In which Sarah Beth Durst (most recently Chasing Power) answers my most pressing question

I've been reading Sarah Beth Durst's books since January, 2008--that was when the Cybils shortlists for 2007 were announced, and her fantasy book for middle grade readers, Into the Wild, was on it.  Since then I have kept reading her with pleasure, following her journey into YA (with books like Vessel) and books for grown ups (Lost).  Her newest book, Chasing Power, has just been released.

It's my pleasure to welcome Sarah to my blog today, answering the following question that I posed her:

What it is like to write books that are so different from each other?  Is it something you have control over, or is it just what happens?  And do you think you'll ever write any more Middle Grade books?

My books do have one thing in common: something impossible.  All of my books are fantasy.  Always fantasy.  That's just how my brain works -- as a kid, I was constantly checking the back of my closet for a gateway to Narnia and keeping a close eye on my stuffed animals in case they moved.  (You can never be too careful, I reasoned.  After a babysitter cheerfully described the plot of Stephen King's IT to a very young me, I banished all clown stuffies to the garage.)

 Beyond my childhood issues... fantasy is also what I love to read, and I think you should always write what you love (if only because it takes so long to write a novel that to NOT write what you love would be miserable).

 But within the fantasy genre, I hop around a lot.  My latest YA novel, CHASING POWER, is an Indiana Jones style adventure about a girl with telekinesis.  Very fun to write.  My most recent novel, THE LOST, is magical realism about a woman trapped in a town full of only lost people and lost things.  My other novels include psychological thriller (CONJURED ), epic desert fantasy (VESSEL), snarky comedy (DRINK, SLAY, LOVE), contemporary getting-into-college fantasy (ENCHANTED IVY), modern Arctic fairy-tale retelling (ICE), and fractured fairy tales (INTO THE WILD and OUT OF THE WILD).

 So how did this happen?  How did my books end up so different?  Is it something I have control over?  Well, sort of.  I am the one who decides what idea has captured my heart and mind at the moment I sit down to start a new project, but what kind of novel it turns into... that's dictated entirely by the story itself.

 I know, I know, that sounds a little touchy-feely, the muse-speaking-through-me or whatever, but really, there's a technical explanation.  The best way I know to write a story that feels real is to stay true to the character.  See the world through their eyes.  Write the scenes filtered through their thoughts and emotions.  If you do that... then the rest follows.

 For example, if I write about a sixteen-year-old girl who loves her mother and best friend, fears her abusive father, distrusts just about everyone else, has the ability to move objects with her mind, has a somewhat loose grasp on the concept of personal property, and uses her snarky sense of humor as a defense mechanism... then I'm going to get something like CHASING POWER, a YA novel that feels like a fun fantasy adventure, with some family drama.

 On the other hand, if I write about a sixteen-year-old girl who has embraced her destiny to sacrifice herself so that her goddess can inhabit her body and save her clan from dying in the unforgiving desert... then I'm going to create a more serious, sweeping epic fantasy like VESSEL.

 The key is to always stay true to your character.  That's what makes the novels different.  Everything else -- writing process, amount of chocolate consumed on an average revision, etc. -- is pretty much the same.  Some novels are more complicated than others in terms of untangling the plot threads.  Some require extra delving into emotional depths.  Some need an additional pass to cut the stray snark (because I love writing snark and it doesn't always fit).  Others need extra attention to worldbuilding or pacing or whatever.  But the basics feel the same: sinking into a character and trying to make something awesome happen on every page.

As to the last question...  Will I write more middle-grade books?  That one is easy to answer.  YES!!!

 I am currently working on a middle-grade novel called THE GIRL WHO COULD NOT DREAM. It's about a girl whose family owns a secret store where they buy, bottle, and sell dreams, but who can't have any of her own, and the adventure that she and her pet monster go on when someone starts kidnapping dreamers.   It's coming out from Clarion Books (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) in fall 2015, and I'm really, really excited about it!

Thanks so much for having me here!
To which I say--Thank you so much for stopping by, Sarah!  I'll look forward to The Girl Who Could Not Dream!

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