Will you be watching the Denver Broncos go toe-to-toe with the Carolina Panthers this Sunday? Super Bowl 50 promises to be quite the event, and not just for the teams on the field––or their fans far and wide, or the support teams, or the cities which are represented, or even the disappointed followers of teams that didn’t make it. The Super Bowl, like many other big sporting events in America and abroad, has the power to bring people together. And whenever people gather together, whether it’s for Super Bowl 50 or some other occasion, you as an author have a unique opportunity to gather something else: stories.
My favorite moment in many of the books I read and movies I watch is when a family gets together and the drama ends up spilling into the kitchen. There’s something special about having all the generations represented, with their conflicting memories and versions of reality and worldviews. These moments usually lay the foundation for some kind of resolution later in the story––resolution that smacks of reconciliation, and the importance of family (for better or worse). The Swiss Family Robinson was among my favorite books as a child, and now as an adult I see the same thing happening in Isabel Allende, Kate Morton, Louise Erdrich, and Jonathan Franzen’s books––and the list goes on and on. Some of my best storytelling memories––both as speaker and listener––revolve around my grandparent’s dinner table. These are the moments we can’t afford to miss, as authors.
Am I recommending that you bring an exploitative reportorial mind to family gatherings? No. As writers we do have some obligation to report on reality––whether through the intimations of fiction or the facts of nonfiction––but we are not reporters. (Unless, of course, that is your bread and butter profession.) We do not inhabit those moments as objective observers, but rather intimate witnesses, and participants. These stories have the potential to mean something to your readers (as inspiration for fiction, or the backbone of a memoir) precisely because you’re not objective. They mean something to others only because they first mean something to you.
As an author, you have to strike the balance between participant and recorder. It’s worth noting that some authors do not ask permission of family members and friends before writing about them (claiming that this allows more freedom of expression and less fear of even well-intentioned censorship), while others firmly advocate for asking permission out of respect. I happen to be one of the latter, but I do recognize that it can be awkward to pull people aside to ask if it’s okay if I write down some of their stories. A little awkwardness seems worth it to me, however, to know that I’m doing justice to the wishes as well as the words of the people who inspire me.
A couple of years back, when a relative of mine entered the hospital during her final days of struggling with cancer, my whole family came together––far flung cousins and aunts and nephews and great-grandchildren. People had traveled from the far reaches of the country and in some cases, from abroad. And something magical happened: the stories began to unspool themselves all around us. I’ve never learned so much about my family’s history and legacy as I did in those days––and while it was magical, I wish it had been something other than suffering to have brought us together. This isn’t exactly a recommendation to shout “Carpe Diem!” and add pressure to organize family reunions to all of the other responsibilities you face, but I do hope all of you find a whole host of precious shared moments that are rich with storytelling––whether this weekend watching the Super Bowl, or elsewhere––to enjoy in the coming years.
Always remember: you are not alone. ♣︎
|ABOUT ELIZABETH JAVOR: With over 18 years of experience in sales and management, Elizabeth Javor works as the Manager of Author Services for Outskirts Press. The Author Services Department is composed of knowledgeable publishing consultants, pre-production specialists, customer service reps and book marketing specialists; together, they all focus on educating authors on the self-publishing process to help them publish the book of their dreams. Whether you are a professional looking to take your career to the next level with platform-driven non-fiction or a novelist seeking fame, fortune, and/or personal fulfillment, Elizabeth Javor can put you on the right path.|