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So Many Submissions!

Submissions are now closed for our new comedy collection and — WOW.

We had over eighty pieces (counting each poem separately), from forty writers, adding up to over 60,000 words! That’s incredible. Our previous collections only had 22,000-25,000 words submitted. Thanks to everyone who got the word out; we’re especially indebted to Jill Hartmann and Jennifer Innes for their tireless help.

And many thanks to all who shared their wonderful pieces with us!

What happens now?

For those who submitted, you will be contacted by the end of May to let you know if your piece has been accepted. We have a panel of experienced writers as our content editors and they are now busy reading through all 60,000 words (I think they ended up with more than they bargained for!). And we’ve already read some WONDERFUL pieces.

The editors will meet in May and hash out the layout, tone, and submissions to accept for this collection. We are striving for a coherent book, so know we may end up cutting pieces of good quality if they don’t fit in with the stated theme (funny) or with the other accepted submissions.

If your work’s accepted, you will be asked to write a short bio and return to us a formal agreement allowing us the right to publish your work in our collection (you’ll retain all rights to your piece). You will receive one free copy of the paperback book that you can pick up at an future AWA event. You’ll also be able to buy as many wholesale copies for your own use as you’d like.

For everyone else, our plan is to publish the paperback on Createspace in late summer/early fall, and to have a public reading of some of the selected pieces in Athens. Please make plans to attend our event to hear these wonderful works and to just come hang with your fellow AWA writers. And if you’d like to check out the collection on Amazon or in local stores and consider buying one, that would be awesome too!

More details will be posted on this website as the publication date nears.

How exciting! And what a massive response from the Athens community — we are touched, and excited to watch this project come together.

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Know Your Local Writer: Katherine Cerulean

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Welcome to the first in a series of interviews with Athens-area writers.  The hope is to inform you about new techniques you might want to try, increase your knowledge of the individuals in your community, inspire you on your path — or at least tickle your funny bone when you learn your AWA founder was a fan of both ‘SeaQuest DSV’ and shōjo manga.  I started with the easiest writer to corral (myself), but I’m super-excited to learn about a wide range of Athens writers.  Please contact me if you’re interested in answering our writing questionnaire and being featured here as a future ‘local writer’.  Now, I apologize for the length of this post (‘she’ was a talker!).

NOTE: Special thanks to AWA co-founder Jill Hartmann-Roberts for supplying us with these wonderful questions.

Q: At what point in your life did you become a writer and how you first know you wanted to be a writer?

A: I have been making up stories all my life and never really ‘grew up’ in that regard.  Stories with He-Man and My Little Ponies became running through the fields near our home pretending to be a wild horse surviving in a vast wilderness then became making up stories about humans (!) based on the TV shows ‘Sisters’, ‘Earth 2’, and ‘SeaQuest DSV’.

But I believe I became a writer at about age 16 when I started an unfinished novel inspired by ‘The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’.

As for how I knew I wanted to be a writer — I knew I never want to stop telling stories, never wanted to pack away my playmates, my inspirations, and my heroes and become a normal adult.  Stories to me bring out the best, most thoughtful, most beautiful parts of ourselves and our world.  I have always wanted to be a writer.  Or a horse trainer.  Something dealing with unruly mammals.

Q: What books have you read that shaped you as a writer?  Which authors’ work do you admire and why? 

A: That’s an all-day-to-answer question.  I’ll give a few examples.  My mother read ‘The Secret Garden’ to me as a child.  I loved other stories but there was a wonderful plot and sense of character progression to that book, as well as a feeling that magic exists hidden in the everyday and that we transform our lives for the better if we have the courage and dedication to seek it.

‘Misery’ by Stephen King was another important book that shaped my progression as a writer.  A fantastic book that I appreciated even more when I reread it years later.  It was plot AS character, character AS plot.  I loved how Paul and Annie’s conflict felt natural, evolutionary, and destined toward doom.  Annie is one of the clearest, most memorable characters I have ever read.

Lastly, ‘Maurice’ by E.M. Forster came quite along far into my education but pretty much blew the doors off everything.  Perfect love story.  Great character study.  Bold, accessible writing.  Fearlessness.  It comforted me by helping me believe my stories and viewpoints were not too small or simple to be meaningful.  And it challenged me to write outside my comfort zone and use every bit of my intelligence and love in each word and line.

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Other authors include —

  • Dennis Lehane for the absolute beauty and economy of his sentences
  • Nick Hornby for the most relatable, flawed human characters
  • Jane Austen for defining (and redefining) perfect love stories amid human fallibility
  • J.R.R. Tolkien for writing the perfect adventure and then upping the game by adding a spirituality that breaks my heart and encourages me forward
  • Natsuki Takaya for her take on humor, romance, courage and forgiveness. And for writing an incredible novel with over 20 main characters that just happens to also have in it drawings of hot boys (manga comic ‘Fruits Basket’)
  • F. Scott Fitzgerald for creating the perfect literary novel (my favorite kind of novel) and putting the words together in such a way that I’m in awe. Every.  Damn.  Time.

Q: Which piece that you have written are you most proud of and why?

A: My latest novel ‘Society & Civility’.  Honestly, I’ve become a better writer than I ever thought I’d be — and it’s only taken eighteen years!  ‘Society & Civility’ started out as a lark, my own take on the regency world of Jane Austen.  Through a LOT of hard work though, it became my most coherent piece — one filled with characters I love and scenes that speak to the challenges of being human — whatever your century or class.  And I’m not gonna lie — the love story gets me every time.  Actually, one line is my favorite and gives me hope as a writer for the future.  Our heroine to a suitor —‘Perhaps my happiness is a great mystery to you, Mr. Barnes, but I could give you a few pointers as to how to obtain it.’  So proud!

Q: Do you gravitate toward a particular genre (s) and/or format when you write?  Tell us more about which genres and/or formats are your “passion”?

A: Honestly, I gravitate toward good writing.  What I mean by this snotty-sounding answer is that I’m drawn to interesting setups with great characters but HOW the story is told, and how the lines are written, is really what draws me in when I’m reading — and writing.  You can call it literary fiction, though I recently learned about a new publishing term ‘upmarket’.  It’s kind of like adding literary to your favorite genre.  ‘Upmarket fantasy.’  Upmarket women’s fiction.’  Maybe that’s my ‘passion’.

My novel and screenwriting history goes mystery, fantasy, fantasy, love story, coming-of-age, love story, ghost story.  I am drawn to fantasy because I feel there is more to life than the obvious.  Also, I’m probably secretly a TV writer because I love characters, dialogue, and scenes SO MUCH.

Q: Have you studied writing and/or attended writing seminars, workshops or conferences?  Where and what did you learn from your classes/sessions and other writing teachers?  Did any of them stand out to you and why?

A: I’m pretty self-taught.  As someone home schooled, I didn’t have a lot of connection to the idea of advanced education — but I had a lot of passion to learn on my own.  The sum of my experiences in that realm is —

  • A two-day screenwriting class — I learned a LOT about format and plotting. As a youngin’ I gained a lot of confidence and I still use things I learned from Michael Hauge today — like that you should make your hero funny, great at what they do, or a good person.
  • Conferences — I went to about three of the Harriett Austin conferences in Athens. Great experience but one with diminishing returns.  I learned to be more outgoing, that agents and editors are real, normal human beings, and I learned more about the publishing industry.
  • A novel critique group — this is where the majority of my education took place. We were together only a few years but I wouldn’t be here without them.  Highly recommended, but you have to keep looking to find the right fit, and nowadays I’ve reached the point where I’m happier to experiment and grow without constant feedback.  But I learned so much from them.
  • Patrick LoBrutto — if you guys ever want to build a shrine to this man, I’ll be first in line to help. I took one day-long class he and Michael Seidman taught about character and at a conference I paid for a fifteen minute critique of my first novel.  Love, love, LOVE him.  He was the perfect mentor, a little challenging, encouraging (there was a scene he called quite good — still proud!), and mostly, he was super-enthused about storytelling and it was palatable and transferable.  I owe him a lot.

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Other than that, everything has come from books and articles.

Q: Have you had any formal writing jobs and/or published any of your work?  If so, tell us about your jobs and/or publications.

A: I’ve always been happy that, while learning my craft, I had a ‘day job’ that was the opposite of writing — lots of walking, up and about, physical (stocking/merchandising at a Best Buy).  That way I always came to writing fresh instead exhausted.  And it’s taken a while to achieve my goal of being able to write at a professional level.

I’ve just written a couple of pieces for BE.magizine, which is a good challenge.

I’ve self published two books —

  • ‘A Caged Heart Still Beats’ — a novel about a young estate owner imprisoned by his servant in 1800s England. I tried to entice agents by calling it ‘a love story about a man trapped in a cage.’  For some reason, they weren’t biting.
  • ‘How To Come Alive: A Guidebook to Living Your Dreams’ — a self improvement book based on my 35+ years of living and constantly seeking to improve myself.

Q: What is unique about your writing process?  What works for you, and what doesn’t work? 

A: I don’t know if it’s unique, but my process is (in general) to think about a story idea for a looooong time before I actually start writing.  I find the more pre-work I do — ‘hearing’ conversations between characters, building playlists of songs that inspire me, even wearing jewelry that the hero might wear — all that really helps me know who these characters are what I actually start writing.  Mostly, I don’t do a lot of pre-writing though.  Character profiles and anything longer than a couple-of-page outline can stifle the movement of actually writing the novel.  I want a general idea of events and then I want to discover and experience the book as I write it.

Once I’m writing, I actually purposefully don’t think about where the plot is going.  I have my two page outline, but I want to keep as much spontaneity and freshness as possible while writing.  I want the characters to lead me to new discoveries.

As long as I make sure every scene and line is interesting to me, I find I don’t have to go back and cut a lot later.

But I do have to edit a lot.  I do at least five drafts.  It’s just a lot of work and I don’t know any way to make something great without pouring over every word, line, and comma (shout-out to other Oxford Comma fans!).

What doesn’t work is writing anything I don’t care about.  It’s been pointed out that pretty much every idea I’ve ever had is ‘un-commercial’.  When I write to the best of my abilities, I think I can make fascinating worlds, great characters, and unforgettable dialogue — all things I think can be commercial.  But I do have very little interest in playing it safe and doing what’s been done to death before.  I’m invigorated by possibility and discovery and showing the audience something they didn’t know they needed.

from 'A Caged Heart Still Beats'

from ‘A Caged Heart Still Beats’

Q: What is the most challenging area of writing for you?

A: Self-doubt.  I sometimes hesitate to write for fear I can’t do my ideas justice.  That leads to long breaks between stories (ironically, I’m much more confident when in the middle of writing).  I also don’t know when something needs more editing and when I’ve done all I can.  Lastly, this self-doubt sometimes leads me to not ‘hearing’ positive feedback and instead only focusing on minor criticisms.  I’m working on these issues, but it’s the work of a lifetime.

On a more practical level, plotting has been something that’s taken time to hone (characters come much more naturally to me).

The other big challenge is figuring out how to combine the touch-the-stars-magic of writing with the idea of making money from it and transforming it into my full-time job.

Q: What are you currently writing?

A: After a break of 18 years, I’ve returned to my first love — screenwriting!  I’m currently working on ‘Beaumont Lake’, a ghost story about a teenage girl forming a friendship with two ghosts while trying to avoid becoming their murderer’s next victim.  It’s a big challenge but finishing this story has been a dream of mine for a long time.  An inspiring song that sums up the mood of the piece — ‘Once Upon a Dream’ by Lana Del Rey.

Later this year, I also hope to finish the first draft of my in-progress novel TRIad, a young adult story about three brothers with superpowers.

Q: What advice do you have for someone who is just beginning to write?

A: Trust yourself.  Read Brenda Ueland’s ‘If You Want to Write’.  The craft side will come along naturally as you read a lot and write a lot.  Remember that ‘Talent’ is a myth — there is only love and hard work — that’s what makes great writing.

Remember that you have amazing potential and you can do it — you just have to believe and fight and work hard and never stop following your own crazy star.  No one deserves to be here more than you.

Also, read classics, read other genres and types of entertainment.  Graphic novels, non-fiction, web cartoons — you can learn so much about dialogue from the masters of the comics page (Bill Watterson, Charles Schulz, Berkeley Breathed).

Write what you like, not what others tell you to like.  There something the world has never seen before — alive and dwelling within you — and it is something the world desperately needs.  Share your vision with us.    And remember this quote by Ira Glass —

KMBA-Ira Glass Quote

Q: How has being a writer changed your life?  

A: In every conceivable way possible.  It’s made me more curious, kinder; it has brought me friends and confidence.  It has filled my days with the most wonderful discoveries and triumphs.

Mostly though, it has allowed me to continue playtime far beyond when most people settle down and ‘become adults’.  I get to travel everywhere, meet the most amazing people, see fearsome and amazing sights, and watch the human spirit overcome every attempt to thwart it.  And then I get to transcribe those experiences and hopefully bring to readers a fraction of the joy that other peoples’ books have brought me over the years.

Another thing writing has given me is the feeling that I’m only getting started.  At 36, I’m beginning to feel like I’m getting the hang of this — let’s go knock the world off its axis!

by October Jones

by October Jones

 

10 Tips for Building Believable Love Stories

For those of you who couldn’t make it to our April 6th class, Building Believable Love Stories (led by Katherine Cerulean), here’s a taste of what we discussed —

  1. Make your characters interesting. The best way to make me believe the love story is to make me believe in them. No matter how good the blueprint, if your building materials are Styrofoam and gummy bears, that cathedral ain’t standing for long. The more interesting and complex your lovers are, the more we’ll believe in them and root for their ‘happily ever after’. If your having trouble with the love story, go back and spend more time figuring out who these people are.
  2. Go for an off-kilter aesthetic. Symmetry is beautiful but, to me, love stories thrive in the place between beauty and ugliness. Let me explain— the cheerleader and the jock get together. They both like the same things, the same movies, and same religion. They’re perfect for each other. Are you asleep yet, ‘cause I am. There’s nothing wrong with that story if there’s an important ‘other’ element (’perfect’ couple must overcome her drinking problem or they’re both men- and it’s 1950). But in most cases, I’m more interested in the people you wouldn’t think would be together. My character Maurice (who follows the god of Darkness) falls for servant of a rival god just as a war is about to break out. A different Maurice (E.M. Forster’s) is a college-educated city man who falls for a simple (but super-charming) games-keeper. This is not just about differences in background, this is about the characters seemingly having good reasons to have no interest in each other and yet finding themselves very interested indeed.
  3. There’s obstacles to their happiness. Now, you could say that’s more about good storytelling than being ‘believable’ and yet part of the real world is diving into challenges and changes as you add a new person into your life. Your family might not approve; their family might not approve. You might live in different cities. But better yet — you might not agree about everything. I think some of the best love stories have the characters standing in the way of their own happiness. Can they move aside and allow themselves the happy ending? And should they? Love can spring up between diametrically opposed characters, say a detective and a killer, and they may love each but still make choices that ensure they won’t walk into the sunset together.
  4. Neither one is perfect. Most often the hero (male or female) in more interesting and flawed and the ‘love interest’ is some sort of perfect, beautiful, glowing god or goddess from the sky. No matter how great they appear to their lover, the love interest should have flaws, even tiny ones. In my mind, Edward (in Twilight) was a little too boring and perfect — a wish fulfillment for an accessory instead of a human being. Compare that story to My So-Called Life’s Angela and Jordan. The most interesting thing about us is often our weaknesses. And it’s often those weaknesses that we are most protective of in those we love.
  5. When it comes to cliches, don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. There’s certain phrases (and situations) that you should probably avoid like the plague (I promise to stop now). The ‘tripping into a stranger’s arms’ or ‘both reaching for the last- whatever’ are pretty overused as meet-cute devices. And I shouldn’t have to tell you to avoid actual cliches like ‘Her heart skipped a beat’. That said, don’t give up the emotion or impact you’re looking for, just find a more clever way to express it. In the beginning of Jumping the Broom, Sabrina is tired of sleeping with cheating run-around men and makes a promise to God to not have sex again until it’s with her (as yet unmet) future husband on their wedding night. So you get the feeling God is about to introduce her to the man of her dreams, and he does — when Sabrina accidentally hits Jason when he walks in front of her car. Her overreaction of bumping into him goes from funny to sweet when the audience sees their both smitten from the start. Likewise, if you feel like your character’s heart really did skip a beat (arrhythmia) then write that, but write it in such a way that it’s uniquely you (or better yet, uniquely your character). ‘Lucy decided she was having a heart attack, right now, right here in Josh Logan’s office. Josh raised his beautiful eyebrows in concern. Great, thought Lucy, I meet the man of my dreams and the only place he’ll ever take me is to the morgue.’ Dig past what you’ve seen and try to really connect to your character, where they might meet someone, and how they might react (especially if it’s not smooth).
  6. The best times aren’t the most perfect times. The best kiss, most romantic date, hottest make-out session, and favorite moment may not be exactly as planned. Scarlett and Rhett’s first kiss is beside a dirty wagon with an unconscious woman and a baby in it, and he’s about to abandon her to drive miles by herself through a war-torn countryside. Oh yes, and Atlanta is burning to the ground behind them. Their both soot-stained and sweaty — and it’s a great kiss. Much better than if they were in a perfect hotel room with glasses of Champagne. The same way that the ‘perfect’ first date with your crush might be ruined when he has to drive you to the hospital because your best friend got into a car crash– while driving drunk. Worst night ever? Not so fast, your friend was all right and while you watched her sleep, your crush sat down beside you and took your hand — and in that moment you kind of knew he was going to become your husband.
  7. Make us believe these two could have a great life together. Whether or not you have a sunset planned for your two leads, we (the readers) should at least believe it could happen. By which I mean, their personalities and souls are compatible. Do they laugh together, get each other’s humor and priorities? Do they respect the other’s mind? Even if they are opposed in some major way (she’s going to war/ he’s a pacifist) you still want to believe they could be happy if that one thing didn’t exist. Some characters fight and misunderstand each other so much that I want to separate them now, and I’m certainly not betting on a golden anniversary. In the same way, if your characters break up and get together more than once — I’m gone. I’ll go give my heart to a love story I can believe could work out longterm. The exception is something like the film Sid & Nancy: totally screwed-up characters whose destiny is to burn down the world with their love — and hate.
  8. Don’t fall into traditional boy/girl relationships. This is related to the tip about cliches. You may have noticed that in a couple of examples above, I role-reversed (she have a drinking problem/she’s going to war). That’s because few places force characters into tighter traditional roles than love stories. ‘“Don’t leave me!” She begged, clinging to his sleeve. He shook her hand away- cold, unfeeling.’ Youch. But what if you reversed it? Suddenly, it’s at least a little interesting. In my novel Fall Street Claire is a sensible, sane, and intelligent 15 year old. Tommy is the popular kid two years older than her. But as they become friends, she realizes he’s a lot more emotionally needy than she is, and she had to reassure him and look after him. The reverse wouldn’t be much of a story, but the fact that people would expect an older boy to act one way (especially around a younger girl) to me gives the scenes more interest. One interesting way to break out of stereotypes is to have both of your characters be male or female. ‘Gay’ films or stories as genre can have their own cliches (just like ‘chick lit’). But I’m not talking about category fiction here — I’m talking about taking the exact story you were already telling and making the lovers the same sex. ‘He’s an ex-marine and the only person who can save the President from an assassin’s bullet. And he teams up with a rookie Secret Service agent to protect the leader of the free world. All the while, sparks fly between these two!’ It would be an interesting twist, and it might help you break out of expectations while writing it (ie the assassin — OF COURSE — holds the agent hostage in the final battle).
  9. Sometimes it doesn’t work out. One of the most believable love stories is ‘the one who got away.’ 99.99% of romance stories try to deliver that happy ending — your story can really stand out if you admit that sometimes love can’t conquer all. If you really see your character unable to forgive him, unwilling to move to Bombay, or fatally shot in the final showdown with the assassin, consider following your instinct. There’s always room for another Wuthering Heights or Romeo and Juliet. Now, in a lot of cases, we want the happy ending and woe be to the writer who tricks us. So consider giving us a heads up (right in the beginning the narrator of 500 Days of Summer tells us ‘This is a story of boy meets girl, but you should know upfront, this is not a love story.’). You can also have an open-ended love story where you leave us hopeful without promising sunsets and grandbabies. In romance even a pinch of doubt can shake the reader out of a rose-colored haze and remind them of events in their own life.
  10. It’s weird and different. In real life, it can be hard to explain exactly why you connect to a certain person, what’s so funny about them, and why you can’t get them out of your head. Most people will never understand exactly why you fell for each other. But in fiction, the writer needs to make us understand, to feel the love story from the inside out. You can do a surprisingly good job with the simplest story. Imagine a teenage boy — he carries the girl’s books every day, asks after her family, and — is totally ignored. But he keeps trying. And, if she’s worthy of him, we want him to succeed. That said, the shortcuts to connecting to your readers (his startlingly blue eyes, her pounding heart) — we understand we’re suppose to care without really connecting to the story. Your readers, and your characters, deserve better. Dig deep, and discover what makes these two different and how to write something you’ve never read before. My favorite love quote (which I can’t find the source of) is “Her lips were so close, what else could I do?”

And that’s what you want; give your readers no choice but to fall in love with your story, your characters, and your view on romance. It could be the beginning of a lifelong affair.

Just Who are We?

writersread1The Athens Writers Association was founded on March 18th, 2013 and we have come so far so fast!  We are a proud and creative group — proud to be Athenians and to share this town with so many amazing souls and such an outpouring of talents and camaraderie.  Athens is a world famous music scene and rightly so, but those of us who live here know that it is so much more.  From classes and festivals at the historic Lyndon House, to the wonderfully talented performances at Rabbit Box and Word of Mouth, from local craftspeople to renowned painters, we honor and are inspired by those who have come before us and hope in time to add our own little corner of magic to a city already bursting at the seams with creativity and potential.

If you get a chance, please come to our next meeting.  We’d love to introduce ourselves to you, and hear your ideas about what you’d like to see the AWA do in its second year of life —

AWA Monthly Meeting

  • Saturday, March 15, 2014

    5:00 PM

  • The Coffee Shop of Athens

    2950 Atlanta Hwy (in front of Bulldog carwash), Athens, GA, Athens, GA

A Great Success!

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We filled every seat in the house (and the Coffee Shop of Athens had to bring in a few lawn chairs from outside)!  ‘Writers Read II’ and was a big hit and everyone had a great time.  Thanks to our wonderful readers (pictured above, left to right) Rob White, Chris Jansen, Elsa Russo, Kevin Townsend, Jill Hartmann-Roberts, Katherine Cerulean, Miles McClellan, Nancy Lynn Scott, Jennifer Innes, Greg Davis, and Sam Thomas (not pictured).

We’ll have another reading on March 26th called ‘Writers Read – After Dark’.  See our ‘Events’ page for more info on the kind of writing we are spot-lighting at that event.  We still have a few reader slots open; please email Katherinecerulean@gmail.com if you are interested in participating.

Thanks to everyone who came out and supported us.  You were a great crowd and your support means so much.  Can’t wait for the next one!

Join us!

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Come see your favorite rising lit stars!  Our talented line up includes —

Katherine Cerulean
Nancy Lynn Scott
Miles Moffet
Elsa Russo
Chris Jansen
Kevin Townsend
Dac Crossley
Jennifer Innes
Jill Hartmann-Roberts
Sam Thomas
Rob White
Greg Davis
Join us for a night of fun and get to meet your favorite local authors!

Writers Table Read

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Come one, come all!

This Saturday, January 4, at 5:00 PM at The Coffee Shop of Athens (2950 Atlanta Hwy [in front of Bulldog carwash], Athens, GA,Athens, GA) we will be having a practice read in anticipation of our next ‘Writers Read’ event which is later this month.  The slots are full for the event but feel free to join us this Sat. to listen as our readers hone their skills.  It’s also an exciting chance to see what being a reader is all about, in case you would like to read with us in the future.

And remember, the actual ‘Writers Read II’ event will be on January 25th — mark your calenders!