Thursday, August 31, 2023

Artificial Intelligence, Part Two

 Last Friday I ranted about artificial intelligence. That post was written several weeks ago, its publication postponed due to other, more time-sensitive pieces. (Sleuthfest and the launch of The Spread.) In the interim I was alerted to an article titled, “I was fired by a client for using AI. I'm not going to stop because it's doubled my output, but I'm more clear about how I use it,” by Tina Sendin, which, if nothing else, shows she’s badly in need of a title editor. I gave her article a read to see if Ms. Sendin had thought of anything I missed in last week’s post. Her piece is a little under a thousand words, and I realize not all of you have the time, so I’ll digest it:


Ms. Sendin works full-time in marketing, and part-time as a freelance writer. A long-time client came to her with more work than Ms. Sendin could do in the time allotted. In her own words, “Since I couldn't clone myself, I tried what I thought would be the next best thing: I used AI…. Jasper did most of the work and I did minimal editing. AI lost me a longtime client.”


To which I say, “You go, client!”


Ms. Sendin continues:

“I learned a valuable lesson the hard way — AI is a tool, not something that should replace you.”




“Looking back, I know things weren't right when I was letting AI do the work and not communicating this to my client.”


She should have known “things weren’t right” when she “[let] AI do the work.” Failure to communicate that to her client wasn’t the crime; it was the cover-up.


Having seen the error of her ways, Ms. Sendin now discusses her use of AI with prospective clients before starting work. She claims she no longer uses AI to write the draft, only to “enhance” it by “using the paragraph generator to expand a sentence into a paragraph,” among other things.


She might want to consider getting into political consultancy, as she appears to have at least a Master’s Degree in obfuscation. “Using the paragraph generator to expand a sentence into a paragraph” is not “enhancing” the draft. It’s writing significant portions of it.


Among her other dodges:


“I use AI to give me ideas on sources and statistics.” Or, as we used to say back in the day, “research.”


“AI helps with the tone of voice and brand voice.” In other words, “the hard part.”


“AI helps with condensing large volumes of text.” Also known as “editing.” (Some of which would have helped her title.)


“AI has cut my writing time in half.” Goddamn right. She’s doing less than half as much writing, since it takes her half as much time and AI is doing a goodly portion of that. Hopefully that “level of effort” on her part is reflected in her rates.


“AI still scares me sometimes, but early adopters of new technology have historically reaped more rewards than punishments.”


Writers have always been our own worst enemies. We work for peanuts because we will. Publishers take advantage because they can. You don’t like it, there are a hundred others who’d love to have us screw them the way we’re screwing you, if not worse.


Now we have writers who think they’ll get ahead of the game by using AI. It’s not unlike athletes using steroids. Steroids don’t allow you to do things you couldn’t do before; they just allow you to “enhance” your physique so you can do better than you could have done without them. It’s still cheating.


I realize this is a “Get off my lawn” post. So be it. This is the hill I’m willing to die on as a writer.


(Full disclosure: I used Word’s “Check Document” function to proofread this piece before posting, after Word read it aloud to me. Everything prior to the reading and proof is all mine.)






Thursday, August 24, 2023

Artificial Intelligence

 (Full disclosure: I use what some might consider artificial intelligence at times in my writing, by which I mean the text-to-speech, Check Document, and Dictate features in Microsoft Word. I use them to compensate for some of my vision issues when proofreading and notetaking.


The Beloved Spouse™ and I also have Alexas all over the house. They are mostly quite useful, especially in setting timers and alarms, and occasionally answering questions when I’m too lazy to look something up. Alexa is also a pain in the ass, and shows signs of what we call “artificial dementia. I’ve given up asking her to turn lights on and off.)


I have no firsthand experience with this, but a trusted friend told me there are places that now review AI-generated writing. The Facebook post asked what his friends thought of this.


My reply: I cannot conceive of any circumstance under which I'd read a book even partially written with AI, so I obviously have no reason to want to see reviews.


Anyone who uses artificial intelligence as part of their creative process is not a writer. What are they? Off the top of my head I come up with charlatan, shirker, cheat, lazy. This is someone who cares more about getting over than creation. A person who takes less pride in accomplishment than in passing something off as their accomplishment. An untrustworthy, dishonest, con artist who is only interested in what he can get from writing than in investing something of himself to enhance the craft. This is worse than plagiarism, as plagiarists at least take the time to find what they rip off.


Writing with AI is like giving someone else money to buy the ingredients, hiring a different person to make the cake, then taking credit for the end result. It’s hitting a baseball off a tee, then claiming Justin Verlander is your bitch. It’s running a 5K on a Segway. You’re the man with a two-inch erection who, when asked by his potential lover who he intends to satisfy with that, says, “Me.” All you care about is what you can get from it.


Artificial intelligence will be able to do many wonderful things. It may also take over and make the Terminator scenario look like a Labor Day picnic. What it cannot be allowed to do is replace what makes humans human.


In the Dune novels, Frank Herbert creates the Orange Catholic Bible. One of its tenets is “Thou shalt not make a machine in the likeness of a human mind.” I am by no means a religious person, but this is good advice. I don’t want to see Commander Datas or Blade Runner replicants roaming the Earth, no matter how hot Joanna Cassidy was. There should never be a dilemma of conscience when debating whether to turn off a machine.


Most important, turning off the machine should always be a human choice.


AI and robot technology can remove tedious and dangerous tasks from the human to-do list, freeing us to explore and embrace more of what humans might be capable of if not bound by those tasks. To use AI in a creative act denies what it is that makes us human by saying a machine can do everything we do, and acting like that’s a good thing.


I have no interest in reading a novel or a short story or even a reference book written with AI. I have no desire to see a motion picture created through AI. I see no joy in replicants or androids or whatever they will be called playing sports or performing music or dancing.


I applaud and encourage all efforts to promote diversity among humans. There’s a line. Nothing should ever blur the line between what is human and what is not.



Thursday, August 17, 2023

Hugh Lessig, Author of Fadeaway Joe

 Hugh Lessig spent more than 30 years as an award-winning newspaper reporter, covering everything from city council meetings to the earthquake in Haiti. Along the way, he’s met people at the highs and lows of life, interviewed accused murderers and governors, welders and lawyers, and old men who fought our nation’s wars. Born in eastern Pennsylvania, he moved to Hampton Roads, Virginia in 1997.


Hugh’s short stories have appeared in Thuglit, Shotgun Honey, Crime Factory and Needle, as well as the following anthologies: Mickey Finn 21st Century Noir, Volumes I and II; Groovy Gumshoes: Private Eyes in the Psychedelic Sixties and Guns & Tacos. Fadeaway Joe is his first novel.


One Bite at a Time: Welcome to One Bite at a Time, Hugh. This is your first visit, so I’ll be gentle. Your new book, Fadeaway Joe, drops August 22 from Crooked Lane. Tell us a little about the book.


Hugh Lessig: First off, thanks for being gentle. I am a fellow Pennsylvanian, after all.


The central character of Fadeaway Joe is Joe Pendergast, an aging bouncer and tough guy. He works for a small-time loan shark and gambling ring operator. But when Joe is diagnosed with early-stage dementia, his boss abandons him. Now Joe wants revenge, conscious of the clock ticking inside his head.


His plans are complicated through a chance meeting with Paula Jessup, a 22-year-old wisecracker on the run from labor traffickers. She’s freed a woman from the traffickers’ grip and needs protection, the kind that Joe can provide. Even with his diagnosis, Joe is not someone to mess with.


Meanwhile, Joe is having a hard time devising a revenge strategy, other than “beat my old boss to death before I end up in a nursing home.” Not much of a plan. Paula has ton of street smarts and she’s devious. She helps Joe concoct a scheme to financially ruin his boss, which will hurt more than a right cross. They end up depending on each other.


As the story progresses, Joe finds himself worrying more about Paula’s fortunes than his own. He’s looking back at the choices he’s made. Maybe putting Paula on a path to success is more important than exacting his pound of flesh.



OBAAT: Joe Pendergast finds himself in an interesting situation. Give us a little insight into Joe and how things got this way.


HL: Joe is in his mid-60s. He has spent all his adult life working for his boss, Maxie Smith, a man he considers an older brother. The two go back to Joe’s childhood days, when Joe worked in his parents’ cut-rate store and Maxie came in, flashing cash and telling Joe to keep the change. Over the years, Joe has worked the door at Maxie’s bar, fetched his dry cleaning, mixed his martinis, and collected his debts. He’s beaten men. He’s killed. All for Maxie.


But then Joe began screwing up. He missed assignments and his collections didn’t square with what is owed. Maxie accused Joe of skimming and the two men brawl. There’s nothing quite like two tough-as-nails old men going at it with haymakers. Joe ends up in the hospital with a concussion, and tests reveal further problems that lead to the diagnosis of early-stage dementia.


As the story opens, Joe has been banished from Maxie’s operation and he’s moved back to his old neighborhood. He’s eking out a living by running a food truck.


OBAAT: Paula Jessup is an unorthodox sidekick. What’s her deal? Is she more of a help or a hindrance to Joe?


HL: At the outset, she’s a pain in the ass. Paula fancies herself a detective, which gets her in trouble. I can’t say exactly how she hooks up with Joe Pendergast, because it would give away a key point, but it comes after a bloody act on Paula’s part.


She’s also homeless, living in a vintage 1975 Chevy Nova. She is oddly fascinated by Joe’s penchant for casual violence and throws herself into developing his revenge plan. Her philosophy: Killing someone is easy. Ruining them, that’s hard.


Another thing: Paula is biracial and sports a Mohawk. Joe is a grumpy old white guy who never had kids and whose father was Klan. They have a few things to work through.


OBAAT: You’ve been around for a while as a short story writer. What made you decide to write a novel?


HL: The guardrails of a short story give me comfort. It requires economy and conciseness. Fadeaway Joe started as a piece of flash fiction in Shotgun Honey – different characters and settings, but a similar idea of cross-generational relationships in a criminal landscape. Honestly, the idea just kept expanding and I wanted to try it. (I’ve written two novels that ended up in the drawer before this one, including a science fiction novel.  So, I’m batting .333.)


OBAAT: Who do you consider to be your primary creative influences? Authors, books, movies, TV, whatever.


HL: For authors, I love the rural noir of David Joy and Daniel Woodrell. I enjoy stories set in the country or in small towns, maybe because I grew up in a tiny Slate Belt town in Pennsylvania. (Think coal town, but with slate quarries.) Elmore Leonard of course. I still love the old Black Mask Boys – Dashiell Hammet, Raymond Chandler, Frederick Nebel, Norbert Davis, and others. Those guys wrote to the end of the scene, then started another.


Currently, I’m holding high Eli Cranor, Rachel Howzell Hall, and Adrian McKinty. S.A. Cosby holds a special place. He lives about 45 minutes up the road from me in Virginia, and I interviewed him in 2018 for “My Darkest Prayer” when I was still a newspaper reporter.


OBAAT: Authors shopping their first book always want to know this, so how did you get hooked up with Crooked Lane?


HL: I wish I had a dramatic story to tell. I looked up the agents who attended Thrillerfest because I knew they were open for submissions. The list included Sara Henry, an editor at Crooked Lane. I sent a query letter to that group, tailored for agents. (“I am seeking representation for . . .”)  I really should have changed the opening line for her. But she picked that letter off the slush pile, loved it and the rest is history. She deserves a big thank-you for helping to get the story into shape.


OBAAT: The standard closing question: What’s next?


HL: It’s back to short stories for the near future. I have a story included in an anthology of private eye tales set during Prohibition. Watch for “Prohibition Peepers” in September from Down & Out Books. I also have a novella included in an upcoming series from Down & Out where every story is centered around a chop shop in Dallas. The series is called Chop Shop and my story is titled “Hunka, Hunka Burning Rubber. It features a car thief who steals a vintage Stutz from the parking lot at an Elvis Presley tribute convention.



Thursday, August 10, 2023

An Interview with Jeffrey James Higgins

 Jeffrey James Higgins has been a journalist, deputy sheriff, federal agent, writer of both fiction and non-fiction, and a restauranteur. In his copious free time he appears at conference and readings, as well as organizing writer’s events at the restaurant he and his wife operate, Elaine’s. (More on that later.) I have served on conference panels with Jeff and had drinks with him, so I speak from experience when I say he’s not only smart and articulate, but a hell of a nice guy who has that too-rare ability to make you feel like he's glad to see you, as in “you personally as opposed to anyone else.” It was a treat to get to talk with him for the blog.


One Bite at a Time: Jeffrey, welcome to One Bite at a Time. To say you’ve been around is putting it mildly. Please give us a capsule description of what you did before you got into writing fiction.

Jeffrey James Higgins: Thanks for having me as a guest. I’m a big fan of your work, and I always enjoy chatting with you at conferences. It’s an honor to be interviewed and to share my work with your readers.


I always wanted to be an author, but after working as both a newspaper reporter and editor, I took a 25-year detour into law enforcement. As a deputy sheriff, I worked in patrol, auto theft, street crimes, and the organized crime bureau. As a DEA special agent, I investigated transnational criminal groups in New York, but that changed on 9/11 when I was first to arrive at the WTC’s north tower after it collapsed. Standing in the rubble, I vowed I’d find a way to hunt terrorists. I accepted temporary assignments on the Joint Terrorism Task Force and as a liaison at the Department of Homeland Security. When DEA’s nascent Kabul Country Office opened, I became assistant country attaché and led Afghan police on operations. As a member of FAST, DEA’s international tactical team, I fought in combat with special forces and made the first narco-terrorism arrest. I spent years chasing terrorists around the world with the Special Operations Division’s Narco-Terrorism Group. I was fortunate to have the opportunity to serve my country.


OBAAT: Your books are all standalones that cover a wide range of topics:

How did your prior experience affect the creation and development of these books?

JJH: Personal experience influences the work of every writer because we view the world through lenses colored by the past. I’ve traveled to over 50 countries and fought for my life dozens of times, and I used those experiences to infuse my work with gritty realism. My published work and upcoming novels are all grounded in personal and professional experience. I understand how agents and cops behave, which tools they use to target criminals, and what it feels like to have bullets and RPGs fly over my head. All that makes my characters and plots more authentic.


OBAAT: How much of what you saw or did in your previous professional life is in these books?

JJH: My novella, Forsaken, is set in eastern Afghanistan where I spent years hunting terrorists. My protagonist is also a medic, which was my collateral duty, so the story is realistic. My protagonist in Unseen is a detective, and in two soon-to-be-published manuscripts, my protagonists are federal agents, so all of those are also rooted in my professional experience. I chased terrorists and criminals through many of the countries where I set my novels. The opening scenes in my thriller, The Forever Game, is loosely based on one of my real-life missions. That book comes out on February 29, 2024, which is a cool launch date. Even my books not involving crime or war have personal elements embedded in them, like blue-water sailing in Furious. 


OBAAT: You’re retired now, but did any of your books require vetting by the security agencies before publication?

JJH: The short answer is no. I’ve written one nonfiction book about the first narco-terrorism case, and I’m considering another book with true cop stories, but I mostly write fiction. When I describe the military or intelligence agencies in my books, I stay away from classified material, and I reveal nothing that would harm national security. I wanted to be a writer all my life, but during 25 years in law enforcement, the government prohibited me from publishing. Now that I’m retired, I appreciate my freedom to tell stories.


OBAAT: Apparently writing didn’t keep you busy enough, so you and your wife have opened a restaurant in Alexandria, VA. Tell us about Elaine’s.

JJH: Thank you for asking about it. Elaine’s serves modern Mediterranean cuisine, which is Middle Eastern with French, Greek, and Italian influences. Elaine’s offers semi-fine dining at 208 Queen Street, Alexandria, VA, one block from the Potomac River in the heart of Old Town’s Historic District. My wife, Cynthia, is a terrorism expert and an author, but she grew up in a restaurant. When she was 12 years old, she promised her grandmother she would own a restaurant and name it after her. Opening Elaine’s was one of Cynthia’s dreams, and though it took a while, she did it. Check out the beautiful decor and food at


OBAAT: You hope for Elaine’s to become more than a restaurant, especially for the writing community. What are your plans there?

JJH: Elaine’s is fast becoming the literary hub for the Washington, DC area. We offer free space to authors for book launches, interviews, signings, and readings. We also host several writing groups and will soon launch other literary events like Noir at the Bar and a monthly happy hour for mystery and thriller writers. My wife and I understand how hard it can be for new and mid-list authors to find venues to celebrate their books, so we’ve made Elaine’s a home for all writers. Authors can email me at to discuss scheduling an event.


OBAAT: What’s next on your writing agenda as things calm down after getting Elaine’s up and running?

JJH: My wife oversees Elaine’s, and I only run the literary events, which frees me up to write novels. I recently signed with a new literary agent, Jackson Keeler at Inkworks, and we’re working on a trilogy with an eye on Hollywood. I have two novels coming out with different publishers in 2024. The Forever Game is a techno-thriller and Shaking is a murder mystery. Once they’re available, I’ll post links to them on my website ( I also have a psychological suspense novel on submission, and I’m editing two new thrillers. My goal is to publish at least two books each year.    


Thursday, August 3, 2023

We Have a Winner! Well, at Least a Participant.

 The winner of the signed copy of The Spread is Ef Deal, with three points. EF and I will get together at this year’s C3 conference to make the handoff.


The answers are below:


“They’re against the wall! Skip on down.”

--Robert Redford (The Sundance Kid), Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.


“Hold up your badge. So they’ll know you’re a policeman.”

--James Cromwell (Captain Dudley Smith), L.A. Confidential.


“I was misinformed.”

--Humphrey Bogart (Rick Blaine), Casablanca


“I like talking to a man who likes to talk.”

--Sidney Greenstreet (Kasper Gutman), The Maltese Falcon


“I can’t wait for you to be dead.”

--Delroy Lindo (Bo Catlett), Get Shorty


“Come on, you lazy bastards!”

--William Holden (Pike Bishop), The Wild Bunch


“In my case, an accident of birth. But you, sir, you’re a self-made man.”

--Lee Marvin (Henry "Rico" Fardan), The Professionals


“Those guys are spending money like the Russians are in Jersey.”

--Gene Hackman (Jimmy “Popeye” Doyle), The French Connection


“in this world there's two kinds of people, my friend: Those with loaded guns and those who dig. You dig.”

--Clint Eastwood (Blondie) The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly


“That some bad hat, Harry.”

--Roy Scheider (Chief Martin Brody) Jaws