Monday, July 28, 2014

Fun Family Gatherings

Planning a family reunion this summer? Whether your group convenes at someone’s home, at a campsite in the Adirondacks or a dude ranch in Montana, a little planning will help ensure that far-flung friends and family member meet and greet, talk during the event, and remember the visit fondly long after it ends. 

Why leave food preparation to just a few? 
Divide the adults (and kids, too, depending on ages) into mixed, non-family groups and assign them each a meal, which they are responsible to plan, cook, serve, and clean up. This eases the workload and gives people a chance to mingle.

Rent a pizza oven for one meal, and have everyone make their own. Give prizes for tastiest, most creative, most unusual… (Try Fairy-ring Mushroom, Prosciutto, and Leek from Little Island. )

Bake cupcakes and set out frosting, sprinkles, candies… and have people decorate their own. 

During meals it can help to have a few prompts to kick start conversation: 
Have everyone come up with two true statements about themselves and one falsehood. Guess which one is the lie. 

Ask people to get out one item from their wallet or purse and tell something about themselves based on it. 

Periodically ring a chime and have everyone answer one of the following: 
1. What was/is your dream job and why?
2. Which celebrity/famous person would you like to invite for dinner and why?
3. What is your dream vacation destination and why?
4. What is/was your favorite subject in school? Why?
5. If you were an animal, which animal would you be and why?
6. What is your favorite food / movie/ book / sport…?
7. What is the most important item you pack in your suitcase?
8. Name one modern convenience you couldn’t live without.

Some structured activities between meals will get people laughing and talking, rather than gazing at their tablets and smartphones.
Give everyone a sheet of paper and have them write down one or two things about themselves that others aren’t likely to know (and that they don’t mind others knowing, i.e., not that upcoming elective surgery.) Then have them fold the paper into an airplane. (Be forewarned, some folks will spend a long time on this.) Line up and launch the planes. Allow several tries and some time to refine designs. After the final flight, everyone retrieves someone else’s plane from those scattered about the lawn and tries to match the plane with the owner by what’s written inside. (You can award a prize for the plane that flies the farthest, most creative flight pattern, best design…) 

Organize games of sardines (a variation on hide and seek: when you find the person hiding, you hide with them); blob tag (each person who gets tagged attaches themselves to the person who’s “it,” and runs with them to tag the others). 
Plan a scavenger hunt.

Crafts are a great way to bring people together. 
Give everyone a sheet of paper, and ask them to make their coat of arms. Post these somewhere prominent. 

Have people paint t-shirts or faces. 

Ask each family to make a page for a family scrapbook. (Alert folks to bring photographs and items with them.) If you don’t have the materials for a scrapbook, make a photo exhibit.

If you have computer access, get people to post photos and entries into a family blog or Facebook page.

Other forms of entertainment:
Put together a family band and give a performance one evening. Have some noisemakers, drums, spoons… available for those with less skill and training, but who’d like to join the fun. 

Announce a book club. Have everyone read the book in advance (maybe Little Island; it’s about a family gathering, after all), and then discuss it in a fun setting like hiking up a mountain, or floating on rafts.

Make a video of the event.

Use Skype video to call those who couldn’t be there so they feel included.

Remember that absence makes the heart grow fonder and allow some solo time for walks, naps, and reading.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Turning Words into Conversations

All my life I’ve enjoyed stringing words together and watching what appears on the page. While, initially, the writing process is solitary, at some point you bring in readers. Some authors do this early on: members of their writing groups read ten to fifteen pages every few weeks throughout the gestation period. Others, like me, wait until the whole manuscript is finished before handing it off to a few trusted readers. We then wait, anxiously, for their feedback. It’s not unlike sending your child off to school for the first time. Will others like her? Will he behave? Is she as delightful and precocious as I think? (Yes, yes, and no.)

You ask for feedback and, guess what? Your readers give it. Thus begins the first of many conversations you, the author, will have about your manuscript. A manuscript that is no longer entirely yours once you open the door and invite others in. “I liked this part.” “I found this part (the same part) kind of boring.” “Loved the protagonist.” “I just couldn’t relate to the protagonist.”

And so you turn to the solitary task of revising, but the writing feels different now because others have read your words and been moved by them (for better or worse). A conversation that you previously had just with yourself now has other people listening in.

Then you send the manuscript to your agent (or an agent, or many agents) and the conversation grows. The agent sends it to an editor. The conversation grows even more. That editor buys the manuscript, and the conversation grows again, and now it’s no longer just about the story. It’s about marketing and cover art and blurbs and reviews and marketing.

Soon publicists become involved and managing editors and copy editors. And the marketing department is still weighing in via your editor. And then you’re talking to booksellers and bloggers and media people. Once the book is published you again hear from readers. These are not all family and friends (although some, maybe a lot, will be). They won’t all like your book. But, if you’re hearing from them, through email or reviews or in person, they were moved by your words and are now part of the conversation.

A whole little industry evolves around your manuscript. A manuscript that started with you, alone at your desk, coming up with an idea, writing down that first word, and then the 80,000 or so that followed.

Writing is a kind of alchemy. Authors assemble letters into words, words into sentences, sentences into paragraphs… And, in doing so, create emotion and conversation. What an amazing process that I’m blessed to be part of.

With that, I hope you’ll leave a comment about this post, or books that moved you to contact an author or write a review, or any other topic that seems relevant.