Manuscript Discussion in Workshop

I. We begin by reading manuscript quietly to ourselves.

II. The manuscript is read aloud – twice. We hear it first in the voice of a reader other than the writer, then we hear the words in the voice of the writer.  Listen to both readers carefully -- note where a reader hesitates, falters, or stumbles.

III. There are three (3) rounds of response and commentary. During first two (2) rounds, the writer does not participate. The writer listens, takes notes, etc.

Round I: We follow wVw practice and respond by telling the writer:
•    what is strong,
•    what moved you,
•    what pulled you into the text and kept you there, etc.

Be careful not to include responses, in this round, that begin with or include:
•    I would like to know more
•    I am curious about
•    I question
•    This reminds me of (either personal stories or references to other writers/writing).

Round II: Now is the time to make inquiries of the writing (see above). This is your time to let writer know:
•    what did not work for you as a reader,
•    what you pushed you out of the text,
•    what left you wanting more and
•    questions about consistency, characters and their motivation, suspense/anticipation, imagery/metaphor, paragraphs/stanzas, sentence structure/line breaks, etc.

Round III: Full group discussion – The writer joins discussion. Writer responds to what has been said about manuscript – answers questions, elaborates on text, or raises questions that may not have been addressed.

IV. Return manuscripts - All manuscripts with notes, comments and signature of reader are returned to the writer.
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Manuscript Discussion: Reading & Responding

Guidelines: Responding to Manuscripts

The most valuable and effective response we can give to early draft writing (writing in the process of becoming a publishable manuscript) is to be an attentive and sensitive reader. At this stage in the writing process, the writer needs to know and understand how the text affects a reader.

First, read as a reader  
A good reader is someone who enters the text fully, emotionally, intellectually and with great sympathy for anyone who has the courage to put words on paper.  Good readers notice and record their experience of reading a text without judgment or trying to fix it. When a writers are given a reader’s in-depth experience of a text, then a writer can take that knowledge and use it, or not, as the writer chooses.

Our role is not to be a critic or an editor. A critic is an evaluator and judge whose role is to place value on texts, to serve as a guide to readers. Nor are we editors whose role is to correct, improve or fix a text.  We give the gift of being the very best readers of one another’s writing as we can possibly be.

Read without a pen or pencil in hand. Read the complete manuscript (or as much as workshop members have committed to reading) before making any written responses or notations in the margins.

Note Your Reading Experience
Note the strengths of the manuscript and those places in the text (manuscript) where as reader you are moved, surprised, excited, saddened, laughed, etc. Point to language, images, actions, etc that stay with you after reading the text (manuscript).

Also note of the following:

•    how the writing moves you, makes you feel, think or experience the world
•    where you are drawn in, step into the piece, live in its world
•    where you are pushed out of the text and do not stay with its action, characters, etc
•    where you have questions or need more information
•    the authenticity and honesty of voice and language, especially in use of dialogue
•    identification with characters, situations, ideas, etc (be careful to use “I” statements)
•    imagery, metaphor if it is present, it need not be
•    music of the language: alliteration, assonance, rhyme, meter, etc
•    if poetry: impact of appearance of poem on page, line breaks, etc

Help the writer to re-see the text (manuscript). Make suggestions to the writer that would strengthen your reading experience of the text (manuscript).

This is not an editorial reading. Only note grammar or mechanical issues where they interfere with your ability to understand or appreciate the text (manuscript), where you are pushed out, or your reading of the text (manuscript) is disrupted. If you observe a pattern of grammar or mechanical issues, point to 1 or 2 examples, then in your summary describe the pattern you observe. Leave it to the writer to do edits.

Summarize your reading experience. Keep summary brief, 3-5 statements.

Finally, sign your name to your comments. Bring manuscript to workshop and return to writer once in-workshop discussion is completed.
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The Booth in the Back

The booth in the back is my comfort-

Its worn red seat with the fraying electrical tape catches my clothing in a familiar way

I squint and ponder “today’s specials” on the wall in front of me, as I feel the eyes of those behind me do the same

Should I pretend today?

I cast a serious face towards my cellphone, willing it to announce an email, a text. The phone screams silence.

Perhaps I’ll open my notebook and take out that sterling pen I’ve kept for all these years, my initials worn from use. Maybe words will come, flow, like these tears I feel behind my eyes. Maybe I’ll seep words instead. Maybe.

A waitress approaches. She’s perky, and pretty, and filled with purpose.

“Tea, please. Black. With lemon.”

She doesn’t know me.

I study today’s specials. Clam chowder and beef barley soups. The fisherman’s children most likely dug and gathered them before school this morning.

Tuesday pot roast. All you can eat. My mind wanders to a warm kitchen filled with the odor of roasting onions and beef. Intoxicating smells. I unconsciously lick my lips. Banana cream and blueberry pies. The fisherman’s children would have picked those blueberries, too.

Early bird special: chipped beef on toasted rye.

My tea sits un-sipped.

Yes. I think I’ll pretend that today I am a famous author of the mystery genre. Or perhaps of a fantasy.

I’ll pretend today. Yes. I’ll pretend.


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Oh Miles, you stand before us, your grey jacket open
revealing the black skin of your bare chest
shimmering in stage light.
Your pink trumpet you hold at your side
fingernail tint matching your horn.
You wander slowly around the small HALF NOTE stage
looking for, feeling for, just the right place
where the beautiful riff lives.
You close your eyes, your right foot barely tapping
You look at your brothers behind you
your back to us.
You nod at the bass player’s solo
Your foot keeps time with the piano
You lift your horn, look once at us, then off you go
 to…oh, we don’t know the way
We can go only where you take us—
Where only you can go –
To a moment so beautiful it hurts
To a pain so deep there is no bottom
To a question: where is love
To a plea: come with me to my loneliness
To a hope: know me
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Conversations with Stella Jane

In Pittsburgh, I ride down Ohio River Boulevard in the back seat of my aunt's car, trying to ignore the chatter of Stella Jane and Anna. "Aren't the factories beautiful?" exclaims my grandmother as orange black gray smoke belches out of the steel mill stacks and disperses against a cobalt sky.

Anna turns right on their favorite country road, driving slowly past elegant Victorian mansions in elite Sewickley, gabled houses in pastel paints, so big they could be boarding schools.  "Look at the property!" says Stella Jane."If you got hard up for money while you were living there, you could save yourself by selling half the lot."

"Norman should buy a house," Anna declares. "It's such a good investment. He could do it if he managed his money well."

"It wouldn't be so bad having him home again if he didn't bring that girl's clothes with him. They're everywhere. Under the his bed. In the cellar. They'll have moths. Moths in my house, in our things!" Stella Jane complains. "What's he doing with her?"

Anna and Stella Jane discuss the new/old morality. "It's better for guys," Anna observes. "They find some girl to keep house for them and wait on them like their mothers used to, and then kick the girl out whenever they want."
"Some women aren't playing that game," I venture. "Good for them," says Anna.

My grandmother tells me I'll be playing around with my life in New York when I'm 40, just like I am now.

—November, 1978

Stella Jane:  When are you going to marry, Susan? Settle down, get yourself a good man.  Then you could buy a house and we could give you some of the things around here to make it purty!

Susan: There aren't any good men. And marriage is an institution of slavery.

Stella Jane:  Not if you find the right man.

Susan: Like you did?

Stella Jane:  Well, now, Frank was just….

Anna:  You'll be too old to marry soon. (She married at age 39).

Susan:  Don't worry about it.

Anna:  She's too selfish to marry, Mom.

Susan:  Actually, I might marry in about five years. There's just one person I'd marry, and that's Victor. You know who he is, don't you? Remember?

Anna:  Ha! That's not going to be so good for you.

Susan: Oh, I don't know. Victor wants to marry me. We love each other very much. It's just not...well, it's not…

Anna: Physical.

Susan (pleased): Yeah, that's it. You got it.

Stella Jane:  Who's Victor?

Anna:  You know, mom. He's the one that likes boys. He's the one she moved to New York with.

Stella Jane:  Now what would she want to go marrying him for?

Anna: Who knows? She'll marry him and then he'll go off to see his boyfriends and Susie'll go to….(pause)...well, I don't know what Susie'll do.

Neither did I.

—February, 1980

A phone call from Stella Jane.

"I might get to New York yet. Have to go see my friend Miss Lillie. She's just the nicest person. Sent me a fruitcake for Christmas. You tasted it, didn't you? We sent her some small things. Some nice hankies Anna had, a change purse and something else—Anna, what was it?—Oh yes, a pretty pink necklace. She didn't write to tell me she got it. I don't know, maybe she thought it was junk.  Course I don't write myself. Can't spell the words. I got so I forget nearly everything these days. Have to leave blanks for the words I can't spell, and I almost have nothing wrote on the paper at all."

—February 1981

Yesterday, Anna, Stella Jane & I drove through the South Hills all the way to Library, PA, where I lived until I was 12, when we moved to Mt. Lebanon. The pharmacy was in the same place. Peter's Creek Baptist Church had grown into a complex, with a red, white and blue neon signboard on the corner, fitted with flashing arrows chasing the faithful to the church door. St. Joan of Arc Catholic School was still drilling the fear of the Lord into its politely petrified pupils; a notice on the front lawn announced registration for new students next Tuesday. No point in checking out the library, as the town never bothered to build one.

The Company Store for coal miners, a low yellow brick windowless building, situated itself in the middle of the empty parking lot like the remains of a meal on a dinner plate. The streetcar clacked through the center of the sleepy town, churning over the underpass just as we rumbled under it on our way up the hill to the old neighborhood.

Dormers have been added to most of the simple one-story Cape Cod-style wooden A-frames, including the house of my childhood, 164 Pleasant Street, which wasn't very.  A great number of houses were up for sale.

"I'm so tired," said Stella Jane. "My leg hurts. My eye hurts. I have heart problems. It never stops. I might as well die and get it over with."

"Oh, Mom, don't be ridiculous," said Anna. "You can still rest and watch television and I take you to Kaufmann's or Denny's for lunch."

Later, I said to Anna, "So grandma seems to be forgetting more than she was the last time I was home."

"Oh yes. Sometimes we'll get in the car to go to Lizzie's. We'll be driving along and she'll ask where we're going three or four times. Her circulation's not good.

Not enough oxygen to the brain. She'll sit and cry that she can't remember like she used to, but I tell her it's not important. I never could remember anything much. What's to remember except to get up, to eat, to sleep, and maybe the way home. If you can't remember that, you just stay home."

My aunt can't remember to feel and my grandmother can't remember to live. You have to lower your expectations.

—August, 1982

I visit Pittsburgh after a seven-month absence. Stella Jane is looking her 86 years. She tires easily and has lost her strength. Her eyes have recessed further into her head, her skin is mottled, and I cannot see any eyelashes. She still looks round, standing at 4'10" and weighing 135, but she doesn't fill her skin. She wears her flesh a couple of sizes too big.

We are driving to the shopping center, as usual, my aunt at the wheel, my grandmother beside her, and I moodily watching the summer sun dust the air out of the back seat window. My grandmother suddenly starts crying, softly.

"Anna," she says. "Who is that in the back seat?"

"That's Susie, Mom," said Anna. "Your granddaughter. Frances' child." It was the gentlest I'd ever heard my Aunt sound.

Yes, Stella Jane, daughter of your daughter, the dead one, the good one, the one who went to heaven because we willed it, she willed it, Mary Frances, my mother, who neither of us can remember because I have been alive again as long as I knew her, because you have been alive long enough for death to become so familiar it loses its bite, and your dead are just misplaced like last year's Christmas presents or the quilt you swear you stored in that specific attic storage bag, or the jar of peach preserves you missed when you went to the cellar to count your stock of put-up foods one winter morning.

—June, 1983

A telephone call.

"Hi, grandma, how are you?"

"Fit as a fiddle and ready for love."

"Still hanging in there, huh?" Did I say that?

"The Lord don't want me and the devil ain't ready for me."

"I must say I agree with their decisions."

"I don't have much to talk about. My mind can't hold anything. Watch yourself in New York. I been thinking of coming there to visit. Oh, I got another friend there, in Yonkers. That's Miss Lillie. But I guess I aint gonna get there anytime soon. You behave and don't do anything I wouldn't do."

"You bet."

—December, 1983

My dearest grandmother weakens but is still up and about and she and my aunt go driving through country roads past the isolated estates of the Pittsburgh elite at 30 miles per hour, towards shopping malls where they lunch in department store resturaunts without leaving tips. Sometimes Stella Jane steals the silverware, wrapping it in her napkin and slipping it in her beige leather purse, where my aunt discovers it later. Anna buys me underwear and feeds my grandmother too many pills and in between my grandmother's words gapes at the chasm of her approaching death. What will she do without her mother, her constant companion, her fellow traveler, her argument with herself?

—August 1984
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