Mrs. McCurtin: In Defense of the Town Gossip

The local gossip, usually portrayed as a woman in popular mythology, does not have a good reputation: intrusive, mean-spirited, malicious, sexless, physically ugly and vindictive. Gossip itself is seen as destructive and hurtful, and to be avoided. And never mind that we all do it.

Dorothy McCurtin, the town gossip I created in imaginary Darby, NH, is nothing like the stereotype. She's attractive, well-groomed, generous-hearted, and optimistic with a cheerful disposition.

For Dot McCurtin, gossip is news. She thinks of herself as a reporter, and she follows standard reporter protocol. Strives to remain objective. Develops sources. Seeks facts. Neither starts nor spreads rumors. She'll investigate rumors, to either debunk or confirm them according to her findings. She will seek out and disseminate strong opinions on issues of the day, but will not take a stand herself. She will tell your secrets, but that is your fault. You knew who you were dealing with, so why didn't you keep your mouth shut? And, really, now that the secret is in the public domain, don't you feel relieved?

Her goal is to spread her knowledge of local events, human dramas, silliness, politics, illnesses, deaths, secrets of the populace, and the current mood of the masses. She believes that if everybody knew everything about everybody else, mass empathy would prevail and world peace would follow since the core of conflict between people is misinformation leading to misunderstanding.

In my mind the town gossip is the modern representation of the Town Crier, which used to be an official position of the court. The Crier, often dressed to attract attention to himself (red and gold cloak, white pants, black boots, tricorn hat) would stand on a street corner, ring a bell, and make announcements of court proceedings.

The town crier had his voice and his bell. He was a low-tech conveyor of information. Dot McCurtin is high tech all the way; she has telephones, landline and mobile, police scanner, computers, and accounts with social media. She keeps a data base of names and events, and a journal. Who knows what's in it? Not her creator. I always try to treat my characters like real people. In the same way that I can never know everything about my friends and loved ones, I can never know everything about my fictional characters. They surprise me just as the people closest to me surprise me. Mrs. McCurtin will tell you that "Surprises keep me bopping." Me, too.

Dot McCurtin provides information to curious townspeople in return for information surrendered by them. You want to know something, ask her, and then wait while she pries some news out of you. It's okay–she's a skilled and sympathetic listener. Her motto is "Local Know Is the Best Know."