None of us Chicks, dedicated writers that we are, would ever knowingly eavesdrop, of course. That would be unforgivably rude. But sometimes we just can’t help but overhear some very interesting conversations. Might we ever use any of these gleaned snippets in one of our mysteries? Well…
When I worked part-time at Starbucks a few years back, I used to take my breaks out in the cafe area with a Trenta iced tea and a book. However, I rarely got many pages read because the convos around me were always so intriguing. One day on my early morning break, a group of men pulled a bunch of tables together. After a short prayer, they discussed a Bible verse and then headed to work. At my second break, a group of women came in. They settled in to a circle, shared a prayer, and then someone mentioned a member who had unfortunately been unable to make it to the meeting. One woman leaned forward and said, “Well, I don’t mean to be ugly, but…” I almost fell out of my fake-leather chair when she continued on with a spicy tale concerning that poor missing soul and her husband and her neighbor that would curdle the most resistant Frappuccino. I know, I know. I should have put my apron back on and hustled back behind the counter, pronto. Now the details have been stuck in my brain ever since…
When I lived in New York, I overheard great snippets of conversation all the time, and many ended up either in plays or workshop scenes. Sometimes a great line was actually directed at me. I.e., one day I was walking home down 83rd Street between Amsterdam and Columbus. I was wearing a fake leopard coat from the 1960s my great-aunt had given me. A woman sitting on a stoop smoking a cigarette yelled to me, “Hey, you! YOU! You are proof that you can look good without killin’ anything.” Needless to say, this went into a scene. And may eventually appear in a future mystery.
But the overhead comment that stands out is one I heard about twenty years ago when I was dining at a very casual restaurant on Melrose Boulevard with a friend. The woman next to us said to her friend, “A few million doesn’t cut it anymore.” She was right then. She’s right now.
So, I was coming out of a restaurant as a group of office types, I’m assuming co-workers, were walking in. With absolutely no context, I overheard one guy say, “If only he’d known that yesterday.” It was probably about something completely innocuous, but my mystery writer brain heard it as, “If only he’d known that yesterday, he’d still be alive.” Since I usually think of people getting knocked off because they know too much or saw/heard something they shouldn’t have, I was intrigued by the thought of a guy getting killed for what he didn’t know. By the time I got back to my computer I started trying to come up with scenarios for that. Most of what I came up with was pretty lame, but I did have one idea I thought was promising. It just might make it into a book one day.
Like Ellen, I overhear random stuff while walking in Manhattan all the time. (We say so many ridiculous things that we have our own website: Overheard in New York.) Unfortunately, I have horrible short term memory. So although I may say “I need to steal that.” I never, ever, ever do. And since I’m a borderline Millennial, I also tend to read things online that I want to steal. Again, I don’t. Because that is plagiarism. And plagiarism is bad!
It’s hard to eavesdrop in the Bay Area because everyone is always staring at their phones, but one of my favorite overheard conversations was between a super-drunk theater patron and, well, everyone around her. She must have thought she was watching TV at home instead of seeing a live play, because she started saying whatever thoughts she had out loud at full volume. It started off with her saying/slurring, “This is stupid,” followed a bit later by, “I want another drink.” Several people hushed her, and one person said, “You’re being rude,” to which she replied, “You’re being rude!” This went on for ten or fifteen minutes, and she was so disruptive that they actually ended up stopping the play to kick her out, and the house manager got her own ovation. I actually did write the whole thing down for posterity — but if I put it into a book no one would believe it!
Readers, have you overheard any intriguing conversations — or witnessed a scene that belongs in a book? Do share in the comments below (we won’t tell)!
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