The Writing Life Interviews: Elizabeth Passo

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Welcome to The Writing Life blog, where I have the pleasure of chatting with authors every Tuesday for our Author Interview series. 

I enjoy taking a December sabbatical from writing to enjoy the holiday preparations for our annual family Christmas visit and dinner. This year I decided to host one special author. Since Christmas is all about love, wonder, fun, and family, especially children, please welcome award-winning author of children’s books, Elizabeth Passo.

Elizabeth Passo has always had a happy knack for rhyme and stories, and impulsively bombards her friends and family with her imaginative creations. The challenge of finding a more than very special way of delivering a more than very special Christmas gift for her daughter, led her to create the tale of the Reindeer Gift. This particular story captured her heart, and she founded Happy Knack Publishing, LLC. Now the reindeer gift-hiding tradition is available for you to include as part of your annual family holiday for those more than very special Christmas gifts. Cries for more prompted Elizabeth to continue the reindeer capers into Easter. And bored students inspired her hilarious vocab building comic book. All have won national book awards and are available on Amazon. Elizabeth lives in central Pennsylvania with her two number one fans as well as a not quite perfect, but beautifully golden and rosy nosed pit bull and a gargantuan pussycat. She’d love to hear from you! You can learn more and contact her at elizabethpasso.com or reindeergift.com.

Welcome, Elizabeth!

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What are the genres of your books?

  1. The Reindeer Gift: A Fun, Easy Christmas Tradition – Holiday/Children/Family
  2. The Reindeer vs E.A.Ster: A Fun, Easy Springtime Tradition – Holiday/Children/Family
  3. Birthday Party SBD – Vocab Building Comic Book

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Please describe what your books are about.

The Reindeer Gift tells how Santa’s reindeer have gotten bored with standing around on the roof. They’ve decided to get in on the gift giving fun. Now they’re taking turns going down the chimneys and hiding a special reindeer gift somewhere in the house for each person to find. Since they take turns, you’ll want to find out which reindeer came to your house, so the last page of the book provides an interactive website www.reindeergift.com. Go to this website and click on the big, red Reindeer Reveal button, and a different nameplate will be emailed to you for free each year that tells you which reindeer hid your gift.

People clamored for a sequel, so I came up with The Reindeer vs. E.A.Ster. This continues the reindeer adventures and also tells the fun story of the bunny’s real name, which not too many people know. There is nothing for reindeer to do in the spring, so they decide to play a prank on their buddy. But he’s not as distracted as Santa and catches on pretty quickly. Well, those reindeer don’t give up. There’s a lot of action and drama and a surprise ending that you won’t see coming. There’s also the same interactive website you go to at Easter to vote for who you want your Easter present from: the reindeer or the Easter bunny. We’ve done this two years now, and both years the majority of kids have said, “We want the reindeer to bring our Easter present.” We’re going to keep track of this friendly competition each year. We’re hoping the bunny can reclaim his holiday.

Birthday Party SBD packs 75 words that students should know into the funniest story I could think of for kids. The Silent But Deadly subject matter really makes them laugh. I decided to put it into a comic book format to give context clues to the vocab words. If the students don’t know what a word like “cacophony” or “exhume” means, they can flip to the Glossary in the back for the full definition. Teachers have assessed it as being appropriate for grades 4 through 8.

How did you come up with the titles? 

I wanted the titles to tell people instantly what the books were about. They’re each unique and fun ideas, so I didn’t want to make the titles too obscure or difficult to figure out.

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Elizabeth, what inspired you to write this book?

My daughter is my muse. When she was 3 years old, she was particularly excited about a very special gift that she wanted. It was so highly anticipated that it didn’t seem right to simply put it under the tree with the others. So I came up with the idea to bring the reindeer in on the action. They’re just standing around on the roof with nothing better to do, so why not? On Christmas morning, we hid the gift. After all the under-the-tree presents were opened, I told her one very special gift was still somewhere in the house. One of Santa’s reindeer had come down the chimney and hidden it for her. Her eyes got as big as Christmas tree ornaments, and she loved looking for it. She’s 14 now, and it’s become part of our Christmas tradition so she still loves doing it.

When she entered middle school, she told me that school was getting boring, so that’s what made me come up with the vocab building comic book idea.

Now she’s in high school, and I’m writing my first full length young adult novel.

What is your favorite part of writing? 

I love brainstorming ideas. After that, I love developing the characters. I enjoy giving them each full and complete personalities, which is why I added a page for each reindeer on the www.reindeergift.com website where you can find out each reindeer’s favorite activity, favorite food, favorite color, birthday, etc. and root for the reindeer you want to come to your house. I also have little known facts for each such as who each one likes to hang out with the most.

Select one book and tell me which character resembles you? If so, in what ways?

Blitzen probably most resembles me. She has an insatiable curiosity and likes exploring. In fact, she tries something new every single day. I’m always researching something and trying new recipes. Her favorite food is pasta because of all the different things you can do with it. Pasta is definitely a “go to” food for me. And her birthday is the same as mine.

What do you find is the most challenging aspect of writing? 

Editing. Definitely. Making sure all of the grammar and punctuation isn’t too creative. And if it is creative, that it’s acceptably so and doesn’t look like a mistake.

What was the last book you read? What did you think of it?

Bartimaeus by Jonathan Stroud. I loved it and am working through the series now. He’s just come out with the 4th book. I really like his unconventional use of adjectives, and the sense of humor he injects and his dialogue banter. He made me laugh out loud so many times. He seems like he has a lot of fun while writing. I could picture him cracking himself up as he wrote.

Who are some of your favorite authors?

The author who’s been on my Favorites list for the longest amount of time is Jack Kerouac. A recent addition is Rick Yancey. The Fifth Wave was just OK for me, but his Monstrumologist series is pure word art.

What author(s) or person(s) have influenced you as a writer and how have they influenced you?

My daughter started bringing home Cassandra Clare books and raving about them, so I got curious and started reading them. The stories are along the lines of magical realism: vampires and werewolves and such existing among us and the challenges they face by being friends with us. I researched the author to find out more about her and found that she has an enormous, devoted following. The writing isn’t necessarily award winning, but she’s captured the imaginations of millions. Her books made me think that I could do that too – that being an author who wasn’t a household name, but still enormously popular was possible. It got my imagination juices flowing and prompted an idea for my first novel.

Do you have a favorite place to write? To read?

I love chairs that move: rocking chairs, gliding rockers, swings. My husband bought me a giant, overstuffed chair that glides. It’s so big, you can sleep in it. I curl up in that, pull my laptop onto my lap, and glide and type. It’s also my favorite place to read.

Tell us something personal about you people may be surprised to know? 

I have a full drum kit and take drum lessons.

Did the writing process uncover surprises or learning experiences for you? What about the publishing process?

I think the amount of marketing and getting in front of people after the book is published is still somewhat surprising. We always hear about those overnight successes such as Amanda Hocking, the indie publishing sensation whose self-published novels have sold millions of copies all over the world, and Waffle House waitress Anna Todd’s four-book deal worth half a million. There’s a part of me that still keeps expecting to get “discovered” like that, I think. Until then, I keep plugging away at my book signings.

I must look up Anna Todd! Goodness, what luck. As we both plug away with our books, Elizabeth, what do you hope readers will gain from your book?

I really hope kids have so much fun with the reindeer gifts that they become fun, easy holiday traditions that are carried on for generations. The kind of traditions that provide families with moments where they come together in love and laughter and make those “Remember the time when Comet hid my new bike in the bathtub?” memories that they’ll always cherish.

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Lovely. Looking back, what did you do right that helped you write and market this book?

The very best thing I did was hire talented artists to illustrate my books. We did not rush this process. It took a year to hand oil paint the illustrations for each reindeer book and the comic book artist took about 6 months to hand ink the SBD drawings. People consistently comment on the quality of the illustrations.

The second best thing was to enter each of my books into the National Indie Excellence Awards. My first book, The Reindeer Gift: A Fun, Easy Christmas Tradition, won the 2015 Holiday category. My second book, The Reindeer vs. E.A.Ster: A Fun, Easy Springtime Tradition, won the 2016 Holiday category. And my third book, Birthday Party SBD, placed second in the 2016 Comic and Graphic Novel category. Displaying these awards on my book signing table at the various shows I do has consistently made an impression on people and, I suspect, been instrumental in pushing a wavering mind into the “I’ll take it” decision.

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The third best thing is that I’m relentless about researching new venues to get my book out there. We typically go to art and craft and holiday shows and set up a book signing booth. We’ve gone from the Michigan State Fair to the Charleston, SC Christmas Show and everywhere in between. Since my books aren’t available in e-format yet, getting out and talking to people is what sells the books. Just doing the shows part time has resulted in over 2,100 reindeer book sales since its release in 2014.

What didn’t work as well as you’d hoped? 

I was amazed that putting my books in actual bookstores did very little. Since there’s an interactive part to the books, walking people through the process really helps them to appreciate it. I think that having the books sit on a shelf surrounded by scads of other books with no understanding of what makes it special just doesn’t work.

The Harrisburg Small Business Development Center actually got Costco interested in carrying my books. A buyer at Barnes & Noble contacted me. And Books A Million also expressed interest. But I was afraid that I’d pay to ship them out, they’d sit, and then I’d have to pay to have them shipped back in questionable condition. So I didn’t do it. I’ve always wonder whether that was completely stupid of me.

Soon after I published A Decent Woman, I had the same experience with Books A Million, and like you, I decided against it for the same reason. I often wonder if I should pursue that venue with the second book.

Any advice or tips for writers looking to get published?

Persistence is paramount.

Determination is demanded.

Courage is crucial.

Marketing is mandatory.

Website and social media links?

www.elizabethpasso.com

www.reindeergift.com

https://www.facebook.com/elizabeth.passo.3

Elizabeth, where can we find your books?

www.reindeergift.com

The Reindeer Gift – https://www.amazon.com/Reindeer-Gift-Easy-Christmas-Tradition/dp/0989496805/ref=sr_1_9?ie=UTF8&qid=1480966418&sr=8-9&keywords=the+reindeer+gift

The Reindeer vs E.A.Ster – https://www.amazon.com/Reindeer-E-Ster-Springtime-Tradition/dp/0989496813/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1480966457&sr=8-1&keywords=reindeer+vs+easter

Birthday Party SBD – https://www.amazon.com/Birthday-Party-SBD-Joe-Badon/dp/098949683X

Aaron’s Books in Lititz, PA

Irvin’s Books in York, PA

The Midtown Scholar Bookstore in Harrisburg, PA

Strawberry Gifts in Strawberry Square, Harrisburg, PA

What’s next for you?

I’m coming around the bend towards finishing my first full-length novel. The tentative title is Foresight. About a month ago, I needed to take a step back and regroup, so took some time away from it and wrote a chunk of a second, completely unrelated novel.

I’m so close to getting Foresight 100% done that I’m on a big push with it now, and plan on shopping it around to agents and trying the traditional publishing route – to see what it’s like. I have plans for it being a trilogy.

You can keep posted on my progress, where I’ll be signing books, and also read some silly poems on my author website www.elizabethpasso.com.

Thanks very much for chatting with me today, Elizabeth. I wish you a warm and Happy Holiday season, and best of luck with your books!

ABOUT ELEANOR PARKER SAPIA: 

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Eleanor Parker Sapia, Puerto Rican-born author of the award-winning historical novel, A Decent Woman, is published by Scarlet River Press. Her debut novel, set in turn of the century Ponce, Puerto Rico, garnered an Honorable Mention for Best Historical Fiction, English at the 2016 International Latino Book Awards with Latino Literacy Now, and was selected as a Book of the Month by Las Comadres and Friends National Latino Book Club in 2015. A writer, artist, and photographer, Eleanor is never without a pen and a notebook, and her passport and camera are always ready. Her awesome adult children are out in the world doing amazing things. Eleanor currently lives in Berkeley County, West Virginia, where she is working on her second historical novel, The Laments of Sister Maria Inmaculada, set in 1920 Puerto Rico.

Happy Holidays to all!

Eleanor’s book: http://amzn.to/1X0qFvK

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PLEASE VISIT ELEANOR AT HER WEBSITE: HTTP://WWW.ELEANORPARKERSAPIA.COM

 

 

 

 

 

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