Interview with Billie Tekel Elias, author of “PEARL’s Party…and you’re invited.”

41oilLxtYRL._UY250_What is your book about?

“PEARL’s Party…and you’re invited” is about my mother’s uplifting journey through life, her unusual businesses, her funny escapades, and her unique perspectives on living (and dying).

How long had the idea of your book been developing before you began to write the story?

It took me some time to grapple with the loss of my mother, my sidekick and confidant. Her home was 100 miles from mine, so clearing it out in preparation for its sale was drawn out over an entire year. With each visit, I unearthed interesting bits of ephemera that gave me ideas for my book.

How long did it take you to write your book?

It took me a year to organize the physical materials and construct a timeline of what I planned to write about. As I sifted through canceled checks, matchbook covers, little black books and more, I wrote the stories woven through the objects. Another six months were involved in formatting it, laying it out, and figuring out the technology to self-publish.

Did you do any research for the book? If so, how did you do it? (searching Internet, magazines, other books, etc.)

Yes, I actually did quite a bit of research. Usually I was googling places where Pearl had gone, products she had used or obituaries of people she knew.

Do you have specific techniques you use to develop the plot and stay on track?

I used an excel spreadsheet to lay out a timeline of Pearl’s life, including dates I had pulled off primary source documents such as leases, airplane tickets or letters. The story is largely chronological, so this kept me grounded.

What is your goal for the book, ie: what do you want people to take with them after they finish reading the story?

I want my readers to come away entertained, feeling nostalgic about “the good ol’ days,” and thinking, gheez, if Pearl could overcome those obstacles and stay in party-mode, so can I!

What are you working on right now?

I have a couple of balls in the air. Since I wrote a book about my mother, I felt it only fair to do the same for my late father, a Renaissance man. I had already begun yet another book before either of my parents died, about my grandfather and his relatives who lived in the Far East over a hundred years ago. There will be two versions: a picture book for kids and another with the adult stories.

Have you always wanted to be a writer?

Definitely not. In fact, in high school I was so disinterested that I shunned away from choosing a liberal arts college and instead went to engineering school where I wouldn’t have to do much writing at all.

Does writing come easy for you?

In a way, yes, because I’m telling the story as if I were talking to you in person. I can hear my voice inside my head as I tap on the keyboard. Besides, my training as an engineer equipped me to be a good investigative researcher. My research often broadens the story.

How have you marketed and promoted your work?

This is the hardest part for me. You think once your book is written and you can actually hold a printed copy in your hands that you’ve accomplished something great. The truth is, the work has only just begun. I had business cards printed before my book was released with an image of the cover and a link to my blog. I blogged for awhile about songs that my mother enjoyed, with links to youtube videos. I comment regularly on Facebook and sometimes on Twitter, plus I set up a Pinterest page with some of Pearl’s trinkets and photos pictured. And I seek out kind, generous interviewers like you!

Do you have a saying or motto for your life and/or as a writer?

The journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step.

If your book was made into a TV series or Movie, what actors would you like to see playing your characters?

Pearl would be played by Nathan Lane (in drag) and her gay friends would be played by Jean Dujardin, John Goodman, Jason Alexander and Alan Cumming. Her ex-husband would be played by Brad Pitt.

Where can people learn more about your books?

I blog at and the book blurb for “PEARL’s Party” is at (where you can also purchase the book!). My photo and a cover of the book can be seen at

Keith Alexander, Author of “Forgery of the Month Club”

What is your book about?

Forgery of the Month Club is a memoir of redemption in which I tell stories about collaborating with my mother in 1970’s Chicago, perpetrating a series of illegal schemes such as bank fraud, shoplifting, burglary and art forgery. In the end, I leave Chicago and that life and use what I learned as her co-conspirator to shepherd my newborn daughter through a series of health crises.

How long had the idea of your book been developing before you began to write the story?

Since I was a teen ager. Imagine you had a mother who did fake Picassos, devised a way to scale a statue in the middle of a public park and scrape the 24k gold from it, and who stole bicycles from high rise basements. Eventually you would have to write them down, and publish them. Before I began writing them, I treated them as heirlooms of an audible nature.

What inspired you to write this particular story?

My mother has a 200 level IQ, invented a human-powered flying machine and built a castle, among other wacky pursuits. Yet, my sister and I grew up with little to eat at home. To live with such genius day to day is inspiring and maddening. The act of writing became a way to map out the various stories, characters and motivations within them. It was also a way to map out my emotions about growing up in this family.

How much of yourself is hidden in the characters in the book?

I like to think that I’m not hidden; that, as my mother’s collaborator, I am presented in the book simply as one who hopes to keep mom from getting locked up, in the hopes that one day we could convert one of her wacky ideas into cash. But in the process of writing I did not just edit the words I wrote, I was also editing the feelings I had while writing. I have not yet devised a way to record my emotions during any sustained period of time so alas, much of what I felt during the 14 years of writing Forgery of The Month Club has evaporated.

Why will readers relate to your characters?

I’m not sure readers will relate to them, but I am certain they will be entertained.

How long did it take you to write your book?

Two years to write the book, and twelve years of rewriting. Even when I had a polished story, I had second thoughts about perspective, what to emphasize, and what to minimize. Whether to structure the stories as memory or in a standard chronological structure was a persistent challenge for me, as was deciding to structure the stories for a marketplace, or to structure the work as a work of art.

How much of a story do you have in mind before you start writing it?

I had a series of stories in anecdotal form simmering in my memory from my youth, until the time in my life came to sit down and write the book. That was July 1998. Then came interviews and research.

Did you do any research for the book?

The primary form of research was interviewing mom, her sisters and her mother. Then I spoke with her cousins and dug up everything I could about her father. After that I did genealogical research on my father’s side and discovered my great great grandfather was a slave in Natchez, Mississippi at the start of the Civil War, who quit and joined the union Army, fought in local skirmishes and was mentioned in dispatches. I love research, so I follow every bit of information I can about every topic touched on in the book.

What about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

Personally I like the procedural aspect of some of the capers, whether they are fantasy activities like building the castle, or illegal antics like evicting deadbeats. Some of the characters are noteworthy such as mom, Sarge, Breno and Susan.

How do you develop and differentiate your characters?

The characters I write about are real characters, who have their own fears, limits, histories and scars. They differentiate themselves. Sometimes I change their names.

How (or when) do you decide that you are finished writing a story?

When, after reading it, I cannot think of anything else to say or any other way to say it.

What are your goals for the book?

I want my readers to say “Wow! What a ride!” Then I want them to say: No matter what I have done in my life, I can change.

Does your understanding of the story you are writing change during the course of the book?

Yes, both during the writing of it, and during the reading of it. When I began writing Forgery of the Month Club, it began as a eulogy. It then became an investigation, and then a story of redemption. Each of these approaches required different intellectual questions that guided the research and writing. They also informed the subsequent approaches. Over 14 years, these different approaches mirrored my emotional evolution. When I read the book, there were moments when I read it as though it was a eulogy, at other times it read as an investigation and at other times it read as a story of redemption.

What is your favorite place, real or fictional?

My favorite place is a bit real, and a bit fictional. Home is my favorite place, and yet I love travelling. When I travel, I get impatient until we reach our destination. To calm my impatience, I imagine home; this fantasy image of home acts on me like a tonic during 14-hour long flights, 4-hour drives or 20-minute grocery store excursions.

If you could have lunch with one person, real or fictitious, who would it be?

It would be my maternal grandfather, Arnold Israel Freedland, who was born in Daugavpils, Latvia in 1900, immigrated to Minneapolis via Hammersmith, London. He and his parents steamed across the Atlantic in the Teutonic, sister ship of the Titanic. He died when my mother was 14 years old, an event to which I attribute my mother’s moral separation from the law-abiding world. To me, as a child who grew up with an indifferent father who was married to another woman, the history of my grandfather nurtured hopes in me of an adult man who would love me, mentor me and generally take an interest in me. There were no consistent males in my life that did this. My yearning turned to Arnie, and to that end, I learned as much as I could about him from mom, her sisters, my grandmother, older cousins, great aunts, photos, letters, film fragments, sketches and his civilian army service record. All that was missing was the actual person.

Where to buy the book:

Mary E. Trimble, Author of “Tubob: Two Years in West Africa with the Peace Corps”

What is your book about?

Tubob: Two Years in West Africa with the Peace Corps is a memoir of a newly married couple who discover themselves in new light as they work and learn about a different culture in a third-world country. They find strength and frustration trying to make a difference. Caught up in a military coup, they seek refuge in a house with 116 other people, wondering if their lives will ever be the same.

When where you first published?

I became a professional writer in 1991 and since that time have had more than 400 articles appear in magazines and newsletters, plus have had three novels published. Non-fiction articles (destination pieces, articles of interest to homeowners) and fiction comes quite easily to me. But writing something true, a memoir, was a challenge.

How long did it take you to write your book?

The memoir takes place 1979 – 1981. Since I became a professional writer in 1991 I thought occasionally about writing about our African experience. Occasionally, I wrote little snippets of our experiences on my blog, with favorable results and encouragement to write a book. But the snippets were positive experiences, and our time in Africa was not all positive. They were often grueling, discouraging, even scary. Writing the memoir became almost an obsession and I finally gave in to it. Amazingly, when I started, the experiences flowed out–I could hardly keep up. I wrote the 325-page manuscript in five months.

Did you do any research for the book?

We had asked our families to save our letters to them. I’d kept them all these years and once I decided to tackle the memoir, I read every single letter, all either hand written or typewritten. I started a computer index file with different categories–people we knew, animals, my husband Bruce’s work, my work, etc. What a wealth of information. Thanks to those letters I relived those years, recalling the sweat, tears and the joys. Having those letters helped me remember small details that would make the story real to readers.

Describe your writing in three words.

Honest, straight-forward and realistic. Although I admire fantasy writers, I could never do it. Even in my works of fiction (Tenderfoot, McClellan’s Bluff, Rosemount–all contemporary westerns), my books are as true to life as I can make them. In Tubob it was particularly important for me to be honest, which introduced some problems. Not all our experiences were positive. In the interest of avoiding hurt feelings, I changed a couple of names. Likewise, to limit the number of characters, I combined some personalities. However, I made every effort to remain true to our experience.

Do you have a saying or motto for your life and/or as a writer?

A plaque hung in my father’s workshop and now resides in my office that I have always tried to live by. It was written by Dr. Samual Johnson (1709 -1784). “Nothing will ever be attempted if all possible objections must be first overcome.” In other words, don’t wait for perfect conditions to live your dream. Prepare as much as you can, knowing that you’ll have to improvise along the way. Just do it.

Where can people learn more about your books?

Tubob: Two Years in West Africa with the Peace Corps is available through local bookstores, or my website,

Gregory A. Fournier, Author of “Zug Island: A Detroit Riot Novel”

What is your book about?

My debut novel, Zug Island: A Detroit Riot Novel, won a finalist award in the 2011 USA Book News competition in the Multicultural Fiction category, and an honorable mention at the 2011-2012 Los Angeles Book Festival. It tells the story of Jake Malone, kicked out of college and working at a steel mill on the Detroit River in January, who is befriended by Theo Semple, a street wise reprobate. Together they discover that racism comes in every shade of color, but a real friendship sees past that.

Is the story true?

The majority of Zug Island is memoir but linking episodic storylines together in a unified flowing fashion is the fiction writer’s task. I like to say the my novel is eighty percent true and the rest is glue. I did some time compression and created several composite characters to move the story along.

Did you do any research for the book?

In addition to my personal experiences with the subject of racism, my research included news clippings from the era (mostly from The Detroit News and The Detroit Free Press), various internet resources, and Dr. Thomas J. Sugrue’s, “The Origins of the Urban Crisis: Race and Inequality in Postwar Detroit.”

How did you make your book seem real?

Some readers make feel uncomfortable with the profanity and racial slurs used throughout my novel. To achieve some verisimilitude, I used many of the words that made Detroit famous. This is a blue collar story with blue collar language. I hope everyone is offended by the use of these words; unfortunately, they are part of the language of frustration and show no signs of going away anytime soon.

Is there a message in your writing you want readers to grasp?

I wanted to tell a part of the Detroit Riot story that is often ignored or glossed over by white America. There are historical layers of embedded racism and segregation that made Inner-City Detroit a time bomb. The attitudes and factors which lit the fuse then, still exist today. Detroit has never fully recovered from those days forty-five years ago.

At what age did you discover writing?

I caught the writing bug when I was in my early teens. I read James Hilton’s Lost Horizon in a day and was enthralled by it. I admired his characters and how he blended so much story and meaning into his short novel. It wasn’t until I read the book again decades later, that I discovered what the novel was really about. It presented Western history and Eastern philosophy in an interesting story to tell a cautionary tale of the coming of World War Two. I only hope that I can give someone that kind of experience. Now that I am retired from the English classroom, I’m writing and living my dream.

If your book was made into a TV series or Movie, what actors would you like to see playing your characters?

I was asked in a radio interview who I would want to star in Zug Island if it were made into a movie. My answer is that I never thought about that. To me, it is the director who is the most important figure in the making of a good movie, and I have given that question quite a bit of thought – Martin Scorsese.

Who designed your cover?

My novel’s cover was designed by Carole Lecren, a La Jolla High School teacher and talented yearbook advisor, and the striking photograph on the cover is by Bill Deneau, a Toronto photographer. My novel is published by Wheatmark, Inc. out of Tucson, Arizona, and available on and in Kindle format.

What books have inspired you?

The most influential book I’ve ever read was Zorba, the Greek, by Nikos Kasantzakis, and my favorite movie is Spartacus, directed by Stanley Kubrick. My favorite line of all time is something I heard Saul Bellow say once, “There are no limits to the amount of intelligence invested in ignorance, especially when the need for illusion runs deep.” I wish I had coined that phrase.

How have you promoted your book?

I was not enthused about creating a blog as part of my electronic platform in support of my writing career, but I have surprisingly taken to it. In little more than a year, I’ve got close to 10,000 hits. You can find me at

What are you working on now?

My next project is called In the Shadow of the Water Tower. It is about alleged serial killer, John Norman Collins, dubbed the Co-ed Killer by the press. From 1967 through 1969, the community of Ypsilanti, Michigan and the campus of Eastern Michigan University lived in abject fear. This story has never been adequately or fully told before.