I was sitting in the Charlotte airport waiting for my flight to Tallahassee when the nice-looking man beside me started to chat.
"Have you ever seen so many kids in an airport? Babies, toddlers, you can tell it's a holiday," he laughed.
"No kidding!" I said. "It's great people-watching. A little girl just walked by wearing a crown, carrying a stuffed puppy, and boo-hooing. I thought, 'Now there's a story.'"
We contined to make small talk; he mentioned he was flying home to New Bern and has a son at Florida State. I told him I worked at a YMCA camp outside of New Bern one summer. The conversation shifted to what we do for work.
"I'm an author," he said.
"Oh, really?" I asked. "What do you write?"
"Mostly novels. Have you ever heard of The Notebook?"
"Are you pulling my leg?" I asked. "Of course I've heard of it. You're Nicolas Sparks?? Are you sure you're not b.s.ing me?"
He pulled out a copy of a project he's working on; it's a curriculum guide for high school English students based on one of his novels. He was quite excited about it and made me read several of the questions to see how I did. (Yikes -- high school English is harder than I remembered!)
Naturally I couldn't resist the chance to chat him up about my own book ideas. He provided some very thoughtful insights and basically nudged me away from memoir toward fiction, which isn't surprising, given his own experience.
"If you're going to write a memoir, you've got to take the reader on a journey," he said. "You've got to have a destination and a compelling voice. If you're not Angelina Jolie, no one is going to read your memoir just because you're interesting."
He had a few other suggestions about books and authors I might find inspiring. By then, we'd been chatting for a good 15 minutes, and my flight was boarding. I didn't bug him for a card or email address, since he'd already been quite generous with his advice. I said a quick goodbye and slipped into my seat beside a 350-pound man whose beefy thigh took up approximately 33% of my seat.
You just never know what might happen when you're flying!