Welcome to our Author Interview series.
Today we're featuring an interview with Nancy L. Preston, author of After Sybil... From the Letters of Shirley Mason. Our author interview series provides an opportunity for our readers to get to know our authors on a deeper level and also learn more about the types of books we're publishing.
With degrees from Rio Grande and Ohio State, Nancy L. Preston was a teacher for many years in central Ohio. Now retired and a free lance writer with many published articles, she writes a monthly column for a national magazine. Warner Brothers interviewed her about her friendship with Shirley Mason and included that interview in their 30th anniversary DVD edition of the movie Sybil. Besides traveling, her husband and she enjoy spending time with their daughters and grandchildren. Dissociative Identity Disorder remains a primary interest of hers and she is in contact with many who live with it every day.
Synopsis: After Sybil...
“I’m Sybil.” Thus, Shirley Mason shared her secret identity with Nancy Preston, former student. That disclosure cemented an enduring twenty-eight year friendship between the two via phone calls, visits, and letters. From Shirley’s first letter to her last phone call to Nancy, After Sybil is a revealing glimpse into the daily life of the woman whose sixteen personalities were merged into the one Nancy knew and loved. Letters, photos, and quotes offer insight to Shirley’s view of her parents, her therapist, and the bestselling book and subsequent movies about her. Interspersed in the book are examples of Shirley’s art, including a unique self portrait.
Here’s your chance to market your book. Describe it. And why readers should pick it up?
The bestselling book Sybil, by Flora Schreiber, ended in 1965 with the integration of Shirley Mason’s 16 personalities. My book picks up there and uses quotes, photos, art, and Shirley’s letters to me to reveal how one of the most famous multiples of all time lived her life, right up until death claimed her in 1998. Shirley’s letters to me over the course of twenty-eight years cannot be disputed as to the truth of the story behind the real Sybil, not the fictional one. As good friends do, we shared a lot. My book in turn shares with readers Shirley’s thoughts about her parents, her therapist, and her art. My book also includes an amazing self portrait that is unlike any of Shirley’s other art.
How did your book come to life?
I attended an art exhibit featuring Shirley’s art in 2004. As I viewed her paintings, my friend seemed to be walking beside me. I could hear her voice talking about her art and when I returned home, I grieved her loss anew. As I sometimes did, I reread her letters to me and thought, “These deserve to be shared so others can come to know the Shirley I knew; the real woman behind the fictional Sybil.” That was my impetus to start After Sybil.
Why do you think your readers are going to enjoy your book?
By headlining pertinent information at the top of the page and adding additional information in blocks at the bottom of the page, the reader can easily get an overview of Shirley’s thoughts and ideas. There are valuable insights as to DID, dissociative identity disorder, as well. And of course, the samples of Shirley’s art are amazing. I’ve also included little tidbits and trivia about various topics that Shirley has referred to in her letters.
How long did it take you to write your book?
I began my book in 2004, finished it, revised it, revised it, and revised it, ad nauseam per my agent’s requests and my own obsession with getting it right. I finally said, “Enough!” in 2011 and ended my agent’s contract. I contacted Infinity Press in 2012 with a goal of publication as soon as possible.
Who designed the cover?
I used one of Shirley’s original paintings for the cover of After Sybil so I guess Shirley Mason did, with help from Infinity Publishing. Although Shirley did not title this particular piece of art, I call it Doves for obvious reasons. The two graceful doves are entwined, flying in perfect alignment. To me, it is evocative of two friendships – the one between Dr. Wilbur, Shirley’s therapist, and Shirley; and the one between Shirley and me. The book cover invites potential readers to open the book and find out more about this intriguing artist who was primarily known for her multiplicity as Sybil, but who was a wonderful friend to me.
What are you doing to market the book? Are you using social media?
I have had a website, sybilsfriend.com, for years. It has information about Shirley, her art and personal life. Also therein is a page for others who have dissociative identity disorder. I also have a Facebook page and occasionally use Twitter. I have a Pinterest board about multiple personality disorder, and I am a member of Linked In. Then, over the years I have built personal contacts and friendships with some wonderful people who are helping me with my marketing.
Have you written your entire life? Have you always considered yourself a writer?
I believe writers are born with that inner craving to put multiple words on blank pages. I remember loving my high school writing assignments and getting much positive reinforcement from my teachers. After I met Shirley Mason, my college art professor, she became my mentor and encouraged me to write and share my writing with others through publication.
What are your thoughts on self-publishing verses traditional publishing?
Most writers try the traditional route first; some even get agents to represent them. I had an agent for four years, but couldn’t get a contract with a publisher. Mainstream publishers want a track record of proven sales to ensure they make money from the authors to whom they offer contracts. I don’t blame them, but new writers have the odds stacked against them. People who are already famous have the inside track as well as those who have been in the headlines for either good or bad reasons. The self publishing industry is not what it used to be with the advent of print on demand and other technological advances. It is an affordable means to an end for those of us who believe we have something to say that others would enjoy reading.
If you were told your stories were unbelievable and not written very well, would you continue to write? What would your response be?
The best way to improve one’s writing skills is to write. We’ve all heard that before. If I were told my stories were unbelievable, then I would consider different types of writing where my skill set would be better utilized. It takes a special brain to craft a story, imbue characters with life, make them believable, and come up with a plot. But there are many other types of writing for which authors are needed. I would review my assets and assess what type of writing I enjoy the most, and then pursue those avenues of writing. I would also try to improve my craft by asking professionals where and how my writing is weak and work on improving those areas. It would be impossible for me to stop writing regardless of any criticism I receive. If the criticisms were consistent, I would change my mode of writing, work on improving my editing skills, and keep trying. I would build on my strengths.
Where did you grow up? How did your hometown (or other places you have lived) inspire your writing?
I grew up in a tiny place called Pyro in southern Ohio. My parents worked at Rio Grande College and I pursued a teaching degree there. That is where I met Shirley Mason and where we became friends as art teacher and student. If I hadn’t met her, there would be no book called After Sybil.
Why did you decide to publish with Infinity Publishing?
I tried the traditional route and actually was under contract with an agent for over 4 years. I got tired of the snail’s pace of traditional publishers where I waited weeks or months to get an answer to even simple enquiries. Infinity Publishing provides answers as needed and my book was published in a high quality timely manner.
You can learn more about Nancy L. Preston and After Sybil... by visiting: