Interview by Piranha T. and Super Kitty
Sarah Beth Durst is the award-winning author of fantasy novels for kids, teens, and adults, including Into the Wild and The Girl Who Could Not Dream. Spark, set in a world of perfect weather where a girl and her lightning beast must learn to speak up against injustice, and The Stone Girl’s Story, centering around a girl carved from stone on a quest to save her friends, are two of our favorite fantasy books. Her novels are full of unique plots and well-developed worlds. We were thrilled to interview her for this month’s feature!
RapunzelReads: Your books, including Spark and The Stone Girl’s Story, have well-developed, unique worlds. How do you create them? Do you have particular details about those worlds you love?
Sarah Beth Durst: I absolutely love creating new worlds. When I was a kid, I used to round up all the scrap paper in the house, tape the pieces together, and draw massive fantasy worlds. I'd fill those
Photos credit: Sarah Beth Durst
These days, to create worlds, instead of using scrap paper and crayons, I start with a single decision: one aspect of this world that's different or impossible or special -- and then I chase down all the consequences of that decision.
For example, with Spark, I begin with the idea of a place with perfect weather. I asked myself: what makes the weather perfect? Storm beasts, bonded with kids, are responsible for it. What are storm beasts? Dragon-like creatures that can control sun, rain, wind, snow, and lightning. How do they bond with kids? How are they trained? What do they do? What's a world with perfect weather like -- houses, transportation, daily life? And on and on, question after question, until the world felt full.
With The Stone Girl’s Story, which is about a twelve-year-old girl made of stone, I spent a lot of time thinking about what it meant to be made of stone. You can't swallow or blush or feel butterflies in your stomach. You don't sleep. You don't eat. But Mayka doesn't yearn to do any of that. She's happy exactly as she is. Forever stone.
RR: What books inspired you when you were growing up?
SBD: I love books that are full of magic, adventure, humor, and hope. Growing up, some of my favorites were Alanna by Tamora Pierce, Deep Wizardry by Diane Duane, Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones, Arrows of the Queen by Mercedes Lackey, Dragonsinger by Anne McCaffrey, and The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley.
I try to write stories that make me feel the way I felt reading my favorites. I believe firmly that the old adage "Write what you know" should really be "Write what you love."
RR: Who is your favorite character in The Stone Girl’s Story, and why?
SBD: I love Mayka for her bravery in leaving her home to save her friends. And I love Jacklo for his babble and Risa for her no-nonsense streak. And Sisi because she's a dragon with a dream.
RR: Do you have any tips for an aspiring writer?
SBD: Trust yourself! All of us have absorbed so many stories from the time we were old enough to...well, really since birth. We inhale stories like we breathe air. Trust that you have stories inside you and that there's a part of you that knows how to tell them. It might take a number of drafts for the story on the page to match the story in your heart, but that's fine -- I sometimes do dozens of drafts per book, trying to find exactly the tale I want to tell. Be patient with yourself. And be kind to yourself. It's not supposed to be perfect the first time. Revision is a gift you can give yourself.
RR: Spark is a book with predominant themes of speaking up and finding your way, both of which I loved. What inspired these elements of this book?
SBD: I was quiet growing up, and when you're quiet, there's a lot of pressure to learn how to be loud. I really wanted to write a book about a quiet girl who doesn't become loud. Instead she learns that she doesn't have to change herself to change the world. She's enough, exactly as she is.
RR: The plot of The Stone Girl’s Story is quite unique, especially surrounding the stonemasons and Mayka. What inspired it?
SBD: I write by what I like to call the Rule of Awesome. I establish the world, the characters, the set-up... and then I ask myself, "Given that all this is true, what's the most awesome thing that could happen next?" The plot of The Stone Girl’s Story grew out of asking myself that question over and over as I followed Mayka on her journey. So I guess, in a way, the story inspired the story.
Thanks so much for interviewing me!
RR: Thank you so much for talking to us!