Interview with Sylvia Prince

This month I have been featuring the genre of historical fiction by indie authors. There are many subgenre’s to this category and the line is often blurred between historical fiction and historical romance. Last week I posted my review of The Zorzi Affair by Sylvia Prince and this week I am privileged to have her as my guest interview. This is especially appropriate since it is also Women’s History Month and the author draws on her expertise in Renaissance history to shed light on the historical challenges women faced in the seventeenth century.

Hello, thank you for agreeing to this interview.

  • Tell us a little about yourself and your background?
    • I am a history professor by day, and a novelist by night. I teach the history of the Renaissance, as well as the history of science. Novel writing is a way for me to explore history in a different way, but I’m constantly inspired by things I read in history books. I use a pen name for my fiction, just so my students don’t stumble across my novels!
  • Discuss your newest book.
    • The Zorzi Affair is set in the rich world of Renaissance Venice, where daughters are valuable commodities. My main character, Zaneta Lucia Zorzi, rejects the marriage arranged by her parents so that she can pursue her true passion, science. She flees to Padua and meets Galileo–but in order to enroll at the university, she must disguise herself as a boy.
  • Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?
    • I’ve told stories since I was a young kid–I’m the one who invented rich backstories for my sister’s Barbie dolls, created new games for the neighborhood kids, and told lots of tall tales to my parents. I also wrote a lot of embarrassing fanfic in the 90s.
  • What are your current projects?
    • I have a few different projects at the moment–I’m editing a novel that retells the Salem Witch Trials in the style of the movie “Mean Girls.” Look for Salem Mean Girls in Spring 2017. It’s been a lot of fun to write! I’m also plotting out a trilogy set in 15th c. Italy and Scotland that revolves around the mysterious identity of a Scottish orphan working as a bodyguard for the Medici family. And, for something completely different, I’m writing a YA suspense/thriller about a reality show that goes terribly wrong.
  • What books have most influenced your life?
    • I read so many genres, but the most influential books are probably the ones I loved as a kid–Laura Ingalls Wilder, for showing me an entirely different way of life; Ramona Quimby for celebrating living outside the lines; and Calvin and Hobbes for ego, enthusiasm, and friendship.
  • What inspired you to write your first book?
    • National Novel Writing Month! I was a graduate student, studying for my comprehensive exams, and I needed a creative outlet. My best friend encouraged me to try NaNoWriMo, and I absolutely loved it. I participated for seven years before I actually revised and published anything. That very first novel eventually became The Lion and the Fox.
  • Give us an insight into your main character. What does he/she do that is so special?
    • At one point, Zaneta Lucia curses the fact that she was born a woman. She grows up in a time when women’s options were extremely limited, and studying science or attending a university were simply not options for women. Zaneta Lucia fights against those restrictions.
  • Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
    • Don’t feel limited by what society tells you to be; make your own path with the help of supportive friends and family.
  • Which actor/actress would you like to see playing the lead character from your most recent book?
    • Maisie Williams (Arya from Game of Thrones) would be fantastic–she can switch easily from funny to dead serious, and she already has experience playing a girl dressed as a boy!
  • When did you decide to become a writer?
    • I was inspired by my sister, Emma Prince, who is a best-selling author of historical romance–it’s her full-time job! She encouraged me to publish, and she has been extremely helpful with understanding the business side of writing.
  • Why do you write?
    • I have so many story ideas! I write because I love to tell stories.
  • What made you decide to sit down and actually start something?
    • I had a draft of The Lion and the Fox that sat on my computer for years before I decided to expand, revise, and publish it. I was on maternity leave with my second child when I picked it up and dug in. Maternity leave was a bit lonely for me, and I loved using my daughter’s naptime to push myself intellectually.
  • Do you write full-time or part-time?
    • I currently write part-time, but I’d love it to become a full-time job! I’m a history professor, so the rest of my work life is consumed with writing lectures, publishing articles, and advising students.
  • What is the hardest thing about writing?
    • Editing! I’m a pro at first drafts, but revisions are more challenging. I love getting the ideas out on the page, and then I go back to make sure everything makes sense.
  • What was the hardest thing about writing your latest book?
    • I really wanted to give Zaneta Lucia a good ending. She sacrificed so much to study science–essentially, she had to sever ties with her family. I wanted her to believe she made the right decision by the end of the book. And I am very happy with how the book ended.
  • What is the easiest thing about writing?
    • Coming up with ideas! I currently have a dozen novel ideas floating around, including plot sketches, character notes, and sometimes even snippets of dialogue. I just have to find the time to write them!
  • What book are you reading now?
    • I’m currently reading Stacy Schiff’s The Witches about the Salem Witch Trials. Then I’m jumping into a long TBR pile which includes V.E. Schwab’s Shades of Magic series, Kristin Hannah’s The Nightingale, and Ruth Ware’s The Woman in Cabin Ten. I can’t stick to one genre!
  • What is one random thing about you?
    • I had a brief career in improv–it taught me to think on my feet!
  • What is your preferred medium of writing? Pen and paper or strictly tablet and computer?
    • I write on my trusty MacBook Air.
  • What does your writing process look like?
    • I tend to write very chronologically–I start at the beginning and write through to the end. Then I go back and add, remove, or move things. It’s very similar to how I write academic works.
  • Do you have any strange writing habits (like standing on your head or writing in the shower)?
    • I mostly sit at a desk, but I do come up with great ideas when I’m up in the middle of the night rocking a baby to sleep! I always keep my iPhone handy if I need to jot down a note.
  • How important are names to you in your books?
    • Very important–my first two novels are set in Renaissance Italy, so it would be very strange if a character named “Steve” popped up. I often use lists of names from tax records to pick character names. And I sometimes change names–the male lead in The Zorzi Affair used to be named Giulio, until I decided that English-speaking readers might call him goulio instead of Julio. So his name became Paolo.
  • Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
    • I love writing, but marketing is tough. I didn’t realize how much time self-published authors spend on marketing, and I am so impressed at the people who do it well.
  • Did you make any marketing mistakes or is there anything you would avoid in future?
    • My biggest mistake is probably not marketing enough.
  • What is your favorite motivational phrase?
    • “Never was anything great achieved without danger.” –Niccolo Machiavelli. Most people probably don’t look to The Prince for motivational phrases, but Machiavelli knew the importance of always preparing, but still taking risks.
  • What is your favorite book and why?
    • My favorite changes all the time. But I keep coming back to the books I loved as a child. I might not have studied history or become a writer if I hadn’t read (and reread, and reread again) The Little House Laura Ingalls was my first exposure to a girl who grew up in a completely different world from the one I knew.
  • Do you have any advice for other writers?
    • Tell good stories! And then tell your friends.
  • What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
    • I have a toddler and a baby, so I don’t have a huge amount of free time outside of work, writing, and the kids. But I love to read, watch TV, and go for a run whenever I can.
  • From where do you gain your inspiration?
    • History is so inspiring. The idea for The Zorzi Affair came from a non-fiction history of Galileo that I read in graduate school. I learned that Galileo had run a boarding house when he was a professor at the University of Padua. It struck me as such an interesting detail that most people never would have guessed, and it became the starting point for a story about a girl who wants to study science and ends up staying at Galileo’s boarding house.
  • What would you say are the main advantages and disadvantages of self-publishing against being published or the other way around?
    • Self-publishing gives authors so much flexibility–if you want to change something in your book, you can just upload a new copy. But self-publishing also requires building a support system for your works, like finding your own cover designers, editors, proofreaders, and developing your own marketing strategies.
  • How do you market your books?
    • I aim for word-of-mouth through friends (both actual and internet friends), and I maintain a social media presence through twitter, facebook, and my website. I also reach out to bloggers and book reviewers, and I’m just dipping my foot into paid advertising and book promotion services.
  • Why did you choose this route?
    • My sister, the historical romance author Emma Prince, suggested several methods. I also try to educate myself through reading websites and facebook groups dedicated to indie authors.
  • Would you or do you use a PR agency?
    • I don’t currently, but I wouldn’t rule it out!
  • Do you have any advice for other authors on how to market their books?
    • Start thinking about marketing before you publish. I had amassed about 800 twitter followers before I published my first book, and I had created a website and a newsletter, as well.
  • What part of your writing time do you devote to marketing your book?
    • It depends on how much time I have–I usually spend at least some time every day updating my twitter feed with fun historical facts and interesting images.
  • What do you do to get book reviews?
    • I have written to a few bloggers, and I include a page at the end of my book asking readers to leave a review.
  • How successful has your quest for reviews been so far?
    • I have 5-7 reviews on each book, but I’m always looking for more!
  • Do you have a strategy for finding reviewers?
    • I found blogs that fit with my genre and time period, and emailed them.
  • What are your thoughts on good/bad reviews?
    • Readers should honestly evaluate books in their review. The most helpful bad reviews include the strengths and the weaknesses of the book.
  • Any amusing story about marketing books that happened to you?
    • None yet!
  • What’s your views on social media for marketing?
    • It’s a helpful way to connect with other authors. I’ve learned so much from them.
  • Which social network worked best for you?
    • I hadn’t used twitter before, but I signed up (@sprincebooks) last fall, and I really like it. Hashtags are a great way to connect with other people interested in similar topics. My most-used hashtags are #history, #art, and #OnThisDay
  • Any tips on what to do and what not to do?
    • Have fun! If you’re not enjoying it, there’s no point.
  • Which famous person, living or dead would you like to meet and why?
    • I would love to meet Galileo. He was brilliant, but also had a great sense of humor, and he never backed down from a fight. Plus, I’d love to hear his side of the trial with the Catholic Church.
  • If you could have been the original author of any book, what would it have been and why?
    • Great question! I’d love to have written The Great Gatsby. It’s such an amazing combination of story and storytelling. But I’m not sure my liver could have handled it.
  • What advice would you give to aspiring writers?
    • Don’t get so caught up in the writing that you forget to publish! Share your stories.
  • How can readers discover more about you and you work

One thought on “Interview with Sylvia Prince

  1. Thanks, Wanda! And for all you lovers of historical fiction, the first book in the prequel series to “The Zorzi Affair” will be available next week. The Palazzo Galileo Mysteries follow university student Paolo Serravalle as he tries to avoid classes and amass a fortune in 17th century Padua, while trying to figure out his eccentric landlord, Professor Galileo. It’s a lot of fun–“A Matter of Glass” is out next week.


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