An Interview with Tonya Duncan Ellis, Children’s Author
Tonya Duncan Ellis is an Amazon bestselling author of the award-winning Sophie Washington book series, geared to kids ages eight to twelve. As an independent (indie) author she has sold over 12,000 books online since she started marketing her series in 2017.
Tonya has been featured in the Houston Chronicle, The Baltimore Sun, and local radio and television stations, among other media. Tonya also enjoys school visits and readings as well.
Before writing her series, Tonya was a freelance writer for Sugar Land Magazine, Katy Magazine, and Cy-Fair Magazine. Tonya is also a member of the Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.
When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
I’ve been a book nerd since I was small. My mom took me to the public library on a weekly basis, and I’d come out with a bag bursting with new reads. I spent most of my time in the library as an elementary school student, and I loved participating in the fun parties our librarian would host for readers. When I was a teen, I volunteered at the library so I could get first dibs on all the new books coming out.
When I was in the 5th grade, I wrote and illustrated a story and submitted into a young author’s competition and placed first. I realized at that moment I wanted to become a writer. I went on to write an editorial piece that was published in my hometown newspaper when I was a high school sophomore and got paid my first check for writing. In college, I studied English literature and got internships at newspapers during summer breaks. I then started a career as a journalist after graduation.
What were some of your inspirations?
My children (I’m a mom of three) are the biggest inspirations for my book characters. They are teens now, but I started writing my series when my daughter was ten or eleven, around the age of Sophie Washington, the main character of my books, and I still get ideas daily from the funny situations my kids find themselves in or tell me about. I love children, and I’ve volunteered as a team mom, and a room mom more times than I can count, and have also been a Sunday school teacher for years, so I get ideas from things I see in those situations as well. That said, the books are fictional, and I do bring in my creativity to come up with various scenarios.
How long have you lived in Missouri City, and does it factor into your books?
I was born and raised in Kentucky and have lived in Missouri City for thirteen years. Sophie’s neighborhood is detailed in most of my books, and I consider my series a love letter to the community. From the time I moved to Houston, I’ve felt like it was my home. I love the diversity, the people, the activities, the lifestyle, and even the hot weather, though I don’t like the hurricanes.
Tell us about your series, Sophie Washington?
The books star a precocious African American tween who lives in the Houston suburbs (in a place similar to Sienna) and chronicle her handling of common middle-grade issues like fitting in, standing up to bullies, managing her school work, and handling puppy love, with a Texas twist. Readers get a bird’s eye view of what life is like in Houston from Sophie Washington and her diverse group of friends, who encounter alligators and wild boar in their neighborhood, go fishing in Galveston, take trips to the Texas Hill Country, and the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo.
There are currently eight books in the series: Sophie Washington: Queen of the Bee, Sophie Washington: The Snitch, Sophie Washington: Things You Didn’t Know About Sophie, Sophie Washington: The Gamer, Sophie Washington: Hurricane, Sophie Washington; Mission: Costa Rica, Sophie Washington: Secret Santa, and Sophie Washington: Code One. Book nine is scheduled for release this August.
Is there a message in your series that you hope readers will grasp?
The books all have gentle lessons about hard work, perseverance, truthfulness, limit setting, being true to yourself, etc. woven into the stories. The kids learn ways to work through age-appropriate problems while being entertained.
What age group is your book series geared towards?
Each illustrated chapter book is from 100-120 pages. They are geared to children ages 8-12.
Where can readers find your books?
My books are sold on Amazon, Barnesandnoble.com, Ingram, Kobo, Smashwords, and through my website at www.tonyaduncanellis.com. I also participate in local community markets and book fairs like the San Antonio Book Festival and the Texas Book Festival, so you might see me at one of these events to get a signed book.
On August 10, Tonya will be participating in the Summer Soirée party at Sweets in the Sky, 4747 Hwy 6, Missouri City, Texas 77459, near Star Cinema Grill from 12 p.m. – 2 p.m. There will be a Buzz Lightyear character, books, crafts, treats, and fun.
Founder of Sienna Scoop – a community blog. A wife, mom, and a business owner. I was born in Houston, Texas and moved to Sugar Land, Texas when I was 12 years old. We moved to Missouri City, Texas from Sugar Land, Texas in 2009, primarily to be closer to family and instantly loved our new neighborhood. We love living in this community, it’s like living in a small town. One of my favorite things to do is DIY and crafting projects, for me, this is how I relax from the day to day grind.
My kids love to read her books