Dear Readers:

Our next class assignment: write a standard-length, fictional short story. I was fresh out of ideas for topics. Later, I learned that published authors spend weeks, months, even years, conjuring characters to populate ideas in exotic settings with exciting yet plausible plots. I had two weeks. What to do? Fortunately our teacher recognized this weak link in budding writers and instructed the class to begin carrying an unimposing notebook with us everywhere we went. We were to jot notes while we observed people and scenes in everyday life. These situations could provide the spark of inspiration needed to create a fictional masterpiece. We needed to become sleuths or, in other words, fine-tune our eaves-dropping skills.

This exercise was an ear-opener. Sitting at church in a center pew, feigning piety, my hearing trained on those around me, I overheard conversations totally unrelated to the holy thoughts that should have permeated the incensed atmosphere. Another great resource: the check-out line at the grocery store. But the real mother lode was getting a shampoo, cut and style at my hairdresser’s. Outrageous stories flew around me faster than the clipped locks collecting in drifts on the floor. Later, I embellished the juicy details of a story overheard. The final product concerned Alaskans controlled by their friendly, garden-variety neighborhood totem as they plotted to raffle a bear skin pelt to raise money to fly a fledgling team to a karate tournament in Anchorage. And I did it without hacking into a single voice mail message intended for others.  The plot thickens.

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