Category: Italian American (page 2 of 3)

How Embracing Family History Can Result in Poignant Stories

italian american

Click image to be directed to PBS:
The Italian-Americans.

There’s a lot of buzz in Pittsburgh right now about a PBS special called The Italian Americans. It’s not just running in Pittsburgh; I was able to watch the series here. I just don’t think people are talking about it here like they are at home. (Probably because my family and I are the only Italians in Arkansas. Hyperbole, anyone?)

My husband and I watch the History Channel a lot, so watching a documentary on PBS isn’t much different from our usual viewing. What was different, however, was my visceral response to the program. I was already aware of much of this history—my grandparents have shared some of their stories with me—but seeing it brought to life? Totally different. I thought I knew our history, but there was so much I was unaware of. Probably even more that you don’t know. You should check it out; it’s an honest portrayal of the good and the bad. I’m lucky my grandparents shared what they did. I’d love to hear even more.

When your grandparents tell you stories, they may make you laugh. They might make you cry. But they don’t often share their feelings about the events. It’s kind of like the hard parts are filtered out, like they’re trying to protect us—or themselves—from experiencing the pain.

It takes a special storyteller to not just scratch the surface but dig deep down to the heart of the issue. (Agree? Tweet this.)

That’s what I strive to be—a special storyteller. My history not only shapes me as a person, but it shapes me as a writer. (I think that’s true of all writers, to an extent. Writers often say their characters are a reflection of themselves in one way or another.) Not all of my characters are Italian-American, but all of them find familial bonds to be of the utmost importance. That’s my heritage, and that’s reflected in my writing.

Italian Americans

My Great-Grandmother, My Grandfather, and His Siblings…
Italian-Americans, and Proud of It

When I write a story, I don’t want to scratch the surface; I want to dig deep down to the heart and soul of these characters and have them express powerful emotions brought on by their situations. I want to write words that make readers laugh, cry; feel outrage, indignation; question situations, opinions.

And when someone reads my work? I want them to experience everything right along with the characters.

For Readers:
Think about your favorite book. What did you respond most to? The plot? The setting? The characters? The next time you read that book—or any book—consider the hero of the story; consider the villain. Do you know enough about them to relate to their perceptions of the world? Does it matter if you can relate? Would you like to know more about them and their situations? What would make them more relatable?

For Writers:
Are you just scratching the surface in your work? You’ll know if you are by the level of comfort you feel. Telling deep, resonating stories requires you to leave your comfort zone and tap into the pool of emotions you’re used to suppressing. If reading your work doesn’t move you, it’s not going to move anyone else, either. My current WIP, Bleeding Heart, delves into Italian-American family life, and I’ve been able to enrich my characters by drawing on personal experience.

For Everyone:
I’m a family person. If you’ve followed my blog or read my work, you know family and history is important to me. What about you? Do you know where you come from, what your history is, how it’s shaped the person you’ve become? Do you prefer stories that barely get into a character or do you enjoy the ones that dig, even to the point of exposing raw nerves? Let’s talk about it. Comment below.

Memories, Extended Family, and Reunions—What Really Matters

We’re smack in the middle of summer. The kids have been asking about a trip home, which is funny, because it hasn’t really been their home since they were in diapers. But we all still call it “home,” because that’s where family is.

And summer is the ideal time for family reunions. We won’t be attending any this year, I’m afraid. Between work schedules, football camp, and tennis practices, we just ran out of time to make the trip.

Which is sad, because we always said family comes first. And they still do, but this year, they’re going to have to come first from afar.

nuclear family

I keep in regular and frequent contact with these folks — even if they are a motley crew.

Continue reading

When Traditions Take Over

EasterWell, I haven’t been online since Wednesday (except for a brief check-in here and there and the occasional recipe double-check), but we managed it. Another full family holiday put together with just the four of us. Honestly, if it wasn’t for the importance of keeping up with traditions, I wouldn’t go through the trouble. We always have way too much food to eat it all. We cook so much, you’d think we’re still feeding the extended family, but it’s just the four of us. (And the two dogs, who wait impatiently for any scraps that might fall.)

Thursday was ham and potato salad night. Two potato salads, American (mayonnaise) and Italian (olive oil and vinegar). And a full ham. I know… why do four people need a full ham? Because I need the ham for the Pizza di Pasqua (Easter Pizza) and we like ham bone soup and ham and scalloped potatoes, so we might as well get the big one. Continue reading

Need Motivation? Look No Further

snowWe’ve been having the strangest weather. My kids have missed eight days for snow already, and we’re in the south. I’m told that’s not unheard of for this area, but come on. What’s the point of living in the south—far from family and good Italian food—if not avoiding snow?

But I digress…

Gramma never complains about crappy situations. She just digs in and deals with what life hands her. And life has handed her some tough situations.

Her family, looking to escape harsh realities in a weak and oppressive Italy, immigrated to Colorado in the early 1900s. She was a young girl running errands for her mother when she encountered one of those tough situations.

When the Going Gets Tough, Gramma Gets Going

She was walking to the general store by herself to obtain a few provisions for her family. It wasn’t far, but the road was deserted for a stretch. She heard a horse and buggy behind her. Horses were her favorite of all animals, so she turned around to admire the animal.

It wasn’t a local farmer, or even a neighbor child.

It was a “gypsy” family.

Her parents had warned her about such wanderers. They weren’t to be trusted.

She stopped staring at the horse and turned her focus back to the road, picking up her pace just a bit.

One of the men sitting in the cart called to her, “Hey, little girl!”

She ignored him. She could see the buildings on the main street of the town, but she wasn’t close enough to yell for help.

“Girly! Wait a minute!” She didn’t know if it was the same man or his partner, and she didn’t turn to find out. They were getting closer.

She broke into a run.

To her utter dismay, she heard the crack of a whip.

They were giving chase.

They were still pretty far behind her, but she knew she couldn’t outrun a horse. She’d never make it all the way to the general store.

Her only chance was to run to the first building she came to.

She ran for her life.

The first building in the street was the post office. She darted inside and, completely breathless, ran behind the counter, ducking down, out of sight.

“Hey! You can’t be back here!” the postmaster said.

She could only shake her head, completely unable to speak. She pointed at the door just as two men and a woman flung it open and dashed inside.

“Can I help you?” the postmaster asked them.

“We’re looking for… our niece,” one of the men said.

The woman spoke up. “She ran away from us.”

“I thought I saw her come in here,” a man said.

The postmaster was silent for a moment.

My grandmother didn’t breathe for a whole other reason. She was terrified he was going to give her up.

Instead, he said, “You’re mistaken. She must have run behind the building. Did you check out back?”

“Maybe if we could just check behind your counter?” one of the men said.

The postmaster held up his hand. “No, you may not. No one is allowed behind this counter unless he is authorized by the United States Government.”

Gramma released a soundless sigh.

“I suggest you be off,” the postmaster said. “You need to find your niece, and it gets dark early in these parts.”

The gypsies left without another word, and soon my grandmother heard the horse and buggy headed away from the post office.

“It’s safe now,” the postmaster said, and helped her out from behind his counter.

“I don’t know how to thank you,” my grandmother said. “How did you know I wasn’t with them?”

“You can always tell good from bad,” he said.

Certain Universal Truths

I always love it when my grandmother tells that story. You can tell good from bad, if you look hard enough. And you can do anything if you set your mind to it. Even get away from potential kidnappers. Or get out of a winter’s funk.

I’ve been feeling the winter’s blues. A lot of my writing friends have, too. But thinking about the hardships my grandmother has overcome is quite motivating to me. I’ve never had to escape anything so daunting as potential abductors. I don’t know if they were really “gypsies,” but I do know the threat was real. And I know she’s been through other tragedies in her life, too.

writer's blockI just had a minor bout of writer’s block. Not quite on the same scale, hardship-wise. Still, it’s nothing I want to keep banging my head against.

But overcoming any obstacle requires digging down deep to find that inner kernel of strength and determination that will see us through to the other side. I’d like to think I get that from my grandmother.

When you’re feeling a little out of sorts, who do you look to for inspiration? Why don’t you share that story here?

Do You Know Where You Come From?

vandergriftIf you’ve browsed my blog, website, or Facebook page, you know I’m from Vandergrift, Pennsylvania, and you know what it’s famous for. If not (or if you’ve forgotten), I’ll tell you. Vandergrift is the first worker-owned, industrially-planned town in America. When founder George G. McMurtry acquired an iron and steel mill on 640 acres of land on the Kiskiminitas River, he had a vision: a town that was unique, attractive… “better than the best.” He contacted Central Park designer Frederick Law Olmsted, who promised there would be no better town in the world “for physical health and comfort.”

Vandergrift 1895

“The town would be a site of natural health, wealth, and beauty; drained; graded; flat but convenient; good road and walks; not in squares, but according to the lay of the land; such water as flows from mountain springs brought into houses; sewers; expanse of grass; trees; outlook; modern above and below ground; electric lights, telegraph, telephone… bathtub… . Every man to choose his part with the means at hand of supporting that part; the people to own their houses and control their pursuits. The means of health and enjoyment of life within reach of all inhabitants. Liquor not to be sold there.” (Something Better Than The Best, 1996, p 20.)

That’s the town my grandfather immigrated to. He came to America in 1920 when he was just six years old. Despite the glory of the Roaring Twenties (something he was too young to appreciate), the whole country was experiencing Prohibition, so Vandergrift wasn’t the only “dry” town. But it was a beautiful town.

Vandergrift

Bottom left–Gazebo at Kennedy Park; Center–Houses on Emerson St.; Top Right–Old Casino Theater

Vandergrift was a town of curving streets, green parks, tidy homes with the latest amenities offering the mill and foundry workers all the comforts and health benefits the early 1900s had to offer. The town boasted churches in several denominations (St. Gertrude is now a National Landmark) and Rabbi Reubin Y. Rubinowitz sometimes led the town in holy days of worship. Citizens came out in droves to watch or participate in the many parades held throughout the year, and in the summer, families could always cool off at the community pool.

Naccarato home

The whole Naccarato clan in front of the family home

Yes, my grandfather immigrated to a wonderful town. His father died just eight years after they came here, leaving my grandfather as “the man of the house.” He quit school to get a job in the foundry, earning money for the household and helping raise his two sisters and four brothers. And he managed to do just that. They stayed in their home—a home that stayed in the family for generations. He only gave it over to his mother and younger siblings a year after he was married. My grandmother—my ninety-five year old grandmother—is still in the house he bought her. My grandfather’s original home was just sold from our family’s holdings last year.

There’s something about Vandergrift that gets in your blood and doesn’t let go.

Why am I telling you all this?

We were just home for Christmas. The town has changed. A lot. My parents were raised in a different town than the one my grandparents immigrated to. I was raised in a different town than the one my parents were raised in. My kids don’t recognize Vandergrift as the town my husband and I describe from when we were growing up. Times change. Progress? Maybe. I can’t say I see much that changed for the better in my beloved hometown.

But it’s home.

All of us need to remember that we are where we came from—at least to some extent.

And writers, this is especially true for our characters. They all have backstory. It might not all make it into our work, but it’s there. You should know it. And it should shape your characters. If I was a character in a novel, I’d be a girl living in the south who desperately misses the north. She misses her family, misses her friends. She has trouble shopping because she can’t find the right ingredients. She has trouble with colloquial phrases, and sometimes the locals laugh at her because of her confusion. Do I have to include any of that? No. If I choose to, I definitely shouldn’t say it explicitly. I’d just reveal it as the story progresses. She can be sad as she mails a birthday gift because she won’t be at the celebration. She can be confused when someone says, “Damn, Skippy,” and they laugh when she asks who Skippy is. She can be frustrated when she can’t find oil-cured olives and pancetta at the grocery story. The history should come forth in small snippets throughout the story, letting us learn about the character through her feelings about her home. Let it become a character itself.

Pay attention to your history. Embrace it. That’s where the enrichment is.

Where are you from? What makes it special? Share your story with us in the comments.

Grandma, Light Bulbs, and My Epiphany

It’s the new year. We’ve all been reflecting on 2013 and making resolutions for 2014.

2014I look back on 2013 as an eventful one. It was a year of making new friends, losing dear loved ones, publishing my first novel, securing an agent, earning several writing awards at a writing conference, winning first place in the main course category of the Atkins Low Carb Recipe contest, and managing to visit home not once, but twice (a rare treat, living 1,000 miles away). My son was inducted into NHS and got his driver’s license. My daughter graduated from middle school with a 4.0 for all three years and made conference on the high school tennis team her first year. Yes, it was an eventful year. And we have even higher hopes for 2014.

epiphanyBut January 6 is already almost a week into the new year. It’s officially Epiphany, the church feast uniting three events in Christ’s life when His divinity “shines” through His humanity: the adoration of the Magi, the baptism of Christ in the Jordan, and the first miracle at the wedding feast of Cana. See, that “shining” is important. During Advent, the world was in darkness, and we waited in expectation of the Coming Light. At Christmas, the Light shone forth, but dimly, seen only by a few around the crib—Mary and Joseph and the shepherds. But at Epiphany, the Light bursts forth to all nations and the prophecy is fulfilled: The Gentiles shall walk in Thy light, and kings in the brightness of Thy rising (Isaiah 60:3). The star of Epiphany, “flashing like a flame,” is still another facet of the light-motif.

We talk about “epiphanies” in our lives all the time. An epiphany (according to The American Heritage Dictionary) is “a comprehension or perception of reality by means of a sudden intuitive realization.”

My grandmother is ninety-five years old. I can guarantee she’s had an epiphany or two over the years. When she was a teenager, she was being courted by a wealthy young man from the neighboring town. His family owned several car dealerships and he would have made her quite a comfortable life.

mary and john weddingThen she met my grandfather.

And she had an epiphany.

It didn’t matter how rich her suitor was or how easy he could have made her life. She had fallen in love with another man. The man she was going to marry and make a life with, raise a family with.

When we have an epiphany, people liken it to a light bulb going off in our heads. They say “we saw the light.” And it really is like that.

Just as my grandfather gave my grandmother an epiphany, he gave me one. The story of his ancestry clicked like a light bulb in my head one day and became the beginnings of the series that landed me my agent.

light bulbPay attention to those family stories, folks. You never know when they might turn on a light in your head.

So, what about you? What epiphanies have you had? What are you working on in 2014? Share your stories with us below.

First Friday Fiction Feature – Laci and Del: Second Chance?

It’s the first Friday of the month. You know what that means… it’s time for another installment of short fiction. (You can, at any time, find this work or any of the First Friday Fiction Features, by going to the My Work tab, clicking on Freebies, and selecting the story you wish to read.)

This year I’m doing something different. Instead of twelve months of different stories, I’m trying out some serial work this year. So there will be twelve consecutive pieces released starting with this one: “Laci and Del: Second Chance?”

Laci and Del: Second Chance?

2014 Laci glanced around the room, her gaze flitting from the people to the door and back. Panic clawed through her insides as desperately as she wanted to claw at each figure blocking her way. She had no means of escape. She’d waited too long. What fifteen minutes earlier had been a navigatable maze of clusters of party guests, standing like islands in a sea she could have traveled, somehow had morphed into one massive throng she had no hope of wading through. The door might as well be in another country. She’d never make it.

Sighing, she turned around and unlatched the patio door. Cracking it open just enough to squeeze through it, she slipped outside and closed the door behind her. Immediately she was hit in the face with the bracing cold of winter.

“Damn, it’s freezing out here!” She wrapped her arms around herself and watched as her breath dissipated into the night. She briefly entertained the idea of going back inside, but shook the idea off before even turning around. The countdown had begun. Even through the heavy door she could hear them all chanting, “Fifty-seven… Fifty-six… Fifty-five…”

Less than a minute, and she could put another horrid year behind her.

And start another one.

She rubbed her arms harder and tried to blink back the tears that were threatening to fall, tried not to imagine every single person in there sharing a warm kiss at midnight… while she stood on the patio. Alone. In the cold.

“Thirty-two… Thirty-one…”

The voices had grown louder, and Laci realized the door had opened. Wiping her eyes and clearing her throat, she mustered the last ounces of courage and dignity she possessed and turned toward her unwanted intruder. “I’m sorry. Would you mind terribly? I’d like to be alone.”

“No, you wouldn’t.”

He was backlit by the lights from inside the house, but she didn’t need to see his face to know who he was. She’d know his voice, his body, anywhere.

“Delany?”

“Only you and my mother ever call me that.”

She cleared her throat. “Del. What are you doing here?”

“Something I didn’t think I’d ever do again.”

“Three… Two… One…”

As shouts of “Happy New Year” and the beginning notes of “Auld Lang Syne” rang out from inside the house, Del crossed to Laci and kissed her.

There was no forewarning. No preamble. He didn’t stroke her cheek first or brush her hair back from her face.

There was just Del. And the kiss.

And the disappearance of her whole miserable world for a blissful moment.

When he released her, the people inside were about done cheering. The strains of the song were fading away. The tears had dried on her cheeks.

And her heart rate was nowhere near normal.

“And what, might I ask, am I supposed to make of that?” she managed to get out in a steady voice.

“I’ve been watching you all night.”

“You’ve been watching me all night? What are you, now? A stalker or something?” She clutched at where a collar should be, but all she found was a necklace. A beautiful diamond necklace he’d bought her, highlighted by her upswept hair and the low-cut bodice of her cocktail dress. She tried to cover it with her fingers, but she saw the look of recognition on his face. Why did she have to choose that piece—of all pieces—to wear that night? Thankfully, he didn’t comment on it.

“We’re both still friends with the same people. We’re bound to end up in the same place at the same time. But after how things ended…”

She lowered one of her arms and studied his face.

He shrugged his shoulders. “I didn’t know if you were ready to talk. So I stayed on the opposite side of the room all night. I was trying to be polite and give you space.”

She sniffed.

“Anyway, I figured you would leave before midnight. I know how you feel about not having anyone to kiss when the ball drops, especially given it’s not just the new year, but your birthday too, so when—”

“You remember my birthday?”

His eyebrows shot up. “What kind of person do you think I am? Of course I remember your birthday.”

She relaxed enough that she dropped her hand away from her throat and started rubbing her arms again. Since Del had walked onto the patio, she hadn’t felt anything but heat. The cold was starting to hit her again, though. As well as some old feelings she hadn’t buried as deep as she had thought.

“Come here,” he said.

Before she could object, she was nestled in his arms, tucked against his firm, warm chest.

“Laci, I know things got all messed up before. I don’t want to revisit the past. This is a new year. For you and for everyone.” He pulled back a little bit and looked down at her. “I’d like to give us another try.”

She couldn’t meet his gaze, so she tucked her head back against his chest and held on tightly to him. “I don’t know, Delany. It took me a long time to move on. I don’t want to go through something like that again.”

“That’s how you know it’s worth fighting for. Because we were so hard to walk away from. Come on, Laci. What have you got to lose?”

Laci thought about the year since they had broken up and the men she hadn’t been able to date. There had been something wrong with absolutely everyone who’d asked her out—too tall, too nerdy, too creepy, too involved with work, too interested in fantasy football—so she’d politely declined all her offers until the offers had stopped coming. Yes, she realized her reasons were ridiculous. Well, maybe not the creepy guy, but all the other ones. But obviously her social calendar was in need of some CPR.

But wasn’t Del the reason it flat-lined to begin with?

She had a lot to lose. He couldn’t possibly understand. Was he worth the risk?

Here We Come A Caroling… Sort of. Won’t You Come With Me?

ChristmasI have a real honor today. I’m guest posting/visiting on a friend and fellow Tribe Writer’s blog talking all about family Christmas traditions. Won’t you join me on Joan Hall’s site (Joan Hall Writes) as we discuss Christmas and family? Hope to see you there!

Do You Embrace the Hyphens?

National Honor SocietyThis has been a busy month. My book came out in print. I had modest success at a writing competition at a writer’s conference. My son turned sixteen. Got his official driver’s licence and went out on his own. He was inducted into National Honor’s Society. My daughter, as a freshman, qualified for the conference match in tennis. And while my family has been celebrating our milestones, there have been two things dominating the news, or at least the news that I follow:

  1. The government shutdown.
  2. Columbus Day not being a legitimate national holiday.

The shutdown was of course more important to me. Thankfully the situation is, at least temporarily, resolved. I spent most of the shutdown time wondering why our elected officials think their opinions are worth more than ours and why it’s okay for them not to balance a budget when we have to. Mostly I wondered whether we’re going to reelect these same people to office again just because we recognize their names on the ballots. There’s nothing I can do about it now, though, so I’ll focus on the other issue.

The one dealing with my nationality.

So many people say we shouldn’t hyphenate. We should be Americans and leave it at that. I know I just gave my opinion on the subject, but as it’s still (for a few days) National Italian American Heritage Month, I want to talk about it again.

I recently read a fantastic news article in The Washington Times about Columbus Day and nationalities. While I can’t reprint it here for copyright reasons, I encourage you to read it (Dust-up over Redskins name a good time to examine Columbus Day). In it, I learned that Columbus Day wasn’t originally celebrated as a whites-triumphing-over-natives holiday, but rather, it celebrated people who weren’t considered white at all in a country that was, at the time, predominantly white.

You see, Italians were considered non-white, or dark-skinned, and in fact still are to some people. I have been called a dago, been treated differently than my fair-haired husband (who is of Italian descent) and children, and heard horror stories from when my family came to America. Of course I hyphenate. I’m proud of how far we’ve come. And I look forward to where we’re going.

There’s nothing wrong with hyphens and slashes. There’s a reason they exist. It’s to make communication easier. My kids are athletes and they are quite smart. They’re scholar-athletes. I write but I also take care of my home. I’m a writer/homemaker. (If I’m ever a NYTBSA, I’ll hire a housekeeper and happily drop that slash.) In my family, I’m a wife/mother. And I love that slash. Wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world. And yes, I’m Italian-American. I live in America. I live by and honor this country’s values and freedoms (even when our elected officials are making a mess of things). But it’s my Italian heritage that makes me who I am. That hyphen makes me me.

So embrace the hyphens and slashes. They define us in ways nothing else can.

How do you define yourself? What are your hyphens and slashes?

Four Ways a Family Game Can Help Improve Your Writing

Quite often I talk about family traditions in my blog. One that I don’t believe I covered yet is bocce.

bocce playing

By Immanuel Giel (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The word “bocce” is a pluralized form of the Italian word “boccia” which means “bowl,” so it’s probably not surprising that, in the United States, bocce is often referred to as lawn bowling. That makes me chuckle because (1) while there is ball rolling, there are no pins to knock down, and (2) most non-Italians who know about the game play it on the beach, not their yard.

Bocce is played with eight heavy balls (bocce) around the size of a softball and one smaller ball (jack) called the pallino which is about the size of a golf ball. It can be played one-on-one, or in teams of two, three, or four.

bocce

Roberta F. [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

To begin, someone rolls the pallino down the court (or beach, or lawn). Then that person bowls first, or rolls their bocce ball, trying to come as close to the pallino as possible. Then the person from the opposite team does the same. Whichever team is further from the pallino has to continue playing. Players have the option of trying to get their ball in closer than their opponent or trying to knock the pallino and the opponent ball away from each other (and hopefully get the pallino closer to one of their own bocce balls). After all the balls have been rolled down the court, one point is awarded for each ball closer to the pallino than the opponent’s closest ball within range. Scoring is pretty similar to horseshoes, but there are no “ringer” points; whether touching the pallino or near it, one point is awarded. Then the whole process starts again until one team has accrued a set number of points. In regular rules, the game goes to twelve, fifteen or twenty-one points, but you can determine what number you want to play to.

In our hometown (Vandergrift, Pennsylvania), the local Sons of Italy club had bocce courts on their property for years. The men would gather and play. For a while, leagues were formed, but that gave way to just friendly pick-ups. It was a chance for the men to get together and play a game from their heritage while enjoying the company of their friends. When we moved to Ohio, we joined the Sons of Italy there, and they had leagues that included women. We moved away before we got to participate, however, but the game was quite popular there. When we lived in Michigan, there was actually a restaurant with many indoor courts. They catered to league play, but when the leagues weren’t competing, anyone could take a court and play a game or two. We were happy to see that when we moved there; it was a way our family (our kids were little then) could all get together and do something fun.

My husband’s family takes bocce pretty seriously. My father-in-law travels with his own set of bocce balls, he wipes them clean between each toss, and he keeps a tape measure with his kit in case there is a discrepancy among players as to whose ball is closer. My husband loves the game so much, he built a court in our backyard. My kids also loved the game until they had to shovel tons of rock and gravel to complete our court. You would think they’d like to enjoy the fruits of their labors, but they only play if friends or grandparents visit. (They all get pretty competitive. I like a slightly more relaxed game.)

So why am I babbling on about bocce? Well, for three reasons.

One—no one who comes to my house knows what the court is for or what the game is, so I thought I’d offer an explanation to those of you who don’t know.

Two—it’s just another opportunity to share Italian traditions with you, so you understand more about me.

Three—there’s a lot that can be learned from the game, personally and professionally.

bocce

Image via morguefile.com; by Jusben

Personally, bocce (and any sport or game) teaches patience, hand-eye coordination, and hopefully good sportsmanship. It’s an easy enough game that young children can play (keeping them involved with family instead of alone playing their own games), intricate enough that adults can get competitive, and gentle enough that even the elderly or infirm can participate. It truly is an all-inclusive game, and if we had more activities like these, our physical and emotional health could only improve. It’s a lot better than four people in four different rooms of the house watching television or playing video games.

Professionally there are lessons to be learned, too. I’m a writer, and I’ve learned a lot that I can apply to my craft from analyzing the game.

One—practice makes perfect. Just like the first ball you roll won’t be nearly as good as one you roll after one hundred games, the first draft of something you write won’t be nearly as good as something you’ve revised. Also, the first book you write won’t go nearly as smoothly as the tenth book you write. They say you need 10,000 hours to master a task; get writing! You can fake a lot until you make it, but you can’t fake experience.

Two—sometimes you have to change strategy. In bocce, you can roll until your wrists are sore, but if a ball is blocking you, you need to shoot it out of the way. In writing, sometimes even carefully crafted plots for some reason don’t work. When that happens, the best course of action is to abandon the plan and try to take things in a different direction. Listen to what your characters are telling you. They know best what they need to do, and if they aren’t following your plan, there’s probably something better for them to do.

Three—don’t get cocky. In bocce, just because the score is 10-2 doesn’t mean you have the game in the bag. Three good turns by the other team could have them in the lead. In writing, you can’t take anything for granted. You might have a solid story and a rock-star agent, but that doesn’t mean anything. Even once you get the contract and the advance, your work isn’t over. There’s marketing to do, and you have to keep producing or the ride is over.

Four—in bocce, whether winning or losing, be a good sport. You don’t want to be the person no one wants to play with because of your attitude. In the publishing industry, always be gracious, even to someone giving you a bad critique; you don’t know who your words will reach, and you never want to have a bad reputation.

So, bocce is a fun Italian game the whole family can enjoy. The next time you see people rolling colored balls down a beach or in their yard, you’ll know what they’re doing. Take the time to watch and learn, maybe even join in. You’ll have a blast. And don’t forget to take some lessons away from the game.

What games did your family play growing up? Did you learn anything from them? Why don’t you share in the comments?

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