Inside the high-tech, high-tension jungle
of the corporation where I used to work,
I helped worried clients look past
financial crises, pitiless wars,
incessant epidemics and pious politics
to amplify the value of their investments,
turn aside their fears and uncertainties
and find unexpected hope and courage.
“Look for the silver lining,” I told them
as we shook hands on a deal that appealed
to their sense of luck and risk,
“but grab the golden one, if you can.”
The corporation had its own rules of conduct.
The secret of success there was to outwit,
outplay and outlast your competitors,
scramble up the corporate ladder
until you reached the summit
and gained the coveted key
to the executive washroom.
Nothing succeeds like success
said the corporate motto,
but money alone is meaningless
I counseled clients
unless you keep in mind
all life has to offer,
some of which comes when least expected.
When our new corporate masters
cut costs by ordering “expendables”
to be downsized and shown to the door,
I was one of the 378 summarily dismissed.
Unable to believe I was exiting to nowhere,
I chose to see it as the door of opportunity.
Jobs were scarcer than an incorruptible politician,
but I had the feeling that fate had
something interesting in store for me.
Leaving behind the game
of corporate musical chairs,
I managed to land a position
as a part-time financial consultant,
working at home, serving customers
whose wishes ran the gamut
from slow and steady to get-rich-quick.
I appeased the greedy and soothed
the hesitant with realistic calculations
of returns on “promising new investments.”
In my spare time, sensing
the time had come to write
the next chapter of my life,
I found a measure of peace
by scribbling what I thought might develop
into a novel of corporate life,
obeying Mr. Hemingway’s rule
that one should always write
what one knows best, without
fabrication or the kind of fakery
Ernie could smell on page one.
Writing with a slow but certain pace
I thought would banish all errors,
I lapsed into one page forward and several back,
in search of the more perfect word,
the fitting phrase and the smoothly certain
flow of paragraphs. I ended
by deleting whatever I’d written
and returning to a blank page,
willing to start over and incur all risks,
like a matador returning to the corrida
to face (as Hemingway might say)
the challenge of the bull.
It was at this time that I found an ad
from a service called Wonderwords
with the following offer:
“Would you like to be a writer?
Why not cultivate your talents?
Give the boot to the inner critic
in you who says you have no talent
and never will see publication.
Hire us to help you prove
you not only can, but will.”
“If you wish to write,” the pitch continued,
“we can help you become a professional
and shape the story you wish to tell.
The strength of Artificial Intelligence
will power your creative efforts
and a personal writing assistant
will assess your limitations
and transform them into assets.”
It sounded too good to be true,
but on second thought,
the unlimited resources of AI
and the oversight of an assistant
could be just what I needed
to make the transition into the ranks
of writers I’d read about—
the storied kind who scribble
detective tales on cocktail napkins,
knock off flawless chapters
of the Great American Novel,
between Hollywood script gigs,
and devise captivating stage plays
destined to make the playwright
the champagne toast of Broadway.
I brought nothing exceptional
by way of talent to the task,
but why let a little impediment
like that close the door
to the career one imagines?
Why not allow modern tech
to place me in the writing game
and seize the dream of becoming
a literary somebody
instead of remaining a part-time nobody?
“What kind of writer do you wish to be?”
a spokesperson named Wordsworth
asked me when I made the connection.
“I haven’t any idea,” I answered truthfully.
“Well, start thinking! Short story specialist?
Noted novelist? Prize winning wordsmith?
Literary superstar admired by worldwide readers
for the depth of your wisdom and charm of your wit?”
He was going too far, too fast,
and I sensed the kind of exaggeration
of an oversell, the promise
that lures the susceptible to a scam.
“We here at Wonderwords
are committed to helping you realize
the dream you dare imagine,
the success you crave
and the fame that brings fortune.
The miracle of Artificial Intelligence
can enable you to set your writing free,
confront and conquer your demons,
and end your creative struggles
by lifting the stranglehold of writer’s block.”
Wordsworth encouraged me
to buy into the premise and come out
“Smelling like an author—and selling like one.
The plots, characters and settings
that defied your best efforts
will now be yours, thanks to
our powerful collection of writing tools.
Using them will polish your skills
and put you in contention for publication.”
To aid my efforts, Wordsworth promised
to give me daily words of wisdom
to boost morale, stimulate progress,
improve my craft and accelerate a career.
All of which was what I wanted.
Never mind the oddity of his voice
or the rush of his salesmanship,
I convinced myself that Wordsworth
knew what he was talking about,
especially when he confided
he was an author in his own right.
I bought in and set to work,
forwarding my scribbled experiments
and receiving each day, as promised,
a short recorded message
of cheer, such as one
that assured me how
“Every piece of writing
is a self-portrait of the person
who wrote it. Autograph your work
with nothing less than excellence.”
Everything seemed in order
to make my dream a reality,
but something was also very wrong.
Work I submitted came back to me
reimagined and redesigned.
It wasn’t me. It was an AI rewrite,
making me look like the author I wasn’t.
I could claim it as my own if I wished,
but that would amount to plagiarism,
the kind that only the vain embrace.
Sometimes it is better to be content
with what you have
rather than follow a dream
that may lead you
up the proverbial garden path.
But having gone that route,
I set to work, at my wife’s request,
on a children’s book from a bedtime story
of mine that charmed my granddaughters.
I wrote it rapidly and easily,
and my approving Mrs. gave it to a friend
of a friend who had a friend
in the publishing industry and a desk
where she decided what would sell
and what might prove a best seller.
The rest is history.
I was asked for a second such book,
which reached the bestseller chart
for juveniles. I was then offered a contract
for a series, all of which proved
increasingly popular with parents,
teachers, booksellers, babysitters,
and the most demanding critics of all — children.
Now that you know my story,
I am sure you can guess
who I had in mind when I penned
“Robbie the Robot,” “Cat, Dog and Robot,” and
“Robbie Takes A Rocket Ride.”
The critics were more than kind,
hailing these robotic romps for their
“classic style,” “artful crafting,”
and “inspiring a love of reading
in the child or children you love.”
And now, ladies and gentlemen,
I’ll be moving over to the author’s table
to sign copies of “Robbie and the Wizard’s Secret,”
the latest in my prize winning series
about the almost-human, egotistical robot with his finger on the key of fame.
Please come join me now
and obtain your personal copy
with no extra charge for autographing!
A retired reporter and editor, Stockton resident Howard Lachtman has written Delta-centered detective stories, Stockton Civic Theatre reviews and a variety of baseball tales for Soundings. In 2006. he was honored by the Stockton Arts Commission for “24 years of superior review and commentary on the performing and literary arts in Stockton.”