Another wintry week has come to an end. Here in Salem, the weather has varied, showering us with sunshine one day, rainstorms the next, granting us even a brisk, blustery day of ruach– meaning both wind and spirit—my favorite kind of day.
Fortunately, today is just chilly with gray, gray skies as I usher author Jo Elizabeth Pinto into my home.
Me: Oh, Jo, welcome, how nice of you to drop by!
Jo Elizabeth: Thanks for inviting me into your home, Joan. I’ve been looking forward to meeting you. Our mutual friend Patty Fletcher has told me a lot about you.
Me: Haha, nothing too outlandish I hope. And I feel I know you so well already. As we chat, would you like a cup of tea? Or perhaps coffee?And something to nibble–a cookie or maybe a piece of fruit?
Jo Elizabeth: I’d love a cup of coffee with a smidge of sugar if you’ve got some made, but tea is fine if you don’t. I love the way a warm cup feels in my hands on a cold winter day, don’t you? And those cookies smell wonderful; I think I’ll try one.
Me: I know what you mean about a warm cup on a wintry day…it’s one of my favorite things. The coffee is already brewed…so a smidge of sugar, and here you go…with a couple of cookies on the side. Now, where would you feel most comfortable: here at my kitchen table?
Or would you like a comfy chair in the livingroom?
Jo Elizabeth: Your kitchen table will be great. I love how the kitchen table seems to be the heart of most homes. It’s often where the most intimate conversations happen.
Me: That’s so true…Mmmm…ah,I’ve got my peppermint tea…now that we’re settled, tell me a little about yourself. What part of the country do you live in?
Jo Elizabeth: I was born in Chicago, but both of my parents grew up in Brighton, Colorado, a fairly small town north of Denver, and they got homesick and returned there while I was still a baby. So I claim it as my home town. I went to school there and, aside from a few years away at college, I’ve lived there my whole life.
Me: And how do you like it?
Jo Elizabeth: It’s sometimes hard living in the place where you grew up, where you’re middle aged and people still remember you as a giggling kid. But it gives me a sense of belonging, too, a sense of place. I hope I can pass that along to my daughter as she grows up.
Me: Is your writing influenced in any way by living there?
Jo Elizabeth: I’ve been very supported by my home town in my writing. I had a great kickoff signing at the independent bookstore when my novel was published, a positive review written in the local magazine by my former sixth grade teacher, offers to place my book in area stores for sale—but it took me a while to build up the confidence to say everything I needed to say without worrying what people would think of me. It’s a double-edged sword, being known on a first name basis by a lot of people, or at least having them acquainted with your parents and grandparents. It takes growing up into your adult self, your writer self.
Me: That’s so interesting. And what about your writing process, can you describe it for me? For example, do you have a certain time of day you find most productive? Or a special place where you find inspiration?
Jo Elizabeth: Not really. I have a busy life. I work as a freelance braille proofreader, and my daughter is ten. I better write where and wen I can, or I won’t write at all.
Me: Haha, I hear you there. What got you started writing?
Jo Elizabeth: I’ve known I wanted to write since I was a little girl, probably not even in school yet. I remember one night, my dad read aloud to me from a book about Osceola, the brave Seminole Indian chief who fought to keep his people in Florida during the 1800s when Native Americans were being moved west against their will. When he finished the book, I felt sad that the story had ended.
“We could turn the book around again and start at the beginning,” my dad told me. And right then, when I discovered that stories could be saved on the pages of books to be enjoyed over and over, I was hooked. I knew I wanted to write. Often during my school years, when I should have been studying spelling words or working math problems, I was busy scribbling down poems or composing the back cover material and title pages for books I hoped to someday write.
Me: Amazing. And what came of all those youthful scribbles?
Jo Elizabeth: My novel, “The Bright Side of Darkness,” began as a short story for a high school English class. The writing was amateur, as one would expect from a teenager, but I fell in love with the five tough-talking, risk-taking boys and the blind girl who refused to admit her own vulnerability. I put the story away in a scrapbook but never forgot about it. A few years later, when I needed to learn how to use a Word processor, I pulled out that story so I’d have a large chunk of text to type into the computer and practice on. The writing embarrassed me a little—it needed a lot of work! But I added and deleted text, moved paragraphs around, cut and pasted—and by the time I became proficient on the computer, the story had improved! From there, it grew into a novel.
Me: And then what?
Jo Elizabeth: I picked up my novel and put it down several times over the next fifteen years or so as life happened. I honed my writing craft, visited workshops, took editing advice from many people, and polished my book till it shone. Then in 2014, my mom passed away very suddenly. From the shock of that event, I learned that none of us know how long we will be privileged to walk on this planet. I decided I better publish my book while I had the chance. I felt that my message of mentoring, of how everyone can contribute to changing the world in a positive way, big or small, needed to be spread. So, in June of 2015, I published my book on Amazon and Kindle. The audio version came out in October.
Me: And I wonder, why do you write? I mean, if you could sum it up in a word or in a simple statement, what keeps you writing?
Jo Elizabeth: I write to speak for those who are seldom heard. I also write for the joy of it. I write because there’s so much wonder in the world I want to point out so people won’t miss it.
Me: Oh, I feel the same way. And now a few more “creative” questions, if you don’t mind, so I can get a better glimpse of you as a person:
What kind of fruit or vegetable would you say best expresses your personality? Why?
Jo Elizabeth: Hmmm. Probably a pineapple. I can be kind of prickly on the outside. I’m not much of a hugger, and I’m sort of a “we’re here, let’s get down to business” type when something needs doing. I tend to be more practical than spontaneous. But I’m pretty sweet deep down, once you get past all that.
Me: I get the sense that you are pretty big-hearted. And you’ll have to excuse me…I am a hugger, so, haha, prepare yourself.
What do you like to do on a rainy day?
Jo Elizabeth: Cuddle up under a blanket and listen to a good book or some music, or play a board game.
Me And what’s your favorite part of going grocery shopping? What do you think that says about you?
Jo Elizabeth: I don’t like grocery shopping much because of the crowds. I do enjoy finding bargains, though. Maybe I’m frugal—or maybe I’m a cheapskate. Either way, I’ve got a reputation for pinching pennies till old Abe Lincoln hollers for mercy.
Me: Would you rather vacation at the beach or in the mountains?
Jo Elizabeth: I love the mountains. I used to go to a camp there every summer as a kid, and I grew to adore the smell of the pines, the sound of running streams, the quiet serenity of nature. I’ve only been to the ocean once, and its power intimidated me. Now fresh seafood, bring it on!
Me: What is your favorite punctuation mark?
Jo Elizabeth: The question mark! I never stop asking questions, and I’ve encouraged my daughter to be a constant questioner as well, sometimes to the chagrin of her teachers. Life is all about learning and discovery, which begins with questions.
Me: You’ve got that right. So what role have children played in your life? How about in your writing?
Jo Elizabeth: When I was newly married, my first husband fell ill with Lou Gehrig’s disease. Although tragic, his illness and the poverty that came with it put the two of us in a unique position to be available to many vulnerable children and teens who needed stable adults in their lives. We provided meals, help with homework, life skills training, and listening ears, and those experiences eventually kindled the flame that helped me write my novel.
I had always wanted children of my own, but after years of trying, I was told that medically, it wasn’t meant to be. Then when I was thirty-five and well reconciled to the fact I would never be a biological mother, joy surprised me. Having my own daughter has been one of the most intense, emotionally stretching experiences of my life. My little girl has given me a wealth of material to think and write about, She has made me a much deeper writer and a better human being.
Me: Do you have a favorite fairy tale or children’s story?
Jo Elizabeth: I’m not an avid reader of fairy tales. Some of them are quite dark, and others are a little too sweet for me. And the ones with cruel stepmothers or mean sisters make me want to reach out and slap someone.
As for children’s stories, I love “The Little Engine That Could.” Talk about tenacity!
Me: Oh, I know you need to get back to your busy life, but before you leave, tell me a little more about your writing, won’t you? And where I might read your work?
Jo Elizabeth: “The Bright Side of Darkness” Is my award-winning novel, Available in Kindle, audio, and paperback formats.
I’d love for you to visit me on Facebook at
If you’d like to read my guest blog posts about parenting in the dark, please click here:
Me: Okay, get ready for a hug, Jo…thank you so much for visiting with me today. I hope you’ll come visit me again very soon.
Jo Elizabeth: It’s been great talking to you, Joan. Thanks for having me. And thanks for the cookies and coffee. Have a beautiful day.
The night wind pushes against me as I close the door after my guest, and I take a deep breath. Shabbot is at hand, the air practically tingles with anticipation.
Carefully I straighten the two candles standing ready on the mantle, then bring the waiting candlelighter to the wick. Flames flicker, and I close my eyes and breathe deeply once more.
Blessed are you, Beloved One, Who enables me to sanctify this moment, this day, by kindling the Shabbot lights.
I wave my hands above the flames,breathing deeply, drawing the light, the warmth, the peace of Shabbot toward me, into me; then reflect upon those I hold dearest in my heart, my friends, the world.
And let us say, Amen.