I just returned from a workshop in Key West led by Margaret Atwood, the focus of which was story openings. The intimate size (12 participants) combined with the setting (the back patio of Ms. Atwood’s vacation house) created a cozy atmosphere and helped ease our first-day jitters about being read and critiqued by a rock star of the literary world.

The workshop was part of the Key West Literary Society’s “In Other Worlds” 2012 seminar. The criteria for admission were two-fold:  1) our stories must set on Earth in the near future, and 2) Ms. Atwood must accept us based on a writing sample.

My novel-in-progress (“Underneath Us”) opens in the ruins of Las Vegas in 2069, so I was excited to learn of this opportunity, and—subsequently—of my acceptance into the workshop.

The first morning we gathered quietly around the poolside table, awaiting the start of the workshop and making chit-chat, unsure what to expect. When Ms. Atwood joined us, she offered a brief “good morning,” then laid five white cards on the table with “STOP TALKING” printed on them. These were for us to use, she explained, if we felt anyone was becoming long-winded. We chuckled and, after brief introductions, embarked on the business of workshopping.

As it turned out, we had a great group and no one tried to dominate the discussions, so the white cards disappeared after that first morning. The workshop was comprised of readings, group commentary, line-editing, and examining the internal consistency of our world-building. Ms. Atwood also recounted many summaries of books and movies that might be relevant to our stories (including “The Head That Wouldn’t Die” and “The Creeping Eye”).

My turn came on the last day, by which time we’d grown comfortable as a group—and I’d observed the grace and kindness with which Ms. Atwood offered her criticisms of our work—so I wasn’t feeling too nervous. I received useful feedback and line-edits, as well as a wonderful compliment when Ms. Atwood said, “You know how to open a story.”  [*Insert happy dance here.*]

As souvenirs of my experience, I returned home with an autographed copy of my marked-up manuscript, a “STOP TALKING” card, and—most importantly—new friendships with people who care about books and writing as much as I do.

Thank you, Ms. Atwood, for having us.

(Gratitude and credit for the fabulous photos to Cat Sparks. )





  1. catsparx

    What a blast!

  2. Beth Corets

    Wow! I’m so jealous. What an amazing opportunity. I TOLD you that themes in your early draft reminded me of Margaret Atwood…. Xo

  3. Louise Marley

    I’m so envious! It sounds fantastic. Good for you for seizing this terrific opportunity, and I hope to hear more in detail in March.

  4. Alana Garrigues

    Alex, it sounds wonderful! Congratulations on the chance to attend such a fabulous workshop. Huge hugs from Redondo, Alana

  5. Mandy

    This would have been an amazing experience and I can’t wait to read your book when it eventually comes out.

  6. Harry Steinman

    If the workshop were as peaceful as your post then it must have been a bit like heaven. I’m in FL for January to work with my editor on the final revision of LIttle Deadly Things. Found that a visit to the Dali Museum–image and metaphor galore–was most beneficial.

  7. Sabra Wineteer

    It was fun and enlightening and helpful! So pleased to meet you and get a taste of your novel! Happy writing and editing, Alex!

    • Alex

      It was a pleasure to meet you too, Sabra. I look forward to reading your novel when it’s finished.

  8. Alva Moore

    Love the visuals here onsite- ride that wire, now, Alex! I look forward to reading the book we workshopped very soon- best, Alva

  9. Perry de Marco Jr.

    What a beautiful experience! I’m so happy for you and can’t wait to read the book!

  10. Vanessa Blakeslee

    Terrific recap, Alex! Such a pleasure to meet you and get to know your work. Love the premise of post-apocalyptic Vegas and look forward to reading more!

    • Alex

      Thanks, Vanessa! I look forward to staying in touch and reading your story when it’s finished.

  11. Candice


    I tried leaving a message on the contact page, but it wasn’t allowing me to submit it for some reason.

    I am wondering how I can get a copy of your book Sasha 124.

    I have been awaiting its arrival for 5 years.

    I read your beginning pages back when my sister, Lauren Davies used to be your nanny.

    She told me she had asked you if it was alright for me to read your early workings and then brought the first chapters over for me to check out.

    I was hooked. I knew this would be a book I would like.

    I actually had forgotten about it until the other day, something jogged my memory of the tid-bit I had read.

    I went on a quest to search for this book; to see if it had ever been completed? Published? Accessible for purchase?? I couldn’t quite remember the name of the book, but I remembered your name being Alex Tillson. That is where I began my search.

    Alas! I have found this site and I am glad to see you have finished the book.

    Please direct me to where I can purchase your (long awaited) Sasha 124.
    Thank you.

    -Candice Lovett

    P.S. I can’t believe your boy is 8 now?!!

    • Alex

      Candice –

      Thanks so much for reaching out! I will contact you directly at your email address to get you a copy of the book and find out how Lauren is doing.

      Best wishes, Alex


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