Billie Tekel Elias is the author of “Pearl’s Party…and you’re invited,” here is a link to her website:
Q: What is Pearl‘s Party about?
A: The book chronicles eight decades of my late mother’s escapades. She was a voluptuous young divorcee in 1959 but she didn’t let the fact that she had a five year old deter her from living life to the max. She acquired many friends, including a loyal coterie of gay men, and could party with the best of them. It’s also about the “stuff” that she left behind. Since I thought I knew her well, I was surprised that I was able to learn even more after she was gone.
Q: What makes your mother book-worthy?
A: She was larger than life, an indomitable force who wasn’t afraid to take risks. She’s a role model and inspiration to young women, mothers, friends, entrepreneurs, dog-lovers and anyone seeking the key to making life a party.
Q: What was unique about her parenting style?
A: As a single mom, she balanced her own happiness with making my life special, too. Kind of like an oxygen mask on an airplane, you put your own on before you attempt to help your child. She exposed me to some pretty unconventional things like running a small business and seeing dogs being mated when I was fairly young. She was my earliest playmate and best friend for the rest of her life.
Q: What famous person would you compare her to?
A: She was like Auntie Mame, the madcap character based on Marion Tanner. Mother wasn’t as
eccentric or as bohemian as Mame Dennis — whose famous motto is “Life is a banquet and most poor sons of bitches are starving to death” — but some of Pearl’s quotes have an equally forked tongue. Like Mame, whose life was interrupted when the young son of her late brother arrives to live with her, Pearl had to make the adjustment in her own life to being young and single with a child in tow. “Don’t call me Mommy, call me Aunt Pearl,” she once famously said to me.
Q: Why is music so important to the story?
A: From as far back as she could remember Pearl had a beautiful singing voice. Her parents had her cut a few personal records which got her a spot singing on the radio as a child. Throughout her life, music was woven into her fiber. Sunday mornings while I was growing up, Sid Mark’s Sinatra show played on our hi-fi. Other times recordings of Bobby Darin, Mel Torme or Billie Holiday serenaded us. If a comment or situation reminded her of a lyric, she would burst into song. During one hospitalization her nurse was named Laura. “Laura is the face in the misty light, footsteps that you hear down the hall…..”
Q: What kind of a day jobs have you had how does it influence your writing?
A: My first career after grad school was as an Industrial Engineer. I sometimes had to write memos and reports that were methodical and involved technical material, but my management summaries had to be quickly and easily understood in plain English. Today, I try to write in the clear voice that I hear playing in my head as I’m thinking. I enjoy researching, and so you’ll often find footnotes that build out my story by adding facts or historical information.
Q: You say you went to charm school. What do they teach you at charm school?
A: I have an entire passage in the book that delineates what they taught. I was a little girl in training to be a young lady. Manners, sitting properly with hands in my lap, walking with good posture and pivoting, were a few of the things we were taught. The next step was to pursue a career in modeling, but I begged Pearl to let me stop because the windy road that led us there made me car sick.
Q: Who are some of your writing influences and why?
A: Edmund de Waal and Lucette Lagnado because they both wrote about people in their own family and the objects that were significant to them. In both their writing you almost feel as if you know the people depicted. They both made me feel that the objects we surround ourselves with and choose to keep for a lifetime inform who we are.
Q: What has been the most effective thing you have done to promote your book?
A: Face to face enthusiasm has worked best. When I run into Pearl’s friends (and my own) or our relatives, I share some tidbits from the book with them and encourage them to buy a copy on the spot. I always have copies on hand so they get instant gratification.
Q: If your mom were in her 20’s today, who would be some of her favorite singers?
A: Michael Buble, Adele or Lady Gaga. Pearl’s ear was finely tuned and she didn’t like people with thin voices who screeched or didn’t use their vocal chords and breathing to produce a good quality sound.
Please note; Eliza’s interviews are done by email. All answers are unedited and come right from the lovely fingertips of her subjects