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The Rich Writer

The Rich Writer: May 2009

The Rich Writer

How to Thrive on the Writer's Road

Friday, May 29, 2009

Rich Writers: Cicily Janus

Rich Writers is a series of interviews with writers at various stages of their careers, sharing their thoughts on how to balance writing with the rest of life and how to thrive on the writers’ road.

cicily Cheryl: Where are you on your writing road?

Cicily Janus reports: I’m in a very good place right now, because I have ideas that are working for me, and not ideas that I’m not sure will work. Instead, I’m in that sweet spot where my pitch has worked. I have an agent who believes in me, despite some extensive hand-holding.

I only got here by walking through some very “salty spots”, though, the coarse kind that hurts!

Now, I have validation for what I’m trying to do. 

Cheryl: What’s been the most helpful tool or resource along the way?

Cicily: Reading the right kinds of books. If you’re writing nonfiction, read nonfiction, etc.

I get tired of people saying, “I don’t have time to read.” Artists look at art, musicians listen to music—why should writers be any different?

Another thing that’s been really helpful to me as a writer? Actually WRITING and not wasting my time doing a lot of other things. There’s nothing like getting the words down, rather than just sitting around thinking about it!

It’s also been helpful for me to listen to music lyrics. People don’t realize the power of telling a story in two or three minutes. That’s the ultimate flash fiction. Listen to music, especially country or the blues, how they put a whole story in a few lines. People don’t listen to music enough in terms of listening to what the power of words can do.

Cheryl: How do you balance writing with the rest of your life?

Cicily: My family really influences me as a writer—they make me take pause and realize that what I’m doing is only a part of who I am.

Sometimes I get stuck when I’m writing. I tend to forget that I’m a writer with children and a husband, and they’re very much a part of me and not just something there.

I also take advantage of the captive audience I have at home!

I think a lot of women miss out on this because they say, “Go away, I’m busy” when they could be calling their kids over and asking questions, like: What if you took God and put him in Manhattan? What would be the coolest thing about that? You’d be surprised what they’ll say.


Random House author Cicily Janus has lived in too many states to count on one hand. Now, she's thought to be living in Colorado with an assortment of friends, animals, family members and more. The voices have taken over and resulted in a pretty sweet deal from Random House. Her non-fiction book, The New Face of Jazz is due out on shelves in the Summer of 2010. Other projects in the wings include a children's book, a biography of Diane Schuur, a novel about a sleep-deprived pilot and more. She also writes for Downbeat Magazine, Westword/Village Voice and offers private writing and editing sessions.

For kicks she nourishes the souls of other creatives at her semi-annual writing retreat in Breckenridge, CO: Writing Away Retreats. If you want to know more about Cicily in general, you can check out her website at or email her at But, if you are a friendly publishing guru and would like to speak legalese with a contract in mind, please contact her super-duper agent, Gary Heidt of Signature Lit. He rocks.


Thursday, May 28, 2009


I love starting a new writing project. Beginnings have all the potential of a great work plus all the fun of research—without much of the angst-y questions, like: Is this any good? Will anyone want to publish it? How will I rewrite this scene so it flows better?

P1070139 Beginnings don’t bother with specifics and picayune details. Beginnings let me besiege my interlibrary loan system with requests for books on orcas, sailboats, the Pacific Northwest, and round-the-world cruising…and then I get to READ these books.

I have actually been writing, though. After a week and a half of research—when every time I tried to actually start writing, I thought of something else I needed to find out first—I finally crafted the first chapter of the new book. (I want to crank out at least in the next week, because my critique group tackles the Peru book June 5th :P). Today, I drafted another first chapter.

My every-helpful husband suggested that I might confuse the readers, if I keep two chapter #1’s in the book. Good think I keep him around, don’t you think?

Sigh. Writers. We might not always get paid, but man, we have the most fun!

:) Cheryl

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Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Good News!

gary My writing road took a major turn for the better in the past few weeks, when Agent Gary Heidt of Signature Literary offered to represent me. Yes, I still get a ridiculously silly grin on my face every time I say "my agent". I had the remarkable good fortune of meeting him at the Spring 2009 Writing Away Retreat, where he critiqued 10,000 words of my work-in-progress, a contemporary YA novel.

If you haven't checked out the Fall Writing Away Retreat, do so immediately! It's a fantastic opp, especially for up-and-coming writers. More on that later.

As for Gary—well, what can I say? It’s exhilarating to have someone on my team. He read my middle grade fantasy in a single day and loved it, is enthusiastic about the YA novel he critiqued at the retreat, and we connect on a creative level.

There are no guarantees, of course. I keep telling myself that. I know plenty of writers who have signed with agents and then didn’t sell their books.

But it’s worth a bit of celebration!

:) Cheryl


Monday, May 25, 2009

The New Blog

Drumroll please.... Woman at beach throwing her arms back behind her.

After much thought and soul-searching (helped out by some great posts on branding over at Through the Tollbooth), I think I've pinpointed some common themes in what I write.

This was a daunting task for someone who writes patient education material, medical presentations, blogs about the writing life, science articles for adults, science articles for kids, children's fiction, young adult fiction, fantasy, contemporary, serious, and light-hearted. What the heck does all this have in common?

But as I went through the exercises, some common themes started to emerge:

  • I write about kids discovering their worth
  • I write about kids figuring out their place in the world
  • I write about people finding joy in what they do
  • I write about nature animals--topics that bring me joy

Mix them all together--and I found that I write about people learning to thrive in their lives.

That's what I want to do. I want to write about how we, as writers, can thrive even as we balance writing time with other full time jobs, such as parenting, caring for a parent, or doing other kinds of work that satisfy the need for an income, but not the creative muse.

I want to write about the RICH writing life. Writers might not all be rich in coin, but we have our own brand of reward! As of today, this blog is moving to a new address: The Rich Writer. There I'll offer regular encouragement; share useful tools and resources; and present interviews with other writers on the road, about how they balance it all. Please...come pay me a visit!

:) Cheryl


Friday, May 22, 2009

A New Direction


First off, thanks and an apology to all you faithful readers who have been visiting my blog only to find it rather sparse on content of late. Between a flurry of deadlines and end-of-school madness and a bout of illness (pneumonia! Who gets pneumonia in sunny, gorgeous May weather?), this blog has definitely been on a downward slide.

But that slide has prompted a bit of soul-searching, the kind that almost every blog writer undergoes sooner or later. What's the purpose of this blog? Who am I trying to reach? What am I trying to provide for them?

I started this blog July 2007, almost two years ago. When I did, I envisioned it as a place to post my thoughts on the writing process--and the process of being a writer. Fine goals, those, but I think there are plenty of other writers/bloggers out there doing the same thing.

Since then, I've delved more into the blogging community. I've discovered blogs that I love, like the Shrinking Violets, targeted toward introverted writers; Yat Yee's blog, with its focus on book reviews and fostering a community of writers; and, of course, the quintessential children's writers' blog, Cynsations. I find that the blogs I keep reading are those with a focus or perspective no one else offers.

I want to do that. week this blog will set out in a new direction. Don’t worry—I’m not planning massive changes—but I want to hone my focus. It’s time to shake things up a bit!

:-) Cheryl


Friday, May 15, 2009

Great Characterization Post

I just read an awesome post Questions to Reveal Character over at R.L. LaFevers writing blog. I’m in the midst of creating characters for a new writing project and her recap of questions-that-help-you-get-to-the-heart-of-your-character provided me with a great tool for figuring out how my various characters interact.

Here’s a taste:

Which is where these questions I mentioned the other day came in so handy. They are from a workshop Michael Hague gave at the RWA National Conference a couple of years ago. He suggests that the internal journey of a character is a transformation from persona (the construct that they show the world) to their essence (their true nature).

I’ve summarized the list on an index card (purple) for future inspiration. Thanks, Robin!

:-) Cheryl


Thursday, May 14, 2009

Feeling old?

I suppose I should explain the recent scarcity of posts. I’ve been pretty sick—nothing too serious, just respiratory stuff—but sick enough that my ramblings were a bit too random for publication. I’m on the upswing, now, and wanted to share the week’s inspirational exchange:

Me (puffing for breath after descending a flight of stairs and hobbling to the computer): Wow. I feel like an old woman.

13-year-old son: I know what you mean. When I was sick, I felt really old, too—like 29 or something.

I’m pretty sure he was just yanking my chain. Pretty sure.

Anyways, I’m feeling well enough to chafe at the need to sit still and well enough to scribble down story ideas and play with plot twists and character quirks. I’m not saying their good ideas, twists, or quirks, but it’s a start!

:) Cheryl


Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Today’s Writing Challenge—And a Resource

Today’s writing challenge illustrates the kind of problem I never thought about before I started submitting items for publication: I need to (probably) change the name of the *key* artifact in my middle-grade fantasy, Juggling the Keystone. Bad pun intended.

The Keystone is a magical orb that is sort of a wizard’s all-purpose key. It unlocks things. Anything. Unfortunately, the word was previously claimed by the architectural world. Merriam Webster defines it as “the wedge-shaped piece at the crown of an arch that locks the other pieces in place”—not the kind of thing you’d want your main character to juggle.

So why not just call it the Wizard’s Key or Magekey or something like that? Well, another important item in the book is the songstone. I kind of like the parallel name structure—Keystone, songstone—since they’re kind of parallel items.

To help me tackle this challenge, I’ve been using one of my favorite resource books, the Flip Dictionary, by Barbara Ann Kipfer, Ph.D. It’s kind of like a thesaurus, but not. Instead, it offers collections of related words for those of us who can’t come up with quite the perfect phrase. For example, under “horse” there’s a table of “Horse Terms”, including: martingale, oxer, passage, piaffe, prance, puissance, rack, singlefoot, tack, tittup, trot, and volt.

For my renaming challenge, I’ve consulted the entries for key, stone, orb, unlock, puzzle, magic, open, and container, which gives me a nice list of names that almost work.

For the Key motif: Mermetic Key, Wizard Key, Riddle Key, Arcana Key

Or, keeping the Stone motif: Wizard Stone, Riddle Stone, Solving Stone, Unlocking Stone, Opening Stone, Maze Stone, Gordian Stone (which I like, but refers to a completely different universe and mythology.)

I kind of like GPS stone, but I guess that doesn’t work, either. Any suggestions?

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Monday, May 11, 2009

A New World


Well, after spending a weekend feeling lousy—mostly sick in bed—I got up today feeling like I’d stepped into a new world. After yesterday’s rain, huge drops of water sparkle on every leaf and grass blade; the path to my son’s school is awash with lilac fragrance; tulips, irises, basket-of-gold, and lilacs splash the world with color; and the songbirds are out in force, fighting over territory and mates with a battle of music. It was like stepping into a fantasy world, painted just a bit too bright and beautiful to be real.

Or maybe that’s one gift of the writer—seeing the storybook ideal overlaying the real world.

Or maybe that’s just what I do when I’ve been sick: see everything with fresh eyes. For instance, I get up in the morning assuming that I’m completely better when, in fact, I might still be dragging just a little…or a lot. It just seems, to my storybook mind, that if I want to be better, I should be better. I have so many things I want to do!!!

If anyone knows how to make that work, please let me know. Otherwise, I think I’ll be having a slightly less productive day today than I’d originally fantasized!

:) Cheryl


Wednesday, May 6, 2009


In some ways this feels like the first real day of the retreat. I wrote yesterday, a little, but most of what I did was think. I pressed my back onto the warm boards of the deck and imagined scenes floating in bubbles above my head, imagined how they fit together and built on one another, and I picked and prodded until I had a new opening chapter for the Peru book. It’s a much stronger opening and does a better job setting the tone for what the book’s really about. That chapter, I wrote, all three pages of it.

And then I had to go through the same process for what should come next.

It’s such a glorious thing to have hours of silence and solitude in which to recreate this story into something closer to the ideal that’s in my mind. Today, I continue that process. I’m sitting on the porch, computer plugged into the wall, while rain chatters against the tin roof overhead and drips from the eaves in front of me. The sky is gray, the air is chill, and for the moment at least I believe that I’m a writer and that beautiful things are going to pour forth from my fingers.

Every writer needs a time like this, a time when there’s enough quiet to hear what’s in your heart. I feel incredibly lucky to be here.

:) Cheryl

PS—I’m posting my accounts of the retreat a few days in arrears, because we didn’t have Internet access at the retreat house.

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Saturday, May 2, 2009

Retreat Prep

I've never been involved in procuring food for a small crowd of people like our retreat group. It's the kind of experience that makes me want to start wrtliting cooking mysteries, just to be able to incorporate the sheer sensual experience of buying enough food to fill a car trunk side to side and top to bottom. Check out the grocery cart:

This is only a portion of the weekend's food, the Costco fresh produce section, to be precise. We also spent an hour at a local cooperative market, where it was possible to buy things like heirloom tomatoes, arborio rice, fresh cilantro, flax seed pancake mix, and mango lassies. Yum...

It was nice to participate in prep work, because I definitely needed a mental transition to get into the weekend. As for the food? Wwow. That's all I can say.

-- Cheryl