Are You a Blue Shirt Picard?

If you’ve watched Star Trek: The Next Generation much, you’ll recognize this episode. Alongside “Lower Decks,” “Tapestry” depicts the life of the low-ranking officer aboard a ship commanded by a legend.

These episodes tell an important story, and one we can all learn a thing or two from. If you spend your life following the “rules,” you’re going to find that society will be very happy to have you sit quietly in the corner and un-volunteer yourself from life. You’ll be shoved out of the way and be expected to spectate while others get their share and yours.

Consider your favorite social media site. They all want you to communicate and interact, but not too much, because that’s bad. What you’ll eventually discover is social media is specifically engineered to stop you from communicating, but that’s another article. Who is to say how much is too much? Well, if you’re selling something, how much ain’t much, that’s for sure.

How do you get a date? Well, you just walk right up to her and introduce yourself and announce you have a favorite table at her favorite restaurant. Shocking, I know, but that’s how men and women find ways to avoid eating alone on a Friday night. The rules say you can’t just ask her out. Who do you think you are? Well, you’re the guy who breaks the rules, because that’s how you get noticed.

There is one principle you can always count on. The rules are there to separate the blue shirt Picards from the starship Captains. Follow the rules and play it safe, and you get to sit at a table in Ten Forward listening to Counselor Troi “there-there” you about your wrecked life. Get stabbed through the heart by a gorilla with teeth on the outside of his mouth, and you get to command the Enterprise. The latter is most assuredly not following the rules, now is it? Which result interests you most?

If you’re in business for yourself, ask yourself this question: are you avoiding the Nausicaans, or are you prepared to start a bar fight to get what you want?

When you run into an obstacle in your pursuit of what you know you need to get to the next level, just ask yourself if the decision you’re about to make will lead you to becoming Blue Shirt Picard or Captain of the Enterprise. Then you’ll be sure to make the right choice.

Digital Bookshelf Subscription Idea

As you all know, running a web server comes with regular expenses in the form of bandwidth, CPU usage and storage costs. For the time being, the Digital Bookshelf will be free. My intent has always been to offer my new Digital Bookshelf as a free service, but I also have a subscription model for it.

If I charged you $5 a month to be part of a premium readers club, and made the bookshelf one of the perks, and gave you a free book every month alongside an enhanced newsletter, would that be something you’d subscribe to?

Tell me what you think in the comments.

Devils Demons and Dead Men Chapter One

The following is a free chapter from the first book in my Kings and Conquests LitRPG series Devils Demons and Dead Men, available now at the Palace in the Sky Bookstore.


“It’s a troll.”

“How do you know?”

“Because it makes the sword glow.” Garrett Wyland spoke as if his words were plainly obvious to anyone with even novice-level experience in an underground cavern adventure. His best friend Brace and two other boys looked on as green letters appeared on the flickering CRT screen one by one. It was a balmy Southern California afternoon. Most kids Garrett’s age were out riding bikes or playing street football. He and his friends were on a more epic quest.

ATTACK TROLL

WHAT DO YOU WANT TO ATTACK THE TROLL WITH?

ATTACK TROLL WITH

The cursor blinked.

“What are you waiting for?” Dwayne asked.

“Yeah,” Brace added. “Use the sword!”

“What if it breaks?” Garrett wondered aloud.

“How can it break? It’s glowing! It’s a magic sword!”

ATTACK TROLL WITH TORCH

I DON’T THINK THAT’S A VERY GOOD IDEA

“Yeah, see? Listen to the computer! Use the sword!” Brace ordered.

ATTACK TROLL WITH SWORD

THE SWORD CUTS THROUGH THE TROLL’S BODY. BEFORE IT CAN REGENERATE, THE CREATURE DISAPPEARS IN A CLOUD OF BLACK SMOKE. THERE IS AN EXIT TO THE NORTH.

The boys cheered and celebrated with handfuls of corn chips and newly opened sodas.

“Ok, me next,” Brace said. He took over the keyboard from Garrett. Every move took several minutes of discussion and every attempt to navigate the dungeon followed a protracted hunt and peck session with plenty of misspelled words, sarcastic jokes about the misspelled words and a careful reading of the next block of descriptive text.

Garrett looked over all the equipment he and his friends had gathered since they discovered the adventure game. The phone coupler and eight-inch floppy drives were both gifts from his uncle, who had just celebrated his five-year anniversary at one of the world’s largest semiconductor manufacturers. The integrated CRT terminal was a ninth-grade rescue and restoration project. Everything worked except the right-handed control key, which was missing both the key and the underlying mechanism. There was also a large patch of white paint on one side of the smooth yellowish plastic composite outer shell. It was better than the teletype. Despite their enthusiasm for the game, the boys were weary of spending all their refreshment money on fanfold paper. Garrett’s mom also wasn’t a fan of the entire upstairs story of her house sounding like the Los Angeles Times newsroom.

“Hey look! There’s the tree! If we climb inside we can get the golden acorn!” The boys leaned closer, one or two of them straightening their glasses as they waited for each word to type itself at 300 baud.

The only piece of equipment Garrett didn’t actually own was the computer itself. The text-based adventure game he and his friends had been trying to win for months was actually running on a PDP-11 at his uncle’s office. The game was called “The Conquests of the King,” and purported to allow a peasant boy to claim the throne and the hand of the princess by recovering a dozen treasures of the Realm.

“How many treasures left?” Jimmy asked.

“Sixteen! Now we have to climb down to the river cave,” Brace announced as he tapped out the commands and made liberal use of the backspace key to erase his mistakes.

After a tour of the office, Garrett’s uncle saw how his nephew reacted to Conquests of the King, so he asked one of the engineers to set up an account so Garrett and his friends could play. What started out as a fun diversion quickly turned into a request for a real account. It wasn’t long before Garrett was writing FORTRAN code that actually compiled. Then he was writing C. He hadn’t told his friends he beat Conquests of the King weeks ago. He was busy drawing maps and making up backstories for the new tabletop dungeon-crawling games he had discovered. And the spy games. And the car racing, space battle and superhero games.

Brace and Dwayne and the others were along for the ride because they liked to play the games Garrett discovered. But as the young man who was tacitly considered the leader of the geeks watched his friends, his mind was elsewhere. Of all the kids, Garrett could see beyond what was on the green-tinted screen.

He saw the possibilities. The game didn’t have to be limited to just twelve treasures. And it didn’t have to limit the player to just one objective. What if the player wants to be a thief? What if they want to study the arcane and go deeper into the catacombs to find magical secrets known only to the most powerful sorcerers?

“No, no, you have to dig under the sand to find the pirate’s lantern! Go east! East! No, the other east!” Brace preferred to do the typing. He had a habit of getting impatient if Dwayne was in charge, since the older boy was fond of going off and experimenting to see what the game’s limits were.

I can do this, Garrett thought. He was certain of it. Only moments after he wrote his first program and made the computer do something all his own idea he knew. This machine would carry out his instructions, like the faithful familiars in stories about witches. It would help him just like it helped the three programmers who wrote Conquests of the King.

He thought about his English teacher and the twinkle in her eye as she explained the mysteries of first, second and third person point of view. Garrett never could figure out why it always jumped from first to third. What about second?

It wasn’t until he and his friends discovered Conquests of the King that he realized computers had unlocked second-person literature. The stories being told here were not about the narrator, nor were they about figments of the author’s imagination. In Conquests of the King, the story was being told by the reader. The authors didn’t make the decisions. They just set the boundaries. The readers composed the plot.

The day that realization dawned on Garrett was one of the most sobering days of his young life so far. He felt as if he had emerged from a Toltec pyramid clutching ancient secrets. He had tried to explain it to the others, but they were far more interested in just playing the game, not analyzing it like it was a book report.

Maybe I’m the wizard delving into the catacombs to learn the secrets of this machine. All I have to do is write the codes in the right order and I can make any kind of adventure.

Garrett watched his friends play.

Now I can tell any story I want.

Devils Demons and Dead Men is available now at the Palace in the Sky Bookstore!

The Story of Every Technical Failure in One Example

If you have an Android phone, and you want to take a screenshot, the manufacturer and the operating system developer have provided you with a standard way to do it.

You press the “down volume” button and the power button at the same time.

Remember, you’re trying to take a screenshot, so you want the screen to stay put.

What happens when you press the down volume button? Why a little handy-dandy volume slider appears and covers up the top 15% of your screen. See if you can guess what appears in every screenshot you take?

But those tech geniuses aren’t done. What happens when you press the power button on your phone?

As a former contract programmer and team lead, I can tell you exactly what happened in the meeting where these two world-class decisions were made. The guy at the front of the room doing all the yelling is Bob the middle manager, who wouldn’t know technology if it ralphed up a half-eaten frog on his desk. If you’ve ever had a tech job you’ve all worked for Bob at some point.

“Uhh, sir? Wouldn’t it be better if we used a button other than the power button for a basic function like this?”

“YOU’RE NOT BEING MUCH OF A TEAM PLAYER! HOLIDAYS ARE COMING UP AND WE LOVE THEM TURKEY DINNER LAYOFFS!”

“But sir–”

“DO IT WRONG OR YOU’RE FIRED!” (Bob switches to the next slide with a pie chart and a “whoosh” sound effect)

These phones are manufactured by companies with unlimited money and buildings full of what they constantly remind us are the smartest human beings who have ever cast a shadow. Silicon Valley is where all the smart people work, dontcha know.

And they decided you should take screenshots by pressing the off switch on your phone. These are the same people, incidentally, who lecture us on a daily basis about artificial intelligence and how robots are going to take our jobs.

I can think of one job the robot should apply for first.

Black out.

Introducing the Palace in the Sky Cloud Digital Bookshelf

Sideloading is a thing of the past!

Long have authors and bookstore owners searched for a way to get digital publications from their stores on mobile devices without putting their readers through the technical challenge of copying files from computer to phone or tablet. While some PC manufacturers make things easy, most don’t, and navigating your way through the file system on a phone or tablet can be perplexing even for someone with a lot of technical experience.

Those days are over. The Palace in the Sky Bookstore is pleased to introduce one of our new featured cloud services, The Digital Bookshelf.

We use a technology called the Open Publication Distribution System to maintain a list of books purchased by our bookstore customers. We make that list available to customers using reading apps like Moon+ Reader.

OPDS works very much like an RSS feed. Your list is automatically updated with all the books you’ve purchased plus any free offers you’ve redeemed. You can read your books online or download them to your device.

Moon+ Reader is an excellent choice for reading our EPUB3 premium digital books on Android devices. It works well on phones and is particularly impressive on all flavors of Android tablets with a side-by-side reading mode and high-definition display. My books have never looked better!

Like most EPUB reader apps, Moon+ also has a catalog display feature which is seamlessly compatible with our new Digital Bookshelf. Readers can download books from their cloud bookshelf and then import them from the downloads directory all at once or one at a time. Imported books show up in your catalog and can be read offline at any time.

If you have an iPhone or an iPad, your books should automatically be imported by iBooks. I haven’t had a chance to test this yet, however. If you have an iPhone or iPad and you’d like some free books, drop me a line and help me test the service.

Our Digital Bookshelf Cloud Service is now in beta. The Palace in the Sky Bookstore can now do everything the big retailers can. When you buy a book, you can download it immediately. It will be automatically added to your Digital Bookshelf if you would rather download it later.

We’re including a Digital Bookshelf trial with all purchases for a limited time and I’m throwing in two or three books to get you started. If you’d like to try it out, send me an e-mail and we’ll get you signed up! For updates on this and all bookstore news, be sure to join my mailing list!

Strike Battleship Argent Chapter Two

The following is a free chapter from the first book in my Starships at War military science fiction series Strike Battleship Argent, available now at the Palace in the Sky Bookstore.


“Neek, what’s the good word?” Hunter removed his coat and stored it in the inboard bay before donning the upper half of his flight suit.

“Welcome aboard, Captain. Status of Command One is nominal,” the pleasant electronic female voice responded over the shipwide intercom. The Argent command computer’s name was “Dominique” but Hunter preferred fewer syllables, so it was quickly shortened to “Neek.”

“What’s the weather forecast on this dark and starry day?”

“The Jupiter primary is relatively quiet. No unusual readings to a distance of point one.”

“Very good. Engage communications autosystems and begin flight checks.” Hunter closed the door to Command One’s aft storage. The boxes of scotch, rum and various brews were stacked eight-high.

“Affirmative. Autosystems engaged.”

The Captain switched his commlink. “Hunter to Argent.”

A brief pause. Hunter pulled on his flight suit pants and began working with the pressure seals on his boots.

“Argent. Ensign Walls here.”

“Walls! Who’s my Officer of the Watch today?”

“Err– uhh–I am, sir.” The young officer’s voice was tremulous. It was pretty clear he hadn’t been in command of the watch for long, and it was also pretty clear he wasn’t used to addressing the Skipper in person.

“Are you taking good care of my ship, Ensign?”

“Yes sir!”

“Outstanding. Plot a course to Jupiter Five and give me a best speed ETA.”

Soft voices could be heard in the background, just loud enough to trigger the pickups in Ensign Walls’ high-gain microphone.

“Sir, uhh– sir, the ETA to Jupiter Five is nine hours best speed.”

“Very well, Argent. Plot your course and bring the ship about. Command One will rendezvous at the Autonav Beacon. Hunter out.”

After bounding into the pilot’s seat, Hunter expertly activated the magnetic locks on his flight harness, sealed the ship’s environmental controls and cleared the moorings. Neek was busy negotiating a departure vector which the computer knew from experience the Captain would ignore. The main idea was simply to let Spacelane Traffic Control know when Command One was going to rocket into the approach and blast its way free of the launch corridor.

“STC, this is Command One, requesting jets and standing by.” The turbine-like whine of the shuttle’s mains filled the ship with the thrum of fusion-energized power. Hunter skillfully tapped out the remaining configuration commands and flexed his gloved hands as the vessel’s maneuvering controls unlocked and rotated into position on either side of his flight couch. HUD readouts glowed on the inner surface of the viewport and Hunter’s tac-suit stabilized pressure and life support with a cheerful bell-like sound.

Hunter activated the “dock lock” release, breaking the last physical connection between the shuttle and Jupiter Station.

“Command One, this is Spacelane Traffic Control. Navigate departure lane One-Four. Autonav is disengaged. Have a nice flight.”

“We are free and clear to navigate, Captain,” Dominique calmly announced.

“Affirmative, STC,” Hunter replied. The sleek white shuttle pivoted weightlessly. Its pilot punched the maneuvering thrusters and blasted free of the shipline. Captain Hunter nudged the lateral flight controls. The vessel banked to starboard. He throttled the engines up to one-quarter power. His ship silently accelerated as the large control bank numbers indicating relative velocity spun higher.

The tiny ship slid into the station’s electronic launch corridor just ahead of an immense commercial freighter. Captain Hunter pinged their navigational comm frequency with a friendly greeting before pulling away into open space.

Strike Battleship Argent is available now at the Palace in the Sky Bookstore!

What’s Dawnsong: The Last Skyblade About?

When an idealistic boy steals a celestium sword and gives it to sixteen-year-old Jessica Halloran, he doesn’t realize he has broken a centuries-old bloodsworn truce between Aventar’s most ancient and ruthless guilds. Mercenaries, assassins and hideous creatures suddenly emerge from every depraved and unclean place across the land seeking to claim Dawnsong for themselves.

The long dormant Champion Skyblade’s magic inexplicably responds to the girl, which inspires one guardian of the truce to intercede to protect Jessica’s life. Reina’s act is an open declaration of war that threatens to plunge the seven kingdoms into chaos.

Jessica quickly learns Dawnsong is most powerful when she is truthful and acts honorably. Her compassion becomes healing magic. Her joyful personality becomes a golden glow that follows her everywhere and her kindness becomes a blessing that heals and strengthens others. Even learned scribes and arcanists cannot explain it.

Now, after the discovery of a hidden map to a place called the Palace in the Sky, Jessica and her friends find themselves in a race to rescue the other seven Ajan weapons before Lord Dane and his vile Cryptics discover and destroy them!

Here begin the adventures of Jessica Halloran and the Greatest Fighting Team of Teenage Girls Ever Assembled!

Dawnsong: The Last Skyblade is available now at the Palace in the Sky Bookstore!

Strike Battleship Argent Chapter One

The following is a free chapter from the first book in my Starships at War military science fiction series Strike Battleship Argent, available now at the Palace in the Sky Bookstore.


“Alright, Hunter, let’s have it.”

Deep space pilots called the Jupiter Skyway Approach Port “Max Boomtown.” The value of the cargo passing through the facility on any given day could easily rival the total output of one or more colonies along the Reach. The man in charge of it all was a no-nonsense merchant marine inspector by the name of Jeremiah Foobing.

“Honestly, Inspector, I can’t believe you, of all people, could think I would violate fleet contraband policy.” Jason Hunter was standing with his hands folded behind his back and wearing his most un-threatening expression along with his flawlessly pressed and shined Skywatch officer’s uniform.

Around the inspector’s office hummed the vital operations of Merchant Customs Authority. Max Boomtown was one of the largest civilian freight inspection stations in the Core Sector, often processing more than 100 ships a day ranging in size from personal interplanetary cruisers to billion-ton star trains.

“Sure you don’t want to come to the party?” Hunter asked, trying to distract the overworked customs officer.

Inspector Foobing sat at his desk, fiddling with fiddly scraps of paper. He believed computers were 100% of the reason his numbers failed to add up correctly, so he kept all his records in writing. His prodigious weight scarcely fit between his sagging desk and the wall. The office looked like an 18th century British librarian’s closet, with tiny wooden drawers, brass cabinet fittings and enough accounting books to sink a small rowboat. Out the window behind him, Hunter could see the line of ships docked for inspection. His shuttle was the closest and the smallest by a factor of at least six.

“Hunter every time you come through here, we go through the same dance. You and I both know you’re carrying illegal booze. I call you on it. You deny it. Then I have to decide if I want to send a squad of officers out to climb through your ship deck by deck looking for it. The next time I’m just going to shoot you. It’s less paperwork. Get that juiced-up hot rod off my docks.” Foobing shoved a customs clearance into Hunter’s hands and waddled towards the door, wheezing impatiently.

“It’s going to be a bash, Inspector. Sure you won’t–”

“Get out, Hunter!” Foobing shouted across the bustling customs office.

“Just one drink?” he called back.

“OUT!” The voice echoed.

Moments later, Hunter spied his favorite Boomtown official. She went by the name Tisalee, and she had been persuaded on multiple occasions to let the Captain skate by when the Inspector wasn’t looking. He snuck up on her desk and appeared from behind her overhead cabinets.

“Hi,” Hunter grinned. “Miss me?”

“You get out of here!” Tisalee whispered urgently. “The last time you and that–that creature almost got me fired!” The Captain was leaning over the half-height wall to look down on her desk. He picked up her tablet and flipped through the pages nonchalantly.

“I see you’re still reading those naughty books with the shirtless pirate captains on the covers,” Hunter teased as he raised an eyebrow. “Ooh, the pirate has a tomato…” Tisalee ripped the tablet out of his hands and put it in a drawer.

“Do I have to call security?”

“Oh, don’t be like that,” the Captain replied, reclining his chin on his arms and over-doing the smoldering look. “I was going to invite you to our party. Annora got her SAR ticket. We’re flying in to Scary’s for a drink and dinner and maybe a little something extra. That sounds like something you would have jumped at before you turned into Tisalee the worker bee.”

She actually hesitated, looking into the Captain’s dancing eyes and gazing at his sandy boyish hair for a moment and remembering how many times he was the only reason she smiled. Then she remembered the time she had to be bailed out of jail half-dressed and her expression darkened again. “I have plans.”

“Oh well, I tried. Say hi to your mom for me.” Hunter sauntered off. “Hey Mike! How’s the new sled?” Tisalee watched as the Captain greeted at least five more people before walking out into the softlock.

She quickly suppressed her second thoughts and went back to her rows and columns of numbers.

Strike Battleship Argent is available now at the Palace in the Sky Bookstore!

Million Dollar Artist: Your Own Bookstore

In my Million Dollar Artist™ series, I’m going to show you how to open your own bookstore. You might be asking yourself “who needs their own bookstore?” Well, that’s why I picked the title I did, because I’m about to show you the answer to that question.

Parts One and Two of this series covered The Future of Digital Publishing and The Shopify Revolution. Part Three brings it all together.

It’s 2018. With the right tools and an hour of spare time you could have an original product for sale on the web. Anyone in the world will be able to pull out their credit card, order your book from desktop or mobile and have it instantly available for download.

You keep more than 96% of the cover price. All you pay is the credit card processing fee. The rest is pure profit.

Bookstore owners like me can take full advantage of crowdfunding, video marketing, blogging, social media and subscription services, and do it in a way that is light years beyond anything a third party retailer will ever offer you. You can publish your work cheaper, faster and more attractively.

But the question remains. Who needs a bookstore?

Bloggers

Take a few minutes and look up the bloggers who have turned their articles and other writing into books. What better way to amplify your message than to put a cover on your best work and make it available for sale? Not only does it add value to what you do, it gives you considerable marketing advantages. The title “author” inspires respect and gives you credibility. Nothing is more important for a journalist or a writer.

Now imagine having your books promote your blog and your blog promoting your books. Exactly. That’s your lightbulb moment.

Video Channels and Hosts

If you run a channel on YouTube, you’ve probably run into problems monetizing your work. You face a lot of the same problems self-published authors have faced over the years. Since you’re building an audience on someone else’s site, you are subject to rules that can damage your relationship with your viewers. You may have even been “de-monetized.” As it gets harder and harder to sustain your income, you’ve likely turned to things like crowdfunding to stay afloat.

Having books to sell and a place to sell them literally changes everything. It fits right in to your current business. You can sell your books directly from your videos and you can offer them as rewards to your contributors and viewers.

Game Developers

Who better to publish hint books, character adaptations or comics featuring video game characters than the developer? Have you been watching Blizzard lately? Here’s a billion-dollar game developer rushing headlong into both publishing and animation as fast as they can. Why? Because both of those categories strengthen their core business and produce new revenue streams in the process.

Consider the average role-playing game. Even if the developer publishes a great deal of material about their game online, no medium can go into the kind of depth a book can. Your players want to know more. Give them what they want and enjoy the profits.

Authors

You might be wondering why I put authors fourth. It’s because authors can leverage all the advantages in all the other categories in addition to acquiring a supercharged marketing platform of their own. If you are used to publishing on third-party sites, the fact you will instantly increase your income by as much as 30% should be enough of an incentive, but you should also consider the fact you have zero pricing restrictions and zero formatting restrictions on your own store. If you’ve been publishing for any length of time I’ll leave it to you to imagine the possibilities.

Oh, and you’re going to be astonished at what you can do at conventions and book signings.

Business Owners and Entrepreneurs

Every business has a need to communicate with its customers. From marketing to instructional materials to technical manuals, getting good information into the hands of the people who matter most to your business has always been a top priority. Running a bookstore gives you a central place to serve as a communications channel with your clientele. Even if all you need to offer is free instruction manuals, once you get your customers used to the idea of visiting your bookstore to get more information about your business, the potential exists to turn publishing into another revenue stream.

Publishing enhances any business. In an era ruled by entrepreneurs, new enterprises and new ideas, the need for quality documentation, instruction, inspiration and entertainment has never been greater. The tools to make all these things possible have never been more powerful or less expensive. If you’re looking for ways to enhance, amplify and accelerate your work, starting a bookstore is a great next step.

If you’d like to learn more, I recommend joining my mailing list. I publish in a lot of different genres, so don’t be surprised if you get e-mails announcing new releases in my fiction, comic or game series. But do watch those newsletters, because in them you’ll find links to new articles, tips and tricks and some special offers you’ll find quite useful.