M.J. Simms-Maddox, Ph.D., author of “The Priscilla Trilogy,” which turned into a series, will be the featured presenter at the North Carolina Writers’ Network regional meeting Thursday, Feb. 27.
Apart from writing novels, Simms-Maddox is a professor of political science at Livingstone College in Salisbury. She studied government at Livingstone and earned a bachelor’s degree, after which she earned a Doctor of Philosophy degree in political science at Ohio State University in Columbus. She has taught political science at Wilberforce University in Xenia, Ohio; Florida A&M University in Tallahassee; Rowan-Cabarrus Community College; and presently at Livingstone, where she has served on the faculty since 2005.
She also has served as a legislative aide to an Ohio state senator for four years and operated a public-relations firm for 13 years. The political science professor and fiction writer has traveled to Ghana, Senegal, Ivory Coast, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Greece, Italy, Sweden, Germany, France, the United Kingdom, Israel, Jordan, Egypt, Trinidad-Tobago, among other countries, many of which play prominently in her novels.
Simms-Maddox first began writing fiction after she experienced a recurring dream about a conversation she had with her father. When she told a friend about the dream, her friend told her, “The next time you have that dream, write it down,” and she has been writing ever since. That was around 1999.
Simms-Maddox has published four novels, the first three of which form “The Priscilla Trilogy.” Set in the decade of the 1980s, the series chronicles the coming of age and adventures of a young African American woman who is abducted from her comfort level in the American Midwest to the savannas and wilds of southern Africa — Zimbabwe and apartheid-ruled South Africa — where, even more unexpectedly, she finds herself on the run. The trilogy concludes with Priscilla’s return home to the American Midwest, where, finally, she becomes the woman she was meant to be.
Simms-Maddox wants other people interested in writing to pick up a pen or pencil and begin writing whatever is on their minds. That was pretty much what she did when she wrote her first novel, “Priscilla Engaging in the Game of Politics.” At the time, she had no idea that she was writing a novel; she had never even taken a course in creative writing. Her academic discipline was political science, not English. Even so, she wrote about what she knew and the way she knew how to write. It was upon retaining the professional services of an editor — two, in fact — that she learned she had a creative-writing streak, but that her writing required editing into a novel.
Upon completion of her second novel, “Mystery in Harare — Priscilla’s Journey into Southern Africa,” one of her editors informed her that she had written a thriller. And Simms-Maddox has been writing thrillers ever since. This particular story, like the first, draws upon what the author knew as a former legislative aide in the Ohio Senate, terrorism during the middle 1980s, and her work as a political scientist.
By the time she penned her third novel, “Three Metal Pellets,” once again she incorporated what she knew as a political scientist and currents events and created another thriller, this one with a presidential election campaign at its core.
All of her novels are historically grounded, and the characters and the plots are contemporary. Interestingly, as soon as Simms-Maddox thought she had completed her writing streak, another story surfaced, “Special Envoy — Priscilla Journeys into Arab Islamic Territory.” This one was also inspired by current events, especially terrorism, and the shaping of American foreign policy. With the publication of “Special Envoy,” the trilogy became “The Priscilla Series.”
At a recent book launch, someone asked Simms-Maddox where she gets her ideas and she told them: “They just come to me, and I write them down. If I don’t, they go away. So, as long as the Great One puts them in my head, I’ll write them down.”
She also told members of the audience that she tends to write with pens and pencils on legal pads. Then, she sits at her laptop or desktop computer and types. “That’s when I embellish and conduct research and the story takes shape,” she says.
Upon retirement from the college classroom, Simms-Maddox plans to make writing novels her next career.
She already travels extensively promoting her books, such as to the Harlem Book Fair, the South African Book Fair in Johannesburg and the Gothenburg Book Fair in Sweden in 2018, and the National Black Book Festival in Houston in 2019.
She has other book fairs on her agenda for summer 2020 in America and for fall 2021 as far away as Sharjah, United Arab Emirates. For more about Simms-Maddox and “The Priscilla Series,” visit https://www.mjsimmsmaddoxinc.com (www.novelsbymj.com).
Vincent Vezza, regional representative for the NCWN Cabarrus/Rowan Chapter, encourages published authors and writers to join colleagues for a Writers Night Out, which is hosted on the fourth Thursday of every month.
“This is an opportunity to consider ways to leverage your writing beyond the publication of a book. Let’s celebrate our craft and learn from each other,” Vezza said.
The chapter will meet at the French Express Café, 2087 Dale Earnhardt Blvd. in Kannapolis, from 6:30-8 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 27. Seating is reserved, so phone/text to 980-621-0398 if you plan to participate in the Writers Night Out.