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Know Your Local Writer: Jill Hartmann

Welcome to the second 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, and inspire you on your path.  Please contact me if you’re interested in answering our writing questionnaire and being featured here as a future ‘local writer’.

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

toby-and-me-la-jolla-cove-copy

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

Answer: When I was in first grade, my elementary school held a writing contest for Grades K-2.  All of the classes were asked to respond to the following writing prompt: “What will you ask Santa Clause to bring you for Christmas this year?”  (Nowadays this subject would be taboo for a public school wide writing contest, but it was the 1970’s and it was a private school.  None of the parents complained, as far as I knew).  There were several winners chosen, enough to fill two pages in the school’s quarterly magazine.  My response was one of the winning entries.  I wrote a short paragraph asking Santa for peace and happiness for all of my friends and for my family, and for everyone in the world – and for a special best friend.  (Although I’m Jewish, we celebrated Christmas when I was very little, and I loved Santa Clause.  I think I believed he was real until I was eight or nine years old).

Artist: Elizabeth Goodrick (?)

Artist: Elizabeth Goodrick (?)

I’d have to pinpoint this accomplishment as the moment when I had the epiphany that I was a real writer and that I wanted to keep writing. I received a lot of praise for being among the published winners for that holiday writing contest.  I was six years old, and it didn’t take long for my love of writing to grow exponentially.  When I wasn’t writing stories for school, I would carry my mother’s electric typewriter into the hallway and start writing stories off the top of my head, while sitting right in the middle of the floor.  (I have no idea why I didn’t just carry the thing over to the kitchen table and sit in a chair like a regular kid, but then again, I was not a regular kid).  When I wrote in my diary every night, I usually sat on the floor, also.  What can I say, we had very soft carpet in our house when I was a child!

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

A: As a child, the books that fired up my imagination were: the Little House books, written by Laura Ingalls Wilder, the Oz books, written by L. Frank Baum, all of the books written by Judy Blume, Island of the Blue Dolphins, written by Scott O’ Dell, To Kill a Mockingbird, written by Harper Lee, and all of the stories from Greek and Roman mythology.  My favorite authors in my adult years, whom I’d like to emulate, are: John Steinbeck and Jane Austen. Steinbeck’s novels resonate with me because of the way he seamlessly weaves his profound messages into stories about real, everyday people.  I gravitate toward character-centered writing, which I think is Steinbeck’s signature, as well as his talent for painting vivid pictures of the places where his characters are battling inner, and outer, conflicts.  When it comes to Jane Austen’s books, I can’t say enough about how beautifully she writes: her characters, her dialogue, her descriptions, are exquisitely crafted. She has created a portrait of an English society long gone that to this day, is not only remade into films over and over again, but also has been taken on by modern day authors with sequels and other stories that recreate that status driven society of early 19th century England.  Both authors have inspired story ideas of mine, and I wish they had written and published many more books than they lived to write in their respective lifetimes.

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

A: My short story, “To Ride the Wind.”  I wrote it in 7th grade for an English class assignment (It was inspired by John Steinbeck’s novel, The Pearl, incidentally).  My English teacher encouraged me to enter my story into the middle school’s first annual creative writing contest.  My story won first place, which was one of the greatest moments of my life.  “To Ride the Wind” was published in the school newspaper that summer, which I consider to be my first real publication.  Although we all have to work hard, as writers, to develop our talent and to hone our craft, that story is a symbol of what I’m capable of, and a reminder to never give up on my writing, no matter what.

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: In the past seven years, my focus has been on writing memoirs.  I also continue to write poetry, which I have always gravitated toward as a means of expressing my personal thoughts and emotions about life.  Writing memoirs is challenging in that it requires a high degree of vulnerability and also enough emotional distance to imagine what audiences will be able to identify with when reading about my life story.  I’ve spent a lot of time editing and revising my memoirs, as well as reading others’ published memoirs, to guide me in creating books that read like a fictional character-driven novel, even though the stories are non-fiction.

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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 attended the USC Film School Graduate Screenwriting Program in the 1990’s, which was eye opening as far as how the television and film industry works.  Before then, I took playwriting classes in college.  I have not attended formal writing conferences, yet.  I have taken advantage of as many of the Athens Writers Association’s workshops as I’ve been able to attend in the past 3+ years, and the members of my critique group have made the most significant difference in my becoming a better writer.  They have been my best writing teachers these past 3 years, hands down.  I have learned so much from everything they’ve taught me.

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

A: Currently, I work as a freelance copyeditor – I proofread, copy edit and revise both non-fiction and fiction manuscripts, and in some cases, Power Point and website copy.  I’ve written articles for publication in the Congregation Children of Israel Temple Times monthly newsletter.  I continue to apply for other freelance writing jobs.  In addition to articles I’ve published in the Temple Times, my work has appeared in three publications in the past three years: Writers After Dark, The Journey Home and Slackpole (the annual holiday issue of Flagpole Magazine).

 

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

A: I’m not sure if this is unique, but I work on writing multiple pieces simultaneously and divide my writing time among those projects.  It is harder for me to write at home than in a coffee house, but I’m working on spending more time writing at my house (while my dogs lay peacefully at my feet).  I work best with a “soundtrack,” which varies, depending on my mood. I tend to listen to a bundle of albums I associate with a particular writing or editing project.  It doesn’t work for me to write in a doctor’s waiting room, or on an airplane, though I have managed to write at a table at the car dealership for several hours, so I’m getting better at writing in less-than-ideal surroundings.  I keep a notebook in my purse at all times so that I can write ideas as they come to me throughout the day.  I used to always write by hand, and nowadays, I usually write on my laptop.  I’ve been thinking of writing shorter pieces by hand in the future because I had a great experience recently when I did that – it was like finding a long lost old friend.

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

A: Not editing as I go while I’m writing my first draft.  I still have trouble just free flow writing without going back and rereading and rewriting as I go along.  It slows me down, a lot.  Breaking this habit is a work in progress.

Q: What are you currently writing?

A: My primary current writing project is a memoir about a tragic life-changing event that occurred in 1992, which resulted in a complex life-changing endeavor of mine over the next three months. Events that occurred during that time in my life substantially shaped the rest of my adult life, for the better, in my opinion. My hope is that this story of my journey from heartbreak and grief to activism and healing will inspire others to triumph in the wake of their own tragedies.

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

A: I meet people all the time who tell me about how they are “just dabbling” in writing, whether it be a short story or poetry or a novel, and I always encourage them to not sell themselves short as writers.  Everyone has to start at the beginning and many people who are prolific writers start late in life, not realizing how much talent they’ve always had.  It’s never too late so I say, don’t underestimate yourself and just be willing to learn and get feedback from other writers whom you trust.  Keep writing, don’t give up and join our group. We’re a great source of peer support and encouragement – I know for a fact that it has made a significant difference for many of our members.

Q: How has being a writer changed your life?

A: The real question is how has being a writer not changed my life!  I have believed for a long time, since I won that first contest in 7th grade, that writing is what I was born to do.  I gave it up for 15 years and took the safe route in life, becoming a teacher and then working in administration at a major university.  My dog, Toby Hartmann, inadvertently led me back to writing, and moving to Athens gave me the opportunity to spend the time writing Toby’s story that I used to spend at my brick and mortar job in San Diego, California.  It’s hard to explain how being a writer has changed me except to say that now I remember who I am – not to use a cliché, but it’s true that, “I once was lost, and now I’m found.” I know that this is my purpose in life.  I cannot feel fulfilled if I cannot write – it is what I need to do for myself.  I can no longer imagine not being a writer.  It is scary to open myself up to my readers, but it’s worth it to me to share my voice with the rest of the world.

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What Writing Challenge is Stirring Within Your Soul?

Yes, even as we enjoy and bustle through the holiday season, 2016 is already appearing on the horizon, challenging us with a new year of fresh possibility.  And whether you’ve been a writer since 1951 or last Friday, you have the potential to improve and amaze yourself in the coming weeks and months.

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Found on lifehack.org

365 days is a long time, provided each one finds you pushing yourself toward some new, greater goal.  Maybe 2016 is the year you finish your first novel, see your work published, or get that dream job.  The only absolute limits are those we impose on ourselves.

For myself, I’m looking to break into writing for dramatic television.  Am I looking at long odds and hard work ahead of me?  You bet.  But as my sister Sarah, an artist, says ‘What matters isn’t that it’s hard, what matters is that it’s doable.’

And your dreams too, can become realities.  So, once the Christmas tree comes down and the New Year’s Eve revelries are finished, once we’ve caught our breaths and cleared our minds, what will come whispering in your ear — what writing challenge is striving within your soul?

Found on lifehack.org

Found on lifehack.org

Whatever your goals are for next year, I hope the AWA can help.  Membership is as simple and free as showing up at an event or asking to join.  By design, we are a very loose, always transforming organization — it’s just more fun that way.  We never fear change or challenge (okay, everyone fears those things, but we try to feel the fear and do it anyway 😉

One of the downsides of our wide-ranging approach is that all our members may not know everything we do.  So here’s a short list of possible ways AWA can help you in the new year —

  • Our monthly meeting.  The last Sunday of every month finds a group of us coming together for a couple of hours of coffee and great conversation.  Everyone gets a turn to share what they’ve been working on in the last month (only if they wish to).  The group is always changing, newbies are welcome, and we end up having a wonderful time and talking about everything interesting under the sun.  A great place to start your AWA adventures.  Bonus: we’re all super-nice.
  • Classes!  Several times a time we offer free classes to encourage learning, discussion, and continued improvement in craft for our members.  We have four classes scheduled for Winter/Spring 2016 — Gisela Hausmann: The Naked Truth About Getting Book Reviews; Dynamic Duos: Great Love Stories & Friendships; Self Publishing and Ebooks; A Work of HeART: Bringing Artistry to a Single Line.  All levels of experience are welcomed and we often have handout sheets for extra educational value.
  • Tuesday Writing/Critique Group.  A wonderful and vibrant entity with its own independent vision and spirit.  This group has been meeting for a couple of years now, and they are as close-knit and supportive a group as I’ve even seen.  They recently published their first book —

  • Read-ins.  An exciting new event created by co-founder Jill Hartmann-Roberts.  In Jill’s words, ‘You can read a short piece or just listen and enjoy. Feedback is optional, and you can ask for specific comments if you wish.  This is ***not*** a critique group. We are here to appreciate the amazing writing of our peers in a relaxed, informal atmosphere.’  Everyone sits around a table, and it brings to mind many of the enjoyable aspects of reading in front of a crowd without it being nearly as stressful 😉
  • Write-ins.  Come and join other writers as we work on our writing projects. This is a great opportunity to get out of the house and away from the distractions of home to focus on your work while surrounded by other creative types.
  • Critique groups.  We currently have two full groups and a new group forming.  Let us know if you’re seriously interested in join up — you’ll learn a lot.
  • Have a personal page on our website.  If you haven’t yet leapt into the deep end of the pool and built your own website but still want to direct people to your bio and web presence, join our Your Locals Authors section of this site.  It’s free, though we may ask to meet you at an event first.  Let the world know who you are, if you have books available, and how to find more of your witty writing online (Facebook, Twitter, etc).
  • Public readings.  OMG!  There’s nothing like staring out at a packed room of people, all eyes on you, and reading your work to the world.  And you CAN do it.  The rewarding feeling of expanding your comfort zone is something you’ll always carry with you, and having people laugh, cry, and clap at your words is an incredible feeling.  We haven’t done these recently because they take a lot of planning but we will resume them when there’s enough interested parties (or robotic event planners become cheaper).
  • Self published collections.  Pimpin’ Prompts is only the latest AWA-affiliated book to hit shelves.  Also check out The Journey Home and Writers After Dark.  We are planning on a humorous collection in the coming year and will have more details in time.
  • Free Meetup.com group.  Meetup.com can be expensive if you want to start your own group, but please feel free to post any events related to fun, friendship, health (hiking etc), creative inspiration (going together to see movies, music etc), and of course anything writing related (as long as it’s not just an advertisement — I reserve the right to take those down).  Connect to your peeps and make new friends.  I’d love people to use this page more often.  Feel free — it’s your page!
  • Mentoring.  While not an official offering, you’ll find wonderful support and help from almost every member of AWA you meet.  We all have different experiences and viewpoints to help you reach your goals, and we’ve all asked ourselves the questions running around in your brain (well, maybe not that one).  I’m happy to answer any writing questions I can by email.
  • A chance to gain experience in teaching classes, spearheading events, editing book collections…  Seriously, this is a group that is all about each person becoming better because someone else is bold enough and excited and wants to share.  So get in here and begin to see yourself as a teacher, a leader.  You’ve got wonderful experience that no one else has and everyone needs to become the best writer they can be.  And when you see what kind of mentor YOU can be, you’ll never think of yourself the same way again.  I haven’t.

How to find more info: Check out the Upcoming Events link on this site, or join our free Meetup.com group — http://www.meetup.com/People-Who-Have-Come-Alive-Achieving-Your-Dreams-in-Athens.  Join our Facebook page.  And contact me, your founder, at katherinecerulean@gmail.com if you’re interested in the Tuesday Writing/Critique Group; being part of our new critique group; teaching/editing/event planning; or if you have random writing questions.

The AWA is comprised of real writers, i.e. people who write a lot on the whole.  That takes up time.  Add in full time jobs and family responsibilities (not to mention the once-a-year dish washing) and we individually only have so much energy to plan events and grow the AWA in new and unexpected ways.

That’s where you come in.  The AWA is a tool to allow you to connect, create, and improve yourself and your writing — one day at a time.  It’s full of the nicest people you’ll ever meet but we’ve saved a seat, right in middle, for you.  So come join us, and make 2016 your best, most exciting year of writing yet.

Found on wellsfargocommunity.com

Found on wellsfargocommunity.com

 

 

It’s Time for NANOWRIMO!

For all you interested Athens writers, it’s time for National Novel Writing Month!  We have several AWA members participating.  Come meet them at the Kick-off for NaNoWriMo on Nov 1st at Avid Bookshop on Prince Avenue from 6:30pm-7:30pm with Lucy Ralston.

Learn more about NANOWRIMO here.

NaNoWriMo — in August? Nonsense!

 

Workshop: NaNoWriMo- 50,000 Words in A Month with Par Ramey

If you’ve heard of National Novel Writers Month, but never tried it (or are hearing about it for the first time), then come join the Athens Writers Association for NaNoWriMo — with a twist!

The always awesome Par Ramey has volunteered to lead a workshop on July 22nd (6:00pm – 8:00pm) at Lisa’s Writing Den (297 Prince Avenue Suite 15, Athens, GA) on the National Writer’s Movement – NaNoWriMo.  A group of us have decided to ready our skills for the National and International NaNoWriMo Writer’s Challenge in November by attempting to do a pseudo ‘write off to readiness’ – writing nonsense for the 31 days of August with rules to be shared at the workshop in July.

I’ve always admired the people who do NaNoWriMo but I’ve never gotten involved myself.  This just sounds too cool to pass up though, so I be gearing down and buckling up with Par and the others to bring NaNoWriMo to Athens for August.  If you want to leap forward in both skill and confidence, then writing a whole lot is a great way to go.

Get serious (about nonsense).

Get excited.

JOIN US!!!

This is gonna be fun!