M.L. Malcolm is my guest blogger today, with an interesting topic. M.L. has won several awards for her fiction, including special recognition in the prestigious Lorian Hemingway International Short Story Competition, and a silver medal from ForeWord Magazine for Best Historical Fiction Book of the Year 2009. A “recovering” attorney and freelance journalist, she has also amassed an impressive hat collection (and yes, she does wear them). Her latest novel, Heart of Deception, was just released by HarperCollins. Thank you, M.L.
The Writer as Professional Eavesdropper
By M.L. Malcolm
Last week for the first time I watched an episode of the famous British television show, “Dr. Who.” I was delighted—not with the show so much, it was okay—but by the site of an old-fashioned telephone booth, which in the show is actually a time machine called the TARDIS (an acronym for Time And Relative Dimensions In Space). Okay, maybe it’s a Police Box, which is really just a special use telephone booth, but the point is that the mere sight of the TARDIS brought back so many wonderful memories—mostly memories of being out in public without being barraged by other people’s telephonic chatter.
Now, I’m a writer, an observer and chronicler of the Human Condition, so I recently decided that if people were going to blurt out all the details of their private lives then I should just improve my eavesdropping skills and start saving some of that up as material to use in my next book (or blog, as the case may be). This past week I flew from Los Angeles to Washington, D.C., and back, changing planes in St Louis on the way there and in Dallas on the way back, so I had a total of about five hours in four different airports to sit around and soak up other people’s conversations.
What a waste of time.
You know what Tolstoy said about happy families and unhappy families? Well, most people’s conversations are all boring in the same way that happy families are all the same. Here’s an example: I was in the American Airlines airport lounge and this man’s BOOMING voice (he should have been a stage actor, but I think he’s probably in sales) conveyed the following information, whether one wanted to hear it or not:
“I thought I’d asked you to buy that ticket already. No, not the 9:45, the 11:53. What? Then make it the 10:10. No, the 12:20 gets in too late. I don’t want the 7:25, they use the small jet. And make sure I get an aisle seat. And I’ll need a car. Anything but a Malibu.”
Hmm….nothing much to use there. I suppose I could try to come up with reasons why he didn’t want to rent a Malibu, but having driven one myself, I pretty much know why. So, I waited until someone else started screeching away. It didn’t take long.
“No, we were supposed to leave at 9:15, but it’s going to be 10:02 now. I don’t know why this flight is always late.”
Now I’m just guessing here, but could the reason be because the pilot can’t take off UNTIL EVERYONE HAS TURNED OFF THEIR CELL PHONES?
I kept waiting for someone to talk about their scandalous affair, or at least their neighbor’s, or for some businessman to tell his broker to buy or sell something that would translate into a hot stock tip, or for anyone to say something that would give me some sort of inspiration. Didn’t happen. And then I realized; most of the time I’m annoyed by people talking on their phones because they aren’t saying anything worth listening to, which helps me not at all. And they’re saying it loudly.
Of course fewer and fewer people actually talk on their phones. They send text messages. So I tried to focus on this activity instead. I found a seat that gave me a good view of people walking up and down the terminal, and observed the human/phone interaction.
Now that got pretty entertaining. I saw one gentleman trip over a stroller (the baby was not in it, or it wouldn’t have been so funny). I saw a woman try to text while eating one of those cinnamon rolls the size of your head. I don’t know if she actually licked the icing off her phone before she got on the plane, but she could have. (“Excuse me, but is excessive icing covered under my cell phone insurance policy?”) I saw two gentlemen heading directly toward each other in what looked like was sure to be a head-on texting-related collision, but at the last second one of them looked up and deftly stepped aside. I guess he’s been at it long enough that he’s developed some sort of radar.
Now amusing as all this was, it didn’t really give me enough material for my next novel, which was pretty disappointing. So I guess I’m going to have to do what I did last time.
I’ll just have to make it up.
Thank you, M.L. So, has anyone ever heard anything more exciting when eavesdropping on conversations? Cell phone conversations are particularly dull. You should have overheard the one with Avery Aames and Kate Carlisle the other day. I'm sure all such overheard conversations are fascinating when mystery authors plot to kill off characters and talk about "The Poison Lady." You're not listening in the right places, M.L.
M.L. Malcolm's website is www.mlmalcom.com
Heart of Deception by M.L. Malcolm. HarperCollins. ©2011. ISBN 9780061962196 (paperback), 352p.