costume. Just move the lantern slowly and don’t speak. It goes to show that you can create a fantasy by hardly changing anything. Many people still think science fiction is all spaceships and ray guns and aliens (okay, starships and light sabers and droids, but you get my meaning), but that’s a gross oversimplification.

You can create a fantasy with a guy in a cloak carrying a lantern. You can create science fiction merely by changing a dog’s lifetime from 15 years to 50. (I’ve done it.) Nothing more than that. You don’t need starships; you don’t need a magical ring that plunges the world into war.

Fans will ask writers, “Where do you get your ideas?” Sometimes, it’s as simple a matter as needing to see what’s behind that car parked in front of you.

Amazon has announced that stories published through the Kindle Vella app will be available to be read for FREE for eligible readers from October 5 – 11 (up to 100 episodes).

If you were waiting for a chance to see what happens when a teenager from outer space comes to Earth to scout an invasion, only to end up attending college and pledging that fraternity, the one no one with any sense would go near, Alien House–a mash-up of Resident Alien and Animal House–is for you. When Phil was sent to Earth, he thought he’d be masquerading as a student at Newton College, safely housed with the other members of his team who had gone on ahead. But when his ship is sabotaged and he crash-lands, losing his weapons, mission orders, and most significantly, his clothes, he finds himself thrown to the tender mercies of Alpha Tau Ceti, the lowest form of Greek life on campus–and the perfect hideout, because ATC has a secret of its own…

On the other hand, in a 50s-era Los Angeles where zombies, vampires, and assorted monsters mix freely with the living population, one PI/necromancer takes all their cases. (Just don’t come to him with a divorce. He has standards.) When he’s hired by the wife of a missing monster, he finds himself caught between the unsavory, the undead, the cops, all of whom are interested in learning How to Murder a Corpse.

How to Murder a Corpse