One of the biggest southern stereotypes is that those of us from the South like to talk, will talk to anybody, for any length of time, about nearly any subject. And this is especially true when you are stuck in a long line at the fabric counter at Walmart and the sales associate's barcode-creator-thingy malfunctions.
So my mom (who's visiting from Boise) and I (with John, who was acting like any male would who was stuck in the fabric section--can you say caged animal???) strike up a conversation with another grandmother, mother, and (more civilized) toddler who were waiting in line behind us.
The older woman had a strong accent and my mom asked if she was from New Jersey. No, she was from Boston. We talked about accents and moving across the country and suddenly having an accent when you never had one before...
And I'm not sure how the conversation meandered in this direction, but I started telling the woman about my novel-in-progress and about my male character from Boston. And we were talking about Boston, blah blah blah small talk, but then all of a sudden she mentioned how bad Boston was for flooding...
It would have been undignified to scream Eureka! and kiss this woman in public, but I very nearly did.
My book centers around an extremely rare 100 year flood in the mountains, and here I find out that for my male protagonist, flooding would have been a common occurance. This opened up a whole new avenue of thinking--added depth and breadth to the story--and whole new aspects to John's character that I had never considered.
Which tied in beautifully with one of a hundred simple little ideas that sprang up unobtrusively in a journal entry...
Way back when I was researching young adult literature for my Master's thesis, I read a book about a Newfoundland (dog) that saved a group of stranded passengers on a sinking ship by swimming a rope out to the boat so the people on land could fashion a breeches buoy (An apparatus used for rescues and transfers at sea, consisting of sturdy canvas breeches attached at the waist to a ring buoy that is suspended from a pulley running along a rope from ship to shore or from ship to ship--for the uninitiated). Now, I had never heard of such a thing before I read that book, because coming from western NC, you'd be lucky to see a boat any bigger than a canoe, and you'd certainly never need to know what to do to prevent someone from drowning in a shipwreck...But like most things I find fascinating, I let it hang out so I could think about some more.
And, lo and behold, it popped up again as I was wondering how you could cross a swollen creek with several small children. I thought of the breeches buoy from 10 years ago, and thought it would be really handy if someone thought to make one at that moment. And then I thought that John, who'd lived on a seaport his whole life, might think to do it. But I wasn't sure and was still letting the idea simmer.
So I said to the woman, "Do you know what a breeches buoy is?" all the while watching my mother's face wrinkle up in a what-the-heck-are-you-talking-about expression. And the woman's face lights up and she says, "Oh, sure I do!" So I press further, "And were they commonly used in the Boston area to save people?" "Oh yeah. All the time."
And so I resisted the urge to kiss this complete stranger again.
This is why it pays to strike up conversations with strangers. It's kind of like Google. You never know what kind of hits you're going to get, but sometimes you find exactly what you were looking for.