Sarah Beth Durst is here today to talk about her latest novel Conjured and answer some questions about it. A spooky story including a magical serial killer and visions of a creepy carnival, this is an ideal read as you get ready for Halloween. Complexly written and patently suspenseful this one is a definite page-turner!
Miss Print (MP): What was the inspiration for Conjured?
Sarah Beth Durst (SBD): Sometimes ideas come as lightning strikes. But sometimes ideas sneak up on you when you’re paying attention to something else. In the case of CONJURED, I was working on a story about federal marshals who worked for the paranormal witness protection program. As I was developing their case, the witness herself, Eve, a girl with no memories and tons of bizarre powers, drew more and more of my attention. The instant she made the birds in her wallpaper fly around her room, I knew the story had to be hers.
MP: Eve is a really interesting character because she knows almost nothing about herself at the start of the story. She is in danger, she has strange dreams, she can do some magic. How did you go about writing a story about a character with no clear picture of her past?
SBD: Eve is a true blank slate character. She has basically no identity. At the start of the novel, Eve is basically a camera, recording what she sees but not knowing how to process it. Eventually, all this input fills Eve and gives her some basis to build her own identity.
In order to compensate for Eve’s lack of self, I tried to paint a really vivid world around her, filled with vivid secondary characters, to ground the reader in the present while Eve gropes for some solid ground of her own.
MP: Eve also suffers from blackouts and memory loss during the story leaving her not only without a past but also often losing time. What was it like writing about a character who is (through no fault of her own) such an unreliable narrator?
SBD: The entire story is told through Eve’s eyes. The reader knows no more and no less than Eve does — and that info isn’t necessarily correct. All the other characters have far more information, including memories of interactions with Eve.
The trick to writing this was to work chronologically. If I tried to hop around, it was too easy to accidentally drop info too early or mess up the gradual evolution of her identity. Working chronologically helped me pace her development. From a sheer technical standpoint, I also tried to keep careful track of who-knows-what-when and what happened during the time that Eve’s forgotten. I used up a LOT of Post-It notes. :)
MP: Throughout the novel Eve has visions of a creepy carnival complete with a Magician and Storyteller. Was Eve’s carnival inspired by any actual places or experiences?
SBD: I think there’s something inherently surreal about carnivals — the sounds, the smells, the colors, the everything is all this heightened experience that can feel almost dreamlike. I did do a whole lot of Google searches for creepy and abandoned carnivals. And now I don’t think I’ll ever be able to go to one without thinking of the Magician and the Storyteller…
MP: At its core Conjured is a story of suspense and even a thriller. Although there aren’t (many) high-speed chases or shootouts, the story is taut. How did you go about maintaining this level of tension throughout?
SBD: Thanks! I obsessed over the atmosphere in this book. I wanted to create a feeling of claustrophobic disorientation that Eve feels so that the reader goes through this experience with her. So I kept the POV very tight on Eve and kept ratcheting up her level of inner chaos. As soon as she begins to figure out her present, her past intrudes to rip the ground out from under her.
MP: You use the writing in Conjured to tell readers a lot about Eve and how she is changing throughout the story. Did you always plan to include these changes in perspective and tense when you started writing? How did those changes impact your writing process?
SBD: I broke a lot of writing rules in order to tell Eve’s story through her eyes. This was one of the major ones. For Eve’s visions, I shifted from past tense, third POV to present tense, first POV to create a feeling of disorientation. The visions feel timeless to Eve, and I wanted them to feel the same way to the reader — unbalanced and disorienting.
And I choose to shift perspective when Eve achieves agency. I actually planned this early in the writing process, though I changed around the moment of the shift — it had to be a moment that was both meaningful and subtle. I knew it was an unusual choice, but I felt (and feel) strongly that it reflected the true shift inside of Eve.
MP: What can you tell us about your next book?
SBD: I am working on two projects right now: THE LOST and MIND OVER MAGIC. THE LOST is my first novel for adults. It’s the first in a trilogy, and it will be coming out from Harlequin/Mira in June 2014. MIND OVER MAGIC is my next YA novel, and it will be coming out from Bloomsbury/Walker in fall 2014. I’m really, really excited about both of them!
Thanks so much for interviewing me!
Thanks to Sarah for taking the time to answer my questions!
Conjured also has an awesome book trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r5b4nQKM-YE