Monday, December 3, 2007

Sarah Beth Durst - Author of "Into the Wild" & "Out of the Wild"

Welcome to “Up Close & Personal.” For every interview I will be introducing a literary personality discussing her views and insights, as well as upcoming literary events around the world.

Today’s interview is with Sarah Beth Durst. She's the author of Into the Wild a great twisty ride novel through fairy tale. A twelve-years old Julie has a secret under her bed, and has grown up hearing about The Wild, the dangerous world of fairy tales, from which her mother, Rapunzel, escaped. Into the Wild is a fun read. A twisty ride through fairytale.

"Out of the Wild" is sequel to "Into the Wild" coming June of 2008

Into the Wild is available now from Razorbill / Penguin Young Readers

EI: Would you share some early insight into who you were as a teenager with your readers? What were you like as a teen? Please tell us more about Sarah Beth Durst -- the woman behind the author.

SBD: As a teen, I was shy, insecure, and my hair looked like a poodle. (I mean, my haircut looked like a poodle's haircut. It wasn't actually in the shape of a dog. That would be odd.) But other than basic hair issues, I was happy. I was (and am) a rather fiercely determined optimist. So I skipped the whole teenage-rebellion thing and actually had a rather good time in high school. (No one likes middle school, of course. I don't trust anyone who liked middle school.)

EI: Do you express your inner self in your writing or do the personas you create exist only in your imagination?

SBD: Little bits of me leak into all my characters, I'm sure, but by the end of a few drafts, the characters begin to feel more like very close friends rather than aspects of me.

In terms of actual personality, the character from INTO THE WILD who I think I am most like is the protagonist's best friend Gillian. When Gillian is told that a deep, dark fairy-tale forest has spread over her hometown, she doesn't think, "Oh, no, what a disaster. Life as we know it is over." She thinks, "That's awesome!!!" I would definitely react like that. And then I'd probably get eaten by Little Red Riding Hood's wolf or something.

EI: What is your response to the public perception that writers’ creative insight and energy is frequently the product of personal conflict?

SBD: I don't think you need to have a Dickensian childhood or an angst-ridden adult life to be a writer. Everyone has issues and obsessions that show up in their stories, of course, but I don't think writers need to be or have been miserable in order to be productive. For me, the happier I am, the more I write (and the converse is also true: the more I write, the happier I am). I think writing is more about joy than pain.

EI: What would you like to say to writers who are reading this interview and wondering if they can keep creating, if they are good enough, if their voices and visions matter enough to share?

SBD: Of course you're good enough. Of course your voice and vision matter! Shut off that voice in your brain (I recommend loud music or a nice pep talk) and go write. The more you write, the better you'll get at it. It's like any other art -- the more you practice playing the piano, the happier people will be to hear you play.

And if, still, no one wants to hear you play, there's value in continuing anyway. Writing is good for the soul. Better than chicken soup.

EI: Many writers describe themselves as "character" or "plot" writers. Which are you? And what do you find to be the hardest part of writing?

SBD: I think character and plot come at the same time for me. I start with a person in a particular situation, and what they choose to do both defines who they are as a character and what the plot of the story is. I can't separate out Julie (from INTO THE WILD) as a character from her plot choice to brave the fairy tale to rescue her mom.

As far as the hardest part of writing... absolutely the first draft. I find first drafts to be very, very painful because they can never be as good as what you picture in your head. After the first draft, subsequent drafts are much better because the story feels like it's improving, but that first draft... I try to slog through it as quickly as possible, which leads to scenes with phrases like "and then something cool happens." After I'm done with the first draft, then the real writing can begin.

EI: Are you armed with notebook and pen at all the times? Do you always carry your laptop or PDA with you to write?

SBD: Yep, I always have a notebook in my purse. Or at least a stray scrap of paper. I don't carry my laptop everywhere because I honestly write best at my own desk with all my papers and books and everything around me. I always wish I were one of those writers who could hop from cafe to cafe... I'm not a cafe-writer, though. I eavesdrop way too much for that. I sit there wondering about strangers’ lives instead of working on my story.

EI: Do you let anyone read your manuscript, before you send it to your editor or agent?

SBD: Only my husband and a few very close friends.

I trick myself into writing first drafts by promising myself that no one will ever see a word of it. It's only when I reach the final draft that I feel ready to share it.

EI: Was there anyone who really influenced you to become a writer?

SBD: Every book that I've ever read and loved has influenced me. Every time I close a good book, I think, "I want to do that." Some books that inspired me (and continue to do so) are ALANNA by Tamora Pierce, DEEP WIZARDRY by Diane Duane, JACK THE GIANT-KILLER by Charles de Lint, and BEAUTY as well as THE BLUE SWORD by Robin McKinley.

EI: Now let’s shift gears here for a second... Can you share with us some of the challenges you faced to publish your first novel “ Into the Wild?” Is there anything about you that you would do differently, knowing what you do now?

SBD: One of the hardest parts about the road to publication is that there isn't a very clearly marked road. It's not like other careers where first you are a assistant then you're promoted up through the ranks to senior whatever. You have to find (or make through sheer stubbornness) your own road, and that can be both difficult and stressful. I am not sure what I wish I'd done differently, but I can tell you one thing that helped: asking questions, doing research, attending book signings and events and talking to authors... basically learning as much about the business as I could.

EI: What was the inspiration for your novel ? What is your response to the public perception about your creative insight with your book?

SBD: I have always loved fairy tales. Back in high school, I had the idea: wouldn't it be cool if fairy-tale characters were walking around right here and now? What would they do? What would they be like? I was pretty sure that Rapunzel would own a hair salon, and that idea lingered until I started writing INTO THE WILD.

Public response has been wonderful. It's been so fun getting emails from people and talking to people who read it. (If you're curious, you can see some of the official responses on the Reviews page of my website:

EI: How much of Julie Marchen & her mother is planned out in your head? How do you know where you will go next with their characters? What was your biggest challenge in creating them? 12. How did you develop these characters? Did you work them out in advance, or did they evolve as you wrote the story?

EI: It would be nice if characters sprung out of my head full-blown like Athena from Zeus's head... On the other hand, that always sounded kind of painful. Seriously, though, Julie, Zel, Boots, Gillian... all of them evolved over the course of many, many revisions.

SBD: What is a typical work day schedule when you are in full writing mode? Would you tell us a little about your process for editing, revising, and novel development? How long did it take you to write ‘Into the Wild’ including the time it took to research the book?

I try to write every day including weekends. It's not necessarily the same time every day or even the same length of time, but daily is key. If I don't write for a couple days, I find it very slow and difficult to start back up again.

I started INTO THE WILD in 2000. I worked on other things as well, of course, but I really believed in this novel so I kept coming back to it.

EI: What about writing for young adult appealed to you?

SBD: It's what I love to read. I read much more middle-grade (MG) and young adult (YA) fiction these days than I do adult fiction. I like the worldview. I like the optimism. I like the themes of coming-of-age and underdog-triumphing-against-tremendous-odds that are prevalent in this age range. I like that you can have humor, adventure, and depth all in the same novel.

EI: Do you feel more pressure, feel insecurities or are you able to separate all that from your own creative process?

SBD: Every story I write, I always hit a point where I think it's doomed, I'm doomed, we're all doomed, doomed, and doomed. And my husband always gives me a wonderful pep talk, and then I sit back down at the computer and in a little while, everything's fine and sunshiny again. Sometimes we joke that he should simply record his pep talk so I can play it back whenever I need it.

I don't think I'll ever be able to fully separate out those feelings. I care too much about writing to not feel anxious about it. I want desperately to tell great, exciting, fun, rich, wonderful stories, and I think you always feel anxious whenever you want anything desperately.

EI: What's next for your fans?

SBD: The next book will be a sequel to INTO THE WILD. It will be coming out next summer from Razorbill / Penguin Young Readers. I'm really, really excited about it.

EI: Ms. Durst, thank you for contributing to my blog. It has been a pleasure for me to get to know you, and your work a little better. Would you like to end your interview with a writing tip or advice for young aspiring writers?

SBD: Write what you love, and don't give up. Also, take all advice with a grain of salt. No one really knows what they're talking about. Myself included.

Thanks for interviewing me!

To learn more about Sarah Beth Durst, please visit her at:

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