Saturday, October 25, 2014

Talking to Strangers

DEBORAH CROMBIE: (Tales from the Road, Part 3) I'm waving at you from Austin, Texas (glad to be back in the Lone Star State!) and the Texas Book Festival. Tomorrow will mark five weeks since I started out on this round the country crazy book tour thing. (Well, at least part of the country--sorry, West Coast and South East... Hopefully next time!) I have a few more events this next week, then a ten day break before taking off for five days in Long Beach for Bouchercon 2014. After that, I'm going into hibernation and you will have to pry my poor fingers from the keyboard.

But, oh, it has been fun, and I've learned a few things (I am perhaps a marginally better packer than I was before September 20th), acquired a whopping boost to my airline miles (upgrading to business class on my next outbound trip to London), and reaffirmed some things, including:

I LOVE talking to readers! Put two people who love books in a room together and you are pretty much guaranteed to have a good conversation. But as an author, talking to a group of people who have read your books is absolute magic. I learn things about my novels and my characters, and about how readers relate to them, that are a revelation.  Often I learn things that will affect what I write in the future. We writers spend a lot of time alone, pouring ourselves into stories and characters that exist only in our heads, and talking to readers is our affirmation that we have made a connection.

And I remembered how much I like talking to strangers (that thing we were told never to do, right?) But I don't mean the creepy kind. I mean chance encounters. Fellow travelers in airports, a cab driver, a waitress in a restaurant.

(I should maybe add a caveat--this does not include one of the traveler's worst nightmares, being stuck next to someone on a four hour flight who talks at you non-stop. One should be able to bow out of the conversation:-))

But back to the good conversations. For example; the first day of my tour I was flying from Dallas to Abilene, Texas. A forty-five minute flight, right? Except that it was canceled.  Fifty people had to be re-booked. It was hot, and people, including me, were frustrated and cranky. Seven hours later, I was still on standy-by for the next to the last flight of the day. But in the meantime I'd started chatting with a cheerful-looking fellow stranded passenger. His name was Mark, and he was an engineer from Edmonton, Ontario, who spends every other week on a project in Abilene. By the time we finally got on that 9 p.m. flight, he'd promised to come to my event at the Abilene Library the next day. Which he did, and it turned out that his wife was a big fan of the books. Weeks later, thinking about Mark makes me smile.

There have been lots of others. Tom and Kathy, strangers to each other and to me. We all shared a lunch table at Friday's in Milwaukee Airport. Lorenzo and John, car service drivers. Shelby, the waitress at a restaurant in Wilmington, Delaware...

People are just so interesting. And I have to wonder, if you go through life with a closed face, unwilling to smile or make eye contact with people you don't know, what do you miss?

So what I'd like to know, REDS and readers, is DO YOU TALK TO STRANGERS? And if you do, have you met people who have made your life a little richer?


  1. Your book tour certainly has been filled with interesting people and events.
    I don't often initiate discussions with strangers but I have had the pleasure of some very interesting conversations with folks I didn't know . . . it's difficult for me, though, as I am generally more wallflower that outgoing conversationalist . . . .

  2. I'm sorry I had to miss your talk at Chester County Books & Music. Now I'm curious about where Shelby the waitress works.

    Yes, absolutely, I talk to strangers. My grandmother called banter between strangers yick-yacking. I'm a yick-yackker, as was she, but airplane yick-yackkers can be bad. On a flight from Philly to Pittsburgh (one hour in the air) I sat next to this guy who told me everything about his wife, including her GPA in grad school. Who wants to know that, about anyone, ever?

  3. Absolutely. It has always embarrassed my children to death. Until I took the three of them and my mother to NYC one year for Easter weekend. I struck up a conversation with a lunch waiter about egg creams, something I had enjoyed as a neophyte business traveler to NYC in the mid-70's, but very hard to find at the time. He not only had the chef make one for us all to share (it was huge), he booked us for dinner at one of the premier Italian restaurants in Manhattan that night, a place it usually takes weeks to get a reservation.

    More recently, a fascinating conversation about water use and its effect on climate change with a seatmate on a cross-country flight ended up helping my middle daughter advance in her energy career.

    Actually, Ramona, a chance conversation with someone about his wife's IQ led me to a startling discovery about myself.

    You just never know. Fate/chance/God/whatever puts us in certain situations for a reason. It's up to us to make the effort to take advantage of the juxtaposition of people and events. As the saying goes, faint heart ne'er won fair lady. Or something.

  4. Debs, I so enjoyed your book event at the Harvard Coop. Of course I've heard a lot about your books here on JRW, but never the whole story--fun!

    Tonka (our aussie) makes for many conversations with strangers. People visiting Key West are often homesick for their animals and need a pet fix. This morning I had a long chat with a man from Chicago who desperately missed his red merle Aussie. And almost always, dog people are good people, don't you think?

  5. I love talking to strangers, especially at the fish counter at my market. I don't know what it is about fish, but it draws a lot of folks who are not cooks but are (for the first time) trying to cook healthy. The clerk (Bill) usually joins in as we discuss the best ways to cook and serve various fish, what's fresh or farmed, and best buys that week.

    Once I sat next to someone on a plane and it wasn't until she got on her phone when she landed and was leaving a message for someone that I realized she was an Ephron. Turned out, distant cousin... probably. How likely is that?

  6. Aw, what a lovely post this was. Debs, I loved your comment " if you go through life with a closed face, unwilling to smile or make eye contact with people you don't know, what do you miss?" Food for thought.

    Both of my parents were great ones for engaging a stranger in conversation and I remember more than once having them show up for dinner. Seems we often had an extra body sharing our dinner. And they were, of course, added to the Christmas card list. For years and years we received a card from a person named George Stanley and when it finally occurred to me to ask who he was I had to chuckle at the answer. He was the bartender at a hotel my folks had stayed at in San Francisco in the 60s.

    I'm not as good at this sort of thing, I'm afraid, as they were.

  7. You were HERE? (Milwaukee) Why didn't I know? I'd have come. (And I almost never leave my comfort zone these days).

    I love chance encounters while traveling. You can learn things about the places you are traveling to, find people to share a cab with, and I acquired two long-time friends that way, one in a NYC airport en route back to Milwaukee, and one on a train from Florence to Rome.

  8. I'm a great one for talking to strangers, and, like Karen, it's a trait that embarrasses my children. I got it from my mother, and I'm sure her smooth ability to talk to just about anyone made me roll my eyes when I was young...the circle of life.

    Actually, our family's most memorable "talking with strangers" story comes from Mom; an Army wife, she was waiting in Frankfort for a military flight back to the US, where her father was gravely ill in the hospital. She struck up a conversation with a pleasant officer from Texas (Debs take note) and they passed the time chatting.

    Until the man revealed an interesting facet of his history: he had shot and killed his wife and her lover after catching them in flagrante delicto at his home. But how could someone who had committed a felony remain an officer in the USArmy? He was never even arrested. Apparently, in Texas in the '60s, shooting your wife and the man who was cuckholding you was okay, as long as it was done in the heat of the moment of discovery.

    Needless to say, my mother felt an urgent need to go to the ladies room and found a different part of the waiting room to sit in after she came out...

  9. I'm learning - slowly - to open up to unexpected conversations. Making eye contact was a dangerous thing in my home when I was growing up, so I have to make a conscious effort to do it now. But it seems to be worth it more than not!

    Loving the travel stories. Hope you'll find Dayton on your schedule next time -

  10. I always get into conversation with strangers when I'm traveling--the person in the next seat (unless they are creepy, coughing etc), restaurant and store owners, and even fellow tourists at tourist sites.

    These little encounters make trips memorable.

  11. I love stories like this, because they give me an insider's peek at a book tour. I've always thought of myself as a "don't talk to me" type, but more and more I find myself chatting up strangers in situations like these. So...maybe not? Or maybe it's the natural side effect of spending so much more of my time trapped in my head?

  12. Of course. marvelous. I am generally hesitant to talk, I admit, I use the travel time as time to think and work. But I often am rewarded with a wonderful tidbit or moment.

    And I did meet a hilarious --and very chatty--person last week. He showed me a little business card someone had surreptitiously placed on his plate at a luncheon. It was the size of a regular business card, but all it said on it was STOP TALKING.

    HOw great is that? Unless you're the recipient of the card..

  13. Julia, I realized as I was writing this that my parents talked to everyone. They made friends--literally--all over the world.

    So I'm not sure how much of the "talking to strangers" is a learned trait, and how much an extroverted streak in the personality.

    I don't actually consider myself an extrovert--more of a split right down the middle type. I have to have my "alone" time and can get really cranky if deprived. But I also find people fascinating. I'm amazed at how much people will tell you in a half hour conversation. I've never used it nefariously, but talk about plot ideas!

  14. Cyndi, I was in Dayton! And Ellen, I posted the tour schedule on my website, and every day's event on Facebook and Twitter. I was afraid of "over-sharing..." Maybe I should have put it up more times.

    It was a treat to see some of our lovely JRW commenters at events! But so sorry to have missed others. I think that the REDS should agree that when any of us go on tour we should put our schedules up on JRW at least one time. For instance, I have no idea where Hank is, although I know she's on the road, too. What do you think?

  15. Deborah (and everybody), I don't have time to visit anyone's websites (not even my own-- The Everything US Constitution Book has a Facebook page that I only go to once a week if that-- so if there is a schedule, you should really post a link to it on this site.

    Hallie and I have other links. But if Hallie doesn't post it, or it isn't here, I'm totally unaware.

  16. PS I hate that I can't correct punctuation after it goes up. When it is in the little box, I can't see how it is going to look as a post.

  17. Ramona, so sorry to have missed you! It was such a nice evening at Chester County Books.

    Shelby works at Bonefish Grill in the Concord Mall, and more about her tomorrow, as well as a fabulous (I hope) recipe!

  18. My father, who was in real estate, never met a stranger, and I can remember waiting impatiently for him to stop talking to someone so that we could leave wherever it was we were and get home. Of course, I am now my father and find it fascinating to strike up conversations with strangers. I'm not on the 10 side of the scale of extroverts (maybe a bit like you, Debs), but I manage to initiate lots of conversations with people whom I've never met before. I have had quite a few interesting conversations on planes, although I try to respect others' inclinations and needs. It's rather easy to tell if someone wants to talk or not. And, since I love to read on planes, I'm okay either way.

    And, opening yourself up to people in all walks of life can teach you so much about the world and how others live and think. I've had some great conversations with waiters and waitresses, too, Karen, but I haven't ended up with the bounty you did. LOL! As Debs stated, think of all you miss from not engaging with people you don't know. Not opening up limits your world.

    Lucy, yes, dog people are good people, and I've always enjoyed conversations with people whose dogs I'm admiring or people who are admiring my dog. And, Key West is one of the best places to have a dog and be able to take it with as you travel around the island. My daughter had a pug when she lived there, and we even took it in a bar with us one night. It seemed there were always conversations with other dog owners, too. I can imagine that beautiful Tonka is a conversation magnet.

    Debs, it's always good to hear from authors that they enjoy talking to their fans about their books and hearing that people are reading them. I used to be a bit shy (long ago) about approaching an author, thinking that he/she didn't need my affirmation of their work, but it's been a wonderful revelation to me over the years just how much authors do appreciate and like hearing from their fans. Your affirmation of it here is nice. In fact, all the Jungle Reds are so gracious and affable with fans that it makes reading your books even more pleasurable. And, as you said, Debs, a conversation between two book lovers is bound to be a great time.

  19. If I get a vote, them make it a yes for links to tour schedules.

    I ended up going to Debs's event in Dayton, but she had been right here in Cincinnati the night before--at a place I was supposed to be, anyway, but ended up not going to. If I'd known she was going to be there, I'd have made my husband do his own darn errand!

    Although, I have to say it was extra fun to discover a new-to-me bookstore, and to have just a few minutes more to chat with Debs.

  20. I'm not that much of a talker to strangers, but I do enjoy listening to people, so if someone wants to talk, I'll listen (unless the person turns out to be weird:-) It happens!)

    A few years ago I was flying home from a "girls weekend" with friends. There was a young 20something man sitting next to me who was annoyed at not being able to sit with a friend on the same plane. The flight attendant said she'd see if she could seat him near his friend. She returned a couple minutes later and said he could move, and she asked me if I would mind having a young child sit next to me. The little girl was around 9 and was just the most delightful seat mate. It was her first flight and she was on her way to visit her dad for the first time since her parents split up. She told me all about how she and her dad planned to spend their time. She told me she was a little nervous about the flight, and I helped her to see it as an adventure. When we landed, the youngster thanked me for being nice to her! I've never forgotten her.

  21. Love these stories! And I too love talking to strangers, mostly -- I've gotten some great plot and character tidbits! (They'll never know.)

    I remember being a tad embarrassed by my outgoing father's willingness to engage others. Now, my sweet, shy mother asks me "how can you do that?" And I say honestly, "why wouldn't I? It's only a minute and it makes things more interesting." Plus, as Karen's story and others point out, an engaged customer often gets better service!