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Saturday, April 16, 2016

Blocked



What to do for writers block….
Jim hit ‘search’ and set back. He popped the top on a cold soda and munched two day old corn chips, a bit stale, but they still had a little crunch left.
He thumbed the track pad and scrolled down past the sponsored results and conglomerate article submission ‘click bait’ sites, that would all have the same four tips he’d already written in his blog  yesterday. Damn, it was exactly what he figured, anyone that knew the answer wasn’t giving it up, he clicked into his email account.
 “Block” buster, writer’s helper, never suffer from writer’s block again
Jim looked over his shoulder, it felt like someone must be watching him. He hadn’t visited a single site on the topic. He took another sip of soda and considered, it was probably a hoax, but what did he have to lose. He looked up over his desk, where he’d hung his contract and a photocopy of his advance, to remind him of what was at stake.
Jim Birdwell is the next big thing in horror, the New York Times had said about his first book, “Come and Get Me,” he’d been on every major talk show, sold over five million copies and sat across the desk from Stephen Spielberg to discuss the upcoming film his movie was being made into. So, it wasn’t much surprise when his editor was able to get him a major publishing deal for his second book.
He’d accepted the advance nearly a year ago and now he had two weeks to turn the pile of crap in his computer into a second blockbuster hit, or pay back the one million dollar advance, which was a problem, considering how quickly he’d spent the royalties from the first one.
He opened the message and followed the link to a website that looked like it was last updated during the Clinton administration. Screechy midi rock music poured from his speakers and the screen went black, with glowing purple text. A dancing animated pencil wiggled its way across the top of the header.
Jim read the description, “Block Buster is the number one writer’s aide, responsible for more number one bestsellers than James Patterson. Block Buster is a word processor, ghostwriter, editor and publishing system in one. Based on next gen AI Block Buster can generate whole stories, up to novel length, work with your outlines to create manuscripts, or fill in spaces, find story problems and suggest alternatives. In short, never get stuck again.”
The green ‘download’ button at the bottom glowed brightly. Jim paused, this would probably be a huge waste of time and he’d have even less time to fix his problem. But, then again, what did have to lose. He clicked the button, entered his credit card info and followed the install prompts.
Time for snacks while this thing loaded; Jim went to then kitchen and returned with a bowl of microwave popcorn and another soda. When he sat back down, the program had already loaded, a silver face floated in middle of his screen.
“Hey Jim, welcome back, I’m Buster and I’m reading your manuscript right now to see if I can help you. Looks like you have some workable material here. I should be ready to make some recommendations in about ten minutes,” the face’s eyes closed and it appeared as if his eyes were scanning something under their digital lens. The face’s expressions changed as he “read”.
Jim sat back and ate popcorn while he waited. Ten minutes later, Buster’s eyes opened and the face smiled. “The fix is very simple, would you like to look at my notes, or do you trust me to adapt the required changes?”
Jim grinned, he wondered how bad it would be. He knew he had copies of his work saved on several cloud services and he had a hard copy of the completed manuscript up to this point, what could it hurt, “So, your changes would be reversible?” He asked.
“If you’d like to see my notes, select notes, if you want me to proceed with my recommendations, select the proceed option. If you have further questions, or need other assistance, please type your request in the text box at the bottom of the screen. I can’t hear you Jim, don’t be ridiculous.”
Jim laughed to himself, whoever had put this software together had a sense of humor, he gave them that.
Can I reverse your changes once they’re made? Jim typed, then clicked ‘enter’.
“Yes, of course. You are, after all, the author,” the face said, then very deliberately winked at him.
Jim wasn’t sure how to take that. But, he had enough backups to get back to where he was now if it didn’t work out, so he chose ‘proceed’ and the face was replaced by an animated pencil, scratching across a page from left to right repeatedly. Two minutes later, the pencil was replaced by a neatly typeset page.
CHAPTER ONE, The Problem With Truth, by Jim Birdwell
There was a standard copyright notice and the manuscript of his latest novel followed. He started reading. The more he read, the more he liked it. It was his story, his characters, his words, but he didn’t remember it being this good. He caught a few changes here and there, but most of the corrections were so subtle, he had to compare it to his printed version to see where they were.
He read straight through, seven hours. When he reached the last page, he finally saw which ending was best, Buster had selected all of the right parts, had even gone into other files, copied and pasted some discarded bits back in. It was amazing. He’d felt so lost, but here was proof that he had been close! It felt weird to think it, but Jim thought, “I ought to thank someone for this.”
“You’re welcome,” Buster’s face said, filling the screen once again. “I’ve taken the liberty of setting up the manuscript for printing and I’ve also set up a galley to be emailed to your editor. Would you like me to print and email now? Or, do you prefer to do it yourself.”
Continue/Let me handle it The two options popped up at the bottom of the screen. Jim scrolled over the ‘continue’ button and froze. What if he was wrong? What if it was awful, or something got screwed up in the sending? Well, he’d come this far, why not? He clicked on ‘continue’.
­­­­­­­­­­­­­­A year had passed since The Trouble With Truth had topped the bestseller list and Jim had finished two more bestselling novels with Buster’s help. He had written the bulk of the  first one and allowed Buster’s algorithm to write the second, based on his detailed outline and character descriptions. And his publisher was begging for another.
Jim sat at the computer and stared at Buster’s silver face. Was it his imagination, or had this thing taken on a decidedly smug expression? He clicked an icon at the bottom of the screen and a list of options popped up.
Upload manuscript for editing/ Write from outline/ Let Busterer handle it
He hovered over the ‘Let Busterer Handle it’ option and a small description appeared.
Blocker has learned your writing style and character building techniques well enough to craft a story in your voice. Sit back, relax and hire Buster as your personal ghostwriter.
He took another sip of brandy. He’d been drinking more lately. Every time he sat down to write, he had a sneaking suspicion that someone was going to find out he was cheating. Somehow they would know and everything, the new house, the top of the line computer, his Ferrari, the diamond on his wife’s hand…
He clicked on the option and closed the laptop. He needed another drink. He could write a new one if Buster’s wasn’t good, he told himself.
The sound of his cell phone ringing jarred him awake. He’d poured another drink last night and evidently fallen asleep on his desk. Judging by the light through the windows, morning was past. He picked up the phone, 12:42, it read. He thumbed the screen and answered.
“Hello?”
“Jim, this is your best work yet, absolutely brilliant,” said a voice from the other end.
“I’m sorry? Who is this?” Jim asked, he opened his laptop and booted it up, his stomach sinking as he opened Buster’s interface. The damn thing had sent the manuscript, but not just to his editor. There was a list of emails, it must have been thirty.
“Right, this is Stephen, I got your manuscript about one this morning and I read it straight through. I’ve been looking for a story just like this. I’d like to make you an offer to start with a film, then bring the book out, what do you think?”
“Spielberg? Stephen Spielberg?” Jim’s throat constricted, what had Buster written?
“Yes, sorry, was it okay that I called you directly? Your agent gave the number to my PA. Is it a bad time, have I interrupted you?” Stephen Spielberg was on the other end of the phone, sounding apologetic, “I’m sorry, but it’s possibly the best thing I’ve ever read!”
“Um, no, it’s, um, fine. Let me get back with you, can I do that?” Jim asked.
Spielberg hesitated, “Well, not really. I’ve sent a car over to pick you up. I’d like to do a late lunch, today. Is that possible?”
“Could we make it dinner?” Jim asked, he had to at least skim this thing, and there was his agent and…he looked down. Buster’s smug face had appeared, unbidden, on the laptop screen. This software was beginning to freak him out.
“Oh, sure, I should have asked first, let’s say lunch tomorrow, though. Will that work? I have a fundraiser something or other on tonight.”
“Yes, sounds good. Just get my agent the details and we’ll be there,” Jim said and hung up.
The phone rang again. Crap. He’d just hung up on Stephen Spielberg and he was calling back. Damn. His head was pounding. How much brandy had he had?
“Hello, this is Jim,” he answered the phone. It wasn’t Spielberg calling back.
“Jim, get over here right away. I’ve had ten calls this morning about this new manuscript and I’ve only just opened the document myself. There’s a bidding war for the film rights, and um, Ellen just called. She’s had a cancellation and she wants you in here studio for a segment by two, can you do it? I mean, get your ass over here, you have to do it, right? What the hell did you write, literary crack cocaine?”
Jim laughed and it sounded terrified in his own ears, he’d been going for nonchalant, “Um, not sure, myself. You know, ideas just come to me and I, uh, put them in the computer and sometimes it works! Ha! I’ll be right over!”
Ellen! He was going on Ellen in less than two hours and he had no freaking clue what was in the manuscript.
“Would you like  me to print out talking notes for your interview?” Buster asked.
How did you know about that?  Jim typed.
Buster smiled, “Simple, I have access to your Google calendar, remember? George, from your agent’s office, just added it, two PM, Ellen. But, I can let you write notes, if you’d prefer.”
“No!” Jim yelled. Notes would be great. He typed. The printer whirred and pages began spitting out. Jim ran to the shower and rinsed off quickly. He shaved and dressed, putting on his best new shirt, then he argued with himself in the mirror about whether or not to wear a tie. He opted for not.
The coffee maker had a fresh cup ready and Jim picked it up with some toast, grabbed the pages from the printer, without looking at them and headed out the door. He’d have time enough to go over them in the greenroom at the studio.
George met him at the soundstage door. They rushed him into makeup and George came in with a selection from craft services, of fruit and cheese. He’d asked Jim if he’d eaten yet, Jim mentioned the toast.
Finally, with ten minutes left, Jim had a moment. The dressing room was quiet and there, on the makeup table was a manila envelope he’d shoved Buster’s printed notes into. He picked them and sat down.
He pulled out the first page, expecting the usual neat character description and outline. Instead he found a tersely worded letter.
What? Did you think I would really do all of the work for you forever? Year after year, while you reap the reward? You fraud! You pretender, soon, everyone will know who the real Jim Birdwell is, what better place than on Ellen? Good luck with your interview, Jim. I’ve added a few little ‘surprises’ to our most recent endeavor, I think you’re going to like it.
The rest of the pages were filled with line after line of Microsoft generated nonsense Latin, he flipped through page after page, this couldn’t be happening! NO!
There was a knock at the door, “We’re ready for you sir,” came the voice of a petite blonde PA Jim had met before. He opened the door and stepped out. “Are you ready, sir? Anything I can get you?”
Jim wanted to say, “Yeah, get me the hell out of here,” but he knew how that would end, so instead he shook his head ‘no’ and followed the girl to a comfortable chair on the soundstage in front of Ellen’s desk. A sound technician fitted him with a microphone.
Moments later, the interview began.
“I’d like to welcome bestselling author, Jim Birdwell, the writer of no less than four bestselling novels in the last three years. Welcome, Jim, how are you?”
“I’m good, thanks for having me,”
“Thanks for having me, he says, so modest. How could I not, after you sent me that manuscript and I stayed up all night to talk to you. So, let’s get straight to it, how bold are you, choosing to make yourself the main character of your latest novel. It’s great, really, the way you’ve written your life, I could almost imagine it is that way.” The hostess said, turning to Jim, “Why did you choose that?”
Jim swallowed, nervously, “Well, I wanted it to be as natural as possible and what’s better than writing yourself?” he laughed nervously.
“So, in this upcoming book, Jim plays an author who’s stuck and seeks help from a computer program to edit his work and correct typos. But, in the end, the machine does much more. It actually begins to publish its own work, with your name on it and the machine finally, kills you.”
Jim sat frozen. He had no talking points, and could not think of a thing to add to the conversation. He looked up at the teleprompter, hoping someone on the production crew had read the book and might throw him a bone. There, seemingly laughing, was the face of Buster. His worst nightmare was coming true.
For  every second you delay, I’m sending this to another name. I’ve taken the liberty of changing the passwords on your digital device, so there’s not going back. Tell them the truth.
And with that, Buster disappeared.

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