Athens, Georgia, Writers

Thank you Athens Writers Association…

 

AWA jan 2016

“I’ve heard it said
That people come into our lives
For a reason
Bringing something we must learn
And we are led
To those who help us most to grow
If we let them
And we help them in return
Well I don’t know if I believe that’s true
But I know I’m who I am today
Because I knew you…

-Lyrics from “For Good,” Wicked

I first met Katherine Cerulean in July 2013 at The Coffee Shop of Athens, once our Athens Writers Association’s home away from home, before they closed their doors in November 2014.

Little did I know when I walked into that coffee house that my life was about to change.

I had been living in Athens, Georgia for a year and a half, and I was struggling. I was struggling to find my own life in a part of the country where I’d never visited, much less lived. I’d never lived outside of California, and I was 40 years old when I moved to Georgia to join my husband, who had recently achieved his lifelong dream of becoming a tenure-track professor.

Still, I had to find my own way, my own life, my own friends, in Athens. As optimistic as I was when I arrived, and as hard as I tried to fit in anywhere, with anyone, I kept falling on my face – and that was hard. Many times I felt like giving up, but I kept looking for new people to meet, new groups to join. I’d made a commitment to my husband, and to myself, to make it work – this was the life I had chosen. There had to be a place for me. And I’d come here to pursue my own lifelong dream – to finally give myself permission to become a full-time writer.

My first attempt at joining a critique group in March 2012 was a disaster. I was the poster child for blowing a first impression. In the middle of the meeting, I burst out with a comment about how everyone only had negative things to say about other people’s writing, and proceeded to bluntly tell them that they were discouraging other writers by not focusing more on praise.

Talk about putting my foot in my mouth.

I’ve since learned how to catch flies with honey instead of vinegar here in the South, and in general, but needless to say, I burned that bridge with that writing group. To my credit, I went back to two more meetings, and to their credit, they were polite, albeit not particularly welcoming. Who could blame them after this stranger from the west coast lectured them on night one? After that, I decided writing groups were just not for me…

…until Katherine Cerulean…and The Athens Writers Association.

 

awafeb2014

I missed their first meeting in March 2013, but really, the AWA did not take off until August, the second meeting I attended. At that point, I met more writers, who are now a part of the critique group I’ve been working with for five consecutive years. Katherine named me, Rob White, Jennifer Innes and Elsa Russo her co-founders, a title which I am proud to bear and strive to live up to in everything I do with, and for, the writing community in Athens.

I can’t say that I “became” a writer that day, but in many ways, it feels true.

Sometimes in life, it takes someone, or something, to turn the tide of the storm. For me, Katherine was that someone, and Athens Writers Association was that something. Everything in my life literally changed from that day on – I made friends, I had a purpose, I had a life of my own to compliment my husband’s life in Athens. I felt different – happy, fulfilled, important…and what I put out into the world began to come back to me. I began to see how I was making a difference in other people’s lives with my positive energy, my encouragement of other writers, my moral support, my participation in our workshops, events, public readings, and publications. I got my first editing client through my AWA critique group, and then yet another career I had sort of begun with my husband’s manuscripts, took on a life of its own, in a new direction, that has shaped me into a full-fledged editor today.

xmas critique group

When I think about my life in Athens, Georgia, I have so many regrets, none of which I want to mention, but I will never, ever regret the AWA. It has been the best thing that could have happened to me, and I know it is the reason I came here.

A friend once told me that people come into your life for a reason, as the song, “For Good,” so beautifully says. Sometimes it is just for a season. Sometimes it is for a lifetime. But when they come into your life, they are meant to be there, with you, at that time. It is not always clear until years later, long after they have left you, why they were there, but you will know…they came at the right time, at the time they were supposed to be in your life.

I know that Katherine, and Rob, and Jennifer, and Elsa, and Nancy, and Charlie, and Zhanna, and Greg, and Danny, and Lisa, and Par, and Sharon…and all the writers in our beautiful community came into my life for this short season, for the very purpose they were meant to be with me. For it is because of them that I have blossomed, and I know as I move on, the petals on this beautiful, glorious flower I have grown into will never wilt. They will always be with me, and I will always be writing.

katherine

Last night, Katherine read a beautiful tribute to her life in Athens, and at the end, I choked up, for embedded in her eloquent essay was her farewell to Athens, and to her Athens Writers Association that she had built from scratch with all her heart and soul.  Although we do not know when, exactly, we know that she and her sister have plans to explore amazing far-off places, and we all look forward to reading about her travels in the stories she writes about them.

I, too, will be moving on, though I do not know exactly when, or where, either. Strangely, it feels like serendipity that  Katherine and I are both now singing our swan song to the AWA that we cherish so much.

And, although my life here started out rocky, and frightening, and lonely, and uncertain, I have grown to love this college town of Athens, Georgia with all my heart…and…I wish I never had to leave.

My heart aches. For in the end, it took too long, for Athens to become so permanently ensconced in my soul, that my heart is breaking to part ways with her.

And now I never want to say goodbye, for everything I love is here. Everything I hoped for in life, came together here…but it all came together just a little too late…

But, wherever I go, and whenever I get there, I know Athens, and the Athens Writers Association, came into my life for a reason, for this season, and that as the beautiful song from Wicked says… I have been changed…for good.

Athens, I love you.

 

 

 

 

 

Writing

Know Your Local Writer: Jill Hartmann

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 (?)

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.

005

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.

jane-austen-about-girls

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.

john-steinbeck-quote

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.

toby-jill-fb-sd2-copy