30 November 2009

Confessions of an eavesdropper

Teen girl to friend: "I didn't, but I really wanted to."

Frustrated mother of children climbing down the riverbank: "Get back here! Now!"
Easy-going Dad: "Relax. "It's Sunday. It's not like they're going to drown today."

Exhausted woman: "That's because you don't have kids."
Annoyed sister or friend: "You're right. I still have some sense."

I love to eavesdrop. I try to be discreet when I do it (especially when I jot down what I've just overheard) but I can't help myself. People are interesting, and I can't resist the opportunity to take what they say out of context and build a story around it.

For example, does the father above really think his kids can't drown because it's Sunday or is he just tired of trying to control two exuberant youngsters. Either way, conflict, possible disaster, and the potential for heroism exists in that 30-second exchange.

One of my favorite passages in my book ANAM CARA is a conversation between my hero and heroine regarding her worries for her daughter. Part of it came from an overheard conversation. Here it is:

Bran tugged her hand until she relented, sort of.

Still frowning, Liza positioned herself slightly to the front and side of him. He shifted to put himself directly behind her, smiling when she stiffened at the idea of having him at her back. Too close, her body language shouted at him.

“Ye worry too much. ’Twill only gives ye more frown lines.”

“You do not worry enough,” she said, even as she smoothed a finger over her brow.

“When has worry changed the outcome of anything?”

“’Tis prevented much mischief.”

“A little mischief is fun.”

“Says a man with no daughters.”

“There is naught to mull over, Liza. At worst they share a kiss, and yer Tess has a sweet flirtation to remember when the years grow heavy and bitter.”

“I do not want her to have a sweet flirtation.”

Once again, she’d caught him off guard. “Why?”

“Because she will expect too much then. I do not want her to be disappointed.”

“As ye were?” Her look could have mutilated a less hardened man. “Disappointment comes with living. Ye can no more prevent it than ye could bruised knees.”

“You are not a parent.”

“Aye, I have perspective.”

Yes, I stole (and modified) the last two lines from a conversation overhead on a train while feeding my traveling addiction. The real-life conversation was between a woman who wouldn't leave her child (who looked to be about 2) with a babysitter and her sister or friend, who replied, "You're right. I still have some sense."

What struck a note with me was the arrogance of each perspective, i.e. you can't possibly understand because you haven't had this experience vs. I understand because I haven't been blinded by this experience.

I assume eavesdropping is a writer's habit, and I'm not the only one who listens to other conversations. So my question is: what is the best conversation you've overhead, and did you use it in a story?

29 November 2009

Hermit Week = Heaven on Earth

I am blogging about Hermit Week over at Lindsay's Romantics today.

25 November 2009

The tale of the trapped tourist

Guildford CastleIn April 2007, I traveled to Guildford, Surrey, England, for a client meeting. I arrived several hours before everyone else, so I did what I always do after a long plane/train ride--take a walk.

Guildford is a lovely, little town of upscale shops, insane traffic patterns that confused the Tom-Tom and fun, if dodgy-looking pubs that served great food. The spring flowers were in bloom and the scent of lilacs was everywhere. The town smelled as wonderful as it look. And in the midst of this spring riot sat the picturesque remains of Guildford Castle.

The castle started out as the typical Norman motte and bailey structure. Residents made improvements over the next two centuries and it became one of the country's most luxurious castles during the reign of Henry III. The keep served as a local prison, then a merchant's home before it fell into ruin. The city borough bought it in the 19th century and turned the keep and grounds into a city park.

The grounds were open, so I detoured through it and loitered, not paying attention to the time or noticing when the custodian locked the gates and went home for the evening.

Fortunately, I was not alone on the wrong side of the locks. Four other people--two with bikes--were in the same trap. We walked from gate to gate. All were locked with padlocks the size of my head. For a moment, images of bedding down with strangers and ghosts in a damp corner of the roofless keep flitted through my mind. I started to dial 999, but then we decided to try to escape on our own before becoming a segment on the evening news.

We walked the wall and found one ruined section that we could climb over and down to the road below. So we did, lowering each other and the bikes down one by one under the silent eye of a CCTV camera.

Somewhere there exists grainy, black/white security footage of me scaling the castle wall to freedom--proof that I've done what few have: escape Guildford's keep. LOL!

22 November 2009

100 days doesn't change everything, but more than expected

Although it may seem as if it's been a 100 days since my last blog, it's only been one-third that. The day job exploded, but in the few quiet hours I've had, I've watched the rest of the 100-Mile Challenge on DVR and thought y'all would like an update.

It turned out better than I predicted for the denizens of Mission, British Columbia, who hate only locally grown and produced food for 100 days. In practical terms, that meant no coffee, yogurt, bananas or wine. The challenge also meant a lot of creative cooking.

Some key things that participants found:
  • Grocery bills initially doubled, but returned to nearly normal once participants learned to cook
  • Carbon footprints increased, too. Participants often had to drive to the edge of the 100-mile radius to find "local" food
  • Sourcing and preparing food took up way too much time. Their days revolved around food, even to the point one participant took a vacation during the challenge to have more time for gathering
  • All of the participants "cheated"-- indulging in forbidden foods when out of town
  • Day 101 saw the immediate return of coffee, orange juice and other "global goodies"
But it wasn't a failure. In post challenge interviews, all of the participants said they planned to keep some of the habits developed during the challenge, i.e. fewer boxed goods, more fresh foods and more homemade meals. In general, most said they'd eat about 80 percent local.

Another plus? All the participants lost weight. Some 40 pounds. They ate differently and less processed foods with lots of sugar and empty calories. But none complained of hunger.

So all in all, it was an interesting experiment--one I may try with a provision for coffee--if I ever find I have the time to hunt and gather.