I’m very excited, dear readers, to bring you an interview with Sarah Beth Durst. I met Sarah at the NYC Teen Author Festival signing at Books of Wonder back in March. Later, she very graciously agreed to take some time to answer a few questions for me about her writing and her latest book Enchanted Ivy.
Miss Print (MP): Before we start discussing Enchanted Ivy, which is a really clever book, can you tell us a bit about yourself and your writing?
Sarah Beth Durst (SBD): I have always wanted to be a writer. Actually, when I was five years old, my career goal was to be Wonder Woman. I would have also accepted Princess of the Unicorns. But those job openings are hard to find. In all seriousness, though, I believe that being a writer is the closest you can get in this world to being a wizard. Your goal is to cast a spell that transports someone away from their own life, at least for a little while, and I’ve always been drawn to that kind if magic.
MP: What was the inspiration for Enchanted Ivy?
SBD: Junior and senior year of high school, I was utterly obsessed with the college application process. At its heart, Enchanted Ivy is an allegory for that experience. I wrote it for anyone who needs an escape from or has gone through that kind of stress.
The story itself was born from a superstition about the main gate at Princeton University… If you walk out the gate, you won’t graduate. I started thinking: What if there’s another reason that you shouldn’t walk out that gate? What if walking through that gate transports you to another Princeton, one that will kill you if you stay too long?
MP: Enchanted Ivy features two Princetons—one that might be more familiar to readers and one that’s a bit more magical. You also attended Princeton yourself. Did any of your own experiences go into this story? Did you discover any magical bookshelves while you were studying in the library?
SBD: I never talked to a gargoyle while I was at Princeton (or, at least, they never talked back!), but I did always think it was a magical place. You enter the campus by driving through this arch of elm trees that feels like going through a portal into another world. Once you get there, you discover massive trees, bizarre gargoyles, spooky library stacks… I used to always check for skeletons when I went into some of the lesser-used areas of that library.
MP: What was it like writing about a real place where you spent so much time?
SBD: It’s different seeing a place through a character’s eyes. Lily’s experiences and view of Princeton are very different from mine, and it’s changed how I see the place. When I walk around campus now, I reminisce about both real events and fictional ones. :)
MP: The Princeton gargoyles play a big role in the story as well as being a real feature of Princeton’s campus. What was your favorite real Princeton element to write into the story? Was there anything you wanted to include but couldn’t?
SBD: I visited the campus twice while I was writing Enchanted Ivy: once during the outlining stage for inspiration and once after the first draft for the details. I’m fascinated by the intersection of reality and fantasy, so I wanted to include as many real details as possible.
MP: What led you to the fantasy genre? What’s your favorite part of writing fantasies?
SBD: I was the kind of kid who always checked the closet for an entrance to Narnia and who always wished for my own pet dragon. So the fantasy genre was a natural fit for me. :)
I’m drawn to the optimism of the genre, and I love how the themes can be so empowering — seemingly powerless person conquers massive evil, ordinary people can do extraordinary things, love conquers all, etc. Plus I just love writing about dragons and unicorns and girls who kick butt.
MP: What can you tell us about your next book?
SBD: My next book is called DRINK, SLAY, LOVE. It’s about a sixteen-year-old vampire girl who develops a conscience after she’s stabbed through the heart by a were-unicorn’s horn. It comes out in September 2011 from Simon & Schuster, and I’m really, really excited about it!
MP: Do you have any advice to offer aspiring authors?
SBD: Don’t give up! Some days the words will flow, and some days they won’t. The key to being a writer is to write on both kinds of days. In other words, don’t wait for inspiration to find you before you sit down to write. It’s far more likely to find you if you’re already sitting there writing!
Thanks so much for interviewing me!
Thanks again to Sarah for taking the time out of her schedule to answer all of my questions.