Saturday, December 18, 2010

'Priscilla The Great' author, Sybil Nelson

Today I’d like to welcome Sybil Nelson, recently published author, as my guest. Welcome Sybil. So…let’s jump right in, shall we? Do you remember the first book you ever read?

I’m pretty sure it was Green Eggs and Ham. I’d have to ask my mother though.

Can you tell us what was one of your favorite books as a child? As an adult? Why?

Just one? I don’t know if I could pick just one. I know when I was in middle school my favorite author was V.C. Andrews. I just loved Flowers in the Attic. I recently re-read the entire series. I still love it. In high school, I loved Jane Austen, but I think my favorite book was Tess of the d'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy. I went through a huge European literature phase. Currently, I think my favorite book is I am Charlotte Simmons by Tom Wolfe. If you can’t tell, I love books with female main characters. I always find a way to relate to them in one way or another.

What made you want to become a writer?

Honestly, I wanted to become a writer because so many books I read did not feature any black female characters. I used to find that books were either all black or all white. I wanted to write books that were diverse and featured a mix of characters.

How do you handle writer’s block?

I do math homework. I’m studying to get my PhD in biostatistics and I find that I get my best ideas while I’m doing something that’s as far away from writing as possible. Doing math fits that.

As a writer, what types of stories and characters do you gravitate towards? As a reader?

I usually like to read and write books that have a romantic theme. I’m a sucker for a love story. But my debut novel is a superhero kids’ book. It’s actually not my thing, but it’s what came to me so it’s what I wrote. I do have a couple of romantic suspense novels written under my pen name, Leslie DuBois. I’m also a big fan of historical fiction, oddly enough. I love Philippa Gregory. I’m not likely to find any black characters in those books, that’s for sure. But I still love them!

As a writer, what responsibilities do you feel toward your readership, if any?

I feel that I have to let the character tell the story. Sometimes I don’t agree with what the character says or does, but I feel I have to be fair to both the character and the reader and tell the story the way it’s supposed to be told.

What book are you reading now?

I’m reading A Spot of Bother by Mark Haddon. I loved The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime by him and decided to give one of his other works a try. So far, it’s fantastic.

As a reader, what are some of your pet peeves when reading a published book?

I know I’m bound to have typos in my book. Some always slip through the cracks, but I hate glaring errors, especially with continuity. I once read a series of books that had tons of grammatical errors. I let those errors slide and made it to like book four, but when book four mistakenly reported something that happened in book one, I was done. It was like a different person wrote the book and didn’t know what happened in the previous books.

You’ve recently published 'Priscilla the Great'. Congratulations! Can you give us a quick synopsis?

Priscilla the Great is about a spunky twelve-year-old who learns that she can shoot fire out of her fingers as well as a bunch of other cool powers. With the help of her genius best friend, Tai, they figure out that one of her parents was a genetic experiment and that she inherited certain gifts. When her parents’ identity is discovered, Priscilla has to come to the rescue and save her family.

What was your inspiration for this story?

The original book was called The Adventures of PMS Girl and Priscilla got her powers along with her first period. The book went through three revisions with a major publisher and they convinced me to take out the period angle. Even though that publisher eventually dropped me, I don’t regret the changes. I think it’s an even stronger book.

Oh, I remember that! At the time I remember thinking, “What a fantastic premise!” I think these behind-the-scenes book negotiations are fascinating, but also help writers see things from the perspective of the publisher. So, what was their reasoning for taking out the menstruation angle?

They didn't think a story about the menstrual cycle would appeal to kids. They thought it was too embarrassing for the age group. I agree to a certain extent. I think it would be a great concept for an older audience. I think I might try to turn the idea into a chick lit novel one day.

I think you should. I love the idea. So, on that note, what are the challenges and/or differences in writing for a YA audience?

I think all ten books that I’ve written could be considered YA. I don’t think I know how to write to an adult audience. I love the innocence and the open-mindedness of Middle Grade and Young Adult readers. I remember when I was that age, I would read anything and everything. Older readers tend to have a specific genre they gravitate towards and mainly stick to that area.

What are you working on now?

Right now I’m working on a Young Adult Historical Fiction novel about an interracial couple during the 1917 race riots in St. Louis

That sounds interesting. We'll look forward to hearing more about it and your other work soon. Again, congratulations on the publication of Priscilla the Great!


Sybil Nelson is represented by Uwe Stender of TriadaUS. Her debut Novel Priscilla the Great was published on December 15th, 2010 by WorldMaker Media. She is currently a PhD student at the Medical University of South Carolina and has a master’s degree in mathematics from the College of Charleston and bachelor’s degrees from Washington and Lee University.

Her Websites:

Monday, December 13, 2010

The Amazing Let Down

THE AMAZING RACE: Well, the Season 17 finale was last night. I was happy for the winning team (though I’ve been forbidden to mention their names because Kat taped the show and hasn’t watched yet.)

As a teaser for next season, they announced that it would be called: The Amazing Race: UNFINISHED BUSINESS

Dun, dun, dun!

Basically, season 18 will be returning team mates - you know the ones - previous contestants who argued the whole time or regularly broke the rules, whined their way through the race, couldn’t drive a stick shift, forgot their travel documents, were prone to crying jags. Yes, the entertaining people. So even though Kat and I won’t be accompanying our ‘dream teams’ -

- a pair of nuns, two gay guys who argue like an old married couple, an Italian grandmother/granddaughter team who have to be ‘bleeped’ every fifteen minutes because they have naughty mouths, a magician and his dimwitted apprentice, a sheep farmer and his wife, brothers who own & operate a sex toy manufacturing business in New Jersey, an old nudist couple who have trouble keeping their clothes on, a biker couple, and a pair of karaoke rappers - it should still be the most amusing Amazing Race yet.

The producers must have seen my pleas for more entertaining cast members on their web boards. Yeah, that’s probably what happened.

As you all know, we were preparing our submission package for next season - this newest announcement kind of puts the kibosh on our plans, but it’s just as well because we could both stand to lose a pound or twenty before we’re chosen as contestants.

And we will be chosen as contestants, mark my words. Any producer in their right mind - after reading our applications - wouldn’t be able to resist a menopausal woman and her erratic sidekick with a penchant for discussing her hemorrhoids (which we made much hay of in our video presentation, as well as the combined size of our mammary glands.)

Boobs + running = RATINGS, baby!

Below are some of the questions and my answers from the application. I've decided to share them because by the time a year rolls around and we're ready to submit for Season 19, I could be dead...or have figured out even better answers - in which case, why waste the clever bon mots, right?

You tell me: doesn’t this sound like a contestant you want to see fumble their way through a leg or two of the race before being carted off on a stretcher following a mid-air heart attack after being forced to bungee jump from the Eiffel Tower?

What is your current occupation? Please describe in 2 words.

Homemaker, writer

In two sentences, please describe what you do.

Mine the house for shit-pebbles hidden behind furniture by my toilet-challenged nine year old autistic son while fielding obsessively compulsive questions from my thirteen year old (also autistic) son. Then, I write about it.

How will these skills help you to win the Race?

I am a multi-tasker; I have dealt with enough bodily fluids that I don’t get queasy easily, and I have a good handle on my gag reflex and temper, respectively.

How long have you and your teammate known each other?

Three years

How did you meet?

Oh, we’ve never met in person. We’ve written a book together, though. We belong to the same writer’s workshop on the Internet. Tell me, how cool would our first meeting be if on THE AMAZING RACE? I see HUGE ratings. Huge like my boobs that would bounce up and down if I was required to run.

What do you hope to gain from participating in The Amazing Race with your partner (besides winning)?

Getting out of the house. I have two autistic kids, I don’t get out much.

What communication issues do you have with your partner that you would want to address while on the Race?

Kat (like my kids) has her own toileting issues. Apparently I’d be required to be at least 50 feet from the bathroom door at any time she needed to pee and 50 miles away should the need to evacuate arise. I would address this by regularly tormenting her in this regard, since the idea of going to the bathroom anywhere out of her comfort zone (the bathroom at her house) is most certainly a mental health issue for her.

What is the biggest disappointment you have experienced from your teammate?

She has steadfastly refused to videotape herself belly dancing so I can post it on YouTube. We’re working through it.

How did you resolve it?

I Photoshopped her head onto the body of an overweight Belly Dancer and sent it, via-email, to sixty of our closest friends - and all of her co-workers. Because, that's how we roll, people.

What famous person reminds you of yourself?

Bette Davis

What famous person reminds you of your teammate?

Truman Capote

What is your biggest pet peeve about your partner?

The above mentioned toileting issues and her inability to discuss said issues. I’ve suggested therapy. She’s suggested I mind my fu*%^ng business.

What time(s) together with your teammate are/have been the most memorable? Why?

We’re both fantastic writers, so working on our novel WAITING FOR KARL ROVE was pretty damned cool. (SHAMLESS PLUG: Soon to be e-published on for Kindle.)

What is the worst experience you have had with your teammate? Why?

I will direct your attention to what I refer to as The Snuggie® Incident. I purchased one and Kat said that spoke volumes about who I was, as a person, teasing me about it relentlessly and with the same regularity as an octogenarian whose first meal of every day consists of bran cereal and prune juice.

How are you and your teammate most alike?

We have the same sense of humor as well as a great love of coffee, chocolate and cigarettes.

How are you and your teammate most different?

She is menopausal while all my hormones are all still working effectively.

How could the Race change the current state of your relationship?

We’d actually meet in person for the first time - which could possibly mean the slow disintegration of our relationship…but anything for ratings, right? Because of her malady, you could look forward to tension between us, particularly if we were the first team to be eliminated because of our inability to work together effectively due to her hot flashes, mood swings and regular flatulence issues.

What is your opinion of foreigners?

Foreigners are people too. I’m very foreigner friendly. In fact, I would probably enjoy foreigners more than most of my immediate family.

What was the last vacation that you took?

Does my overnight stay at the hospital giving birth to my second child count as a vacation? If not, it’s been over 12 years and I only have a slight memory of a zoo in Miami and sand chafing my thighs.

Are there any locations in the world to which you absolutely will not travel? If so, identify where and explain why.

I’d rather not spend the night at Karl Rove’s house, though I would if it was one of the stops on THE AMAZING RACE itinerary. I’d do it, but I wouldn’t like it.

Have you ever traveled outside of the U.S.? If so, to where?

Is Mexico considered outside the US? I took a cruise there once in high school, but can only remember half of it due to the Singapore Slings. (which was the last time I drank alcohol, BTW)

Do you speak or read any foreign languages? If so, which one(s)?

My husband is Puerto Rican, so I speak a little Spanish, but only the naughty words. Basically, enough to get me beat up or arrested.

What country and place would you most like to visit and why?

Beggars can’t be choosers, but I’ve always wanted to see Yemen. Because I like the way it sounds when you say it: Yemen….Yemen…

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Let's Talk About Sex, Baby

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Oh boy. It would have been more funny if it hadn’t left the poor kid traumatized for life. And yet, it was all I could do to stem the tide of giggles threatening to explode from within me and wash over Jake like a tsunami of parental dysfunction.

The topic for today: Sex, via a study sheet from 7th grade Health Class. Let me remind you that Jake is thirteen years old, autistic, and riddled with OCD. He’s smart, overly sensitive and worries over everything to an infinite degree.

I pulled out Jake’s homework file and began quizzing him on his vocabulary words in preparation for his health test. It became immediately clear that he had a handle on the True/False questions as far as sexually transmitted diseases were concerned.

Quite a conundrum, then, that when I asked him to define sexual intercourse, he seemed to draw a blank. So while he knew, for instance that, ‘some STD’s are very dangerous; a few can permanently damage or kill you’, he didn’t actually understand how someone would get the STD in the first place.

“Jake, what does sexual intercourse mean?” I asked nervously.

“I don’t know.”

“You don’t know what sex is?”

We’d briefly covered the whole ‘how babies are made’ a year or so ago, but apparently Jake hadn’t put together the fact that penis + vagina = baby (or anything else, for that matter). They’d also covered the topic at school last year, via one of those ‘Your Maturing Body’ movies. But Jake doesn’t even like the idea of discussing kissing, so it’s somewhat of a touchy subject. We’d also previously discussed matters of which we Catholics refer to as ‘self-abuse’. He’d been duly informed that ‘tickling his wiener’ was completely normal and wouldn’t cause it to fall off. It was touch and go there for a while, but after what I assume were many private trial runs, and his penis remained firmly attached, he’d stopped obsessing about it.

Now, with his vocabulary list clutched firmly in one hand, I proceeded to give Jake a nuts and bolts description of sexual intercourse using one erect finger and a hand curved into a little circle.

“So…” I concluded, using as many of his vocabulary words in the sentence as possible, “…this is the penis (finger) and this is the vagina (hand in a little ‘o’) and a Mom and Dad have sex like this and the semen comes out of the penis when the Dad ejaculates, and there is sperm in the semen.” I was about to explain that the Mom produces an egg and when the sperm and egg meet, a baby is made, but he’d already put his hands over his ears and started whining.

“Oh my God! Stop. I don’t like Health Class. I want to take Spanish. When does Spanish class start?” Jake’s face was in full-on panic mode, while my inner sadist was hopped up on Red Bull and ready to rumble. I am proud of the fact that I was able to keep it under control, letting only a minor chortle escape.

“Not until the end of the semester, Jake. Calm down. This is a perfectly natural thing.”

“No, it’s gross! And now I don’t know why someone wrote on the bathroom wall, SEX RULES, because it does not rule, it’s GROSS!” Jake turned his back on me and sat in a nearby chair. “Only weird people do that.”

“Jake, I hate to tell you this, but if your Dad and I hadn’t done it, you wouldn’t be here.”

Jake mumbled something I didn’t catch, slumping down further into the chair. I took a deep breath and looked over the rest of the vocabulary words. Next on the list: clitoris.

Are you kidding me?!

Listen, we’d only minutes earlier discussed the definition of foreskin and circumcision - before we got into the whole STD thing - and he wasn’t happy about the fact that I’d let the pediatrician lop off a part of his penis he never knew he had. He found it pretty disturbing, but managed to assimilate that information and move on. If the whole sex thing had him freaked out, I was sure it was unwise to venture further into female pleasure.

Even though the definition on the study sheet seemed rather banal…

Clitoris - The part of the female genitals that’s full of nerves and becomes erect. It has a glans and a shaft like a penis, but only its glans is on the out side of the body, and it’s much smaller.

…I can assure you that this definition - should I have chosen to explain it - would have left Jake thinking I had a tiny penis, and that wasn’t something I was comfortable with. I made an executive decision to skip it. In fact, we skipped a few, which didn’t bode well for his future test score, but at that point I felt the need to pull him back from his horrified, trance-like state, rather than try to explain things that I didn’t think the kid was even remotely able to process.

I nudged him around to look at me and after a few moments of obstinate silence, we went over a few of the easier words like erection. I used the finger again for a visual aid.

Jake cringed.

Unfortunately, when we got to buttocks, the politically correct Mom in me felt it necessary to elaborate on the fact that not only man and women had sex, but also men and men, as well as women and women. Don’t judge me! Anus was one of the vocabulary words so the discussion naturally progressed! Also, we’ve had the homosexual discussion before - when Jake was six, in fact - and asked if a man could marry a man. I’d used age-appropriate language, but he knew the basics. (I will also note that the vocabulary list alluded to oral and anal sex in the definition of sexual intercourse.)

“So, not just men and women, but also men and men can have sex, and when they do, a man can put his penis into the anus of another man.” I held my breath.

“Oh, come on! Be serious, Mom.” Jake groaned.

“I’m serious, buddy. That’s how gay men have sex. It’s nothing to be ashamed or embarrassed about. Nothing about sex is bad as long as both people want to do it together.”

“I’m never doing it. NEVER!”

“Well, that’s up to you, but I’m pretty sure you’ll change your mind one day.”

The thing is, I don’t really know if Jake will change his mind one day. Any sort of physical intimacy, shy of a hug or a peck on the cheek, makes him uncomfortable. All I can do, for now, is give him the facts and hope that one day he comes to a better understanding of sex, love and emotion. There will certainly need to be more discussions to follow, but all in good time.

I’m just thankful he’s only got about four more weeks of Health, and then he’s on to Spanish class.

Hola Jake. ¿Cómo estás?
(TRANSLATION: Hello Jake. How are you?)

Bien gracias. No vamos a discutir el sexo de aquí, ¿verdad?
(TRANSLATION: Fine thank you. We won't be discussing sex in here, right?)