Jim Flynn is a humorist, writer and novelist. He is available for speaking engagements. To contact email: email@example.com
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It’s expensive to create an audiobook. I won’t drag you though the economics, but it’s much different than publishing a print or ebook on Amazon. Unless you sell thousands of copies, it’s hard to merely break even in audio. For that reason, many modestly successful authors forego the audio version. My last three books I haven’t bothered with audio, even though Losing Lola won an audiobook of the year award.
So when Audible offered me an opportunity to participate in their Beta Test for AI narration I decided to try it with The 10 Greatest Golfers of All Time.
I chose from one of eight Artificial Intelligence narrators, and was able to make some adjustments, like phonetically correcting mispronounced words.
If you are an Audible user, you can listen free.
Go to Audible
In the search box type: 10 Greatest Golfers. This will take you to the book.
You can download for free. No strings attached.
Give it a try. Remember, it’s still a Beta test. There are times you can tell, but most of the time it sounds like a real person. It asks questions, it tells jokes.
Naysayers about Artificial Intelligence like to point out that AI makes mistakes. Yup, it does. It has flaws. Two points:
BTW, the picture of the guy narrating the book at the top of the page? AI generated, not a real person.
More about AI next week.
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Meet Toni Anne Laudano. An MIT dropout, a genius at data encryption, a baseball fan, she became a self-made multi-millionaire in her twenties. Toni Anne then volunteered to work for U.S. Cyber Command for a salary of $1 per year. Ms. Laudano has a vocabulary that could make a sailor blush, and her tendency to speak her mind has made her enemies in high places, including the current Chief of Staff to the President of the United States.
She considers herself the world's greatest cyber warrior, among her accomplishments is a stunningly successful sting operation directed at the President of Russia. Her boss, a four-star general likes to quote The Rolling Stones when describing Toni Anne: She is practiced at the art of deception.
Ms. Laudano is one of the three Point of View characters in the book I'm writing, Useful Idiot.
The story is delivered through the eyes and thoughts of one of the Point of View characters in each scene.
What does this have to do with A.I.?
The picture above was generated by AI. I typed in a description, and four pictures were generated. I refined my description, and after about 20 tries the perfect Toni Anne emerged.
I've generated pictures of all the main characters. I have two computer screens, on the main screen is the book in progress, on the smaller screen are the pictures of the main characters. As I write, especially about a Point of View character, I look at them. What would they be thinking? What would they say? How would they say it?
What are the ethical implications? If I had an illustrator create these pictures, it would have cost at least hundreds of dollars. As a practical matter, I wouldn't have done the pictures.
But there are other things AI can do that are more practical, and displace real people. Something came up just today.
More next week.
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The above sign is simple compared to the advice you get from writing experts. Much of the advice contradicts other advice.
Five years ago, after some modest success with my first effort, I set out to write another book.
My initial work was a fictional humorous memoir. I was advised to branch out and write a novel. It would expose me to a broader audience.
How hard could it be?
After all, I've read novels. I'd just write a book like that.
Oops. I found that a fledgling novelist could spend the rest of their lives reading and listening to advice, and never writing anything. That's a problem, because the hardest thing for me about writing is sitting down every day and typing the first few words.
I swim for exercise, and compare writing the first few words to jumping in the pool. When it's 10 degrees in January you feel stupid dragging your butt to the local YMCA to go swimming. To get things started I always go to the deep end and dive in-I call it diving, others cruelly make fun of my form. I consider it a successful dive if I don't hurt myself. Nevertheless the hard part is over, now I do the easy work, swimming 1,600 yards.
I wish I knew five years ago what I know now. Next week I'll go over some of that.
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A couple of weeks ago I mentioned my friend Bob. In our discussions over the years I've had to remind him more than a few times that John Wayne movies aren't real. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance was not an accurate historical documentary. Despite his tendency to forget this, Bob is a very successful guy, and can sometimes pass in society as a normal person.
So why does this matter? Because Bob is not alone, it's a universal human trait that readers or viewers are more influenced by characters in books and movies than they are by real people in their lives. Sports heroes are a subset of this: not seen as the flesh and blood people they are, but the icons they represent. Serious scientific studies using MRI scans support the above. Jury selection experts are known to ask prospective jurors what TV shows they watch. It helps them predict how a juror will feel about a given issue.
Those of you who've read the JR Johnson books may notice that he frequently quotes lessons he has learned from movies, especially his favorite: The Godfather. Toni Anne Laudano makes fun of him for this in the new book, but it turns out that Toni Anne, the cyber wizard, privately uses analogies to baseball, her favorite sport, to help her think through complex problems. The conflict between Toni Anne and JR is crucial to the story.
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People have asked: What am I going to do when the next book becomes a runaway best seller, and I sign the seven figure deal for the movie script?
I plan to maintain my humility, but I may acquire some additional vehicles. I am considering the one pictured above, since I am interested in VWs and music.
Since the car has no doors, I would use it only to drive to the golf course on sunny days. Let me know, I may give you a ride.
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This week I’m including an excerpt from the fourth JR Johnson novel, working title: Useful Idiot.
As I look back at the first three, I’m gratified that some people are fans, but realize that I have to do better. There are a million mistakes that rookie novelists make, and I made about 500,000 of them.
My friend Bob is usually a great sounding board, but even he tells me that I am extremely tedious when I start explaining things like plot structure and Point of View characters. When I get into one of my long-winded pontifications, Bob tells me that I’m starting to sound like the character Ted Striker in the movie Airplane, whose story was so boring that he drove his seat-mates to commit Hari Kari. After tolerating a few minutes of one of my self-indulgent lectures, Bob will say, “Jimbo, I’m standing on the railing. Please stop or I’ll jump!”
As a service for those reading this, I’ll summarize: It’s important to stay within the guardrails and drive the story forward. Most of the mistakes can be fixed by keeping this idea paramount.
I may end up rewriting the first three books. We’ll see. Meanwhile, Useful Idiot will be done when it is ready. Maybe six months, maybe sooner.
The excerpt below is not the very beginning of the book, it is about 20 pages in, but gives the tone and direction without divulging too many secrets:
The Russians had tried to kill me, on two separate occasions, right on U.S. soil. In fact, on the red dirt soil of Spicewood, Texas. After I survived the assassination attempts, the Russians released the Deep Fake. Maybe a billion people had watched the video.
Barbara Jean and her parents had seen the Deep Fake before me. When she confronted me with the video, I stood there with my mouth open. It looked so real and convincing that I didn’t blame people for thinking it was genuine.
Then my lovely mother-in-law had taken me aside and touched my elbow with her hand. “JR, we know that’s not real,” but my father-in-law, the baggy assed rancher and oil baron Cletus Parker looked at me with a cold stare and said nothing. I can tell he believes in his heart that I’m a dadgummed Big City pervert, not worthy of his daughter, who despite being the mother of two children may still be a virgin. If you’ve ever had a father-in-law, you’re familiar with the look.
After the Deep Fake came out, I was having a tough time getting anyone at my club to play golf with me. I was hearing some very lame excuses. Oh, I’d love to play with you JR, but my golf clubs need custom regripping. Maybe next year.
Barbara Jean and I were separated, though not by some fancy legal document, but by good old-fashioned miles. Our households remained as unconsolidated as our futures – a merging now as likely as a snowball's chance in Texas. There I was, lounging in my Barton Creek office, the crown jewel of Austin, where civilization isn't just a word, it's a lifestyle. Quite the contrast to Barbara Jean's neck of the woods – or should I say, hicksville.
Austin is now a melting pot of what people think of as Texas, big money, cowboy boots and country music, the South by Southwest Festival, a college town, the state capital, and the hipster lifestyle, recently made more complex with the avocado toast new money tax refugees filtering in mostly from Silicon Valley.
Barbara Jean was on her ranch in rural semi-arid Spicewood, a farm community that never heard of hipsters, and every second person is wearing workaday Carhartt overalls. People in Austin wear overalls only to be ironic. Spicewood’s about 35 miles away, but some of the old timers there never go to Austin. Barbara Jean is someone who’s comfortable in both worlds. I feel like a phony outsider when I’m on her ranch, but at least my stiff new Carhartts were getting broken in before we stopped living together.
Barb and I were entangled in a mess much more complicated than your average lover’s quarrel. As I sat in my casita stewing over Two Hands having all that money, my distrust of people was simmering beneath the surface. Ever since that revelation about my mother and father when I was eighteen – a secret locked away in the back of my mind – trust became a luxury I couldn’t afford. But after what I learned back then, every relationship, including the one with Barbara Jean, felt like walking through a minefield blindfolded. She, in her Spicewood sanctuary, had become just another reminder of the distance I kept from people.
So many times in my life I’ve been on the outside, looking in, but this time was different. This time I was way outside, and it was starting to take a toll on me.
By The Way: The photo above is an AI generated picture of Barbara Jean. I have done similar renderings of all the main characters for my own benefit, so I can look at the character when I am writing about them. There will be some more reveals in future weeks.
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There comes a time in Connecticut to put the clubs away for the winter. The positive: it frees up more time for writing.
I'm working on the fourth JR Johnson book, which I finished once, but it wasn't good enough.
I started it all over.
I'll let you in a writer secret. When you get lazy, it's a great time waster to create titles for the book you're working on. This one has had maybe five titles. The current working title: Useful Idiot. That's a good one, it may stick.
People tell you that the beginning of the book is very important. "You should really work on the opening, Jim," I'm told. Yes, but not for two years.
Next week I'll give you a preview of the opening.
Meanwhile, take a look around the website. Don't be afraid to buy something.
Please send encouraging emails to: firstname.lastname@example.org
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When I was 58 years old I cancelled my Wall Street Journal subscription and subscribed to The Financial Times of London. I thought it would make me more worldly, there was a dynamite Introductory Rate for six months, and I could always steal someone else in the office's Wall Street Journal on a given day. Two things I learned:
1 ) British high fashion models are way more anorexic, androgynous, world weary, and pissed-off pouty than their U.S. counterparts. The Financial Times has a fashion page every Friday, and it always made me laugh. These models were apparently not happy that other people were looking at them! This is a gap the American fashion industry has to address if we're going to be competitive on the world stage.
2 ) Embarrassing to admit, I didn't know what the word "Bespoke" meant. It's not a word you encounter often in U.S. media, certainly not in the Wall Street Journal. You cannot avoid Bespoke while reading The Financial Times, it's there every day.
Ok, ok, I know you know what it means, but for those few who don't, I found out it means "custom made," as in "James Bond wore bespoke Saville Row suits."
Maybe I didn't know because I never considered paying up for a custom made suit. I worked at IBM, then in the financial business, so I wore a suit to work pretty much every day for over 40 years, and I learned: I have the ability to put on an expensive suit, and after one hour, look as though I slept under a bridge in a rainstorm.
I bring it up because the above photo shows me proudly wearing a Bespoke Hawaiian shirt, made as a birthday surprise by my daughter Megan, a talented seamstress. She got the fabric on a trip to Hawaii and it's great! The Real Deal. I can't wait to show it off to the guys I play golf with. Then again, it's really too good for that riff-raff, they probably don't know Bespoke when they see it, so maybe I'll just wear it when I give talks about my books.
After six months I cancelled my Financial Times subscription and went back to the Wall Street Journal. Unintended benefit: I got a two-year new subscriber rate, at a 90% discount!
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Sales of my golf books always take off during the gift giving season. I guess people search through Amazon looking for a presents for that hard-to-buy-for golfer on their list and alight on Hit Your Second Shot First, my consistent best seller, followed by The 10 Greatest Golfers of All Time.
At least one person, somewhere in the world, buys Hit Your Second Shot First every day. Other days are better.
The amazing thing to me is how fast the books reach their destination. There's no inventory of my books, Amazon uses a technology called: Print on Demand. The books are printed in distribution centers around the world, the day they are ordered, then shipped. A book ordered for delivery in California is printed in California, and frequently is delivered the next day! As far as I know, no human touches the book until the package is opened by the recipient.
The vehicle pictured is not in the Amazon delivery fleet, it is a Morris Minor station wagon. My grandfather had two Morris Minor convertibles that he bought at the same time, one to drive, the other for parts. Much of his time on weekends was spent fiddling with the finicky, unreliable, yet cool to look at cars. Pop, not a man of means, repainted the better of the two vehicles by hand, using a brush! It looked pretty good, as long as you stood at least ten feet away! As a kid I secretly hoped to get the Morris Minor convertible when I turned 16, but both vehicles had long since hit the junk yard.
Next week I'll talk about my continuing saga on the JR Johnson books.
If you're looking for a gift for a golfer, please take a look at: www.amazon.com/dp/B09CGMTCBQ
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