How does one break into the world of published writers? Coming up with a catchy title for your book certainly helps. “Strangers Have the Best Candy” got off to a good start by winning the 2015 Diagram Prize for the Oddest Book Title of the Year. It’s probably also a slight advantage if the author has an unusual name, eg. Margaret Meps Schulte.
It turns out that this person’s full name is “Margaret Esther Peigi Schulte”, hence “Meps”. And “Strangers” is her first book, published by her very own publishing company, Choose Art. Looks like it’s all coming together for Meps!
The title is derived from the parental admonitions often given to young children: Don’t talk to strangers, Don’t get into a stranger’s car, Don’t take candy from strangers. (We Aussies would probably say “Don’t take lollies from strangers.”) All good advice, particularly in cities where close-knit communities can be pretty much a thing of the past. Meps’s thesis is that this advice is appropriate for children, but for adults, almost the opposite is true. The book is subtitled “How talking to strangers leads to a life of crazy adventure and lasting friendship”.
I was attracted to this book, because in the process of years of travelling in the Outback, I’ve met many strangers, had a number of adventures (some of them crazy), and made some lasting – and deeply valued – friendships. And looking back, I’m aware that most, if not all, of those friendships resulted from one or both parties taking an initiative of talking about not just the matter at hand – eg. The engine’s overheating, Can I book some accommodation?, Is this the road to Grong Grong?, I’ve locked the keys in the car, Isn’t this an amazing place? – but rather something a bit more personal:
- Where’s home for you?
- Come over and join us round the camp fire.
- Did you get hit by that dust storm yesterday?
- Is this your donkey?
- I couldn’t help admiring how well that tent’s erected!
- Where are you heading for next?
- I like your T-shirt!
- Call in and see us when you’re up our way.
Of course, you don’t have to be in the Outback to do this. It might be in the supermarket, on a bus, in a queue, at the beach. The important thing is to be a bit sensitive about whether the other person is open to conversation. Some people are their own worst enemies in this regard. But you’ve got a better chance if you don’t just talk about yourself.
If such an encounter is a positive experience, you need a way to keep it going. We are fortunate to live at a time when technology makes this easy, so get an email address or a phone number. I’ve found emails a very good way to keep a friendship alive. Some will find text messages preferable.
Meps has done a good job of describing the potential benefits of talking to strangers. There are billions of strangers out there, and some of them would love to get to know you.