Playing around with Artificial Intelligence

The wonders and threats of Artificial Intelligence have been part of the public imagination since the very first science fiction stories. HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey to DATA on Star Trek: The Next Generation

I had a chance to play around with DALL·E 2, the internet program that creates “original, realistic images and art from a text description. It can combine concepts, attributes, and styles.

DALL·E 2 has learned the relationship between images and the text used to describe them. It uses a process called ‘diffusion,’ which starts with a pattern of random dots and gradually alters that pattern towards an image when it recognizes specific aspects of that image.”

Here’s the link to DALL·E 2 :

Sign up is free.

After you have an account and login

This is what my login page looked like
I asked for an Impressionistic painting of female author writing on a wooden desk in a field of crimson clover with rainbow overhead

I typed in the command “Impressionistic painting of a female author writing on a wooden desk in a field of crimson clover with rainbow overhead”

Here’s what DALL·E 2 produced:

Impressive, eh?


Will A.I. replace artists? Musicians? Can a program write the great American novel? Is any creative endeavor safe from A.I.?

Only time will tell.

A few more of my Dall E creations for your enjoyment.

Dancing honeybees in the style of Renior
Renoir painting of a two-story house by a river and a field of crimson clover.


Let Your Heart Be Light

I’m still looking for the sparkle in December this year—the Christmas spirit, the glisten, the glow. Back in July, I anticipated all the shiny parts of the holidays—baking cookies, decorating the tree, piling up silver-papered packages with red velvet bows—with excitement. I forgot, like always, that obligations double or triple this time of year, that the work-rest balance goes awry, and that by the time I get to the doorstep of Christmas, I’m feeling worn out.

Expectations (internal and external) are high—energy and time are low.

It doesn’t help that, for weeks now, my inbox has been flooded with promotional emails warning me that I’ve already waited until the very last minute for gift shopping. It also doesn’t help that here in Virginia, we’ve endured days and days of rain. (A few degrees colder, and we’d have piles of snow!) And, it really doesn’t help that I’m also feeling lackluster about my creative work right now. Rejections and deadlines never take a holiday. Also, it’s time to wrap up one project and start another—a transition I always find difficult to navigate gracefully.

It’s no coincidence that they come together, these dual doldrums. That magic-holiday-feeling that I’m missing is directly connected to my desire to create. So many of the little pleasures of this time of year are creative: singing, decorating, wrapping presents—even coming up with good gift ideas. I can’t expect to do any of these well when my creative reserves are low. But, if I nurture the creative energy, the writing and the merriment should both flow a little better.

In The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron calls this process “filling the well.” She points out that all of us who want to create “must learn to be self-nourishing,” and to “consciously replenish our creative resources as we draw on them.” The process isn’t about duty, though, so populating a to-do list might not help. “In filling the well, think magic,” Cameron says. “Think delight. Think fun…think mystery, not mastery.”

I start small at first. Maybe I make something. Anything.

One good line. A cup of tea. A decent lunch.

Then I go outside, even in the rain. Gloomy light is better than no light.

This week, I found:

A glossy-brown leaf that looked like polished wood

A sprig of green moss

A slice of sunlight between banks of gray clouds

I found beauty, in other words. Seeing beauty helps and writing it down helps a little more.

Also, I try small steps forward, but with an attitude of delight. Today, I wrapped one gift as beautifully as I could. Progress.

I’ve landed somewhere between Holly Jolly and Blue this Christmas. I’m okay with it. There’s a song for that, too.

Noelle Beverly writes poetry and prose, supports local writers in the surrounding community, and is a member of the BACCA Literary group. Photos by author.


By Guide and By Feel

Every story seems to unfold according to its own logic, its own rules, and its own design. While working on my latest fiction project, I’ve realized that it hardly matters if I’ve put a novel together before—the process is different this time. The story is teaching me how to tell it as I go.

My first novel popped up from a dream like a beribboned gift—equipped with a title, characters, a primary plot, a beginning and an ending. Knowing where the story was going helped guide me through the process—all I had to do was keep writing the scenes that I knew needed to exist. They accumulated, not always in order, but all of them over time, and bit by bit. For the order and organization of these scenes, I didn’t have a guide. I had to go by feel. I’ve said before it was like watching an intricate ship emerge from the water—parts that seemed separate at first were revealed to be connected, a part of the greater whole.

For this latest fiction project, I had no plot in mind when I started. Instead, the two main characters showed up first, arriving with distinct voices and (mostly) formed personalities. Beyond the roughest idea, I didn’t know what these characters would do or where the story would take them, but I knew their voices and I knew how they wanted to talk to each other. When I needed to write a new chapter, their voices beckoned, guiding me in. Many chapters later, they guide me still. All I have to do is put those two into a scene together and the dialog almost seems to write itself. I have pages and pages of them conversing—and they never fail to delight me, to make me think, or to make me laugh. Sounds a little too easy…it isn’t. My characters may show me the way in, but the rest—world-building, plot construction—is up to me.

If I had the characters and a ready plot, too, like I did before, maybe this would be like walking through one of those meditative, unicursal labyrinths: one way through and just follow your feet to the end. Without both elements, I find myself in the multicursal labyrinth—the maze. From an aerial view the maze makes sense, the solution is easy to spot, but from inside the maze it’s a different story, and it’s best to prepare for a challenge. While feeling my way through this latest novel, I’ve had some missteps, even reached a dead end and had to double back, start again.

Maybe, at times, a puzzle is best. Good stories need struggle. They need turmoil and huffing and puffing. They need risk and failure. Second chances and second tries. Maybe the storyteller also needs some of these things to keep writing, to stay intrigued. I have plenty of those easy dialog scenes piled up and ready to go, but my favorite parts of my new novel might be the puzzle-box chapters, the ones that kept me up past my bedtime and asserted their conundra into my dreams. Both ways, by guide and by feel, are gifts of the process. The unicursal labyrinth entices, and the maze (after some work) rewards.

Writing takes courage. It’s an adventure, a quest of sorts, with helpers and obstacles. Writers may look like they’re doing very little while sitting in a café, or camped at their desk, hardly moving for blocks of time. But really, they’re creating something out of nothing, inventing worlds from scratch. Fans used to throw posies or silk hankies at their champions as they faced down danger. Maybe instead, we can just check on each other now and then—see if anyone needs a Chai or something. Hydration is easy to forget when you’re in the maze.

Noelle Beverly writes poetry and prose, promotes local writers in the surrounding community, and is a member of the BACCA Literary groupPhotos by the author. 


Back in the Black Forest: Revisiting the Grimms

Sixty Fairy Tales of The Brothers Grimm, 1979 (translated by Mrs. Edgar Lucas, illustrated by Arthur Rackham)

I’ve returned to my old stomping grounds: the classic fairy tales. Rereading has always been a happy pastime for me. I was one of those kids—ready to start over with Once upon a time as soon as I’d heard The End. It’s comforting to revisit a story, to be delighted again by characters and ideas, even when you know what’s going to happen at the end.

Under the guidance of some master storytellers and interpreters of the form (Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes, Robert Bly, Angela Carter, and others), I’ve learned that rereading can uncover new things, too. Especially if I’m willing to pull back traditional interpretations to search with fresh eyes, or if I’m ready to examine gaps and silences instead of just leaping straight over them. This time through the Brothers Grimm, I’m looking around the corners in the stories, mining fissures to find what may be hiding there. I’m also trying to peer back into the eyes of the storytellers to see if they have anything else they might like to say. Here’s an example…

Remember The Frog Prince? (A princess drops her golden ball in a well, a frog offers to retrieve it—for a price. She agrees, but as soon as her favorite toy is recovered, she runs off, leaving the frog in the lurch.) Conventional analyses of this story tend to focus on the importance of integrity and keeping your promises. In the story, when the king hears the details, he makes his daughter fulfill her obligations. So, Froggy gets to eat from her plate and she even has to carry him up to her room. There’s nothing wrong with learning to keep your word, but I can’t stop thinking about what happens next…

Detail from Rackham illustration: “So she seized him with two fingers, and carried him upstairs.”

When the frog tries to crawl into her pretty, silken bed, the princess slams him against the wall. Now, for the record, I do not condone violence against animals—it’s just the princess’s anger here that fascinates me. There’s a line she can’t cross, even to please the king. She made this bargain in haste without really considering the consequences, and when payment comes due, it’s too much. So, she gets mad.

Here’s the funny thing—the pothole in the story that I’ve always been encouraged to skate past—her anger IS the necessary catalyst required for transformation.

After Froggy hits the wall, he pops back into his original, charming prince form—no kissing required! It seems like the original storyteller here understood that keeping your word is important, but protecting your boundaries when you’ve entered into a bad bargain might be even more rewarding. That little facet of this story really holds up—in fact, it seems made for readers today.

There are a host of reasons why teachers and mentors and gurus have used stories to pass their wisdom down. Stories are easier to remember, for one thing. But they can also be elastic—they can grow and bend and twist with us. Narratologists have noted that fairy tales were likely never meant (just) for the children gathered around the fire, but told for the benefit and entertainment of everyone listening.

For me, all of this means that I never have to outgrow these tales—but I know if I return, I might discover that my allegiances have changed. I’m sure I’ll always want to see Hansel and Grethel escape the cannibalistic witch, but I’m less excited to see a damsel in distress get rescued and married off to her champion before she’s had a chance to grow up properly, to rescue herself, or to see the world. It’s likely that the endings might change for me too; I expect them to feel a bit more ambiguous. The sense of justice in happily ever after or they all got what they deserved depends entirely on who we’re cheering for.

Increasingly, I’m much more intrigued by the wish-granters and the catalysts now—those enigmatic figures lurking at the edge of the forest or in the bends of the path, offering help and advice and resources to the worthy and the curious. I confess I’m also sympathizing more and more with the solitary crone—minding her business, growing herbs in the forest— who’ll defend her territory if she has to, even though she might much rather just be left in peace. I must be entering a new phase.

I know of readers who reject the notion of going over old ground, but some books seem to be worthy of a return trip. I’m often tempted to seek out a good story again and again so I can see it from all sides, examine its facets, and imagine myself in each one of its thousand little worlds. And, as a writer, it’s one of my goals to make stories that are worthy of a second look—to create books with capacious themes, and ideas that bloom, and characters that hold new gifts in their hands every time a reader comes around.


Noelle Beverly writes poetry and prose, promotes local writers in the surrounding community, and is a member of the BACCA Literary group. Photos by the author. Illustrations in photos by Arthur Rackham.