Chatting with

January 10 2023 - I just got off a video meeting with reps of This company is developing an AI engine which they hope to market as a utility that will condense the content of business meetings and documents into short, concise, highly readable summaries with a high "signal to noise ratio." That last is one of their favorite catch-phrases.

They wanted to talk to me because I was "the number one user" of their Storytell Chat program. But instead of using it to condense business transcripts, I was treating it as a research assistant.

I first heard of AI Chat programs from reading an article about Chat GPT, and watching a Youtube presentation on the same subject. Immediately after that, I visited google and searched for an email interface to Chat GPT. appeared in one of the top search results and I began peppering it with questions and requests.

Some of these questions were for my work as a writer. I'm currently writing a story that takes place on the moon. If an object on the moon is dropped from a height of forty meters, how fast is it moving when it hits the surface? This was one of the first questions I asked

Not only did it tell me the object would be traveling at thirty three miles an hour, but it also provided the formula for the calculation, and mentioned that the moons gravity was one sixth that of Earths.

Not bad. But before you think of the AI as a source of infallable information, consider the following scenario.

I asked Chat to write a review of The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway. It produced a competent review of the story that would have earned any high schooler a solid B minus, unless the teacher figured he or she cribbed it from an AI, in which case they'd get an F.

But I wanted to see if I could improve the performance, so I asked for another review of the story, but this time mention the limes and shrimp that the old man, Santiago, fixated on so much during the story.

Well, to make a long story short, Chat flunked American Lit 101. It totally made up a scene where Santiago threw limes at the sharks to drive them away. It also described how he baited his hooks with the shrimp rather than eating them raw and unseasoned. Which is why he bemoaned the lack of a lime in the first place.

When I asked the Storytell reps about this behavior, they suggested that the AI was doing its best to make me happy by providing a mention of the specific items I requested.

So as the name of their company warns, Chat is not above creating fiction to fill in its knowledge gaps. Something to keep in mind.

However, when you ask it the right question Chat is very good at providing specific, well defined information. When I asked it how big the engine of a 1966 Mustang convertible was, how many cylinders, and its top speed, it came right back with a 4.7 liter engine with 8 cylinders and a top speed of 118 mph.

But Chat falls flat on less well defined questions. When asked approximately how many cars would be in a mile long line of cars at a roadblock, Chat was stumped. But it was able to tell me that the length of an average American car was between sixteen and eighteen feet, and that the average distance between cars at roadblocks was ten to fifteen feet. So the solution was there once you asked the right questions.

One of the more interesting questions the reps asked me was if I used Chat to try to generate plots or narrative development.

I told them no. That's my job. I used Chat purely as a research assistant. And a faster, harder working, more eager to please research assistant you will be hard put to find.

Just take what Chat says with several grains of salt. And maybe a lime.

Send a comment

Dead Reckoning by Mike Blakely

December 05 2022 - This little gem of a book defies being categorized as a pure western. True, it takes place in the Old West, but it's part crime thriller, part spiritual quest, part coming of age, part romance, with a bit of supernatural and mystical elements thrown in just to spice up the mix.

A lawman is murdered by a con man he is transporting to prison. An abused bride knocks out her drunken husband with a frying pan and runs away. A nun from a destitute village sees a vision of a blazing white cross. A gun-slinging preacher is hired to lead a band of Religious Pilgrims across the continental divide. And a young greenhorn Easterner heads west with twenty pounds of gold sewn into his coat.

Does all this sound too complicated? Fear not. You're in good hands with this author who delivers a page turning tale of murder, greed, love, revenge, hope and redemption, all in less tha weekend's worth of reading.

But what else would you expect from the author who gave us Shortgrass Song?

This is an excellent read. Give it a try.

Send a comment

Pay Attention, Carter Jones by Gary D. Schmidt

September 27 2022 - Carter Jones looks forward to his first day of sixth grade quite as much as his three sisters look forward to theirs in the second, third and fifth respectively. Which is to say, not at all.

Chaos reigns supreme in the Jones' house as Carter's mother attempts to deal with spoiled milk, dog barf on the laundry, and hair disasters. And under all this drama, everyone mourns the recent death of Carter's younger brother and misses their father, deployed overseas in the army.

In the middle of all this first-day-of-school chaos, there is a knock at the door. And so appears Mr. Bowles-Fitzpatrick, a butler, or as he prefers, a gentleman's gentleman, previously in the employ of Carter's never seen and now deceased grandfather. Thanks to an endowment in the grandfather's will, Mr. Bowles-Fitzpatrick now works for them.

Carter neither needs nor wants a butler, he's an American kid! Even less does he want to arrive at school in a purple Bentley, but the family car chooses that day to die. So there you are.

Thus begins the story of Mr. Bowles-Fitzpatrick and Carter Jones as they struggle to come to terms with each other and their vastly different views on everything from behavior, to food, to language.

As Mr. Bowles-Fitzpatrick helps Carter learn to cope with his brother's loss, his dad's absence, and the importance of speaking in full sentences, he employs an unusual teaching aid: the ancient and noble game of cricket.

This story will make you laugh and cry, it will make you realize the importance of good decisions, it will help you remember who you are, and it might even give you an appreciation of the game of cricket.

This book is well worth the time to read, and you will remember the characters long after you finish the last page.

Send a comment

A Warm Fuzzy For ICETEROID!

May 27 2021 - My novel, ICETEROID, won first prize for a middle grade novel in the 2021 Tassy Walden Awards For New Voices in Children's Literature. Needless to say, I am thrilled. The Tassy Walden awards are sponsored by the Connecticut based Shoreline Arts Alliance.

Over the past ten years, I've written seven novels, made it to the finalist stage three times, but ICETEROID is my first win. Maybe this means I'm doing something right.

In ICETEROID, a thirteen year old asteroid belter learns of a greedy corporation's scheme to wreck his dad's ice mining business, kill his parents, and destroy the entire Belter community. Unless he and his friends can stop them in time.

Send a comment

Critique group meetings in the age of the Corona Virus

March 20 2020 - Normally my critique group meets on Monday nights. During these meetings, we all sit around a table, take turns reading our latest chapters, and giving each other the benefit of our combined wisdom. Or at least as much of it as they can stand. The whole process takes two hours.

But because of Corona Virus caution, last Monday we tried to have a tele-meeting of the critique group using Google Hangout.

At first it was a fiasco because of choppy sound, people with non-working microphones, problems logging in, vacuum cleaner noises over the audio channel, and so forth, and so on. After about an hour and a half, just as the whole sorry experiment was about to collapse into an unmitigated disaster, the system finally seemed to be working.

Since Anneliese promoted the Google Hangout idea, Kay suggested she read first. Unfortunately Anneliese's laptop was so overtaxed with running her Google Hangout client, she couldn't open her computer files.

Then Kay turned to Mim to read. But her microphone wasn't working. So no one could hear her. And I was using my wife's computer to access Google Hangout and would have had to disconnect my bluetooth audio streamer and reconnect it to my own computer's screen reader to email my chapters to someone besides Mim. Who couldn't read them for me because her microphone wasn't working.

Did I say the system seemed to be working? This is relatively speaking.

At last Rob read his ten page chapter, got our critiques, and that left us with six minutes. So Judith passed on trying to read anything. And we'll try again next Monday. Hopefully with all the technical and procedural glitches resolved beforehand.

Send a comment

My Top Three Summer Reading Picks

July 15 2018 - Over the past few months I've read several middle grade novels. Here are the three which stood out for me. I recommend them as great summer reading for kids and kids at heart.

See You in the Cosmos by Jack Cheng

Any kid who builds his own working rocket and names his dog Carl Sagan has got to have the right stuff. And Alex will need it all as he tries to travel on his own, except for Carl Sagan, to an out of state rocketry event where he plans to launch his rocket carrying a iPad with his oral journal.

Along the way, Alex makes new friends, and discovers secrets, both painful and joyful, about his family.

The Last Gargoyle by Paul Durham

After Penhallo's two best friends are killed, he is the last Grotesque (please don't call him a gargoyle) in Boston. As Penhallo tries to solve his friends' murders and protect the residents of his building, he is aided by a mysterious girl who not only sees him for what he really is, but seems to know more about Penhallo than he knows about himself. But can he trust her? Or is she in league with the deadly evil that threatens all of Boston?

This is a great read, filled with mystery, danger, magic and heroism.

The Queen's Poisoner by Jeff Wheeler

Owen is going to die. At least that is the most likely outcome when his father makes a deadly political choice and earns the disfavor of the king.

Now Owen is a hostage in the king's court with enemies, both young and old on every side. His only friend seems to be a mysterious woman who lives secretly in the castle and travels through its hidden passages. But how trustworthy is someone who admits to being a skilled poisoner in the service of the exiled queen?

Trustworthy or not, Owen has nowhere else to turn if he is going to save his family. And himself.

This is an exciting read that keeps you rooting for Owen as he threads his way through the traps and pitfalls of his new life at the King's court.

Send a comment

You Can't Make This Stuff Up!

October 20 2017 - I just finished my novel Reentry late in September. Reentry is a middle grade novel about a group of kids and their adventures aboard the new International Space Station.

My manuscript had gone through multiple revisions, edits, and was finally in good enough shape to start sending out queries to agents.

Or so I thought when I began the process of vetting my agent list, putting together query packages and sending them off starting on October 10th.

Everything was going fine. I was sure some lucky agent out there would love the plot, the ensemble cast of international students, and my main character, a geeky, socially awkward kid named Harvey Weinstein.


Yes. I know. I should have vetted the name more thoroughly. At the very least I should have paid more attention to the news.

Well, I didn't. So a huge bunch of queries went out with my main character's name sticking out like a cow pie on a wedding cake.

In a panic, I immediately changed his name to Calvin Steinbaum. Not that this had any effect on the queries I'd already sent.

A few days later I faced my critique group, and after their laughter had died down to a low roar, I showed them the name change. My critique group didn't think much of this name. Really, Calvin doesn't have nearly the same geek factor as Harvey.

In the end I kept his first name Harvey, but changed the last name to Leventhal. So if there are any Harvey Leventhals out there, please behave yourselves.

Send a comment

Wake of the Perdido Star is one Great Rip Roaring Adventure.

July 27 2017 - This fast paced historical novel by Gene Hackman and Daniel Lenihan takes us to the early eighteen hundreds United States where we meet seventeen year old Jack O'Reilly. Jack, the son of an Irish father and a Cuban mother, witnesses the murder of his parents when he accompanies them to Cuba to reclaim his mother's inheritance.

Barely surviving the murderous assault with his own life, Jack escapes to stow away on the Perdido Star, and begins a seafaring adventure filled with villains, storms, shipwreck, piracy, and some truly marvelous descriptions of nineteenth century deep sea diving technology.

Jack's search for revenge is the driving force in his year and a half long voyage. But his growing maturity and wisdom is the saving grace of this often violent, but always fascinating page turner of a yarn.

What first caught my attention about this book was one of the authors, Gene Hackman. Yes, that Gene Hackman, the Academy nominated actor from The French Connection.

But what kept me reading was the spot on description of the people and their times, plus the fascinating descriptions of how early eighteen hundreds seamen performed underwater salvage, exploration, and even warfare.

This story is one I'll definitely remember.

Send a comment



Writing Inspiration Image


March 10 2024 - Why are the grasslands turning into a swamp? Where have all the mammoths gone? And how will Minnow ever earn his true hunter's name? Find out in my short story, Dwindling, published this month in Starship Sofa.

Send a comment

Europan Dance

August 10 2023 - My latest flash fiction story Europan Dance, about our first contact with the inhabitants of the sea beneath Europa's ice covered ocean, appears this month in Sci-Fi Shorts.

Send a comment

Icemelt a Finalist

March 09 2023 - My short story, Icemelt, is a finalist in the 2023 Jim Baen Memorial Short Story Award.

Started in 2007, this annual competition celebrates stories focused on near future space exploration.

Send a comment

My Puff Piece in the North Haven Courier

May 09 2022 - Here is a write-up I received in the North Haven Courier, my local paper, after winning first place in the 2021 Tassy Walden Awards.

Send a comment

My Books


In Iceteroid, thirteen-year-old Asteroid Belter Jase Bailey has just started to work in his dad's ice mining company. Struggling to keep up with the older ice jocks, he worries that one of his frequent screw-ups will destroy the fragile two kilometer wide iceteroid they are constructing to sell to the lunar colonies.

When a freak explosion ruptures another ice jock's space suit, Jase's quick thinking saves his teammate'slife, but now Jase is suddenly thrust into the middle of spies, sabotage, and an unscrupulous corporation's deadly plot to destroy his family, friends, and the entire independent Belter community.

The first draft of Iceteroid was completed in 2012. After many revisions, it won first place in the Connecticut-wide 2021 Tassy Walden Awards for New Voices in Children's Literature in the middle grade novel category.


Causeway, my second novel, is a young adult science fiction mystery that follows a group of teenagers investigating a mysterious drowning when they work as summer engineering interns aboard the trans-Atlantic causeway project.

Causeway was a Finalist in the 2014 Tassy Walden competition.

Eyes of the Beholder

Eyes of the Beholder, a speculative middle grade adventure, tells how a blind boy rescues a genetically enhanced puppy who lets him see through her eyes, and with help from his friends defeats a villainous security guard who wants to steal the puppy and sell her to the highest bidder.

Eyes of the Beholder was a Finalist in the 2015 Tassy Walden competition.


Upgrades is a young adult speculative adventure. In this tale, a boy who loves exploring the desert around his home discovers that a secretive research facility is performing illegal experiments on imprisoned kids to give them enhanced physical powers, but at a great cost. Now he must help them escape or he could share their fate.

Upgrades was a finalist in the 2016 Tassy Walden competition.

Quantum Ghost

Quantum Ghost is a speculative middle grade tale about a girl who after years of hiding that she can talk to ghosts, finally reveals the truth, only to have the government intervene and a corrupt bureaucrat try to use her abilities for his personal gain.

Quantum Ghost was completed in 2017.


Reentry, a middle grade science fiction adventure, tells how a shy but brilliant eighth grade boy and five other kids in the first Students In Space mission are marooned aboard the crippled International Space Station after surviving a terrorist attack.

With the adult station crew dead and launch facilities on Earth disabled, they must use all their ingenuity and the wrecked stations remaining resources to save themselves before their air runs out.

The first draft of Reentry was completed in 2018.


Stormherd, a middle grade science fiction thriller, tells how three friends who live in the Washington, D.C. area foil an eco-terrorist plot to take over the United States' weather control satellites and crash a giant hurricane into the nation's capitol.

The first draft of Stormherd was completed in 2020.

The Iron Signet

In The Iron Signet, a middle grade fantasy, a woods-smart orphan boy stumbles across a mysterious girl hiding in the forest, nearly hands her over to her villainous pursuers, and ends up helping her escape before the would-be-kidnappers can use her and her magic signet to betray her grandfather, the King.