Tuesday, May 19, 2009

You Can't Make This Stuff Up. . .

Betina, here.

You're probably asking yourself: who in their right mind would try to pass a counterfeit bill like this. One very dumb criminal . Or a rather imaginative one. Seeing this led me to wonder briefly what kind of bill I would design if I were on acid and trying to pass off a million dollar bill. . .

But back to the topic for today. I didn't just make this up. . . some guy DID try to pass of this bill as real. Just goes to show that all those self-esteem programs out there are working. . . to totally divorce some part of the population from reality. Think for a moment: if you read this in a book wouldn't it just stop you cold? And if you tried to put it in a book you're writing (Yeah, I know that's a stretch) would you ever expect to get it past an editor?

Well, apparently REALITY doesn't have an editor.

Weirder than weird stuff happens all the time. The guy who stole a car and crashed it left a cell phone with several photos of himself on it in the seat. Proving once and for all that narcissism is totally unrelated to IQ. And what about the bank robber who wrote his "give me the money" note on the back of his own personalized deposit slip? Or the guy who led police on a 90 mph car chase was caught when he stopped at Taco Bell for a burrito. And lest I give the impression that guys are alone in the dumb olympics, I submit this photo in evidence:

Not to pick on blondes, or anything. ahem.

Here's some more stuff we'd never get by with in a book: weird history.

*In 1962, the schools in Tanganyika had to be closed because of an outbreak of contagious laughter that lasted for six months!
*In 1980, workers in a Las Vegas hospital were suspended because they use to bet on when patients would die.
*Women used to use arsenic in face powder to give their skin a healthy shade of "pale."

*A skydiver fell 6000 feet without a parachute and lived to tell the tale.

*A disgraced former governor of Illinois (you know who you are) developed and is marketing a line of hair products! (Brand name "Blago")

*Two national park workers were fired after peeing in Old Faithful. (Recently!)

*1918 Attempting to dodge German gunfire, a Canadian pilot named Makepiece went into a sharp nose dive. In the process his passenger, Capt. J. H. Sedley, fell out of the plane. When Makepiece leveled off several hundred feet below, the free-falling Sedley miraculously landed on the tail of the airplane, apparently drawn there by the downdraft of the plummeting aircraft. Sedley clung to the tail, then clambered into his seat, unharmed. Ultimately the plane landed safely behind Allied lines. True story!

*In 1778, fashionable women of Paris never went out in blustery weather without a lightning rod attached to their hats.

*In 1892, Italy raised the minimum age for marriage for girls to 12. !!!!!

*The condom was invented in the early 1500's, and was originally made of linen. (Which later gave rise to the first nickname: French Letters.) (So much classier than the now venerable "rubbers.")

So with all that background. . . would you believe that there was a British Prince of Wales who only dallied with married women? And in fact sometimes was known to "arrange" a marriage for a single lady so he could bed her? Well, there was one. . . "Bertie," Queen Victoria's son and heir. It was a quirk that just begged for a story. And I gave it one in my upcoming book, Make Me Yours. But of course. . . the prince isn't the hero and the gal who has to marry so the prince can bed her isn't exactly thrilled at the prospect of being a royal plaything.

That's what I love about this job. . . you get to learn all kinds of stuff that "stranger than fiction" and then try to make it more realistic so they'll let you put it in a book!

History is not for wimps!

What about you? Got any favorite "stranger than fiction" or "believe it or not" stories? Got any examples of something an editor wouldn't let you put in a book. . . or something you read in a book, but didn't believe?


Kylie said...

Too funny, Betina! Two years ago a group of high schoolers in a nearby town were discovered to have been printing money in a basement with the use of a laser printer. I'm not making this up! They passed the money successfully throughout the community. It was in the banks. Started showing up in Des Moines and in the largest state bank there. And yet they might never have been caught if one of them wasn't late for school one day. He pulled into the parking lot in a rush, grabbed his book bag from the back seat and headed inside. Another kid noticed the bills flying from the back seat when the door was slammed. He went to check and sure enough, there was a bag of bills spilled across the seat. That's how they got caught.

Even more unbelievable...not *one* of them was suspended or tried as an adult.

Christie Ridgway said...

Betina: What a great premise for a story. Did you just happen upon that nugget recently or has it been in the back of your mind for years?

As the dh is a high school teacher, I hear quite a few "Can you believe someone would do this?" stories. One kid (while in the computer lab) managed to hack into the system and program all the computers to boot up to his personal website (which had some curse words on it, BTW). Pretty clever, actually, but he got into trouble over it.

Kathleen Eagle said...

Love these, Betina! And I can't wait to read the new book. Some of my all-time favorite historicals (and you know historicals were my first love) came from the that most amazing storyteller, Betina Krahn.

I'm going to have to think about the "stranger than fiction" questions. I've had a few editorial challenges along those lines.

First one, first book, I was told that cowboys don't use hair dryers. Had to switch to a towel. I was a novice. To this day as soon as that hair dryer shuts off behind the bathroom door I shout, "Cowboys don't use hair dryers!"

I love the "world's dumbest criminals" bit that--is it Keith Olberman who does that?

Debra Dixon said...

It wasn't *me* but I was writing a book about Appalachia at the same time as another author. Our line editor called me (I guess because I had a rep as a pretty thorough researcher) and asked me if people in the mountains knew what cars were.

I thought she had a NY perception that was a little skewed, but it turned out the other author had set her heroine up as someone who'd never seen a car, didn't know what one was. Yet, there were store bought groceries mentioned. LOL!

And the editor didn't think that was right.

So, they called me and said, "Um...these two depictions set in the mountains are quite different. Could you tell us how you researched your book?"

I said, "You mean other than having family from there and spending weeks traveling every tiny back road into every itsy cove and seeing satellite tv antennas on every house?"

lois greiman said...


I base my Chrissy McMullen mysteries on a great friend of mine who happens to be a psychologist, and I've found that many of the stories she tells me about clients are way too weird to ever put in a book.

Anonymous said...

Betina - these are wonderful! Sometime I see something or hear something and think, no one would believe that if I wrote it in a book (like your airplane story - that's incredible)

Bank robber recently got the money but left his wallet behind. Yep, had his driver's license. No problem finding him.

Or the house intruder who was offered rum by the women who lived there. They got him so drunk he passed out and they called the cops.

Leno does a lot of dumb criminals as does Oberman.

Keri Ford said...

I swear I responded to this thread....

Anyway, I said something along the lines that these are amazing at what people would/can do. I do see the vegas one being put in a story and made completely believable though....patients meeting an early death because one nurse was killing a few so she'd win the pool!

Cindy Gerard said...

Betina I love your posts!! Always

Only one story comes to mind - but I'm sure there are many - and it does involve me and it's not as weird as it is just unbelievable.
My DH and I were in our boat fishing. The lake is huge - miles and miles and miles. anyway, I had a bite so hard it jerked the pole right out of my hand and I lost it in 40 feet of water. Our son had given it to me for Christmas and i loved it and felt terrible that I'd lost it.
Anyway, the next day we went out fishing again, sort of near where we had been the day before but way away from the exact spot. My husband got a big bite - only it wasn't a bit - it was a snag and the snag was fishing line. he pulled and pulled and pulled to get that line out of 40 feet of water and when he finally pulled it all up - my fishing pole was at the end of it. Now, I've got to tell you, the odds of that happening in a lake that size are about the same as winning the lottery. While I was happy to have my fishing pole back - I'd have rather won the lottery :o)

Helen Brenna said...

LOL! I needed a good laugh today, Betina. Even though it's late in the day.

The premise for you story is great. I'm sure it'll be a wonderful book.

I love reading the "News of the Weird" column in the paper. There's always something crazy about someone trying to rob something or another. I remember a guy getting caught in a ventilation system for a couple of days.

Yep. Sweet justice!

Betina Krahn said...

Hey, guys. . . thanks for all your great stories! This is a favorite topic of mine-- stuff that's just too weird to be true, but is. And like your friend said, Lois, some of the stuff is so bizarre people would never believe it in a book.

Strange that we writers have to work so hard to make imagination seem so realistic!

Kylie, I'm not surprised about the young counterfitters. The quality of laser printers was the big impetus for all of the changes in the paper money in the last ten years. . . the special magnetic strips and watermarks and special inks. And still a lot of bogus bills get through!

Kathy, I love your hairdryer story! Imagine the New York editors lecturing you on what REAL cowboys would do!

Christie, if there's a way, kids will find it. Especially smart, smartie-pants kids with too much time on their hands. The sad part is, teachers are so often behind the curve when it comes to techie stuff. And parents. ::blush::

Deb, I thought I'd heard it all. . . but not knowing what cars are? And a big "amen" to the satellite dishes and big screen TVs. . . sometimes on the porch so they can enjoy the evening air. Cars. Some of those east-of-the-Hudson people don't get out much, do they?

Arkansas Cyndi. . . now that's my kind of robber. . . one who can't hold his liquor! With my luck I'd get one with a hollow leg! lol!

Oooooh, Keri-- that would be a twist. The nurse who bet on the "dead pool" and often won because she helped things along. Ewwww. Chilling. The worst thing is, I think that really has happened. The police call them the "killer angels" or something like that.

Cindy, I love that you got your rod back! What are the odds?

Helen, glad to be of service! And I love those "news of the weird" segments, too. Maybe it's a writer thing. . . wanting to find something more outlandish than our imaginings.

Oh, and Cindy-- I hope you didn't use up all your "luck" on the fishing pole. Because I'd sure trade a winning lottery ticket for it.

M. said...

I'll add two more stories from local newspapers of places I've lived:

- a man held up a convenience store and was arrested by police who followed his footprints home in the snow

- Ben Johnson at one point held the world record for fastest man on earth. On a street very popular for hanging out on summer nights (very crowded) he reportedly drove over someone's foot. That man was not hurt, but annoyed, and began kicking Ben Johnson's (very expensive) car. Ben got out, the guy took one look at him - and tried to run away.

Still makes me laugh!

Michele Hauf said...

I love reading the weird stories, too. Makes me feel so ...normal. :-)

Lately, every time I email my editor to ask if I can 'do something' in a story (fingers crossed she says no, because then I don't have to step up to that challenge) she says 'go for it!'. Hence, the werewolf sex in my November book. Oh yeah, it's in there.

The latest thing I asked about was having a heroine with a disability. I got the ok on that one too. Now I just have to decide if I can actually do that.


Betina Krahn said...

M, that's a whole new take on the "footprints" thing. lol. And the Ben Johnson incident would make a great scene in a book! File that one away.

Michele, hasn't anybody ever told you to be careful what you ask for. . . you just might get it? Werewolf sex. . .yeow. . . from whose POV? Before or after the change? this i gotta read. Oh, and have I told you that your new Nocturne cover is the hottest thing I've ever seen?

Marilyn Brant said...

LOL, Betina!! This line made my night: "Proving once and for all that narcissism is totally unrelated to IQ." (Ha! :)

Don't get me started on Blago... I live in the greater Chicago area. Everything that man does is stranger than fiction in my book. Did you hear he wanted to be on a reality TV show?! Ugh.

Betina Krahn said...

Marilyn, I could have exampled this whole blog with episodes from your previous governor's career!!!

It was like watching a train wreck in slow motion. And clearly, the guy still doesn't get it. His is a case of capitalist-think run amuck.

Betina Krahn said...

Hey, MSN must have been listening in on the convertible for yesterday's discussion. For some more great examples of stuff we couldn't/wouldn't make up, check out this article: