Many times, the first question people ask an author is ‘where do you get your ideas’. I get why people ask this question: it’s always interesting to know where the sort of stories you enjoy come from and that seems like the right question to ask to learn just that.
However, I would argue that without understanding the way an author’s mind works, you only get half the story.
James Cameron often talks about how Terminator came from a nightmare he had about a burning robotic skeleton. Fair enough. But how do you go from burning skeleton to machines turns against their masters traveling back in time to preserve the apocalypse they created and win the war they were on the cusp of losing? You won’t get that knowledge just by asking ‘where do you get your ideas’. You need to then ask ‘what did you do with those ideas to get to the work you created?’.
Well here I am to let you see into a tiny bit of the screaming chaos that is my thought process… using an idea I will hopefully never put to page. You will soon see why and thank me for my decision.
This Thanksgiving, I was all set to take over most of the cooking (I freaking love cooking), but was mildly under the weather and under so much stress trying to finish City of Bards. As such, I was relegated to can opening tasks.
As it happens, this tale starts with a can of creamed corn.
You see, while I was opening them, I was reminded of one day in the summer after my first semester of college. My mother had asked me to take her shopping in Fredericksburg and so we were rolling up the road when we stopped at a light and came face to face with something that to this day I feel is the most bizarre thing I’ve ever encountered in real life that doesn’t involve politicians:
A creamed corn truck.
Not a tractor trailer hauling cans of creamed corn. Oh no. This was a tanker truck—big, metal and ceramic tank and all—with the words ‘Creamed Corn’ written on it in nondescript blue block letters on the side. There was a valve and spigot mechanism on the back like you would see on a gas tanker, and there were hoses stowed on the side, presumably to pump said corn into whatever new containment vessel it was destined for.
At this point, I suppose someone can be forgiven for rushing to the comments to tell me that creamed corn trucks are not only ordinary, but an essential element to our day-to-day life. Hell, with my luck, creamed corn hauling is the most dangerous and noble profession on the planet and I am a monster for thinking this odd at all. Maybe creamed corn just explodes into a deathball of delicious flames if you wreck with it (don’t laugh at that, a few years ago, we had a pretty bad wreck involving a melon truck. The burning melons melted into the asphalt.)–the point is, I didn’t know at the time or as of this writing and it won’t be funny if I look it up now before getting to the insane bit.
It just so happened that the stately Creamed Corn truck was going the same way we were and so my mother and I spent thirty miles trying to come up with some explanation for a giant tanker truck full of creamed corn.
First of all, the fact that it has ‘Creamed Corn’ written on the truck means that there is a demand to justify dedicating a truck to hauling it. That means there’s a person out there whose job is ‘Creamed Corn Transportation Specialist’. There might be a degree involved.
Second, It’s specifically creamed corn. At first I figured it was being moved from the farms to an industrial concern for canning or something, but creamed corn is, by definition, already processed and you really need to can food as soon as it’s processed or you’ve missed the point of processing it. This corn was headed to an end consumer—an end consumer who wanted a LOT of goddamn creamed corn.
Now a reasonable person would realize that Fredricksburg is right down the road from Quantico Marine Base, home to a large population of presumably corn-loving marines and other military personnel live and work and come to the conclusion that this is where the tanker full of creamed corn was headed.
I, on the other hand, am a speculative fiction author and by definition, not a reasonable person.
Instead, my imagination conjured images of increasingly weird and hilarious applications and scenarios to explain the presence of said tanker. Most of them involved eccentric billionaires (Fredircksburg is also home to at least one heir to the Mars candy fortune) stockpiling it for various reasons.
My favorite among these as the idea that someone out there was hedging their bets that should the fabled economic collapse that right-wing nuts all over this country have been preparing (read: praying fruitlessly) for, creamed corn will be an invaluable trade good. Which is a better guess than gold, which would be utterly worthless in a post-apocalyptic world (and also a bad investment now), but still very silly.
So of course I then started to imagine a Mad Max style world where the creamed corn is king. Crazed raiders on cobbled-together motorcycles chasing down creamed corn trucks driven and defended by badasses with eyepatches and fingerless gloves. They roll up on the truck, swinging pickaxes at the site, trying to puncture it so their biker mommas riding on the back can catch some of that sweet, sweet corn in leather satchels. The truckers fend them off and roll triumphantly into a walled compound where the whole town has gathered in celebration that the corn has made it through.
The hardened corn truckers climb out, scarred and grizzled, ready to bring out the hoses and fill the tow’s underground corn tanks when they’re interrupted. A little girl, not four years old, steps through the throng. She picked some flowers in the rare patch of green out back—and she’s offering them to the truckers.
Though life on the road, guarding and ferrying the corn has made these men immune to the harshness out there, desensitized to the bloodshed and worse people can throw at them in their desperation to acquire their precious cargo, they gently accept those flowers, singular, manly tears rolling down their cheeks.
Yeah, that’s kind dumb. But as I said in another article, sometimes you have to dare to be stupid. And so, with only a bit more rumination, I start putting together this world where corn is king.
Picture a world where ethanol won out as the big alternative fuel. The big energy concerns sought to take advantage of it instead of sabotaging it (not that ethanol doesn’t have it’s own problems, but this is me after a full damn year of radio commercials claiming ethanol is a giant conspiracy theory by Big Corn—brought to you by The Petroleum Institute, named such so you know who pays their bills.).
In this world, engines and power plants have been modified so much that they now only run on ethanol… somehow… and thanks to a little patented gene tinkering, corn is difficult as hell to grow without the right corporate backing. Big Corn is the new Big Oil, only they have an even bigger strangle hold.
Except it turns out that it’s too late for a ‘cleaner’ fuel and climate change happens anyway, leaving the once corn-filled Midwest slowly turning into desert—and every niblet worth its weight in gold. With fuel growing scarce, wars break out, the nukes are launched (because this always happens in this kind of story. Even World War Z somehow managed to throw in a nuclear war. Humans are especially stupid in apocalypse fiction is what I’m saying.).
And so a new world emerges. A world where your worth is measured in ears and your survival might lie in a can of fifty year-old Green Giant. Vials of high-fructose corn syrup are the new meth, and towns wait anxiously, praying that the brave drivers of the creamed corn truck will arrive before the generators go out and the Murder Crows are no longer held back by the sonics.
Welcome to the dystopian future of an all-new genre: Corn Punk.
Hey, I never said they were always good ideas.
Heads up folks, two new books will be out and awaiting your eyeballs by the time you read this: Liedecker Institute #1: Meet the Class, and Return of the Interfacers (Descendants Basic Collection, #7).
Oh, and I had to push back the release date to January so I could have it properly edited, but check out the cover art for Soul Battery Book 2: City of Bards: