09 January 2012

Leave a Message

Two weeks ago, I asked if anyone wanted to share a story song or answer a new question. Rob Lopresti sent me an excellent song, which is available on the Internet if you query him about it. No one tried to guess the commonality between Abraham Lincoln and Edgar Allan Poe, so we'll move right along.

One week ago, 02/Jan/12, Leigh shared Jan Grape's answering machine message in Comments. In a flat, no-nonsense voice Jan's phone answers with this:
You have the right to remain silent.Anything you say may be taken down and used in my next book.If you understand these rights, please leave a message.
Jan's is now my favorite, though one of my long-time memorable machines said:
Yeah, this is Aaron. I'm not sure if I'm home or not, but I know I've lost my telephone again. If it's around here and I'm home, I may find it and answer before you finish your message. If not, I'll be sure to call you back whenever I'm home and can find the phone at the same time.
I loved that because I'm notorious for misplacing the cordless phone on my desk under a thousand pieces of paper. (That's hyperbole, but I exaggerate all the time. Being a fiction writer is like being given a license to lie.)

This was my message years ago, in a voice like Velma's (or Roxanne's if you're familiar with the Callie Parrish mysteries):
You've reached the machine, so there's no doubt
I'm either busy or out and about,
So leave your name and number, too
And I promise I'll get back to you.
I confess there was a whole lotta promise in the word "promise." Chuck Cannon, Nashville songwriter and performer, used to call my house just to listen to my machine. He also passed the number to friends, so I'd receive messages like, "Didn't want anything. Chuck Cannon gave me your number so I could hear your message." I suppose I should be grateful nobody wrote it on a restroom wall in Nashville!

This afternoon, my grandson texted his dad to tell him we were entering the gate to their house. His dad was home. He opened the door, stood there, and greeted us as we pulled 'round the drive. Just another example of generation differences. I would have called, but they text.

I used to say that I neither give nor take guilt trips. Now I say I neither text nor read text messages. I actually disposed of my cell phone a year ago and have enjoyed being less accessible. I've loved driving without interruption--making up songs and working out plots as I travel. Of course, that changed after Mom's fall. The new cell is with me at all times so the rehab center can reach me.

Cell phones are ultra sophisticated these days with all kinds of apps, but landlines remain my preferred telephone communication. Cell phones usually have a mechanical voice referring to the owner by number or just a quick name blurbed in when they tell you to leave a message. I like to hear a human voice that reflects an individual's personality.

My answering machine is and was my friend. Messages work both ways. My machine gives a message to the caller. The caller leaves a message for me. I learned about my first book contract when I returned from shopping and had this message. "This is your agent Jeff. When do you check your email? I've been trying for days to let you know we have an offer from Berkley for three books with a nice advance. Call me at ### ### ####." (I now check email at least once a day.)

Another great message was "This is Melanie Howard with Harland Howard Music. I listened to your demo, and we want to put a hold on one of your songs. Call me at ### ### ####."

Both of those calls came on days when I'd become so discouraged that I was considering giving up writing.

Merriam Webster's Collegiate Dictionary defines the noun "message'' as a "communication by writing, by speech, or by symbols." By that definition, all of the Sleuthsayers are involved in messages each time we write a story, novel, essay, poem or song.

Some of us grew up dreaming of writing the Great American Novel. I was one of those kids, but I don't think some cozy-like Callie Parrish mysteries and a southern thriller quite fill the bill. However, I've been thinking this week about messages, and a writer doesn't have to write the Great American Novel to leave a message. In fact, it's not even necessary to write a novel. Think of the timeless messages in Guy de Maupassant's short story "The Necklace" or O Henry's "Gift of the Magi," and for Christians, the message in "Amazing Grace." Though much less global, I'm leaving a message every time a reader "falls into" what I've written or laughs at Callie and Jane.

My wish for all Sleuthsayers and readers for 2012 is that we leave memorable messages.

Until we meet again… take care of YOU.


  1. Ever heard NPR's quiz show "Wait Wait, Don't Tell Me?" Winners get announcer Carl Kassel's voice doing the message on their answering machine.

  2. Dear heart, the family of a hard-headed friend struggle to get her to carry a slim, trim Virgin Mobile cell phone. We must have been channeling you, because we made up this list yesterday:

    Top Reasons Crizby Can't Use a Cell Phone

    1. It comes only in black.
    2. It only speaks American.
    3. It won't fit in my handbag.
    4. It won't fit in my jeans. ("What do you mean, stubborn genes?")
    5. I can't see the keys without my Ned Ludd designer glasses.
    6. My dog ate it.
    7. My maid places all my calls.
    8. I'm pretty sure it's not really a Virgin.
    9. If God meant me to use a cell phone…
    my favourite… wait for it…
    10. All the numbers are in Arabic.
    and the definitive topper…
    11. "Wahh! I don't want one."

  3. I knew an RN from N'Orleans who had the softest (and sexiest) Loooziana accent. A couple of times I dialed her number so friends could listen to it.

    She battled cancer and died too young, but I still hear her voice in my mind, "Hi, this is Nancy…"

  4. Leigh’s remark about that “Loooziana” accent reminds me of the time I was home on leave from Ft. Bragg, which is in North Carolina. I came home, after spending the morning with friends, and my dad said, “Son, a woman named Karen called while you were gone. She says she’s your banker, and that she needs to talk to you about some money you wanted wired.”

    I did want some money wired from my bank, but I didn’t know anybody named Karen. And it was a small bank; I knew all the tellers. A second later, it hit me. “Dad: when she called? Did she say, “Haaay, this is Kaay-yem,”?
    He snapped his fingers. “Just exactly like that! So, you do have a banker named Karen!”

    “Actually, Dad. Her name’s Kim.”

  5. Thanks for the interesting comments.

    Jeff, I love Carl Kassel's voice, but my message now is simply, "You've reached ### ### ####. Please leave a message." which hardly deserves a great voice. Callie's messaage is, "Talk."

    Velma, my excuse for discarding my cell phone was number 11.

    Leigh, isn't it interesting how well we remember sound and some voices stay with us forever? Sorry about your friend. I have a similar situation with a singer I dated who died in 1988. There are musical recordings of his voice, but I can close my eyes and hear his spoken voice even now.

    Dixon, thanks for a cute story, which I have no doubt is true. My sons used to make fun of a friend of mine who called and when she left a message, it sounded like,
    "Fra--uun, this is A-uun." Of course, they also told me, "Cow called," anytime I heard from Cal.

  6. When I read your "Cow called," punchline, I laughed so hard my wife came over to find out what was "wrong." lol

    I really enjoyed your article, Fran. Thanks for the message message.


  7. Finish every day and be done with it. You have done what you could; some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day; you shall begin it serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense.
    Love Sms
    Love Text


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Our corporate secretary is notoriously lax when it comes to comments trapped in the spam folder. It may take Velma a few days to notice, usually after digging in a bottom drawer for a packet of seamed hose, a .38, her flask, or a cigarette.

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