Passing of Atlantic Editor; CNF staff resignation; new AI submissions policies; professional jealousy; building community; lit mag databases; and more
The news this time makes me long for a return of the great short fiction editor Shannon Ravenel. Her anthology "New Stories from the South" ran from 1986-2010. No doubt those years constituted the Golden Age and we will never see anything in short fiction to match those years. I consider myself fortunate to have accumulated a number of these annual short-story treasure troves over the last several years since I got interested in fiction writing. I recommend them to anyone who wants to see how things used to be when short story writing was still a meritocracy presided over by the best American editors we will ever see. If you happen upon one of these anthologies in a thrift shop or used book store, don't even think about leaving the store without buying it. Editors today will know I am speaking the truth. Their visible frustration and the stream of acrimony surrounding literary journal publishing is a hard to dismiss feature of what used to be a great artistic endeavor. Long live the oeuvre of Shannon Ravenel...and Michael Curtis...in our collective memory.
AI/ChatGPT will never approach Becky’s sign-offs to these newsletters. They are glorious. ❤️👏🏻👏🏻👏🏻
I' m not sure why people worry about AI taking over 'writing'--there are ways any astute teacher can pick up on students cheating on their papers, and as far as creative writing goes--well, if the machine can write better than the human, so be it. But that will never happen--as it clear from Becky's examples. They are trite, cliched, boring, rather pointless, all the hallmarks of bad writing by humans. So yes, at that level, AI can write like a human-- but if you're looking for writing that intrigues, mystifies, surprises, gives hope and joy, or sadness and sorrow, in short, that moves your mind, rocks your heart, and sparks your soul, don't count on AI...because there is no soul in the machine.
So now litmags should add the "I am not a robot" box to their submission platform, or perhaps one that states, "This piece is certified organic."
RE: AI submission policies, Solarpunk Magazine announced they, too, will ban those.
How editors will make an assessment is another matter.
RE: professional jealousy - - turn all feelings of resentment into fuel, i.e., a motivation to write much better.
.•:*¨¨*:•. Genial greetings from Greenwich Village! .•:*¨¨*:•.
I do think it would be an interesting experiment to devote an entire issue of a lit mag to AI generated writing. Of course they'd have to announce what it was but I'd be most curious about the reactions from readers. I imagine it might be how I feel after eating an entire bag of Doritos......
The first AI entry is not interesting; the second one is a little bit interesting, but probably because you gave it an interesting prompt, although it ends the way a sixth grader might end a story.
Charles Portis mocked Ruth Lilly’s poetry endowments (as well as technology) in a story called “The Wind Bloweth Where It Listeth,” where a billionaire widow funds a group of monkeys to see if their random peckings could indeed one day produce the works of Shakespeare. It seems to me this passage could apply to AI too:
“We now have millions of monkeys pecking away more or less at random, day and night, on millions of personal computer keyboards. We have “word processors,” the Internet, e-mail, “the information explosion.” Futurists at our leading universities tell us the day is at hand when, out of this maelstrom of words, a glorious literature must emerge, and indeed flourish. So far, however, as of today, Tuesday, September 14, late afternoon, the tally still seems to be fixed at:
“Shakespeare: 198, Monkeys: 0”
(where 198 is the number of plays and poems we have by Shakespeare)
I would be happy to contribute to an AI literary magazine. I just fed the AI story generator the quick blurb for the book I’m writing, and what it spat out was entertaining. My story is better, but the AI story made me giggle.
I am sorry to hear of the passing of C. Michael Curtis. He was a student of my father's at Cornell and an occasional babysitter for me and my brother. I remember that we liked him, and that he told us stories about a character named Algernon.
I was inspired by your AI examples to spend some time playing with the generator and even brought it into my writing classroom this week. I'm not optimistic about the ethics of publishing AI written stories, because it's so hard to tell how much of what they spit out has been directly lifted from someone, (I gave it the prompt "the worst smelling candle in bath and bodyworks" and I'm pretty sure it gave me somebody's b&b website comment), but I think it's an interesting exercise for writers to try putting in prompts to see what leads to a genuinely interesting result. What we found in my class was that the more surprising the prompt was, the more interesting leaps in the final story ("lawyer breaks up with juggler boyfriend" is better than "woman breaks up with mobster boyfriend"). Useful for writers as we start our own stories -- have we taken that extra step away from the expected story to create something new?
After meeting C. Michael Curtis at the New England Writers Conference in the late 1990s, I had the great good fortune to attend his ongoing weekly fiction seminars. We met in his home, discussed stories from Daniel Halpern's "The Art of the Tale: An International Anthology of Short Stories" and what made them worth reading, then got feedback from the group on our own work. It was a privilege to learn from him and others. His first question was always "whose story is this?" On Malamud's "The Last Mohican" he pointed out that references in the story "invite but don't require the spiritual interpretation; the story works at the literal level as well," guidance I continue to find helpful. Thanks, Mike, for your kindness, for your contribution to The Atlantic and to the short story more generally, and to aspiring writers everywhere. And condolences to your wife Betsy Cox, whose session at that conference also helped me see where my fiction flopped, and where it succeeded.
By the way, this is what ChatGPT just gave me for the "Rabbit Suspects He Might Be Human" prompt:
Once upon a time, in a peaceful forest, there was a rabbit named Peter. Peter was a curious rabbit and often wondered about his existence. He would spend hours observing the other animals in the forest, and often felt like he didn't quite fit in with the rest of them.
One day, while out foraging for food, Peter stumbled upon an old book. He had never seen anything like it before, and with much effort, he managed to open it. Inside, he found pictures of creatures that looked just like him, but with a few key differences. These creatures walked on two legs, had hair on their heads, and wore clothes.
Peter couldn't believe it, were these creatures really like him? He spent every waking moment studying the book, trying to understand what it meant. He even started to stand on two legs and walk around, just like the creatures in the book.
His rabbit friends and family found his behavior strange and started to avoid him. But Peter didn't care, he was too fascinated by the possibility that he might be a human.
One day, Peter came across a group of humans while foraging for food. They were shocked to see a rabbit standing on two legs and wearing clothes, but they welcomed him with open arms.
Peter finally found where he belonged, among humans. He learned to speak their language and live among them, but he never forgot his humble beginnings as a rabbit in the forest. He always remembered his past and the life lessons he learned while living as a rabbit.
From that day on, Peter lived a happy and fulfilling life as a human, but never forgot where he came from and the journey that brought him there.
I'd be interested in taking part in an all-AI lit mag project.....
The two things that AI can manage better than humans are toxic waste disposal and mixed martial-arts cage fighting.