September 14, 2012

Interview with Sarah Beth Durst

That's right, it's time for a brief break from Psychtember posts! I'm pleased to have Sarah Beth Durst on the blog for an interview about her recently released YA fantasy, Vessel.

First, a bit about Sarah and her novel:

"Sarah Beth Durst is the author of young adult novels Vessel, Drink, Slay, Love, Enchanted Ivy, and Ice from Simon & Schuster, as well as middle grade novels Into the Wild and Out of the Wild from Penguin Young Readers. She has twice been a finalist for SFWA's Andre Norton Award, for both Ice and Into the Wild.

Sarah lives in Stony Brook, New York, with her husband, her two children, and her ill-mannered cat. She also has a miniature pet griffin named Alfred. Okay, okay, that’s not quite true. His name is really Montgomery." (from her website)

"In a desert world of sandstorms and sand-wolves, a teen girl must defy the gods to save her tribe in this mystical, atmospheric tale from the author of Drink, Slay, Love. Liyana has trained her entire life to be the vessel of a goddess. The goddess will inhabit Liyana’s body and use magic to bring rain to the desert. But Liyana’s goddess never comes. Abandoned by her angry tribe, Liyana expects to die in the desert. Until a boy walks out of the dust in search of her.

     Korbyn is a god inside his vessel, and a trickster god at that. He tells Liyana that five other gods are missing, and they set off across the desert in search of the other vessels. For the desert tribes cannot survive without the magic of their gods. But the journey is dangerous, even with a god’s help. And not everyone is willing to believe the trickster god’s tale.

     The closer she grows to Korbyn, the less Liyana wants to disappear to make way for her goddess. But she has no choice: She must die for her tribe to live. Unless a trickster god can help her to trick fate—or a human girl can muster some magic of her own." (from Goodreads)

And now for the questions...

1.) You're an extremely versatile writer, with your previous books running the gamut from fairy tale retellings (Ice) to humorous vampire stories (Drink, Slay, Love). This latest of yours takes on gods and goddesses. How easy do you find it to transition from one genre or sub-genre to another? What strategies do you use to get yourself in the right mindset for the world or characters you're writing at the time?

So long as I'm writing fantasy, I'm happy.  Really, I think the adage "write what you know" should be "write what you love."  The transition doesn't feel like a transition when you're writing what you love.

That said, on a practical level, I often reread what I've written to get into the rhythm of a particular novel, and sometimes I listen to relevant music.  For example, for DRINK, SLAY, LOVE, I had a playlist of vampiric music (like "Paint It Black," "Blood Roses," and "Bela Lugosi's Dead"), and for VESSEL, I'd listen to a lot of instrumental or atmospheric music with drums and flutes.

2.) Worldbuilding can be such a critical aspect of fantasy novels. What three pieces of advice would you give to aspiring writers hoping to improve their worldbuilding abilities?

1. Research -- The more fantastic the world, the more it helps if you nail the real-world aspects.  Reality will ground your fantasy and give readers a path to follow into your imagination.

2. Choose your details -- To create that path, you need to carefully choose details that bring your world to life.

3. Immerse yourself in it -- I think books are magic.  They cast spells that transport people into other worlds.  I think the best way to cast a spell on readers is to cast it on yourself first.  Fall in love with your world.

3.) Vessel appears to have some root in non-European cultures. How large a role in the writing process did researching and incorporating cultural elements play? Was it challenging to balance the factual side of things with writing your own story?

I researched the lives and cultures of people who live in the Gobi, the Sahara, and several other deserts around the world.  I then meshed them together and injected magic.  I am fascinated by the intersection of reality and fantasy.  I think many, many stories can be born in that intersection.

4.) Usually a writer has one element — dialogue, description, action scenes, humour, etc. — that he/she struggles with. What would you say is your "Achilles' heel" of writing, and how have you worked to overcome it?

My Achilles' heel is the middle of the first draft -- the point where the novel is the farthest it will ever be from the shining version in your head.  I love revising, when the story really comes to life.

5.) I see that you've got a book coming out in 2013 called Sweet Nothings, involving a paranormal witness protection program and a serial killer. (Wow!) Can you give us a few hints about what to expect?

SWEET NOTHINGS is about teen in the paranormal witness protection program, who, haunted by dreams of carnival tents and tarot cards, must remember her past and why she has strange abilities before a magic-wielding serial killer hunts her down.

The first line is: "Your name is Eve.  Remember that."

Thanks so much for interviewing me!

And thank you, Sarah, for giving us some insight into Vessel and your writing process!

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