Name: C. Streetlights
Age: 39 years old
Where are you from: I was born and raised in Southern California, USA
A little about your self (i.e. your education, family life, etc.)
I am the youngest of three children. My brother is eleven years older than myself and my sister is almost six years older, and so I was nearly an older child from the age of eleven until I left home to live my sister at eighteen years of age. My father taught Spanish (now retired after teaching 38 years) and I was fortunate to have a mother who stayed home with her children. After attending a junior college in Huntington Beach, California for a year and a half, I transferred to a university and lived with my sister. My parents were sure we would do nothing but fight with each other! However, even though we shared a room and she kept me awake late at night, we became very good friends. We honestly didn’t know much about each other and this was a fine time to learn about one another. My brother and his family also lived in the same town my university was in and so I was able to spend a lot of time with him and his wife, plus all his children. I married my husband during this time as well and we settled into a small apartment. I soon graduated with my undergratuate degree in English Teaching and began teaching straight away. In the United States, I taught what is known as middle school, which includes the 6th and 7th grades. I taught English and Language Arts. One year after earning my undergratuate degree I began studying for my graduate degree in Educational Leadership and Foundations, which is a Masters in Education. During my graduate studies I had our first child whom I refer to as my Man Cub. He is now 15 years old and truly a pheonomenal human being. I had his sister, Miss Bean, eleven years later and she is now 4 years old. I am now fully retired from teaching English, having taught grades six through twelve in the public school system, at the university level, and also in a lock down facility for youth in custody.
Fiona: Tell us your latest news?
Oh boy… latest news. I wish I had an exciting life to talk about! I finally gave in to reading glasses, which is pretty exciting to me though probably boring to everyone else.
I have submitted my second book for publication under the Gravity Imprint of Booktrope Publishing. It is called Black Sheep, Rising and is currently in the editing stage. My book manager, Melissa Flickinger, and I estimate a release date somewhere in the beginning of July. Black Sheep, Rising is another memoir written in prose and poetry similar to my first book Tea and Madness but with more emphasis on instances from my childhood and early years of teaching that I feel contributed to not only who I am today but also my identity as a black sheep in whatever group I happen to become a part of.
Fiona: When and why did you begin writing?
I feel as if I have always written in some capacity and it has always been a form of escape for me. While there were several years I didn’t write in any serious form, I have always thought of myself as a storyteller. My grandfather, who has since passed away, kept a book I had written for him in the first grade about a unicorn that had to fight a witch in order to change the lightbulb that had gone out in the sun. I even have a clear memory of sitting in my first grade classroom and writing this story and drawing the illustrations to it and my teacher, Mrs. Lee, carefully punching three holes along the side so that I could tie ribbons through them to make the book. I also remember Mrs. Lee getting angry with the whole class for not being able to form mollars out of clay during art time, but I can overlook this fit of temper for the bit of kindness she exhibited in helping me make my unicorn book.
I always loved to write; however, my parents were also quite insistent that their children have “real” jobs. Writing was not an option for me because it wasn’t a “real” job. When blogging turned everyone into a writer I finally had an opportunity to do what I always loved to do. I opened up my blog and first just wrote about whatever I wanted, mainly about my family or fleeting bits of observation. I didn’t advertise anything I wrote about or sometimes shared something on Facebook if I caught up about a family vacation.
Something in me shifted, however, when I began to honestly cope with past events in my life, namely being raped in college and another more recent sexual assault. My writing became more earnest and raw. I wrote less about family and more about current events and advocacy. I also became more protective of my private life because of people in my community not wanting to me write the truth. This was when I became more consistent with my pen name and more adament about not using my children’s names on social media. I went through and removed photographs, etc. While doing this I realized that I was committed; I was no longer just a writer. I have become an advocate for other rape and sexual assault survivors. My voice has become their voice.
Fiona: When did you first consider yourself a writer?
I am asked this often and honestly there are days when I still can’t believe I’m a writer! A friend asked me the other day if I didn’t feel like a “real” writer until I finally saw my book in print, and even then it doesn’t feel real. I am just so grateful to the Gravity Imprint and Booktrope Publishing that they saw me and my words and we resonated with them.
And truthfully, the moment when it really hit me that yes, I am a writer, was when I received an email from someone who had read my book and told me his story about a childhood filled with abuse which then led to an adulthood of dysfunction and unstable relationships. He told me he had never told anyone about the abuse from his childhood until he emailed me. The shame he carried from the time he was a little boy until then was so great, he still felt as if his abuser had that control over him. But in this email, he told me that after reading Tea and Madness, he realized that the shame isn’t his. And that he can and will be a survivor.
When I read his words and realized how much impact my book had on this one person alone, that’s when I realized I was a writer.
Fiona: What inspired you to write your first book?
I decided to write Tea and Madness when I realized that our culture of perfection had become pandemic. People, mainly women, are not permitted to show any sort of failing or messiness without fear of judgment or public shaming. It bothers me that reality television shows such as American Idol, for example, spends so much time making fun of those who don’t make it onto the show. Producers are willing to spend one or two episodes on just the individuals who, in their opinion, were so spectacularly untalented entirely for the purpose of making fun of them, I find that troubling. Why are we making a spectacle of someone’s embarassment? We have created a society in which we have become so vulturous in our entertainment that there is no sense of humility. On top of this, working moms are told they are at war with stay at home moms and vice versa while childless women are supposedly at war with women with children. Women go on countless social media channels and are inundated with messages about how they aren’t enough, too much, need more, need less, should do this but not that, plus they need to that but not this.
Tea and Madness is a collection of prose and poetry I had written over a period of time when my life had pretty much gone to hell. All but one or two pieces had already been published on my website, but I had gone through my archives and hand selected the posts I felt best represented my life at its messiest and most human. During this period of time I lost a baby, went through serious depression – including a suicide watch, attempted to cope with a sexual assault, was betrayed by long-time friends in the worst way possible, experienced horribly anxiety and panic attacks, and was relentlessly told how I needed to forgive people who honestly don’t deserve forgiveness. This memoir is my gift to readers; it’s my way of saying to them that life is for making messes. We are gloriously messy human beings and that is miraculous blessing. We learn through making a mess of our lives. Don’t be ashamed of not being perfect.
Fiona: Do you have a specific writing style?
I don’t really know if I do or not. I just write how I write. I am honest in my writing, descriptive. I enjoy finding a small moment, like a falling star, and connecting a human experience.
Fiona: How did you come up with the title?
Believe it or not, I came up with Tea and Madness while stuck in traffic. All I wanted at the time was to get home and have my tea. I love making tea as much as I do drinking it. Bringing the water to boil in the kettle and then waiting for it to cool to the right temperature before pouring it into the teapot, then letting the tea leave steep until it’s time to drink. This was a perfect image for my book; tealeaves have to go through a certain madness, a definite trying period, before it reaches peace.
Fiona: Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
I hesitate to answer this question because I believe that every reader will walk away with something different from a memoir, sometimes every time he or she reads it. However, I hope something readers will remember after reading Tea and Madness is that “the seasons will always change in spite of” us.
Fiona: How much of the book is realistic? Are experiences based on someone you know, or events in your own life?
The entire book is nonfiction. Tea and Madness is a memoir that covers approximately 3-5 years of my life.
Fiona: What books have most influenced your life most? a mentor?
As a child, Betty MacDonald’s Mrs. Piggle Wiggle books were family to me. I read them repeatedly. I loved MacDonald’s clever Mrs. Piggle Wiggle and the sense of whimsy she created in her books. As a teenager, I discovered L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables, and adored the sense of description Montgomery weaves in and out of Prince Edward Island. As I grew older, I fell in love with Atticus Finch from To Kill a Mockingbird and would read the trial scene at times when I needed to feel a sense of justice. Throughout all of these authors, I look towards Kerouac and other Beat Poets like Ginsberg for writing style and voice. I admire the Beat Generation’s commitment to originality and experimentation with language. I also look towards the Lost Generation authors, such as Fitzgerald, Pound and E.E Cummings for the same reasons.
Fiona: What book are you reading now?
I am currently reading a book called Serpent on a Cross by Wendy Garfinkle
Fiona: Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest?
Not in particular. Right now I am reading all the authors in the Gravity Imprint so that I can support them all. I can vouch for all the books and writers within our imprint as being great to read.
Fiona: What are your current projects?
Black Sheep, Rising my second memoir is currently in editing and I have begun drafting my third work in progress, which may be a short story or perhaps a novella. I’ll have to see how it works out.
Fiona: Name one entity that you feel supported you outside of family members.
I have to truly give credit to my imprint director, Rachel Thompson, and my entire Gravity Imprint family. They have been amazing in supporting me through not only the publication process but even in general. We truly are a family.
Fiona: Do you see writing as a career?
I am just enjoying the moment right now and honestly don’t want to plan too far into the future. My daughter is still only 4 years old and I want to be flexible depending on what she might need as she grows and develops. However, I do intend to remain in the writing profession in some capacity for a long time.
Fiona: If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
No. I love how everything went. I think if I could go back in time I would tell myself to be less nervous about it.
Fiona: Can you share a little of your current work with us?
Sure. This comes from “The Gate Seeker in Vintage Yellow”, a poem that is included in Black Sheep, Rising:
The Gate Seeker in Vintage Yellow
Kodak paper looks good
in vintage yellow
and I lose myself in my own
endless brown eyes.
I’m two-years-old and a
I stare into my mother
(by way of camera)
and stand in front of a gate that
leads to my own backyard.
Every photograph is the same.
Large dark brown eyes
Lips resting along my little face,
one cheek to the other,
silently in expectation.
Fiona: Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
Finding time, honestly. With a busy 15-year-old boy and an active 4-year-old girl, it can be hard to find time to write.
Fiona: Who designed the covers?
Laura Hidalgo of what is now Beyond Def designed the book cover.
Fiona: Do you have any advice for other writers?
Just write! Don’t be caught up in getting it right the first time or worried if it’ll be shit or nobody will like it. Get words down on the page and let them breathe; let them live. Too many writers become paralyzed with doubt before they even begin.
Fiona: Do you have a blog/website? If so what is it?
My website can be found at www.cstreetlights.com
Here is the link to my book for the UK: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Tea-Madness-C-Streetlights-ebook/dp/B010766WCQ
Here my Amazon Page for the UK: http://www.amazon.co.uk/-/e/B0109132XG
The link to my book for the USA: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1620158493
My Amazon Page for the USA: http://www.amazon.com/C.-Streetlights/