I’ve loved writing for as long as I can remember, but have only recently started to read books about writing.  Books like Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott or On Writing by Stephen King (both are brilliant, by the way, and full of the kind of usable, practical advice you’d expect from the woman who devotes an entire chapter in a writing book to jealousy and from the man who wrote Carrie while working at a laundromat).

In their chapters about writing good dialogue, both authors suggest listening.  To the way people speak, to the chit-chat around you, to the music of everyday conversation.  I highly recommend it.  It’s amazing what you can hear when you take out your damned ear pods and participate in the aural world around you.

Just now, for instance, there is a guy in front of me, making friends with anyone within earshot of his drunken banter.  He’s asked the man next to him a half-dozen times: “Where in India are you from?”  And the man has responded, patiently, a half-dozen times (well, patiently for the first five times, and then with a slight bite the sixth time): “New Delhi.”

“What part of Delhi?  New Delhi?  Old Delhi?  Kala Delhi?  Chala Delhi…”


“Are you a Hindu Jew?  The Jews, I mean.  They are the best kind of Hindus.  Most Hindus are not Jews.  I mean most Hindus are not Brahmins…”  And on and on until even poor Dinesh from New Delhi abandons good manners and pretends to fall asleep against the window (it’s well after midnight).

Chatty Drunk then turns to the young girl across the aisle from him.  “You keep looking over this way.  Do you like Dinesh?  Hey Dinesh.  This is…”  Art student Linda tries to bury herself in her Blackberry, but Chatty Drunk keeps at it.  “You getting off at Slough, Linda?  You need a lift?  Because I got a lift, baby.”

And then it’s the Americans’ turn.  There are two of them sitting across from Chatty Drunk and he mumbles something and then starts shaking his head.  The kind of disappointed head shake a dad gives to a kid who’s just peed on the seats of his S-Class.  “America, Dinesh.  One of these days India, China, Pakistan are all going to be richer than America.”

Pakistan?  My ears perk up (once a foreign policy nerd, always a foreign policy nerd).  You mean all that tribalism, rent-seeking, and collusion with terrorists is just a ruse to mask the country’s silent but ascendant dominance?

Yeah.  And Linda’s going home with you tonight, buddy.