The Mark Blog

Striving For Resonance


Photo: "Tidal Resonance Chamber" by Robert Horner.

The Friday of the Project Defense I continually ruminated on the upcoming event. Throughout the day I kept on reminding myself to return to the moment at hand.

I didn’t need to worry. Antoine, Rob, Libby, and Reid all made me feel welcome. There were even chocolate chunk cookies and coffee! Two days earlier, I had emailed the committee the entire 224-page manuscript of Leaf Boats, my linked short story collection. Within minutes into the Defense it was obvious that everyone in the room had read the full manuscript. Sitting around a table with seasoned writers who have read all of the stories in Leaf Boats is an experience I have never had before. The hour was filled with insightful feedback and questions, pushing me to reflect on my choices while working on this project.

For example, Antoine inquired about my outline. Why did I put the stories in chronological order? I admitted it was a starting point. I didn’t know how to go about orchestrating the pieces into a larger structure, so my brain fell back on the order of time. He pointed out the importance of story placement. Each story needs to be in the right spot, adding to the connective tissue of the characters. If the strongest pieces concerning a central character are carefully placed in the beginning, middle, and end, it can create a resonance chamber of sorts.

Resonance chamber. The idea stuck with me. I like this idea of a resonance chamber. After all, as writers, don’t we strive for our stories to resonate with readers?

I learned much at the Defense, and this was just a one hour meeting. Another example:

Libby pointed out a line from the first story: “…he lacked all ability to accept, let alone embrace, imperfections.” Then a stream of questions spilled forth: Where in the manuscript does this character struggle with acceptance? Rob brought up that people who do not accept imperfection are hard on themselves and family members. Where do we see scenes showing this? Good questions— strong questions that are challenging me to gain clarity.

I remembered something I had forgotten in this instance: if a writer throws out a big idea it needs to evolve throughout the text. Not long ago, I read something Natalie Goldberg wrote in Wild Mind, “You have to earn the right to make an abstract statement. You earn this right by using concrete bricks of detail.” Antoine likened this notion to having scenes that show the character’s flaws on display like guns on the mantle.

All of their comments were clicking; my mind was in overdrive. Before I knew it the hour was up, my cookie and coffee digested, and I left the PEN offices with tons of reflections and questions to ponder, filled with gratitude and excitement for the work to come. Shaking my head, I recalled my nervousness from earlier. Sure enough, the experience proved to be a positive one; another example of the moment always taking care of itself.