Book Review Roundup

Book Reviews for Hamnet, The Sentence, Happy Place, The Girls with No Names and The Magnolia Palace

I’m very overdue on sharing reviews for the books I’ve recently read. You can check out most of them over on Instagram @jessicamaffetoreauthor. But here is a quick roundup of some that I haven’t had a chance to do a full review on:

The Sentence by Louise Erdrich

Tookie, an Ojibwe Minnesota bookstore clerk and former convict, is haunted by the ghost of Flora, a frequent but annoying bookstore customer. Trying to understand why Flora’s ghost won’t leave the store is only one of the troubling things on Tookie’s mind as the world shuts down with COVID, race riots break out across the country, and she struggles to come to terms with her past.

Happy Place by Emily Henry

Harriet and ex-fiance Wyn haven’t told their best friends they broke up months ago. Now they’ve agreed to fake it for one last week for their friends’ sake at their favorite place–the Maine cottage where they’ve all made so many great memories. Neither of them want to admit they didn’t want to break up in the first place. What could go wrong?

The Girls with No Names by Serena Burdick

Young women who “misbehaved” in the early 1900’s may have found themselves sent to institutions like the House of Mercy in Manhattan. While there, they would have been forced to work, live and learn proper behavior under terrible conditions. Effie Tildon is convinced her older sister Luella has been sent to the House of Mercy after she disappears following an argument with their parents. Effie devises a brave plan to get herself admitted in order to save her sister, but everything goes horribly wrong. Now Effie must find a way to save herself.

Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell

Agnes, a mysterious, free-spirited woman, marries and has three children–Susanna, Hamnet and Judith. Her beloved son is taken by illness at the age of eleven and Agnes is overcome with grief. Her husband pulls further and further away from the family, frequently traveling to London to write plays and act on the stage while Agnes remains home caring for the girls and grieving their son. Until one day she hears that her husband has written a play that sounds so much like their son’s name that she must go see what he has written for the world to see…

The Magnolia Palace by Fiona Davis

Former model Lillian Carter leaves everything she has behind after being swept up in a scandal that threatens to ruin her. Lillian takes the first opportunity she accidentally stumbles into–a job working as the private secretary for the daughter of steel tycoon and art collector, Henry Clay Frick. She only plans to stay long enough for the scandal to pass. But Lillian is drawn deep into a life of priceless art, family drama, and the mystery of a missing jewel that is still unsolved decades later.

Read anything good lately? I love suggestions! Let me know what to read next 🙂

News, news and more news!

The latest update on Eleanora

The old news

A few months ago I shared that my publisher had delayed the release of my debut novel, Eleanora, for the second time, moving it from the original release date of Fall 2022 to Spring 2023. To make a VERY long story short, they did not make that new deadline. The publisher continued to experience a number of concerning issues and could not commit to a release timeline for my book, nor for the books of their many other authors. When things failed to improve over the spring and summer I decided to move on. It was a difficult choice, but the right one for me. I was reluctant to share any news on the situation as I was holding out hope that they would come through and honor their committments. In the end, it wasn’t to be.

Starting over

While parting ways with my publisher put me back at the beginning of the publishing process, I was starting from a different place than the first time I set out to get a book published. I’ve learned a lot of helpful information over the past few years that made this next round of submissions not quite as daunting. I’ve connected with many amazing authors and seen their success first-hand. I’ve learned how to talk about my book, what to look for in a publisher, how to write a better query letter, and what things are important when it comes to trying to get your book out into the world. This knowledge, along with a great deal of luck made this do-over a lot less painful than I feared it would be. Luckily for me, the stars aligned and, for what seemed like the first time in a long time, things went my way.

The good news

I began querying new publishers over the summer and within a few weeks several of them had requested to review the full manuscript. This was not only unexpected (despite the above stated optimism!), but a huge relief after the disappointment of leaving my last publisher. Even so, I tried to manage my expectations and put it out of my mind since manuscript reviews can often take several months.

However, a few weeks later, I am overjoyed to say, I received and accepted an offer of publication from Black Rose Writing.

The countdown begins

I want to thank my amazing friends, family and supporters who continued to check in and ask about the book over the past two years. Trust me when I say that I know it’s been a TERRIBLY long wait. The best news is that the big day is now within sight. I am over the moon to announce that Eleanora will be available….

September 5, 2024!

Stay tuned for the pre-sale date!

Outsmarting AI: Will artificial intelligence write the next bestseller?

(Disclaimer: AI did not write this blog post, but it probably could have)
Outsmarting AI: will artificial intelligence write the next bestseller?
Can AI replace writers, or does robot writing lack humanity?

Everyone everywhere seems to be jumping on the AI bandwagon. Many are convinced that it’s taking over as THE content creation way of the future. The general consensus is that artificial intelligence tools are replacing writers, musicians and other artists as the better, faster creators of pretty much everything, from digital art, to music, to sales emails, to advertisements, to news articles, and more.

Having played around with ChatGPT for creating copy, Canva’s text-to-image tool and a few others, I have to admit their output is pretty impressive. Given the right prompts, AI tools can turn out some decent results and be a significant time saver. 

When it comes to written material, I was surprised at what these non-human brains were producing. I assumed they would come in most handy for creating fact-based content that could easily be scraped and compiled from multiple on-line sources. But AI tools don’t hesitate to also grab opinions, guesses, and approximations. These are mixed and meshed together inextricably with facts to create quasi-opinions of their own. They aren’t exactly forming new ideas, just slightly reformed ones, like throwing a bunch of leftovers from several different meals into a frying pan, sprinkling on some cheese and calling it dinner. Does it taste good? Maybe so, but it’s not exactly cooking.

Novel ideas

Some are now suggesting that AI has advanced to where it’s capable of writing full length works of fiction. While not surprising considering the direction AI has gone, it’s still a sad and scary thought, especially for authors. The majority of authors, despite achieving the goal of publication, still struggle to sell books in an over saturated market. According to a publishing industry analyst, “only 6.7 percent of the new titles released by [the 10 largest publishers are] selling more than 10,000 copies in their first year of sales.” And that’s not even taking into consideration the many small publishers putting out volumes of quality books every year. 

Being a New York Times best seller is reserved for the very few. The rest are left to toot their own horns, manage their own promotion, and market their own books. The number they sell is often dependent solely on the author’s own efforts. The idea of a nameless, faceless, all-powerful, cost-effective competitor coming onto the scene with the ability to craft the next best seller in a matter of minutes is sooooo depressing. But is it a real threat? Even if AI isn’t quite able to actually churn out the 50k or so words needed to make a novel, chances are it’s close and getting closer. The question is, will it be good enough that anyone will want to read it? 

The ins and outs

The trick with AI tools is that, like with oh-so-many other things, the quality of the output gets better in relation to the quality of the input. Fine-tuning the input, or the prompts that are fed into an AI tool, takes time and practice. In order for an AI tool to create something as lengthy and complex as a novel, the prompt would need to be extraordinarily detailed. “Write a mystery book” certainly wouldn’t cut it. Even “Write a full-length mystery book that takes place in a London art museum in the year 2023 with a female main character that has elements of espionage, cyber crime and politics,” likely wouldn’t quite do it either. It’s just too vague for AI to work with. The input would need to be far more specific. And someone has to write it. 

Side note: Could AI create the outline, which could, once approved, then be fed back into itself to write the book? Maybe so–time will tell.

Even when the prompt is right, a number of iterations may be required before the tool delivers what the user is looking for. Subsequently, the content will also likely need editing. Whether it’s a word or two or a more thorough line-by-line editing, chances are the output won’t be exactly the style or tone that was intended. So, a certain amount of human intervention will be needed. 

After the prompt is written and input, the content is created and approved, and the material has been fine-tuned and edited, can we still say that AI has written the book? Again, maybe so, with a human editor or producer in the credits. It would still be faster and cheaper, and without the added weight of human authors slowing down the process. All things that would be appealing to the business side of the publishing industry.

Heroes and humans

They say never to meet your heroes. There’s something about the human behind the hero that’s destined to let you down. But ask any avid reader if they’d like to meet their favorite author and they’d line up, books in hand. Why? Because a great story goes beyond what’s written on the page. Hence the world of fan fiction, fan art, screenplays, movie adaptations, Halloween costumes, sequels, series, and so on. Great fiction creates whole worlds and characters and ideas that a reader can interpret, dream about, and fall in love with. And the minds that create these works of art are fascinating to readers. 

What could be better than the opportunity to know the person who wrote the characters, the worlds, or the stories that have been so meaningful to you? To ask where the ideas came from? Or if there is hidden meaning in the color of a dress? If a character is truly evil or only misunderstood? Or how the author could have possibly let your favorite character die?? 

Chances are, the answers to these questions will not be exactly what you are hoping for. 

The idea just came to me. 

What did the color of the dress mean to you? 

The character is both a little evil AND a little misunderstood. 

And killing that character made the story more dramatic. (Sorry, we do that!) 

Because, yeah, authors are human. And writing a book is far from a perfect process. Even a fantastic, beautifully written work of literature will have moments of imperfection or banality upon which meaning is placed much later.

I would argue that the author’s humanity–our imperfect life experience that finds its way into our writing, our misunderstandings and ambiguity that leave room for interpretation–is the best part. 

Things we lost to the robots

There are Easter eggs throughout my writing. My book, Eleanora, is full of real pieces of my life that (I hope!) add an authenticity that I don’t think any artificial intelligence tool ever could. There are actual physical experiences, emotional memories, funny moments and tiny details I have lived through that, while not necessarily comprising the main plot points of the story, flesh out the realness of the characters and setting in a way that gives it texture and truth. 

Can a computer describe the pain of depression like a human who has experienced it? Or include the subtle social nuances of an awkward conversation between two people both hiding something from each other? Will the electric atmosphere of a terror-filled moment ever be accurately captured by a machine that can’t feel? Will an AI written story ever contain a timeless character that evokes as much emotion as Elizabeth Bennet? Scarlet O’Hara? What about Sherlock Holmes or Gatsby or Harry Potter? Hard to imagine.

Final chapter

Despite the predictions, despite the incredible power and intelligence of these tools, I don’t see the threat as anything bigger than the many others authors already face. Are we in for AI generated, somewhat palatable, yet mostly forgettable mass market fiction? Maybe. Unique, soulful books you can’t put down and which live in your head long after you’ve finished them? I don’t think so. Without a human bringing real life to the words, the connection will never be the same.

The end.

View More