The Brains Bennette story was posted in June 2012 and passed five thousand downloads about a month later. Now, almost exactly two years later, it has hit and surpassed the ten thousand mark. Between you, me and that cross-dresser loitering on the corner—that’s a whole mess of downloads.
Of course, that doesn’t mean it’s been read by ten thousand people. The story is 82 pages long and I’m sure that quite a few of those downloads represent people who returned multiple times to get through the whole thing. That’s the problem with web stats in general; you never know quite what they mean.
That said, I’m still pretty sure that this is the most popular story posted on this website. It’s also the story where I paid the most attention to plot, and put less emphasis on the fetishistic aspects of cross-dressing (i.e., lengthy descriptions of clothing, makeup, hairstyling, salon visits, etc). And that is something I’d like to do a lot more of, going forward.
Coincidentally, I recently received feedback from a reader (who shall remain nameless) who was “thoroughly confused” with this story. I’m sure (s)he wasn’t alone in feeling that way either, but was simply the only one who chose to tell me about it. This can be a bit discouraging to hear, but it is nonetheless a valuable comment. All writers tread a fine line between explaining too much and too little, and most novices tend to over-explain. But too much information, presented too soon in the narrative, ruins the suspense that any story needs to keep the reader interested. I try to walk that fine line, but it’s easy to cross the border into “explaining too little” without even noticing. This reader’s comment told me that I didn’t quite get it right in this particular story (hopefully I’ve done better since then).
More specifically, the reader said it was the background of the story that he found confusing, which is understandable. When you think of a fictional story-world, there are two ways to relate the events going on there. One is from an omniscient viewpoint—the godlike view, seeing and knowing everything—with the events described as they happen. The other way (like in most stories) is to restrict the viewpoint to one character and describe only what he sees and whatever information comes his way. Navigating the story world this way, it’s easy to follow what happens to the protagonist (and those around him), but the reader has to piece together the larger picture based on information given along the way. Again, if the writer gives away too much, too soon, then the story lacks suspense. Give away too little (as I did in this story) and some readers are left wondering. (This is not to disparage any such readers, by the way. Those who correctly figured out the story were basing their guesswork on fiction they’ve seen before, so it often depends on your personal reading history.)
So here’s a thumbnail sketch of the background, from an omniscient point of view. The basic idea is that there’s a group of people in the future who are nostalgic for the way women are portrayed in our era. Maybe they come from a society with firm gender boundaries, where men aren’t allowed to become women; or maybe their society is so egalitarian that gender has ceased to matter. Either way, the group uses a Time Gate and matter transformers to travel to our time and turn themselves into women, where they’re free to immerse themselves in feminine fashions and flamboyantly female behavior. But their illegal and careless use of the Time Gate (without proper care to avoid paradoxes) gets them in trouble with the authorities of their own time, who eventually act to shut them down.
That’s where the “missing mother” comes in. She’s a private investigator, working on a case that brings her into contact with the Futurians and the authorities trying to arrest them. The details of how she winds up in the future are not given, simply because Jimmy and Brains are never privy to that information. But her disappearance is what gets the boys involved in trying to find her. The rest of the story unfolds from their point of view.
Time travel stories are often confusing, the more so because they usually involve some sort of temporal paradox. That’s certainly the case here, in spades, and there’s a certain amount of hand-waving at the end to justify things like the entire Futurian base vanishing, yet somehow leaving Brains in his mother’s body and Jimmy in Brains’ body. None of it makes much sense and maybe I didn’t do a great job of wrapping it up into a neat package.
A story like this is like riding a roller coaster; don’t analyze it, just sit back, close your eyes and enjoy the dizziness. That may sound like a bit of a cop-out, and maybe it is. But the story was fun to write and hopefully it was fun to read. I learned a lot and the next one will be the better for it.
By the way, I’m toying with the idea of turning Brains Bennette into a series. Only one problem: series like this (e.g., Brains Benton, Tom Swift, Nancy Drew, etc) all depend on the characters being in the same situation at the start of each story; so the books don’t have to be read in any particular order. But here, by the end of the story the characters have been changed for good (which is to be expected in TG fiction). So I’m considering making the new story an alternate version of the first one; where Brains and Jimmy start off the same as they did in this story and wind up facing some other challenge (nothing to do with time travel); one that would of course involve some sort of gender transformation. And if all that sounds like one hell of a good idea to you, do let me know. At the moment I’m still undecided.