December 13, 2011

The Gift of Gab

by Gary Fearon, Creative Director

Like most of us, I’ll be attending a few Christmas parties this month, some because I want to, some because I’m expected to. (If you’re reading this and you happen to have invited me to a party, be assured that yours is on the “I want to” list!) 

On that subject, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention how much I enjoyed our recent Southern Writers Christmas celebration, graciously hosted by our own Shannon Milholland, who’s as capable a cook as she is a bodacious blogger. It was an evening of quality conversation, fine dining, and nobody brought fruitcake.

As in our case, engaging in lively conversation at a party is easy when you all know each other already as friends and/or coworkers. But what about those gatherings where the only person you really know is the host? That happens fairly often because the trouble with parties can be, they keep inviting all these people you don’t know!

We writers run the gamut from verbose literary intellectuals who can regale a cocktail party full of strangers, to reserved observers who, even with close friends, are listeners rather than talkers. While we all possess a knack for the written word, it may or may not translate into glib verbosity out in the field.

Some people happen to be born schmoozers, able to rise boldly to any social situation. I’ll mention my late friend Bad Dog again because he was a master at it. He could be right at home whether at a rowdy radio remote or visiting a group of sick kids at St Jude’s. His trick – if you can call it that, because he did it with sincerity – was making other people feel important. One way to do that is by asking them questions they enjoy answering. Get someone to talk about themselves and they will never be bored.

In her book How to Work a Room, one of Susan RoAne’s excellent recommendations is to find a stranger and introduce yourself, identifying your relationship to the host and inquiring of theirs. Determining areas of common ground usually leads to free-flowing conversation. Discover mutual interests and you’re off and running.

Engaging in a dialogue with a complete stranger can even lead to writing ideas. An interesting incident told to me by a former flight attendant became the basis for a scene in a novel I was working on at the time. Another conversation with a police officer afforded the opportunity to ask specific questions related to law enforcement for another project.

So at a party full of unfamiliar faces, we can stand off to the side of the busy fray nursing a cranberry punch, or pick someone who looks like they could also use someone to talk to. We may make a new friend, or meet a character in our next story.

May you have a great time at all your holiday gatherings this season. And if you’re going to be doing any cooking, I hope you’ll visit our special Southern Writers Holiday Recipes page and help yourself to some great recipes, including those of fellow food-loving authors Sandra Balzo, Alice J. Wisler, Marybeth Whalen, Lisa Wingate and Philip Levin. (Don’t let the word “recipes” scare you…they’re easy to make and too delish to miss!)

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