Rise of the robot writers? by Janine Donoho

Robot meets worldFor the last decade and more, makers of software have tried to lure writers into their electronic grasp. Their products fall far beyond our word processing needs. These programs claim to “unleash your creativity” with “programs to help you plan, structure and write your novel or…”

Your opus in an app or download. A quick search of “writing software” turns up 491,000,000 results—some free, but most? Not so much.

Since a law professor at my most recent alma mater raised a hue and cry for a “Department of Robotics”, I started thinking anew about how this tech has insinuated itself into so many areas of life. Vet robotic surgery, driverless vehicles, and algorithms fall into this general category. As do the aforementioned writing software/apps. Not quite Skynet—yet.

I, RobotDoes the trend explain the ongoing schlock issuing from the bastions of literacy in New York? And what of that oozing from Hollywood? Full disclosure: Intrepid Guy’s mancave hosts its share on our monstrously outsized screen. His love of all things tech issues from his ability to make inorganic electrons flow as he chooses.

Still… What elements imbue your favorite reads? Mine surprise me with reversals, hold characters that remain with me after I finish the story, and elicit true emotion. Yes, the opposite of the churning mill of boom, splat, boom that dominates blockbusters and movie screens. At risk of sounding cranky, I’m biased toward indie publishers, indie films, and indie bookstores.

Yet robotics has taken over the work of lower level accounting, law offices, assembly lines, and supposedly high level trading via algorithms. The results? Mixed. Hello, multiple stock market crashes.

Robotics is moving up our food chain, thus my question. Do algorithms trump the creative spark that makes us writers? Does the “boy meets girl by page 3”, “sexual sparks occur in chapter 3”, and so forth lend itself to this? And will we who write—and who begin that path as voracious readers—be satisfied with the results?Scary robot

A Dog’s Tale by Janine M. Donoho


Kartouche’ as Nina Sophia’s Manny

Not all hiatus are planned. In this case, mine has its roots in a dog’s tale. You see, my sweet 5-year-old greyt began seizing in June–at night between 2 and 6 am. We’ve belonged to each other since his puppyhood when he was an underweight 5 pounder at 9 weeks.

Kartouche’ arrived via a Colorado rancher who uses his hounds to run coyotes. Greyts love to course, and thus chase coyotes for the sheer pleasure of the act. Yet when they corner a wild trickster, it’s all tooth and nail. A greyhound might not return from such battles. They’re thin-skinned, lightly furred and lean. Think lovers and runners, not gladiators. They’re also rocket scientists among canines. When his rancher tells the wounded greyhound to go after the next coyote pack, the greyt politely says, “No thanks. You go this time.” Then the rancher might shoot the useless hound. Thus even though Kartoucheʹ came from different stock than my previous ex-track greyhounds, I consider him a rescue, too.

3 Dog Night by the Stove

3 Dog Night by the Stove

When Kartoucheʹ started seizing, I stopped sleeping. These aren’t dainty petit mals, mind you, but messy, dangerous grand mals that he leads into with an attempt to outrun them–at 45 mph. That’s what’s known as his aura stage, precursor to the tonic-clonic stage. This is a dog friendly house, but walls and furniture prove deadly to a greyhound running blind before he ends in scary collapse. Yes, I’m a biologist, but Kartoucheʹ is one of my beloved hounds. Seizures scare me–each one could be his end. As his human, it’s my job to keep him safe.

Despite living in extremely rural Washington State, we’re fortunate to have a remarkable and compassionate vet. She started Kartoucheʹ on a drug regime, but he continued to experience tonic-clonic clusters every two weeks. So we took her advice and visited the eminent WSU Veterinary Hospital in Pullman–5 hours away. We discovered another great team of vets there, thus expanding our canine health squad to four, all of whom communicate freely. Even so, it’s taken until now to find the right balance of drugs to keep Kartoucheʹ from damaging himself further.

The good news? He’s been tonic-clonic free for 4 weeks now. He still has nocturnal moments that I call ‘flight responses’,

Snow pack

Snow pack

when he struggles to his feet and takes a few steps before regaining consciousness, then returning to bed. While I still respond in PTSD fashion with flashlight and pounding heart, this signifies a vast and positive change from where we started seven months ago. What it also means? My creativity and energy have returned.

In macro terms, let me leave you with a few life lesson reminders. All-nighters ruin your health and sleep really is essential. Stamina only takes you so far. Eat well and exercise, no matter what. Go anywhere and do anything within your means for those you love. Deep creativity requires rest and peace of mind.

So welcome to my year of the hounds. Now we’re off to enjoy a snow hike–full pack press. Shout out to MuttLuks, YakTrax and other winter gear. Happy New Year!

Atrophy & Recovery – Part II by Janine M. Donoho

Last night during a nocturnal wander through the house, during wakefulness fueled by housetraining that adorably cute Italian Greyhound viewed in Part I, I noticed starlight bouncing off the black plastic laid for next year’s garden area. You see, this is one of the most passive and easy returns on preparing soil for new plantings.

Beneath the opaque cover, which soaks up late summer and autumn rays, then cooks the existing seed banks into submission, the organics formerly-known-as-weeds become fuel for astilbe, peonies, anchusa and other faves. Well, an equivalent to this is what happened during my crossover from tech writer with fictional aspirations into novelist. As promised, I’ll share the watershed events that led to this transition.

The equivalent of plastic mulch in my life at that time took me from writing about forced draft blowers, main feed pumps, lithium bromide plants and the ever cool condensers into first women’s fiction, then onto my latest rage of contemporary and high fantasy. Okay, admittedly, FDBs and MFPs can be wickedly geekish and even satisfying to write about, but world building’s way more fun.


Allow me to tout two books, which at that time helped me both mentally and emotionally into transition. Clarissa Pinkola Estes’ WOMEN WHO RUN WITH THE WOLVES and Julia Cameron’s ARTIST’S WAY provided both cure and inspiration for what ailed me. Let’s face it, Navalese-speak does not make for a bestselling author, although it does help with keeping to just-the-facts Jack.

Estes’ tome uncovered personal stories, often painful, that thwarted my instincts to probe into the depths and dark places. Then Cameron gave me permission to use those finds to go where story lives. Yes, I’d dabbled in poetry, fiction and playwriting before then, which had been somewhat successful. Let’s face it; a menu that includes twelve weeks of the equivalent of really good dark chocolate for the brain and spirit can take you so much further. Especially when led through the process by Estes and Cameron’s empathetic, yet grounded approaches to healing.

Since then, I’ve turned to other geographically remote mentors such as Stephen King’s ON WRITING, Carol Lloyd’s CREATING A LIFE WORTH LIVING, Susan Shaughnessy’s WALKING ON ALLIGATORS and FRUITFLESH by Gayle Brandeis. I’ve even returned to Julia Cameron, although her later works failed to spark the same cascade of light as ARTIST’S WAY, through no fault of hers. We artists are receptive at different times to different magnitudes of inspiration, after all.


So if you find that atrophy has set in and hope to recover not only your mojo, but go to a greater level of creativity and productivity, think in terms of mulching your creative beds for your next planting season.

As it happens, I plopped four bags of commercial soil onto my black mulch, cut the tops open, then planted each bag with cold crop vegetables such as arugula, Kweik organic lettuce, endive, pak choy and broccolini. Oh, and I threw a few seeds of Misato Rose radishes and boro beets in for good measure. Next year, that soil will be turned into what lies beneath to further enrich the soil. Yum.
So I encourage you, too, to turn to the sources that feed your soul and makes it fertile. It beats atrophy every time. And if a puppy helps you along your way, why not?

Soundings, Water Elemental

LaunchFebruary 27, 2015
The big day is here.

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