Most of the jobs I had when I was younger were retail and food service. My first job I worked during high school at a small country general store where I grew to know every single one of my customers, and they were all regulars because no one would stop there if they didn’t live nearby. I could anticipate their every need (often how much they wanted to prepay for gasoline or their brand of smokes) and most often knew them well enough to ask about their day, their family, their craft projects, pretty much anything at all. I liked my job, but I loved the people. The older couple who ran the store and their kids were like a second family. There were more quirky folks per capita in my small village than you might think, and it was there, scrawling bad poetry on register tape, that I came to the realization that everyone has a story. Every single person is interesting in some way.
Being a clerk was the beginning of people watching as a lifelong pursuit. Making up stories about where people were going or what their night might be like lead to more scrawled ideas. I started examining smiles for content. I started remembering strange twitches. I also began to getting nosier, asking questions about scars and dents in cars. All of this trained me to think about people as characters, which in turn lead to me thinking about my characters as people. When writing I always ask, what would a real person do in X situation. It probably would have taken me much longer to get here if I’d never had that job in a sleepy little nowhere town, and I’m forever grateful for the experience.