AI Art and the Continued Disrespect Toward Creatives

So. This whole artificial intelligence thing has made its way to art.

The eventual migration of technology to the creative realm is predictable–as is the ease with which a lot of people have flocked to it. Also not surprising? The fact that AI art exploits artists, already struggling in a myriad of ways, and the fact that people don’t seem all that bothered about it.

Artist: Kendall Goode (@kendallgoode on Twitter)

I’ve written before about how creatives face disrespect no other discipline faces. How artists and writers both face people who want access to their products and services without paying what those products and services, and the work and effort that goes into them, are worth. Artists and writers are supposed to grin and accept being noticed, as if exposure pays rent or foots the grocery bill.

And if a creative type mentions this? They’re often told to “get a real job.”

AI art brings convenience and ease of access to consumers, without bringing anything of value or respect to artists. Once again, creatives are the butt of a societal disrespect: a demand for access to their wares, with no thought or consideration into the time, effort, and resources used in creating. I briefly studied art in college; I understand better than most how expensive art supplies can be. To say nothing of the hours spent planning and executing a piece.

To shift to writing–because make no mistake, that’s where this AI craze is going next (and in certain circles, it’s already rearing its ugly head)–plugging a series of key words into a machine and getting back a story is a mockery of the entire writing process, and while I don’t think we’ll ever get to a point where AI-generated work renders the likes of Stephen King and Catherine Coulter obsolete, it’s still a troubling trend.

The rise in AI-generated art reinforces the notion that people, writ large, do not respect creatives. For all the creative content we consume throughout our day–the TV shows and movies we stream, the music we listen to, the graphics we see on ads and social media, the books we read–we treat the content with far more reverence than we do those who create said content. There’s no consideration for the time and the effort and the resources. There’s the desire to “pay” with exposure, to treat the artist as greedy for daring to ask for payment for their services.

Gods forbid I ask for $2.99 if anyone wants to read Notna.

No other discipline faces this. We don’t short those who build our bridges or pave our roads or formulate our life-saving medications. Yet our authors and painters and sculptors and illustrators and editors constantly face demands to give away their work, or at least offer a discount for reasons…people respect our products, but they don’t respect the people who create them.

And because of this, they try to shortcut their way to things. Which is where AI art comes in.

But here’s the rub: there is no shortcut to art. Not the genuine product. True, authentic creativity cannot be faked. It cannot be generated through a computer program or an algorithm. True art requires things a machine cannot replicate: desire, an existential need to create…the anxiety, the late nights, the thousands of failed attempts before striking proverbial gold. AI cannot give us those things. AI cannot give us the soul and the drive that feeds our creativity.

There is no shortcut to that. And art that is not genuine, art that is not authentic–we can spot it from a mile away. True creativity requires effort. Emotion. Investment. Personal sacrifice.

SkyNet cannot replicate that. AI is not the answer. AI is an imposter.

About J.D. Cunegan
J.D. Cunegan is known for his unique writing style, a mixture of murder mystery and superhero epic that introduces the reader to his comic book-inspired storytelling and fast-paced prose. A 2006 graduate of Old Dominion University, Cunegan has an extensive background in journalism, a lengthy career in media relations, and a lifelong love for writing. Cunegan lives in Hampton, Virginia, and next to books and art, his big passion in life in auto racing. When not hunched in front of a keyboard or with his nose stuck in a book, Cunegan can probably be found at a race track or watching a race on TV.

Follow J.D. on FacebookTwitter, and Goodreads.

2022 Writing Snippet #7

A periodic look at some of the passages and lines I’m most proud of. For this one, a passage from my current WIP (and 2022 National Novel Writing Month project) Summertime, Assassins, and Other Skullduggeries.

Guevera brings the Escalade to a squeaky stop and kills the engine. The rear door on the passenger’s side swings open, with no one on the outside, and Lola shrugs at me before climbing out. Wishing I was armed with something more than my own wits, I sit for several quiet moments before following her. As soon as my feet hit pavement, Lola’s hand clamps down on my own.

She’s nervous. Uncertain. It’s a strange look on her, but she’s not wrong to feel this way.

Hell, my stomach is little more than a ball of nerves. Like a hornets nest someone’s taken a stick to.

To make things worse, a fucking prop plane is waiting for us. It’s 2022 and we’re still hurtling through the sky in planes no bigger than a stick of gum and sound like some five-year-old who makes fart sounds. I don’t care how safe anyone tells me this is, I should never be forced to fly in something that looks like a remote control toy.

Writing Snippet #1 | Writing Snippet #2 Writing Snippet #3 

Writing Snippet #4 | Writing Snippet #5 | Writing Snippet #6

Odds and Ends, November 2022

Not a Month in Review (since the month just started), but random musings on a quiet Saturday.

Goodbye to Medium
I’ve deleted my Medium account and will no longer write for that platform. Part of it’s because Medium kicked me out of the Partner Program (where my articles could’ve earned money) without telling me, and it’s also because my writing hasn’t gotten the traction there it has when posted to this site. I’ll still be writing articles on creativity and the like, but they’ll all be shared here and via my newsletter from now on. No sense in sticking with a platform that’s clearly not working for me.

NaNoWriMo
It’s that time of year again: National Novel Writing Month! I’m using this year’s 50K-in-30-Days insanity to finally knock out a draft of Summertime, Assassins, and Other Skullduggeries, and so far, I’m just over 20,000 words in. If I can keep that momentum through the entire month, I might have something.

Happy Birthday, Notna
My standalone fantasy Notna turned five years old last month after releasing on Oct. 10, 2017. Everyone who’s read Notna loved Notna, so why not add it to your library today?

Are You Ready for the Bitter End?
Because I’m apparently not. I wanted the sixth installment in the Jill Andersen series out by the end of the year, but issues with my editor have pushed back the timeline. Now, it’s looking like Bitter End might not release until early 2023, and that’s frustrating–because I know one of the reasons I struggle to get any audience traction is the length of time between releases.

Reading: It Is The Way
Currently reading: Pep Talks for Writers by Grant Faulkner; The First Binding by R.R. Virdi.

Tis the Season
You know what makes great holiday gifts? Books! Especially if you receive a Kindle or other e-reader. Gotta load them up with quality reads! Indie books make great holiday presents (including, you know, mine).

Subscribe to My Newsletter
Have you subscribed to my newsletter yet?

No?

Did you know that if you do, you’ll receive a free novella? Specifically, the Bounty prequel Boundless?

(BELATED) BOOK BIRTHDAY: Notna

Just how hectic has life been of late?

I missed out on one of my book birthdays!

This book is really, really violent. Don’t say you weren’t warned.

The standalone fantasy epic Notna — which one reviewer said was “like Indiana Jones and Supernatural had a baby, only that baby decided the world should end,” — was released on October 10, 2017. This story predates Bounty in terms of what I came up with first, but this lifelong labor of love needed a bit more care before I could unleash it upon the world.

Everyone who’s read Notna loves it. I just…need more people to read it.

Notna
History’s most peaceful race created one of its deadliest weapons.

Forged in the Living Flame by a long-extinct alien race, The Gem of Notna is the stuff of legends, on par with Pandora’s Box or the Holy Grail. But once archaeologist Dr. Jack Corbett stumbled upon the crystal deep in the Amazon, he triggered a whirlwind of events and found himself neck-deep in a centuries-old holy war. The Divine and the Underworld have been locked in a virtual stalemate for the past three hundred years, and the Gem of Notna could be the key to breaking it.

With the gem in his possession, Jack discovers a world of monsters and gods, as well as an entirely different plane of existence that watches over our own. Old grudges resurface, fallen warriors are reborn in the most violent of ways, but at the end of the day, the fate of the world may well rest in Jack’s hands.

J.D. Cunegan (BountyBlood Ties) introduces Notna, a supernatural fantasy epic that will leave readers flipping through the pages with every twist and turn. Grand in scale and steeped in the very comic book lore that lured Cunegan to writing in the first place, Notna proves that anyone can save the world – or die trying.

Notna is available in paperback and all major ebook outlets.

About J.D. Cunegan
J.D. Cunegan is known for his unique writing style, a mixture of murder mystery and superhero epic that introduces the reader to his comic book-inspired storytelling and fast-paced prose. A 2006 graduate of Old Dominion University, Cunegan has an extensive background in journalism, a lengthy career in media relations, and a lifelong love for writing. Cunegan lives in Hampton, Virginia, and next to books and art, his big passion in life in auto racing. When not hunched in front of a keyboard or with his nose stuck in a book, Cunegan can probably be found at a race track or watching a race on TV.

Follow J.D. on FacebookTwitter, and Goodreads.

The Interference of Real Life

One of the most annoying things a creative can deal with is when real life butts in and takes over.

That’s where I’m at right now.

My grandfather on my mother’s side passed away last night. He was 88. He was also a two-time heart attack survivor, a stroke survivor, a diabetic, an Army vet, an avid golfer, and a far more complicated man than most wanted to admit. He loved me and treated me as well as he knew how, but he also loved using the N word and ordering my grandmother around.

He had been in the hospital twice over the past month for various ailments, but he seemed to have been on the mend before we got that fateful call (in the closing laps of the NASCAR race at Bristol). It’s both a shock and not surprising at all, and I find the entire coming week upended. In the grief of losing a loved one, I find myself trying to square things away at my job before hitting the road.

All things considered, I’m lucky that I still have grandparents in my life at age 41. But that age also brings with it the sobering realization that my body is not what it once was; specifically, the fact that my 41st birthday brought with it a diabetes diagnosis (just what I always wanted…). The physical symptoms I began exhibiting over the summer, that had sapped me of my focus and creative energy, turned out to be exactly what I thought they were.

So now much of my non-work time is spent dealing with doctors who are urgent for me to do something now (even to the point where they prescribed medication I didn’t want without consulting with me first), a pharmacy that takes its sweet time filling the prescriptions I do want, and health insurance that doesn’t pay quite as much as it should for everything.

This is the part of adulting I could do without.

The only good thing going in my life right now–aside from the fact that I’m still alive and feeling physically fine, even if my doctor’s freaking the fuck out–is a potential romantic relationship that came to me out of nowhere. I’ll refrain from details here (because some of them are too messed up to believe), but suffice it to say…I need life to chill a little bit.

I’m still working to get Bitter End out before the end of the year (though some help from my editor on that would be nice), and I’d like to get back to Summertime‘s manuscript. I just…I need things to stop. I need a break.

I need to not adult for a few months.

About J.D. Cunegan
J.D. Cunegan is known for his unique writing style, a mixture of murder mystery and superhero epic that introduces the reader to his comic book-inspired storytelling and fast-paced prose. A 2006 graduate of Old Dominion University, Cunegan has an extensive background in journalism, a lengthy career in media relations, and a lifelong love for writing. Cunegan lives in Hampton, Virginia, and next to books and art, his big passion in life in auto racing. When not hunched in front of a keyboard or with his nose stuck in a book, Cunegan can probably be found at a race track or watching a race on TV.

Follow J.D. on FacebookTwitter, and Goodreads.

BOOK REVIEW: Iron Widow

Sometimes, rage can be useful.

Full disclosure: when I look at the world, and I see all the bad things certain people get away with, I’m filled with rage. Rage that leads me to think and wish things I’m not necessarily proud of. It’s one of the reasons I enjoy superheroes so much, because they tap into that power fantasy–the desire to hold accountable those society has let slip by.

Well, Xiran Jay Zhao’s Iron Widow doesn’t just lean into that justifiable rage; it dives head-first into it, with the majestic grace of an Olympic diver who gets all 10s and struts off with the gold medal. This book doesn’t just acknowledge that rage, it treats it like an asset. What starts as a revenge tale ultimately evolves into one where Zetian sets out to put the entire misogynistic out of its pathetic misery and set the whole thing on fire.

And she’s well within her rights to do just that.

Power fantasies get a bad rap in fiction, but fact of the matter is, almost every story is a power fantasy to some degree. The power to right a wrong. The power to save the aggrieved. The power to stand up to the bully. The power to admit when you fall in love. The power to live life the way you want. Iron Widow‘s greatest strength is leaning into that fantasy, admitting anger and other feelings we too often keep to ourselves. Zetian decides this world is no longer fit to exist, and she’s going to do whatever she has to in order to tear it all apart — and not once are we told to view her in a negative light.

That’s so damn refreshing. Especially after the past several years.

Iron Widow also takes one of my least-favorite tropes–the dreaded love triangle–and flips it on its head. The result is a tug-and-pull that doesn’t make me roll my eyes and includes LGBT representation that is too often missing from the trope. I actually wanted a little bit more in that regard, but there probably wasn’t room for it with all the rage and fury in the air.

Iron Widow is every bit the must-read it’s billed as, and I think everyone should have it on their shelves (yes, even the dudebros who would piss themselves in anger over a book like this). The sequel can’t come soon enough.

Rating: *****

Iron Widow is available in hardcover, ebook, and audiobook.

July 2022: Month in Review

There isn’t much to review, because I didn’t do much in July other than work and try to survive.

No, really.

There’s something I’m dealing with health-wise that is sapping both my energy and my ability to focus. I have an appointment set up to look into it, but I can’t help but feel how inconvenient this is. Like, I’m too busy for this nonsense. I have shit to do. I can’t be getting sick.

I have a feeling I know what it is, and it’s scary in a way, but again: there is too much shit to do. I don’t have time for this. Just because I’m 40 now, that doesn’t mean my body can start acting like a car once the warranty’s expired.

Stop it, body. I have things to do.

And when I say I can’t focus…I haven’t written a word in weeks, and I haven’t read anything in almost as long. There’s just nothing there, and I’m afraid there won’t be until I get some answers on this other thing that’s bothering me.

Sometimes, I hate this whole being human thing.

Reading
One book I did manage to read was Iron Widow by Xirna Jay Zhao. I don’t yet have it in me to write a full review (see above about the whole focus thing), but it’s a fantastic tale of righteous rage and using that rage to dismantle systems that don’t deserve to exist. Oh, and it takes one of my all-time least favorite tropes — love triangles — and turns it on its head. Everyone needs this book on their shelf.

On Sale
July saw Smashwords hold its annual Summer/Winter Sale, in which every book enrolled was available for 50% off. Did you take advantage?

You Like Free Stuff, Don’t You?
Have you subscribed to my newsletter yet?

No?

Did you know that if you do, you’ll receive a free novella? Specifically, the Bounty prequel Boundless?

June 2022: Month in Review

Another look back at the past 30-ish days.

Gotta Have Pride
June was Pride Month, and while I’m loathe to use Pride to sell stuff — if a queer writer can’t hawk books containing queer characters in the 30 days we even pretend to like queer stuff, then when can I hawk my books?

Why I’m a queer author worth supporting (before and after June, too!).

Book Birthday — Times Two
June 1 marked the anniversary of two of my books: my debut Bounty published on June 1, 2015, and one year later, I published Behind the Badge, book three in the series. This month is pivotal in my being an indie author, and I’d appreciate some help in the celebration (even though, yes, June is over).

Pretty…Pretty Good
This month, I reviewed two must-reads: The Heartbeat of a Million Dreams by Halo Scot and Dreadknot, book eight in S.E. Anderson’s hilarious Starstruck series. They’re both five-star books, and you should have them on your shelf. Or e-reader.

Or both. Support those indie authors.

I Made a Funny
You should read it.

I Also Got Real
Because sometimes, I need to just vent my feelings. Because I’m not just a writer, I’m also a full-fledged person (or so I’m told).

New Music That Kicks Ass
Spiritbox has again graced us with their presence, and my Garbage-loving ass is here for it:

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

Writers are People, and Sometimes, People Suck
I’ve been as guilty of this as anyone, but maybe in light of everything we now know about people like Joss Whedon and J.K. Rowling, maybe it’s time we stop putting creative people up on pedestals.

Like, buy my books, read my books, enjoy my books. But don’t make me out to be anything more than a good writer.

Help?

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

You Like Free Stuff, Don’t You?
Have you subscribed to my newsletter yet?

No?

Did you know that if you do, you’ll receive a free novella? Specifically, the Bounty prequel Boundless?

Re-Post: The Pitfalls of Idolizing Creators

In February 2021, Charisma Carpenter made a lengthy social media post in which she alleged inappropriate, sexist, and dangerous behavior on the part of Joss Whedon while she was on the sets of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel, where she played the character Cordelia Chase on both shows. Carpenter was showing solidarity to Ray Fisher, the Justice League actor who has made similar allegations against Whedon, and again, the man who was once held atop a pedestal as a paragon of feminism (simply because he helmed a genre TV show with a female lead at a time when that thing was still a rarity) was being exposed as a fraud.

Since Carpenter’s post, other Buffyverse actors — including Sarah Michelle Gellar, Michelle Trachtenberg, Amber Benson, and Anthony Stewart Head — have come forward in support and, in the cases of Gellar, Trachtenberg, and Benson, to allege their own firsthand experiences. For Whedon, who has also been accused of adultery and other inappropriate behavior by his ex-wife Kai Cole and has been fending off such allegation at least since he was tapped to write and direct the first two Avengers films, it’s yet more damage to his reputation.

More importantly, it’s a lesson in how we’re supposed to view people like Whedon.

First off, I believe and support Carpenter and her co-stars. Rumors of Whedon mistreating Carpenter have persisted for years — that he retaliated against Carpenter for getting pregnant in real life and he used Angel season 4 as a means to get back at Carpenter before writing her off the show. Whedon’s track record is now well-established, both when it comes to how he treats his female actors, his history with characters of color, how he treats just about everyone…

Joss Whedon is a person. A bad person, by all accounts. A bad person who just happened to create stories a great many people still enjoy to this day. I’ve written repeatedly that Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel were both key to my creative resurrection and the fact that I’m now a published author. That’s still true. I still (…mostly) enjoy both shows. Firefly and Serenity were enjoyable, and I even liked Dollhouse for a time.

But all that’s tempered by the realization that the man whose name is forever attached to those stories is a bad man.

For some, that means his work can no longer be enjoyed. That’s valid, and I’m not here to argue otherwise. The same is true for those who can no longer enjoy the Harry Potter franchise because author JK Rowling has, in recent years, revealed herself to be a virulent, unrepentant transphobe and bigot.

Rowling’s station is not that dissimilar to Whedon’s; they both created pop culture milestones, stories that touched millions of hearts and made them household names (at least in some circles). Both Buffy and Harry Potter should have created enough goodwill for them both to spend the rest of their lives. But Rowling and Whedon being who they are, blew through all that goodwill and revealed themselves to be what they are. Gross, abusive, bigoted, and — especially in the case of Whedon — the exact opposite of what we were told they were.

Creators are, for better or worse, people. We like to think they’re larger than life, like the stories and properties they helped bring to life, but they’re not. The same is the case for Gina Carano, who just lost her job with The Mandalorian because… well, everything; for Nathan Fillion, who was accused of bad behavior and having a bad relationship with his co-star on Castle; for David Boreanaz, who fielded his own allegations of inappropriate behavior on the TV show Bones; etc. etc. etc…

(And lest you think Boreanaz suffered for that, I remind you he’s now the lead in another show on CBS.)

How much of this is institutional? A fair bit, which is why we don’t hear from the likes of Carpenter and Gellar and Trachtenberg until decades after the fact. They understood, then and now, that speaking up would’ve jeopardized their respective careers, that Hollywood would’ve likely sided with Whedon over them. Which is why Fisher speaking up so soon after Justice League as he did so remarkable. There’s an institution behind the abuse and the disgusting behavior and the bigotry and the inappropriateness. Just ask anyone who ever crossed paths with Bill Cosby or Harvey Weinstein.

Still, the lesson remains: even the creators who have made things you love, things you adore with every fiber of yourself, things that have defined you in one way or another, are human beings. And human beings are often capable of incredibly messed up things, of horrible behavior. Sometimes, it can be impossible to separate the art from the artist (I know I have no desire to ever read any of Orson Scott Card’s work, and there are novels I’ve passed up on specifically because of who wrote them), but it’s also necessary.

It’s important not to put creators on a pedestal, to treat them as if they are gods among us. Because they’re not gods. They’re people.

Creativity is not some divine gift, handed down from on high, that gives us humans a free pass to act as we please. Sometimes, they’re good people (please tell me Lin-Manuel Miranda’s a good dude, at least). Sometimes, they’re not. Bad people can create great things, and we can’t let inappropriate behavior slide just because the offender created something we like.

No TV show is worth the abuse Whedon has allegedly perpetuated. No book is worth Rowling’s transphobia.