Rummanah Aasi
  I'm very excited to bring you an author interview with Sybil Nelson today. Sybil's latest release is a middle grade novel called Priscilla the Great. The novel is a perfect fit for elementary and middle school students who love superheroes, fantasy, and/or adventure stories. You can read my review of Priscilla the Great here.
  Sybil Nelson is a very busy woman. While she worked as a math teacher at Ashley Hall School in Charleston, South Carolina and finishing her masters thesis at the College of Charelston, she began writing stories, poems, and novels that featured strong black women. Sybil now attends the Medical University of South Carolina pursuing her Ph.D. in Biostatistics. She continues to write and, to date, has written ten complete novels. And here I thought, I was busy! Help me welcome Sybil to Books in the Spotlight.

Welcome and thank you for stopping by, Sybil. You've written so many books, but this seems to be your first middle grade novel. What made you decide to write for younger readers?

I really love that age group. I remember when I was in middle school I would read anything and everything. I love how open middle schoolers are to reading new topics. They are the perfect age to just fall in love with reading. I wanted to be a part of that love story.

I completely agree. I can't help but get swept away by their contagious enthusiasm for reading and discussing books. How is writing for younger readers different from your other audiences? 

I try to keep the two audiences I write for separate only because of subject matter. Other than that, I would say they are pretty similar. No matter what their age is everyone loves a good story. My books for older audiences just deal with more controversial topics. For middle readers, I like to keep it safer.

There is a plethora of books written for children. What do you think is missing from children's literature?

Well, elaborating on what I said earlier, I think we need to keep children safe, but I also don’t think we can shield them completely from the world. So while my younger books are “safer” than my adult books, I still like to touch on topics of great importance. That way maybe a dialogue can be started with the child’s parents. For example, themes of racism are addressed in Priscilla the Great. Also, Priscilla’s mother wants to start giving her sex education. Though one of my recent reviewers disagreed with using the word “sex” in a middle grade book, I honestly don’t think 12 years old is too young to have that conversation. In fact, it’s a little late. Kids are already talking about it amongst themselves.

Yeah, when it comes to sex education things get complicated to say the least. I don't think the issue is discussing the subject matter, but when it's appropriate. Each parent and child is different, but you are right, kids are already curious. I thought you approached the subject tactfully with a mother having a discussion starter with her daughter. With your incredibly busy schedule, how do you find time to write?
The writing is the easy part. I have to force myself to not write and work on my grad school homework instead! I usually carry a notebook with me throughout the day and I jot down ideas. Then after I cook dinner, put my girls to bed, and solve some math problems I tried to spend a few minutes typing out my ideas. Lately though, my writing time has been pushed to the side for promoting. Book promotion is hard work!

Your schedule puts mine to shame! I am just tired thinking about all that you do. I don't know how you have the energy and drive for all of this. How did you come up with the concept of the book and Priscilla's character?

The concept for the book came a few years ago. It was originally called The Adventures of PMS Girl and was about a girl who got super powers with her first period. I thought it was a hilarious concept. How great would it be for your period to bring you something else besides cramps and cravings? Then three years ago I taught a student named Helen who was just completely hilarious. She would come to class every day with a story about something wacky that happened to her. She is who I based Priscilla’s personality on. That same year I had another student named Ellen. She was an adorable red head who I based Priscilla’s looks on. So Priscilla is the combination of Helen and Ellen.

*Laughs* Sounds like a fantasy twist to "Are you there God? It's me, Margaret?" You began writing stories, poems, and novels that featured strong black women, however, Priscilla is not black. Is it hard to write a character who is out of your race or does race of the character not matter to you? 

Not at all. Priscilla is such a strong character that her voice came to me fully formed. I never even imagined her as a black character. For some reason, she was always exactly who she was.

What I loved about the book is that the characters are so diverse and that uniqueness is what is celebrated in the book. Priscilla loves comic books, especially the superhero ones. Do you have a favorite comic book series?

X-MEN!!!! I was completely addicted to them as a child. There are a lot of similarities between the Priscilla the Great series and the X-Men series.

I knew it! Xmen is one of my favorites too. I kept making all these connections to the comic book. If you could have any super power, what would it be and why?

I would like the ability to pause time. That way I could have a few extra hours a day to get things done!
I think everyone would love to have that ability, especially when life gets incredibly busy and out of hand. What character surprised you the most while you are writing the books?

 Specimen Xi. She was a late addition to the book but I really grew to love her psychotic self. She has a major part in the remaining books of the series. She’s such a funny character to me that I could even see her having her own spin off book. I already have plans for separate books for Tai and the Twins. But Xi is a strong contender as well. I love villains for some reason. The villains are just as important as the hero. Nothing ruins a book or movie for me more than a villain who makes no sense or has no good motivation.

She is a really interesting character. One of which that you just love to hate. I can't wait until Priscilla and Specimen Xi meet face to face again. The book ended with a cliffhanger. Please tell me there are more books on the way! How many and when will they be available?

There are five books in the series. Books 2 through 4 are already written and I’m working on book 5 now. My agent sold the TV/Film option and the production company is currently working on pitching it to studios. I had planned on releasing book 2 in May, but my agent wants me to wait to see if the TV show gets picked up. He thinks then I’ll be able to sell the series to a major publisher. Personally, I’m happy with WorldMaker Media. As long as people are reading my work and enjoying it…that’s all I need.

 Thank you so much for stopping by, Sybil!

Thanks and I'm glad you enjoyed the book!

6 Responses
  1. Vivien Says:

    Thanks for the wonderful interview. It's always great to get some insight.
    old follower :)

    deadtossedwaves at gmail dot com

  2. This was an amazing interview, and I am awestruck by Sybil Nelson's energy and drive! This interview gave me insight into the workings of a writer's mind, and a writer who has many responsibilities to balance. The book sounds wonderful.

  3. Jenny Says:

    I have to say I'm a huge X-men fan as well! I never read the comic books, but I used to watch the animated version when I was young and I of course love the movies now:) I've heard so many good things about Priscilla the Great, thanks so much for this interview!

  4. I enjoyed the interview and this book sounds like a lot of fun. Put my name in the draw, please.

    schwartzbergj at

  5. Orchid Says:

    You totally got my attention when you mentioned comics (I haven't read X-men, but I am a huge comic book fan).

    Yes, I agree that a books villain is just as important as having a good hero in your book. ^_^

    Thanks for the great giveaway.

    The Haunting of Orchid Forsythia

  6. Anonymous Says:

    Thank you so much for introducing me to Sybil Nelson! I've never even considered the ability to stop time, what an interesting super power!

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