When Round Lake Beach author Steven Vaitonis’ three daughters were children, they couldn’t wait for Christmas Day, relentlessly questioning their parents why it was taking so long to arrive.
To ease their impatience, Vaitonis and his wife Cindy began leaving small presents for the girls at the breakfast table during the month of December. Soon, their obsession turned to finding out who was behind the mystery.
“It was the Christmas Elf,” Vaitonis told them.
Vaitonis decided to make the elf the central character in a children's book, which he called “Edison the Christmas Elf and the Imperfect Perfect Toy.”
In the book, Edison dreams of making the perfect Christmas toy. He’s full of ideas, though they’re often disastrous. For example, Edison creates a gift that can wrap itself. Unfortunately, it can never be enjoyed because it keeps re-wrapping itself.
Despite his failures, Edison is persistent. Each year, Santa wonders what he’ll create next and what the outcome will be.
Elf on the shelf
Vaitonis, who writes under the name Papa V, wrote the first draft of Edison 30 years ago. He had it evaluated at a writer’s conference, revised it and mailed it to publishers.
“I got a slew of rejection letters, so I got kind of discouraged and put it aside for a few months, and the months turned into years,” said the 72-year-old grandfather of six.
Upon retiring, Vaitonis returned to writing and revised the book extensively. It caught the attention of Belle Isle Books, a publishing company based in Richmond, Va.
Normal turnaround time is six months to a year to hear back from a publisher, Vaitonis said. He received the good news in about a month that they wanted to publish his book.
Naturally, Vaitonis was worried about how much the publisher would want to edit the book. “I waiver between lack of confidence and trying to be a perfectionist,” he said.
Happily, the publisher only changed two words and added a sentence.
“Edison the Christmas Elf and the Imperfect Perfect Toy,” with illustrations by Melissa Blue, is available as through Amazon and Barnes & Noble. An e-book edition is available on iTunes.
“It feels great to be a published author. It validates the long hours I put in to create Edison,” Vaitonis said. “I love the fact that kids love the story. That’s one of the reasons I asked the publisher to put the comments and endorsements of two third-graders on the back of the book.”
His daughters and grandchildren are also big fans of the book.
“To see my dad's creativity and imagination come to life in Edison the Christmas Elf makes me so happy,” said daughter Kris Hartman. “Now that we're all grown up, my sisters and I get to share the magic we felt when our dad created the Christmas Elf with our own children. That's just about the best Christmas present we could ever ask for.”
Follow your dreams
Hartman read her father’s book to an entire elementary school last year and shared with them his determination to become a published author.
“Their takeaways were very meaningful—never give up on your dreams, it's never too late to do what you love, there is no such thing as perfection, and my favorite one, you can be little and have big ideas. I have no doubt that Papa V's book will inspire children to dream big,” Hartman said.
When he wrote Edison, Vaitonis said he hadn’t planned on including any specific moral or lesson to be learned. He wanted each reader to form their own interpretation.
“My wife likes Santa’s demeanor. Although he may dread Edison’s ideas, he is never mean or dismissive. He gives Edison the opportunity to try and to fail,” Vaitonis said. “She also sees an environmental message in the book. In one chapter, Edison destroys an entire forest to get the wood he needs to make a perfect puzzle. When Santa finds out what Edison has done, he orders Edison to plant two trees for each one he has cut down.”
Vaitonis sees Edison as being on a quest for perfection without realizing there could be damaging consequences. “In the end, he learned that sometimes good enough could be better than perfection.”
The author is working on several new books, including one called “Vanished,” about a little girl’s search for her missing teddy bear, which is expected to be released by Belle Isle Books next fall.
Readers can keep up with Vaitonis on his website, papavauthor.com, which features activities for children, book recommendations for parents, a blog and more. Links to purchase “Edison the Christmas Elf and the Imperfect Perfect Toy” are also on the website.
If you go:
Vaitonis will have a book signing from 12 to 3 p.m. Dec. 12 at This Old Book, 138 Center St., Grayslake.