Work In Progress: May 2023

The current cross stitch work-in-progress–Charles Wysocki’s “Quilts for Sale”–has slowed a bit because the chart isn’t quite accurate and I’ve had to make some fairly major adjustments. This happens, when the pattern maker uses software to convert a painting or photograph. Artificial intelligence (in whatever form) makes mistakes. Takes a human eye to spot them and correct the bot’s errors–or simply to improve on what AI has delivered. I’m sure you’ve encountered this elsewhere. (Go here to see what this big project will look like, finished–and some earlier projects.)

More on AI. I’m a curious person. I like to learn new ways of doing things. So I’ve been playing with ChatGPT-4 this week, using it in the same way I would use a graduate research assistant if I were still at the university. I’ve even given “my” bot a (non-binary) name: Quill. (Yes, I know. Silly. But it works for me.) I have to say that I’m impressed by Quill’s ability to run right over to the library (the vastness of the internet), pick up answers to my research queries, bring them back, and hand them to me in real-person speech, with sources.

For instance, the current China WIP is based on a complicated legal maneuver and I (not a lawyer!) need to be sure China has covered all the bases. Quill pointed out several things I hadn’t thought about. The story you read will be richer because of that contribution. On other tasks, Quill brought me information that was too superficial and I had to send it back to the library to dig deeper. It has also brought me information that was just plain wrong, and I had to correct and re-instruct it, just as I would a grad RA, back in the old days. For me, this thing is a search engine on steroids. I expect to be using it. What about you? Have you thought of ways to add this tool to your toolkit?

But while I’m using it, I can see how tempting–and easy–it is to misuse it. I think we all have to become aware of the challenges and dangers of AI, especially when it is used to replace, not enlarge, human intelligence. So it behooves us to beware and be wary: we need to figure out how to use it without being used by it. That’s entirely too facile, yes. But I’ll let it stand as a general caution. Just. Be. Informed.

At the writing desk. China and I are making progress on Forget Me Never, which is teaching me more about nootropic herbs than I expected to learn. China is beginning to put the puzzle together. (She’d better get to it: the book is about 80% finished.) I always have trouble with plausible endings in amateur sleuth mysteries. Miss Marple and Nero Wolfe used to bring all the major players together, sit them down, and explain who dunnit, at which point the villain agreed, “Yes, I’m guilty,” and that was that. Easy, but this doesn’t work any longer. I’m eager to learn how China is going to manage this one. You’ll be able to see how she does it early next year–probably February, 2024.

In the meantime, Someone Always Nearby will be going to the printer next month, for early November publication. Please tell your favorite librarian to put you on the waiting list. It will also be available in digital, audio, and large print. I’m super excited about the Reader’s Guide for this book, which I worked on with Paula Yost, who did the archival research for me in Santa Fe. The Guide will be available as a free download from this website–the story behind the story, with sources and hyperlinked resources, curated extras, my commentary, and questions and discussion topics for your book group.

On the reading list. I’m having a lot of fun with Tom Hanks’ new novel, The Making of Another Major Motion Picture Masterpiece. This exuberant, sprawling novel is all about storytelling, about the stories we know, the stories we are, the ways we make stories and the ways stories make us. It’s a joy to read. And that’s where I’m going now.

Reading note: You wrote too many scenes, too many characters, too many pages, and not enough conflict. Your structure is counterintuitive and what should happen on page thirty is on page forty-two.” “That is by design,” Bill said. “I want to break the rules.”–Tom Hanks, The Making of Another Major Motion Picture Masterpiece

Your civil comments and questions are always welcome. I read each one and reply when I’ve something to add to the discussion.

47 comments on “Work In Progress: May 2023

  1. Mmm…not so much. My Quill (not to be confused with the cold med) is definitely non-binary, mild-mannered, scholarly, able to take direction. (Especially when they bring me an incorrect reference.)

  2. You’re right–Quilleran was at the back of my mind, Kristi, as a detective: somebody who likes to get to the bottom of things. Also quill as a writing tool, of course, and one that must have a human hand guiding it. For me, Ruby’s hyper-intuition is a helpful counter-balance to China’s hyper-rationality. Logical thought can only take us so far. And while China’s logic is easily replicable by AI, Ruby’s intuitive perceptions (logical leaps) are much less programmable.

  3. I’m wondering if you naming your bot Quill is at all inspired by Qwilleran from the “Cat Who” books? I know that you’ve referenced those books when you talk about Khat Ko Kung in the China books. I just finished re-reading the China series and can’t wait to get the next one soon. Thank you for writing them and sharing them with us. I especially enjoy the way you write about Ruby’s psychic powers and about witchcraft without making them either evil or silly.

  4. You are delightfully prompt about replies! Just FYI: I don’t like that particular nickname. I use my full first name, will answer to a verbal “Tricia” but don’t even hear the one you used. Now I’m going to get off this electronic distraction and go dig a hole in my garden.

  5. Thanks, Pat–and to your SIL (kudos to her for checking cites!). This just adds to the editorial burden, which is already heavy enough. Very discouraging. Hope that author doesn’t submit elsewhere, get by with it, and use the publication to leverage another step on the career ladder. Grrrr….

  6. My SIL says that “… the essay was overgeneralized and poorly argued, but the inaccurate citations cinched it. I gave just a simple rejection, not much explanation: “Not in the ballpark” of a publishable essay. But I think it is a wakeup call for all editors: caveat emptor. ”

    Makes me happy that I didn’t stay in editorial work. Tax accounting was challenging enough! At least I had clear (sort of) rules to follow. I guess in every line of work there are some people who will try to game the system or use others to further their own ends. Sigh….

  7. Just simply beautiful, each & every one! What a treat to peruse them! Thank You!

  8. Liz, I too am a reader who enjoys knowing what the ending is going to be–although I don’t usually go to the trouble of peeking, in a new book. 🙂 But it’s a reason I reread books I care about. Knowing where the narrative is going gives me a greater understanding and appreciation for how it gets there, and how I’m involved, as a creative reader, in putting all the pieces together.

  9. I too hate to hurry time, it’s going way too fast. I have loved your books for so long, I am looking forward to the two newest, but rereading my favorite older ones. In this crazy time I like knowing how something’s going to end! How ever China winds it-up will be perfect. Thanks for all of them!

  10. I’m glad you’re enjoying the Dahlias, Sandy. Those women are such strong characters that they sometimes take over the writing process–all I have to do is listen and transcribe. Well, not quite, but almost. 🙂

  11. A bit of chisel and sandpaper would work for poetry, Mary, but Hanks has bigger smashes in mind. I like that passage because it’s so meta.

  12. Martha, I have to use a magnifying light. Doesn’t help the fingers, though. 🙁 Love Wysocki puzzles but they take more room than I have in our small house.

  13. Men are often very good at Xstitch–if their fingers allow them to manage a #26 needle. That can be a challenge!

  14. Thank you, Charlene. If anybody knows of a good online needlework framer, please let me know. I’ve used Michael’s, but hate driving to Austin just to get a piece framed.

  15. Liz, I thought exactly that when I first encountered it. Farm girls . . .

  16. Pam, I’ve read that the latest Bard shows its sources without being asked. Have you tried that? I’ve looked at a couple of books that were written to demonstrate the use of AI in the writing process. This one does a good job of being clear about it:

    Glad you’re enjoying TOD. Julia Gibson has been voicing this series so long that I think she owns it! 🙂

  17. You’re right, Crista–and yes, it’s often a matter of framing and reframing the answers you get. An inquiry process, rather than a simple Q&A (which might be okay for a fact Q). I haven’t tried the other AIs (Google, Bing) but am encouraged by the way this learns–recognizing (humbly) that my use of it is primitive. I’m hoping to make some time to find ways to use it more effectively.

  18. Quill does have the ability to learn–plus it seems to have a built-in desire to respond more fully. But it has to be asked, and directed. In one Q&A, it did not properly include a possible source. When I gave it that source, it was contrite. It said :Thank you for providing information about the anthology “Quilt Stories: A Collection of Short Stories, Poems and Plays.” I apologize for the previous oversight. Here’s the updated information on the anthology:

    Title: Quilt Stories: A Collection of Short Stories, Poems and Plays
    Publisher: University of Kentucky Press
    Publication Date: 1994
    Editor: Cecilia Macheski
    Authors: Bobbie Ann Mason, Sharyn McCrumb, Marge Piercy, Alice Walker, Joyce Carol Oates, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and others

    I found that my grad RAs often needed to be told where to look. And look again. 🙂

  19. Oh, Patricia–that is so disheartening. But I worked in universities for 15 years (teaching and admin) and know that there are as many bad apples there as everywhere else. But I’ve always felt that there’s an even greater responsibility for accuracy in academia and always disappointed when I learn otherwise. At the least, the author of that paper was merely stupid. I’m curious: how did your SIL handle this?

  20. My sister-in-law, who is the editor of an on-line scholarly magazine, reported recently that she’d received a few submissions that appeared to have been generated by an AI application. She checked the references and found that they didn’t exist. It will be interesting to see how we all adapt to having this new tool, which, like most human inventions, can be used for good or for ill.

  21. Will certainly be urging my library to put Someone Always Nearby on their order list! Thanks for the info on your experience with AI research. I know nothing about using such technology but now you have me wanting to learn more.
    Must tell you that I have just spent the weekend reading The Darling Dahlias and The Confederate Rose. Speaking of good storytellers, anyone ever tell you that you write a great page turner! Oh my! It has completely taken my mind off the strangeness of the time we live in. I thank you for doing that!

  22. Love the Reading Note. Breaking rules! Okay, can we modify, because we’re listening to a male voice, “breaking.” How about retooling rules? We don’t have to smash anything, which in turns means we have to get the broom and dustpan. Just a little artisanal chisel, sandpaper, an subtle edit, revision…

  23. This is such a beautiful project, and your stitching looks spot on. I love working counted cross stitch.

  24. For lots of years, I loved counted cross stitch. Now my hands and my eyes don’t let me do that. However, I do jigsaw puzzles and Wysocki is my favorite! Be sure and show us the finished product. Love your posts. Thanks for entertaining and educating me!

  25. I tried cross stitch many years ago, but quickly realized it was not for me. My husband actually finished it. You can tell who did which part because his is much better! I can’t write books either, but I can certainly appreciate those who can! Susan, you excel in both in spades! Awaiting both new books with joy!

  26. Love reading your blogs, books, etc. ❤️ And as I read this one, I could hear my parents’ voices in my head, “Always remember…YOU are the one with the brain!” 🥰

  27. Really enjoyed viewing your cross stitch masterpieces–they are beautiful!!! My aunt, cousin and mother also created several which I have displayed around my house.
    They are real treasures now since they have passed.
    Looking forward to reading your Georgia O’Keefe book!!!

  28. Love the cross stitch! I am probably one of the few that when they read “AI” they think of artificial insemination……………….guess I am too much of a farm girl! LOL

  29. I’ve used ChatGPT many times in my work. Most of the time it makes my job easier and quicker, but I agree, we still have to use our brains to make sure it isn’t leading us down a rabbit hole. Which it did last time I tried to use it to do what should have been a simple task. I’ve also used Google’s Bard and Bing’s AI. But so far I end up going back to ChatGPT. I’m so happy it is enriching your China book research. I’m not happy that people are using AI to actually do the work for writing books for them. I love an author’s voice in their books. I am really enjoying revisiting THYME OF DEATH in audio format. Thank you!

  30. Your comments about teaching AI to work for you reminds of what I am mindful of as a psychologist working with clients: The areas that are explored, and the answers derived, depend on the questions asked. The art is in asking the right questions. I always enjoy your writing and the questions you ask.

  31. Ah, Quill isn’t silly. I might name an AI Jarvis, if I could get it to use the same voice.

  32. Susan, love all your books, your WIP, your book reviews. You are always insightful and inspiring. You always encourage. Thank you!

  33. You wrote the only positive words on AI – and I read a lot. Thank you for your insights. A thought I’ve had during Q & A’s (especially political) is: The answer you get may have much to do with how you ask the question. I liked your concept of training, too. It assumes a capacity to learn – of which I am hopeful for AI. Best wishes on your writing.?

  34. Oh, Susan, your works are beautiful, both written and stitched! Am waiting patiently for China. I am never disappointed. I agree with Susan not to hurry time. 🙂

  35. Can hardly wait for your (and China’s) new book. I hate to hurry time. It goes too fast already, but am eager to have it in my hands!

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