Tag Archives: eavesdropping

All Writers Need This Skill

by Lillian Csernica on August 22, 2017



What is that skill? Eavesdropping.

From Wikipedia:

An eavesdropper was someone who stands at the eavesdrop (where the water drops, i.e., next to the house) so as to hear what is said within. The PBS documentaries, Inside the Court of Henry VIII (April 8, 2015)[3] and Secrets of Henry VIII’s Palace (June 30, 2013) include segments that display and discuss “eavedrops”, carved wooden figures Henry VIII had built into the eaves (overhanging edges of the beams in the ceiling) of Hampton Court to discourage unwanted gossip or dissension from the King’s wishes and rule, to foment paranoia and fear,[4] and demonstrate that everything said there was being overheard; literally, that the walls had ears.[5]

I recently made the observation that cell phones have taken all the fun out of eavesdropping. When I said this, I was referring to texting. People have all kinds of conversations that people nearby can’t overhear, aside from the clicking of the keyboard.

A friend of mine pointed out that I was quite mistaken. He lives in San Francisco and makes frequent use of public transit. This gives him the opportunity to listen in on the amazing variety of really personal subjects people discuss when making actual calls on their cell phones.

Good point! This makes me feel better, even though most of the conversations I do overhear aren’t worth the time or attention.


Eavesdropping is like panning for gold. You have to sift through a lot of mud before you see the gleam of real treasure. That one gleam can spark an idea that makes all that mud worthwhile.

When my younger son was little, he did what all little kids do, which is eat with his hands. At that time we had four cats in the house. Put these two facts together, and you get the day I heard myself say:

“Don’t get the cat sticky!”

People say the most absurd things, especially when they’re trying to be clever. I was sitting in the local Italian bakery on Sunday, writing in my journal while I ate a Lobster Tail. (I know, it’s not on my diet. I was celebrating my latest sale of a short story.) Two women came in and studied the goodies in the bakery cases. One said,

“The gelato is good, but the pastries are just a little too Italian for me.”

Sorry? What? If she didn’t like Italian pastries, why on earth had she come to an Italian bakery? Questions like this can get your imagination fired up. I could brainstorm ten crazy answers to that question. At least one might be worth building into a new story.

One of the greatest proofs of the value of eavesdropping is Harlan Ellison‘s short story Jeffty is Five. Mr. Ellison has said that the title came from a conversation he overheard. The actual statement was, “Jeff is fine. He’s always fine.” By hearing it as “Jeff is five. He’s always five.”, Mr. Ellison found the seed of an idea. It flowered into a story that went on to win the Nebula Award, the Hugo Award, and a nomination for the World Fantasy Award.









Filed under Awards, cats, creativity, Family, fantasy, Fiction, Goals, Lillian Csernica, publication, research, science fiction, Special needs, Writing

Eavesdropping: The Key To Fame and Fortune

by Lillian Csernica on June 22, 2015

I love to travel, but I don’t get away as much as I’d like to.  On the other hand, the whole world comes to me when I just sit back and listen.

Those lovely folks at Merriam-Webster provide this definition for eavesdrop:

“to listen secretly to what other people are saying.”

My room is on the second floor of the house, facing out onto the driveway.  This means I get to keep an eye on who’s coming and going at this end of my street.  What’s far more fascinating is sitting up here with the window open and my ceiling fan going, sipping a refreshing drink while I listen to what’s going on out there.  The people I hear the most from are my two closest neighbors.  Am I invading their privacy?  The folks who live on my right have a pool in their back yard.  During the summer months they’re out there on a daily basis.  They’re nice people, with two young daughters.  The older girl is quiet and polite.  Her little sister is an unholy terror, one of those angel-faced brats I’ve been at war with ever since I was old enough to walk.

On a recent weekend these neighbors had company, which happens a lot.  The adults all went somewhere and left the two girls plus the children of their visitors in the keeping of the grandfather, who is also part of the household.  Sure enough, the Brat started in, hollering loud enough to drown out everybody else.  All I could hear was her shrieking, “I want the pool light on!”  Over and over and over again, same inflection, same demand.  That finally stopped.  I don’t know if she got what she wanted or one of the adults managed to distract her with something else.  There is no disciplining this little monster.  She’s got more tricks up her sleeve than a master magician.

Not all that exciting, you say?  Hardly worth the bother?  Mind you, this child is about six years old.  I tried to concentrate on my work, but when the shrieking got going again, I caught one key word: “Vampire.”  Uh huh.  So I kept listening.  Sure enough, about five minutes later I hear her bellow, “They suck your blood!”  The evil glee in her voice brought to mind the days when the kids in our neighborhood got together and tried to scare each other silly.  Now here’s the punchline.  The general rumble of the other kids’ voices went on.  Then the Brat shrieks, “Get out of my house!”  They were already outside.  She was doing a good imitation of an adult issuing a command.  I’m starting to wonder if Mommy and Daddy have been letting their little hellspawn watch monster movies, or maybe even True Blood.

Tell me this isn’t the material for some kind of story!



Filed under Family, Fiction, frustration, Humor, mother, Writing