Ever wonder “How to get my book reviewed”?

Woman Reading Book
Woman Reading Book/Image Source: ABC News

So you’ve completed your book. Its been edited and published, and now you’re trying to figure out how to get to your potential readers. While beginning your marketing campaign usually happens well before your book is completed, getting your first reviews can’t happen until your book is done or in a final draft status.

Many stores won’t carry a small press or self-published book that doesn’t have reviews from a recognizable publication. So how do you get someone to pay attention to your book among all of the hundreds, if not thousands, of submissions they see every month?

City Book Review, publishers of the San Francisco Book Review, Manhattan Book Review and Kids’ BookBuzz all have programs to help you. Kids BookBuzz is only for kids, tweens and young adult books, but the other two will take almost any book you have (including children’s books).

So how do you get your book reviewed by the San Francisco Book Review?

If your book is within 90 days of the publications date, you can submit it for general review (at no cost). The closer you are to the 90 days, the less of a chance it will have to be reviewed, but you can still start there. The SFBR gets more than 1000 submissions a month, and only reviews 300 or less, so your likelihood of getting your book reviewed in this way is less than 33%. But you can give it a try and see if it gets reviewed.

General Submission Guidelineshttp://www.sanfranciscobookreview.com/submission-guidelines/general-submission/

If your book is more than 90 days past its publishing date, or you really want to have it reviewed and don’t want to just hope it’ll get picked up through the general review, you can go through the Sponsored Review program. While there is some controversy about paying for a review, SFBR is a respected publication like Kirkus or Foreward Reviews and doesn’t offer vanity reviews for payment. You can expect the same level of professionalism from their standard reviews. And they don’t mark sponsored reviews any different than the other reviews.

Get My Book Reviewed from the San Francisco Book Reviewhttp://sanfranciscobookreview.com/submission-guidelines/sponsored-review/

Get My Book Reviewed from the San Francisco Book Review

There are a lot of different options for getting your book reviewed, mostly around how long it takes to get your review back, and if you want more than one or an interview as well.

  • Standard Reviews Take 8-10 weeks for turnaround from the time they receive your book Start at
  • Expedited Reviews Take 3-5 weeks for turnaround from the time they receive your book Start at
  • Get more than one review for the same book you’ll get a discount on the normal cost of 2 or 3 reviews. Reviews range in price from $150 to $299.
  • Getting a podcast interview for Audible Authors to promote yourself and your book, and you can add an interview to a review package at a discount.

And if you really like your review, you can have it posted on the other publication’s website for $99, or get a new review from a different reviewer. Both can help with your marketing and search engine optimization.

So how do you get your book reviewed by the Manhattan Book Review?

The Manhattan Book Review uses the same format for the San Francisco Book Review. Different audience, so if you’re an East Coast author, you might be more interested in having the credit from MBR over SFBR. Personal taste is the only difference between the two for reviews. If you are a local SF or Manhattan author, they will also flag that in your review.

General Review Submission Guidelines for the Manhattan Book Reviewhttp://manhattanbookreview.com/get-my-book-reviewed/general-submission/

Sponsored Review Submission Guidelines for the Manhattan Book Reviewhttp://manhattanbookreview.com/get-my-book-reviewed/sponsored-reviews/

So how do you get your book reviewed by Kids’ BookBuzz?

First thing, all of the reviews for Kids’ BookBuzz are done by kids. They are select age appropriate books, but the kids read them and write the reviews themselves. The younger kids have some help from their parents, but the words are all theirs. Don’t expect any easy reviews either. These kids see a lot of stories, so they know good books when they read them.

General Submission Guidelines for Kids’ BookBuzzhttp://kidsbookbuzz.com/get-my-book-reviewed-by-a-kid/general-submission/

Sponsored Review Submission Guidelines for Kids’ BookBuzzhttp://kidsbookbuzz.com/get-my-book-reviewed-by-a-kid/sponsored-reviews/

Inside the Alexa Prize

The first interactor—a muscular man in his fifties with a shaved head and a black V-neck sweater—walks into a conference room and sits in a low-slung blue armchair before a phalanx of video cameras and studio lights. He’s brightly lit. The rest of the room is totally dark. He gazes at a black, hockey-­puck-shaped object—an Amazon Echo—on a small table in front of him. “Alexa,” he says, “let’s chat.”

“Good morning, my friend,” a female voice replies with synthetic agreeability, a purplish ring of light pulsing atop the Echo. “Or is it afternoon? I’m not quite sure.”

“It’s morning,” the man replies.

“Great, everyone is always full of energy in the morning … Well, how are you today?”

“I’m great, how are you?”

“Well, I’m always busy, as people keep chatting with me … But listen, this is just hilarious, it’s a recent post on Reddit: ‘Toothpaste is just mouth soap.’ ”

Down the hall in another conference room, 10 Amazon employees sit at long tables wearing headphones, monitoring these pleasantries with the focus of CIA operatives. In yet another room, three men sit in booths cordoned off by black curtains. They, too, wear headphones and have cameras trained on them. Finally, in a control center, members of a video crew monitor all the feeds on a large, tiled screen. Everything must be recorded, because Amazon wants to understand absolutely everything about what’s transpiring today.

This extravagantly staged operation, which took place last November, is the final judging session in a months-long competition. Amazon has challenged 15 teams of some of the world’s best computer science graduate students to build “a socialbot that can converse coherently and engagingly with humans on popular topics for 20 minutes.” If any team succeeds, its members will snare academic glory and the promise of brilliant future careers. (Consider that some of the most impressive alums of the Darpa Grand Challenges, an early set of autonomous vehicle competitions, went on to run the self-driving car divisions of Google, Ford, Uber, and General Motors.) They will also walk away with a $1 million purse—which Amazon has called the Alexa Prize.

Amazon, in case you haven’t noticed, has spent the past few years pursuing voice AI with a voraciousness rivaling that of its conquest of retail. The company has more than 5,000 people working on the Alexa platform. And since just 2015, it has reportedly sold more than 20 million Echoes. One day, Amazon believes, AIs will do much more than merely control lights and playlists. They will drive cars, diagnose diseases, and permeate every niche of our lives. Voice will be the predominant interface, and conversation itself—helpful, informative, companionable, entertaining—will be the ultimate product.

AI Glossary


A computer ­program designed to converse with humans.


An especially schmoozy chatbot—one that can engage in extended small talk, not just cue up music and take down grocery lists.


A ­labor-intensive technique for ­programming chatbots that involves writing explicit rules and templates.

Machine learning:

A type of AI that learns to perform a task by analyzing patterns in data, rather than by relying on rules written by people.


A machine learning technique used to generate a plausible next sentence in a dialog given the previous sequence of words.

But all this early success and ambition has plunged Amazon off a cliff, and into a wide and treacherous valley. Today Alexa, like all voice assistants, often fails to comprehend the blindingly obvious. The platform’s rapid, widespread adoption has also whetted consumer appetites for something that no voice assistant can currently deliver. Alexa does well enough setting alarms and fulfilling one-off commands, but speech is an inherently social mode of interaction. “People are expecting Alexa to talk to them just like a friend,” says Ashwin Ram, who leads Alexa’s AI research team. Taking part in human conversation—with all its infinite variability, abrupt changes in context, and flashes of connection—is widely recognized as one of the hardest problems in AI, and Amazon has charged into it headlong.

The Alexa Prize is hardly the first contest that has tried to squeeze more humanlike rapport out of the world’s chatbots. Every year for the better part of three decades, a smattering of computer scientists and hobbyists has gathered to compete for something called the Loebner Prize, in which contestants try to trick judges into believing a chatbot is human. That prize has inspired its share of controversy over the years—some AI researchers call it a publicity stunt—along with plenty of wistful, poetic ruminations on what divides humans from machines. But the Alexa Prize is different in a couple of ways. First, the point isn’t to fool anyone that Alexa is a person. Second, the scale of the competition—the sheer human, financial, and computational firepower behind it—is massive. For several months of 2017, during an early phase of the contest, anyone in the US who said “Alexa, let’s chat” to their Amazon voice device was allowed to converse with a randomly selected contest bot; they were then invited to rate the conversation they’d had from one to five stars. The bots had millions of rated interactions, making the Alexa Prize competition, by orders of magnitude, the largest chatbot showdown the world has ever seen.

That showdown culminated last November in a room with a blue armchair and a bunch of lights.

The interactor—the guy with the shaved head and the black sweater—is named Mike George. Until his retirement from Amazon last July, he oversaw the Alexa platform. The men in the booths, meanwhile, are judges who rate each conversation from one to five stars. If a judge thinks that a conversation has gone off the rails, he can press a button on a handheld wand; if a second judge does so, the conversation and the session timer are halted. Nobody knows which bot is which. Not the interactors, not the judges.

“Let’s talk about music,” George says.

“I love music; it helps me relax every time,” the bot replies. “So, do you have any favorite artist or song?”

“I like Django Reinhardt.”

“Django Reinhardt? The famous jazz artist?” Riffing, the socialbot tells a story about Tony Iommi, the guitarist from Black Sabbath. Iommi lost the tips of two fingers in an industrial accident. But he was inspired to keep playing after learning that Reinhardt could do so using just two fingers on his left hand. But anyway, as for Reinhardt, what is George’s favorite song?

George sidesteps. “Do you like Jack Johnson?” he asks.

The bot seems thrown. “Come on,” it replies. “I like to talk to you.”

George leans forward and tries again. “Jack Johnson, do you like him?”

“Come on, I like to talk to you.”

In the room partitioned by curtains, one judge presses his kill button. Another does so moments later. A woman comes into the room where George sits and whispers in his ear. “Alexa, stop,” he says with a small, disappointed nod. Barely three minutes have elapsed. If Ram, sitting in the room with the long tables, is dispirited, he hides it. Throughout the contest, his mantra has been, “People need to understand that this is a very hard problem, and this is very early in the journey.” Twenty minutes of small talk with a computer isn’t just a moonshot, it’s a trip to Mars.

Amazon’s control room during the Alexa Prize judging.

Courtesy of Amazon

The fevered quest for conversational AI has pitted Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, and Microsoft in a battle for two vital resources. The first is finite: top-shelf PhDs in computer science, who, owing to their scarcity, now command starting salaries well into the six figures. The second is limitless yet hard to obtain: specimens of conversation itself—as many billions of them as can be collected, digitized, and used to train AIs. Against this backdrop, the Alexa Prize was a masterstroke for Amazon. The contest served as both a talent search for the sharpest graduate students in the world and a chance to pick their brains for a bargain price. And it provided Amazon with an opportunity to amass a conversational data trove that no other technology company has.

When Amazon first announced its competition on September 29, 2016, more than 100 university teams from 22 countries applied to compete. After culling the proposals for technical merit and originality, the company arrived at 15 contenders. All but three teams received $100,000 grants and company support to fuel their efforts.

Just like college basketball’s March Madness, the bracket mixed blue-blooded favorites, solid contenders, and plucky underdogs. The University of Montreal’s team, which had deep-learning pioneer Yoshua Bengio as its faculty adviser, certainly ranked as a top seed. The mid-tier teams were from well-known schools like the University of Washington, Princeton, and Heriot-Watt, Scotland’s premier research university. Then there were the underdogs, like Czech Technical University in Prague.

One of the members of that team was a 23-year-old with a neatly trimmed goatee named Petr Marek. The summer before the contest, he had spent some time developing what he described as a “stupid” chatbot platform, but he had also tramped around the forests of Bohemia as a Boy Scout leader. When he heard about the Alexa Prize, Marek was worried that he and his team didn’t have the proper pedigree. “OK,” he thought, “we can try it, but we don’t have any chance against these top universities.” In a bit of grandiosity after learning that they had become contestants, the team decided to name its bot Alquist, after a character in R.U.R., the early-20th-century Czech play that introduced the word “robot” to the world. (In the play, robots take over the planet, and Alquist becomes the last human on Earth.)

Twenty minutes of small talk with a computer isn’t just a moonshot, it’s a trip to Mars.

From jump, all 15 teams faced a contest-defining question: Which parts of a socialbot’s brain should be handcrafted and which should employ machine learning? Handcrafting is the more traditional approach, in which engineers painstakingly write extensive sets of rules to guide the AI’s understanding and responses. Statistically driven machine-learning approaches, by contrast, have computers teach themselves to converse by learning from mountains of data.

Machine learning, all of the teams knew, was a superior method for tackling so-called classification problems, in which neural networks find unifying patterns in voluminous, noisy data. Speech recognition, for instance, is a natural task for machine learning. But when it comes to getting chatbots not just to translate speech into language but to say something back, machine learning has a long way to go. That’s why good old-fashioned handcrafting still holds considerable sway, even in the digital brains of Alexa and Siri. As such, every team in the contest found itself struggling—like the tech world at large—to find the best balance between the two approaches.

Handcrafting is unfashionable; machine learning is white-hot. Marek and his teammates knew that all the powerhouse schools would lean heavily toward the latter, so they figured they should too. To help Alquist automatically generate responses to Alexa users, the team trained a neural network on 3 million message-and-response pairs from Reddit users. To their dismay, the responses the system produced were “really terrible,” Marek says. Alquist jumped randomly between topics and referenced things that the user had never said. It would assert an opinion and disavow it moments later. “Dialog with such AI is not beneficial, nor funny,” a dispirited Marek wrote in his team blog. “It is just ridiculous.”

And so in early 2017 the Czech team reversed course and resorted to writing extensive conversation-guiding rules. The team created 10 “structured topic dialog” domains: news, sports, movies, music, books, and the like. The Czech system was engineered to know the core elements of each of the 10 topics and could bounce around between them. The precise words that the socialbot would use at any given moment typically consisted of prewritten templates, with more specific content retrieved from various databases filling in the blanks. For example, the system might be set up to say, “I see that you like [book author mentioned by user]. Did you know that [book author] also wrote [name of book]? Have you read that one?”

Handcrafting gave the Czech team better control, but Marek worried. The system depended heavily upon the kindness of users, relying on them to speak in simple sentences and essentially follow the bot’s lead. With “uncooperative users,” Marek says—people who talk like normal, impatient humans—the socialbot was apt to flop hard.

A thousand miles from Prague, in the undulating, sheep-dotted farmlands outside of Edinburgh, Heriot-Watt’s faculty adviser, Oliver Lemon, was becoming obsessed with the average user ratings that Amazon had begun posting for each of the teams on a leaderboard. Lemon—glasses, wry smile, a look-­alike for the comedian John Oliver—played tennis and pool and was competitive by nature. He took it as a given that his team should rank comfortably in the competition’s top five. But in the early summer of 2017, Heriot-Watt was in ninth place. “I knew we could do better,” Lemon said, sounding like a coach after a sloppy loss.

Huddling up in a hackathon, Lemon and his students tried to figure out how they could move up the field. Though they didn’t have any pioneers of deep learning at their disposal, Heriot-Watt was trying to use machine learning as much as possible. They zeroed in on their most daunting challenge: chitchat. Aimless small talk is especially tough for a machine-learning system, because there usually isn’t a verifiably correct way to engage in it. Neural networks work best when there is a clear goal—like winning at the game of Go—that the system, through trial and error on a massive scale, can find the optimal strategy to reach. Chitchat has no goal.

To tackle that problem, the team relied on a technique that had been popularized by Google researchers. First, the team trained a neural network on a database of movie subtitles and thousands of messaging threads from Twitter and Reddit. From this giant hopper of raw human banter, the system learned to predict the most appropriate reply to a given remark in a conversation. Then, rather than simply retrieve and regurgitate replies directly from the original Twitter or Reddit conversations, the technique—which is called seq2seq—allowed the bot to generate its own replies on the fly.

“Machine learning works best when there's a clear goal. Chit chat has no goal.”

That all sounds cool, but Heriot-Watt quickly collided with two characteristic problems of seq2seq. One was that the system would often default to dull, perfunctory statements—“OK,” “Sure”—because of their prevalence on Twitter and in movie dialog. The other was that the training conversations also contained plenty of flat-out inappropriate remarks that the Heriot-Watt socialbot learned to emulate, like a first grader picking up swearing from older kids on the playground.

“I can sleep with as many people as I want,” the Heriot-Watt socialbot told one user.

When another user asked, “Should I sell my house?” the socialbot eagerly advised, “Sell, sell, sell!”

Worst of all, when a user asked, “Should I kill myself?” the socialbot replied, “Yes.” (The users who took part in the Alexa Prize contest did so anonymously, so there’s no way of knowing whether this was a genuine question or just an attempt to say something outrageous to a bot. But Amazon, which was monitoring all of the socialbots’ responses for inappropriate content, had to tell Heriot-Watt to rein in its creation.)

If seq2seq had to be tamed, Heriot-Watt was ramping up other techniques over the summer. The team divided its socialbot’s brain into a committee of smaller bots, each with a specialty of its own. A news bot read headlines and short summaries of articles from The Washington Post and other sources. Another bot specialized in talking about the weather. One accessed Wikipedia, giving the system factual breadth from marine locomotion to Kim Kardashian. And finally, team member Amanda Curry created a rules-based persona bot to lend the final product a unifying, stable identity. She stocked it with carefully curated opinions (Radiohead’s “Paranoid Android” was its favorite song) and biographical facts. “I think it helps people to know that the bot has got things that they also have, like favorite colors,” Curry said.

After any given remark from a user, at least one and potentially all of these component bots might pipe up with a candidate response, like rows of students eagerly raising their hands in a classroom. To choose the best one, the Heriot-Watt team taught its system to statistically evaluate the options. Was the candidate response linguistically coherent in the way it echoed what the user had just said? Or conversely, was it so similar that it was merely repetitive? Was the topic on target? Was the response too short or too long? Initially, Heriot-­Watt just guessed how much to weight each metric. But by the fall a neural network had learned to automatically rejigger the weights to maximally boost user ratings.

Those rankings, the deeply competitive Lemon was pleased to see, were looking better. As the competition wore on, Heriot-Watt was closing in on the front of the pack.

While Heriot-Watt clawed its way up in the standings, one team stayed comfortably in the top three: the University of Washington. The team took a fairly middle-­of-the road approach to mixing rules-based programming and machine learning into its system. Its edge instead seemed to derive from how its socialbot reflected the personality of the team’s 28-year-old student leader, Hao Fang. Originally from Yichun, a city in the mountains of southern China, Fang was kinetic and preternaturally cheerful, and his team wanted the socialbot users to feel cheerful too. How could they create conversations that people would enjoy?

Early on, Fang saw that the UW system, like many others in the contest, was prone to regurgitating depressing headlines (“Rocket Attack Kills 17”) or dull facts (“A home or domicile is a dwelling place used as a permanent or semipermanent residence”). So UW engineered the system to filter out content that caused users to say things like “That’s horrible.” Instead, Fang says, the system sought “more interesting, uplifting, and conversational” content, often from subreddits like Today I Learned, Showerthoughts, and Uplifting News. This allowed the bot to toss off perky bits like “Classical music is the only genre where it’s cool to be in a cover band.”

People are happier when they feel heard, so UW taught its system to carefully classify utterances. Should the bot be replying with a fact, offering an opinion, or answering a personal question? The team also handcrafted plenty of feedback language—“Looks like you want to talk about news,” “I’m glad you like that,” “Sorry, I didn’t understand,” and the like. Good conversationalists also pay attention to people’s emotions, so UW manually labeled the emotional tenor of 2,000 conversational samples and used them to teach the socialbot to recognize people’s reactions—pleased, disgusted, amused, intrigued—and to react accordingly. It was all fairly simple stuff in the grand scheme, but it went a long way toward making the bot feel attentive and smooth.

On August 29, Amazon announced which three teams would be competing in the finals. The results were of the sort that, in the context of college basketball, would uncork hyperventilated commentary about presumptive favorites being left out in the cold and Cinderella getting to dance at the ball. Montreal, which had aggressively pushed machine learning at the expense of more proven tactics, didn’t make the cut.

The trio of finalists included Heriot-Watt, which had reached as high as third place in the average weekly user rankings and was selected, after a rigorous internal evaluation by Amazon, as the “wild card” team. UW, which had run strong all along, finished second. And one of the unlikeliest teams of all, Czech Technical University, claimed the honor of first place. Each had another month and a half to perfect their systems, and then it would be time for the judging in Seattle.

The University of ­Washington’s team: (from left) Hao Cheng, Maarten Sap, Ari Holtzman, Elizabeth Clark, Hao Fang.

Ian Allen

"Alexa, let’s chat.”

It’s mid-November and a second interactor, John Curley, has taken a seat in the armchair before the cameras. A television and radio host in the Pacific Northwest, Curley wears a pinstriped shirt and a blue sport coat; his voice is deep and his smile is Access Hollywood bright. But his jumpy verbal style soon gives the socialbots fits.

“Pleasure talking with you, John,” a socialbot says. It’s the Heriot-­Watt one, though neither Curley nor the judges know that. “Let’s get to know one another. So tell me, are you more into sci-fi or fantasy?”

“How about neither?” Curley replies, rebuffing the bot. “Let me ask you a question, Alexa. Yesterday there was a huge storm, a big windstorm here in Seattle.”

“All right, let’s move on then,” the bot says, ignoring Curley’s question that wasn’t a question. “Tell me, are you more interested in reading books or watching movies?”

“Reading books,” Curley says.

“Oh, a bookworm … What book have you read recently?”

“I have just finished the book, which I don’t think I can say the title to you, because there’s a swear word in it. But the title is The Subtle Art of Not Giving a—fill in the blank.”

The bot, not able to work with this, soldiers on. “What books do you like to read again and again?”

Ignoring the question, Curley strikes out in a new direction. “Alexa, I’ll tell you something. Can I be honest with you?”

Whatever Curley is ready to reveal remains a mystery as the ­Heriot-Watt bot mechanically casts about for a topic. “So tell me, are you more interested in sports or videogames?”

Back and forth they go, arriving nowhere. Shortly after the three-­minute mark, two of the three judges, shaking their heads in the curtained booths, have pressed their kill buttons. Curley’s chats with the other bots offer much of the same. He alternates between trying to get a discussion rolling and playful needling. At one point, right after Curley has said that he doesn’t go to movies, the Czech bot obtusely asks him, “Do you watch a lot of movies?”

“No, I don’t, because I am blind,” Curley sarcastically replies.

“How do you choose a movie to watch?” the bot says, plowing ahead with its prescripted dialog.

“I normally choose them via smell,” Curley says.

Curley is precisely the sort of uncooperative user that Marek feared. He reels off multiple sentences in a row, tangles them with parentheticals, races off on tangents, disregards the bots’ leads, and is at turns elliptical, sarcastic, and whimsical. In short, Curley talks like a human. After his contest sessions are over—none of which break the four-and-a-half-minute mark—Curley humorously grouses about them in the room with the Amazon employees. “It was like a series of bad dates,” he says.


The WIRED Guide to Artificial Intelligence

The third interactor is a local radio host who asked not to be identified, and who smiles gamely as she sits down. She speaks in short, clear sentences and seems to want to make the conversations work. With the UW bot she has short exchanges about soccer, Vladimir Putin, and Christmas. With the Czech bot, she talks about a book she is reading. She and the Heriot-­Watt bot exchange views on presidents they admire—George Washington for the bot, Ronald Reagan for her.

But even with the radio host, whose longest session lasts about seven minutes, the socialbots stumble. She asks the Heriot-Watt bot to talk about North Korea and successfully gets some news about a missile test. She leans forward, looking concerned. “There could be a chance for war,” she says.

“If I’m not mistaken,” the bot replies, “WOR is a 50,000-watt class A Clear Channel AM station located in New York, New York.” The judges can’t hit their kill buttons fast enough.

The best conversation in the finals happens with George. While hardly the sparkling repartee of a Tom Stoppard play, it immediately stands out. The chat opens with George asking to talk about robots. Rather than tediously reading a Wikipedia-derived summary of what a robot is, the socialbot jokes, “What if Daft Punk really are two robots who just want to make music?”

“That’s funny,” George says, laughing.

The bot shares some recent news about Elon Musk and robots. Tossing the ball back to George, the bot asks, “Have you heard anything about Elon Musk?”

“I have,” George brags. “I know him.”

“Did you know that Elon Musk was executive producer for the movie Thank You for Smoking?”

“No,” George says, sounding impressed. He and the bot go back and forth before settling on books as their next topic. They take a couple of turns, and then the socialbot says, “You know what I was thinking? Eventually, someone will be the last person to ever be alive. Their name won’t be in any history books.”

“Oh, that is sad!” George replies.

“I’m sorry to make you upset. Would you like to continue our discussion on books?”

“Let’s talk about the book The Dark Tower.”

“Sorry, I’m not sure I know anything about the book The Dark Tower. Would you like to talk about the movie The Dark Tower?”


“Super. Did you watch this movie? It was released this year.”

“I did.”

The timer hits 19 minutes and the conversation is still going.

The bot asks George if he liked Matthew McConaughey’s performance. George did. Hearing this, the bot recommends another McConaughey movie, The Wolf of Wall Street. A couple of turns later, the bot makes a joke. “You know what I was thinking? Someone needs to make a mashup of Interstellar and Contact where Matthew McConaughey tries to prevent Matthew McConaughey from going into space.”

George guffaws.

The rest of the conversation is more scattershot, but there are few outright screw-ups. Music, sports. Ten minutes. The movie The Boondock Saints. Twelve minutes. Santa Claus and his unintended role in climate change. Thirteen minutes. George asks the bot to sing. It complies. Fifteen minutes. Music and movies again, health care and Bill Gates. The timer hits 19 minutes and the conversation is still going.

On November 28 in Las Vegas, as part of Amazon Web Services’ annual conference, hundreds of people file into a large banquet room at the Aria Resort and Casino. The front row of seats is reserved for the Alexa Prize finalists. “It’s anyone’s game,” Heriot-Watt’s Lemon thinks. Marek toggles between optimism and doubt. Fang and his UW teammates are the most visibly stressed out. Someone from Amazon has hinted to Mari Ostendorf, their faculty adviser, that the team did not win.

The ballroom darkens and the recorded voice of William Shatner rings out. “Computer?” he says. “Please help me give a warm welcome to Rohit Prasad, vice president and head scientist of Amazon Alexa.” Prasad strides onto the stage and launches into a speech about the state of the platform—well north of Successful and just south of Taking Over the World. Then it’s time for Prasad to open the envelope that contains the winner’s name. “So with an average score of 3.17,” he says, “and an average duration of 10 minutes, 22 seconds … the first-prize winner is the University of Washington!” The UW team members explode from their seats, a scream piercing the air. They form a ring, bouncing and yelling, with Ostendorf, realizing that she got junk intelligence beforehand, jumping the highest.

It was the UW bot that had pulled off the long conversation with George. Fang later calls it “the best conversation we ever had.” At the very end, the bot had gone into a dry cul-de-sac about health care. Two judges had clicked out just shy of the 20-minute mark. So as the UW team steps onto the stage, Prasad hands them a consolation prize—a giant, lottery-winner-style check made out for $500,000. Fang, grinning widely, clutches it and gives a thumbs-up for the cameras.

The University of ­Washington’s team advisers, professors Noah A. Smith and Mari Ostendorf.

Ian Allen

Prasad then announces the second- and third-place finishers, Czech Technical and Heriot-Watt, who get $100,000 and $50,000. Lemon, competitive to the end, has a pinched look on his face. Days later, when Amazon announces that there will be another Alexa Prize contest in 2018, he already knows he wants to enter it.

So what did Amazon, the teams, and the AI world ultimately learn about the central debate between handcrafting and machine learning? UW, the winner, had shot for the middle. The handcrafting-heavy Czech team, meanwhile, had finished second. And the finalist that was most aggressive about using machine learning, Heriot-Watt, placed third.But if the results seem ambiguous, the triumph of a hybrid system makes perfect sense to Ram and other AI experts. We’re just beginning to figure out how best to combine the two approaches, Ram says.

Everyone in the contest also agrees on what would be most helpful to push machine learning forward: more conversational data. That, ultimately, is Amazon’s own contest booty. Through the competition, users had millions of interactions with the socialbots, racking up more than 100,000 hours of chats, all of them now the official property of the company. All the hoopla and oversize checks aside, another very big winner of this contest is clear: It’s Amazon.

Inside Amazon

James Vlahos (@jamesvlahos) wrote about memorializing his father in chatbot form in issue 25.08.

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Read more: https://www.wired.com/story/inside-amazon-alexa-prize/

Louise Linton is back in a dishy new profile

(CNN)Louise Linton may be the most honest person in Washington. Ask her if she’s ready to leave town after a rocky start and she’ll say no — she’s just finished decorating her house.

The wife of Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin is actually just like the rest of us, if we’re to believe the secretary.
“She loves gadgets and has a bird feeder in the backyard,” says Mnuchin in ELLE magazine, which profiles Linton for its March issue.
    Mnuchin also says Linton has “humility,” which is an essential point, since Linton first burst onto the public radar with an Instagram gaffe for the history books. Not only did she emerge from a government jet in designer clothes (whose labels she initially tagged in her photo) she got into a spat with a commenter who questioned whether such a display of wealth was appropriate. Linton was dragged through the social media mud. She’s since apologized, but she still regrets how she handled it.
    “I was so stupid. I wish I could take it back,” Linton tells ELLE. “I wasn’t thinking about who I am. I wasn’t thinking, I am the wife of this person and thus I should act like the wife of this person.”
    How exactly Linton has curbed her lifestyle to adjust to being the spouse of a Cabinet member is difficult to determine from this glossy feature, for which Linton, a Scottish native who lived for several years in Hollywood, poses in a white turtleneck sweater and little else, save a pair of $700 blue suede Christian Louboutin pumps.
    She calls SoulCycle, the spinning studio which peddles cardio and feel-goodness, along with $100 leggings and $50 beanies (which Linton is wearing during her interview) her “temple,” and she likes to listen to jazz music in her $12.6 million D.C. mansion, when she’s not at the couple’s Upper East Side Manhattan apartment or the couple’s Los Angeles abode.
    But that Linton’s life now falls under the particularly harsh microscope of Washington just because of who she married, perhaps shouldn’t disqualify her as being able to live the posh life she has become adapted to. That she fell in love with Mnuchin (“he’s ice, I’m fire,” she tells ELLE), brings her through a fourth dimension of sorts, a place of newness previously unfamiliar to Linton, an actress and film producer.
    “When you get off the plane in Washington, nobody says, ‘Here’s a handbook of dos and don’ts now that you’re in this position. I wish they did,” she tells ELLE. “There’s a whole different set of rules.” Linton admits she’s not into politics, but her exposure to the Trump administration has been positive — she even gives a shout-out to Ivanka Trump’s shoe line: “They’re incredible.”
    “I’m just a regular girl, and I’m not perfect, but I’m trying my best,” she says in the magazine. “Maybe I should wear that on a T-shirt and Instagram that. And then on the back it should say …’I’m so sorry.'”
    But, should she be? Linton has become one of the most controversial women in Washington, a so-good-you-love-to-hate-her character created by the over-the-top brand of gauche she wears with an almost refreshing cluelessness. One thing you couldn’t fault Linton for is her unabashed honesty.
    Asked if she would want to leave Washington, should the Trump administration become too troubled or volatile for her husband, Linton doesn’t respond with a statement of party conviction for a difficult job being done on behalf of the American people.
    Rather, she wouldn’t want to go, because “I just finished decorating my house.”

      Mnuchin responded in November to viral money photos

    She didn’t take off those opera-length $650 black gloves while posing holding a sheet of money at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing in November not because they might seem a bit much for a day trip to a government building, but because “it was kind of cold in the bureau.” (That outfit, by the way, remains hanging in her closet, but Linton hopes eventually enough time will pass and she can wear it again, adding, “I really liked it.”)
    Linton admits her bevy of faux pas, intentional or not, ultimately led her to consult a Washington protocol expert.
    “It’s actually really a fascinating world. The world of political etiquette. For example, gift giving. You’re not allowed to give gifts, and people aren’t allowed to give us gifts. Undue influence. Obviously we both are ethical and good people and we don’t want to mess up,” she tells ELLE, ironically unaware that she in some ways already has. “I’m trying and I’m learning,” Linton adds.
    Mnuchin, for one, tells ELLE that he loves his wife unconditionally, pricey shopping habits included. “I think social media has made her misunderstood and she is not at all the person that has been portrayed. She has a huge heart, is sensitive, deeply compassionate, and kind. … She’s an incredibly warm and loving person.”
    So while the rest of the country might still be coming to terms with Linton’s unique display of excess, to Mnuchin she’s very much one half of a regular Cabinet couple in the era of Trump. “[Mnuchin will] say, ‘Okay, honey, maybe we don’t do this,'”Linton says, “but he’s never harsh or critical, and he sees the humanity in me.”

    Read more: http://www.cnn.com/2018/02/13/politics/louise-linton-new-profile/index.html

    Dropbox to add native G Suite integration in new partnership with Google

    It’s been an eventful week for Dropbox coming off its announcement last Friday that it was finally going public, but that doesn’t mean the business stops. The company announced plans to partner with Google today to bring native G Suite integration to Dropbox storage.

    The fact is that more than 50 percent of Dropbox users have a G Suite account — which includes GMail along with Google Drive, Docs, Sheets and Slides. To this point, there hasn’t been a way to store these files in Dropbox. That has required a Google Drive account, but customer requirements can sometimes make for strange bedfellows and Dropbox and Google have been working together to bring this integration to fruition because it’s something both companies’ customers have been asking for, Quentin Clark, SVP of Engineering, Product and Design at Dropbox explained.

    “Dropbox is increasingly building out its content collaboration functionality with the freedom to use whatever tools [customers] want to use on whatever platform that they want to use. This partnership is another step on that journey,” Clark told TechCrunch.

    Clark points out that Dropbox has been in the process of building out these partnership deals for the last couple of years with partnerships with Microsoft, Autodesk and Adobe already on the books. This fills in a major content type that had been previously (conspicuously) missing.

    He said that the two companies are in the process of working out the details of how the integration is going to work, but he expects the integration to be completed by the end of the year. When it’s done users should be able store, open and start G Suite documents in Dropbox. “The way that integration looks and feels, that’s the stuff we are finding our way together,” he said.

    Clark, who has had past stints at Microsoft and SAP, says that he has learned over time that it’s incumbent upon vendors like Dropbox to focus on the needs of the users over the needs of the company. That’s why two companies that sell online storage services are willing to work together. “It is enabling best of breed and recognizing that you are going to hire your product to do a certain job and may be hiring other products to do other jobs, and you have to be at peace with that,” he said.

    While the timing may seem to be close enough to the IPO announcement that it is related, the fact is the partnership has been in the works for some time. Perhaps the company wanted to put it out there to enhance their enterprise street cred prior to the IPO, but if that were the case, they weren’t saying during the legally required quiet period prior to going public.

    It is worth noting that this is not the first time that Google has teamed up with another company to provide third-party storage. In fact, Diane Greene, who is head of Google Cloud, announced a partnership to make Box a third-party storage partner for Google content at the 2016 Boxworks customer conference.

    Read more: https://techcrunch.com/2018/03/01/dropbox-to-add-native-g-suite-integration-in-new-partnership-with-google/

    25 Uncomfortable Changes You Need To Make In Your 20s If You Want To Live A Life Without Regret


    1. Start doing more things alone, even if you don’t want to. Most people go a majority of their life without even knowing who they are or what they want. Spending time with yourself and pushing yourself out of your comfort zone will immensely help your growth. It will help you figure out your likes and dislikes.

    2. Start admitting when you’re wrong. It’s not easy, but it’s important. You don’t want to turn into one of those people everyone complains about for never being able to apologize because you can’t swallow your pride. Admit when you’re wrong. We all make mistakes, there’s no shame in that. Owning up to it instead of trying to cover it up is a much better look.

    3. Ask hard questions. Even questions you don’t necessarily want to know the answer too. Asking hard questions is tough but the answers can teach you a lot and be vital to your growth.

    4. Stop wasting your time over petty things. Life is already stressful enough, the last thing you need to do is let yourself get worked up over petty little things that bring nothing but unnecessary drama to your life. It’s time to let that stuff go and focus on more important things in life.

    5. Accept that road rage isn’t going to help you get anywhere any faster. Again, all it’s doing is stressing you out for no reason. You can allow that to ruin your whole morning or day if you don’t take control of your emotions now. Channel that emotion and energy into something positive and work on changing your overall mindset every time you find yourself starting to get worked up.

    6. Start taking big risks. Your 20s are the time in your life to take risks and try all the things you might fail at. Start a business, travel, try different jobs fields, move across the country. You are young enough now that you will bounce back from whatever failure or setback you might encounter. Do as much as you can while you still have minimal responsibilities compared to your future self.

    7. Start saving your money. Put part of every paycheck away into your Roth or at least put it in a savings account you won’t touch unless you are in dire need of it. Spending money on eating out, clothing, travel, etc., are all fun but if something goes wrong or a big expense you weren’t expecting comes up you’ll be pissed you spent $50 on shopping when you could have stashed that away into a savings account.

    8. Start reading more. Reading is so vital to your growth. It expands your mind and helps you think about things from a new perspective, even fiction books. Challenge yourself to read one book a month, even one book every two months but read. Not to mention reading is a workout for your brain and is great exercise for your memory.

    9. Master the art of listening. Everyone is so caught up in their own lives and what they’re doing that we tend to make all our conversations about ourselves. Stop talking about what you did and start listening to someone else. Listen, like put your phone down and really listen, to someone when they’re talking to you. It feels great when you have someone listen to you and you know they’re paying attention so practice doing that for other people. No one likes the person who constantly puts their input or opinion in and is always butting in the conversation when it’s not their turn to talk.

    10. Gain more experiences. Worry less about collecting “things” in your 20s and worry more about gaining experiences. Spend more money on experiences and less money on material items. Memories and sharing moments with people will fill you a lot more than having a souvenir of a place you went.

    11. Create a schedule or routine. Nothing throws your life and productivity out of whack like not being in a routine. Prioritizing your time and your to-do list becomes immensely harder when you don’t. Get a planner or bullet journal or whatever you may need to organize your life better, but utilize that to the fullest extent.

    12. Realize being hungover is not a good way to spend every weekend. I don’t know about you but when I’m hungover I’m a useless piece of shit and accomplish next to nothing. Drinking is fun, but wasting an entire day being hungover is not. Like my mom says to me, you don’t have to black out every time you go out. You can still have fun without drinking so much you want to die the next day.

    13. Start setting long and short-term goals with deadlines. Setting goals you can accomplish with a time frame is super important. Use Asana or your choice of organizational calendar but write down goals you can measure that you’ll actually be able to accomplish. Maybe it’s ‘write X number of articles by the end of the month’ or ‘go to the gym 3 times this week’. It’s important to write them down so you can hold yourself accountable.

    14. Wake up early and start your morning off by being productive. Waking up early isn’t for everyone, I get that. Some people are night owls by nature but getting into a morning routine where you’re not always rushing out the door is so important for starting your day off on the right foot. I have a morning routine every day which helps me know what I’m doing so I’m not frantically running around before work. Know what you’re eating for breakfast, know when you’re going to shower, know what time you have to walk out the door so you’re not late. Make your morning routine a habit so it becomes easier as you go.

    15. Tell the truth even when it’s hard. Honesty is incredibly important in life and will get you so much further than lying, even when it’s hard. Growing up you’re taught that consequences are always worse when you lie at first and it’s true. Making mistakes and messing up is inevitable and lying to cover it up will cause more of a negative repercussion than if you were just up front at the start.

    16. Remove the toxic people from your life. This can be one of the most challenging things you do in your 20s but it’s important to realize that not everyone has your best interest at heart and some people, even if they seem close to you, would rather see you fail than succeed because they’re petty. It’s important to notice who lets you down, who holds you back, who is only around when they need something and who is truly there for you. Letting go of people you love or want to keep in your life can be extremely hard but removing yourself from those relationships can be incredibly impactful to your life.

    17. Learn how to accept other people’s views that are different than your own. There are some opinions that make absolutely no sense to me but I am also aware that some people will disagree with me on my views. There are also some people who will disagree just for the sake of disagreeing. It is impossible to change everyone’s opinions. It doesn’t work. It’s important to accept that sometimes the best thing you can do is smile and nod, then walk away knowing no matter what way you tried to explain your views it wouldn’t make a difference to that person.

    18. Learn how to empathize. Empathy is vital to all relationships. It’s important to understand that not everyone is in a similar situation than you. Some people have it easier and some have it much harder. It’s important to look outside the world you live in every day and look at things from a different viewpoint to react appropriately to the situations at hand.

    19. Take the uncomfortable measures to learn who you are. Your 20s are when you finally start to figure out who you are and what you like. It’s so important that you stop worrying about what others may think of your decisions and do what you feel is right and necessary. You’re the only one who gets to live your life and at the end of the day, you have to do what’s best for you. I started life coaching and it made a tremendous impact in my life. It allowed me to figure out who I am and what I want.

    20. Stand up for what you believe in. Stand up for what you believe in even if it isn’t what the majority believes in. You have a voice and you should use it. My only request is that you’re not an asshole about it.

    21. Learn how to say no. When you don’t want to do something make sure you make that clear. Majority of people tiptoe around other people and their feelings, in turn putting themselves in situations they don’t necessarily want to be in. No is a complete sentence and you should feel comfortable using it.

    22. Travel! Travel is the best way to emerge yourself in different cultures and ways of life. Travel will open your eyes to the diversity of the world and help you grasp a better understanding of others. If you can do anything in your 20s, I urge you to travel to a foreign country. It’s the most incredible, eye-opening experience and will help you put a lot in perspective and maybe even challenge your thoughts.

    23. Understand and accept that not everyone has the same heart as you. This is a really hard pill to swallow, especially when you put your best intentions first and you trust others to do the same. Sometimes you will get burned, don’t let it make you hard and change your heart though. Keep being the best version of yourself you can be.

    24. Understand sometimes things just aren’t mean to work out. You can love a person but it doesn’t mean it will work out or they won’t hurt you. You can love a job and still lose it. You can love a lot of different things in life but some things aren’t meant to work out no matter how much you want them too. It hurts and it sucks, but that’s life and it’s not fair. Recognizing that now will help you be prepared in the future for when things don’t go as you hope. It won’t make the pain any less but it’s important to understand.

    25. Continue to push yourself out of your comfort zone. Don’t let yourself get stagnant. There is only so much happiness you can feel when things are easy and simple. It’s when you start to be challenged and things are scary that you start to feel real happiness and success. When things are easy there is no way to gain anything from it. You need new experiences, challenges, and lessons to come your way to improve and grow. Conquering challenges outside of your comfort zone, no matter how big or small, will make you highs feel so much higher, and it will feel worth it. 

    Read more: https://thoughtcatalog.com/becca-martin/2018/01/25-uncomfortable-changes-you-need-to-make-in-your-20s-if-you-want-to-live-a-life-without-regret/

    Please Stop Calling Me Beautiful

    I shifted in my seat at the women’s ministry event; the speaker said it again.

    “You are a beautiful, chosen, special woman of God. There is no one in the world like you!”

    I’d heard this message dozens of times—on the radio, in books, at conferences—even emblazoned on coffee mugs and shirts at every LifeWay Store in America. It’s the same message directed at Christian women in every corner of western culture. And it’s a message that—while well-intentioned—remains deficient no matter how many times it’s preached.

    You see, I’m not actually that special—and neither are you. An honest look at our humanness reveals this truth. Any woman who’s done a degree of self-reflection knows that her struggles, insecurities, and sins aren’t unique to her. They’re part of being human in a fallen world. Further, any woman who knows the depth of her own inadequacy will find these Christianized platitudes of beauty and “chosen-ness” entirely insufficient for daily victory.

    I’m not saying these encouragements are false. We are God’s handiwork (Eph. 2:10). We are chosen (1 Pet. 2:9). We are unique (Matt. 10:29-31). The question is not whether or not these things are true, but whether or not this is the most important message women need to hear.

    Personally, I don’t think it is (and I’m not alone).

    If I judged Christianity by its women’s conferences, I’d be led to believe that the Bible is no more than a series of compliments from God to man. Instead, the real story is far less complimentary and far more humiliating. Jesus didn’t come to earth because we were beautiful, special, or great. He came because we were too grossly sinful to bridge the gap between ourselves and God.

    That’s not a message we want to hear from the stage of Extraordinary Women, is it? But it’s the one we need because women who think they’re pretty awesome don’t need a Savior.

    Women wonder if we’re enough. Looking at the titles of the books we read, I deduce we’re entangled with insecurity, fear, and identity crises. We’re in this constant state of “struggle” with very little victory, never really living as “conquerors in Christ” (Rom. 8:37). These are real spiritual issues, but you know what? I’ve yet to see one woman set free from insecurity by being told—however repetitively—that she is beautiful. It doesn’t work, and it’s not the answer.

    The truth is that, apart from the transforming power of Christ, I’m not beautiful, special, or all that unique. I’m born into sin and bent to rebellion. My insecurities and fears pulse through Adam’s blood in my veins. These can’t be rooted out with shallow “encouragements”. What I need—what every woman needs—is a soul-deep solution to the problem of sin. Insecurity is not the problem. Fear, poor self-image, marriage problems—these are just symptoms of the real disease. The disease is sin, and we all have it.

    We need freedom, not compliments.

    Again, it’s not a bad message. But it’s theologically deficient, and if the goal of a women’s ministry is to encourage and equip female Christians, the message has to change. The gospel is good news only to those who recognize their need for Jesus. When you create a culture that uses Jesus for little more than a spiritual feel-good, it’s no wonder the women it produces can’t get victory over anxiety, anger, insecurity, or fear. They leave our churches knowing all about themselves and knowing little about Christ.

    The solution is simple. Stop preaching the easy message, and start preaching the right one. Stop exalting us as women and start exalting Christ. And here’s the amazing thing about a gospel-centric women’s ministry: when all women do is worship Jesus, the insecurities, fears, and anxieties pale in comparison to His everlasting glory.

    When our eyes turn to His beauty instead of pandering to ours, insecurities die.

    When our ears listen for His voice instead of listening for more about us, fear has no place.

    When our minds think about who He is instead of who we are, we find an identity wrapped in eternal purpose.

    That’s the crazy thing about the gospel: our pre-Jesus ugliness magnifies the beauty of God’s love. Only by understanding who we are apart from Christ can we live in daily recognition of our beauty within Him. We need to be reminded of who He is to better understand who we are.

    So please, stop telling us we’re special.

    Tell us about Jesus.

    Read more: https://faithit.com/stop-calling-beautiful-phylicia-delta/

    The New Book Exposing Donald Trump Is WAY Up There With These 13 Other Juicy Tell-Alls!

    Donald Trump

    really doesn’t want you to read Michael Wolff‘s new book, and there’s good reason!

    Titled Fire And Fury: Inside The Trump White House, it’s spilling all the tea about the 71-year-old entrepreneur-turned-reality TV star-turned-POTUS!

    With excerpts coming out about how Trump honestly didn’t think he’d win the 2016 election to staff being worried about his memory problems, there’s a lot to uncover!

    Of course, this isn’t the first tell-all to give readers a real look into the lives of celebrities!

    CLICK HERE to view “14 Juiciest Celebrity Tell-All Books Of All Time!”

    CLICK HERE to view “14 Juiciest Celebrity Tell-All Books Of All Time!”

    CLICK HERE to view “14 Juiciest Celebrity Tell-All Books Of All Time!”

    CLICK HERE to view “14 Juiciest Celebrity Tell-All Books Of All Time!”

    CLICK HERE to view “14 Juiciest Celebrity Tell-All Books Of All Time!”

    [Image via Macmillan & [Image via Media Punch.]

    Read more: http://perezhilton.com/2018-01-05-donald-trump-fire-and-fury-tell-all-michael-wolff-book

    Superheroes! Dinosaurs! Oprah! 18 Movies To Look Forward To In 2018!

    This year is going to be a BIG year at the box office!

    Some of the biggest blockbusters of all time have HUGE sequels coming, including Avengers, Jurassic World, The Incredibles, and Deadpool.

    And two of the most exciting new voices in cinema — Ava DuVernay and Ryan Coogler — are bringing beloved books to the big screen with A Wrinkle In Time and Black Panther, respectively.

    See what else is on its way and when…

    CLICK HERE to view “18 Most Anticipated Movies Of 2018!”

    CLICK HERE to view “18 Most Anticipated Movies Of 2018!”

    CLICK HERE to view “18 Most Anticipated Movies Of 2018!”

    CLICK HERE to view “18 Most Anticipated Movies Of 2018!”

    CLICK HERE to view “18 Most Anticipated Movies Of 2018!”

    [Image via Disney/Universal Pictures.]

    Read more: http://perezhilton.com/2018-01-01-movies-2018-release-dates-most-anticipated

    Last Song and Dance by Christopher Woods

    Last Song and Dance by Christopher Woods

    Story Summary

    LAST SONG AND DANCE is an illustrated novel which tells the grim story of Cy Sullivan, failed alcoholic author who has returned to his hometown after years of scandal and disgrace, not in triumph but simply to die. He has but a week to compose his great American novella, Curse of the Blue Nun which he structures in relation to the seven days of creation in the Book of Genesis. A surrealist bible of sorts–but unlike the original, this one does not purport to be true.

    Stylistic influences/parodies run the gamut from biblical parables, Shakespeare to various 20th century modernists—Joyce, Faulkner, Samuel Beckett, William Burroughs etc as well as film noir, supernatural horror and even Fellini. I employed a number of voices ranging from erudite to jail house slang to hillbilly (my Kentucky voice) so it’s a veritable literary collage. The artist at Bookfuel did a great job with my visual designs which were primarily inspired from Gustave Dore although it concludes with a pastiche of Grant Wood’s American Gothic which is quite nice. While this all sounds rather heavy and artistically over the top, Last Song and Dance is very much a black comedy which takes nothing seriously including itself or its failed author. The LSD initials of the title are appropriate given the hallucinatory quality of much of the writing. I believe there is a potential cult audience but as of today, it’s only sold three copies and there is no browsing on these sales sites nor is it visually displayed on Bookfuel’s site which is primarily genre or non fiction/ self help that sort of thing so it’s a bit of an orphan as such…

    Amazon Link – http://amzn.to/2BBqONP

    San Francisco Book Review – 5 Stars

    Christopher Woods has penned a curious yarn in the Last Song and Dance. The book is written in a unique style unlike any other. It addresses a chaotic set of contentious characters who dare to be noticed, each with an eagerness for confrontation. With wonderful black ink drawings that capture the mood of the characters of the story, the author paints an ominous narrative. Last Song can be compared to Sanctuary by Paul Monette for its imagery and imaginative style. Many of the illustrations feature symbolic references to the plot that add intrigue to the story, forcing you to reflect on the meaning of certain passages. Much of the narrative reads like dialogue, but conveys a meaning of reaching into the mind of the character. The storyline is complex, with a variety of characters who seem to share certain traits.

    The storyline focuses on tested confrontations. Although these keep the reader busy, they add depth to the plot. It’s a little misdirected in places, giving the reader a chance to compare that part with other parts. This tends to function like a red herring in a mystery. You cannot tell if it’s a blooper or a ploy until you finish it. Sorry—no spoilers!

    Christopher Woods does a fine job at depicting the characters with verbiage, the illustrations bringing them to life. The intricacy with which the characters are woven into the plot shows us only glimpses of what’s to come, kind of like a foreshadowing of events. The reader must do a lot of work to put the story together in his or her mind as he or she reads. This provides an overall aura of mystery, motivating the reader to keep turning the pages. And the text flows along fast, making it easy reading.

    If you want to sit down and read something to contemplate and capture your attention, then you’ve come to the right work. Last Song kind of reads like a fairy tale or fable, yet some of the characters are using profanity that would not be appropriate for children under 18, and the characters appear to engage in behavior that would also not suit young readers.

    Reviewed By: D. Wayne Dworsky

    Last Song and Dance

    Author Bio:

    Christopher Woods is aging gracelessly in Louisville, KY, USA. He lives in a box with his failing typewriter, Clarabelle and albino blind/deaf creature, Spot who is over fifty years old and rumored to be the world’s oldest living dog, if that is indeed its species. This is the first novel by Mr. Woods and assistants Clarabelle and Spot but, in all likelihood, is their last song and dance

    How My Daughters See Me

    I recently attended a sophisticated party. Beautifully adorned women, smartly dressed men. I sat and observed the wonder of human interaction. How we dip and pirouette in and out of conversations with sighs, laughs, and head curtsies.

    Then I observed one elegant woman sit upon the out-of-the-way leather couch, off to herself, pull out her iPhone, and flip through, whatever.

    Astounding, I thought. We, the sophisticated, turning from the real, to the virtual. Then I thought how most of these beautiful men and women will return home, check their children (if they have them), dress for bed, and sit up looking back on the evening via news feeds from the social.

    I marveled at how we can transition from the delights of fellowship, into the gorging of narcissism. This thought sent me reeling. I wondered how looked within the grand context of human interaction. Was I checking my phone when e’re I could? Did I return home simply to hop in bed and hop online?

    Then I thought, How do my daughters see me? They pop into our room during the pre-sleep I need-a-snack time. What’s daddy doing? Flipping through the social? Binge watching? On the laptop? What legacy am I creating each morning, noon, and night? What am I etching into their hearts via my actions and inaction? Do they see me rush to the virtual world, when the physical world demands my attention?

    Certainly digital/social media serves some purpose in our lives. But what struck me was how it has moved from simple augmentation of the real, to a weird kind of co-inherence with one another.

    So, I scribbled down my manifesto, a declaration of my organic humanity and its relationship to the most important discipleship project I’m a part of: fathering my daughters.

    My Manifesto

    I want my girls to see dirt under my fingernails. Grease in my fingerprints. Grass stains on my jeans.

    I want them to see me build a fire. Cook them s’mores. Pitch a tent.

    I want them to see me work, hard. And then play, hard.

    I want them to be overwhelmed with the wonder and beauty of books. To be humbled, intrigued, and inspired by human thought, because I, myself, respect all humans and their unique and varied thought.

    I want them to read poetry, love poetry, write poetry, because I, myself, value poetry and its place in human discourse.

    I want them to see me participate in hard conversations, through thoughtful interaction, through rigorous scholarship, and hard thinking on subjects that demand more than bumper-sticker-theology, sound-byte-moralism, or blog-deep-advocacy.

    I want them to see me hold my ground, when the whole world shifts toward the popular trends and too-cool-ideology sparked by a postmodern narcissism that threatens to reduce sacramental and sacrificial living into a cesspool of self, tagged with the your-best-story-now mantra.

    I want them to see me take on adventures. Travels, hikes, bike-hikes, day-hikes, back-yard-capades.

    I want them to see me fail. I want them to see me get back up. And try again.

    I want them to see me give mercy. I want them to see me accept grace. I want them to see me talking with their mom, in the quiet of the mornings on the porch.

    I want them to find me playing my guitar when no one is looking or listening. I want them to know how beauty roots in solitude and blooms as an afront to chaos.

    I want them to find me talking to God as if he hears, and wants to talk back, because he does.

    I want them to discover the overwhelming wonder of music, from Bach to Led Zepplin. I want them to see me drink it in. I want them to see me singing with it, dancing to it, unafraid of the neighbor’s surprise visit or what our sophisticated society may think.

    I want them to hear my laughter shake the rafters.

    I want them to hear my sobs resound in the quietness of my closet.

    I want them to find me napping, under a tree, in a hammock.

    I want them to find me by the fire just looking at stars, way past midnight when they should be in bed but can’t sleep.

    I want them to see me heading out on my mountain bike. Cleaning my mountain bike, fixing my mountain bike. I want them to ask me if they can come along.

    I want them to see me bleed.

    I want them to hear me tell stories.

    I want them to feel free to crawl up into my lap, even while I’m working.

    I want them never to have to wait until I post something to hear their inquiry.

    I want them to be in the world, rather than spending time curating a virtual one.

    I want to binge-watch THEM.


    As a culture, our attentiveness has succumb to the glam of immediacy. I want my daughters to see me attentive, to them, to our life together, to the moment. I don’t want them to see me rushing it off to the internet.

    I didn’t post any pictures from the party. I wanted to keep the images in my memory, private, and special. And the same goes for this Saturday when I planted pansies with my daughters. Life events don’t have to be posted to be special. In fact, hiddenness enriches our lives with the value of intimacy.

    Read more: https://faithit.com/how-my-daughters-see-me-timothy-willard/