I wasn't trying to build a world when I came up with the idea for the setting of my first novel, Stupid Humans. I was trying to get through a day at work without punching an annoying customer in the face. (If you've ever worked in retail, you probably know the feeling. If you haven't, consider yourself lucky.)
So here's how it happened. I was at the cash register, a job I hated for a lot of reasons. Customers were rude and let their kids mess up the candy racks, which I had to fix. I was required to pitch the "deal of the week", 2-for-$10 reams of paper to every customer. Also the rewards program. I'm sure I sounded robotic after saying the same thing a hundred times a day. I felt like a robot. Customers acted like it was my fault a ream of paper was only $3.88 at Walmart.
But worse than all those things, I had to deal with idiots. I always knew there were a lot of imbeciles in the world, but I never knew how many until I worked in retail and met dozens of them on a daily basis.
So that day I had an especially dumb customer. She was college-age, and came to the register with a cart full of back-to-school supplies, including a package of cardboard bankers' boxes. It was shrink-wrapped and did not appear to have been opened or tampered with in any way. I'm not sure why she needed those for school—maybe she was taking a business class and learning how to shred boxes of paperwork Enron-style?—but apparently she was concerned about having enough.
She placed the package on the counter and pointed at the label, which clearly said, "6-pack." "This says 'six pack.' Does that mean there's more than one in here?"
The question was so stupid, I didn't even know how to answer at first. I wanted to suggest she count to six on her fingers, but that might annoy her, and stupid people almost always complain to management when they fail to appreciate sarcasm. I thought about asking her how many bottles of beer are in a six-pack, but that might also come off as rude to an idiot. I considered asking her how she got into college, but that was even worse.
Finally, with as straight a face as I could manage, I said, "Yes, there are six boxes...in the six pack of boxes."
She squinted at the ceiling, then consulted her rhinestone-studded phone. "Are you sure? It says here I need six bankers' boxes."
In my years of dealing with dummies in a retail environment, I've learned that sometimes you have to abandon appealing to reason and just say what the customer wants to hear. "Yes, if it says six boxes it should contain six boxes. But if there aren't enough, you can always bring them back for an exchange or refund. Just try to keep your receipt."
"Awesome! Do you sell Cliff's Notes here?"
"No, but they should have those at the university bookstore."
"Do you know what aisle they're on there?"
Because apparently working at an office supply store means you also know what aisle every item is on at the campus bookstore, where you've never worked?
Talking through gritted teeth with a fake smile plastered on your face is not easy, but somehow I managed it. "No, but I'm sure an employee at that store can help you find them."
The whole time I was ringing up her purchases, I kept biting my tongue to keep from asking, "How did you get here?" I mean, I was genuinely curious how she managed to find her own front door, let alone get in her car and drive to our store. And who tied her shoelaces for her?
That night, as I was running on the treadmill and trying to burn off the stress of my annoying day at work, I couldn't stop thinking about how much I hated waiting on idiots. I'd like to say that customer was the exception, but in reality, her level of intelligence was more the rule with my customers. She wasn't even the dumbest customer I'd ever helped. There was the guy who yelled at me because he purchased software on Amazon the week before Black Friday, when we proceeded to have it on sale for a cheaper price, and he could no longer return it to Amazon because it was opened. (Somehow that was my fault.) There was the couple who expected me to know what kind of ink their printer took, when they didn't know the model number, the brand, or even if it was a laser or inkjet model, because apparently all office-supply store employees are psychic. (That's why we work for ten bucks an hour, instead of buying a winning lotto ticket, right?) There was the lady who thought she could return a recently-broken $40 task chair she'd purchased four years earlier because she still had the receipt. Upon being told it was out of our 30-day return policy, she threw a fit and yelled at me, "But you don't know how far I drove to return this. It's going to cost me $80 in gas round-trip!"
So how did all of this inspire a book set on a space station 200 years in the future?
Well, the bankers' box conversation and my subsequent ruminations on the many, many idiots of the world got me thinking. How nice would it be if I could round up all the idiots in the world and ship them to another planet somewhere far, far away? How much more could the rest of us accomplish if we weren't answering stupid questions all day?
Then I realized there was a logistical problem with my fantasy plan: Based on my observations of people shopping in the store, there are a lot more idiots in the world than smart people. From a logistical standpoint, it would make much more sense to leave the idiots here and move the intelligent humans somewhere else. In other words, let the dumb people have Earth.
And that's when I thought, that would make an interesting setting for a book.
And then I remembered that I'd had this idea for a story in the back of my head for the last six months. It involved a journalist, a space station, and a war between the humans and some aliens. That was where I got hung up, because I had zero creative ideas for what the aliens were like. I was drawing a blank on what they looked like, what their culture and society were like, and why they were at war with the humans. I couldn't think of anything that didn't seem corny, cliched, or like something that had already been done on Star Trek. The problem was, I knew there needed to be a war to raise the stakes and provide tension when the human reporter refused to go back to Earth, but I couldn't write the story because I had nothing on the aliens.
That's when the lightbulb went off for me. My story needed a war, but human beings have never needed aliens to start one. What if all the intelligent humans did leave Earth—and we're what's left? (That would sure explain a lot of people I've met.) What if the cause of the conflict was that the intelligent humans ditched Earth, moved to another solar system, and were living happily ever after when the rest of us finally tracked them down? That set-up would also provide opportunities for humor, sarcasm, and satire in what I'd originally planned to be a really dark story.
By the time I got off the treadmill that night, I had the world for Stupid Humans, which was released this past month.
What if all the intelligent humans abandoned Earth... and we're what's left?
Samantha is a journalist who travels through the wormhole to New Atlantis and discovers that embarrassing reality when she meets the People, humanity's more intelligent—and smugly superior—distant relatives. Unfortunately, thanks to humanity’s penchant for fighting, a Human/People conflict is brewing. She could almost forget she's not on Earth, except the People have tails and don't slap idiot warning labels on everything.
Plagued by anti-Human sentiment on New Atlantis and unwilling to return to Earth, Samantha moves to the Five Alpha, the space station closest to the wormhole, where Human—and People—stupidity lurks around every corner. Then the conflict worsens, causing concern for the security of the wormhole—and its closest neighbor. Naturally, politicians from both sides decide they can provide a diplomatic solution by holding peace talks on the station.
When sabotage puts both Five Alpha and her only route back to Earth in jeopardy, everyone blames Samantha—including a manipulative politician with her own agenda—forcing her to fight to uncover who is plotting to destroy the wormhole and cut off Human/People relations for good. Can she find a way to save the wormhole—and her sanity—before it's too late?
Author Page on Amazon: