The Mark Blog


Sunday I got to the PEN offices over an hour ahead of time. Anticipating traffic and road closures due to the marathon, I thought I would need more time. I grabbed my notebook and walked down to the Coffee Bean. The extra chunk of time allowed me to sit with a story.

By the time I arrived at the Mid-Project Review, I felt relaxed. Unlike the Defense, this meeting felt a lot more laid-back. Don’t get me wrong: it was not a love fest. As Marissa pointed out earlier this week, more growth happens with criticism than with praise.

Antoine Wilson, Rob Roberge, and Libby Flores provided great feedback. They asked excellent, probing questions about specific stories and the collection as a whole. One of the amazing parts of having a team read the entire manuscript is that they’re able to see how stories connect, and point out weaknesses. Questions of theme were brought up, which is one aspect I need to develop. These questions will keep me focused.

Story-specific tips were given as well. For example, Libby brought up the fact that in one story a couple of scenes are set in a restaurant but there isn’t any description of the place. After all, the reader needs to see, hear, and smell an eatery. That’s a great setting opportunity that I was completely passing by. Between now and the end of the program I have a lot to work on and a lot to work out.

What I keep coming back to is something both Antoine and Rob stated a couple of times: trust. This was brought up in relation to the endings of most of my stories. When it comes to endings I tend to be a bit too didactic, hammering home a message. They told me that I need to allow the story to trust itself, and trust moments in the story to be mysterious. Trust the reader to do some of the work as well—everything doesn’t need to be explained. Give the reader space to feel. Give the reader space and trust that the images and details will do their jobs.

As Rob said, “You can’t tell the reader what to FEEL. It’s not that the reader can’t be told what something MEANS. It’s that they can’t be told what to FEEL. That is something THEY supply, based on the use of image and detail that the writer supplies.”