February 10, 2013

Author Q&A: Great 'Promise'

Maine native Priscille Sibley's acclaimed debut tells the story of a family trying to decide the fate of their comatose – and pregnant – loved one.

By Bob Keyes bkeyes@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

As a registered nurse, Priscille Sibley has unique insight into the medical world. She has cared for patients in vegetative states, and seen the anguish of families as they wrestle with moral and medical decisions involving life support.

click image to enlarge

click image to enlarge

Priscelle Sibley

MEET THE AUTHOR

PRISCILLE SIBLEY will read and talk about her book from 1 to 3 p.m. May 18 at Sherman's Maine Books and Stationary, 128 Main St., Freeport.

Sibley's personal experiences led directly to her debut novel, "The Promise of Stardust." In her story, a woman suffers a devastating brain injury, and just as her caregivers and family are about to take her off life support, they find out she is pregnant. She left a living will, but expressed desire to have a child.

That dilemma leaves her family divided.

"This is a love story to the core," said Sibley, a Maine native now living and working in nursing in New Jersey. "Nobody is the bad guy. Everybody is trying to do what is right for her. But people seriously disagree about these things."

Given that Sibley grew up in South Portland and worked at Maine Medical Center, it is natural that she sets part of her book in Maine -- in Freeport, to be precise.

The hospital in the book is called Longfellow Memorial, but Sibley is quick to point out that it is not modeled after Maine Med or based on any of the people or experiences she knew or had while working there.

There is another important reason she set her book in Maine. Many states have laws that prohibit a woman from being taken off life support if she is pregnant. Maine is not one of them.

For that reason, as well as her familiarity with the state, she set her book here.

Q: Before we get into the book, I want to talk to you about your personal story. You were born and raised in Maine?

A: I was born in Sanford, although I don't remember living there. My father moved to Portland after I was a few weeks old, and worked for the newspaper. I grew up in South Portland, went to high school there and graduated in 1976.

Afterwards, I went away to school, I moved back after college and worked at Maine Med for a few years. Then I got married and I moved away again. I consider myself a Mainer living in exile. My heart is always there.

Q: How did growing up in Maine influence you, your writing or this story?

A: Well, the story takes place in Maine, mostly because if I am going to spend that much time with a book, I want it to be someplace I like. Maine is still in my heart. As a kid, I spent a lot of time at the ocean. I used to ride my bike out to Portland Head Light every day. I would write a journal, but I wasn't thinking of being a writer. I don't think I ever considered being a writer as a kid, at least cognitively.

Q: Your family has a history with our newspaper?

A: My grandfather, he was assistant manger of circulation. He retired in 1965, I think. My father worked for the newspaper in one capacity or another his entire life. He was a paper boy, and when he was in Sanford he was a district manager. Then he went to work in Portland and worked his way up to being director of the circulation department. The phone would ring on Sunday because someone didn't get the paper, and my father would be the one to go out and deliver it to them.

Q: OK, on to the book. Quite a monumental topic here. What made you want to tell this story?

A: A long time ago, I took care of a child who was in a persistent vegetative state. It was a difficult thing. Nursing in general, we see a lot of sad things. In some way or another, you come to terms with them. This little child had suffered a severe brain injury, and he wasn't there anymore. We turned him side to side and sang him lullabies and gave him really good care. There were forces involved to not turn off his life support.

The Terri Schiavo story when it was in the news every day was eating at me, but it was that little child sitting there that really touched me. It was a personal story, not a public one. It's the people who are inside the story that are really the most important part of it, and what is right for them.

Q: You could have set it anywhere. Why Freeport?

A: When I started writing it, I didn't know how much would be inside a courtroom or inside a hospital room. It was still unformed. But down Wolfe's Neck Road is where their house is, that's a place I love. It was a place for me to rest this story. It's familiar to me. Some parts of the story have to be grounded in reality, even when you write fiction.

Q: Your publisher has high hopes for this book, as I am sure you do too. I was told it was one of the most important winter titles on the William Morrow list. Do you feel pressure? Are you nervous?

A: Yes, I am nervous. I'm surprised how well it has been received and pleased how well it was received. But yes, obviously, there is pressure to do well. They have invested a lot of their time. Of course, I want it to do well. But it has done remarkable things I never anticipated, like selling in seven countries. It's the Target book of the month for February. It's done things I didn't anticipate it would do.

Q: When did you start writing this?

A: I started seriously writing about 10 years ago. As I said, it wasn't something I even thought I could do. It was a lofty idea. I always told myself stories, but never started putting them down until 10 years ago.

Q: Do you still work as a nurse?

A: I do. I work in neonatal intensive care. I take care of sick little preemies and sick newborns too.

Q: What are your plans for the book?

A: I don't think authors do big book tours anymore unless they are already a name. The world has changed. I am doing a book launch at a bookstore near me and doing a few other things. I am hoping this will be a book club book. I plan to Skype and do a book club appearance when asked. I am on Twitter and other social media.

Q: Good luck.

A: Thank you.

Staff Writer Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or:

bkeyes@pressherald.com

Twitter: pphbkeyes

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