Paula Whyman, a prolific short story writer, first came to Key West for this year’s Literary Seminar.
“When I came here, I didn’t know about The Studios of Key West or its programs,” Whyman said from the kitchen of her residency’s bungalow. “Friends had told me about the island and were always talking about the artistic community.”
After a week in Key West at the workshop and seminar, she’d heard and seen enough to know she wanted to spend more time on the island, so she applied for The Studios’ residency program, was accepted, and in October, she moved in.
While in residency, Whyman is polishing her current project, a collection of short stories that span the narrator’s maturation from age 15 to 60.
“I wanted the book to be about people, not politics, about change in people’s lives,” she said. “The book begins in 1980 and ends in 2025.”
It’s not science fiction, she said, it’s realism.
“The narrator is interpreting her world by making up stories about the people around her,” Whyman said and smiled. “I do that, too. I see people and make up stories about them, their lives and what they’re doing at that moment of their life or something from their past.
“I don’t know how Key West will affect my writing,” Whyman said, when asked about her local experiences. “I use things I have observed; they seem to find a way into my stories.”
She gave the example of the plane ride to Key West.
“I sat near a woman with a baby,” she recalled. “The woman had no wedding ring but had the baby’s pacifier on her ring finger. That interested me. Somewhere, in the future, that scene may end up in my story.”
Whyman said that she’s been curious all her life and that helps her find unusual and interesting situations.
“There’s very little I don’t want to know,” she writes on her website, “and what I can’t know for sure, I imagine. When I meet someone for the first time, or even when I see a stranger on the subway, I imagine what they were like in high school.”
Her curiosity lead her to the Green Parrot for another experience that may end up in one of her stories.
“I went to the Green Parrot one night,” she said. “It was ukulele night and I’ve played guitar, but never thought of the ukulele. Someone offered me a few quick lessons. The crowd draws you in and there I playing the ukulele. I don’t know if I would have found that anywhere but in Key West.”
Back home, Whyman belongs to a small critique group of writers. She said that helps with the stories that she writes out longhand before switching on the computer.
Whyman believes Key West is a great place for creative thinking.
“I want to come back,” she said. “I like the residency program, because of it I don’t feel like a tourist,” she said, then mentioned her TSKW-appointed community liaison Cara Cannella. “With Cara’s help I’ve gone places and met people that I couldn’t have done as a tourist. Next time I want to settle in a little more and let my curiosity wander.”
Key West holds a special place in Whyman’s life.
“I found my agent during the Literary Seminar’s workshops,” she said.
Whyman’s stories are scheduled to appear in The Virginia Quarterly Review and The Southampton Review. Her fiction has also been selected for the anthology “Writes of Passage: Coming of Age Stories and Memoirs from The Hudson Review.”
For more details, check out her website: www.paulawhyman.com.