It was February 2013 and I was doing my usual social media promotion of a blog post I had written. I was growing my audience slowly but surely and receiving plenty of positive feedback from my readers. Then I got a direct message from someone with the name @jazzwriterchick. The message read, “Call me 719-***-****.” That was it, and I had no idea why she would want me to call her. I replied asking why I should and received no response. Then it hit me: important people willing to give you an opportunity don’t have time to explain things to you. When they tell you to show up, you just do it. So I called her. I recall her telling me that she was a literary agent and the job entailed scouring through blogs to find quality writers to offer opportunities to. I remember her remarks about my works, “Your words.. Your words and the way you use them.” She was impressed to find such creative skill in the mucky swamp of blogs. She asked me if I had any manuscripts ready, and I had to be honest and say no. I could hear the disappointment as she sighed, as she was ready to pitch my work and get me a 6-figure book deal somewhere. She gave me a few tips on what is required of a non-fiction book and told me to keep in touch as I put something together.
Connecting with Cicily Janus
The literary agent that found me on Twitter was Cicily Janus, Random House author of the best-selling book, The New Face of Jazz. To this day I can kick myself for not believing in my talents enough to focus on a manuscript. Since that time, I have continued to write and blog. I also remained in contact with Cicily via email and social media, gaining more advice and feedback as I worked on my growth as a writer. I greatly enjoyed reading her Facebook posts and keeping up with the inspiring musings of a successful writer and literary agent. Then, in 2015, her tone began to change. She posted more and more about being in the hospital and her frustration with being unable to work. At first I thought it was just a chronic condition that she would bounce back from, but her tone began to become more ominous over time.
Documenting her last days
Eventually it became more clear what Cicily was going through. She was fighting a hard battle against cancer. Her posts became more journaling of contemplating death; the mission to live life with passion and vigor before a painful demise; and leaving behind love, a strong legacy, and guidance for her daughters. She utilized Facebook live video and traditional written posts to communicate the final adventures and thoughts of her life, sharing inspiring and emotional content for her friends, family, colleagues, and fans to engage as she made her way to the other side of conscious life. On November 23, 2016 — the day before Thanksgiving — Cicily died at home. However, her transition did not come before I had the opportunity to interview her and create another outlet for her to engage in reflective thought and give an inspiring word to all.
Below you will find the interview, which begins very basic and becomes more in-depth with each subsequent question. Cicily was a magnificent soul who has a passion for life, family, success, and music. She will be remembered in the hearts of many, and I know her spirit is freely floating around not only caring for her family but also helping her clients and potential clients in ways she couldn’t have imagined to be possible in the physical world.
Q: What is your full name, age, and birthplace?
A: Cicily Janus, 39, Virginia
Q: How did you begin your journey as a writer?
A: I’ve been writing since I can remember being able to spell my name. Always a heavy, heavy reader, too. But my career as a writer didn’t take off until I was in my mid-twenties. I fully believe you HAVE to spend 10k hours on any craft before you can call it anything more than a hobby.
Q: Why did you choose to write about music instead of becoming a musician?
A: I was a musician first. Studied jazz trumpet at university of north Florida. Then when I started writing heavily, I focused on the adage of writing what you know.
Q: What was your most memorable piece?
A: Hmmm. Tough one. I would have to say the “last words” section of my book, The New Face of Jazz. Sonny Rollins and I derived this from his interview. It made the front page of the LA Times. I still live by his words.
Q: How did you become a literary agent?
A: I became a literary agent because I love, love, LOVE making dreams come true. There are so many talented writers out there that deserve the exposure.
Q: Who were your most inspirational clients?
A: Allison Gruber, Chris Tarry and Tommy Daugherty.
Q: Who were your mentors throughout your life and career?
A: Hands down, Kate Gale, Scott Hoffman and Jeff Kleinman.
Q: How did your unique work influence your parenting techniques?
A: It definitely taught me to listen to what my kids were actually saying instead of hurrying them up and trying to get them out of my way. I learned who they were as humans instead of kids and we’ve had a considerable close bond.
Q: Do any of your children want to be like you when they grow up?
A: Ha. Good question. They’re all very musical. Margo wants to learn to cook and sell/write books so she can take over my writing retreats. The LLC is in her name in my will. The other two ladies…they do, but in their own way..Natalie, I think will cure cancer. Ella…she’s off to France or Japan the second her butt turns 18 to go study fashion. They’re all very, very, very, very driven and awesome kids.
Q: How long have you been battling cancer, and how has this challenge affected your professional and personal life?
A: Tough. Technically, I’ve been battling Acute Myeloblastic Leukemia since May/June 2015. I’m in end stage and am on hospice at home. I wouldn’t even call cancer a challenge; it’s a bear that tears through the garbage the cancer has made of your innards searching for signs of live meat. The second it finds it….Yep, it gets sucked down too. Cancer turned me into a soft spoken (mostly) quiet and often scared person that attempted suicide more than once.
As far as my career? Ha. What career? I miss my day-to-day work, fast paced phone calls, plans on taking over the world, etc. Now, I just sit and keep myself busy in any way I can. If I can still help clients, I do so. But chemo for months and months on months makes it really hard to concentrate or just really exist in my normal brain power/overdrive. I keep thinking that one day, I’ll get up and I’ll be fine. And there are some days like that, they’re just not nearly as frequent as they used to be..one to two good days a week and I’m on top of the world.
Q: What kind of coping mechanisms do you use during tough and stressful times?
A: Music, art, drawing and friends that visit. They’re my lifelines.
Q: If there is anything about your life or career that you could do differently, what would it be?
A: Get a bag of new bone marrow? Lol. I would have stayed much earlier in my life knowing that it’s getting cut short rapidly. I would have told my clients to listen up more and connected them to each other more.
Q: What inspiring words of advice do you have for writers, publishers, and agents building their careers now?
A: First…write what you know and incorporate all five senses in every chapter and surrounding you can. Second, you are not guaranteed tomorrow. Work on your work today..give everyone a chance in your heart and never, ever dismiss a soul as beneath you. Humans are the most surprising creatures on earth and I’m one of the luckiest alive. Hands down.
In her last stretch, Cicily also promoted and supported the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. If you would like to learn more about the organization and make a donation in Cicily’s name and help the fight against cancer, then you can do so here.