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The Good People of This World (Or Two Feel-Good Stories)

The notebook Lexie sent me as a gift

Today, you’ll get two stories for the price of one.

TL;DR? People are awesome and it doesn’t take much to trigger a positive reaction.

Nothing can ruin a trip like a lack of good reads, so minutes before leaving home last December, I bought yet another novel for my Kindle—Half the World Away, by Cath Staincliffe. I had never heard of this British author but the back cover was persuasive and enticing for someone about to board a plane. I was intrigued by the promise of the desperate search of two parents for their daughter, a photography student, gone missing in China. Very few writers set their story in modern-day China and even fewer do it without resorting to annoying stereotypes (the wisdom of ancient Chinese culture, Chinese businessmen making deals over a banquet that has to include dog meat, helpless and impossibly thin Chinese women, cute Chinese pandas, etc.).

I started the book on my first night in Santiago. I finished it two days later—that’s how good it was. Great plot, a gripping story, deep characters, zero stereotypes and interesting tidbits about Chengdu that resonated with me. I love photography and I had been that naïve young adult in China.

I suspected Staincliffe knew this part of the world. I checked her website—nope, from her picture, she looked about as Chinese as me and she lived in Manchester, nowhere near the Sichuan province.

Did she write anything else? YES! I then proceeded in buying a couple of her novels, on Amazon—that’s why ebooks are awesome, you can shop anywhere, anytime. I started the Sal Kilkenny series with Looking for Trouble, a book that introduced me to Sal, private eye in Manchester, single parent and street-smart woman. I loved the plot, the characters and the writing… and by the time we crossed to Uruguay, I had read the eight books of the series. Fortunately, there was also her stand-alone novels. Phew. I read Blink of an Eye, depicting the aftermath of a deadly car accident in the month leading to the driver’s trial, I moved on to Witness that explores the climate of fear in a community, then sadly relevant The Silence Between Breaths, a novel about a terror attack.

One night, shortly after we came back to Canada, I decided to send her a quick Tweet to let her know I really appreciated her work. I don’t usually do that—communicate with people I admire. It feels awkward, both for them and for me. It wasn’t completely disinterested, since in theory, sincere praise makes people happy and makes writers write more.

Much to my surprise, she actually replied to my Tweet.


And then, she mentioned reading some of my articles on China. Now, it’s always flattering to be read, but it’s a special treat when the reader is a famous published author. Yeah, maybe she read one word and she was just being nice… who cares!

I still follow her on Twitter. I like her writing and her style. She has opinions, she interacts with people, she doesn’t take herself seriously. No wonder she’s a skilled psychological fiction writer.

Now, the second feel-good story started with chocolate—or more precisely, the Easter Hunt I set up for Mark. In the comments, you guys shared your love for chocolate and specific brands. Lexie and Hélène outed themselves as Milka addicts, and confessed they missed it since they couldn’t find the famous Swiss brand with the purple cow in respectively Montreal and BC.

“That’s funny,” I replied in the comments. “I’m not a huge Milka fan but I can find it here in Ottawa.”

A few weeks later, I went to Nicastro, an Italian gourmet deli food shop that sells many imported European products, including delicious French cookies and Milka chocolate. I bought a few bars and I emailed a picture of the stash to Lexie and Hélène with the following message: “Can you give me your address?”

Both replied with smileys, many exclamation marks and a lot of enthusiasm, and the following day, I mailed them the chocolate bars. They both offered to pay for it and I declined because it was a small gift and it was my idea. Honestly, it made me feel good to “surprise” them.

And then, I got a surprise too a few weeks later. Lexie just got back from France, and she asked for my address. A few days later, I received a lovely pocket notebook. In a note attached, Lexie wrote she bought it in Toulouse, at La Mucca a stationery shop she loves, and that I can use it for my next story.

First of all, I love surprises. Second, I love stationary—notebooks, pens, pencils, Post-it notes, anything I can use to write. And third, it was a very thoughtful gift since I outed myself as yet-another-unpublished-author-seeking-publisher.

And the circle of awesomeness is complete.

These small interactions with strangers left me feeling good.

We need to do this more often.

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