Thursday, December 16, 2010

Author Interview: Sybil Nelson (Priscilla the Great)

If you think your middle school years are awkward and traumatic, try going through them with fire shooting out of your fingers!

Hey, I’m Priscilla and all I want is to be a normal seventh grader. That’s hard enough with an older brother annoyingly obsessed with Christina Aguilera, mischievous baby twin brothers who could scare the sin off of Satan, and parents more puzzling than a Rubik’s cube in the Bermuda triangle.

But when psycho, genetically enhanced assassins start trying to kill me and my family, being normal is downright impossible.

From series website

Priscilla the Great hit shelves yesterday. Order now!

What inspired you to write Priscilla the Great?

It’s kind of odd and funny actually. I had an idea swimming around in my head for months about a girl who got super powers with her first period. I thought, how cool would it be for your period to bring you something other than cramps and cravings. Then I had a couple of students named Helen and Ellen and together they became the personality and looks of Priscilla. The first version of the book took less than a month to write and it was really hilarious. It immediately caught the attention of a major publisher. Throughout three complete revisions with them, however, they convinced me to take out the menstruation angle. I think it’s an even stronger book now.

What were you like at Priscilla’s age? Were any of the characters based upon your younger self?

I was definitely like the character Tai in the book. She is the book smart one and the one who creates all the gadgets that Priscilla eventually needs. I was a nerd growing up. I still am actually! That’s why I’m studying to get my PhD in Biostatistics.

What was the most challenging aspect of writing this novel?

Writing action scenes is extremely difficult for me for some reason. It’s amazing that I managed to write an entire science fiction series. Writing for Priscilla is easy because she’s so unique I find that her voice is always in my head trying to get out. But when I have to write a fight sequence, I find myself having to think back to the days when I read comic books, or throwing in a science fiction movie for inspiration.

Why do you think middle grade fiction has become so popular among older readers?

Middle school is such a strange time of transition. I think most adults either look back at that time fearfully or fondly. Either way, we all remember it. I think through books we can go back to that time relive it, for better or worse!

I noticed in your website bio that you began writing again after noticing the lack of strong black female characters in the media. Why did you decide to move away from that in Priscilla the Great? Are you trying to address a different issue in this novel?

Priscilla the Great is actually the first novel I’ve written from the point of view of a white girl. It’s strange that I just never saw her as black. Priscilla came to me exactly as she is and I had to write her that way. Her best friend, however, is a major character and she is black. And I do have an idea for a spin-off series for her.

The publishing industry is extremely difficult. When I wrote Priscilla the Great, I had already written five novels with black main characters. I had an agent for several years, yet I still didn’t have a publishing contract. On a whim, I wrote this book and it received immediate attention. Within a month it was picked up by a major publishing company and started going through revisions. A few months later, my agent sold the movie rights. Unfortunately, that original publisher dropped me, but it was a great process working with them and I don’t regret the time spent there.

I’m not sure what this says about the industry. Maybe it just wasn’t the right time for my other books. I’m still committed to creating role models for all girls and I hope that some of my other books that focus more on minority issues will be picked up later on. Maybe Priscilla will open the door for me.

What do you think makes for a strong middle grade heroine? Who are some of your favorites?

Definitely a girl who has a strong personality and who speaks her mind. I think she should also be creative and fun. My all time favorite middle grade heroine would have to be Ramona from author Beverly Cleary. I ate those books up when I was a kid.

What one book do you think has been the most influential in the past 100 years? Why?

One book? Wow that is a tough one. Even though I’ve never read it, I would have to say Harry Potter. I think it opened up reading to a whole new generation of kids right when they were about to be forever sucked up into video games.

What authors have inspired you? What about them do you find inspirational?

Jane Austen. Tom Wolfe. Alice Walker. Michael Crichton. V.C. Andrews. Their writing speaks to me in different ways and for different reasons. I look to each of them for guidance for my writing. I love the flow of Jane Austen and Alice Walker. I love the plot work of Michael Crichton and Tom Wolfe. I love the story lines and emotion of V.C. Andrews. And I recently read an article about Alice Walker and how her latest book was rejected by several publishers. I was like, who in the world is rejecting Alice Walker? I was shocked. But it gave me hope. I mean she’s one of the greatest authors of all time. If she can get rejected, then I don’t feel so bad about my stack of rejections.

What is a random fact that readers probably don’t know about you?

I have so many random facts. I’m probably the most random person ever. I’ll give you what I think are my top five.

1. I was on Who Wants to be a Millionaire.

2. I met General Colin Powell in high school because of a scholarship I won.

3. I’m addicted to coupons.

4. I love Justin Bieber music. I want him to play a character in the movie version of Priscilla the Great!

5. I speak three languages.

I noticed on your website that there are 5 books in the series that already have titles and preview chapters. Did you complete the whole series before seeking a publisher? If so, what led you to take this different approach? Did it make the process easier? Harder?

I started looking for a publisher after the first draft of Priscilla. I knew had a strong story and concept. I believed in it so much that I kept writing the series throughout the submission process. I knew what I wanted to happen in each book. Granted, a few details have changed along the way, but the general concept is exactly the same. Only the first four books are complete right now. I only have the first chapter of the fifth book. I’m thinking of holding a contest for my readers to help me write that book. See, it takes place 20 years in the future and I want to know what people think the world will be like then. I already have an idea to change the name of Priscilla’s school to Starbuck’s Middle.

Will there be more than five books? What can you tell us about future installments?

From Priss’ point of view I think there will only be five installments. But I do have ideas for a spin off for her best friend Tai and for a series featuring her twin little brothers. In fact, I’ve already written a collection of short stories about Charlie and Chester called Twin Shorts. You can buy it here:

Sybil has always had a love of books and writing. During her school years, she’d choose a different author each summer and devour their complete works. Riding public transportation from her low-income housing, she always dedicated Wednesdays to her library pursuits. Her best summers were spent engrossed with the works of Jane Austen and Shakespeare.

Sybil currently works as a math teacher at Ashley Hall School in Charleston, South Carolina teaching Algebra 1, Algebra 2, Algebra 3, Trigonometry, PreCalculus, and AP Statistics. She is also close to finishing her thesis entitled Dynamics of Nearly Circular Vortex Filaments and will graduate from the College of Charleston in May. She continues to write and to date has written eight complete novels.

Sybil’s first published work is a short story called What Punky Brewster, Kenny G, and Tupac Have in Common. It was published in an anthology entitled My Writing Life under the pseudonym Leslie DuBois.

For more about this author, please visit:

Thanks so much to Sybil Nelson for including me as part of this tour!


Marie said...

Great interview!

I'm curious to read "What Punky Brewster, Kenny G, and Tupac Have in Common" lol. Sounds interesting!

Grace Elliot said...

Priscilla looks really interesting Sybil - I wish you every success.
Grace x

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