Tuesday, February 26, 2008

He Turned Off the Alarm Clock and Looked in the Mirror and Other Advice on Beginnings

Up and Around

Currently on my IPOD:
"Oh, What a Beautiful Morning"
~Ray Charles Version...Check it out!

Quote of the week:
Only dull people are brilliant at breakfast.
An Ideal Husband
~Oscar Wilde

Current Weather:
Light wispy clouds of hope followed by
afternoon thunderstorms with possible
lightening strikes consisting of hard work.

My Dear Friends,

How are you this week? Me? I'm fine. Just dandy. I am currently in Santa Barbara visiting with my editor to start the revision process. I flew into LAX yesterday evening and the bus ride from there to S.B. was quite beautiful. The pics from the sunset will be up in my myspace slideshow and under places I've been for viewing if you are interested in seeing them.

So, the revisions have begun. But first things first. Go through your MS and highlight all the adverbs, seems to's, as if's and other sins of manuscript transgression. Then after you are done with that, check the opening scene. Did your character hit his alarm clock snooze button for the tenth time and get out of bed? And then what...did he look at himself longingly in the mirror, rub his day old stubble and then reflect about his sunken cheeks, pale blue eyes and the big hairy birthmark in the shape of Iraq on the top of his forehead and then ruminate about how he was going to become the next Gorbachev. And then after this long mirror ego stroking session maybe he'll manage to go to the bathroom, look in the mirror again and then take a shower after he has decided to shave his birthmark before announcing his plans to take over a country....

Hmmm...one of the best exercises I have been taught is to go to the bookstore, library or whatever and read the openings to as many books as possible. One of the bigger sins in writing is to open a book with this typical newbie opening. So Cicily, where the hell are you going with this...

Well, after removing the opening scene of my book and moving it towards the end of the book where it properly belonged, I realized that I was now starting the book out with my MC waking up, getting out of bed and beginning his morning routine. I then felt like the book needed the words, but little did he know that today would change his life... Yeah, don't do that one either. Unless you add to the story some dark and impending doom theme music as the reader goes along. So,what this means for me, is that its time for a new opening to the story. I can keep this scene in there, somewhere, somehow, because I feel its important to the story and to the MC characterization, but means its time for a new opening.

The opening scene in your book needs to be stellar, exciting and nail bitingly good. What is going to make your book different than other books? What can make it stand out to that editor, agent or grandmother in the nursing home down the street?

As a reader, would you give a shit about what's going on if the only thing the character does in the opening scene is turn off the damn alarm or look in the mirror and reflect upon his good looks? Now, here's the exception. If your MC turns off the alarm, the clock explodes and giant demonic looking Care Bears drop from the sky, screaming Tally Ho as they leap into his bedroom through his roof and he immediately ensures himself and the beautiful woman sleeping next to him that he WILL save the world, then that is a whole different story. And let me know if you do write this story, I would love to read it.

You need to start off with some kind of action or something that gives you the beginning of the history of the MC. (And no, turning off an alarm clock is not action and backstory doesn't count either.) If you are writing a fantasy novel or sci-fi novel, beware of your backstory. I know you have spent countless hours creating this world and that you feel you HAVE TO, explain what happened before you can get on with the story, but what the reader inherently wants from you is not the history of the world you created in a 100 page introduction. The reader wants to see your hero or heroine in the action of defending his home planet, cyborg or concubine from the evil whatever. Show us what happened in the past in little doses throughout the book. Trust me, give your reader some credit and open up with a bang of a scene.

Opening lines can vary. But as I said with the first scene..do not have it start with someone doing something mundane like getting out of bed. Opening lines must beg a question, or tell me just enough of the story to get me into the action.

Let's look at some examples of good opening lines:

Dances with Wolves by: Michael Blake: "Leuitenant Dunbar wasn't really swallowed."

This line has me hooked. Already I want to know who this guy is and why someone thought he was swallowed in the first place and what really happened to him. Result, I kept reading.

The Color Purple by: Alice Walker: "You better not never tell nobody but God."

Same kind of thing. I want to know who the character is talking to, why she is telling this person to keep a secret and what her background is because of her speech.

Slaughterhouse Five by: Kurt Vonnegut: "All this happened, more or less."

This line is perfect. What the hell is he talking about? More or less? Is there a lie to be told, is there a partial truth that begs to come out?...You bet. And what do you have to do with this opening line? You have to keep reading.

The same principle applies to short fiction. Let's take a look at some opening lines from the latest issue of McSweeney.

"The Strange Career of Doctor Raju Gopalarajan" by: Rajesh Parameswaran
"None of us were surprised when we heard Gopi Kumar had been fired from his job at CompUSA."

Who the hell is Gopi Kumar and how on earth does someone get fired from CompUSA? And why weren't they surprised?

"Rough Cut" by: Christian Winn: "The Mormon has fought before."

This begs the same question. Who is the Mormon and why was he fighting and what is he doing now?

You should strive to ask these same questions and pull in your reader. The opening line to my second book, which is now officially in progress, is: The three men with whom this started would all be dead by the end.

We'll see how it fits with the rest of the story when it is finished. But for now, I think its sufficiently average.

Overall, your opening scene and lines need to be some of the best lines in your book, no matter what genre, form or whatever the story is. Short, long, novella, novel, flash, it all has to start the same. Give me something to hold onto as I keep reading. First impressions, not only as a writer, but your characters and their story need to be precise and evocative. You wouldn't walk into a meeting with a NY literary agent wearing a T-shirt you've held onto since the sixth grade and a pair of jeans that one would consider flood-waters and a pair of flip-flops would you? So your story shouldn't leave that bad aftertaste in your mouth either. Write something that will change someone's mind about the story and make them keep reading from the first word to the last.

So, for now, I am off. Having said all this, I realize more and more that I need to go work on my own damn opening... Have a wonderful day and of course, I'll see you next week, same time, same place, more or less same topic.

Yours in Openings, Owning Your Story and Oily Fingertips from too Much Popcorn,


Thursday, February 21, 2008

What Not to do When You're Finished

Mood: Moody as hell...

Currently on my IPOD:
Love Song: Sara Bareilles

Quote of the Week:

If a fear cannot be articulated, then it can't be conquered.
Salem's Lot
~Stephen King

Weather in Colorado Springs today:
Scared shitless clouds lingering above my forehead causing wind gusts that take away my ability to reason.

Dear Family, Friends and Whatnots,

I'm going to start today out with another quote. This one happens to come from my current IPOD song and the song on my profile, Love Song. I am mildly obsessed with this gal, her voice is so refreshing and calming. Here it goes,
I've learned the hard way that they all say the things you want to hear...Your twisted words, your help just hurts and you're not who I thought you were, hello to high and dry....I'm trying to let you hear me as I am...

No, I'm not talking about anyone in my life except for me. The change that has taken place in me since I started this process has been enormous. If you haven't written a word in your life, or if you've been wanting to and you don't want to change as a person in the process, then don't start writing. Leave the dream behind, because it will change you.

As you may have guessed by the title of the blog, I've finished the first draft. Word Count: 112,579. Translated into pages: Around 400-ish depending on your font. Translated into time spent on the draft: A whole shitload of time. Mike Neff, upon hearing of my intent on what I want to accomplish in this novel before I even put the first words on the page, looked at me with very serious eyes and politely patted my head and then said, this is going to be the absolute hardest thing you will ever do. And Mike, if you're reading this, I can say with complete honesty that YOU WERE RIGHT!

What is that Mastercard commercial? Oh yeah...

One reem of gleeming, untainted paper at Office Max: 22.75
Printer Ink Cartridge: 29.50
Having your grandiose idea come to life as a shitty first draft (thank you Anne Lamott for the phrase) over the period of a year and a quarter: Priceless

Or is it?

Sanity status: Not good. I'm completely spent and now I find myself out of coupons for the excuse of insanity. So, I have decided to host the world's largest pity party. Come on over and join me in the post-shitty-draft let down. We will drink, eat VERY fattening food (including boxes upon boxes upon boxes of Thin Mints) and read the most awful writing ever to grace dead tree rubbish. Sounds like fun, eh?

After having killed numerous men on paper, wrecked a few dozen lives and letting my house go to utter hell, I am done. You might be telling yourself, Cicily, so get on with it, get over it, deal with it and keep going. People do this every friggin day! Or you might be saying, shut the hell up already.

But, as per my usual, I am going to bestow my writerly wisdom (unfounded) upon you because I love you and I don't want you to inflict this kind of emotional wreckage upon yourself or anyone else in your life during your writing process. Or if you do or already have done this, then you can say, hey, Cicily warned me about this and maybe I should have listened. And that is, only if you can find the source inside of you that gives you the ability to reason. Which is something I don't quite have at the moment. So forgive, listen up and pass the Lemon Drop Martini Mix my way, please...

In Letterman fashion:

Top ten things NOT to do when you finish your first draft.
(These are in order of worst sin to weaker sin)

10. Submit it. I guarantee that if you submit your first draft now, you will get a rejection. Especially if you wrote it over any amount of time that was more than one day. The stuff in the beginning is going to be worse than the stuff at the end, right? So, leave it in your drawer, hard drive or package of Moth Balls for now.

9. Jump off a bridge. First off, the whole thing about having a MS being worth more money after you are dead only applies if you are someone like Richard Russo, John Irving, Stephen King, Joyce Carol Oates etc...A manuscript by me, you or some other no name is just going to provide more evidence as to your insanity and probably cause the Life Insurance company to withhold the money they would have given your family. So, please, stay alive until you can pull either your death or the book off properly and believably and evocatively.

8. Delete the manuscript. Unless you have it for-sure backed up on a flash drive or in your editor's inbox, DO NOT DELETE THE MS. Sure, it may be the worst writing since that book about everyone pooping that you have to read your children at night while potty training, but for now, that is not your problem. Step away from the delete button. ***Clause: If it is backed up sufficiently and you know this for a fact, and it will make you feel better to hit that damn button at the top right hand corner of your keyboard, then by all means go ahead and do it.***

7. Eat WAY too many boxes of Girl Scout Cookies and take up alcoholism as a hobby. This will only make you fat and even more depressed than you already are. Now, if during the process, you have already taken up Alcoholism and carb-consumption as a hobby, then that is an entirely different matter. Come on over to Cicily's ten step program... I hold meetings twice a week at the local bar and I buy all the drinks and fried Twinkies you can manage to put down your digestive tract. Who am I to stop you from killing your liver and giving the Mayo Clinic and John's Hopkins more patients to study the effects of fried foods and Alcohol on mood and liver? I'm all for funding and supporting medical research. Oh, and on the bit about Girl Scout Cookies...They only come once a year, so stock up.

6. Read your manuscript from cover to cover. Yeah, not a good idea. This is what started this pity party in the first place. My editor, Ian, told me to take a break from it no matter what. Don't even touch it. Leave it the hell alone. Don't worry it won't change or starve without you, just leave it alone. I didn't listen. I started to read over it today and realized that it was going to take an act of God or Buddha to straighten it out to be the story I intended for it to be. I crumbled into an oblivion. If you can write a first draft, you can re-write a first draft. That is, unless you have your spouse, friend, or neighbor, run over your hands with their car. Don't do that either.

5. Put it away for good. It's okay and even necessary to put it down for a short amount of time to breathe and re-think some things, but putting it away for good, is not the right thing to do. Even if it means you don't touch it again until the year 2020, when you might have better vision on what's going on...that's okay. Just don't give up. Who knows, during the revision process, you might actually realize that YOU DO HAVE SOMETHING WORTH SALVAGING. It may be that you have to re-write the story in a completely different POV, but that's okay. What's your rush anyway? The world has waited this long to hear what you have to say, so a few more billion years won't hurt a damn thing.

4. Post the entire draft on your website or some public site like Edit Red or Writers Cafe. Guess what, you do this and you can consider it published. Which means that even if the MS is absolutely the most brilliant set of words ever written and the Pulitzer and Publisher's Clearing House gang is driving to your house anytime now, a publisher won't consider it. Not even for a second. Plus, its different than publishing a part of the draft on a closed, password locked internet workshop where the public doesn't have access, but pubbing the whole draft and especially if it is particularly brilliant, you run the risk of having someone claim it as their own. Small risk, but why take the chance?

3. Send it to your mother.
The only thing she is going to do is give you false hope that it is perfect just the way it is. I'll save you the postage, email time and phone call: Your mother: " My little Johnny, you make me so proud. You're the most brilliant writer ever...and good looking too. Don't worry sweetie, you'll not only find a real princess to marry, but you'll be the most famous writer that has ever lived." You'll thank me for that later. ***Disclaimer: Unless your mother is a literary agent in NY or an editor at Random House, I suggest you follow this bit of advice.*** Instead, promise her the first edition copy in hardback after its been published and get her opinion at that point in time.

2. Destroy your laptop or computer. This is for the same reason you shouldn't delete the manuscript. Plus, how would you gain access to my blog to read it?

1. Consider it done. Your work has only just begun...Wait, I hear a Carpenter's song coming on...We've only just begun..to love... Okay, I'll stop singing out loud my favorite seventies love songs and save the karaoke blog for youtube. Revision is in order, possibly a rewrite, and then its your job or your editors job to make sure you rinse and repeat as necessary until desired results are achieved. Right? Right.

I appreciate all of your support, your love and your cheers and jeers throughout my process. I know its all been done before, but this is the first time I've really done it. And no, I am not the same person as before this project, but after all of this self doubt begins to head south, hopefully, I will be better than myself.

Have a wonderful weekend and comment if you want.

Yours in Self-Doubt, Shitty First Drafts and Serving No Purpose with this Attitude,


Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Life is What You Make of It

Current mood: amused
Category: Life

Currently on my IPOD: Sunray by: Rosie Brown (if you haven't heard of her, you need to. She has the voice of an angel.)

Quote of the week: Friendship is constant in all other things save in the office and affairs of love . . .

Much Ado About Nothing

W. Shakespeare

Dear Friends, Valentiners and Weirdo's...

Weather today...Sunny, and for Colorado, quite balmy at 40 degrees. Snow expected tonight. Actual Cicily weather outlook? Cool, calm and collected in my mind, and almost to the end. The end of my novel. I can't friggin believe it. But ya know...It's been almost a year and a month or two or three since I started this draft. And of course its not really done, its just the first time I get to write the words, THE END....After this, the weather is likely to change to a slight bit of trepidation with an afternoon shower or two of frustration lingering into the morning hours. Almost time to start the heinous process of re-writes, revisions and rewhateverittakestomakeitbetter process....

So, what is Cicily going to talk about today. I'm going to sway a little bit off the topic of writing and write on topic of the title of my blog. Yep, caught another person in the act. Writing about you when you're not paying attention...

This little incident happened to take place at the LA airport. As a mother, I know that there are days when you want or absolutely need to pull your hair out. The kids are everywhere, screaming, shouting, wrestling and generally causing premature graying on my part. Those days infiltrate my dreams, my writing(generally, I have a day like this and you can bet someone's getting killed in a story or my book...Really I am a nice person...) Maybe this is why I keep having this dream where all of my teeth are falling out (Which is something I generally fear like some people fear heights, I fear losing teeth...Haven't lost one yet, I am meticulous about dental hygeine) anyway..., and after I pick them up off the floor, my hair starts to fall out...I have it at least once a week. Anyone interpreting dreams out there? What the hell does that mean? Personally, I think its stress.

ON with it Cicily...

Okay, so I am in the airport with an unexpected extended layover of two hours. And btw...LAX has the best security checks, took me less than two minutes to make it through their security. I take my seat in the appropriate terminal after buying my obligatory bottle of water and just as I am about to slip my headphones on my head and relax, I see this family coming my way. FOUR kids, two parents and a crap-load of bags and paraphenalia from Disneyland.

The stroller was full, the kids had at least two noise-making dolls or whatever's in their hands and the mother was carrying balloons, candy, and a plethora of Mickey Mouse ears. The father...carrying nothing but his laptop bag. And a small one at that. But of course, what do they do next? They sit right...next...to...me! Literally, not even leaving a seat between us. And there were PLENTY of seats around.


I smiled politely and placed my IPOD in my ears and turned it up to full volume. The world was full of Maynard Ferguson and Miles Davis instead of their cries for a moment. But then I thought, this might make a great blog. So I turned the music off, but left my headphones in and observed some finer points of parenting from this anonymous family.

The kids sat obediently on their chairs, playing with their respective toys. My guess is that one was around 9, the others between the ages of 3-7. The oldest: boy, the other three, 2 boys and a girl. The mother, completely ignoring the father, who by this time had his lap top opened and in the middle of some game that he should have had headphones for, went to the oldest child and in a very stern voice said, NO MONKEY BUSINESS. And then she walked off.

The father...still playing the game, hadn't even looked up to see that she had gone. The oldest boy then looked at the others and said...YOU HEARD HER...Don't you dare do anything until she gets back. The father...still playing. I don't know, maybe he is half blind and deaf, but I doubt it. After a few minutes, I thought...Hmmm, these kids are so well behaved its ridiculous. I was waiting for the explosion. I got it.

The girl picked up Buzz Light Year from the smallest child and threw it on the ground, screaming...You leave the hair on Cinderella alone. The youngest then pulled her hair, the next to oldest boy then got up, took some kind of toy airplane, walked into the aisle of the concourse and started throwing it around, the older child went to run after the airplane thrower. Meanwhile, the two kids who had Cinderella and Buzz Light Year in a debacle, were full out wrestling on the ground. Rosy cheeks, pulling hair, breathing heavily and almost killing eachother.

Status on the father: Sitting, playing games on his computer.

Finally, the older kid returns to his seat, I pick up Buzz Light Year off the floor, reattach his arm, give it to the youngest boy, who is now sobbing because his Buzz Light Year had not only been decapitated, but had also become a mute, and a parapalegic due to the batteries dying inside. I tried to console the kid, the little girl was crying too. Her cinderella had most of its hair missing. I wonder how much money these obviously well-made toys had cost the parents. The kids finally settle down in their seats and guess what...The older boy stands up and starts walking, pacing back and forth in front of them, the other three, all have their heads down and aren't even looking. He turns to face them and says...What were you thinking? Santa Clause is watching.

Uh? Its the last week of January. Around this time, the mother returns with four happy meals, another bag that appears to be full of cheeseburgers, a liter of Coke and a sweater that says Los Angeles with bright pink palm trees next to the words. She looks at all of them and says, were you good for your father? You know, Santa's watching.

Yeah..and someone else too. Me...

The father? Still playing his game but eating a double cheeseburger too.

Not a peep. I am not writing this to bash fathers. Not at all. I just think that this man truly had the line of Life is What You Make it, going through his head the whole time. Yes, he could have been yelling at them to get settled down or even involving them in this game or finding a kid appropriate game to play with them. But that is him. Not all father's are like this. My dad? He would have probably been helping me make that paper airplane fly through the terminal, laughing at the businessman having to duck and dodge the plane as it came close to their gelled hair.

So how does this story end? First off, the true characterization and scene of this family as golden, I will probably turn it into a story one day, or you can feel free too as well. But you know, someone is always watching you. The oldest child, obviously in line to be the next leader of the free world, at least in his mind, sta down, slipped on an IPOD, ate his processed nuggets and soda and fell asleep. The others weren't so exhausted, but they were tame. As we started to board the plane, the girl turned to the youngest boy and said, you got your magic undies on? And he replied, Yesssss, no accidents today for me!

The mother and father? She was toting all the stuff from the stroller in her arms, the stroller was checked at the gate and the father, had only his laptop across his shoulders. The youngest kid began to cry, full out screaming and the father finally spoke...Kids who wear magic undies don't cry. They got on the plane and as I walked past them to go sit in the very back, all of the kids were fast asleep.

Maybe the father is right, life is what you make it. For me, I make it into stories, stressed days and careful observations to see what works and what doesn't.

But, be careful, someone is always watching. Go put your magic undies on and get over it, live the life you want to live and dont worry about what others are doing. Right?


I'm signing off now so I can go get some more writing done today. I hope your days are sunny and spring springs up sometime soon for you.

Yours in Life, Living and Loving,


Thursday, February 7, 2008

What you don't understand you can make mean anything....And yes, I stole that line from Diary by Chuck Palahniuk

Mood: Exhausted yet reflective
Category: Writing

Currently on my IPOD: The Night Season By: David Nevue

Quote of the Week: The truth is rarely pure and never simple. Modern life would be very tedious if it were either, and modern literature a complete impossibility!

The Importance of Being Earnest

~Oscar Wilde

Dear Friends,

Oh my. This week has been, well the last several weeks have been a whirlwind of whatevers in life. I am saying whatever to the life I lead because I am starting to think that I am taking it all too seriously. So, before I go on I want you to do two things for me. Take your hands and make them into a big W and hold the W in front of your forehead and then...as my girlfriend Carrie is so good at saying, out loud, I want you to scream the word, WHATEVER. It no longer matters does it? Do it again. But this time, do it in front of a mirror. Then laugh. VERY LOUDLY. Make people who live with you wonder. And if you don't live with anyone then do it in front of a mirror the next time you are in a store and trying on clothes in that terrible, three-way mirror. Concern people with your sanity status. Go ahead, I dare you.

Feel better? I do.

A few things are going on. A friend and I are thinking about taking over the world with super powers. Really, a friend and I are considering starting a memoir/non-fiction writing retreat. If you think that this could be something that you would want to attend, contact me through blogger or my myspace page.

Second, I have been ill. Again. But that's okay. Really it is. The hospital gave me lots of time to read and think.

Alright, onto the topic at hand. What you don't understand you can make mean anything...Have you ever written an onomatopoeia? ( No Travis, this isn't a vegetable that is green and sitting on the side of your plate untouched, nor is it related to anyone French and has a starring role in the Veggietales movies. ) Although I am sure Travis knows exactly what this crazy word is.

Onomatopoeia is a word or group of words that is used to describe a sound.

I.E.: Schqwak!!! went the mustard onto his shirt from the little barrel shaped yellow container. He squenched his teeth around the juicy hot dog and the bun fell onto his shirt as well as the ketchup he had applied just moments ago. The boy cursed the hot dog makers for not making the buns as long as the hot dogs and then he sent the Care Bear mafia brothers in Chicago to hunt down the bun makers and kill them with their oozy's that went kapap so fast that you could barely tell that there was more than one bullet in them.

Now if you go and actually write a paragraph this bad, I will call your mother and tell her what you did on your second night in college with that one...oh, what was that name you told me? Yeah, that one.

But I think you get the point. If you don't already have a word in the dictionary for what your character is about to do or trying to do, then make one up, just don't make it look like a mistake. The editors of WHATEVER Press will make you change it up if it doesn't make sense. And make it readable. Like the word, Onomatopoeia...What you don't understand, you can make mean anything.


How's this...The eeks and squench of his shoes echoed through the polished marble in the hall...

Can you hear it? And when you go and start making up the dictionary of you, make sure you read the words you made up for sounds out loud. Will help tremendously.

I am exhausted and heading off for now. Go and write a list of new sound words and post 'em here. Would love to see what everyone comes up with. Or, take a movie or TV show and listen to the sound effects, pause the movie and then write down what you heard.

I hope your health is better than your wealth and your words are all good this weekend.

Yours in Schmacked, Slammed and Sitting Still for the Moment,