The Promise of Stardust, the first novel of - I'm hopeful - many to come from this talented new author, Priscille Sibley, is a tale of all-consuming love, implicit trust and enduring faith. Matt and Elle was destined to be man and wife from the moment their eyes locked in childhood, but when Elle suffers a devastating blow to the head, rendering her in a vegetative state, should Matt respect her wishes and discontinue life support, or fight for the small child growing inside of her?
Nikki Tiani: You wrote our protagonist, Matt, so well that I had a hard time believing this work of fiction wasn’t, in fact, penned by an actual man. Was he based on any one person in your life?
Priscille Sibley: Wow, thank you for saying that! I struggled to make Matt authentically male. I worried about everything from his reactions and his body language to what words he chose to describe his world. I didn’t base him on any person per se, but my husband has three brothers (and four sisters). It’s a big family. I also have three sons, all of which gives me many opportunities to see how men interact with one another.
NT: Elle is enamored with the idea of exploring galaxies brimming with shimmering stars – why this career? Was her character ever imagined to be in the medical field like her husband, Matt?
PS: Elle came to me as an astronaut; I wish I understood how a character evolves in my imagination. In an early draft, I wrote scenes with Elle and her grandfather (whose house eventually becomes Matt’s and Elle’s.) That backstory wasn’t necessary, but he saw her aptitude and fostered her love of the stars. I made Matt a neurosurgeon for one reason; I didn’t want to give the reader the false expectation that Elle would magically awaken at the end of the story. Even though he experiences moments of emotional denial, he knows she is lost from the beginning.
NT: I loved the setting and I feel like I need to visit at some point. Have you spent any great length of time in Maine?
PS: I was born and raised in Maine. In my heart, it will always be home. My brother-in-law (who I have known virtually all my life) grew up in Freeport, the town where Matt and Elle live. I’ve been visiting those places forever.
NT: You mentioned in previous interviews that Elle’s situation (an irreparable brain injury rendering her comatose) was based upon numerous cases where the family fought over whether to end a loved one’s life support – much like the case of Teri Schiavo. According to your research, was Elle’s particular circumstance unique or common in the medical community?
PS: Let me try to clarify. At one point in my nursing career, I took care of a child who was in a persistent vegetative state. These situations are always difficult and sad, and for me, his case raised questions about the right to die with dignity. Later on, when every news outlet was talking about the Terri Schiavo case, I remembered that little child – not that I’d ever truly forgotten about him. All those old questions started churning around in me again, and I had the idea for The Promise of Stardust. It would be several years before I started to write the novel though. I don’t believe that the scenario in my book, a pregnant woman in a persistent vegetative state, is all that common, but I did find cases simply by looking for news reports online. None of them were contested as far as I know.
NT: You wrote Elle’s heartache over her numerous pregnancies beautifully. Are you a parent?
PS: I have three teenage boys, one of whom is in college. As a nurse for many years, I’m afraid I’ve seen more than one mother say goodbye to a child she has lost. It’s terribly heartbreaking. Elle’s reactions are her own, but I think they are genuine.
NT: How long did Stardust take to complete - from page one to publication?
PS: Writing was a long process. The first draft took a year, then another year or so of revisions before I looked for a literary agent. Afterward, there were more revisions before my agent sent it out to editors. Of course, my editor made wonderful suggestions, too. From the first sentence to publication took about four and a half years.
NT: Tell my readers more about you. Favorite hobby? Author? Vacation locale?
PS: Hobbies? I used to have those before I started writing. Then writing became a vocation. I still work as a neonatal intensive care nurse. I’m a mother and a wife. I love to read. Right now writing is consuming every spare moment. *When* I get to go somewhere, I love to go home to Maine. I’d love to travel more someday. I love many writers. Right now I’m reading Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver. I am in awe, really in awe of her beautiful prose. I love Ann Patchett, Sara Gruen, Tim O’Brien... I could go on for an hour.
NT: Do you glean inspiration from any one writing spot? Where’s your favorite place to sit and brew ideas?
PS: I love sitting by the ocean. It shuts down all the other noise in my head. I wish I could do it more. Most of the time I sit in a corner in my house with my laptop and hit the keyboard one stroke at a time.
NT: What’s up next for Sibley fans?
PS: It’s a little early to be specific. I don’t have a tagline or anything close yet, but I’m working on another contemporary novel that involves family loyalty and betrayal and a different kind of promise.
NT: Would you like to add anything in closing? Although The Promise of Stardust has many political undertones, it is about a family doing its best in the middle of a medical crisis, each member desperately trying to do the right thing, each seeing the right thing a little differently.