Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Interview with Billie Tekel Elias, Author of PEARL’s Party…and you’re invited

Billie Tekel Elias grew up in Philadelphia. Her parents divorced when she was young and she grew up with her artistic, business-minded, Auntie Mame-like mother. Her father was a Chemistry professor at a local university. After graduating from the top all-girls high school in Philadelphia, she spent her college years at Columbia Engineering, followed by graduate school at Stanford. She began to travel extensively in the 1970s, including a 9-week European backpacking adventure, two cross-country motor trips, and a self-directed family sojourn to the Yucatan Peninsula.

Her career as an engineer, first with the world's largest paper company and later with an international money center bank, spanned seven years. Not aspiring to give the corporation the best years of her life, she quit her career to wander around Africa for a couple months. With the entrepreneurial spirit she inherited from her mother, she was determined to start her own business that would include lots of (tax-deductible) travel. She launched her own costume jewelry import business and now counts 40 countries and 5 continents as places she has visited.

Marriage and the birth of her child put her wanderlust on hold. Billie shifted gears again, embarking on a new venture, working from home as an educational toy consultant. This enabled her to grow a toy business alongside her growing child, and to take time to play with him.  It turned out that high quality and prolonged interactions with a parent spurred the intellectual development of her child, an MIT graduate.

Writing a book marks Ms. Elias' fourth "career."

She blogs at pearlsparty.wordpress.com. You can also find her online at:


Where did you grow up?

I grew up in a section of Philadelphia that was near its northwestern suburbs. Our first home was in a newly developed neighborhood with other young families just like ours -- very homogeneous compared to where I live today (Manhattan).

When did you begin writing?

In high school I was so disinterested in writing that I shied away from choosing a liberal arts college and instead went to engineering school.  I knew I wouldn’t have to do much writing at all there! I didn’t begin writing until late in life, after my 81-year-old mother passed away.

What is this book about?

My book is about the adventurous, fun-filled, and at times challenging, life of my late mother, Pearl. It’s about her relationship with me, her only child, and her escapades with her gay friends, with our many dogs, with her unique businesses and real estate deals.

What inspired you to write it?

After her death, it took me some time to grapple with the loss of my sidekick, confidant and best friend. Writing about the good times we had shared became a cathartic activity and seemed a great way to keep her memory alive. Her home was 100 miles from mine, so clearing it out in preparation for its sale was accomplished over an entire year. With each visit, I unearthed interesting bits of ephemera that gave me ideas for a new book: PEARL’s Party…and you’re invited.  Each item-- like a canceled 1954 check for diaper service, or the business card of a local psychic-- held a story and I didn’t want those stories to die with her. I knew that it would be not only entertaining and nostalgic, but I thought it might give others hope that even if they were divorced, or a single parent, or riddled with cancer that they, too, could squeeze enjoyment out of life.

How is it similar to other books in its genre? How is it different?

It is chronological like many biographies, but I’ve woven into the story the music that was dear to her. Music and dance were a part of her life that gave her much pleasure.  Each chapter is named for a song in the soundtrack of her life, one that related to some aspect of her being. For example, the chapter entitled “Drive My Car” is about the cars she owned, each of which was as unique as she was.

What is the most important thing readers can learn from your book?

Pearl lived life in party-mode and savored every moment. I want readers to see that no matter what curve balls come their way in life, they can embrace them and look at the brighter side. I hope they will think, gheez, if Pearl could do it, so can I! 

Where can readers purchase a copy?

At www.createspace.com/5765382 or on Amazon (paperback and Kindle)

What is up next for you?

I have a few things percolating. 

Since my dad died two years after Mother, I owe him a memoir, too.  He also had a very interesting life: he worked on the Manhattan Project, earned a Ph.D. in Chemistry, and was married three times. In his case, the third time was the charm: 54 years of marriage, till death did them part.

Another project I have partially finished is about my grandfather’s extended Caucasian family who lived in the Orient in the mid- to late-nineteenth century. This will also be non-fiction and chockfull of stories of their wanderings from the Ukraine to India to Japan and China, seeking a better life.  I plan to do a children’s picture book with a study guide on the same topic, using family photos that date back more than a hundred years.

Is there anything you would like to add?

Frank Sinatra’s quote beautifully sums up Pearl’s life:
"You only live once, and the way I live, once is enough."

1 comment:

Billie said...

Your readers can get the ebook of #PearlsParty (memoir of my late mother) for free from 1/24 to 1/27 at Pearl's Party...and you're invited