New interview! This time with Sybil Nelson, the self-proclaimed superwoman. Math teacher, mother, and graduate student who still finds time to write and teach dance, she’s one of those truly remarkable people. Like most of the writer’s I know, I met her through The Next Big Writer. She’s a fantastic storyteller and I, for one, am looking forward to the movie.
Tell us a little about your current WIP? Where did the idea come from?
My current WIP is Priscilla the Great 3: Too Little Too Late. It’s basically done, but I have a few major fight scenes to scribble out and I need to edit and polish the entire thing. The Priscilla the Great series is what I like to call a Sci-fi book for girls. It’s about a 12 year-old girl who suddenly starts shooting fire out of her fingers.
Are you working on any other projects concurrently? Or is there a next project in mind?
I’m also simultaneously writing books 4 and 5 of the Priscilla the Great series.
Another work in progress of mine is called Shadows of St. Louis. I got the idea for this book after reading the biography of Josephine Baker and learning about the 1917 race riots in St. Louis. It’s a Young Adult historical romance about a black girl who can “pass” for white.
When did you first know you wanted to be a writer? Why did you start writing?
I wanted to be a writer when I was a teenager. I entered college as a journalism major, but I got discouraged and ended up changing my major to Math and Music. I started writing again after I started noticing that most of the books I read didn’t have any black characters. So I started to write my own books that featured black characters, especially black women.
On your website, you said you lost confidence in your writing while you were in college. Care to share what happened and how you got it back?
Still not sure if I have it back yet! When I was in college, it just felt like writing was so subjective. I would read something and think it was average at best and then it would be lauded by the teacher or other experts. I wasn’t making the grades I was used to in my writing classes. I was making straight A’s in math, however, so I switched.
How long was the road to finding an agent?
It took me two years to find an agent. There was nothing special about the process. I just kept writing queries, getting rejected, tweaking the query and sending it again. During the process though I kept working on other projects. I can’t stress enough how important that is. By the time I got an agent I had already written four books. Now I’ve written eight. My agent is pushing two of them right now and we are about to start editing a third to start sending it to publishers as well.
What are you doing to help market Priscilla?
Oh my goodness. I’m doing everything I can think of. I built a dynamic and interactive website with www.priscillathegreat.com. I have a facebook fan page, a twitter account for both myself and Priscilla, a blog from Priscilla’s pov called Prissy Fit. I’m currently working on a newsletter to send to fans. I have giveaways on Prissy Fit. I plan on making bookmarks, flyers, posters, and t-shirts for giveaways. I’ve bought ads on facebook and google. You can visit my blog Writer’s Lounge to get more details of what works and what doesn’t.
You’re one of the few people who has gotten a movie deal before a book deal. What has that been like?
The movie deal thing is pretty hard to believe. I think I still won’t believe it until I actually sitting in the movie theater watching the movie. But I think my situation is a testimony as to how difficult the publishing industry is. I got a movie deal back in December of 2009. It is now May of 2010 and I still don’t have a publishing contract. You would think a publisher would want to snap me up. There’s a lot of potential for commercial success with Priscilla, but publishers are still cautious and no one has made me an offer. I’ve been rejected by four publishers even after the movie deal.
Any writing methods you’d like to share?
I carry a notebook with me and not only jot down ideas, but also snippets of conversation I hear or funny things my students say. Just the way someone’s hair flops to one side of their face could be the next trait of one of my characters. My motto is Inspiration is Everywhere.
What’s the first book you remember reading?
The Bible. When I was five-years-old I set out to read the Bible from cover to cover. It took me a few years but I did it.
Have any specific authors inspired you?
VC Andrews – great plot twists
Jane Austin – duh
Thomas Wolfe – fellow alumni and he’s just amazing at character development
Michael Crichton – awesome tension and plots
Give three fun facts about yourself:
1) I was on Who Wants to be a Millionaire. I didn’t use a lifeline and I got out. 😦
2) I was first black woman to graduate from a sorority at my university.
3) The only class I’ve ever failed is remedial swimming…twice. I still can’t swim.
What’s one thing you wish you had known when you started writing?
The publishing industry takes a long time. I started writing seriously over four years ago. I had know idea when I started that it would take so long for me to get an agent and that even after I got an agent it would take even more time. Through my latest research I’ve learned that even after you’re accepted for publication it can take another year before your book comes out.
I’ve also learned that it takes more than talent to make it in this industry. It takes, professionalism, persistence, patience, and, unfortunately a lucky break. I’m still waiting on my break. I know it will come.
What’s one question that you wish I had asked? Answer?
Q: How do you find time to write with two kids, a full-time job, and graduate school?
A: I don’t sleep very much! Seriously though, I carry a notebook with me every where I go. Any free second I find during the day I jot down an idea, or a character sketch, or a chapter outline. At the end of the day I type something. Lately, I’ve been exchanging writing time for marketing time, but every day I make sure to do something to further my writing career. If that means losing an hour of sleep here or there, so be it.
Thanks to Sybil for sharing with the world. You can find her and Priscilla pretty much everywhere, look them up on facebook or twitter and check out her totally awesome website.