Sarah Beth Durst is back today to talk about her latest novel Vessel and answer some questions about it. Set in another world with gods, magic, and stories, I can tell you all that this book is an ideal Emma book. With Durst’s lyrical writing and surprising twists, it’s also one of my favorites from 2012 so I hope you all get a chance to check it out soon.
Miss Print (MP): What was the inspiration for Vessel?
Sarah Beth Durst (SBD): Usually, I have ordinary dreams: late for a train, chased by giant spiders, drinking tea with dragons… But this one night, I had a dream about a girl dancing on the desert sand. She was barefoot, and the moon shone overhead, and she was dancing wildly and joyfully… and she knew that when the dance ended, she’d die. I woke up thinking about that girl, wondering who she was, why she was dancing, and why she was going to die.
MP: Vessel is set in a beautiful but often unforgiving desert landscape. What kind of research went into evoking that landscape in your own story?
SBD: I love research, and I love lacing my fantasy stories with real details. I think that the more alive the reality in a story it, the more alive the fantasy can be. For VESSEL, I researched the Gobi, the Sahara, and several deserts in the Southwest US. One of my favorite research books was WALKING THE GOBI by Helen Thayer, a nonfiction book about a determined woman who is unfazed by danger.
MP: Liyana lives in a world rich with magic and stories (and, of course, gods like Bayla and Korbyn—the trickster). I was particularly struck by the sky serpents. What detail of Liyana’s world was your favorite to write? Which was the most difficult?
SBD: So happy you liked my sky serpents! I loved writing them, as well as my wolves made of sand. I loved creating Liyana’s world, especially inventing its mythology. It was a really immersive writing experience. Sitting down at the keyboard often felt like walking through a portal–often the most difficult part was walking out again!
MP: Family and clan identity are both hugely important to the story and Liyana in particular. As a reader, I was really happy to see Liyana’s awesome family in the story. Did you always know Liyana’s relatives would be key to the story?
SBD: Yes, I think I knew her little brother’s voice before I even knew Korbyn’s. Liyana intends to sacrifice herself so that her goddess can inhabit her body and save her clan. Liyana doesn’t want to die, but she loves her family so much that she’s willing to do it. So I knew from the beginning that I had to love her family too.
MP: I love reading different myths and creation stories. Happily, Liyana and Korbyn love telling stories throughout Vessel. How did you know which stories Liyana and Korbyn (and later other characters) had to tell during the course of Vessel?
SBD: Over the years, I’ve read tons of mythology. I tried to draw on the ambiance, the archetypes, and themes of world myths in order to create tales that would feel ancient and universal. But when it came to actually crafting the tales… I pretty much trusted my instinct and let the stories flow as naturally as possible.
MP: Working off the last question, do you have any favorite myths? Did you discover any new ones while working on Vessel?
SBD: I love the Cupid and Psyche myth (which is the ancestor for the tale behind my polar bear novel, ICE). And I love trickster tales of all kinds — the trickster was the one archetype I deliberately used in VESSEL. He’s a figure that appears in lots of cultures, and he’s often a catalyst for change.
MP: There is a lot to love about Vessel including the diversity of the world you created and the complex storytelling. There are a lot of secrets and twists during the course of this book. How did you go about pacing the story and deciding what to reveal when?
SBD: I do a LOT of revisions when I write, and I always dedicate one draft to combing through to make sure that all the key information is dropped early and then reinforced. I love stories with twists that are surprises when you read them but feel inevitable when you reread them.
MP: What can you tell us about your next project?
SBD: I am currently working on two new projects:
SWEET NOTHINGS (coming fall 2013 from Bloomsbury/Walker) is about a girl 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 LOST (coming fall 2013 from Harlequin/Luna) is the first in a trilogy about a woman running from her bleak life who finds herself trapped in a small town where all things lost — luggage, keys, people — are mysteriously deposited.
Thanks so much for interviewing me!
Thanks to Sarah for taking the time to answer some of my questions!