Thursday, April 7, 2011

You wouldn't believe it

Most writers end up bitching at fate sooner or later, usually along the lines of "if you put it in a book no-one would believe it". Weird news is good for this. So is politics, and a pretty hefty chunk of everyday life. And bureaucracy. Or perhaps especially bureaucracy.

I got a prize example of that one - the bureaucracy side - today, courtesy the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. Basically, they charge an $8 toll to cross a particular bridge. I got there and and didn't have the cash because what bloody toll bridge charges eight bucks to cross? Oh, and they don't take credit cards.

So, the attendant tells me I'll get a bill. That's - sort of - what arrived today. Only it doesn't say "bill", it says "Notice of violation enforcement action". And includes, in big letters, a $50 fee. Everything on the notice refers to the amount due as $58.

It's not - not unless you take more than 2 weeks to pay up. But the way the form is set up, it reads as though you'd better pay $58 or there'll be all sorts of nastiness. I have to wonder how many people pay up the full amount when they don't need to: guaranteed they don't get refunded the $50 they paid when they didn't need to.

If I wrote a bureaucracy that did that, no-one would believe it!

Office politics is another one. My opinion of office politicking isn't something you can repeat in impolite company, much less polite company, but for various reasons I've been watching the goings on at work. Much, much more that you wouldn't believe if you put it in a book.

What other situations in life would be unbelievable in a story?


Wizard said...

Libraries that throw perfectly good books in the dumpster. Hold a sale, give to charities, get a clue, folks!

Sarah A. Hoyt said...

Wizard -- YES. Particularly since for three years of my life, when buying a pback book meant not eating for two days, I LIVED for library sales. I saved my birthday money for them, and bought entire boxes of books for $5. Among them was Dwight Swain's Techniques of The Selling Writer, without which I would NOT be published today. Also the small (ah!) independent (Ah!!!) bookstores here in town used to put out the books they couldn't sell because of cover damage or whatever. I lived off those too.

As for things you wouldn't believe. When I was fourteen, I made up a boyfriend named Dan Holtz... except for the fact that he was a redhead, my husband is that imaginary boyfriend. Now imagine that in a book.

MataPam said...

My next door neighbor. Even I don't believe he could possibly exist, and I talk to him regularly.

Every once in a while I'll take a single aspect and use it in a story. Generally for comic relief. When looking into the back ground of a murder victim: "Then his second wife walked out, leaving him with seventeen pregnant miniature dauchunds."

I mean, just that is over the top and doesn't mention the Great Pyranese or Golden Retrievers. Or the emus, llamas, horses, miniture cattle, sheep, and goats. Or the peafowl and bantum chickens that are essentially feral and all over the neighborhood.

I mean, people like that don't _really_ exist, right?

Louise Curtis said...

So many romances :)

Louise Curtis (who met her husband while dressed as Jack Sparrow at a pirate ball - I was Jack Sparrow, not him, and I had a beard. I liked him within 20 minutes, and hunted him down afterwards. Five months later he caught up to what was going on and decided it was awfully nice how this Louise person sat so close. . .)

Stephen Simmons said...

When I was seven, I got run over by a drunk, off-duty cop. In the crosswalk, crossing with the light.

After I ran out of money for college in 1981, I moved from my town of 1,000 people in upstate NY to the DC suburbs. I rented a room-plus-kitchen-privileges from a nice little lady whose Air Force Colonel husband had left her too much house and too little life insurance. She had two other boarders -- one of whom knew my older brother.

Kate, I'd totally believe that bureaucracy. After all, when they did the "stimulus" handouts a couple years ago, the IRS sent people nasty, threatening letters for not filing a return to claim it ...

Chris McMahon said...

One classic is from an article written by a travel writer. She related on icident in Turkey when she was visiting a historic castle.

This castle happened to be near a major airport.

Some whinging tourist were complaining about the noise of the plane overhead & saying. 'Why did they build the castle so close to the airport?'

She said if she put that in a travel article - no one would believe it!

Kate Paulk said...


Hoo yeah. As the saying goes, you can't ever overestimate stupidity.

Kate Paulk said...


My imaginary boyfriends were usually blue-eyed blonds. So I meet and marry - a blue-eyed blond.

That's about the sum of the coincidence though - hubby is a tad more... robust than my imaginary boyfriends were!

Kate Paulk said...


If not for their use as comic relief, I think the world might be better if they didn't. But then, life doesn't have to make sense. Writing does.

Kate Paulk said...


I know the feeling. For me it was posts on a newsgroup with this feeling that we'd get along... then tracked down his instant message handle. We're at eight and a half years married now.

Kate Paulk said...


Oh, yeah. No-one would believe either of those in a book. Or my sister getting run down and almost sent to hospital... by a cyclist.

I sometimes think reducing the size of the IRS is the best possible reason for eliminating taxes... They're a classic example of bureaucracy existing to perpetuate more bureaucracy.

Kate Paulk said...


The only place that story could go is in a joke. Sadly.

No-one would ever believe anyone in a story could be that stupid - despite ALL the evidence all around us. (For much, much more evidence, try Not Always Right - it's funny, and scary as hell).

Chris L said...

Man, where to start?

I've had policemen beg me to bribe them in various parts of Africa (and not even the poor parts).

Then there was the Aussie couple my ex and I met in Italy who wouldn't believe we came from Kalgoorlie because Kalgoorlie was just a made up place like Timbuktu.

Then (similar to Chris' story), there was the American couple we met in Sintra, Portugal who told us the Moorish fortress must have been built to protect the 18th century castle!

Then there's the one about the President of Botswana putting up the price of all alcoholic drinks brewed in-county by 70% because he didn't like drinking. Problem was all the imported alcohol from Namaibia and South Africa was unaffected by the tax and so imports got a huge shot in the arm while locals struggled to stay afloat.

You want I could go on...

Kate Paulk said...

Chris L,

The real tragedy is you can't use any of these in stories because no-one would believe them.

Francis Turner said...

That isn't actually the only bridge that charges a silly amount and won't take credit cards - the Severn bridge in the UK is the same. They did however take Euros at some outrageous exchange rate so I have no idea whether they also send you a bill if you can't pay on the spot.

Mike said...

Some time ago, we moved into an apartment in Boston. The apartment next door was owned by a friendly woman. In talking with her, my wife listened to her talking about her nephew... and said, "Wait, did he marry ...?" (my sister). And when we discovered that this was his aunt, we were all pretty surprised. If a character in a story moved to a reasonably large city and "just happened" to move into an apartment next door to that owned by a close relative... I'd have some difficulty with that, I think.