Wednesday, December 29, 2010


Sybil Baker
Sybil Baker has graciously offered a free print copy of TALISMANS to one lucky peson who comments today. Readers love getting to know authors. Sybil, before I launch into the interview and book review, please share your life growing up and now. What prompted you to write short stories for TALISMANS instead of a conventional novel?

Sybil: TALISMANS started from a few stories that I wrote years apart. I realized that the stories were about the same person, and I was interested in learning more about her, so I continued to write more stories about her.

While the collection does have a narrative arc that one often finds in a novel, I found that Elise’s life, which in many ways is fragmented for her, was best told through individual stories from different periods of time.

Caroline: Do these stories reflect your personal life journey?

Sybil: The stories don’t reflect my own life journey in terms of my relationship to my parents. My father died a few years ago and my mother is still alive. My parents had a long enduring marriage as well.

I did draw on my experience of living and traveling abroad for twelve years and growing up in suburban Virginia. I used some of my own impressions of place as a starting point for Elise’s journey.

Caroline: You did a lot of travel for research. What was your favorite place you visited? Least favorite? Why for each.

Sybil: It’s hard to have favorite and least favorite places. The place that has haunted me the most is Cambodia, probably because I could feel the legacy of the Khmer Rouge in such vivid and raw ways. I loved all the countries, but because I lived in Korea for twelve years, I feel that is the country I have the most intimate relationship with.

Caroline: Did you travel alone and did you encounter any danger in your travels?

Sybil: Unlike Elise I did not travel alone. I was married at the time, so my experiences in that sense were different than hers. I did meet and know a fair amount of women who were traveling on their own, and seemed to do okay.

The biggest “danger” I encountered was in Cambodia. We had to pay a person to drive up with us in a jeep to one of the ruins. He had an AK47 in his lap—ambushes happened infrequently, and one tourist had been killed for her watch. Nothing happened on our trip though.

Caroline: This is not your first publication. Tell us about your previous work(s).

The Life Plan
Sybil: I’ve published essays and short stories in various literary journals. My novel, THE LIFE PLAN was published in 2009. Like TALISMANS, the protagonist is from the DC area and goes to Asia; however THE LIFE PLAN is more of a comic novel, while TALISMANS has a darker tone.

Caroline: What is your current WIP? Is it contracted?

Syblil: I’m currently finishing up a polished draft of a novel about two sisters, one an adopted Korean, who go to Korea to uncover some family secrets. I won’t think about agents or publishers until the book is in its final form, which I hope to be soon.

Caroline: Do you have a day job or write full time?

Sybil: I’m an Assistant Professor of English at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. I teach primarily creative writing along with some literature and humanities courses. I love teaching and my job, but it does unfortunately take away from writing time during the semesters.

Caroline: But what a great job, inspiting creativity and love of literature in students! Do you write each day? Do you set goals?

Sybil: I don’t write each day although I’d like to. Some parts of the semester are just too busy for me to write, although I try to make up for it on the semester breaks. A few years ago my husband and I went to Jamaica for the winter holidays, and I spent most of the days holed up in our room revising THE LIFE PLAN! This year we’ll be in Florida, and I’ve already warned him I’ll be at the computer for much of the day revising the latest novel.

Because I can’t write every day, I do set goals. For example this winter holiday I plan to have that draft of the new novel finished so that I can send it to a few readers for feedback.

Caroline: Are you in a critique group or do you have a beta reader?

Sybil: My first beta reader is my husband. He gives me constructive first draft advice. When I think a book is as revised as I can get it, then I send it to a few readers—usually my sister-in-law and some writer friends for feedback.

Caroline: Is there anything else you’d like readers to know about you? Links?

Sybil: I’m on Facebook and Goodreads. I like to go to book groups and other clubs and talk about my experiences traveling and writing. My brother is an engineering professor in Turkey, my husband is South African. Although I grew up in the DC area and lived in Korea for twelve years, my roots are Southern—both sides of my family go back to pre-Revolutionary War. You can learn more about me at or check out my blog on traveling and writing at

Thanks for having me!

Caroline: Thanks for being a guest.
Readers. one person who leaves a comment will receive a copy of Sybil’s book, TALISMANS. When you comment, be certain to leave your email so I can contact you in case you are the lucky winner!


debbie said...

It is interesting that her newest book is about someone returning to Korea to find out about their past. With so much happening in Korea right now, I wonder if that will be included in the book?
I would love to read her book.

Sybil said...

Debbie, actually the novel take place from March to June 2010 and it does include the sinking of the submarine and the rising tensions from that. The novel also takes place in Korea from 1977 to 1980 and covers the issues from that time including the Kwangju Uprising. That said, the novel really focuses on the characters and their own goals/conflicts.

BrendaC said...

Elise's story sounds like a facinating read. Sybil is a new to me author and I would love the chance to read her book. kittycrochettwo at msn dot com

Vince said...

Hi Sybil:

If your real first name is ‘Sybil,’ do you feel this name has influenced your writing? You seem to write the kind of story a Sybil would write.

I am also interested in your teaching. I took a creative writing class where the teacher thought it was wonderful if you could write 400 to 500 word sentences! The elegance of the writing trumped what was being communicated many times over. I was not impressed. What do you think?


vmres (at) swbell (dot) net

Unknown said...

Sybil--Your book sounds unique. It almost sounds like someone autobiography, a chapter for each stage of life, or each important event. I love the idea.
Caroline--thanks for introducing us to Sybil.

Sybil said...

Vince, no one's ever asked me about my name unfluencing what I write about--and I don't have an answer for you. Definitely something I should ponder!

As for teaching--perhaps your teacher wanted you to practice learning about rhythm and grammar by writing (or reading) those long sentences. Everyone has their different methods, so if that style didn't work for you, try another writing teacher who can motivate you in a positive way. Thanks for your questions!

Sybil said...

Thanks Celia for your comments! Sybil

Sandra Crowley said...

Carolyn, as always you host fascinating guests. Thank you.

Sybil, Like others who've commented, I believe that Elise's story, and the way you chose to present it, are intriguing. I'll certainly buy it.

If you have an extra moment, would you please tell us why you chose to go to the Cambodian ruins despite needing an armed guard? I'm not being critical, merely curious. I'm amazed by your courage.

Sybil said...

Sandra, it sounds much more dangerous than it was! When we got to the top to see the ruins there was a large bus of Japanese tourists awaiting us (with their own guard on their bus). Think of it as going through security at an airport--*something* could happen, but having the security procedure reduces the likelihood of that happening.

So it's not nearly as dangerous as driving on a busy US Highway for example! Sybil

Sandra Crowley said...

Thanks for the clarification, Sybil. All in all, I still say you're courageous.

Happy New Year.

Sybil said...

Thanks Sandra, Happy New Year to you too!