One of the most annoying questions with which a writer taxes her friends is the eternal “Whadidjathink? Whatdidjathink? What part struck you? And why?”

For the poor, desperate, air-fed creator of the work, it is a question that helps her understand the unseen; a way to gauge the pace of a passage, the music of a phrase, the landing place of an idea, the effectiveness of a dramatic turn. As irksome and burdensome as friends must inevitably find those questions, they are as useful to the writer as the hearing of things that we didn’t like (those, thankfully, few so far.)

I’ve witnessed those gratifying reactions by phone and by email in the aftermath of a read-through so recent that it’s still warm in the reader’s mind. The closer the reaction comes to the actual reading, the better it is. And to be there…to see the reader’s face in real time? Oh my. Could anything be better?

There is something quite extraordinary about hearing the spontaneous reactions of friends as you read a passage aloud to them. The smiles, the murmured responses—sometimes to passages you never expected to resonate in quite the way they have done.  Still, a live read tends to invite reaction in the way an actor’s reading of a drama would; the voice instructs and directs the answering emotion. As spontaneous as those reactions are, they are, in a way, a falsehood.

And then there is a whole other level of reaction that I hadn’t understood or expected. At least, not until my trip to New York.

I sat across from Belinda one evening as she read the manuscript she’d had printed out at Kinko’s (all the better to read it like a book, as Mary had done.) I sat with my glass of Pernod in hand, wide of smile and observant of eye as I tried to guess where she was by the sounds she was making; in the flicker of an expression as a passage bloomed in her, in the eye that wandered back to study a passage again. Watched, too, for the narrowing of the eye that would signal a wrong step on the page, a confusion, a “catch.” Those I didn’t see.

Being honest with myself, I expect that those surreptitious-close watchings are probably every bit as annoying to the reader-friend as the questions are.  But what an extraordinary experience for a writer. Act first; ask forgiveness later.

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