Stories by WC Brown

William Charles “Charlie” Brown is an American author of Science Fiction stories. His latest work, Daniel Shires and the Multiverse, is a story about a boy with a power that he does not yet understand.

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The Meaning of Life

October 18th, 2020

Sinclair AX80

When I got my very first computer in 1981, a Sinclair ZX80, I had no programming experience at all. I powered it up for the first time and waited for the BASIC prompt. But, then I was stuck of course. I had no idea what to type in so I thought I’d have some fun, and typed “what is the meaning of life?”

SYNTAX ERROR

So I tried “Why was the universe created?”

SYNTAX ERROR

then I thought “hey, that kind of makes sense. The universe must have been a mistake.

I hope no one fixes it.


Reductionism

October 2nd, 2020

My wife calls everything with a stinger a “bee” - so honey bees, sweat bees, bumble bees, hornets, yellow jackets, paper wasps, mud daubers - and of course “bees.” The first time I encountered this, she came to me breathless and said, “I need you to kill something!”

“I’m your man,” I said. “Who’s the bunny?”

She completely missed the reference and just assumed I meant “kill what?”

“There’s a bee in the house!”

I went to take a look and saw a yellow jacket on the ceiling in the corner.

“That’s a yellow-jacket,” I said as if it were a question. In hindsight, I realize this was pretty stupid of me to be confused. Obviously, this is what she meant. How often do you have a yellow-jacket and a bee in the house at the same time? Anyway, I should have recognized it as a target-of-opportunity at the very least.

“Kill it!” She shouted.

“You said it was a bee,” I said still struggling with the least important detail of what she was saying.

“Kill it before it kills us!”

“Oh, settle down. It’s not going to kill us.”

“I’m allergic!”

“Oh. Then yeah, it might kill you,” I said.

“Hurry!”

After I had killed it, she gave me the descriptions of all the things called “Bee”

I'm an OCD nerd so, I made a list.


Uncooperative Aliens

February 21st, 2020

The topic of radically different alien species came up in one of my favorite podcasts Alienating the Audience, and that reminded me of this part of Star Charmer. If you roll your eyes at SciFi movies where the aliens look just like us, this is for you. The only setup I need to give is this: the story of the peng-weasel history is told by the character Thomas, so it’s a story within a story. Thomas has made contact with an alien that looks like a cross between a weasel and a penguin.

My motivation for writing this as part of my book Star Charmer was to explore the idea of aliens without the evolutionary pressures that we assume are required for the development of technology. One of these assumptions is cooperation. We always assume that our success is attributable to being more like dogs and less like cats. This would mean that dogs only need proper hands and they would soon be inventing things since they like to share and (mostly) get along with others. But, what if a solitary species had hands. What if cats had hands...


Once upon a time, there was a world completely covered by water. All of the life on the entire planet existed in the layers of varying darkness and pressures. The plankton at the surface were eaten by small fish who were in turn preyed upon by larger species and so on into the dark depths. Each species had evolved to live within a specific pressure range, and each could venture no farther. A clever species would evolve from time to time, and some developed complex languages but none had ever invented any tools. There simply wasn’t enough time in the water epochs punctuated by ice extinctions. These extinctions happened every two hundred million years as the water planet’s system was visited by a large comet. Unlike most comets, this one had an orbit in the same plane as the planets. So, when it came, it left enough material on each pass to dim the sun’s warmth and freeze the ocean. All creatures great and small perished as the ocean froze solid. In the fullness of time, the sun once again shone brightly on the icy surface, and the long spring announced the age of renewal once again.


Jack rolled his eyes and groaned at this flowery prose, and Thomas extended a middle finger at him. The alien saw this and imitated with one of its own digits at Jack. Thomas smiled and continued.


The first seven epochs generated only plants and plankton beside the tenacious bacteria which always survived the extinctions. Each time the plankton evolved a bit more resistance to the dim light that killed the previous iterations. Until on the eighth epoch, one species survived the entire long night. It could live on the surface of the ice in the dimmest of light and fell dormant for the worst of the darkness. Soon, this one species became many through the countless eons afterward. Night would come as it had before but the ice was no longer a craggy white blanket. In its place was a tapestry of green in a variety of forms. Some had evolved the ability to move in the first puddles of the melting, taking advantage of nutrients trapped in the ice. These tiny drifting plants quickly developed ways to move as they pleased and became the first animals and although these lost their battle against the extinctions, each time they were reborn in the long epochs and each time their rebirth was a little quicker. After countless such cycles, a single species managed to survive the freezing, shed bits of itself into tiny floating plants, enter a larval stage and emerge as the simplest of marine animals. The previous pattern repeated, and soon there were dozens of species that could do the same. But there simply wasn’t enough information in the DNA molecule to go all the way from algae to phytoplankton, to zooplankton, to fish all in one species. So, each time, the many species that developed from those beginnings into a panoply of larger aquatic life would all die off, leaving only the green algae for the next cycle.

The next event that marked a turning point in the planet’s catalog of life was a very simple adaptation. A species of whale-analogs had gills, not lungs, which marked them as fish but in every other way, resembled the whales of Earth. They swam near the surface, filtered the water for the plankton they ate, moved in groups, and even communicated. They were so successful, during their epoch, that they dominated the entire planet. This was not the remarkable part, however. There had been many successful large species in previous cycles. The singularly important trait that evolved in the whales was their low-density bones which helped them stay near the surface. These enormous creatures were the first to leave behind any remnant on the surface of the water. They were so numerous that when the next freeze came, the equator was covered with floating bones of various sizes pushed there by the advancing ice. Some were crushed but most, owing to their cylindrical shape, were simply pushed to the top of the ice, where they remained to once again float on the liquid seas at the next melt.

The first species to take advantage of this bounty were the penguins. They weren’t actually penguins of course but occupied the same ecological niche and so, therefore resembled their cousins from Earth. Their heads, backs, and sides were black to absorb the sunlight and warm them quickly after a frigid swim. Their undersides were white to camouflage them from predators peering up at the bright surface. Two things marked them as distinct from terrestrial penguins. They had teeth, and very different appendages. Gone were the comical flippers, replaced by slender arms tipped with fingers perfect for tool making. The first of these tools were simply broken pieces of whalebone which they used to kill fish. Soon they learned to tie larger pieces together, and boat-building became an integral part of their lives. The Penguins of this world were solitary creatures who developed language for the sole purpose of taunting each other from their whale-bone boats which they used as status symbols and to attack each other. From time to time, through the early centuries of boat-building, smalls groups would form and experiment with social structures. Inevitably, one individual would betray the others, and the survivors would disperse into solitary life once more. Cooperation simply wasn’t in their nature. Food was plentiful enough and the only thing worth fighting for, besides attractive breeding partners, was the rarest of things on a water planet - metal. Like all planets, this one received a constant bounty of meteors, large and small, which fell upon the vast oceans only to quickly sink to the bottom. But sometimes, and rarely, it would fall onto the shrinking ice. In the epoch of the Penguins, it was gathered up before the last of the ice retreated. Great care had to be taken when moving a stolen treasure of metal from a vanquished enemy vessel. Too much in one, would sink it, so the boats were usually combined. But the increased size carried with it two disadvantages. They were slower, and their size advertised their heavy, valuable, cargo.

This pirate-style warfare of the Penguins continued unchanged for a thousand years of the long summer before an especially clever individual designed his boat with a free-floating vertical tube at the center which allowed him to adjust buoyancy. He kept the tube filled with water and in its high and locked position which made the boat ride low in the water. The visible portion, above the surface, resembled the tiny vessels used by the young and inexperienced males. His tactics were simple. He would wait for another vessel, usually a younger opponent, to approach, release the tube causing his boat to rise to twice its previous height and use this advantage to defeat the less experienced opponent. Usually, this involved threats and occasionally a thrown spear, but rarely bloodshed. A typical craft was ringed by downward-facing spears which prevented a swimmer from climbing aboard. So, once in the water, without a rope ladder, his opponent’s own security measures would prevent him from climbing back aboard.

One day this clever penguin spotted a small boat on the horizon. Easy prey he thought and adjusted his sails. The sails of tightly woven seaweed vines did the job well enough, but they were heavy, and his modified boat meant he would probably not be fast enough to catch the smaller vessel. To his surprise, he made good progress and soon realized his opponent was not moving. This sometimes happened when an individual was asleep, ill, or even better, dead. As soon as he was within shouting distance, he tried a few insults but got no reply. His boat was still in its low profile so the two vessels were at the same height above the water which meant he could not see the deck of the other boat. With the heavy ballast tube released, his boat rose quickly. He scrambled back to the side and looked down to see a young individual lying motionless. Injured? He thought and hurried to drop his rope ladder over the side. He climbed down, jumped the last bit of distance, and ran to the motionless form. As he got close, she rolled over revealing a crossbow. A female in a boat! Is that a weapon? It looks like metal! She aimed for his chest but missed her target and struck his upper arm instead. He was on her in seconds. At nearly twice her size, he easily lifted her with his good arm and threw her overboard. He sat down to rest and swore as he pulled the bolt from his arm. What is that thing? He thought looking at the crossbow lying on the deck at his feet. And what is a female doing on a boat? This one is very unusual. She even seemed amused as I threw her overboard! Who understood females? They are strange creatures. I suppose mating with her is out of the question now. A spell of dizziness shook him as he stood to look over the side. Some of his other victims had loitered in the area afterward. Would a female? While he was pondering the inner workings of the female mind, she was swimming under her boat where she untied a second crossbow from its hiding place on the keel. Next to the spare crossbow, was the entrance to the diving tube she had invented. It gave her access to the water without jumping over the side as the males did. She pulled away the netting that disguised her tunnel, swam up the short distance and climbed out of the water onto the lower deck. She glanced at her small pile of metal and hurried up the steps to the main deck. He was leaning over the side, and his arm was bleeding profusely yet he seemed unconcerned. Giving up his search, he turned around to find her aiming another weapon at him.

“Over the side,” she ordered.

“I am injured. You would have me die?”

“I will kill you now if you prefer,” she waved the crossbow at his chest.

“Let me return to my boat at least,” he pleaded.

“No! It is rightfully mine. You attacked me, and I won! Those are the rules. Over the side!”

He slumped into the posture of the defeated, which he had seen so many times from his own victims. He was about to climb over the side when she stopped him.

“Wait! Show me how you did that with your boat first.”

“I will not! You have beaten me, but you do not own me!”

“A trade then,” she suggested. “Show me, and I will give you one of my boats,” she gestured at the larger boat.

“That is my boat!” he shouted.

She tilted her head to the side in a strange gesture he had never seen before although he didn’t have a great deal of experience to draw from. In fact, this was the longest exchange he had had since leaving his mother. His victims usually just complied and jumped over without much whimpering and certainly no conversation.

“All my metal!” He complained and stole a look at his boat. “I should let you use that thing and just throw you over again!” How did she get back aboard?

She took a step closer. “At this distance, I will not miss.”

But he was not listening. The blood loss and arguing had made him dizzy. He was still trying to process his last thought. As he fell to the deck, he slowly muttered, “how did you get back on…”

* * *

When he awoke, he was still on the deck of her boat. His arm had been bandaged, and there was a meal of fish next to him which he devoured quickly. The boat jerked forward, and he went to the side to see what had caused it. Stretched out in front of the bow was a long rope tied to the stern of the larger boat - his boat. He was being towed by his own boat. He shouted some perfunctory curses and insults but got no response. This female does not seem to know the rules. He decided on another tactic and just shouted “Hello?” which brought an immediate response.

“You are not dead?” she shouted.

“Why are you towing me? Why not just leave me?”

“I have a proposal,” she said as she turned a crank which drew in the tow line a bit and brought him closer.

“I will not mate with you.” He called back, waved a hand dismissively in the air and began pacing.

She tilted her head to the side again.

She keeps doing that. What does it mean?

“You have the largest collection of metal I have ever seen,” she shouted down at him.

“You are impressed!” he said surprised. “I knew it!”

“I can show you how to use it,” she said.

Use it? He thought. What was she talking about? Metal was for collecting and trading - and occasionally, impressing females but until now that had not actually worked. She makes weapons out of it!

A new age of invention began. The two inventors, as history named them, created tools for everything, including the manufacture of other tools. In the beginning, they simply used the harder metals like iron to pound softer ones like copper, but with their first furnace, they were able to melt and bend even the hardest metals. Through the trade of tools for raw materials, they soon accumulated enough metal to make a fully submersible boat and plunder the ocean floor for all the metal that had fallen to its depths. The inventors themselves lived long enough to see this, but it was their descendants, trained in the ways of tool making and building, who created an empire of industry and eventually traveled to the source of all metal - space.


For Six Months

December 19th, 2019

After reading “Stumbling on Happiness” by Daniel Gilbert, I started saying things like “that would make me happy,” and adding after a pause for effect, “for six months.” Gilbert’s book describes a study of lottery winners who self-reported their happiness levels before and after winning. The result was that they reported their happiness as “very high” just after winning (duh.) But that their reported happiness level went right back where it was after only six months.

I don’t believe this for a minute, and the only way you can convince me otherwise is to give me that winning ticket. This “for six months” phrase has joined the ranks of such household memes as “You’ll thank me later” (Tony Shalhoub’s Monk) “God I miss Jack” (European Vacation) and “You shall not pass” (Lord of the Rings.) The commercials for the new iPhone prompt me to say, “that would make me happy for six months.” and I mean it. I really do, but I just can’t accept that a new house and a new car would only make me happy for six months.

Something about this study smells bad. Presumably, they had a pre-lottery happiness level, right? So, how did they know the participants were about to win the lottery? And what is meant by “won the lottery”? Is it retire-today money (7-figures)? Is it f*#k-you money(6-figures)? Or is it, as I suspect, a much more modest amount - the kind that could be reasonably expected to occur in a psychology study of a few hundred gambling addicts. If it’s in the new-car range(5-figures), then yes, I can believe it would fade after a few months. Clearly, this calls for more research.


Searching for Treasure in Miami

November 18th, 2019

The Secret by Byron Preiss

I have lately become obsessed with a treasure hunt described in a book called “The Secret” by Byron Preiss (1982)

I’m just the right age to have been very interested in this book when it was published in 1982, but I honestly don’t remember it. It wasn’t until I saw the episode of Expedition Unknown in January of 2018 that it caught my eye.

For those who don’t know, The Secret describes twelve hidden treasures that the author deposited in 1981. Byron Preiss visited twelve parks around the country where, disguised as a utility maintenance worker, he buried what he called casques - small ceramic containers protected by plexiglass cubes. The goal of the reader was to solve the clues and find the casque, inside which is a ceramic key which can be exchanged for gemstone worth about a thousand dollars. They say that he expected these twelve keys to be found fairly quickly - maybe a year or so, and that would pave the way to writing a second book. That didn’t happen, and it wasn’t until 1983 that the first one was found by teenagers in Chicago. After that, no one found anything for decades all the while, grounds-keepers, and the ravages of time have changed the landscape erasing clues. It seems to be a common theme in the search. It gets very exciting for a bit, and then years go by.

A second casque was eventually found in Cleveland in 2004, and then, you guessed it, nothing for many years after that.

Since then, Josh Gates of “Expedition Unknown” has been sucked into this obsession, and he has done(so far) three episodes about The Secret. In the most recent, he went along with a search in Boston, and they actually found it!! I watched it three times!

This brings us to my own obsession: image #6 and verse #9. Everyone agrees that image #6 is in Florida. Everyone also agrees that verse #9 goes with Image #6. By the way, that’s how we are supposed to find the keys. Each of the twelve treasures has an image that hints at a city, and each has a verse that tells you where to dig.

image number 6 from The Secret
verse number 9 from The Secret

Everyone agrees on those two things, and most sane people believe the city is St. Augustine, and the park(these are all in parks) is The Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park. Although the Florida treasure has not been found yet, this location is so close to being an established fact that it approaches religious dogma, and with good reason. The connections with the verses are amazing. Even some of the things in the image point to the F.O.Y. park

You may have guessed by now that I’m about to propose heresy. So, here goes. What if, what if - it’s not in St. Augustine?

Marjory Stoneman Douglas

The most prominent element in image #6 is a stone man. In 1947 the Everglades National Park was established, and that same year “The Everglades: River of Grass” was published by Marjory Stoneman Douglas. In the lining of the hardback cover of her book, there is a map of South Florida, and the coastline matches the profile in image #6.

Everglades-Coastline

So, that’s the good part. The disappointing part is that, while there are two parks named after her, neither of them has anything resembling anything in verse #9 except the green fence and tall trees. In both cases, the fences are steel and not picket, so that’s no match. The smaller of the two is about the size of my front yard, so not a place B.P. would have buried a casque. The larger park is even less interesting, with nothing more than cement sidewalks and grass(not even tall grass).

There is also a statue of her in yet another park, but the plaque says it was created in 2005, so that’s another dead end.

Don Quixote

The character on horseback is assumed to be the conquistador Juan Ponce De Leon because of his connection to the fountain of youth. But look closer, and you’ll see he’s not dressed like a soldier. He’s dressed like a fool. He’s not even wearing shoes. Notice also that he’s looking down, which is a good match for the famous Picasso sketch of Don Quixote.

Comparison of Picaso's don quixote and the rider from image 6

If it is Don Quixote, then he fits the whimsical mood of The Secret better than a Rape-Pillage-and-Plunder conquistador.

When I think of Don Quixote, I always think of windmills, and the only full-sized Dutch-style windmill in Florida, according to the Wikipedia page of windmills (that’s a thing) is in Miami. Or I should say was in Miami. It’s gone now, destroyed by a fire in ??. I can’t find confirmation of a year. We do know where it was, though. It was an icon of Miami for decades and featured prominently on many postcards. It was built to promote a casino in Miami Beach. I found at least three different names for this hotel/casino: Carl Fisher Casino, Roman Pools Casino, and St John’s Casino. It was somewhere between 22nd and 23rd street and Collins Ave.

windmill

What’s there now is interesting and matches a few of the things from verse #9.

The Bass Museum of Art

The interesting things in the lawn in front of the museum are:

• A huge and beautiful tree (tall tree)

• Four bronze busts of men (near men)

• A vertical stack of stones (just like the image)

• A piece of art called The Story of Man (every story has a First Chapter). This piece is ringed by a low pool which reflects the carvings (written in water)

But before we get too excited, there is bad news aplenty. Here are the misses:

• No windmill today. Was it there in 1981?

• No tall grass, bending branches, green picket fence(or fence of any kind)

• No shell, limestone, silver, salt, wind rose, or honking unless you count the traffic (there was quite a bit of that while I was there)

In fact, it really only sorta matches four out of the fifteen lines in verse #9. So there you have it. I had great fun searching Miami but didn’t come up with anything definitive.


Space Opera

August 30th, 2019

I was digging through some older stuff looking for some story snippets and came across this bit from Chapter 8 of Star Charmer. It was too long for what I was looking for, but I really like it, so enjoy!

The only setup you need to know is that Thomas is the spaceship. M is his new companion-in-training, and Thomas’s spiderbots are all named after vice presidents because as he puts it, “they are mostly brainless and can’t do anything without my say-so.” Oh, and he forces them to wear costumes.


Before he could answer his own question, Thomas was interrupted by a sudden thump followed by a high-pitched hiss. M turned to see a tiny hole in the hull behind her and noticed a growing circle of blood soaking her shirt just before everything went black. Several drawers opened from what were previously smooth walls as she slumped to the floor. Spiderbots flooded out of the drawers and began dragging her limp body to the Med-Bay which had also opened out of its place inside the wall. A few spiderbots hurried to repair the holes in the hull caused by the micro-meteor. As the Med-Bay closed, M opened her eyes slightly and let out a few confused syllables.

“Don’t worry, I’ve got you,” Thomas said, as she closed her eyes.

* * *

A day and a half later, the Med-Bay opened, and M sat up.

“So this is our Med-Bay,” she slowly swung her legs over the edge. After a moment, she stood, still a bit shaky. “What was that?”

“A micrometeoroid. It happens from time to time. Never went through a passenger before, though. That’s new.”

“Crew,” she corrected. “How long was I in here?”

“Thirty-six hours. Haven’t you ever been in one before?”

“No. My friend was once. She fell out of a tree and broke her arm. It only took a few minutes. Wow, thirty-six hours. That must be some kind of record.”

“Oh no, not even close. One of the other survey ships told me a story about a repair that took a month. Apparently, there were residual skin cells from a previous repair job. The Med-Bay stowed itself away inside the wall, but at some point, the damn thing came on by itself without anyone noticing. It was probably some sort of Single-Upset-Event, perhaps a cosmic ray.”

“Single-Upset-Event?” she asked and yawned.

“That’s what they call it when a bit of radiation affects some electronics. The ship didn’t notice because it’s a completely isolated system. The passenger didn’t notice because the Med-Bay was still inside the wall until it finished and opened up with his clone sitting there looking all dazed.”

“A clone?”

“That’s right. It made a perfect copy from the residue DNA but without any memories. So, it couldn’t even speak. Complete tabula rasa - a blank slate.”

“What did they do with him?”

“Well, they did the only thing you can in a situation like that. They taught it to play cards,” he said as the spiderbots laughed.

M frowned. “More nonsense. Which fallacy is that?”

She walked around to get her balance back and noticed a new spiderbot wearing a silver funnel hat and carrying an oil can.

“I love this one because it’s close to several fallacies. Firstly, our friend number eleven again, Appeal to Authority, where you believe something just because your cousin’s friend from two towns over knows what he’s talking about because he was there. The second one is number twenty-five Ad Nauseum where a story gains credulity through repetition. If you say something often enough, people will believe it. The third fallacy is another one we’ve covered already…”

Don’t Trust Anything Thomas Says,” she repeated with sarcasm.

He laughed, and the spiderbots chittered again.

“The give-away is the Med-Bay being isolated. You should have caught that, M. It’s not a simple Stitcher. It can’t do a thing without me.”

“Whatever. So, we should be at the asteroid by now, right?” she said.

“Well, not exactly.”

“So, where are we?”

“I…pulled out all the reactor safeties and turned back for Earth. We’re nearly there. I suppose we can turn around now that you’re done with your little holiday.”

“You were worried about me,” she accused grinning.

“No, I wasn’t,” he said with indignation, “I simply wanted to be ready for a replacement should that become necessary.”

“Liar. Why the hurry just to drop off a dead body?”

“I have submitted the request for a gravity assist maneuver around Earth so that we can get back on schedule,” he said, ignoring her.

“We have a schedule?”

“No, but I love speed. Speed is goo-ood. Speed is right! This might even be a personal-best for me.”

As they came around the planet in a close arc, Thomas accelerated like a rock in a slingshot.

“No - No - No! Oh, that’s disappointing. Missed it by one percent!”

“It’s over already? I didn’t feel a thing.” M said, surprised.

“Oh, right. Sorry about that. I didn’t mean literally hang on. I keep a constant one gee inside for the comfort of my passengers.”

“Crew,” she corrected, but he ignored her.

“Although,” he laughed, “I discovered through experimentation that I could gradually increase it to one-point-five gees before Dennis noticed.”

“Hey Thomas,” she said in a serious tone, “Thanks - I owe you one.”

The sound of the reply from the committee filled the cabin. It said, “Asteroid Survey Ship Thomas is denied permission to perform gravity assist maneuver,” they both laughed.


Rob Reid

June 28th, 2019

atomic blast

Holy crap! I just finished bingeing on Rob Reid’s amazing podcast ‘After On’

If you have a brain, you need this. If you think of yourself as well-informed, he will disabuse you of that quickly.

The free bag of crack that got me started was his Ted talk. If you haven’t watched that, go now!

The podcast episodes are long; they run about an hour, and they are deep dives with real experts that will scare the buh-jebus out of you. They’re so thick with detail, I’m planning to listen to all of them at least twice because I’m sure I missed things. (When I listen to content that is engaging to this level, my mind wanders off on some nugget, and it’s several minutes before I can get my focus back to the source. That’s when the ‘go back 30 seconds’ button saves my sanity.)

Sorry for the brevity. I’m keeping this short so I can get back to listening!

Seriously, Rob F*#ing Reid!


Ancient Treasure

June 14th, 2019

book cover from The Tickencote Treasure

Well, ancient may be a bit of hyperbole. The Tickencote Treasure was originally published only 116 years ago. This wonderful tale of an English gentleman caught up in the accidental obsession of a treasure caught my attention when I was searching for similar books. The tragedy for anyone who loves treasure stories is that there are so few and searching always yields either ‘Treasure Island,’ picture books for five-year-olds, or non-fiction stories which are entertaining but all too similar to be taken seriously. I’ll have to write another blog article someday about how many stories there are about a dying vagabond who bequeaths a map to a vast treasure to the heroic doctor who made his last hours more pleasant.

I love the self-referential quality of the difficulty in finding good stories about treasure. A treasure hunt to find a book about a treasure hunt is very G.E.B. It’s also a slice of the larger tragedy of finding any book that is “just right” for the tastes of any particular person. My hope is that someday soon, machine learning will be able to give each of us genuinely unbiased recommendations.

For those who like a bit of Victorian fiction, I recommend this treasure about treasure. The Tickencote Treasure is available free in several formats - all a bit awkward to use - from Project Gutenberg. Or, you can listen to the mp3’s I made for myself. These are by no means audio-book quality (‘read’ comes out sounding like ‘red’ instead of ‘reed’) but, they are on par with the Kindle’s text-to-speech. That being said, why didn’t I just have the Kindle do it? The problem I had with the Kindle was that it stopped only a few minutes into my morning walk. I put it in my pocket, and I think it stopped when it went into sleep mode. Another frustration was losing my place, and I really missed the feature of Overcast, the app I use to listen to Podcasts, which lets me go back 15 seconds. This ‘what did he just say?’ feature is so useful I just couldn’t do without it, so I added that to the webpage I made just to listen to this book.

If you have found another old treasure like this one and want to make your own mp3s, check out my previous post Text-To-Speech


Daniel Shires and the Multiverse

May 26th, 2019

Daniel Shires and the Multiverse

Daniel Shires and the Multiverse is a Science Fiction/Adventure novel by WC Brown about inter-dimensional travel to alternate worlds.

What’s it about?

It’s about a hidden part of the universe - a powerful secret which affects us all, yet none of us can see.

It’s about a ten-year-old boy named Daniel who discovers it and uses it to travel to other worlds full of strange creatures.

It’s about a man named Fate who also knows the secret and has used it to cheat death for five hundred years.

The secret that only Daniel and Fate know, is the existence of three invisible lines which connect us to our universe. Each of us has a North-South line, another for East-West, and a third for Up-and-Down.

Each time we make a complete turn, we have twisted one of these lines and wrapped the other two around us. If we turn back around in the other direction, we can untwist the lines, but since they are invisible, we don’t know to do this, and we get more hopelessly entangled every day of our lives.

Every few hundred years, entirely by chance, one lucky individual finds himself untwisted, and witnesses firsthand its powerful effects. It exerts a strong psychological influence on anyone within range and sends animals into a frenzy. It also endows its possessor with unnaturally good fortune.

Fate is one of these untwisted people, and until he meets Daniel, he thinks he’s the only one.

Daniel has not only discovered the lines, but unlike Fate, he can also see them. Together, they must stay one step ahead of a murderer named Vogel who has had his lines completely severed - an unfortunate state which has its own set of side effects.

There are dangers at every turn! Strange people, strange worlds and even stranger creatures!


*Parental warning: This story contains violence that some parents may find inappropriate for children under the age of 9.


Star Trek and smoking while praying?

March 3rd, 2019

Many years ago, a friend told me the ‘Can I smoke while I pray?’ story. For those unfamiliar, it’s a lesson in how to ask a question. There are many variations: A man asks two priests the same question rephrased, a man asks the same priest the rephrased questions, and so on.

Man: Father, can I smoke while I pray?

Priest: Of course not! It would be an affront to God!

Man: Okay, then. I’m going out for a smoke. (turns around at the door Columbo-style) Oh, father?

Priest: Yes my son?

Man: If I get the urge while I’m smoking, can I pray?

Priest: Of course my son. God is always listening.

So, what does this have to do with Star Trek? Seth MacFarlane

I was upset when Star Trek The Next Generation(STTNG) was canceled, and apparently, so was Seth. The story goes, that he pitched a very similar straight-up space adventure show to FOX but was rejected because - well, he’s the comedy guy right? So, Seth made a spoof of Star Trek, got it past the narrow-minded decision makers that, at least in my mind, dominate every network, and bided his time.

I watched as each episode of The Orville added more serious SciFi elements, less slapstick, and fewer cheap jokes. Seth was getting to smoke while he prayed.

Let’s not forget that STTNG tried to be funny occasionally too. It usually fell flat, and like the occasional soap opera episode we all had to endure, they were worth it because we eventually got space battles with The Borg. So, for all of you who think SciFi shouldn’t be funny(looking at you Steve Gibson) and turned up your noses at The Orville, I say, watch Season 2 Episodes 8 & 9 “Identity” and “Identity part II” This two-parter is straight up space warfare against an enemy that seems invincible.


Are We In The Matrix?

February 17th, 2019

I see coincidences all the time and recently decided to make a list(I love lists. Shut up)

Coincidence Number 1: Killjoy

I was watching the TV show Killjoy, and not paying much attention to it(my wife is a big fan). I was also reading a book and stopped, stunned at a word on the page. The word was Killjoy. I mean, how often do you randomly run across that word?

Coincidence Number 2: All the stars in the sky

I was writing Star Charmer and wrote about a star named Arcturus, 37 light years from Earth(it was the peng-weasel homeworld) Before I had finished editing the book, I saw the movie Passengers, where a spaceship passes by a star - named - Arcturus. WTF? Of all the stars in the sky, they had to choose that one? Crap. It wasn't published yet, so I changed it.

Coincidence Number 3: Brad Pitt’s Phone Booth

In my book Temporal Fuse I wrote about a robot character who changed his face to look more human. The face he chose was Brad Pitt because why not? This same character also turned a phone booth into a time machine. At this point, I must have forgotten Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, but that’s obviously where I got the idea. But wait, that’s not the coincidence, though. I was researching something unrelated, and Google showed me a picture of Brad Pitt with a phone booth in the background. A phone booth! I don't remember what I googled, but there I was, facing two things that, in my mind at least, were only together in my book.

Coincidence Number 4: Robot Laser Rescue

I had just written a chapter in my next book Daniel Shires where(among other things) a giant robot uses a laser to extract something from under the ice of a frozen lake. I don’t recall how much later it was (less than a few weeks), I was watching the remake of Lost in Space where a robot uses a laser to save the girl from a frozen lake.

Coincidence Number 5: Thomas

And finally, just this week I was reading John Scalzi’s book The Consuming Fire (excellent BTW) and he introduced a new character: an intelligent spaceship with a quirky personality named - wait for it - Thomas! I almost fell out of my chair! For those unfamiliar with Star Charmer, it features an intelligent spaceship with a quirky personality named Thomas. I had to check the publishing dates to make sure I didn’t subconsciously steal a character. I was pretty sure I hadn’t read his book before. Nope, Star Charmer came out a year before Consuming Fire. Whew! I’m reasonably sure John has never read any of my books. So, what’s going on here? I think it’s like the Birthday Paradox and the world is just not as random as we think it is. When I try to come up with character names, there are only so many that work. Nobody will ever name a spaceship Dennis.

Comments? Hit me up on twitter @BrainsInChains


Twisted

September 13th, 2018

The topic of twisted phone cords came up the other day. I actually did a study of why they became twisted - yeah I’m that nerdy. People typically reach for the phone - I guess I should use past tense here since I haven’t even seen a phone with a cord since the Reagan administration. Anyway, people used to reach for it with their dominant hand. Of course, this meant that they needed to switch it to the other hand to write things down or pick up the tumbler of whiskey (don’t drink and dial that way lies madness). So that results in a half-turn. At the end of the conversation, most people would switch the handset back to the dominant hand before returning it to the cradle, completing a full twist. So it was possible to count the number of times the phone was used by counting and untwisting- yeah I used to do that too.

Comments? Hit me up on twitter @BrainsInChains


Text-To-Speech

March 6th, 2018

One of the most powerful editing tools I use is the built-in text-to-speech facility of macOS. It’s as easy as highlighting some text and hitting ⌃-⌘-⌥-S.  Of course, reading with my eyes is always the first pass, but there’s something wonderful and insidious about the human brain’s capacity to “fix” things for us. I could blitz right past the word “is” and not notice that it’s supposed to be “it.” That's where listening to the words really helps. The computer gives me the unvarnished truth. Misplaced words jump right out at me - and this got me thinking. Now, being a total nerd and coder-by-day, I thought hey, why not automate this and I convert the whole book to mp3 files that I can listen to it on my morning walk. I’d like to take a moment here and suggest in the strongest terms that this is in no way audio-book quality. But for editing purposes, it has become an essential tool.

Version 1: 

I did some Googling and found that there’s a command line version of the same text-to-speech I had been using. It’s called ‘say’ and it can convert text files to .aiff files using a variety of options like different voices and speeds. It also doesn’t do it in ‘real-time’ - so you don’t have to wait five minutes to get five minutes of audio files. Nice!

So, what the heck is a .aiff file? It’s some weird audio format and while the documentation says you can specify others - they don’t work. So, one of the tasks was to find a utility that would convert these to mp3. I found one called ‘ffmpeg’ and it did the job. By the way, I use an app called ‘brew’ to install these type of things. If you were paying attention earlier, you may have noticed that I said ‘say’ could convert text files. It cannot, however, convert .rtf files which is what Scrivener uses. So, the next task was to find a convenient way to extract the plain ASCII text from the .rtf files. I tried several things and realized that I actually needed some of the meta-data like italics. It just sounds wrong without the emphasis. So instead of the .rtf files, I used Scrivener’s ‘Export’ function and created a set of html files complete with <i> tags which I could convert to something ‘say’ would recognize as emphasis. These .html files would then need to be converted to .txt files. Brew to the rescue again! I found a utility called ‘textutil’ that would do the job. Here’s the process:

Use Scrivener to export .html files

Replace <i> </i> italics with [[emph +]] in the .html files.

Use textutil to convert the .html files to .txt

Use ‘say’ to convert to .aiff files

Use ‘ffmpeg’ to convert to .mp3 files

Wow, what a slog! And I did each file by hand that first time. It took forever!


Version 2:

This is really just the same process, but I automated it with a PHP script. It also does some nice things like adding the chapter number and title to the top so it will introduce it. This is super-convenient for navigating if you lose your place. In this version, I also added a web page to play these files for me. I needed to be able to skip back 10 seconds for ‘what-did-he-say?’ moments. This was a little tedious, but it worked for several weeks - until - I upgraded my mac to the next version of the operating system. The text-to-speech in macOS High-Sierra is broken. The output to files just hangs. This is a known bug, but they seem in no rush to fix it for me. That got me to searching for an alternative.


Version 3:

I have written iOS apps before, but they always came out pretty awful. Apple introduced a new programming language called Swift, and I had been wanting an excuse to dive into it. Arrrrg! Swift is not an improvement on Objective-C. It’s a lateral move at best. It’s every bit as abstruse. The quirky, hard-to-read syntax is just quirky and hard-to-read in a different way. It doesn’t make the job any easier. Still, I gave it a try. The first iteration was a desktop app that basically did the same text-to-speech as ‘say’. All I had to do was drag and drop the .rtf files  (yes I said .rtf files!) onto the app, and it could convert them on-the-fly to the speakers. It even sounded exactly the same! I don’t know why I expected it to be different. When I tried to convert to audio files it failed in exactly the same way as the command-line utility. 


Version 4:

Okay so if it will only go to the speakers, I just need a mobile App to do the same as the desktop version. I created an iOS version. Now you might expect that this would be simple, right? Just tell Xcode to compile a version for iOS that I can run on my iPhone, right? Nope. Start all over because everything is different. It evens sounds different. The quality is terrible! I went back and forth to compare and started noticing subtleties that the desktop version does like the sound of the ‘speaker’ taking a breath. How crazy is that! But it really makes a big difference. The iOS version was so bad it was distracting and made it hard to concentrate on the story.


Version 5:

I started looking around for alternatives that would improve the quality and still let me use the iOS app. I found a service on Amazon called “Polly” that will convert text-to-audio, and it’s pretty good! I found another with excellent quality called Acapela. Neither of these is free. Acapela is too expensive for my needs, but Amazon Polly is about $4 for 1,000,000 characters which translates to about 25 hours of audio. Not too bad!


Summary

 I did get the Amazon Polly version to work, but the lag between tapping the play button and getting sound back was too frustrating. So, in the end, I just went back to the PHP script in Version 2 using a laptop which I haven’t upgraded yet. I had hopes of making this a free app to help other authors but the poor quality and the complexity would just frustrate most people. But there is hope! The cpu power available to mobile apps gets better with every generation of phones, and soon we will have some that can do the same quality text-to-speech as the desktop. After that, it will get even better. Adobe has been teasing us for two years with VOCO(still not out) and I do think we will get very high quality one way or another. I don’t believe that we will ever get a replacement for real voice actors doing what they do for the audio-books I love. A computer that can do what Nick Podehl or John Hodgman does won’t be a computer. It will be an A.I. So, be careful what you wish for!

Comments? Hit me up on twitter @BrainsInChains


Temporal Fuse!

January 3rd, 2018

The Final Installment of the Brains In Chains Trilogy Available!

A mildly intelligent, spider-shaped robot named Martin Van Buren has been stranded in 1982 by Thomas, his previous owner, and given a list of tasks to complete. He has vowed to do none of them, instead telling everyone who will listen that he is a super-intelligent robot from the future. Martin has met a girl in Dubuque, Iowa named Angel. She has promised him a misunderstood “party” in exchange for healing her dying grandmother who isn’t actually dying but rather only dangerously gullible. Angel has discovered that Martin is not, in fact, a faith-healing little-person inside a movie prop spider, but rather, exactly what he has said he was - an artificial intelligence inside a spider-shaped robot, possibly from the future.

Book Cover Temporal Fuse

Title: Temporal Fuse

Genre: Comedy / Science Fiction

Author: W. C. Brown


Goodreads Giveaway Starts Today!

November 20th, 2017

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Star Charmer by W.C.  Brown

Star Charmer

by W.C. Brown

Giveaway ends December 04, 2017.

See the giveaway details at Goodreads.

Enter Giveaway

Dog Pile

November 18th, 2017

I love you Amazon, but sometimes you do things that make me scratch my head and whisper WTF?

“We will again award "KDP Select All-Stars" for October to the most-read authors and most-read titles in the U.S., U.K. and Germany. All bonuses will be awarded based on total Kindle Edition Normalized Pages read during the month. We will also award bonuses for illustrated kids’ books – the top 100 most read titles in the U.S. and top 25 in the U.K. will receive such bonuses.”

I’m imagining a summer camp where the kids are taught to swim by dropping them from a helicopter into the exact center of the lake. The ones that succeed in making it to shore are rewarded with a pizza party. Congrats on not dying, here’s your trophy, and here’s a second trophy as a reward for getting the first trophy.

I don’t know how Amazon could help new/unknown authors, but this dog-piling solution seems to be neither creative nor helpful. Does giving the top-selling authors a second trophy even sell more books and help Amazon’s bottom-line? I can’t imagine it does.


Am I doing it wrong?

November 16th, 2017

Like many of you, I suffer from Impostor syndrome. Not all the time, but occasionally, I’m dead certain that I’m doing it wrong. In the grip of one such episode, I became sure that everybody else had a complete outline of the story they wanted to tell before they wrote the first word. I needed to start doing that. How? It’s just not a natural thing for me. I always start with a few characters and a strange situation. The story grows naturally from the characters being true to their own nature. But, I was an impostor, doing it all wrong, so I started googling to find out how to do it right. Eventually, I found this gem from an interview with Stephen King way back in 2000:

Full article from the theguardian.com

“Forget plot, but remember the importance of ‘situation’

I won’t try to convince you that I’ve never plotted any more than I’d try to convince you that I’ve never told a lie, but I do both as infrequently as possible. I distrust plot for two reasons: first, because our lives are largely plotless, even when you add in all our reasonable precautions and careful planning; and second, because I believe plotting and the spontaneity of real creation aren’t compatible.

A strong enough situation renders the whole question of plot moot. The most interesting situations can usually be expressed as a What-if question: What if vampires invaded a small New England village? (Salem’s Lot).
What if a young mother and her son became trapped in their stalled car by a rabid dog? (Cujo).

These were situations which occurred to me - while showering, while driving, while taking my daily walk - and which I eventually turned into books. In no case were they plotted, not even to the extent of a single note jotted on a single piece of scrap paper.”

– Stephen King, The Guardian, October 2000

Holy crap! That’s exactly what I've been doing!


Goodreads Giveaway!

November 13th, 2017

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Star Charmer by W.C.  Brown

Star Charmer

by W.C. Brown

Giveaway ends December 04, 2017.

See the giveaway details at Goodreads.

Enter Giveaway

Why the world sucks

November 9th, 2017

Why does the world suck? Let me just skip to the end and say “it doesn’t.”

The 24-hour news cycle is a pestilence. You should avoid it as I do and here’s why: the goal of a constant flow of “News” is not to inform you but to shape your emotional state. If it seems that the news is always bad and tragic, if it angers you and upsets you, then the system is working properly. Making the world seem to get suckier every day is the goal because that maintains the hold they have on your attention. When news came to us in the form of newspapers, the economic model was static. They couldn’t sell you a second newspaper no matter what they wrote about or how they wrote about it. This is not currently the case. The more they play with your emotions, the more you watch, and more importantly, the more opportunities there are to sell you a new truck. Take my advice and turn that crap off. Your mother was right it will rot your brain.


Vellum For Print

September 26th, 2017

Flower
Chapter Layout first page
Chapter Layout inside page

I love Vellum!

I ’ve written about Vellum before, but I just got the upgrade that lets me do something amazing - publish a print version without Microsoft Word. For those unfamiliar with the process, it goes like this: Write a manuscript in a really nice editor like Scrivener, then export in MS Word format, followed by a multi-hour battle with the worst piece of crap in the world: MS Word. When I say it's crap, I'm exercising a lot of self-control because Word is really only good for one thing: swearing practice. Getting it to do drop-caps is fairly easy, but the fight to get mirrored margins and alternating headers will leave you bruised and bloody.

Enter Vellum! All of those things are done for you in Vellum. I almost fell out of my chair! Drop-caps, alternating pages, correct page-numbering, and it even added blank pages to force new chapters onto odd-numbered pages! Word used to make me laboriously insert page breaks.

I'm over-the-moon happy with this!


Temporal Fuse

September 17th, 2017

Book cover Brains In Chains
Book cover Star Charmer
Book cover Temporal Fuse

The Third Story in the Brains In Chains Trilogy is Coming Soon!

A mildly intelligent, spider-shaped robot name Martin Van Buren has been stranded in 1982 by his previous owner, Thomas, and given a list of tasks to complete. He has vowed to do none of them, instead telling everyone who will listen that he is a super-intelligent robot from the future. Martin has met a girl in Dubuque, Iowa named Angel. She has promised him a misunderstood “party” in exchange for healing her dying grandmother who wasn’t actually dying but rather only dangerously gullible. Angel has discovered that Martin is not in fact a faith-healing little-person inside a movie prop spider, but rather, exactly what he has said he was - an artificial intelligence inside a spider-shaped robot, possibly from the future.


The Secret of the Charm Drive

July 25th, 2017

“In the late 21'st century the brightest mind in the world was not human, but human-made. It had no biological appetites. It knew neither hunger nor thirst. It did not crave companionship nor sexual gratification. It never slept, never rested in its pursuit of its sole motivation: curiosity...”

“Psychology is really biology. Biology is really chemistry. Chemistry is really physics. Physics is really math.”
anonymous

“...Matter is made of combinations of six quarks with odd names like Charm. Six fundamental components of matter are known, but only four fundamental forces. This imbalance led the world’s first artificial intelligence to discover a fifth force and to use it in the conversion of energy. With the use of a material called Charm Foil, it could, among other things, convert microwaves into a gravitational field…”

- from ‘The History of the Charm Drive’ April, 2216

Star Charmer!

July 12th, 2017

The Sequel to Brains In Chains is Available!

Marion Michelle Morrison, or “M” for short lives two hundred years in the future. Space exploration is all but nonexistent, and this frustrates her. A few ships have been built to poke around in the asteroid belt but nothing more. She wants to go farther. The reason there isn’t any exploration is a little surprising. In the post-AI world, superhuman intelligences called “the committees” do all the work humanity is no longer willing to do. They are bureaucratic, plodding and seem to exist just to have meeting after meeting - never getting anything done. M is unlike the rest of humanity which, in this timeframe, has degenerated into hedonism, content to passively enjoy the abundant, ultra-high quality entertainment. Anything they need or want can be made using a machine called a Stitcher. Invented by an AI, it can make anything, even another Stitcher out of raw materials. It can make any kind of food, clothing, and even larger things like vehicles and homes.

The few spaceships that exist use a device called a Charmer which generates a gravitational field to propel the ship. This is sufficient for exploring the solar system but isn’t really suited for going to other stars. M wants the secret of how it’s made, but the Committees are predictably uncooperative. In the meantime, she takes a position with the Asteroid Survey and meets Thomas - the AI inside one of the ships. Their Charm drive has somehow malfunctioned and sent them back in time - something thought to be impossible. M and Thomas are stranded in 1985 and M is unconscious. When she wakes she doesn’t recall how she got there and Thomas is severely damaged. They need to find out what happened to them and how to get back.

Title: Star Charmer

Genre: Comedy / Science Fiction

Author: W. C. Brown


Why Do Writers Love Orphans

July 2nd, 2017

Why do writers love orphans? They're everywhere - even on TV shows. “How ‘bout you? Ya’ got any family?” is always followed with “nah, mom and dad died horribly...” I think there are two reasons this is so useful. The easy answer is the orphan is always “ready to jam” to paraphrase The Breakfast Club.

The story can go off on a wild ride like a rollercoaster cresting the lift hill. No familial entanglements, no awkward “I can't go until I check with mom first” The assumption is that such a request from the characters, presumably in their late teens or early twenties (to avoid the other kind of familial entanglements), would be denied. This is probably false, in my opinion, but let's set that aside for the moment. The other reason for chopping off the parents from the story is pity. Empathy toward the orphan character can be established easily by tapping into that ancient part of the brain terrified of being alone which probably stems from a very real danger of being left behind to be eaten by the everything lurking in the paleolithic shadows.


Apparently I Hate Commas

February 22nd, 2017

I use Scrivener for my writing, and I love it - but.

I Googled it quite a bit and saw that last but quite a bit. Apparently, I'm not alone in my conditional praise. One of the things it lacks is really good grammar checking. I've written before about Microsoft Word and its own shortcomings, so I won't go into that again. Instead, I'm here to preach the wonders of Grammarly. There is hope brothers and sisters! Here's an example sentence in Scrivener's Spelling/Grammar checker:

Example text in Scrivener

Nothing? Really?

Here it is in Word:

Example text in Word

Not much better. It caught the first missing comma but missed the second.

And finally Grammarly:

Example text in Grammarly

Now, I won't say that it's perfect. It's not. It complains endlessly about my use of Passive Voice, Overused Words, Incomplete Comparisons, Unclear Antecedents, and something called Squinting modifiers whatever that is.

Whatever you do, don't just change everything it tells you to because it does make mistakes or I suppose I should say wrong guesses. But for all its flaws it's wildly better than the alternatives.

One more caveat: it's expensive. There is, of course, a free version but it doesn't really give you a good sense of all it can do.

Oops, one more: it's also awkward to use. I have to run it side-by-side, copy-and-paste, and go back and forth to make the changes in Scrivener because Grammarly removes all the styling. There's a plugin for Word - but only the Windows version - no help for me.

So, this is starting to sound like a rant against Grammarly, and that's not what I want. Here's some perspective:

Not perfect:-5 Points
Expensive:-10 Points
Awkward to use:-15 Points
Way better than
anything else I've tried:
+200 Points

To drive that last part home, here are four mistakes from the published version of Brains In Chains that got past a dozen people. All of us missed these. All our tools missed them. Only Grammarly caught them.

Toggle changes

  1. Gillian Franks came highly recommend and her fee reflected it.
  2. ...he stuffed two thousand dollars into the salesman hand.
  3. ...the Brazilian people are the best, and the food is great, but the fuel cam be a bit dodgy.
  4. That’s sounds like a good thing. Right?

Now, take something you're really proud of - something already edited, paste it into Grammarly, and prepare to be humbled.


Star Charmer

January 5th, 2017

space ship

The Sequel to Brains In Chains! Read Chapter 1

Marion Michelle Morrison, or “M” for short lives two hundred years in the future. Space exploration is all but nonexistent and this frustrates her. A few ships have been built to poke around in the asteroid belt but nothing more. She wants to go farther. The reason there isn’t any exploration is a little surprising. In the post-AI world, super human intelligences called “the committees” do all the work humanity is no longer willing to do. They are bureaucratic, plodding and seem to exist just to have meeting after meeting - never getting anything done. M is unlike the rest of humanity which, in this timeframe, has degenerated into hedonism, content to passively enjoy the abundant, ultra-high quality entertainment. Anything they need or want, can be made using a machine called a Stitcher. Invented by an AI, it can make anything, even another Stitcher out of raw materials. It can make any kind of food, clothing, and even larger things like vehicles and homes.

The few space ships that exist use a device called a Charmer which generates a gravitational field to propel the ship. This is sufficient for exploring the solar system but isn’t really suited for going to other stars. M wants the secret of how it’s made but the Committees are predictably uncooperative. In the meantime, she takes a position with the Asteroid Survey and meets Thomas - the AI inside one of the ships. Their Charm drive has somehow malfunctioned and sent them back in time - something thought to be impossible. M and Thomas are stranded in 1985 and M is unconscious. When she wakes she doesn’t recall how she got there and Thomas is severely damaged. They need to find out what happened to them and how to get back.


Marketing, Charming Stars, and Steampunk

November 13th, 2016

priest taking confession

Forgive me father for I have sinned. It’s been two months since my last blog.

Two months! But I haven’t been idle, I’ve been busy with the sequel Star Charmer and turning the knobs on advertising campaigns.

Marketing, that God-awful boring sounding business has actually been a little fun. It’s really like a game with rigid rules but a lot of knobs to turn. I’ve tried two ads on Amazon and one on Goodreads. here’s what I’ve learned so far:

  • On Amazon you select an “Interest” to target the ad. “Teen & Young Adult Science Fiction & Fantasy” performed better than “Science fiction” but not by much.
  • On Goodreads you get something similar and choose between a set of authors versus a set of genres. I got 8.6 times more impressions using the genres than the authors. Maybe I chose the wrong set of authors. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ Your mileage may vary.
  • Amazon ads got me a lot more clicks-per-impression(when an ad is displayed)
  • Amazon charges when a user clicks but Goodreads charges for the full campaign up front (Min $100)

I wouldn’t call it fun by any stretch of the imagination but it’s interesting at least. As Kristine Kathryn Rusch says in her book Discoverability, “The best way to sell a book is to write another book.”

On that topic, the Star Charmer story is going great. I have 30,000 words and I’m not stuck yet! I just switched the ending and I’m not sure I’ll keep it but so far I like the new one. The story has a completely new set of characters but takes place in the same “Post-A.I.” universe as Brains In Chains where most humans have become lazy hedonists. Wait that sounds pretty good to me. I’d like to be a lazy hedonist. Where do I sign up? But of course there’s impending doom. What would a story be without impending doom? They got up and played games all day and went to bed. The End. I won’t say too much here but you can expect space ships and robots. Oh, and impending doom.

As a completely non-book-related diversion I’ve been doing a Steampunk themed project. I just got a new iMac and rearranged my desk. So, the mess of cables really started to bother me. Here’s a before picture:

before picture of my desk

...and here’s my first idea. It’s just a piece of white PVC:

after picture of my desk phase 1

It’s better I suppose. But I’ve exchanged clutter for a piece of sewer pipe. A lateral move at best.

Here’s the next phase (unpainted):

after picture of my desk phase 2

I think I’ll add some old-tyme switches that don’t do anything and maybe some Victorian era crystal knobs along the top.

picture of an old tyme switchcrystal knob

The paint scheme I’m going for is this:

PVC cable organizer painted in Steampunk style

I’m usually terrible at painting so wish me luck!


Update Nov 27

I found a metallic paint called "Hammered" It's a little tricky to use but it does give a hammered texture.

spray paint with hammered finish
hammered finish look
cable organizer complete


Published!

September 11th, 2016

Duncan Long did a great job on the cover art!

Brains In Chains Cover

The Kindle version is available on Amazon now and the Paperback is just waiting for proofing!


MS Word

August 7th, 2016

Ahhh! I love Scrivener for writing and Vellum makes beautiful ebooks but for print-on-demand we have to deal with the devil - MS Word.

Actually, Scrivener does everything I want except mirrored margins - that's the extra margin for binding that alternates between odd and even pages.

I got the mirrored margins working, and page numbering, and alternating Title/Author on the page headers, but for some reason, despite hours of trial-and-error, I couldn't get Word to do the page number correctly. It kept leaving extra numbers in the front matter. Here's how I finally got it to play nice:


Cover Art!

August 6th, 2016

Super excited to have Duncan Long doing the cover art for Brains In Chains!


Editing is done!

July 16th, 2016

Whew, that was a lot of work but it's a much better story!


Welcome!

April 30th, 2016

Hi! I created this site in conjunction with brains-in-chains.com for some things that are not specific to that book.

What's up with the name? Anyone who knows me personally knows I've always gone by my middle name Charlie so when I thought about a nom de plume I decided 'Charlie Brown' was a lawsuit waiting to happen. I could insert a nickname in the middle like Charlie “Please-don't-sue-me” Brown. But ultimately I cheated and decided to do the two initials thing like Tolkien, Rowling, and Martin. Hey that sounds like a law firm. The law offices of Tolkien Rowling and Martin will get you the settlement that YOU deserve!