How can AI tools help authors who struggle with energy and time because of disability, chronic pain, health conditions, post-viral fatigue, or other unavoidable life issues? Steph Pajonas explains why AI is important for accessibility and more.
Today's show is sponsored by my wonderful patrons who fund my brain so I have time to think about and discuss these futurist topics impacting authors. If you support the show, you also get the extra monthly patron-only Q&A audio. You can support the show at www.patreon.com/thecreativepenn
S.J. Pajonas is the USA Today Best Selling author of science fiction, romance and cozy mystery, with over 30 books under two pen names. She also started the Facebook group AI Writing for Authors, and is one of the founders of the Future Fiction Academy, teaching authors how to harness the power of AI to revolutionize the world of fiction writing.
You can listen above or on your favorite podcast app or read the notes and links below. Here are the highlights and the full transcript is below.
- Using AI tools to overcome brain fog and help brainstorm
- AI tools to help writers with disabilities
- How to stand out in a saturated market
- Generative search for creating a more nuanced search
- Using AI as a co-writer and having fun
- What is the Future Fiction Academy and how does it help others?
Transcript of Interview with Steph Pajonas
Joanna: S.J. Pajonas is the USA Today Best Selling author of science fiction, romance and cozy mystery, with over 30 books under two pen names. She also started the Facebook group AI Writing for Authors, and is one of the founders of the Future Fiction Academy, teaching authors how to harness the power of AI to revolutionize the world of fiction writing. So welcome, Steph.
Steph: Thank you so much for having me, Joanna. I'm so excited to be here. You have no idea.
Joanna: Well, it's funny because you and I have been connected for probably a decade. We've been on social media and like comments and all of this, but this is the first time you're on the show. So first up—
Tell us a bit more about you and how you got into writing and publishing.
Steph: I think that my story about writing is pretty similar to most people. I started writing at a young age. I really enjoyed writing fanfiction and screenplays when I was in high school. I did some co-writing with a friend of mine, and we really enjoyed coming up and using other people's worlds to tell stories. So that was a lot of fun for me.
Then when I went to university, I went to Michigan State University, I studied a field that is not really in use anymore, telecommunications. It's been usurped by the internet and everything like that. So I studied telecommunications with a minor in film. And when I was doing film studies, I did a lot of screenplays. I really wanted to be a screenwriter. I really wanted to write screenplays.
When I got to my final year of college, and I looked at how much money I owed for my student loans, I thought, oh, no, I really probably should get a job to pay all of these loans off. Then it was my senior year, I decided to take a basic HTML coding class. Back then it was like 1996/1997, and so I was doing basic HTML in Netscape, I think it was Netscape 2.0, and building websites in class, and I thought it was pretty fun.
I was like, this is fun, this could be the future.
I kept thinking that the internet was going to really boom.
I had been part of the generation that had AOL, you know, and I was in chat rooms when I was younger. So I decided, right then and there, that I would learn how to make websites as a career and do that in order to pay off my bills.
So I graduated from college in 1998. I went to work in a small internet design firm in Detroit, or just north of Detroit at that point. Then they got bought by a bigger New York company. So I thought, hey, you know, I just broke up with a boyfriend, I could really expand my horizons by moving to New York. I have family in the New York, New Jersey area, so I would be close to family, so let's move to New York.
So I transferred to New York, and then that company did well for a while. Then it was the dot-com boom, and then it was the dot-com bust. I got laid off, and I went to work at HBO at that point. So I started working for HBO on hbo.com, and it was the heyday of HBO. It was The Sopranos, Sex and the City, Six Feet Under, all the great shows back then. I was working with the team that helped build all of those websites.
So I was back in the entertainment business. I was like, oh, this is great, I love working for entertainment companies. I was having so much fun, and I did that until 2007 when I had my first child.
So when I had my first baby, we were living in Brooklyn, and everything was super expensive, couldn't really afford daycare, so my husband said, well, maybe you could stay home with her and our future second child, and then when they go to school, you can go back to work. And I thought, yeah, I could probably do that.
It wasn't much longer after they were born that I was realizing that the internet was just taking off, like all of my skills were becoming irrelevant fairly quickly. I could have kept up with them, but I was still thinking that my career might be somewhere in entertainment, somewhere around there. Then I saw KDP, I saw that people were self-publishing, and I thought, well, I've always wanted to write a book.
I've always wanted to turn my screenplays or my ideas into books, so I'll try that.
So I wrote my first book, it took me like two years. You know, I think I went through like 12 revisions of that book, then I published in 2003.
I'm actually coming up on 10 years published now. So I took the long road, through the internet and through entertainment companies, to come back to writing. I'm really happy to be here, and I've since published about 30 books between my science fiction, romances and the cozy mysteries that I published.
Joanna: You said 2003 there. I think you meant 2013.
Steph: 2013. Yes, you're right. Sorry.
Joanna: Time flies.
Steph: I'm thinking way back to my time of building internet websites!
Joanna: Yeah, I know. It's crazy, isn't it, I mean, how time shifts.
It's actually really interesting to hear more about your background in internet and entertainment, and we'll circle back to that in a minute. I did want to ask about how many of your books are centered around Japan. I wondered if you talk about that because you're obviously an American. And yet, if people go and have a look at some of your series, they are very Japanese.
How do your travels come out in your writing? Why Japan?
Steph: Yeah, so when I was late in college, I became interested in Japan. It was the time when Hayao Miyazaki's Princess Mononoke came out, I think it was right around that time that it was in the theaters. I was just amazed. I was like, this is such great storytelling, this is such beautiful anime, I really love this. So I started looking into Japan and beginning to understand a little bit more about the culture and the country.
Then when I went to my first job, to the internet company just north of Detroit, I met a friend Jennifer, who had actually spent several years in Japan. She lived in Hiroshima, and she was working there a lot. So we sat down, and we just started talking a lot. She was missing Japan, so she was telling me lots of stories of her time there. And I was thinking, yeah, this is a really cool place. I'm really interested in this culture and in this country.
So when I moved to New York, I thought, well, maybe I'll learn Japanese. That would be fun for me. I'll learn another language, and I will figure out if my love of this country will expand to something other than just pop culture. So I started taking Japanese language courses at the Japan Society. It's in New York City, it's on the east side over by the UN. It's a beautiful building, and they have a language program there.
I started going to classes and I really just, I loved learning another language. It was so much fun. Learning another language taught me more about the English language, too. So I was able to really expand how I was learning about language and understanding language at that point.
Then my love of the country grew from there. I started studying all types of parts of the culture, the history, I was watching movies, TV shows, like anything that I could get my hands on. Then we started traveling to the country as well.
So I'm a longtime Japanophile. I feel like I started falling in love with it in like 1998. I've been studying the language for a long time, I am not fluent, not even close, but it is fun, and I seem to have a pretty big vocabulary. When I listened to the shows, I recognize a lot of the language and the words. So I really love it.
There came a point in my life where I felt kind of removed from it. After I had my first child, I couldn't really go to the language classes anymore. I was sort of house bound with her, doing all the mom stuff.
So when I decided to pick up writing, I thought, hey, if I use my knowledge of Japan in my works, it will sort of bring me back to it. It'll make me feel closer to the country. It'll make me feel closer to the culture and the language again. It just helped me fall right back in love with it once more.
So spending the time, doing the research and looking at the history, I've learned so much just writing the books because I made parallels between my books and some ancient Japanese history. It just made everything come to life for me. I really just so enjoyed it, and I still do it now. So it's been 10 years of writing, and I still include a lot of Japan in my books.
Joanna: I love that. And same as you, I use a lot of my actual travels, and my imaginary travels, and transporting somebody to another place as part of the book. It's that kind of escape.
You were writing to help yourself escape, but we also write to help other people escape. I really love that, and people should definitely have a look at your books there.
So let's get into the AI stuff. And again, like I said, it's really interesting that you've come out of this background of technical stuff plus entertainment. Tell me—
Why and when did you become interested in the writing area with AI?
And how has that developed? And I guess how do you use the tools now?
Steph: Well, you definitely have something to do with that!
Steph: Last year, April of last year, so that was 2022, I'm trying to get my years straight, everything is flying by.
April 2022, I got COVID.
Now, at that time, COVID was here in the United States, and it was a little bit like more than a cold but less than flu. You know, it wasn't too bad, especially for people who had been immunized, like myself.
I got COVID, it felt like a bad cold, and then I thought everything would be fine and I would just go right back to work afterward.
Instead, I had about six to eight months of pretty terrible brain fog afterward. I just couldn't think.
I would sit down to write, and I would look at my document, and I would try to remember what I had written and what I wanted to write next, and I just couldn't. I couldn't hold all of that information in my head.
It was incredibly depressing and demoralizing to think I had written like 30 books, and now all of a sudden, I couldn't write anymore because of this brain fog.
At that point, I had already had a Sudowrite subscription for about a year because I think you had had Amit on your show the first time a year previously. So I had gotten a Sudowrite subscription the very first time when he was on your show.
I was like, this is great, this sounds like a really cool tool, I would love to use this and figure it out. I got the subscription, and I remember typing into it and trying to use the tools and not really understanding how they worked. So I let my subscription lapse, I put it on pause.
Then when I had the brain fog in the next year, I decided, well, maybe this AI tool that I subscribed to a year ago will help me with what I'm writing.
And at this point, it was late summer last year, and I had finally gotten to a point in the book that I had been writing where I'd gotten to like the 80% mark. It had taken six months to get to that 80% mark, when it should have only taken about two.
I sat down and I thought, well, I'll use these tools and see if I can get myself over the finish line and then go back and fix all the stuff that I tried to write during my brain fog time that just didn't come out right, it felt very flat and uninspired.
So when I started copying and pasting my work into Sudowrite, I suddenly realized how it all worked.
Like I had a scene in a marketplace on this planet that it was mostly Japanese, right? So I had the scene in the marketplace and I wanted some more description, so I highlighted the parts of the scene that I wanted more description for and I clicked the describe button.
And oh my gosh, it understood context.
I was like, this is amazing. It knows my world because the context of the words around what I had highlighted included Japanese elements, it gave me Japanese elements to in the describe function.
I was blown away by that. I was like, oh, I finally get it.
The light bulb went off, and I was like this thing understands context. It understands the words around what I'm trying to use.
Then suddenly, I was off to the races because now that I understood how the actual tool worked, I was like, I can actually use this for a little bit more than describing things. Like it is great at describing things using all the five senses and whatnot, but then when I reached my 80% mark where I had stopped, I thought, okay, we'll use the tools now to see if it can help me write and get me over the finish line so that I can edit and finally release this book.
So it was one of those things where I had a need for it. So I had the brain fog, I had the subscription already, due to you, you talking to Amit. So I thought why not use these tools because I have a need for them.
But it was like so revolutionary to see them actually work, and see how they worked, that from there, I was hooked. I was so hooked. I was like I'm going to buy a year subscription of this, and I'm going to use it, and we're going to I'm going to tell everybody about it.
It was interesting that when I finally started telling people about it, I was so excited about the tools and how cool they were, the amount of negative pushback that I got from that.
A lot of people were just like, “Oh, this is plagiarism. This is stealing from creatives,” etc, etc. So I thought, well, you know, I don't see it that way.
Now that I looked at the white papers as to how it all worked, understood how GPT-3 works, because open AI was much more open about their training dataset for GPT-3.
I went and looked at the white papers and I understand how it all worked, especially because I have this computer background. So I was able to put that knowledge to use to understand these tools.
I decided, well, I know that the tide is probably against me, but I'm going to go anyway. Joanna is doing this, a lot of other people are doing this, I'm sure that I can make some headway.
So I decided that I would be more open about it and start using the tools as they came along. And of course, as you know, like ChatGPT came along, I started using that. I use Anthropic and Claude. The tools have just blossomed since then. So I'm using all of these things, and now I'm doing it with a larger peer group as well.
Joanna: It's great that you had that light bulb moment. And again, I appreciate your technical background.
I have a bit of a technical background too. I feel like if, as you have done and I have done, actually look at how the technical stuff works, then many of these arguments we know are wrong, but this is an emotional topic.
So I was really, really pleased because, of course, I've been talking about this since 2016, and so I was super thrilled. I've had a lot of negativity, obviously, for years.
When you started the AI Writing for Authors Facebook group, I was so happy because I have felt very alone for years. I mean, people were telling me I was mad for quite a long time. I know I'm always early, and this has obviously grown a lot faster than I expected.
But yeah, so you started the AI Writing for Authors Facebook group, which now has over three and a half thousand members, which I think in itself is amazing. You also have really clear guidelines.
It's an AI-positive group, people can have questions, which a lot of people do, and everyone shares their knowledge, but it is AI positive, and obviously people have to apply. So I'll put the links in the show notes.
What I wanted to ask you was, coming back on your COVID experience, I also had about six months of difficulty after COVID.
What are some of the other health things, disability, and accessibility, that AI tools can help with?
Because I feel like there are a lot of authors out there who are struggling, who could really use some help.
Steph: Yes, yes, and I have learned more about this as I've been running the Facebook group.
So the Facebook group started, and it was literally like me and three other people. It was like that for like a whole month pretty much. I never thought that anybody else would come in. And suddenly we started getting a trickle of people coming in. You know, like, a few here and then five there, and then suddenly it was like 10, and then suddenly I was waking up and there were 20 people every morning that I had to like let into the group.
So the group started growing and people started sharing their experiences using AI.
Without naming any names or anything, they shared with me that there were a few people who had —
brain fog from chemotherapy, from fighting cancer, or brain injuries to from traffic accidents.
There have been people who have low energy due to autoimmune disorders, that could be anything from like fibromyalgia or anything else in the autoimmune category.
I've seen people who have come in who find that the AI tools help them with their ADHD brain.
There's of a lot of ways that the AI tools help these people. Either it helps them to keep them on track, You know, you may be having a chat with ChatGPT about your world building or your characters, and you're really into it because it can go back and forth.
You can bounce ideas off of it. It can ask you questions, you can ask it questions, so it can sort of keep you on track. It is great if your brain is kind of scattered and you find that you might be better off to be focused on something.
There are people who are using the tools to help them flush out first drafts because sitting at the computer is taxing on their body.
They may have spine impactions, shoulder issues, any one of these other like physical problems with actually sitting at a computer for long stretches of time when you would be typing.
They can instead move a lot of that time to sitting or lying in bed and using the tools on their phone, or having the time sitting at the computer, instead of being like five hours, it's one hour, and they use the tools to help them quickly write a draft that they can then go and come back to and edit more into their style and into their voice. But it gets out of the way like five hours of sitting at the computer and drills it down to maybe one.
So there's a lot of different ways that the tools are helping people with disabilities.
It's really, really inspiring to see people who come into the group who have said that they've struggled for years with trying to write their book because they can't sit at the computer, or they only have like 30 minutes a day when they don't have brain fog or they're not extremely tired.
Now finally, that time is productive because they're using the AI tool to help them get the words down.
It's like made my heart just so full and like bursting watching these people tell us about the stuff that they're getting done. It's incredibly, incredibly inspiring. It's one of these moments where I have no words.
Joanna: Yeah, and I am really with you on that. I think this really humanizes it too, and it's an angle we wanted to talk about because it's not really being talked about enough.
It's like everyone's talking in the negative way about, oh, well, scammers will do this, and people who want to plagiarize famous authors will do this. And it's like, I'm sorry, that's really not the vast majority of people, let alone authors, and the real authors who want to create the project on their mind in their heart. They're the ones who are struggling.
A lot of authors struggle with health issues, whether that's mental health, physical health.
And I totally agree with you, I remember seeing one lady in there with sort of, I only have that one hour a day. And of course, it's not just the writing. It's like the other stuff we do, like writing emails.
It can help you write emails, it can write your Facebook ads, it can do this other stuff.
When I was reading that, I was like, oh, my goodness, that is so right. I had the same after COVID, I could do about one hour a day. It gave me a lot more compassion for people who have chronic fatigue and who have all these problems. Now, I'm fine now, but it gave me an insight into what can happen, and can happen to any of us at any time. I mean, you broke your leg a while back or something.
Steph: Yeah. So I broke my leg in 2019 rather badly. I broke like both bones and needed five hours of surgery, and I still have a lot of metal in my leg. I still have chronic pain from that.
I feel the time that I had COVID actually destroyed part of my short-term memory. I can't remember things from like one moment to the next, and I'm sure that's only going to get worse.
Joanna: I think that might be age!
Steph: It definitely got worse after COVID, so I'm gonna play a little bit of it on COVID. But yeah, sometimes you just need some help, and I don't see why you can't use these tools to get you a little further along on your path.
Joanna: Exactly. And they are tools. I mean, I've been using the Claude 100K model through poe.com, P-O-E.com for people listening, to really analyze my work, to figure out my tropes, and to write better ads, and to write questions. I mean, it's just amazing what we can do.
So let's take it from that other angle, because for me, the biggest use case—I mean, I hate the phrase use case, but it's very tech world, isn't it—but for me, it's almost like the joy of writing and the fun.
I don't know if I ever really had fun writing before AI. I now just have so much fun. I'm literally sitting here giggling away.
I felt jealous when I hear people who co-write with other humans, and they say, oh, we have so much fun. And I'm like, yeah, I haven't had that before, even though I have co-written and I love my co-writers, but you know, it just wasn't a fun giggly process.
Now I literally am giggling away with Claude a lot, and it is fun. So I wanted to point that out to people listening, the positive ways to use this.
So what can you say on that [positive] side, as well?
Steph: Oh, yeah, I'm having so much fun with these tools as well. There have been times when, you know, it'll come up with a twist I hadn't thought of. It will surprise me with some little bit of dialogue that's really, really funny. You know, like, sometimes Claude could be really funny, and it's great to watch it come up with some things.
I hear a lot of criticism of the AI tools that they're built on lots of human language, and human experience, and so it's only ever going to be as creative as humans. Well, I mean, I'm a person, I'm 47 years old, I've had a fairly good life experience so far. I've been to a lot of places, I have a college degree and whatnot.
Yet still, I've sat down to brainstorm with ChatGPT once and we were talking about Arthurian legend. So I was talking, I was chatting with ChatGPT about the Arthurian legend, and at one point, I just said, “Well, what are some other long lived legends from other cultures that I could draw on for the story?” And it gave me this epic poem, Orlando Furioso.
I had never heard of it before. I was like, what is this? This seems really interesting, and it was really a cool story. So I was like, “Tell me more about this poem. I had never heard of it before.” And ChatGPT told me all about it.
Then I went off and I did my own research about the poem because I was looking at it and I thought this would be a really cool backdrop for a story. And so like, I didn't know anything about Orlando Furioso, and all of a sudden, ChatGPT gave me ideas I hadn't thought of before. It really, really, really sent me in an inspired tack, you know, something different to look at.
Those kinds of moments happen all the time, right? Those kinds of moments, they can happen with the AI tools, they can happen if you're on Wikipedia and you're clicking on links.
I can't tell you how many rabbit holes I've gone down on Wikipedia, just clicking on links and learning about stuff.
It's just another way of approaching information, approaching data in a way that is fun and inspiring.
I definitely love working with them. It's just so much fun. Every single day, I'm having fun working with these tools.
Joanna: Yeah, me too. And in fact, it's almost like I can't wait to get back to it. Which again, I've not really had before.
Writing is hard, you know, writing a book is hard, and it's very worthwhile. So yeah, I'm really loving it. What's funny, of course, is people say, oh, but it lies. And we're like, yeah, these hallucinations are actually creativity.
Steph: They're great for fiction writers.
Joanna: They are really good. Yes, so as you say it's using lots of going backwards and forwards.
I think the very nature of the chat interface also changes things because, as you say, it sparks an idea, so you might ask another question.
Then what it will come up with will spark something else, and then you'll go off and have a look, and you might come back later. So it's almost like the creative process can go a lot faster, in the same way that it would be with a collaborator. That's kind of how it feels.
So we're just gonna skip that because we believe the same thing, and I've covered it before. So people can go back and look at those.
One of the other main concerns that we hear is that —
Authors are worried that the proliferation of AI tools will mean a bigger flood of books and that discoverability and book marketing is going to become even harder in an already saturated marketplace.
How are you feeling about this? And what are your thoughts on this?
Steph: Okay, well, I have a few thoughts on this. I definitely think that the market is going to take care of a lot of the books that are coming into Amazon, to any one of the other stores, the market usually takes care of that.
So readers find the stuff that they like, they keep buying from those authors, and then those books rise in the ranks and they do really well. Then the stuff that is not so great falls down and it doesn't get discovered.
If you want your books to be discovered, I figured there are a couple of different ways you can use AI tools in this regard.
You can use them for helping you with social media, you can definitely use them to help you write Facebook posts, if you're still on Twitter, you can still have them help you write some tweets, like series of tweets about your book, or the themes within your book, the characters in your book. You can use the tools for ads, like coming up with ad copy for Facebook or Amazon ads. They can help you really turn out like a lot of ideas very quickly.
So it lets you get in there and start testing those ideas quicker than possibly other people who are agonizing over those like 30 words you put in an Amazon ad. So it gives you a chance to like really pump out like a lot of ideas really quickly and then hash through them and get your idea out to market as quickly as possible.
Plus, if you are a person who really loves content marketing, like I know you do, Jo, I also have been a blogger since like 2003. So that is definitely since 2003, that's been like 20 years that I've been blogging.
I blogged first as a knitter, I had a knitting blog for many, many years. I shut that down at some point, and then when I became an author, I decided to have another blog that I would use also for marketing myself.
If you want to write for your blog, or maybe Medium, or you want to do a Substack, any one of these things, you can use AI tools to help you come up with ideas to write about.
You can tell it your genre, like let's say you're a cozy mystery author, you could go in and say, “Give me some ideas. I want to write about cozy mysteries. Give me themes within cozy mysteries that people might find appealing, Give me some ideas to write about.”
It can help you come up with ideas and help you come up with SEO-optimized posts for your blog, for wherever you want to write.
I just feel that being visible to our audience, being out there, being ourselves.
You can be human and use AI at the same time.
So it can help give you ideas, and then you can put your spin on it as a human to write about those things and get people to come to you.
So I find that as long as you're out there, and you're creating content that is applicable to your genre or your brand, that people are going to find you.
They're going to enjoy what you're talking about, they're going to enjoy the kinds of things that you write about, and then therefore, you're gonna be in their minds when they go to buy. So I just feel like you can use the AI tools in order to help you come up with these ideas so that you can be more visible to your audience.
Joanna: Yeah, absolutely.
In fact, I'm finding with the Claude 100K (through www.poe.com) I'm kind of analyzing my books, and it's really helping me understand my tropes.
For example, I have always said I don't write romance, and what I have found is that most of my books include second-chance romance as part of the subplots. I'm like, this is crazy, because I'm married for the second time, and my second time romance.
So like, in my ARKANE thriller series, Morgan Sierra and Jake Timber, the agents, there's this sort of tension where they never get together. Then it's the same in Desecration, and I didn't even know. It was the AI that kind of told me, yeah, these are the tropes in your book. And I was like, oh, my goodness, how did I not even know that? That's hilarious. I'm learning a lot about my own work.
I think generative search is going to change things and make search more nuanced.
So I have almost given up on any other form of book discovery.
So now, say, I'll be in Claude, and I'll be like, “I'm looking for books that are action-adventure thriller with religious elements,” like mine, obviously, “and I want a female protagonist and written by a female author and set in Rome,” and maybe, I don't know, a historical mystery.
I'll give it such a long list, and then it will give me some options. Then I will go and I'll say, “Okay, I like this, but I'd like a subplot with this kind of thing.” So I'm actually having a chat to find books. This is not possible at the moment.
We're so hamstrung by sort of keywords and categories, and I feel that generative search will mean much more nuanced search in the future. We're not there yet, but I think we're getting there.
Steph: I feel like we're so close to just uploading our books to one of the stores and having it take a look at what we've written and then have it do all of its metadata on its own. Wouldn't that be amazing?
Joanna: It should have been that. Why can't it not be that? It already has our books. We do upload our books!
Steph: Like why can't it just look at it and say, “Oh, I see second-chance romances and religious themes,” and then just optimize your book for the search. I don't understand why that can't happen right now without us having to go in and choose keywords.
Joanna: Yes. So I would just encourage people that I really think —
Within the next six to twelve months, we're going to see a real change in search, where it's going to become so much more nuanced and granular.
All of those of us who have been writing cross-genre books for forever will suddenly find more readers because people want these things, but they can't even search for them right now. So I'm actually very encouraged about discoverability. I'm really hoping that this solves the problems.
Steph: You and me both.
Joanna: Yeah, exactly. Okay, so just to come back to the other things you're doing.
You and some other AI-positive authors have started the Future Fiction Academy, which is fantastic. I mean, even today I sent someone in your direction because they email me and say, “Oh, I really would like some help with how to use these tools.”
What is the Future Fiction Academy and how are you helping authors over there?
Steph: Okay, so Future Fiction Academy, I started it with a few other people.
Our leader is Elizabeth Ann West, and we have a few other people on our team, Christine, and Karen and Leland.
Basically, we're all AI positive people. I think that Elizabeth has probably been using them the longest out of all of us, with Christine probably. And we've been using the tools as part of our workflow for a while, and we decided that we wanted to be able to teach other authors to use these tools, but they need to be able to use them now, the way that they are now.
So when we started the Future Fiction Academy, we sat down and we thought, how are we going to teach authors how to do this? Because if you try to create like an evergreen course, it's just not going to work. The things we're doing today weren't possible two weeks ago.
There were things that we did two to three weeks ago that are completely obsolete now. So if you try to do a course, even like a six-week course, I was thinking even six weeks, like you could get three weeks into the course and something major could happen, and all of a sudden you're scrambling.
So we decided, instead, to do lab hours with our students. So our model is built around the fact that we have eight live lab hours in one week.
We sit down with our students on Zoom, and we go over the latest tools, we go over how to use those tools to write, we go over how to use those tools to brainstorm and world build and build characters. Then we'll sometimes even just look at something brand new that has come out like that day, and we'll sit down with the students and we'll play with it. We'll figure out the ways that it works. Maybe we see how it breaks, and so we try something different. It is a very sort of like off-the-cuff what we're doing with students.
Then we archive all of our labs, and we have them all in Teachable. So if you can't make any of the labs, you can go and watch something from the week, and you can learn something new. So we decided to try this different platform for teaching because we need to be on the cutting edge all the time. We can't miss something.
So we have about 100 students now, which is really great. They're coming to labs, we're all learning together, we have a Discord server where we talk a lot about like what we're working on, what we've come across, new tools we've seen. It's very cutting-edge, we're on the cusp of everything that's happening. It's been so much fun. It's kind of exhausting sometimes too.
We'll get to the end of the week sometimes, and we'll meet just the five of us, the founders, and we'll look at each other and we're like, oh my god, I'm exhausted. It was such a week in AI. Like some new thing will come out.
When Claude 2.0 came out, we were exhausted by the end of that week because we were teaching classes, and we were talking to people about it, and we were doing interviews, and all of a sudden the week was over, and I was like in bed, just horizontal, I couldn't do it anymore.
So the Future Fiction Academy, we're just trying to make sure that we're staying ahead of the technology.
We're teaching authors the ways to use AI tools in ethical ways.
We're making sure that people are using the tools in an ethical fashion so that they feel that they are doing things the right way. It's been so much fun. I'm hoping that we will just keep going, and going, and going, and learning these new tools. I can't wait.
Joanna: Yeah, and again, this is exactly the right thing. I mean, I have an AI course that went with my book from 2020 about this, and that was really more principles of how a lot of these things work and thinking about bias and thinking about ethics and all of that kind of thing.
But what you're doing is the actual showing people the nuts and bolts, and you're exactly right, that you have to do kinda these live labs.
Also you mentioned play, the word play. This is the word that I think is so important. I feel like authors—like, okay, let's say uploading a book to Amazon KDP, there is a way to do it, and it's exactly the same, and let's face it, it's been the same for pretty long time.
So you can do a video on how to do that, and it will sit there. But exactly as you say, I mean, you log on to something and it has just changed. Like when I logged on to Poe, it's got the new Llama model, it's got some of the other models—I was like, oh, I wonder whether I should try this—and the 100K model just popped in and all this stuff.
I think this is the attitude, it has to be playing with it.
But of course, a lot of people aren't confident enough. So I really appreciate what you're doing. So yeah, I'm very much sending people to you at Future Fiction Academy. So tell us—
Where can people find you, Steph, and also any other AI resources, the Facebook group and that kind of thing?
Steph: Okay, great. So I'm Stephanie Pajonas. I write as SJ Pajonas, and I'm online at SPajonas.com.
And then Future Fiction Academy is also online, you can find our website, which I also built, I love building websites still to this day, so that's at FutureFictionAcademy.com.
We have information there about our labs, any upcoming stuff, any upcoming events we'll be doing, including we have a new free course, actually, on generative AI. It's all about the basics of generative AI and how it works, where all the information comes from. So it just gives people the basics. I feel like the basics are pretty easy and evergreen at this point, so we decided to have a free course on that to help people understand all of that.
Then the Facebook group is AI Writing for Authors, and if you put that into Facebook, you should find it.
Right now, I'm making sure that everybody who comes into the group is a writer. So if you apply to the group, and there was absolutely nothing on your profile that tells me that you're a writer, please just message me and let me know, please, because I definitely deny a lot of people who either don't answer the questions, or don't agree to the rules before they come in.
But if they're not an author, then I kind of wonder what they're doing there. But they could have a pen name, or they don't do anything on their main profile, and that's totally fine. You just need to message me and let me know.
There are plenty of people I also denied. I try to keep those people at bay so that they're not just coming in and spamming and selling stuff to our group because, I mean, our group on Facebook is very AI-positive.
I try to keep the atmosphere in the group fairly positive and welcoming. This way people can come and they can feel secure there. So definitely come check us out. Let me know if there's nothing on your profile that tells me that you're a writer of some kind, you don't even need to be published, it's fine. I just want to make sure that you're a writer, so you're coming in and wanting to learn the tools. So those are the major places you can find me.
Joanna: That's fantastic. I check Facebook far more often because I learn from people in the AI Writing for Authors group, and I know some people who have actually come back to Facebook in order to be part of it. I mean, they left and then they're like, oh, no, this is too good to miss. So yeah, you've done a fantastic job, and you, and Elizabeth, and the team there. I think we're only just beginning on this interesting journey. So thanks for all you do, Steph. I really appreciated your time.
Steph: Thank you for having me, Joanna. This has been great.