Here is the copy and paste of my report on the Key West Mystery Writers Fest. I don’t know the legalities of linking to the pdf nor do I have a few hours to learn how to abstract my page and half from the pdf as a link all on its own . . . so this is what you get. Be supple like the willow and deal with it.
This report appears on pages 27 & 28 of the July 2014 First Draft, a Sisters in Crime / Guppies e-letter.
Writing Magic in Key West by R.V. Reyes
If you have only been to Key West by cruise boat, you have missed what Key West is about. It is about the 170-mile drive from Miami’s rat race to the furthest outpost of continental governance, by way of a two-lane road through gray-green scrub brush and mangrove. As you skip from island to island via long bridges over blue waters dotted by sailboats and fishing skiffs, you let go of society’s expectation and encumbrances. As each mile clicks by, you shed off a little obligation. By the time you reach Mile Marker Zero, you have forgotten about all things mundane. Key West is magic because of its end-of-the-line status.
This is the state of mind I found my-self in on day one of the inaugural Mystery Writers Key West Fest (MWKWF), held June 13-14. The conference’s opening ceremonies, complete with mayoral declaration, began at 5 p.m. in a bar off Duval Street. Don Burns, novelist and Renaissance man, set the tone with his Murder and Mayhem band’s rock and blues. Heather Graham, a New York Times best seller with over 150 titles, joined the stage, giving the crowd a stirring rendition of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah. The evening only got better from there. Pilar rum (after Papa Hemingway’s boat of the same name), sponsored a bar stroll to three other bars and an adult fun shop. The adult fun shop costumes many of Fantasy Fest’s patrons with wigs, whips, feathers, and other accoutrements.
Author Heather Graham having a laugh with the wigs at the 3rd stop of the bar stroll.
Fantasy Fest is only part of the reason Police Capt. Scott Smith has to have a sense of humor. His charm and goodwill shined in the best and most plot-inspiring session of day two, “Crime in the Florida Keys.” A panel of five law enforcement agents and a crime reporter regaled us with zany, only-in-the-Keys tales. Truth is stranger than fiction, at least in the Keys. If you need a crime for your next story, check out crime reporter Terry Schmida; he has complied some of the most outlandish ones into several books.
Day two of MWKWF was a full day of five 1½-hour sessions, be-ginning with the Women of Mystery panel. Sandra Balzo, Nancy J. Cohen, Miriam Auerbach, Carla Norton, and Heather Graham graciously answered questions and offered words of encouragement. Did you know Sandra Balzo’s first manuscript took six years to find a publisher? Nancy Cohen began her career writing romance, which is heavy on character and emotion. She says the hook that keeps the reader returning is the relationship and evolution of the main character. If you write cozies, you should check out her book, Writing the Cozy Mystery. “As writers, the best thing is to talk to one another,” Heather Graham said. The beauty of a small conference like MWKWF is that participants were able to talk and socialize with more than 20 published writers in attendance.
Another craft-oriented session was “Importance of Getting Locale Right.” Michael Haskins, author of the Mad Mick Murphy series and co-founder of MWKWF, stressed the importance of naming real places. “Name the bar, make sure it is on the right street. Your readers will know!” he said. Someone else pointed out, “If you do not know the place intimately, then make up a town and its place names.”
At lunch, William Butterworth IV, half of the W.E.B. Griffin father-and-son writing team, spoke. His answer to the age-old question about writer’s block was: “Sit down until you get enough done for the day.” And when interruptions kill your writing, as they always do, he practices the three-day process. On Day 1, you sit down and get at least one good line written; Day 2, it’s one paragraph. By Day 3, you are rolling.
After-lunch sessions were on “Writing the Series,” “ePublishing,” and “Crime in the Keys.” Jeremiah Healy, creator of the John Francis Cuddy P.I. series, gave us this excellent advice, “Give your character at least one quality that is similar to your own back-ground. It grounds them in reality and helps you by not having to research it.” Neil Plakcy, writer of The Mahu Investigations series, talked about changes in the publishing world’s gatekeepers. While it used to be that agents and editors deter-mined what was good and deserving of publishing, now readers on Goodreads and LibraryThing are the tastemakers.
The closing session, “Crime in the Keys,” was a perfect end to the day of panels. Stories of “go-fast” boats smuggling people and drugs, the catnapping of an eight-toed feline, and Fantasy Fest’s sex in the streets had everyone in the ballroom laughing. A bar-side book signing and a trip to see a noir film closed out the fest.
Key West has always called to writers—Shel Silverstien, Judy Blume, Tennessee Williams, Ernest Hemingway, Alison Luire, and Tom McGuane, to name a few. More than its pirate history, defiance of hurricanes, and debauchery, Key West has magic. It is there when the wild roaming roosters crow. It is there when the bagpiper plays at sunset. It is there on the quiet side streets painted fuchsia and orange by the bougainvillea and flamboyant trees. Key West is home to writers because the magic begs to be captured on the page.
Raquel (R.V.) Reyes is a poet turned cozy writer living in Miami. Her stories have a Latina protagnist with a multicultural backdrop. While her cozy makes the editor and agent rounds, she is working on short stories. Follow her on Twitter at @writerRVR and at her blog Cozy in Miami.