Please tell us a little bit about yourself. My childhood influenced so much of my adult life. Born in Colorado, my father died when I was three years old with a sister two years older and a brother in high school. It was difficult for my mother after my brother enlisted in the Navy, so she married a man who became an abusive alcoholic. Growing up in the dysfunctional household took a toll on my sister and I. We attended nine schools before graduating from high school. We were eventually put into foster care before being reunited with our mother. These experiences prepared me for the twenty-six years of teaching, much of which involved troubled urban youth or behavior/emotional disturbed children in special education. Having a loving husband and three children of my own grounded me. Becoming a Christian at age 21 changed my outlook on life, but the disciple programs of the local church taught me how to live in peace with the past.
Why did you start writing? I have journaled all of my life as a means of getting my emotions out in a positive way. As a teacher in a high stress classroom, writing anecdotes about the day’s events helped me to think about my students and how I related to them. Therapy for me.
How did you start writing? About twenty years ago, I attended Write to Publish Conference in Chicago and met two other writers who became the critique group that still encourages me. We started writing magazine articles. Mine sold as either devotionals, narratives, or in Christian teacher journals. I still write for magazines.
How did you select your genre? My first published book is a devotional that is a compilation of the vignettes that I wrote in my years of teaching. They present the trials and triumphs of teaching in an urban setting. I still gasp at my transparency in the devotional, Teaching Diamonds in the Tough. This summer, a series of books called The Teachers of Diamond Projects School will be released with Book 1 titled Second Chances. These novels take place in an inner city school with a different teacher highlighted in each book of the series. Later this year Book 2, Miss Bee and the Do Bees, will be released by Oak Tara Publishers.
What is your writing day like? Right now, I am involved in two projects. One is Blog-a-Book. Twice a week I post a blog about teachers and the defining moment that changed their lives. Eventually, these twenty blogs will create an e-book. Two, I am researching for Book 3 in The Teachers of Diamond Projects School Series by reading Last Child in the Woods and outlining the upcoming book. Of course I talk with friends on Facebook and Linked In. There are two pitches to Christian magazines for articles I think they could use that are being edited before sent out.
How do you organize your writing? (outlines/note cards/post-its) I am an outliner using note cards. It worked when I was in high school, college, and for writing a Master’s Thesis. Works for me.
What’s the most surprising thing a character has “told you”? Veronica, the special education teacher in Miss Bee and the Do Bees announced that she needed a make over and demanded that it be done. That was not in the outline, but she looked great after the haircut.
Do you have a list of characters that you’re saving for future use? What kind of information do you keep on these characters? There is a teacher story set in the years of the Dust Bowl that I want to write. I have bought cook books from the Depression years, gathered my mother’s letters to her mother written in the 1930’s, and watched the documentary on the Dust Bowl. I want to go to Colorado to finish the research. In the meantime, I discovered the story books printed in those years for children. Especially intriguing were the gospel songs sung, including “I’ll Fly Away” during the Depression era in the West. Quilt making during that decade had specific differences from today’s fabrics and methods. All the research is in a box.
What does your work space/office look like? The adage that creative minds are messy is true. A clean desk means a bland mind. That’s true, isn’t it?
What is your go-to snack when writing? Toast. I love toast, especially from home made bread. Will slather it with butter and honey, preserves, peanut butter, cinnamon, or syrup. Yummy.
If you could only recommend one NOVEL, what would it be? Why? Lynn Austin’s Wonderland Creek is my favorite because the heroine is a librarian involved in a murder case. Austin uses a lot of compassion for the people of Depression era Kentucky interlaced with mystery and humor. Always a spiritual lesson given in a quiet manner. Fun book.
If you could only recommend one CRAFT book (writing, no crocheting), what would it be? Why? The Artist’s Way by Julian Cameron because it is filled with practical advice on how to be creative and focused on producing a written copy.
Is there anything else you’d like to add? As a writer and teacher, I spend a lot of time with books, so God gave me a gardening husband. Together, we grow for Share the Harvest which supplies food pantries, contribute to our church’s community garden and then we can as much as we are able for the coming winter from our urban homestead. God is good.
To learn more about Cleo and her work, visit her website at www.cleolampos.com.