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Upward and Onward

From Katherine Cerulean, founder:

Hi kids,

I just wanted to take a moment to celebrate the past and look forward to the future.  2014 has been a crazy (and busy) year for a lot of us in the AWA and often those adventures pulled us away from the group as a whole but even as exciting new projects and journeys appear on the horizon, I feel the AWA growing bigger and more close-knit than ever before.

We had some wonderful events this year — our first contact with a Georgia Hall of Fame writer (thank you Philip Lee Williams!), our first show at Cine in downtown Athens, our second book collection (edited by the talented [and patient] Jennifer Innes), participated in a poetry reading at Founders Memorial Garden at UGA, and have had many great classes, workshops, and meetings.  We’ve met new friends and discovered beautiful new things about the established ones.  I feel lucky every day for every one of you that have come into my life.

Found on

Found on

So where does the future lie?  As ever, hidden by mists and clouds, beyond the horizon but before us, along unused trails that your feet somehow already know and your heart sings as you travel down.  In the next month, we’ll be getting together to see what new, exciting places YOU want the AWA to go in 2015, but for me I just want more — more great experiences with you all, more opportunities to read your undeniable great words, and more chances to teach and be taught.  Because at the end of the day, I want us to become so great, our work so polished, and our ideas so exciting that we become a beckon of what a group of writers can do when brought together by fellowship and yes, by love.

And on that note, I leave you with the reason I wrote this whole post, my Christmas gift to you.  I want to share with you the song (that I’ve never told any of you about) but I consider my anthem for the AWA, a song that I’ve listened to coming to and going from many events with you guys, official and unofficial.  I tried to make a video collage and it went hilariously wrong, but that’s probably for the best, because I couldn’t show (or list here) all of you, and you all are part of this adventure.

You truly start the spark in my bonfire heart.


Discovering Great Characters

By Katherine Cerulean

— For all those who couldn’t make it to my class on characters, here’s the handout to spark your creative fire —



“Hokey religions and ancient weapons are no match for a good blaster at your side, kid.” — Han Solo, originally a green-skinned alien with gills


“If by my life or death I can protect you, I will.” — Aragorn, not part of the story until Tolkien ‘saw’ him sitting in the shadows in a pub in Bree.

And do Bladorthin the Grey, Pansy O’Hara, and Count Wampyr ring a bell?  The creators of Gandalf, Scarlet, and Dracula once had very different ideas about what to call their characters.

When we see, hear, or read about a great character, we are drawn in.  The plot’s more exciting, the romance more meaningful, and many of our favorite stories are really just showcases for amazing, living people that have claimed a place in our hearts forever.

For me, characters are always real and fully-developed.  Assume that the character exists out there — they may be fictional, but they want to be discovered, not made.  Knowing they are alive out there takes the pressure off you — you don’t have to build them, just spend enough time with them that you start to hear them speak, see them act in strange ways, and — eventually — go against your plans and your plots.

And when that happens, watch out!  You’ve just discovered a great character.


How to Discover Your Characters — beginning

  1. Ask ‘Who live here?’ “Who has the most to lose in this situation?’
  2. If an image comes to you, fixate on it. Stephanie Meyers had a dream about a girl and a boy standing in a meadow, and the boy was sparkling like diamonds in the sunlight.  From that single image came a lot of success and reader happiness.
  3. Allow room for magic and mystery. Understand that you don’t need to (or even want to) understand everything about your characters and stories in the beginning.  For my novel Fall Street, I had a very clear image of my hero Clare standing at the top of some stairs when a boy walks up and hands her a rose and she thinks ‘It had to be ____’ but who it had to be was a mystery I didn’t solve till quite late in the story.  Trust your story.  Think about it long enough, and love it enough, and the answers will come.  Remember Stephen King never knows how his stories will end until he’s writing the ending.
  4. Find what you love. Follow the stories, books, movies, and TV that have fantastic characters you love.  I love Jay Gatsby and Vin Diesel’s Riddick.  Both characters inspire me.  No one gets to tell you what to love.  Just remember the more opportunities you have to see successfully created characters, the more bold you’ll become in your own writing.
  5. Flip your character. When you’re first trying to even discover a wisp of your characters, try the Orson Scott Card trick (from his great book Characters & Viewpoint) — when you come up with an idea, flip it 180 degrees.  Make your guy a girl, your lawyer a bum, your famous knight an underappreciated squire.  Your first impulse may, subconsciously, be the very thing you’ve seen done before.  As with every aspect of writing, you get to make the call in the end.  You may really want that hotshot pilot — just be aware you’ll want to dig a lot deeper than that.
  6. How many people live here? You’ll probably add more later, but discovering your main characters helps you start honing in.  Think of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe — two of the main characters are right there in the title, but who discovers Narnia?  A little girl named Lucy, but also her sister and two brothers, and one of those brothers is a little bad…


How to Discover Your Characters — middles

  1. Get your characters talking. How would Lucy describe her family to you?  What would that teach you about her family, and about her?  Have your hero narrate their story, talk about their childhood, or show off how they can sell ice to an Inuit.  You don’t have to write this down — just hear what they are saying (and not saying) and how they communicate.  Are they using long words, pausing out of shyness, do they not want to talk?  That also tells you something.
  2. Find the things that speak to your characters. Songs, jewelry, etc, can be used to inspire and pick up on the character’s mood and personalities (see more on this toward the end).
  3. Become a historian. We are impacted by where we come from.  Write down a history of your character.  With ‘Caged Heart’ I wrote down the parents’ histories for my main characters.  It was fascinating to imagine how those lives impacted my heroes.  Your story is like a iceberg with only the tip showing.  Some characters, though, would be bored silly talking about their family — let them tell you what matters to them.
  4. Never be bored or needy. If you think ’I need my hero to have a sister to tell her problems to’ but nothing comes to you —stop.  If you force yourself to think of a ‘sister-type’ and she’s the worst collection of clichés you’ve ever seen in your life and you fall asleep writing her dialogue and wish it were done already — stop.  Just stop.  Imagine instead ’What if your hero had no sister?’  Or what if her own sister bores her to tears and so she tells random clerks in stores her problems?  And what if one day, one of those clerks is the man of her dreams?  You could open up whole new ideas just because you’ve stopped trying to force your story to fit into space you provided for it.  Your discoveries will always be better than your ideas.  The good news?  You can claim credit for both.
  5. Watch scenes. Long before I write anything down, I start seeing scenes in my mind.  How did these two meet?  What led him to be trapped here?  The more you can play in your mind (like a kid with clay), the more you can change things.  I recently had an idea about a teenage boy who lived in a medieval fantasy world and had the problem that he had been cursed and everyone thought (and saw him) as a girl.  Only his best friend Rena saw the truth.  That idea floated around for a couple of days, cloud-like, and then I realized they were children in our world, who played in this fantasy world.  And the boy was a girl but trans-gendered, and later when he was a teenager, he ran away back to the land where he was his true self.  And no one, not even his best friend, knew where he’d gone.  I got all that from watching scenes like you’d watch a movie.


How to Discover Your Characters — ends

  1. As you start writing, slow down in each scene. Really hone in on the emotions of your characters, think about what they would and wouldn’t say.  Try to control people as little as possible.  Remember you don’t have to agree, or even like, what they do.
  2. When you are ready, they will come. Many writers report that they do not write their characters — they only dictate.  I thought this sounded crazy when I started and knew it would never happen to me — now I can’t imagine how I did without it.
  3. Take a hike. For me, there’s nothing like a walk in nature (especially with music) to inspire me and give me a chance to hear my characters and watch their lives assemble.
  4. Be gentle with yourself. A first draft isn’t the final word on your characters — it’s just a first conversation.  Listen to the voices in your head, play with your world, and know that character just grow more and more beautiful the more time you spend with them.


Tips & Tricks

  • Songs are one of the best ways to discover your characters. If you hear a sound on the radio (or ‘all shuffle’) that speaks to you, add it to a playlist.  Hitting repeat on songs that tell you about that world and characters (especially while walking) can really put you in a creative state of mind.
  • Jewelry is another way. Find a talisman or pendent that means something to your character (or a watch, scarf, etc).  Wearing it all day can make you understand your character’s day more.
  • What inspires them? What excites them?  Printout quotes, find paintings — it all moves you closer to their truth.
  • Remember that everyone is living their life in a full, important way for them, and to the best of their abilities. Never doubt how different your life could be if you’d been born a different sex, race, religion etc.  No one is a stereotype at their heart.  Shrug off the easy answers.
  • Write more. In the beginning my characters were clichés, but now they are real to me, and I have every hope that they will get more and more interesting as time goes by and I keep telling their stories in the full, rich colors they deserve.

Join me for more adventures at and

Do you have a dream to write that first book?

Then join us for the free “Literary Elements” Writer’s Workshop!

Somewhere in your heart you know it.  Maybe this is a recent dream, but quite likely it’s been kicking around in your subconscious for some time and every once in a while, when reading a new novel, or hearing an author interview, or thinking about your lifetime goals it comes to the surface — you want to write a book.  Maybe you imagine being a fulltime, famous, professional writer or maybe there’s just one idea or story that begging you to expound on it and send it out into the world.

Whatever your dream project is — a memoir, non-fiction, children’s book, or novel — there are some common elements needed to move from Chapter 1 to ‘The End’.

Join Athens Writers Association founder Katherine Cerulean to learn how to get started on your first book.  Basics like

  • Making your outline a roadmap instead of a blueprint
  • how to stay inspired and reach the last page
  • A practical timeline

And more with be discussed in this 45 minute talk at the Athens Regional Library on June 26th at 12:15pm.  Click here for more details.

We hope to see you there!

Join us for Writers Read III!




Writer — Tiffanie DeBartolo

Neither should writing.  

Instead come share in the passion, the joy, and our members’ enthusiasm for the written word!  Writers Read III will take place on May 10th, 7:00pm-9:00pm, at The Coffee Shop of Athens at 2950 Atlanta Hwy, Athens, GA 30606.

Readers will include Jennifer Innes, Tanya Moulton, Zhanna P. Rader, Elsa Russo, Lisa Smartt, Rob White, and more!

This event is free and appropriate for mature children and older.  So if you’re looking for a great event to share with your Mom this Mother’s Day Weekend, or if you just love good writing — come join us!

Writers will be available to talk after the event.  Also, let us know if you would be interested in reading at a future event.

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 they’re 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. They’re 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 long-term. 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 clichés. You may have noticed that in a couple of examples above, I role-reversed (she has 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 has 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. Another 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 clichés (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 (i.e. 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 they 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.

Join me for more adventures at and

Building Believable Love Stories


  • Sunday, April 6, 2014

    4:00 PM

  • The Coffee Shop of Athens

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

  • At the heart of many stories is a heart itself — the tale of two people whose meeting changes them both forever. In other stories it is a simple spice, an interesting aside on the way to saving the day, finding the treasure, or growing up. However large the love story looms in your novel or other creative work know this: is it one of the most important facets and a touchstone for your readers in deciding how much they like your characters and your work.
    Join me, Katherine Cerulean, and learn how to improve your writing, and bring more realism, excitement, depth, and originality to your work.
    Note: This is intended for any type of writer (fiction, non-fiction, screenwriter, songwriter, etc), with a focus on long form storytelling such as novels.

Join us!

writers read flyerII


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!

Call For Entries!

The Athens Writers Association is proud to announce its first book: Writing After Dark.  This collection of poems, short stories, non fiction pieces and what-have-you will feature some of the best of our AWA talent AND be a companion piece to ‘Writers Read — After Dark‘ —  an AWA event coming March 22nd, 2014.  You can submit a piece for the book, add your name to the list of writers reading in March, or both.

So just what does ‘After Dark’ mean?  I think you already know.  It’s anything you might not feel comfortable bringing out into the daylight.  The reading event will be for an adult audience.  The point is not just to titillate or exploit your senses, but instead delve deep into the creepy-crawly of the subconscious, blow pass the boundaries of society’s mores and good taste, and emerge back into the daylight on the other side — dazed, battered, and unsure what demons you met or fought in the half green light.  But remember, there’s plenty of humor here too, and surprises and twists lurk in the darkest pathways and that is well to be remembered.  The only rule is to throw off the rules that have been given you.

Submission deadline: January 31st, 2014.  Katherine Cerulean will judge all entries with impunity and select those for inclusion based on content, length, last name of Cerulean, offensive content, the final mix needed for the book, etc.  Those selected for the book will have first dibs on a spot at the reading event.  Please note: The darker and more hardcore the piece, the more you’d better be able to write to pull it off.  A lighter look at the dark side is preferable if you’re a new writer, because if your story is going to drag me through Hell, I’d better think the trip was worth it.

Also: Please be aware that bigotry, hate speech, and limited views about fellow human beings aren’t cool, edgy ‘After Dark’ ideas — they’re jerk moves.  You can entertain us without insulting us, and I trust you have an awesome tale or two up your sleeve.

We’ll also need at awesome flyer/book cover piece of art — so if you know someone, please have them submit that as well.

Submit all works to:

Exciting Times For Our Local Authors!

Rob White, Jennifer Innes, and Katherine Cerulean all have books just out or out soon.


Rob White‘s first novel, The Pull is free for a limited time on e-book and the sequel, Home is Where the Monsters Are, is out today on e-book and paperback.  Check them out on Amazon.

Jennifer Innes‘ Kickstarter campaign for The Beginning of Whit ends on Nov. 7th.  She’s almost at her goal; she only needs $305 to make this 20-years-in-the-making dream come true.  Buy your copy here.


And finally, Katherine Cerulean‘s self help book, How to Come Alive: A Guidebook to Living the Life of Your Dreams, is out now on e-book and will be available in paperback by the end of Nov.  Learn more here.

And we have more local authors waiting in the wings.  This is truly a wonderful time to be a supporter (and fan) of Athens, GA talent.