This was not what I had in mind

Recently, I read a book that could have been awesome. The cover was iffy, as it was done in the wrong style for the genre (pastels, not oils for SciFi), but the blurb was intriguing, and the premise had a ton of promise! A woman inherits a vineyard she didn’t know a family member had, and moved her kids and widowed mom to a completely new colony. They’re settling in… just as an interstellar war breaks out.

Unfortunately, the author didn’t live up to the promise.

She, ah… Well, first, the author treats a farm like it’s a turnkey shop. The main character walks in, and there are no caretakers, no workers, nothing… so she has to hire a local who knows how to work a vineyard to do all the work and teach her. Yes, you heard right: “a” local. Just one. *sinal salute*

Whom she starts flirting with. And then the author rather abruptly and awkwardly retconned the main character about 3 chapters in. And then proceeded to ignore plot structure, character arcs, economics, military strategy, military tactics, viticulture, logistics, ecology, basic human decency and empathy…

The final straw was when, without any mention of automation, the protagonist decided that since she’d let her local help she was boinking get arrested without bothering to try to stop it or fight for him, she’d have to harvest the entire vineyard herself. (He was arrested after the war was over by the winning side for having gone AWOL from the losing side… Yeah, and he went awol before the fighting even started… yeah, no, the author sure didn’t get military justice or the entire history of how you mop up after a war correct either!)

Anyway, she doesn’t even think to ask her family for help. Nope, All By Herself, she harvests the entire crop, and then “processes” and bottles it. All by herself, she then sells the wine to restaurants… within two months of harvest.

Yeah, the author really wrote that.

I kept reading for values of train wreck.

And then out of sheer pique, I sat down and wrote how she should have handled a scene. A single scene, this time actually noting that you have work to do in a vineyard for the entire rest of the year, not just at harvest. (It’s a farm!) Of course, not only was the author disastrously ignorant on the operations of a vineyard, but there’s no way an AWOL soldier would be familiar enough with a farm’s operation that he could run the whole thing alone while the protagonist wangsts in the house. So clearly she’d have to be the skilled labour, hiring him for trainable semi-skilled labour.

And if I’m going to be writing a major character, I’m not going to glorify or justify something as stupid as AWOL. No, if he’s getting hired as labour and he’s active duty, then… may be he’s LRRP trying to insert into somewhere for observation? After all, vineyards like being on slopes, so the cold air drains away and prevents danger of frost. So, what’s in the valley below he’s trying to observe while pruning?

…and hey, hello there character, I didn’t ask you to show up. I was just writing something throwaway out of a fit of pique. And why are you giving me a patient, longsuffering, and utterly intractable look and saying “Well, somebody’s got to take care of that girl”?

Ten thousand words later… I now have 12 sites bookmarked on viticulture and am elbows-deep into pdf manuals on dosage and frequency of pesticides / herbicides / fungicides, and comparative advantages and disadvantages of competing trellis systems. You know you’re getting into the viticulture equivalent of the 9mm vs. .45 debate when you read “the industry has settled on bud burst as the proper term, as opposed to bud break.”

I know that the history of SF&F is essentially a conversation, where the books authors write areĀ responding to what came before. I’ve even been delving into Jack Vance and Edgar Rice Burroughs and C L Moore in order to… to scroll back up the conversational thread, essentially.

But I never thought I’d start a story out of pique.

Have you ever done this?

29 comments

  1. Just finished Tales Around The Supper Table, enjoyed the stories, some more than others.
    Did think a few could have used a final scrub for typos and grammar. Ones I spotted were minor, but such stuff does leap out at me.
    Still giving it top rating at Amazon.

    1. Thanks, Uncle Lar!

      Glad you enjoyed it. I’m afraid that when I went through my story on the galley proof, my report started with: “I really love my run-on sentences and verb confusion, don’t I?” I’m pretty certain that, given a month away from the manuscript, I was able to clean it up and make it better… but I’m also fairly certain my dyslexic self introduced a few wily typos in the process.

      1. No my dear lady, your story was fine. I generally don’t pick all that much on run-ons and such, especially when the story involves conversation, because that’s how real folks talk. And I know anthologies are usually thrown together in a time crunch so missing a few minor bits is not a big deal.
        And I saw none of that with Going Ballistic. That was IMHO a very well turned out tale indeed. Would love to see more of that universe and lead character.

  2. The Shikari series. I got sooooo tired of “plucky natives overthrow eeeeevil greedy colonial power because the colonial power is always wrong and eeeeevil because reasons.” OK, so what if the plucky natives are not as innocent as the administrators think, and they decide to play the colonial power against . . . Something Out There?

    And the Puritan thing. I read the jacket copy, got half-way through and [silently] shrieked “Oh for flip’s sake, not another one?!?” So I’m going to subvert the subverted trope and make the Separatists the good guys and the evil forces evil.

  3. Yes. Yes I have. Haven’t we all, putting down something truly horrible and saying, “I could do better than that!”

    And then some gremlin of the soul says, “Oh yeah? You talk big, now prove it!”

    Writer: Le gulp.

  4. I think I’ve done it a lot, but one in particular I remember was a fairly conventional haunted house story: protagonists buy a house in California somewhere, it’s haunted, and they discover there was a series of grisly murders there a couple of years prior. My reaction was, “There is no way that California law would allow the sellers to keep something like that a secret. These people are in for a huge settlement.” So I started writing my own story where the protagonists reaction to learning that their new house is haunted is, “We can sue! Ka-CHING! We’re gonna be rich!”

    1. Well, the sellers are gonna be poor, anyway. They probably don’t have all that much money left after being forced to unload a haunted house. What was the real estate market like when they sold it? Where did they move to? What was mortgage interest doing?

      Stories have to be simpler than real life, but simplifying them too much makes bad stories.

      1. Maybe the money will not come from the owners, but from the realtor that knowingly withheld that the murders occurred in the house.

        1. Or the new owners bought it BECAUSE it was said to be haunted and get PO’ed when they don’t get any ghosts.

  5. Not being a book author, but a review author, I hab’ nicht re-written a story.
    I HAVE, however, contacted a previously-unknown-to-me author, and told him he needed to take his book down from Amazon, because it was PAINFULLY awful, starting with the gag-a-maggot attempt at cover art. Continued with a character having a tactical harmonica in his pocket, that he had not first placed IN his pocket. Knives, keys, coins, handkerchiefs; yeah, you can pull THOSE out of your pocket without putting them in first, but a harmonica that you use as a plot device? Nope.
    Anyway, it must have worked, because I just checked, and five years later, not on Amazon any more.

  6. I created the character of Erik Rugar as a reaction against Urban Fantasy tropes. I refer to him sometimes as the “anti-Dresden”. The main thing is that Agent Rugar is not a wizard or a demon, he’s just a bog-standard human being in world full of magic, and it’s his job to investigate crimes committed by criminals who can sling lightning bolts and fireballs.

    But I also wanted to go against one of the standard tropes of the genre–the hero who keeps everyone else in the dark and works alone with no backup. Rugar always keeps his department informed of the status of his investigations, what he’s found out, and where he is going next. (Since the city of Dracoheim has no cellular technology, this involves spending a lot of time looking for working payphones.)

    I found in the process that I really like writing a Fantasy character who isn’t any magic, and who isn’t a Chosen One–he’s just an ordinary guy. His father was a commercial fisherman and he grew up on the boardwalk in a run down suburb, joined the local constabulary, and worked his way up through the ranks. He’s always punching above his weight class and he needs to be thorough and careful in order to get the job done.

      1. And then there was Were I You where I was annoyed that the resolution I had thought up was not used because it was better than the one the author did use. (That was a book with a WEAK ending.)

        But apparently my muse thrives on pique.

        1. So I take this as proof of my authority to declare that actually, pique with a work of fiction is actually a very good way to start a story because it means you WANT to change the story you are ripping off. Getting inspired by a work of fiction means you have to file off the serial numbers. It helps to want to do it.

  7. Yeah. Motives for my WIP include 1. “These design choices do not satisfy.” 2. “Look at all this wasted potential, that could have been used in a different sort of story.” 3. “Ooh, a different way to torture the main character.”

    So, common motivation for fanfic, just not the only one possible. I have another project on my ‘maybe to-do’ list, that was a result of reading several Naruto reincarnation SI, liking them, but wanting to do my own with an OC main that is not another ‘kid familiar with the source material’. Different fixations, possibly a different story structure, etc.

    I get all sorts of mad ambitions from reading stuff I like, which does not seem to be going far enough in my eyes. Or didn’t pull things off perfectly, etc. Or sets down a marker for escalation, but does not take a step further.

    So, basically, I’m taking story telling much too lightly.

  8. Have I ever started a story out of pique? Is the Pope a bear?

    I am six books in to my extended FUUUU– YOUUUUU!!!!! to the Great Powers of Science Fiction.

    First book published, second hanging fire waiting for a cover.

    Ever notice how robots are always evil, and/or humans are always evil? Always! Every single time. Have I not read enough f-ing stories about how the evil humans enslave the nice robots out of sheer evilness (and Capitalism!), or the evil robots kill all the poor helpless humans because of global warming? I really think I have. Every single story in the world does not need to be Frankenstein.

    So, spoiler, there are robots in the book and they GET ALONG JUST FINE with the humans. Better than “just fine” in a few notable cases. Because, HELLO SCIENCE FICTION INDUSTRY!!!, they’re -robots- and it seems a bit much to expect them to act exactly like humans.

    You take a thing that has no biology whatsoever, and then you have it behave like a witless hormonal teenager with no morals and no brains, that’s -annoying-.

    Ever notice how alien races are always the Roman Empire? Every time. Or else they view humanity as a slug infestation on their lettuce crop. Nobody ever seems to think that aliens might be busy WORKING and not be that concerned about the crazy monkeys on that blue marble over there? Or that the thing they are working at might not really impinge on the human race at all? They’re ALIENS, and therefore not like either Caesar or an evil scientist doing pointless experiments on helpless bunnies. It’s annoying!

    Almost as annoying as a self-harvesting vineyard. And -of course- her first crop is table-ready wine in two months. That’s a beauty right there, Dorothy. ~:D

  9. Oh, yes – I started my YA story collections, Lone Star Sons and Lone Star Glory after some on-line conversation about how awful the most recent Lone Ranger movie (the one with Armie Hammer and Johnny Depp with a dead crow on his head) was. I insisted that the only way to really fix the whole Lone Ranger franchise was to drop the mask, the silver bullets and the magnificent white horse, rack it back forty years to the time of the Republic of Texas and make it historically accurate. The more we kicked around the concept, the more fun it seemed like doing it … and so I did. No mask, the Ranger and his Delaware Indian friend are agents for Jack Hays in doing investigations of things like missing people and lost treasure. I’ll eventually do another set of the stories, when I get the time. (Hah!)

  10. I’m not writing anything out of pique except maybe it all is.
    It bothers me enormously when a character grows camellias outdoors in the ground on the shores of Lake Michigan. Or has snowdrops and foxgloves blooming at the same time.
    Or the rebels are always brave and the empire is always evil and humans must be bad.
    Or why it doesn’t take any time at all to travel halfway across the universe and how do they manage to get their phones to operate across the galaxy without any signal lag? And be recognized wherever they go?

    I get hung up on bus schedules.

  11. A lot of what I’ve written was satire, so…
    .
    The shelved WIP qualifies, but I’d be hard-pressed to say whether it’s properly classified as homage or parody. (I intend to pick it up again when I’ve shaken off a good deal of accumulated cynicism and sorrows, so it’s on the virtual shelf instead of the virtual drawer. And “in progress” because I haven’t given up on it. I’m just not in the headspace to realize the potential most of the time. I need to do darker stuff to keep moving forward, and grab for the brass ring when I can.)

  12. I do some fanfic in addition to my original writing habit, and this is how one of my longer works started out–when I got annoyed at a certain turn-based third-person-shooter where the lack of recognition that a romance between the platoon commander and his (female) lead sergeant just might be a gross breach of military ethics was just the cherry on top of a lack of understanding of war, soldiers, and politics.

    So I wrote a short novel covering the same events from the perspective of another lieutenant in the same unit, and didn’t pull a lot of punches. Got some decent reviews out of it, actually.

  13. Oh, yeah. Though it’s only a Head Novel now.

    A couple-three years ago a newbie on another writers’ group I belong to posted a research question on burying bodies in the desert. All the victims are people of color, the murderer is a racist cop, and the book’s purpose, the new member bragged extensively, was to show how all cops are racist and evil. To a person the group members told the guy that that wouldn’t work: “I hate cops and you should, too,” was not a plot.

    I got to thinking, though: Take out the polemics, and racially-motivated cop as serial killer could work–If you balance him with a good cop/cops who don’t realize till nearly too late that the killer they seek is a member of their very own task force.

    I’m trying to keep it from making me write it. It’s not my genre and I have too many other books to finish first. But oh, it’s tempting!

  14. It *amazed* me that some claimed others took time off ( a week, maybe two) in the Spring & Fall and said they were “farming.” NO. They might have been HARVESTING. But if they only farmed a week or two or four… they were NOT farming. They were, at best, role-playing. Farming, as you point out, is a near constant job — which is why so few desire to truly do it. Ma’s advice was, “Study anything. Do anything. Be anything, BUT STAY OFF THE FARM!”

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