Tuesday, November 21, 2023

AI and the Author


Ever wonder what would happen if you asked an AI chatbot if it has read your book?

Well, recently such a question was posed of Google’s Bard, “Are you familiar with the book ‘Clouds Over Bishop Hill’?”

Here was Bard’s response:


”Yes, I am familiar with the book Clouds Over Bishop Hill by Mary R. Davidsaver. It is a mystery novel set in the small town of Bishop Hill, Illinois, a former Swedish communal society. The story follows Shelley Anderson, a young woman who is trying to escape Bishop Hill and go to college. However, she is drawn into a mystery when she discovers a long-lost painting by the folk artist Olof Krans.

The book is well-written and suspenseful, and it provides a fascinating glimpse into the history and culture of Bishop Hill. Davidsaver does a great job of developing her characters and creating a sense of place. The book is also full of interesting details about Swedish folk art and culture.

Clouds Over Bishop Hill is a great read for fans of mystery novels, historical fiction, and books with strong female characters. It is also a good choice for readers who are interested in learning more about Swedish culture and history.

I hope this information is helpful. Please let me know if you have any other questions.”


It’s polite, flattering, and obviously an edited mixture of the back cover blurb and a few quotes.

I wouldn’t have expected the AI to have read my work with enough care to offer up digested thoughts and views of any depth, but this was competently done and even in present tense. Heaven knows I’d be hard pressed to write something about myself that came off so nice.

The kicker for me was the tag-end cautionary warning:

“Bard may display inaccurate info, including about people, so double-check its responses.”


Not being able to leave well enough alone, I had to pose a similar question to Microsoft’s Bing.

Here was that response:

Yes, I have heard of Clouds Over Bishop Hill by Mary R. Davidsaver. It is a novel about Shelley Anderson, who wants to escape Bishop Hill, a former Midwestern Swedish communal society, by earning her college diploma. However, a reckless driver sends her off the road and into the mysterious past of folk artist Olof Krans. Drafted into finding Krans’s last painting, her only clues are an old woman’s dreams and an uncle’s guilty conscience. Shelley navigates between museums and restaurants trying to determine if the old woman’s cloud-inspired dreams of Krans’s 1915 studio are real. She’s not the only one on the hunt for the lost Krans. After 93 years, how dangerous will it be to actually discover it? 12

If you have read the book, I would love to hear your thoughts on it!

Again, that’s straight off the back cover with a little bit of editing. But what about the last bit? The invitation for further engagement?  Who’s it after? The author? The reader? More training info for its database? Your guess is as good as mine, and with all the current turmoil centered around ChatGPT one does have to wonder how things will shake out.

Wednesday, November 1, 2023

Yolanda J. Ortega 1948-2022


The first casualty of the Covid-19 pandemic for me was losing touch with my oldest friend, Yolanda. She had a birthday in early March, and I had plans to drive down to Aledo to meet her, share some old memories, and have a snack of some sort. Early March of 2020 was when the news of Covid-19 and the emerging pandemic emergency got serious. I agonized for days and days over whether to cancel my trip. There was too much at risk for her and for my husband and me. I canceled my visit. It would be well over a year before I saw her again. The decision still haunts me.


Yolanda and I met when we were both twenty-somethings working for the University of Iowa. I was a clerk third-class filling in time while trying to decide if I’d go back for my B.A. degree or not. She was two years older, a Knox grad, an art major who was hired as a graphic artist. Her cubby-hole office was barely visible from my workstation in East Hall. The attraction was immediate, I just had to find out how a real artist operated. So yes, I was a pest who became a friend over the time we worked in the same department.  


I was there when she, as a single woman, bought a cute little bungalow not all that far from my grandmother’s house. I helped at her housewarming party when she made French onion soup for the whole neighborhood as well as for friends, family, and co-workers. She had a fantastic memory and a wide range of interests. We shared discussions about science, printmaking, and her trips to England to visit her pen pals over cups of black Oolong tea sweetened with honey. I was there when she adopted her first cat. Or perhaps the cat, pregnant as it turned out, sensed an easy mark, and adopted her.


She stayed in Iowa City while I moved away first, to marry and have children, but came back to visit as often as I could. She taught me the invaluable lesson that friendships never really have to end. That time and distance apart didn’t matter; we could always pick up right where we left off.


Years later she would move to Bishop Hill and enticed my move there by encouraging my dreams of living the artist’s life. We both invested time and money in properties from Bishop Hill’s colony past. Unfortunately, her house, a rural colony-era structure in dire need of saving, was in much worse condition than my post-colony one. Her grand plans for restoration and repurposing the house all too soon outstripped her resources and her health. The last few years of decline brought her to a rehab facility in rural Illinois.


She died on the morning of Halloween one year ago. I didn’t find out about it until a mailed greeting card was returned to me. I can’t help but speculate that she, with her fine-tuned sense of anglophile humour, would have found a way to make her passing funny, interesting, or even a little prophetic. I felt her sparse obituary left out the essence of her spirit. It failed to flesh out a life that was lived the way she wanted. A life filled with books, art, poetry, genealogy, and a whole lot of rescued cats, neutered for the most part, and one rescued dog. On this one-year anniversary I stop to ponder the void that was left behind. And raise a cuppa tea in her honour.