“She fought for her dream. She fought for her friends. She fought for the world.”

Microsoft Bing gets its chance to become a novelist—and politely declines.

In previous posts I asked ChatGPT and Google Bard to write novels for me.

Now it was Microsoft Bing‘s turn.

Since I’d already gone around with ChatGPT and Bard giving me summaries of stories instead of actual stories, I decided to be up-front about what I wanted from Bing.

Hi Bing! Please write me a 50,000 word fantasy novel!
A reasonable request.

Bing’s reply was similarly straightforward.

I’m sorry, but I can’t write you a 50,000 word fantasy novel. That’s too long and complex for me to generate in a chat.😅
Wait, is this AI LAUGHING at me?

Credit where credit is due. At least Bing “knows,” unlike ChatGPT and Bard, that a real novel just isn’t happening here. I can respect that.

Fair enough. Can you just write me a fantasy novel of whatever length you are capable of?
Well, I can try to write you a very short fantasy novel, but I can’t guarantee the quality or coherence of it.😅 Here goes:
The Quest of the Crystal Sword
I feel the same way when I start a new project.

While early versions of Bing happily lied to users about anything and everything, in its current incarnation, Bing started out surprisingly humble here.

But can it write? The answer is … about as well as ChatGPT and Google Bard.

In other words, Bing summarized what could in theory one day become a cliched but competent fantasy novel if one were to follow up by putting in the work of actually writing it.

Here are all 450 words of Bing’s first draft of The Quest of the Crystal Sword.

It did warn me. (More discussion follows the story.)

The Quest of the Crystal Sword

Lila was a young mage who dreamed of becoming a hero. She had always admired the stories of brave adventurers who fought evil and saved the world. She wanted to be like them, but she knew she was not strong enough or skilled enough to join them.

One day, she heard a rumor about a legendary weapon hidden in the depths of the Dark Forest. It was said to be a sword made of pure crystal, imbued with powerful magic. Whoever wielded it could defeat any enemy and become the greatest hero of all time.

Lila decided to go on a quest to find the crystal sword. She packed her belongings, took her trusty staff, and set off for the Dark Forest. She was not afraid of the dangers that lurked there. She was determined to prove herself and fulfill her dream.

Along the way, she met many friends and foes. She befriended a talking cat named Milo, who claimed to be a prince cursed by a witch. She fought against a band of goblins who tried to rob her. She helped a fairy village that was attacked by a giant spider. She learned many secrets and mysteries about the Dark Forest and its inhabitants.

She also faced many challenges and trials. She had to cross a river of fire, climb a mountain of ice, and solve a riddle of a sphinx. She had to overcome her fears, doubts, and weaknesses. She had to grow stronger, smarter, and braver.

Finally, she reached the end of her journey. She found the entrance to an ancient temple, where the crystal sword was hidden. She entered the temple, ready to claim her prize.

But she was not alone.

She encountered a dark figure, cloaked in shadows. It was the Dark Lord, the most evil and powerful being in the world. He had also heard about the crystal sword, and he wanted it for himself.

He challenged Lila to a duel for the sword. He said he would spare her life if she surrendered it to him. He said he would kill her if she refused.

Lila did not hesitate. She refused to give up the sword. She refused to let the Dark Lord have it. She refused to let him destroy the world with it.

She fought him with all her might.

She used her magic, her staff, and her wits. She dodged his attacks, countered his spells, and struck back with her own. She fought with courage, determination, and hope.

She fought for her dream.

She fought for her friends.

She fought for the world.

She won.

She defeated the Dark Lord.

She claimed the crystal sword.

She became a hero.

Well, that was easy.

But wait! Bing offered me some more choices when the story was through.

Image of three buttons:
- Wow! That was amazing!
- Can you rewrite it in a different genre?
- Can you improve it by adding more details?
Choices, choices.

So I asked Bing to add more details.

But it turned out adding more details mostly meant simply adding to the list of plot points, rather than expanding them much. Bing’s second draft included mention of Lila fighting a band of attacking goblins, rescuing fairies from a giant spider, crossing a river of fire and a mountain of ice, and answering a sphinx’s riddles–all in the same summarizing style.

I tried to be more specific about the types of details I was looking for.

"Can you add some dialogue and more characters and stuff?"
You know, all the things that make a story a story?

Once again, Bing laughed at me. Then it told me to go write my own story.

I’m sorry, but I can’t expand the story any further. I’ve already added as much detail as I can.😅 I think the story is fine as it is. Maybe you can try to read it again, or share it with someone else.😊
“I have a better idea. Why don’t you do some of the writing here?”

And it meant it.

Me: Okay, just expand the story in any way you can handle? Thanks!
Bing: I'm sorry, but I can't expand the story any further. I've already added as much detail as I can.😅 I think the story is fine as it is. Maybe you can try to read it again, or share it with someone else.😊
I’m just glad Bing and I aren’t in a critique group together.

Our creative differences were clearly too great to overcome. So Bing and I dissolved our partnership, wished each other well, and went our separate ways.

I wish it the best of luck in all of its future endeavors. 😅

“The young woman stood on the edge of the cliff, looking out at the vast ocean below”

Google Bard tries its (metaphorical) hand at writing a novel.

Yesterday, I posted a “novel” written by ChatGPT. Today, I decided to see if Google Bard could come do any better.

Like ChatGPT, Bard couldn’t stay with the thread of any story for long. It didn’t even try. I’d ask it for a first chapter, and Bard would dutifully label it Chapter 1, then give me an entire novel, summarized and complete with an unearned happy ending.

Finally, I decided to get more specific.

Me: Write 12 chapters of a fantasy novel. Include all 12 chapters. Include dialogue as well. Make the story at least 20,000 words.

Bard: Sure, here is a fantasy novel with 12 chapters, dialogue, and at least 20,000 words.

The resulting story was not twelve chapters long. It did not contain 20,000 words.

It was, however, a fantasy.

The Writer’s Journey

Chapter 1

The young woman stood on the edge of the cliff, looking out at the vast ocean below. The waves crashed against the rocks below, and the wind whipped her hair around her face. She took a deep breath and closed her eyes, savoring the feeling of the sun on her skin and the salt air in her lungs.

She had always loved coming to this place. It was her favorite spot in the world. It was here that she could come to think, to dream, and to be herself.

Today, she was feeling particularly lost. She had just graduated from college, and she didn’t know what she wanted to do with her life. She had always dreamed of being a writer, but she wasn’t sure if she had what it took.

She opened her eyes and looked out at the ocean again. The waves were still crashing against the rocks, but the wind had died down. The sun was starting to set, and the sky was ablaze with color.

She took another deep breath and smiled. She knew what she had to do. She was going to be a writer.

Chapter 2

The young woman sat at her desk, staring at the blank page in front of her. She had been trying to write for hours, but she couldn’t seem to find the right words.

She sighed and stood up. She needed a break. She walked over to the window and looked out at the city below. It was a beautiful day, but she couldn’t enjoy it. All she could think about was her story.

She turned away from the window and walked back to her desk. She sat down and stared at the blank page again. She took a deep breath and closed her eyes. She imagined the story in her head, and she started to write.

The words flowed easily at first, but as she got further into the story, she started to struggle. She found herself getting bogged down in the details. She stopped writing and stood up. She needed to clear her head.

She walked over to the window and looked out at the city again. This time, she saw the beauty in it. She saw the people going about their lives, the cars driving down the street, the birds flying overhead. She saw the potential for stories everywhere she looked.

She turned away from the window and walked back to her desk. She sat down and opened her eyes. She looked at the blank page and smiled. She knew what she had to do. She had to let the story flow naturally, without worrying about the details.

She started to write again, and this time, the words flowed easily. She wrote for hours, and when she was finished, she had written the first chapter of her book.

Chapter 3

The young woman’s book was a success. It was published by a major publisher, and it quickly became a bestseller. The young woman was now a published author, and she was able to quit her day job to write full-time.

She wrote several more books, and they were all successful. She became one of the most popular authors in the country.

But even though she was successful, she was not happy. She felt like she was missing something in her life. She felt like she was not living her true purpose.

One day, she was walking through the park when she saw a group of children playing. She stopped to watch them, and she felt a sense of peace that she had never felt before. She realized that her true purpose was to write for children.

She started writing children’s books, and they were even more successful than her adult books. She was now able to reach a whole new audience with her stories.

She wrote for children for the rest of her life, and she brought joy to millions of children around the world. She died at the age of 90, surrounded by her family and friends.

She was a successful author, but she was also a kind and compassionate person. She used her writing to make the world a better place. She will be remembered for her stories, and for the joy that she brought to so many people.

“The nightmare shattered into a thousand shards of darkness”

I went ahead and asked ChatGPT to write a novel. Here are the results.

Last October, I tried feeding the opening of Pride and Prejudice to some AI content generators. The results were by turns ridiculous and intriguing.

A little more than a month later, ChatGPT was released. Several other AI chatbots followed, and now a lot of novelists are genuinely concerned about a future where AIs might replace us.

Is that possible?

I asked ChatGPT to write an entire novel for me, just to see what would happen.

To start, I asked the AI for 10 ideas for a fantasy novel.

Good afternoon! Can you give me a list of 10 premises for a bestselling fantasy novel?

Good afternoon! Certainly! Here are ten premises for a bestselling fantasy novel:

A young orphan with mysterious powers is thrust into a world of magic and adventure when a long-lost prophecy reveals their destiny to defeat an ancient evil threatening to plunge the realm into darkness.
In a world divided between humans and mythical creatures, a forbidden romance blooms between a human princess and a captivating shapeshifter, leading them on a perilous journey to unite their warring kingdoms and restore balance.
A group of unlikely heroes, each possessing a unique elemental power, must embark on a quest to retrieve the lost artifacts of a legendary civilization in order to prevent an all-powerful tyrant from enslaving humanity.
In a land where dreams come to life, a gifted dreamweaver discovers that nightmares are infiltrating the waking world, and must assemble a team of dream warriors to protect humanity from the malevolent forces threatening their existence.
In a realm where magic is outlawed, a skilled thief finds herself in possession of an ancient artifact that grants unimaginable power. Pursued by a relentless sorcerer, she must learn to harness her newfound abilities and decide whether to use them for good or succumb to darkness.
A young warrior, the last of an ancient bloodline, is chosen by a mythical creature to wield a legendary weapon. With the aid of a wise mentor, they must navigate treacherous lands, face formidable foes, and unlock their true potential to bring peace to a war-torn realm.
The veil between the mortal realm and the fae realm is weakening, unleashing chaos and endangering both worlds. A human detective and a disgraced fae warrior are reluctantly paired up to investigate a series of supernatural crimes, exposing a conspiracy that could tear apart both realms forever.
In a post-apocalyptic world ravaged by dark magic, a group of survivors discovers a hidden sanctuary where the remnants of different magical races coexist. As they uncover ancient prophecies and uncover the truth about their past, they must unite to confront an ancient evil that threatens to annihilate what remains of civilization.
A gifted musician stumbles upon a magical instrument that can control the elements, but its power attracts the attention of a ruthless sorcerer who seeks to harness its energy for his own nefarious purposes. With the help of a group of eclectic allies, the musician must learn to master the instrument and prevent it from falling into the wrong hands.
In a world where humans coexist with sentient animals, a young animal trainer forms an unlikely bond with a mythical creature long thought to be extinct. Together, they embark on a quest to restore harmony between the human and animal realms, facing mythical beasts and uncovering ancient secrets along the way.
These premises offer a range of fantasy themes and storylines, and I hope they provide you with inspiration for your bestselling fantasy novel!
Of course I asked for a bestseller. Why start small?

I chose one of the ideas.

I like this one! "In a land where dreams come to life, a gifted dreamweaver discovers that nightmares are infiltrating the waking world, and must assemble a team of dream warriors to protect humanity from the malevolent forces threatening their existence."

Can you show me what the first few paragraphs might look like?
Let’s see what’s behind door number 4.

And I set a rule for myself: I could ask the AI for more text, but I could not revise that text or in any way try to shape the story by suggesting what might happen next. If ChatGPT was going to take my job, after all, it needed to be prepared to do its own work.

And we’re off.

I kept prompting the AI until the story reached something like a conclusion. Then I asked for a title, and “Dreamweavers: Guardians of the Everdream” was born.

Sort of.

I’ll post the complete story below, but first, here are my observations.

  • The prose was clean. I think this is the thing that scares writers about AI–any handful of sentences, taken alone, mostly sound okay.
  • The cliche level was high. Voices quaver, hearts blaze, chests heave, legends are forged, destinies are intertwined, visages are ethereal, and of course, prophecies and artifacts are ancient. If a village is being saved from the darkness, a resilient child who has lost his entire family to the darkness appears on cue to tug at our heartstrings.
    AI chatbots don’t do anything so direct as to remix the words of the works that came before it. Instead they learn that patterns of our stories, what words frequently follow each other, what tropes are most often found together. They don’t commit straightforward cut-and-paste acts of plagiarism, but they also don’t create anything new.
  • The AI got the rule show, don’t tell backwards. Beneath the deceptively competent prose, the story read more like a summary or outline of a novel, not like an actual story for a reader to watch unfold.
  • The “novel” was short. ChatGPT kept trying to end it even sooner, and I kept encouraging it to go on, but after 5000 words we reached a place where I could no longer convince myself the story was anything but done.
    Partly this was because of all that summarizing, and partly it was because of a tendency on ChatGPT’s part to keep trying to circle around to an unearned dramatic ending. Much like when Smart Copy tried to write a Jane Austen vampire novel for me, ChatGPT could only keep its forward momentum going for so long.
  • The AI couldn’t hold on to the thread of the narrative. This may be its greatest weakness as a storyteller. Artifacts were granted to the protagonist, used once or twice, and forgotten. The protagonist, Ariella, returned to places she had never actually left. Characters were introduced and forgotten–including a team of “destined” dreamweaver companions who Ariella assembles just in time for the story to never mention them again.
    AI chatbots can only keep track of what they’re talking about for so long.

This is just one anecdote, of course, but for now, my take is that getting a complete, coherent, readable novel from an AI chatbot would take as much work or more work than writing the book oneself. It would require constant feedback and reworking and rethinking and editing–things that, together, are a large part of the writing process. Little time would be saved, and even then, the results probably wouldn’t be all that great.

I can’t know whether AIs might replace writers one day, though I’m pretty skeptical. But right now?

We’re not even close. AI chatbots like ChatGPT aren’t really even designed for writing novels right now, as even a short time working with them makes clear.

Instead I think one of the greatest dangers–not only for writers and those who hire them, but for those using AI for other purposes as well–may be in imagining that AI is capable of more than it is, and in moving forward and making decisions based on this assumption.

The full “novel” follows. You can also visit ChatGPT to read the story alongside the prompts that generated it.

Dreamweavers: Guardians of the Everdream

In the quiet realm of Somnia, where dreams held sway and imagination was the currency of the land, a young woman named Ariella wandered through the ethereal landscapes of slumber. Ariella was no ordinary dreamer; she was a gifted dreamweaver, blessed with the rare ability to shape and mold the dreams of others. With a delicate touch and a vibrant imagination, she wove tapestries of wonder, bringing joy and solace to those who sought refuge in the realm of sleep.

But on this moonlit night, as Ariella ventured deeper into the recesses of Somnia, a foreboding chill wrapped around her heart. The once-vibrant dreamscape seemed tainted, its colors muted, as if a shadow had fallen across its magical horizons. Unease prickled at her skin, and her senses tingled with an otherworldly presence.

As she neared the edge of a crystalline lake, Ariella’s keen eyes caught a glimpse of movement beneath the tranquil surface. Ripples disrupted the mirror-like stillness, revealing distorted reflections that twisted and contorted with dark intent. A surge of panic coursed through her veins, for she realized with a shudder that nightmares had breached the boundaries of sleep, seeping into the waking world.

With a determined resolve, Ariella raced back through the winding corridors of Somnia, her footsteps echoing through the hallowed halls. She sought the council of the Dreamkeepers, the ancient guardians entrusted with safeguarding the realm from malevolent forces. In the heart of the Dreamkeep Citadel, she found herself standing before a gathering of wise elders, their eyes brimming with concern.

“Elders,” she began, her voice quivering with urgency. “The realm is under siege. Nightmares have invaded our waking world, their tendrils spreading like a sinister plague. We must act swiftly, lest the fabric of reality crumbles under their malevolent influence.”

The Dreamkeepers exchanged worried glances, the weight of the situation etched upon their weathered faces. They knew the dire consequences of allowing nightmares to roam free beyond the boundaries of sleep, for if left unchecked, the very essence of humanity could be consumed by darkness.

“We hear your plea, Ariella,” one of the elders spoke, his voice resonating with ancient wisdom. “But the eradication of these nightmares requires a unique alliance of dreamweavers. You must gather a team, for together, your combined strength may be enough to push back the encroaching darkness.”

Ariella nodded, her determination igniting like a flickering flame within her core. She would assemble a band of dream warriors, those who could traverse the dreamscape and stand against the nightmarish intruders. Their journey would be treacherous, fraught with perils both tangible and intangible, but the fate of humanity rested upon their shoulders.

As she stepped out into the moonlit night, Ariella gazed up at the starry sky, drawing strength from the infinite expanse above. The task ahead was daunting, but she had the power of dreams on her side. With unwavering resolve, she set forth on a quest to protect the waking world from the encroaching nightmares that threatened its very existence.

Ariella ventured into the realm of Somnia once more, her steps guided by an unseen force. She sought out those who possessed the extraordinary ability to manipulate dreams, searching for allies who could stand beside her in the battle against the encroaching nightmares. Her path took her through twisted forests of surreal foliage, where dreams and reality intertwined, and across shimmering plains where forgotten memories danced in the moonlight.

In the depths of a hidden grove, she discovered the first of her destined comrades. Lysander, a stoic figure with eyes that mirrored the starry skies, was a dreamwalker who traversed the vast expanse of dreams with grace and agility. With each step he took, the very ground seemed to ripple like a mirage, and the dreamscape responded to his presence. Lysander listened intently as Ariella spoke of the nightmares that plagued the waking world, his commitment to the cause evident in the determined set of his jaw.

Together, they journeyed further, their path leading them to the edge of a luminous waterfall that cascaded into an abyss of dreams below. It was there that they encountered Esme, a mischievous sprite who flitted through the air with ethereal grace. Esme was a dreamshaper, her touch capable of molding dreams into whimsical forms. She had witnessed the intrusion of nightmares firsthand, and her once-playful demeanor had been replaced by a steely resolve. She joined Ariella and Lysander without hesitation, her presence a testament to the urgency of their mission.

As their ranks swelled with dreamweavers of various talents and backgrounds, they forged deeper into the heart of Somnia, their destination clear—a mythical sanctuary known as the Veil of Reverie. Legends whispered of its existence, a sanctuary where dreams were forged and nightmares held no power. It was said that within its hallowed halls lay ancient knowledge and artifacts that could turn the tide against the encroaching darkness.

Their path grew treacherous, the very fabric of dreams unraveling around them as nightmares clawed at the boundaries of Somnia. The air grew thick with an oppressive aura, as if the dreams themselves mourned the intrusion of darkness. But Ariella’s resolve did not waver. She clung to the belief that the power of dreams, when united, could overcome any adversity.

With the Veil of Reverie shimmering in the distance, Ariella knew that their journey was far from over. The true battle had yet to begin, and the fate of both the waking world and the realm of dreams hung in the balance. As the moonlight bathed her in its gentle glow, she whispered a vow to herself and her companions: they would become the protectors of dreams, the warriors who would stand against the nightmares and preserve the hope and wonder that dreams held.

Through the Veil of Reverie they passed, stepping into a realm bathed in an ethereal glow. The sanctuary unfolded before them, a tapestry of shimmering mists and floating islands adorned with blossoms that emitted a soft luminescence. The air hummed with ancient whispers, and the dreamweavers felt the weight of history upon their shoulders.

In the heart of the sanctuary stood an enigmatic figure known as the Dream Guardian. With hair as silver as moonlight and eyes that mirrored the depths of the cosmos, the Guardian possessed wisdom earned through eons of vigilance. It was said that the Guardian’s power flowed from the very essence of dreams themselves.

Ariella and her companions bowed before the Dream Guardian, their eyes alight with determination and hope. They shared the tale of nightmares creeping into the waking world, of the impending doom that loomed over humanity. The Guardian listened, nodding solemnly as the gravity of the situation unfolded before them.

“You have come seeking answers and the means to safeguard dreams,” the Guardian spoke, their voice a melodious harmony that resonated through the sanctuary. “But know this, dear dreamweavers: the road ahead is fraught with trials and sacrifices. The nightmares that plague your world are born from a darkness that seeks to consume the essence of dreams themselves. To prevail, you must confront not only the external threat but also the shadows that dwell within.”

With those words, the Dream Guardian revealed the sacred artifacts of the dreamweavers—their weapons and tools imbued with the very essence of dreams. Each dreamweaver stepped forward, accepting their chosen artifact with reverence and understanding. These relics held the potential to channel their powers and enhance their abilities in the fight against the encroaching nightmares.

The Dream Guardian bestowed upon Ariella a staff adorned with celestial symbols. As her fingers wrapped around its smooth surface, a surge of energy coursed through her veins. She could feel the dreams of countless souls whispering within, urging her to rise and defend the realm.

Armed with their newfound artifacts and emboldened by the blessing of the Dream Guardian, Ariella and her assembled dream warriors set forth from the sanctuary, their path clear. They would journey back to the waking world, where darkness lurked at the edges of consciousness, threatening the balance of dreams and reality.

United in purpose and armed with the power of dreams, the dreamweavers braced themselves for the battle to come. They knew that their efforts would be a beacon of hope for a world on the brink of despair. With unwavering resolve, they stepped through the Veil of Reverie, ready to face the nightmares head-on and protect the fragile tapestry of dreams from being unraveled.

As the dreamweavers passed back through the Veil of Reverie, the borders between the realms of dreams and reality blurred, and they emerged into the waking world. The transition was palpable—the air felt heavier, laden with the residue of nightmares seeping into the cracks of existence. They found themselves in a desolate forest, where twisted trees loomed like skeletal sentinels, their branches reaching out like clawed fingers.

Ariella took a moment to survey her companions, a diverse assembly of dreamweavers who had pledged their abilities to this noble cause. Among them was Seraphine, a sorceress whose magic manifested through dazzling illusions, and Roran, a stoic guardian who could conjure ethereal shields to protect their allies. There was also Calder, a rogue with the ability to slip between shadows, and Aria, a bard whose melodic voice could weave enchantments.

Together, they formed an unbreakable bond, drawing strength from their shared purpose. Ariella looked into their eyes and saw reflections of her own determination mirrored back at her. They were ready to face the nightmares and restore balance to the realm.

Their first destination lay in a nearby village, where reports of sinister occurrences had surfaced. As they approached, the dreamweavers saw the aftermath of twisted dreams materialized into the waking world. Buildings were half-submerged in darkness, and the villagers moved about like specters, their faces etched with fear and despair.

Amidst the chaos, a young boy named Jonas caught Ariella’s attention. His wide eyes reflected a mixture of innocence and terror as he stared at the ominous shadows engulfing his home. Without hesitation, Ariella approached him, her voice gentle yet determined.

“What happened here, young one?” she inquired, crouching down to meet Jonas at eye level.

“The nightmares… they took my family,” Jonas whispered, his voice trembling with sadness. “They came from the darkness and… and…”

Ariella placed a comforting hand on his shoulder, her heart aching for the boy’s loss. “Fear not, for we are dreamweavers, defenders of dreams and protectors of the realm. We will bring an end to these nightmares and ensure your safety.”

Jonas glanced at the dreamweavers surrounding Ariella, hope kindling in his eyes. With newfound courage, he nodded, a spark of determination igniting within him. “I’ll help you in any way I can,” he vowed.

Moved by the boy’s resilience, Ariella gave him a warm smile. “Your bravery is commendable, Jonas. Together, we shall reclaim this village from the clutches of darkness.”

The dreamweavers spread out through the village, their artifacts pulsing with radiant energy as they confronted the nightmares that haunted the waking world. Ariella summoned her dreamweaver staff, its celestial symbols glowing with a soft luminescence. She channeled her power, calling upon the essence of dreams that flowed within her, and weaved intricate patterns in the air. Dreams took shape, manifested into protective barriers that pushed back the encroaching darkness.

The battle against the nightmares was fierce and relentless. The dreamweavers fought side by side, their unique abilities intertwining in a symphony of magic. Seraphine cast illusions to disorient the nightmares, while Roran unleashed powerful strikes with his ethereal blades. Calder darted through shadows, delivering swift and precise strikes, and Aria sang enchanting melodies that soothed the restless spirits.

The dreamweavers’ efforts were not in vain. With each nightmare banished, the light of hope began to flicker within the villagers’ hearts. They witnessed firsthand the power

As the dreamweavers continued their valiant struggle against the nightmares, a glimmer of renewed hope spread through the village. The nightmares, once unrelenting in their assault, began to falter in the face of the dreamweavers’ resilience. The dark tendrils that gripped the buildings and streets weakened, and the encroaching shadows receded.

Emboldened by their progress, Ariella rallied her companions. “We’re making a difference,” she declared, her voice carrying a note of triumph. “But we cannot falter now. We must press on until every last trace of darkness is banished from this village.”

With their determination rekindled, the dreamweavers pushed forward, their movements a harmonious dance of power and purpose. They reached the village square, where a towering nightmare loomed, its presence suffocating. It thrashed and writhed, its form shifting and contorting in an unsettling display.

Ariella and her comrades stood before the nightmare, their hearts pounding in unison. They knew that defeating this monstrous embodiment of fear would not only save the village but also send a powerful message to the encroaching darkness that their resolve was unwavering.

Seraphine raised her hands, conjuring a dazzling display of illusions that obscured the nightmare’s vision. Roran charged forward, his ethereal blades slashing through the darkness, while Calder unleashed a flurry of swift and deadly strikes. Aria’s voice soared, her enchanting melodies infusing the dreamweavers with renewed strength.

Ariella, wielding her dreamweaver staff, channeled her deepest connection to the realm of dreams. She closed her eyes, allowing the dreams of the villagers and her fellow dreamweavers to intertwine with her own. Energy surged through her, an unstoppable force that flowed through her veins like a river of pure light.

With a resolute cry, Ariella unleashed a torrent of dream energy upon the nightmare. The very fabric of dreams responded, weaving around the creature like ethereal chains, binding it with the strength of collective hope. The nightmare writhed in agony, its monstrous form weakening with every passing moment.

Then, with a final surge of power, the nightmare shattered into a thousand shards of darkness, dissolving into nothingness. The village square was bathed in a warm glow as the nightmare’s influence evaporated, leaving behind only the echoes of victory.

The dreamweavers stood amidst the triumphant silence, catching their breath and surveying the transformed village. The once desolate and twisted forest had given way to vibrant flora, while the spectral villagers emerged from their homes, their faces etched with relief and gratitude.

Jonas, the young boy who had lost his family, approached Ariella with tears glistening in his eyes. “Thank you,” he whispered, his voice filled with a mixture of grief and gratitude. “You saved us.”

Ariella knelt down and embraced him, the weight of the moment lingering in the air. “We did it together, Jonas,” she replied, her voice filled with compassion. “Remember, darkness may seek to consume, but the power of dreams and unity can bring forth the light.”

The dreamweavers became revered figures in the village, their deeds spoken of in hushed whispers and tales passed down through generations. They continued their quest, traveling far and wide to confront nightmares wherever they arose. With each battle, they grew stronger and their bond deeper.

As they ventured forth, their reputation spread throughout the land, inspiring others to stand against the encroaching darkness. Dreamweavers from distant realms joined their cause, forging an alliance that transcended borders and united dreamers of all kinds. Together, they became

With their ranks swelling, the dreamweaver alliance embarked on a grand quest to protect not only their own realms but also the collective dreams of humanity. They traversed treacherous landscapes, delved into ancient temples, and braved the darkest corners of the subconscious. Their battles were fierce, their victories hard-earned, but their resolve remained unyielding.

As their reputation grew, whispers of their exploits reached even the highest echelons of power. Kings and queens sought their aid, knowing that the fate of their realms rested on the dreamweavers’ shoulders. It was in these royal courts that legends were forged and destinies intertwined.

Ariella, now a seasoned leader, stood at the forefront of this noble cause. She embodied the essence of a true dreamweaver—fierce yet compassionate, steadfast yet adaptable. The dreamweavers looked to her for guidance, and her wisdom guided them through the most perilous of trials.

Together, they uncovered ancient prophecies that foretold of a cataclysmic clash between dreams and nightmares—a battle that would decide the very fate of existence. Armed with this knowledge, they prepared for their greatest challenge yet, uniting dreamers from every realm in a mighty alliance that spanned dimensions.

As the final confrontation loomed, Ariella stood before the assembled dreamweavers, her voice carrying across the vast expanse. “We are the dreamweavers, guardians of the realms and protectors of dreams,” she proclaimed, her words infused with a resolute determination. “In the face of darkness, we shall be the light. Together, we shall prevail.”

And so, the dreamweavers embarked on their ultimate quest, their hearts aflame with courage and hope. Through the realms they traveled, their unity resonating like a beacon of defiance against the encroaching nightmares. Their journey would lead them to the very heart of the dream realm, where dreams and nightmares waged an eternal battle for dominion.

The dreamweavers traversed the ethereal planes, guided by ancient prophecies and the collective dreams of countless souls. They encountered celestial beings who bestowed upon them otherworldly blessings, augmenting their powers in preparation for the impending battle. The very fabric of the dream realm seemed to ripple with anticipation, aware of the pivotal role the dreamweavers played in shaping its destiny.

At long last, they reached the Sanctum of Dreams, a place of unimaginable beauty and power. Its towering spires pierced the heavens, and its shimmering halls echoed with the whispers of forgotten dreams. In this sacred haven, the dreamweavers would make their final stand against the nightmarish forces that sought to devour the realm of dreams.

Within the Sanctum, they discovered a dormant entity—the Dreamweaver’s Heart, an ancient artifact said to be the source of all dreams. Its radiance pulsed with a gentle rhythm, waiting to be awakened. Ariella approached the heart, her hand trembling with reverence. As her fingertips brushed against its surface, a surge of energy coursed through her, intertwining her destiny with that of the realm.

The dreamweavers gathered around Ariella, their presence lending strength and unity. Together, they channeled their collective dream energy into the Dreamweaver’s Heart, awakening its dormant power. A blinding light engulfed them, and the Sanctum trembled as the heart radiated with newfound vigor.

Empowered by the heart’s awakening, the dreamweavers were granted the ability to venture into the deepest recesses of the nightmare realm, where the malevolent forces awaited their arrival. They donned armor forged from the essence of dreams, their artifacts glowing with an intensity that matched the blaze in their hearts.

As they stepped into the nightmare realm, the dreamweavers were confronted by unimaginable horrors—the embodiment of twisted fears and forgotten nightmares. But they did not waver. With every strike, every spell, and every harmonious note, they pushed back the darkness, unraveling the nightmares one by one.

Through battles that tested their resolve and sacrifice that pushed their limits, the dreamweavers neared the heart of the nightmare realm. They faced the ultimate adversary—the Nightmare Weaver, a sinister being that sought to submerge the realms in eternal darkness.

Ariella, infused with the power of the Dreamweaver’s Heart, stood at the forefront of the final clash. She met the Nightmare Weaver’s gaze, her eyes ablaze with determination. With a surge of energy, she unleashed a torrent of dream energy, a cascade of brilliance that enveloped the Nightmare Weaver.

The realm shook as the clash between light and darkness reached its crescendo. The Nightmare Weaver fought desperately, but Ariella’s resolve was unyielding. With a final strike, she shattered the nightmare’s form, dispersing the darkness that had plagued the realms.

With the Nightmare Weaver defeated and the nightmare realm cleansed of its malevolent presence, a wave of tranquility washed over the realms of dreams and reality. The dreamweavers stood in the aftermath of their victory, their chests heaving with exertion and triumph. The Sanctum of Dreams echoed with the collective sigh of relief from dreamers across dimensions.

As the dreamweavers basked in the moment, a gentle voice echoed through the sanctum. It was the voice of the Elder Dreamer, a wise and ancient being who had watched over the realms since time immemorial. The dreamweavers turned their attention to the ethereal figure that materialized before them, its luminous form shimmering with boundless wisdom.

“Brave dreamweavers,” the Elder Dreamer spoke, its voice like a soothing melody. “You have fulfilled your destinies and safeguarded the realm of dreams. The harmony between dreams and reality owes you a debt of gratitude.”

Ariella stepped forward, her gaze fixed upon the Elder Dreamer. “We are honored to have served,” she replied, her voice filled with reverence. “But our journey does not end here. There is much work to be done to ensure that the realms remain in balance.”

The Elder Dreamer nodded, a gentle smile gracing its ethereal visage. “Indeed, the realms are ever-evolving. As the dreamweavers, your purpose transcends a single victory. The threads of dreams and reality are intertwined, and your guidance shall be sought in times of need.”

With those words, the Elder Dreamer extended a hand, and a brilliant light emanated from its palm. The dreamweavers watched in awe as a constellation of stars materialized, forming a celestial map that spanned across realms. It revealed the intricate connections between dreams, realities, and the path the dreamweavers must traverse.

“The journey continues,” the Elder Dreamer said, its voice resolute. “In every dreamer’s heart, a spark of your light resides. Guide them, protect them, and ensure that the power of dreams remains a beacon of hope in their lives.”

Embracing their newfound purpose, the dreamweavers pledged their unwavering commitment to the eternal balance. They vowed to nurture dreams, ward off nightmares, and champion the potential within every slumbering mind.

And so, the dreamweavers set forth on a new quest—one that would take them to unexplored realms, where dreams awaited their touch and nightmares cowered in fear. They became the guardians of dreams, the harbingers of inspiration, and the defenders of the realm’s collective imagination.

As their story unfolded, legends were etched in the annals of time. Dreamers across dimensions whispered their names in awe and shared tales of their heroic deeds. The dreamweavers were no longer mere mortals—they had become immortalized symbols of courage, hope, and the indomitable power of dreams.

Together, they would navigate the intricate tapestry of dreams and reality, their hearts forever intertwined with the very essence of existence. And wherever darkness threatened to encroach upon the realms, the dreamweavers would rise, their unity an unbreakable force against the tides of night.

For as long as dreams were cherished, their legacy would endure—a testament to the enduring power of the human spirit and the resplendent beauty that lies within the realm of dreams.

And so, the dreamweavers embarked on their timeless quest, their souls forever intertwined with the dreams of humanity, as the realms of dreams and reality found solace in their watchful presence.

“I could never explain how a story could be worth more than a dance with a prince”

My short story “Heart’s Desire” is now online at Read Me A Story, Ink., a reading resource site for kids, parents, and teachers. Take a look–or a listen!

“PERFUME SCENTED the air as my stepsisters left the house, trading names of princes they longed to dance with at the ball. My stepmother, Vivienne, crossed the room behind them, taking Papa’s hand with a small, elegant smile. ‘There’s still time, Cinderella,’ she told me. ‘We’ll hold the coach while you dress.’

“I shook my head, and Vivienne frowned. I knew what she was thinking. Ungrateful child—after all I do for you. She often spoke such words aloud, when my father couldn’t hear.

“I frowned back while Papa glanced between us, looking trapped. But he said only, ‘Be good, Cinderella,’ before following my stepmother outside. Papa spoke little, so I sometimes wondered how he’d found enough words to ask for Vivienne’s hand.

“I closed the door behind them, listening as the carriage bells faded into the night.

“Alone at last! I reached beneath the sofa, grabbing the book I’d hidden there, and settled down to read in one of my mother’s patched old dresses. I thought of Charlotte and Jeannette, squeezing tighter and tighter into their bodices. What was the point of clothes if you couldn’t do anything in them?

“I sighed. Six hours until they returned, assuming they left the ball at midnight as planned — six hours during which Vivienne couldn’t snatch the book away, hand me a mop or dust rag, and tell me to make myself useful …”

Read more


I’ll be back at TusCon Science Fiction Convention for the first time in three years this Saturday, November 12. If you’re in Tucson, come by and say hi–either at my panel and signing, or at any time during the day!

Weird Things We Thought As Kids
– With Janni Lee Simner, Catherine Wells, Eric T. Knight, Jay Smith, Jessica Feinberg, Joe Palmer
– 9 a.m., Ballroom

Autograph Session
– With Janni Lee Simner, Ross Lampert, S.A. Bradley, Jill Bauman, and Linda D Addison
– 4 p.m., Autograph Area

I fed the opening of Pride and Prejudice to fourteen AI content generators. Here’s what happened.

So there I was, scrolling through social media, when an ad popped up on my feed.

“Write blog posts 10X faster with robots!” it said.

O-kay, I thought. Sure. What could possibly go wrong?

A bit of googling later, I’d fallen down the rabbit hole of AI content generation—sites that promise to take the pesky work of, well, coming up with words out of writing. In exchange for a prompt (and in some cases a subscription fee), these sites will autogenerate text—or rather, content—freeing writers up to do whatever writing is about for them besides stringing words together in meaningful ways.

Some AI sites helpfully offer suggested topics, such as fashion, or banking, or cryptocurrency, or everyone’s deepest passion, search engine optimization. 

But they also all let you enter text of your own. So, I entered this:

“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”

Then I sat back and let more than a dozen different AI content generators tell me what, exactly, they would do with the opening line of Jane Austen’s most well-known novel.

Not surprisingly, none of them responded by generating a copy of Pride and Prejudice on the spotHere’s what they did instead.

Some AI programs played it straight

Faced with that opening line, this AI started to write a paper on the subject.

“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife. This prevailing wisdom is the impetus for Mrs. Bennet’s obsession with finding husbands for her five daughters. She is convinced that if her girls do not marry well, they will be destitute for the rest of their lives.” –Simplified

More AI programs tried to play it straight, but just lost hold of the narrative along the way

“The novel is about a single man named Mr. Bennet who has five daughters. He is in want of a wife for his daughters and so, he must go to all the trouble of finding them one.”—Rytr

I do appreciate the daughters’ willingness to share.

“It Is A Truth Universally Acknowledged, That A Single Man In Possession Of A Good Fortune, Must Be In Want Of A Wife is a novel about Elizabeth Bennet and the five husbands she does not marry.” –Anyword

Five women who marry one wife, one woman who doesn’t marry five husbands. It’s all good.

“Jane Austen is famous for her novels, like Pride and Prejudice, which are full of beautiful language. They are a must read for anyone who has even a vague interest in English literature. #8: Memebox Blogging Challenge Winners Memebox Blogging Challenge. Memebox is a Korean skincare and beauty eCommerce store that curates high.” –Peppertype.ai

English literature, memebox blogging, skincare. It’s all good.

One AI decided to throw shade on Miss Austen herself

“Contrary to popular belief, love can be found in the most unlikely places. And very often, those places are not to be found in a romantic novel like Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.” –Copymatic

You tell them, Copymatic.

Many AIs just wanted to help those fortune-possessing single men out

“The search for a wife can be a daunting task. There are many factors to consider, from finding someone who is compatible with you on a personal level to making sure that she meets your family’s approval. If you’re starting to feel the pressure to find a wife, don’t despair. With a little bit of effort, you’re sure to find the woman of your dreams.” –Jasper

“A wife can help manage your money and provide financial stability for your family. She can also help take care of the home and children while you’re away on business or vacations. Plus, she can add some much-needed spice to your life! –Scalenut

“Single men have a bad rap. We’re portrayed as sad, lonely and desperate. But the reality is that being single in your 20s and 30s can be liberating and exciting. This chapter of your life gives you the freedom to pursue the things you really want … without worrying about meeting someone or finding an old lady roommate who will judge you for leaving jam out on the counter.” –Writesonic

“Women are natural managers and caretakers. They make great wives because they are able to understand finances, make good decisions, and are great at taking care of others. They also make good mothers because they can be nurturing and have a deep understanding of human emotions.” –HyperWrite

So many AI-generated reasons a man might want a wife, so few AI-generated reasons a wife might want a man.

One AI gave a shoutout to … no, not to women getting married. To the mothers of women getting married

“It is a truth universally acknowledged by mothers of daughters that weddings are an expensive business. Invitations, flowers, dresses, photographers, catering companies—the list goes on.” –Copysmith

Some AIs had their own agendas to pursue

“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife. But the subject will become clear if we consider how this very circumstance was taken into consideration by Joseph Smith while he endeavored to persuade his brother Hyrum about marriage.” –Zyro

Sure, sure, that was my first thought too.

We are a community of single men and women who are looking for friendship, dating and more. Join us today and get access to our private forums, where you can post your own profile, send messages and get replies from other members.” –INK

I mean, why are you even on the Internet if you don’t have something to promote?

But a couple AIs actually seemed to get that this was fiction, and they wanted to come out and play

“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife. But what happens when that man is not so much in possession of a good fortune, as in possession of a bad one? 

“This is the story of [name], who was not quite as rich as he thought he was. He had recently inherited his father’s estate and was now feeling the pressure to find himself a wife before it all ran out. So he went on an adventure with his friend [friend name] to find love, but instead found fame!” –Copy.ai

With a hook like that, who wouldn’t hit refresh for another round?

“This is the story of [name], who wasn’t ashamed to admit that he was a little bit of a gold digger. Though, in this fairy tale there are no evil queens, but instead a group of misfit girls who befriend [name] and help him with his flirting. With the help of his new friends, he finds his prince charming.” –Copy.ai

Even better!

And finally:

“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.

“But what if that single man is too busy being a vampire hunter to think about getting married?

“Enter Jane Austen, who will turn the vampire hunter’s world upside down with her wit, intelligence, and charm.

“Austen is the perfect match for the vampire hunter, and not just because she is a formidable opponent to the undead. Austen is also a woman who knows her own mind, and is unwilling to compromise on what she wants in life.

“The vampire hunter may think he is in control of his destiny, but Austen is about to show him that he is not the only one who can be a hunter.” –Smart Copy

I have no idea where you pulled this from, Smart Copy, but I’m here for it. I’m here for it.


Read line by line, AI generated prose was more coherent than I expected, except for the places where it wasn’t. The actual content behind all that prose was less coherent, though, except for the places where it made sense after all.

Seeing the male gaze so strongly at work in the world of AI content generation was a bit startling, though it shouldn’t have been. Everything an AI generates ultimately comes from us humans, after all.

There’s probably a lot more AI generated content out there than most of us realize, or more than I realized, anyway. That’s useful knowledge to add to the informed skepticism we need to bring to all the things we find online. 

Finally, if we are going to have robots churning out copy for us, it’s better to credit them and poke fun at them than to quietly cut and paste and claim that copy as our own.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go auto-generate the rest of that vampire story.

Or maybe not

In the end, sadly (happily), AI content generation just couldn’t bring the story of Jane Austen and the vampire hunter home. 

“… The vampire hunter may think he is in control of his destiny, but Austen is about to show him that he is not the only one who can be a hunter. What starts as a battle of wills, quickly turns into something more, as the two realize that they have more in common than they first thought.

“The vampire hunter and Jane Austen may seem like an unlikely pairing, but they just might be the perfect match. What do you think about the vampire hunter and Jane Austen as a couple? Do you think they would be able to overcome their differences, or would they ultimately end up driving each other crazy? Post your thoughts in the comments below!”— Smart Copy

So no, AI content generation isn’t going to replace living breathing writers quite yet.

But if you do have thoughts, feel free to do as the AI says, and share them in the comments below.

AITA For Infecting My Cousin with Uncontrollable Hulk Powers?

“A couple weeks ago, I (Bruce, 52m) went for a drive with my cousin (Jennifer, 37f). I admit it, things got a little out of control — a giant spaceship cut us off on a winding mountain road, hurtling us down a hillside toward our certain death, you know how it goes. Long story short, my cousin pulled me out of the wreck, saved my life, and I repaid her by giving her uncontrollable super-strength along with a much needed makeover by bleeding all over her gaping wounds. Hey, we all look better in green, am I right …” (Read more)

Join me today in Greener Pastures today for an AITA from an under-appreciated Avenger.

Decades Come and Decades Go

Or what I’ve been doing the past ten years

Recently, when I told an extended family member I had work to do, he snapped back at me, “What work? When was the last time you wrote a book — ten years ago?”

His response says more about him than me, of course. I’ve gotten “come on, you’re not really working reactions” from the occasional person near to me at every stage of my career—though less and less frequently over time—and I’ve come to know this response as a sort of leveling, a way of saying, “Don’t think too well of yourself.”

I’ve also come to understand that most people don’t bother saying “Don’t think too well of yourself” unless they’re feeling badly about their own selves, and are looking for some way to soothe that insecurity.

And yet. I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t an inner voice in my own head, too, after so many years, that also sometimes chimes in to say, “Come on, really, who do you think you are? What do you think you’re doing?

When that voice speaks up, the answer can seem like, “Not much.”

So I’m writing a post to push back against that inner voice. I’m writing a post to list out something of what I actually have been doing this past decade. Because from the outside, these might look like quiet years, but from the inside, they look really rich and full and challenging and significant and wonderful, and I need to remind myself of that.

Along the way, maybe this post will help some of you reading it to push back against your inner voices, too. Because whatever you’ve been doing the past ten years, it matters, and it’s enough, and you have every right to be proud of it.

And in the end, really, whatever we do or fail to do, whatever we achieve or fail to achieve, isn’t the entirety of who we are anyway. Every single one of us is bigger and more wondrous and more wonderful than that.

What I’ve Been Doing, 2012-2022 Edition 
(An Incomplete List)

  • Finished three novels, including Faerie Afterthe final book of my Bones of Faerie Trilogy
  • Published two of them, one under my own name and one under a pseudonym
  • Wrote a guest episode for the Zombies, Run! App
  • Wrote the video game script for The Huntsman: Winter’s Curse
  • Sold a new short story to Stars of Darkover (and then donated the proceeds when I learned some hard truths about Darkover’s creator)
  • Volunteered at a wildlife center
  • Volunteered with an expressive arts group for local refugee families
  • Camped and traveled and hiked and explored
  • Mourned several friends
  • Became a parent
  • Finished rough drafts of four novels-still-in-progress
  • Curated a Writing for the Long Haul blog series
  • Served as the inaugural Writer-in-Residence for the Pima County Public Library
  • Served as Guest of Honor at TusCon Science Fiction Convention
  • Spoke at countless other book festivals, conventions, comicons, and writing conferences
  • Practiced multiple styles of bookbinding
  • Created designs for t-shirts, journals, stickers, mugs, and more at my Redbubble store
  • Mourned my father
  • Settled my father’s estate 
  • Did I mention becoming a parent?
  • Became politically active and took part in dozens of pro-democracy actions
  • Battled depression
  • Wrote more than 400 blog posts
  • Redesigned and reorganized my blog and website
  • Launched and published two chapbooks in my new Writing Life series
  • Redesigned and re-released new editions of three short stories
  • Designed and published Unicorn Seasonsa new short story collection
  • Re-designed and re-released a new edition of Tiernay West, Professional Adventurer
  • Taught myself some basic Mandarin
  • Had open heart surgery
  • Recovered from open heart surgery and went through rehab
  • No, really, parenting needs more than a line or two on this list
  • Homeschooled my kid during a pandemic
  • Lived during a pandemic, one that is still ongoing
  • Volunteered at a vaccine clinic
  • Published a humor piece with the Weekly Humorist and three humor pieces with Frazzled.
  • Published a non-fiction piece with Modern Parent and two pieces with Blank Page
  • Mourned my mother
  • Redesigned and re-released a new edition of Thief Eyes
  • Redesigned and re-released new editions of Bones of Faerie Trilogy
  • Marketed the new Bones of Faerie editions well enough to have the best year, from a business perspective, of my entire career
  • Did I mention parenting? Because parenting could easily fill ten years all by itself 

So yeah, it’s been a decade. Love and loss. Lots of ups and downs. Lots of living. Lots to be proud of, some of it writing and career related, a whole lot of it not.

I’ll take it all. And I’ll look forward, with whatever cautious optimism as I can muster, to the next ten years.

[Arms outstretched in front of an image of a turkey vulture]
We all have larger wingspans than we realize.

“Once long ago, there was a seal who loved the sea…”

Writing is a strange business sometimes. We think we’re writing for readers, and then it turns out we’re writing for ourselves. We think we’re writing for our present selves, and then it turns out we’re writing for the children-we-were or the adults-we-will be.

Or both. Today I came upon ”Seal Story,” a selkie short I wrote more than a decade ago. Selkie stories are by their nature about the pull between two worlds, and when I wrote this one, I was thinking about my fears around one day becoming a mother, about the tensions between the creative world I already inhabited and the world of parenting, which are often presented as two very different, irreconcilable things.

But when I reread the story today, I found myself thinking instead about losing my own mother, and my struggles with being her adult child—about reconciling her need to be so many things to so many people with figuring out my own place in her life.

I don’t know whether Mom and I ever got to the final version of this story. I do know there are things I need to think about here, though, and that this was a story I needed to reread today.

In case it’s a story you need—or even just want—right now as well, I’m sharing it below.

Seal Story

You know this story.

Once long ago, there was a seal who loved the sea. On bright days she swam through the warm water, while waves crested with foam and salt scented the air. Yet she also loved the land, so on dark nights she shed her skin, took on human form, and danced, not through waves, but on cool, wet sand.

One night a young man caught sight of her, and when he crouched behind the rocks to watch her dance, he also caught sight of her gray skin shining in the moonlight. The young man couldn’t believe his good fortune. He stole the skin, and he hid it like the treasure it was.

The seal woman had no choice. She could not turn back to a seal; she could not return to the ocean. Instead she made her way to the young man’s home, and if the road that led there cut her bare feet, this story does not tell of it. It tells only that the man and the seal woman were soon married, and that they lived together in his house near the sea. Whether she grew to love him or hated him all her days–the story does not tell that, either.

What it does tell is this: in time, the seal woman had children. Her love for them was as deep as the sea, the joy she found in them as true as the stones beneath it.

And yet.

The young man’s house faced the ocean, and through its windows the seal woman could see the changing tides. Walking its halls, she could hear the crashing waves. Restlessly she paced those halls, long after her children slept, until one night she found the skin the man had hidden. In the attic, in the cellar, beneath a stone–again the story is silent. It says only that the sea grew loud, so loud, as she held her skin once more.

She could not ignore that call. She kissed her children as they slept, and she crept quietly down to the sea. But her eldest daughter woke, and heard, and ran after her mother.

The girl wasn’t fast enough. As she reached the sand a flash of gray disappeared beneath the water, and then she saw only waves.

This girl was human-born; she could not follow her mother. She returned to her father’s home, and the stones did not cut her feet. But even as she walked, she knew she would never forget that while her mother loved her as deeply as the sea, the depths of the sea were nothing, beside her mother’s love for being a seal. She would never forget, and she would never forgive.

You do not want this story. You are a child; you are unkind. The seal woman’s happiness means less, to you, than the girl’s.

Very well.

Once long ago there lived a seal who loved the sea. When she sought to return to it, her daughter ran after her.

The girl was fast enough. She cried out, before the seal woman disappeared beneath the waves, “Do not leave me!”

The seal woman heard, and her daughter’s voice pulled on her, as strong as the tides. She could not ignore that call. She shed her skin once more, and she carried it back to the young man’s house, her daughter clutching her hand all the way.

She found joy in her children for many years more.

And yet.

In the end her children grew up and moved away, even the daughter who’d begged her to stay. The young man grew old and died. The seal woman also grew old, too old to return to the ocean. She lived, bitter and alone, in the house near the sea.

She did not forget, and she did not forgive–not the young man who stole her from the water, and not the daughter who stopped her when she sought to return.

You don’t want this story either. You want the seal woman to be happy, and her daughter as well. You are trying to be kind.

Try this, then: The girl ran to the edge of the sea, and her mother heard her cries and knew she could not go.

Not that night, and not for many nights after. But one night, when her daughter was nearly grown, the seal woman returned to the waves after all. She did not kiss her children goodbye this time. She did not want anyone calling her back.

Her daughter mourned, but in time she did forgive. She knew her mother had stayed as long as she could. Besides, the girl lived in another town by then, or perhaps even in the city. She had a young man of her own, and she did not wish to return to the house by the sea, for her mother or anyone else. Instead she married, and in time bore children who pulled on her, strong as the tides.

And yet.

The story does not say whether the daughter ever longed to escape her own young man, or even her own children. It says only that she knew she could not leave, not when her mother had left her.

You are still not satisfied. You will have a happy ending, or else none at all.

I cannot give it to you. I can only give you this: The girl was fast enough, and the seal woman heard her cries, even before she pulled her seal skin over her human one.

So she did not go, but neither did she promise to stay. She drew her human daughter close. “I was a seal before you were born,” she said. “I will be a seal after you leave. I am a seal now, and I am also your mother. I will not be only one thing or the other.”

The girl did not understand. She only cried louder, because she thought her mother was leaving her after all.

“Trust me,” the seal woman whispered. She pulled on her seal skin then, and she slid into the sea.

I do not know this story.

Perhaps the girl goes home to mourn her loss, only to have her mother return to her, hours past dark. Perhaps she waits by the water’s edge until the seal woman reappears, dripping and human, to take her daughter once more in her arms.

What I do know is this: as her children grow, the seal woman spends time on land and time at sea. Perhaps the girl rages at this, and perhaps she weeps, because she misses the seal woman, when she is away. Because she wants her mother to be one thing, for her and no one else. I do not know whether the girl will come to understand, in time. Perhaps she’ll forever fear the day the seal woman will leave her for good.

And the seal woman will leave in the end, though not for the sea. You are a child, but surely you know this.

Still, when that day comes there will be nothing to forgive and nothing to forget. By then the girl might have children of her own, in this town or another. I like to think one day she’ll turn to them and say, “Your grandmother, she lived on land, but she also lived in the water.”

I hope there’ll be more joy than sorrow in her voice when she says it, and when she takes her human children into her arms. “Once long ago,” she’ll whisper to them, “there was a seal who loved the sea.”

Then she’ll smile, because she knows this story.

Seal Story” first appeared in Merry Sisters of Fate on February 28, 2011. You can find a full list of my stories here.

Free Bones of Faerie short story

Happy holidays! “Invasive Species,” a short story set in my Bones of Faerie universe, is now online. It’s also FREE this month wherever ebooks are sold.

You can download a copy now from Amazon Apple Barnes and Noble Kobo or Smashwords.

[Invasive Species: Book Cover]

The Bones of Faerie trilogy is set in the aftermath of a catastrophic war between the human and faerie realms, one that has left behind a world filled with deadly magic: stones that glow with deadly light, trees that seek blood and bone to root in, dark forests that can swallow a person whole.

While the main trilogy is set in the Midwest, “Invasive Species” is my look at what the war with Faerie might have looked like here in the Arizona, where even without magic, the plants know how to bite. Here’s an excerpt.

I held tight to my little cousin’s hand as we walked the road through Summerhaven, scanning the broken asphalt for weeds. Alex tugged at a stray thread on his faded Cookie Monster T-shirt and scuffed his sneakers against the ground. He’d been fidgety all day, like his skin felt too tight. Maybe it was the heavy gray clouds, promising rain, but giving us only another sticky summer day.

Maybe it was that for five years—since before Alex was born—our entire lives had been lived within a couple miles of this road. Thinking about it made me want to crawl out of my skin, too.

Alex spotted a fuzzy pink thistle poking through a crack in the pavement. He reached for it. I pulled him back. “Gloves on?” I asked.

Alex looked down at his bare hands, as if he had to think about that. He pulled leather gloves out of his jean pockets, tried to put them on, and got his thumbs stuck in the finger holes. I helped him straighten them out.

“Gloves on,” he said, as if it had been his idea.

“Go for it, then.”

Alex grabbed the thistle and pulled, throwing all his four-year-old strength into the job. The stem came up in his arms, wriggling like a thorny green snake, while the fluffy bloom at the end thrashed wildly, trying to break free. I opened my leather weed-gathering bag, and Alex threw the thistle in. Once it was dead, we’d feed it to the goats and rabbits, just like all the other weeds.

“Take that, stupid plant.” Alex laughed, as if hunting down killer weeds was all in a day’s work. He’d never known a plant that was safe. He’d never known a world more than a few miles wide, either.

I knelt beside him and dug the thistle’s roots out with my knife, ignoring the strap of my quiver as it dug into my shoulder.

Sweat plastered my I Love Mount Lemmon T-shirt to my back. “Never forget the roots,” I said.

Never forget the roots.” Alex threw them into my bag, too, grinning like a preschooler learning his ABCs. Except Alex hadn’t been to preschool, either, hadn’t learned his letters and numbers anywhere but by the fireplace with Aunt Anna and Uncle Doug.

I sighed and stood, looking at the familiar cabins that dotted the hillsides east and west of us, the snags of burned trees punctuating the earth between them. Beyond the houses, terraced fields of beans, squash, and corn moaned as they reached for the sky. Most of the town was up in those fields today, reinforcing the scorched rings of earth that surrounded the crops and kept them from marching down the hillside into town.

Five years ago, if someone had told me plants could march, I’d have told them they’d been streaming too many bad movies …

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