Hello! I read (and enjoyed!) the story you posted of your grandpa and his tree disposal methods, and so was looking for the story you mentioned of your other grandpa menacing a peach tree with a baseball bat, but can't seem to find it. Halp?
That would be because I haven’t posted it yet! Many people have requested the story mentioned in the tags “Grandpa Menaces a Peach Tree With A Baseball Bat”, So here it is, with a side of “Grandpa Menaces The Iowa Relatives With Giant Corn”
For the Full Context of this tale, you have to understand how my dad’s side of the family got to America in the first place. Prior to 1917, they were all farmers of limited success that migrated from county to county, trying not to starve, until a covey of the Fitzpatricks heard that they could be shoveling shit in Grand Americay, far away from the people they owed money to, so they all fucked off to Iowa and somehow made a fortune in the real-estate business in the middle of the depression. Despite now being comfortably middle-class, they never actually gave up farming, and having a pair of glowing green thumbs was a point of pride in the family.
So, when Grandpa moved out to California, specifically to the Salinas Valley, which is where an absurd percentage of the country’s food is grown because it’s full of probably the world’s most stupidly good soil, Grandpa had to continue the tradition and set up a garden in the backyard, planted various crops and flowers in January because fuck you this is coastal California, I can start stuff in the middle of winter, and invited his sister Leone and her growing brood of (at the time, 5, later 9 children) out to visit.
They came out in July, to escape the Midwest humidity and Butter fetish for a time, when the corn is typically getting to be around knee-height if things are going well. Grandpa spent a long time asking how things were back on the farm, plying them with ice tea and grandma’s lethal Angel Food cake, before politely inviting Leone and her Husband Scotty out back to see how his patch was doing, oh its not much really, just a bit of fun for me and the children-
Scotty and Leone stared at the nine-foot-tall goddamn corn which was already setting fruit because it had been going since January. At the watermelon plant that had taken over the side-yard, and at the other oversize and thriving crops that had taken over grandpa’s yard. There was a few moments of awed silence.
“Well fuck you Edwin.” Scotty eventually said, before Leone whopped him over the head and the rest of the visit was a pleasant diversion.
the following spring though, Grandpa received a package from Iowa, specifically a small peach tree with a note saying “With Love, Scotty.”
Leone knew better than to engage in such shenanigans, because this is irish-agrarian passive-aggressive Bullshittery at its absolute finest. “Sure, yeah, you can do corn. Any asshole can do corn. TRY THIS FUSSY-ASS PEACH VARIETAL INSTEAD, YOU ASS” is perhaps a more accurate translation.
Grandpa, not about to be intimidated by a mere tree, planted that sucker in the front yard and proceeded to pamper it- bone meal fertilizer, a brand-new irrigation system, the works. Hell, he would go out some times and talk to the darn thing. It flowered, and he borrowed a behive from one of the local farmers to make DARN SURE that it got pollinated, because he was going to mail peaches to Scotty for Christmas, that asshole.
The tree. Did not. fruit.
That fall, grandpa reccived a letter from Scotty, asking after a couple paragraphs of circumlocutions, how that tree he sent was doing?
Grandpa got up, made himself a martini, picked up Dad’s baseball bat, and walked out to the front yard to have a discussion with the Peach tree.
“I’ve just received a letter.” he explained, waving the paper at the tree. “Asking when you’re going to fruit. Now, I think I’ve held up my responsibilities to you as your caretaker, so it’s time for you to start providing. Do you understand? This spring, you better start fruiting or I will personally take this bat to you and turn you to into kindling.”
He stepped close to the tree, sticking his face in the branches as though whispering into it’s hypothetical ear. “Do not test me, you little shit.”
The next week, the tree bloomed out of season, and by February, it had set an obscene amount of fruit, which grandpa gleefully turned into preserves and mailed back to Iowa.
Holding pages of scrawling ink and delicate pages with words that leave you entranced, this feeling is the best thing. After all, ones writing is their heart, their thoughts, their dreams. And holding ones heart is the most addicting feeling there is. And I lay entranced and infixed in ink tied to paper, they form thoughts and words. And when I finally look up from the page, I see and perceive the world in such a different way.
All you have to do is walk into a bar and have somebody start telling you the story of their life to realize that everybody, to some degree, is an unreliable narrator—especially of him or herself. I try very hard to be honest in my fiction, again not because I find that morally superior but because it interests me, what that means, to try to be honest in fiction.
Barbara Browning, in an interview with Rebecca Miller (The Believer, 2017)
As tyrants take control of democracies, they typically do 7 things:
1. They exaggerate
their mandate to govern – claiming, for example, that they won an election by a
“landslide” even after losing the popular vote. They criticize any finding that they
or co-conspirators stole the election. And they repeatedly claim “massive voter fraud” in the absence of any evidence, in order to have an excuse to restrict voting
by opponents in subsequent elections.
2. They turn the public
against journalists or media outlets that criticize them, calling them
“deceitful” and “scum,” and telling the public that the press is a “public enemy.” They hold few, if any, press conferences, and prefer to communicate with the public directly through mass rallies and unfiltered
statements (or what we might now call “tweets”).
3. They repeatedly lie
to the public, even when confronted with the facts. Repeated enough, these lies cause some of the public to doubt the truth, and to believe fictions that
support the tyrants’ goals.
4. They blame economic
stresses on immigrants or racial or religious minorities, and foment public
bias or even violence against them. They threaten mass deportations, “registries” of
religious minorities, and the banning of refugees.
5. They attack the motives of anyone who
opposes them, including judges. They attribute acts of domestic violence to “enemies
within,” and use such events as excuses to beef up internal security and limit
6. They appoint family
members to high positions of authority. They ppoint their own personal security
force rather than a security detail accountable to the public. And they put
generals into top civilian posts.
7.They keep their personal finances secret, and draw no distinction between personal
property and public property – profiteering from their public office.
There is truth in stories,” said Arthur. “There is truth in one of your paintings, boy or in a sunset or a couplet from Homer. Fiction is truth, even if it is not a fact. If you believe only in facts and forget stories, your brain will live, but your heart will die.
Do you have any advice for writing characters undercover? Thanks!
So, we’ve covered this topic a lot in the past. Undercover operatives, intelligence agents, black ops, assassins, and spies I’d start with a spies search on our website, as that’ll get you started. The really good references will be there. My
big advice for writing any kind of spy fiction is to have a clear idea
of what you want and which genre you’re chasing. Do want James Bond or George Smiley? You can blend these genres, but it’s a good idea to have a clear idea as that’ll define your narrative.
The first thing to understand about spies and any sort of shadow operative is the Burn Notice quote: “A spy is just a criminal with a government paycheck.”
Take a look at this passage. This is a character (Thirteen) trained as
an undercover operative exiting a bad situation. What do you see?
Limping down the hall, I forced one foot before the other. Slowly, my stride lengthened. The silver door at the end didn’t open, so I pushed it, and stumbled out onto the launch pad. My gaze fell on a string of oval automatic airstreams parked all in a row. No, I frowned, eyes sweeping to street and the vehicles winging by in the air overhead. No self-respecting AI would let me drive in this condition. Robots always insisted on hospital, and I had no time to hack. To get out fast, I needed a human. A cabbie. Older, preferably female. Fingers to my neck, I tapped twice. Up came the ODS, my thoughts linking to: call a cab. Human.
A string of numbers and faces appeared before my eyes, the oldworld men and women working a dying industry. Better for No Questions Asked rides in our digital world, no one else called when they could pay a corporate run robot for half the cost.
I picked the first female face that flashed across my dash.
Time to pick up… thirty seconds.
I gripped my injured arm, and ran an analysis. Tucked out of sight, Sixteen’s pistol rested against my ribs. Ammunition at less than half a magazine, so seven rounds. Eight, if I counted the one in the chamber. The Uplink already registered the irreparable damage and severed the blood flow to the damaged limb. So, no more bleeding out. My upper lip curled. A bad trade off for no more arm. Damn, Sixteen.
I couldn’t hide in the shadows. Needed to seem desperate, distraught. Call up tears.
My blurred gaze flicked to the skyline, watching for black. The Ghosts wouldn’t appear in the datastream. Still, NIS hadn’t cut my access. Not yet.
A beat up airstream in ruby red dropped out of the sky to the left, pulling up to the curb. They were early. From the shabby state of their car, probably desperate. Good.
I limped over quickly. Even if they weren’t my ride, they were human and sitting in the driver’s seat. A car enthusiast who needed no AI systems to handle the steering. Likely to have built in cameras. More likely to possess a slow Uplink. Slow data received poor police service. My fingers seized the handle, flung open the door, and threw myself inside.
“Need a ride?” the voice was sympathetic, unfamiliar.
I slid across the bench into the seat behind the driver. My free hand tight on my damaged limb, couldn’t do much about my nose. So, instead, I tilted my head and caught her reflection in the mirror. Younger. Mid-thirties. Red hair worn short with one gray streak, tied back in a severe bun. Clear hazel eyes. Talk like you’re in pain, scared, but putting on a brave face. Tears. I wiped the blood from underneath my nose, sniffling. “Y-y-yeah.” I cleared my throat. “Yeah. Thanks.” I tried for a half-smile, half-grimace, and leaned on the window. “Just looking to get away. The address should be—”
“You don’t need to worry, I have it,” the driver said. “Came in with your order. Grace, right? You want to go downbelow, the Rep Shop.”
“Yeah.” Resting my cheek against the glass, I closed my eyes; Uplink sizing up her car’s systems. Automatic turned off, but easy enough to hijack. My free hand drifted off my injury, and moved near the pistol hilt jabbing my ribs.
“I’m Marla, I’ll be your driver today.” A pause followed. “You sure a pretty girl like you wants the Rep Shop? Not a hospital? You look pretty banged up.”
“No,” I replied. I got what she suggested, this was a nice neighborhood. “I just need… need to go…”
I grimaced, eyes squeezing shut, and wished I felt a twinge of guilt. It’s like the Overseer always says, love is just a cover.
“Don’t worry, no need to say it,” Marla said as the engine revved, the floorplates shook, and the airstream lifted skyward. “Shipped enough victims out of here to know.”
Notice, she pays attention to her surroundings and makes choices based on her condition in service of her needs. She needs to get out quickly, but would run into more trouble stealing a car so she calls up a cab driven by a human. Human’s are easier to manipulate in short order than code cracking. She specifically aims for a female cab driver, one preferably older than she is.
She’s female. Another woman is more likely to assume her injuries are because of a man, and a cab driver will have encountered this scenario often enough to not pry too deeply into it. An older woman is likelier to be maternal and protective, but not so protective that she’ll stay beyond when Thirteen needs her too. However, pay attention to the fact that Thirteen never verbally confirms it was a man who caused her injuries. She lets Marla assume, and fill in the blanks herself. This gives her an out later if she needs to change her story and place the blame on Marla’s shoulders for misunderstanding.
This is an example of what’s called social engineering.
Deliberately manipulating the people in your environment to divulge
confidential information or getting them to do what you want.
Notice also: After getting into the vehicle, Thirteen’s hand goes to the gun she stole. As she is playing to Marla’s sympathies, she is also assessing the possibility of killing this woman and taking control of the car if things don’t go the way she’s planned. Thirteen would prefer to exit by the easiest means possible, but a good spy always has a contingency. She won’t compromise her safety, and civilian lives mean next to nothing. A dead body is one more problem to deal with, one more attention getter that she doesn’t want, but she’ll go there. Violence is messy, and sometimes necessary.
There’s no real difference between a spy and a conman. Still, if you want to trick people there’s a few rules to follow.
What a spy isn’t:
A compulsive liar, an overseller, or lies all the time. An undercover operative needs to maintain their identity, that is one identity, singular. While a spy can create many false personalities, they should only be using one at a time with the goal of giving away as little information in trade as possible.
Notice: Thirteen does not tell Marla a story, she lets Marla create the story and then plays along. It is easier to convince someone of a lie when they’ll craft it themselves. Why say something when you can get just as much by saying nothing at all?
“You’ve told her three lies. Suppose she’s an asset, now you have to make all three lies true.” - Spy Game
Your character can’t just lie, a liar will be caught after a prolonged period of time. They need to manipulate the truth by creating a fiction. A cover is a fictional person with a fictional job who people think really exists when they check the character’s identity. Assume their identity will be checked, re-checked, and checked again. They are not maintaining a cover to a singular individual, but multiple ones. Their assets are the locals they are manipulating in order gain access to information, and who often run the jobs for them. These assets will, most of the time, not know the truth or not know the whole truth about who the spy really is.
Assets can be friends, business associates, girlfriends/boyfriends, wives/husbands, disgruntled employees, janitors, etc.
Your character can’t enter a business or government agency as a pretend janitor if they’re also going there everyday as a reporter or contractor or some other job. They must maintain the fiction of their identity.
This is the biggest problem most authors will get into when writing spy fiction. The concept of telling lies is something that comes easily to most of us, the problem comes in with keeping up a fiction over a prolonged period of time. The next step is to be able to lie without guilt and throw over people who help you without remorse. Crafting that dual identity of a person who genuinely cares about their friends and allies versus the real one who… really doesn’t.
You need a solid grasp of social functions, mores, and conventions in order to write a spy because a spy is manipulating all those points to gain access. You also need to understand these rules change based on what society your character is entering. Social rules change based on social groups, be it economic or cultural. The expectations for a man or woman in Mexico City versus Seattle are vast, and your character needs to be versed in the world they’re walking into. They need a cover identity to suit their work. Someone who has the freedom to go many places without being questioned, but unimportant enough to be neither needed nor remembered.
A spy is always looking for a way in, to slide into your confidences or sympathies however they can. They are going to use you to get where they need to go. They are very convincing actors and they are changing, modifying themselves slightly for each person they encounter. Not so much though that their falseness becomes obvious to the other people who know them.
When we’re working with a female spy, for example, all the “bad woman” societal traits you’re inclined to throw away are exactly what she needs to succeed. She will flirt, and flatter, and seduce, and manipulate the men (and women) around her to gain entry. She may rotate between being a gorgeous woman and an unremarkable one by the use of fashion and makeup. She is exactly what so many men are afraid of, a social climber who is manipulating their feelings and her attractiveness in order to get what she wants because it is the most expedient method to get what she needs. The one who is manipulating society’s view of women as nonentities, nonthreatening/replaceable objects in order to do her job.
Don’t be afraid of these characters. Don’t be afraid of “unlikeable” characters.
Spies are bad people who do bad things. They are often cold, calculating, impersonal manipulators looking for the most expedient method to get what they need. Your spy’s cover is just a cover. Never forget the real person underneath, especially when they’re lying to themselves.
So I’ve got some bad news and I’ve got some good news.
The bad news: I’m now on medical leave from work.
I’ve been struggling with some medical issues for years now, but they’ve been progressively getting worse and worse, and now I’m at a point where I just can’t be on my feet or just generally active for more than a few minutes at a time, let alone long enough to work a shift.
Doctors have been struggling to figure out a diagnosis. So far all that we know is that it’s probably something neurological. I’ve got some tests this week that hopefully will shed some light on things, but honestly, I’m not overly optimistic. So until things get figured out and I can get some sort of treatment started, I’m on leave from work.
Which means no new retales for the time being.
The good news: This does not mean I’m out of content.
I’ve had a lot of projects I’ve been working on/wanting to work on for a while now, but between work and the physical/emotional toll that going through work, I haven’t been able to give them my full attention. Thankfully, being bedridden goes hand-in-hand with digital content in my case.
I’ve got a Target Retales podcast in the works! In fact, the first episode is going to be published later tonight!
I’ve got a YouTube channel! A lot of you are subscribed, but I’ve neglected it for the last couple of months. But now I’m back in action, posting at least once a week if not twice, and I’ve got some great plans for videos coming up!
I’ve got a couple other podcasts in the works! I’ve teased the one wherein I over-analyze pop media and expose the terrifying truths of fictional universes (Lightning McQueen is an abuser?), and I’m planning a scripted D&D comedy series!
And I’ve been teasing one huge project for months and months now, but I’ve had to put it off for a while with everything going on, but now I can finally buckle down and get to work on it, so I feel ready to let you guys in on the secret.
I’m working with an agency and writing a Target Retales book.
So even if I’m not releasing new stories, there’s still a TON of content coming, both Retales-related and not!
Wanna help me out?
There is, of course, the catch. While I’m super excited to be able to work on all of my projects, I’m now not able to work at work, which is, you know, how money is made.
I’m taking medical leave from work, no new Retales will be released but all sorts of projects are still in the works, including a podcast and a book, and I’m offering a cool bonus if you support me during this rough patch on my Patreon.
Thank you all so much for all the support you’ve shown me since the start. I wouldn’t be where I am without you and I hope you enjoy the content I continue to make.