THE BOOK: WHEN I WAS ALIVE
PUBLISHED IN: 2016
THE AUTHOR: C. CIMMONE
THE EDITOR: C. CIMMONE
THE PUBLISHER: UNDERGROUND VOICES – Underground Voices is an independent book publisher, publishing novels, novellas and e-shorts online and in print. To read more about Underground Voices, please visit http://www.undergroundvoices.com.
SUMMARY: WHEN I WAS ALIVE is a collection of short stories, based on actual events. Much of the events are set in the 1980’s and based on my experience of growing up in a small town. The main character narrates each of the stories, which exercises a different emotion: intrigue, self-doubt, grief, disbelief, wonder and indiscriminate love. Despite her seemingly off-putting appearance, the young Cimmone finds normalcy among everything we see unfit, disturbing and tainted. Cimmone makes us feel real and alive; she loves her father, stray cats, and her mother’s distaste for most everything.
THE BACK STORY: As embarrassing as it is to admit, as much as I enjoy writing, I’m not much of a reader. I grossly enjoy film and music and credit these two avenues, along with stand-up comedy, as the inspiration for my writing. I love to hear a good story. I gravitate towards narratives such as A CHRISTMAS STORY, SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION, JOY, FORREST GUMP, and THE ROYAL TENENBAUMS. I’m a sucker for old country songs, trucker songs and 90’s alternative and grunge. My mother was amazed upon discovering my writing ability as she rarely saw me turn a page and often scolded me for playing my headphones too loud.
I had been writing since I was a child, but had never done much with it. Professors commended my essays and degree program achievements, but also informed me that “writing won’t pay the bills.” Years later, with my 30th birthday looming, I began dabbling in the comedy scene. I started doing a lot of writing simply to “get it out,” but I was unsure what to do with the pieces that could not be performed on a gritty comedy club stage. A fellow comic suggested I post one of my ‘gooey hearted’ stories on a social space geared to sharing ‘life stories.’
I initially laughed at the idea and advised “what is that going to accomplish?” His Texas response was, “Well, honey, you never know…” A few months after I posted a few stories to the site – two of which were too long and automatically cut off without my noticing – I received an email with ‘Contract Attached.’ I assumed it was spam. I sat in a grocery store parking lot trying to decide if I had been a victim of identity theft. I miraculously remembered the site and went on to understand that my story, when placed on the site, had been entered in a short story contest.
I enjoyed the excitement of my first publication, but excitement inevitably fades and with only comic friends, I had no input on what to do ‘next’ as a writer. One night I literally typed HOW TO BECOME A WRITER into Google. I was certain to delete my search history, should I collapse on my bedroom floor shortly after. I literally read hundreds of blogs, author biographies and listened to interviews. I took a few notes and found that BEING A WRITER is much like of any other profession: YOU HAVE TO START AT THE BOTTOM. A writer needs momentum – publications on top of publications – to substantiate his or her credibility. I drew up a plan on a beaten-up whiteboard I had used in college, for Pictionary, respectively. I pulled a few stories I had sitting in a quiet C.CIMMONE folder and began submitting. Once those were published, I starting writing new stories; much to my amazement, they were also scheduled for publishing. After the excitement of this wore off, I made the fatal error of entering HOW TO BE SUCCESSFUL WRITING SHORT STORIES in the search bar. This was devastating. The odds of getting a book of stories published were low. I considered going back to stand-up. I considered throwing away a future in writing altogether. Agents don’t prefer short story writers and I honestly did not think my ADD brain could muster the patience to write a 300-page novel.
During this pivotal time, I learned that my step-father had cancer. It wasn’t good. I had had several friends request I write a story about them, but I declined simply because I only write stories which I feel passionately about. Ouch. I write stories after the idea ties knots in my stomach and feels as if it is ready to burst out of my chest. Consequently, I found this no better time than to write a story about my step-father. “The Alligator” was produced and submitted. It, too, was picked up for publication in a literary magazine, Embodied Effigies, and I continued my groove of writing dark and nostalgic stories about my childhood.
One night, I stumbled upon an author bio page and with more Googling, I found my next step (without an agent) would be to publish a chapbook. I pulled a few of my stories together and submitted the chapbook to three publishers. In a few weeks, I received an acceptance letter from Underground Voices. I was elated. My short stories were being heard; they were being appreciated. The stories about my family and odd sense of life and self-awareness were being showcased. It was an exciting moment. I celebrated that morning over champagne at the infamous Torchy’s Tacos in Austin, Texas. I believe everyone eating their eggs and tortillas heard me say “I’m doin’ it!” at least twenty times.
WHY THIS TITLE?: Being a realist, I considered the fact that this publication could possibly be my single, lifelong, literary accomplishment. I imagined my unborn children sitting around a dining table. I could see them sobbing and smiling, missing me over a Christmas dinner. “Mom was a neat lady,” one of them grinned. One shrugged her shoulders as she glanced at an old armoire filled with mismatched papers and topless pens. I had hoped I would leave something behind, other than ugly furniture, for them to remember me by.
Additionally, I considered how much I cherished my parent’s old stories about dead cousins and quirky grandparents. Those stories made me feel like I was there, living their life with them fifty years. I felt WHEN I WAS ALIVE was an appropriate title – origin a bit dark, but likely appreciated long after I’m gone.
After the publication went live, a gracious reader left this review,
“I feel as though I’ve been taken … back to a childhood time when the world was somehow more alive. These stories brim with a sense of wonder, discovery, and an honest sort of nostalgia that make them hard to put down or to forget.”
It was at that moment I realized the title also described our memories of feeling “alive” as a child and viewing the world with awe and wonder, no matter how small the experience or observation. The reader is a close friend of mine and we agreed to print a derivative of his comment on my author swag, which I use for my author events: “Go back to a time when the world was somehow more alive.”
WHY WOULD SOMEONE WANT TO READ IT? I always thought it was interesting that people wanted to read my stories. My friend, Christine, had suggested, “Well YOU don’t read anything, so how could you relate to ‘wanting’ to read something?” She had a point. I had to learn to accept the compliments and understand that these stories were transporting strangers into a different place and time – and that’s what they crave, much like I seek with film and music.
Many readers reach out and thank me for the stories. It seems everyone is reminded of someone or something from their childhood that were long since folded and tucked away. The book digs up those hidden parts of who we are and readers appreciate those long since forgotten memories of old puppies and kittens or little conversations with a grandfather or childhood friend.
I always try to keep the narrator’s sex as ambiguous as possible, simply because I wanted men and women to be pulled in as close as possible to the main character. She plays in the dirt, she likes worms and her father’s mystique, but she also yearns to look like “the pretty little blonde headed girl with pink cheeks” on the cover of a McCall’s pattern. I like to think she represents our youth, our innocence, our fears, and our self-identity at that time of our lives – although she does not truly understand the complexities of life, her observations are well informed and described with such vivid detail, you want to whisper “It’s going to be okay” as she passes through a scene.
When I read a story, I want it to take me somewhere. I want to slip into someone else’s skin and see the world through their eyes; otherwise, what’s the point? These stories are dripping with imagery. I felt like I was standing right next to her in every story. I highly recommend this book. – Amazon Customer, AMAZON REVIEW: Compelling Imagery, August 20, 2016
Cimmone has a really elegant fluidity to her writing that makes even worms, dirt, and unfortunate circumstances sound beautiful. “The Alligator” is a great mix of humor and tension, and is a very vivid, fun read. – Lynsey Morandin, Publisher, Hypertrophic Press
Cimmone is one of the most exciting writers of recent years. Her writing hits you with a jolt of excitement, and it doesn’t let go. Intelligent and incisive, this is writing to read at one sitting, to immerse yourself in – and then to re-read later, and to cherish. C. Cimmone is going to be a very big name indeed, sooner rather than later, I think. – Cathy Bryant, Editor of Best of Manchester Poets 1-3, Author and Blogger at Comps and Calls for Writers
AUTHOR PROFILE: At a recent doctor’s appointment, I had the gall to put pen to paper on the demographics form and populate the occupation field with WRITER. Although it wasn’t 100% true in relation to the corporation listed on my insurance card, it made me feel like I’d finally accomplished something. Later that night, I selfishly complained to a friend that I didn’t “know what to do next to become something that matters.” He felt the need to explain,
“Cimmone – do you realize you do more than most of the people in this world? On top of working, family and bills, you’re doing it. You’re living the dream. You’re writing. You’re getting published. You’re putting yourself out there; and that’s more than most. That’s more than me. I don’t even know what my dream is. I don’t even know what my passion is. I’m just living my life, but you’re REALLY living your life…you’ll get there, I promise.”
This was a conversation mixed with Patron and publication congratulations. It was a conversation that has stayed with me. I will always be a writer, whether it a failed writer, a successfully writer or a one-hit-wonder writer. I’ve written since I was a child. Writing saved me from all the terrible things that find you, haunt you, and follow you around.
To read more about my publications and musings, please visit www.ccimmone.com.
AUTHOR COMMENTS: “Snowflakes in a Blizzard is a special opportunity for the book. A short collection of stories is difficult to market when you aren’t known for who you married or how you died. Honestly, I wish I could personally read the publication to my readers. The words are like music in my mind; and although I’m no Rain Man, I like to consider my readers are being honest in their conclusion that I have knack for moving people through time. Underground Voices paid me the ultimate compliment by publishing the work and I owe much gratitude to them.
Even if I sold a million copies, I would still chuckle when people describe me as a ‘gifted’ writer. I explained my process to a close friend with the following,
“People think I sit around coming up with metaphors. I don’t. No matter what I do, see, or feel, my mind automatically makes a connection with something unrelated. When I sit down to write a story, I simply write down what I saw and how I connected things together. Some people see ‘trees,’ but I hear the tree. I feel the tree move. I smell the air that is carried through the tree. It stays with me. All I do is write it down. It’s nothing special.”
He ended the conversation with hints that perhaps I was odd; furthermore, he added he does not view the world this way. Maybe I do pay more attention to the stranded earthworm after a rainstorm. Maybe I do think the trees are mumbling. Mentally peculiar or not, it makes for a great story on paper.
“Cats made my mother’s skin crawl – at least that’s what she said, anyway. She knew my father welcomed them into our backyard to drag away the fish heads that fell from the fat nails along the Pecan tree after his trips to the river. My mother would watch, with steely eyes and cigarette in hand, as Precious and new strays, not yet named, scarfed and choked away on the tiny bones and silver scales. With every hack and hiss, my mother’s shoulders waned with disgust. Her jaws clenched to the sounds of the tiny crushes and slurps; and I could hear her teeth grind and gnash until she gave up on her cigarette and went back in to the safety of her kitchen walls.
As Precious and her pack devoured the last of my father’s leftovers, the ice chests, once filled with brown flounder, were rinsed of their slime and sand and the water hose roared like a jet against the flat bottom boat. The cats winced as the drops came too close, eyeballing my father with full mouths, but never fouling their stances – they had been here many times, and knew as well as I did that my father would never scat them away.
Precious and her strays, full and fat, would curl up on my mother’s car hood, smile and stretch with spiteful toes and tails, and watch the mosquitoes roll in. My father’s boots hung upside down and the frogs peeked up through the cracks in the broken driveway. Everyone was soft and still, besides the mosquitoes, who were always on duty.
The night after my father’s fishing trip was tired and quiet. The sitcoms and commercials, who usually whispered to him all night, rested with us; and only the sound of forgetful June bugs hitting the windows remained. My father started his snoring and my mother’s noisemaker greeted the night.
But as rude as my father’s alarm clock, the night would reach its fateful moment when Precious and a stray would knock their heads under my bedroom floorboards, down the hall and back around. The popping and hissing, the moaning and screaming was ill and anxious. The rumbling and scratching of the wild cats rattled my mother. Her bedroom door soon pulled open and her feet pushed the creaky floorboards out of the way. My mother’s lighter would STRIKE as Precious popped the floorboards. Two more strikes of my mother’s lighter, one more POP, and the battle was silenced. The pale smoke crept down the hallway, now silent once again; and the night went back to rest with my father and his snoring.
My father was rested the next morning; and my mother packed the fish away into the freezer as my father and I made our rounds. Precious sat atop my mother’s car, breast over feet, as if the day hadn’t started its troubles.
“Here kitty-kitty-kittttay!” I hollered from the garage. My father clinked and clanked this tool against that one and sawdust blew around underneath us. Precious turned her head.
“Oh my gosh! Oh, no! Dad! Dad!” I pointed to Precious.
My father, wrench in hand, dropped his chin and stood still.
The mosquitoes took advantage of my father and I, both paralyzed by the tragedy.
The flies tried to beat each other to Precious’ face. The sticky, red meat of her muscles burned my stomach. Precious stared at my father.
“Just leave her alone. She’s ‘lible to get after you if you try to mess with her. Just leave her alone. She’ll be alright.” My father went back to his tools, but couldn’t hide his constant raised eyebrow at Precious every few seconds. She turned away. Her tail was low and she squinted her left eye as the flies took over. Precious shifted her weight, re-positioned and returned her eyes to my father, who was maneuvering his way between the table-saw and spit bucket to the back porch. Up he climbed to the back door, and I heard my mother yell as my father’s muddy boots stomped down the hall.
He returned with furrowed brow and my mother’s brown bottle of hydrogen peroxide. Precious watched my father unscrew the lid, and upon the pouring of the liquid, she shook away the bubbles and ran, to clear my father’s reach.
The hair on Precious’ face had started to sprout. She was thankful and weaved between my father’s legs. He continued his sawing and his hammering and his painting.
“What are you making?” I asked.
“Well, I figured since I had this left-over wood and the last of mom’s blue paint, I could make a big birdhouse to match the house.”
Our crippled wood frame house was trying its best, with its new white paint and bright blue trim. I didn’t like color – and my father didn’t either, but he had painted the high parts for my mother and stored her leftover paint on his side of the garage.
“I reckon if I build them birds their own house, they’ll stop building their nests in mom’s clothesline posts.”
My father had turned our front porch into our living room and had broken his thumb screening in our back porch. He kept our roof shingled and our pipes pumping. He built my mother’s tall, pine kitchen cabinets that protected her and the huge armoire that showcased her salt and pepper shaker menagerie.
He hammered and glued, sanded and painted the two-story birdhouse. The edges were wiped blue and the tin roof shined atop the white paint. The ledges, out of dowel rods, were long and accommodating.
“It looks just like our house!” I giggled.
“It sure does,” my father beamed. Precious ‘meowed’ and we waited for the paint to dry.
My father propped the birdhouse up on the old street light pole he had saved. The birdhouse was grand, towering over our broken little house and I couldn’t wait for the bus to come by. My dad, my mother, Precious and I, all stood under the great birdhouse, smiling and squinting. Its roof was pointy, like the houses on Hagerman road, and the paint was shiny and new. My father was proud. We all smiled.
Before too long, the birdhouse was humming and my mother reported that a bird was building a nest in the top floor. My father watched the birds go back and forth. As he watered the hibiscus and the peach tree, he watched the birds. Precious licked her feet and jerked her face, now soft with new hair, as the birds did their work.
My father smiled at the bird house and at me.
“Looks like we might have some babies in there now,” he pointed. The mama bird stood on her doorstep, fat worm in tow. My father grinned at her. She went in to tend to her babies and I kept with my swinging and singing.
The little brown birds who went in and out of the grand birdhouse were quite the workers. The tweets and chirps welcomed my father on his daily trips to the rain gauge, and he updated my mother and I on the family who stayed in his blue trimmed birdhouse.
My mother started her dishes at the kitchen sink, overlooking the back yard, and I finished my okra. My father sighed in the living room at Wheel of Fortune and Precious guarded the front porch against my mother’s wishes. The afternoon air drifted in through the screen doors and the day was tired and content.
“Oh my Godddd….” my mother mumbled. Her dishwater was silent.
“What is it?” I asked.
“Ralph…Ralph…Get in here,” she ordered.
She was still, arms bent, and her right hand gripped her dishrag.
My father’s feet hit the floor.
I quit with my plate scraping and met my mother to stand at the kitchen window.
My mother stood like a statue.
I pushed my toes and looked over the windowsill.
The birdhouse stood, breathing with life. The mama bird was perched with her delivery and poked her head into the top story.
My father, now standing behind my mother, had the same fear in his eyes as my mother. I pushed higher on my toes to see the street light pole sitting beneath the baby birds.
And like the madness that shook our floorboards in the peak of the night, I swallowed, with much force, at what slid beneath my father’s birdhouse.”
Excerpt from “The Birdhouse” via WHEN I WAS ALIVE
LOCAL OUTLETS: e-book only
WHERE ELSE TO BUY IT: Amazon / Barnes & Noble
*Many of my fans have reached out to me requesting a paper version of WHEN I WAS ALIVE. Underground Voices has worked tirelessly to publish this beautiful e-book. Although the book will not be available in print, don’t get discouraged – Kindle has a great app, which can be downloaded to your smart phone for your reading pleasure! Follow ccimmone.com for updates – perhaps a new collection will be available in print before you know it…
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