Thoughts on Key West Literary Seminar

Better late than never, but here goes: KWLS rocked again this year. I was last there in 2008, so I had a sense of what to expect. This ain’t your run-of-the-mill conference: what with three major dinners, two cocktail parties, and a conch chowder lunch, all with open bar, passed around hors d’oeuvres and buffet-style meals–not to mention specialty cocktails at each event–the folks who run KWLS (yes, you, Miles) really know how to make us writers feel like celebrities.

Speaking of, there were lots of celebs there: Margaret Atwood, Michael Cunningham, Joyce Carol Oates, Jennifer Egan, Gary Shteyngart, William Gibson, Colson Whitehead, Douglas Coupland, along with some less famous but well-reviewed writers such as Charles Yu, Rivka Galchen, China Mieville, Dexter Palmer, Janna Levin, etc (I’ve forgotten more than a few.) The seminars were mostly thought-provoking and often quite funny, especially when Ms. Atwood was moderating or whenever Shteyngart was on stage, since he’s compulsively funny–it’s like a benign disease, he just can’t help himself. I learned a bit about Steampunk and also realized that I’m far more interested in science fiction writing than I thought, especially the speculative/literary kind which is all the rage right now.


I was put up at the William Skelton House, aka, Real World Key West, since there were nine of us there and we certainly found out what happens when people start getting real, as in real drunk and/or high and/or both (Although, to quote Shteyngart in Super Sad True Love Story, I deny the existence of this last statement and imply consent to its denial by all involved) The house had three distinct entrances, and Ted and I were in the cottage facing the pool, where most nights several of us sat around talking about books and people and sex and politics and fake mustaches:










My workshop instructor was the always enthusiastic, super supportive and just generally nice novelist Mary Morris, about whom I had heard nothing but kind words before the conference. She exceeded my high expectations. The workshop consisted of eight lovely ladies and Brad and me, and I think Mary did an excellent job pushing us to make our pieces better but making everyone feel like their stories were worthwhile and were heading somewhere.

The incomparable Linda Sands who I met at the Southampton Writers Conference in 2008 was in my class. Linda is working on thirty seven projects at once and accomplishes in one morning what I fail to accomplish in a week. She also drinks everyone under the table, in the best possible way. Linda is the type to stir things up, and this year that involved getting Michael Cunningham to get jiggy with us at Vergilio’s

There are too many other highlights to mention, so instead I’ll just post a few pics and say that Key West embraces its silliness in a way few places do, which is probably why so many writers decide to hang out and/or live there. Shout-outs and thanks to all my new conference friends including but not limited to: Spencer, Ted, Vanessa, Diana, Jaquira, Sabra, Brad, Emily, Lane, Linda M., Catriona, Lane, Wanda, Miriam, Ray, Jane, etc.

Good times!