Sarah Beth Durst is here today to talk about her newest middle grade novel, Journey Across the Hidden Islands. This book is a rollicking adventures about twin princesses who have to set out to save their home from a dangerous threat. There are dragons, flying lions, sword fights and lots more.
Miss Print (MP): What was the inspiration for Journey Across the Hidden Islands?
Sarah Beth Durst (SBD): One day I said to my husband, “I want to write a book with a winged lion.”
He said, “Great! Um, anything else?”
“Winged lion,” I said.
“Don’t you need, I don’t know, a plot? Characters?”
“Um, okay. Have fun.”
And that’s how this book was born. Everything else–the islands protected by a magical barrier, the monsters that hunt in the sea and sky, the sister princesses, the journey to the dragon–grew from that one solitary idea.
MP: Your story starts with Ji-Lin who is training at the Temple of the Sun to become an imperial guard while her twin sister, Seika, stays at the palace learning everything she needs to know as the emperor’s heir. What was it like writing this story with two “main” characters? Which sister do you most resemble? If you had a choice would you rather train to be an imperial guard or an emperor?
SBD: The trick to writing two protagonists is that you need to fall in love with both of them. You can’t secretly favor one over the other. Both of them have to carry equal weight in your heart if they’re to shoulder equal halves of the story.
As for me personally… I love imagining I’m like Ji-Lin, fearlessly riding my flying lion to battle monsters. But in reality, I’m more like Seika, better at diffusing battles through words than winning them with swords.
Besides, I’d probably get airsick on a flying lion.
MP: What kind of research and thought process did you use to imagine the Hundred Islands of Himitsu? Were any of the places (and islands) in the story inspired by actual locations?
SBD: I drew my initial inspiration from feudal Japan and Renaissance Italy, specifically Venice. I emptied out those sections of the library, took copious notes, and then put it all away so that the Hundred Islands of Himitsu could grow into its own fantasy land from its birth in that real-world soil. As it developed, a lot of Italy fell by the wayside, though you can still spot traces of it (for example, the gondolas in the imperial city), and new imagined elements blossomed.
It was important to me both that my new world be primarily inspired by a place and time that wasn’t medieval Europe and also that it develop into a distinct fantasy land that isn’t a carbon copy of this world.
MP: In addition to her sister Li-Jin’s companion throughout the novel is Alejan–a winged lion. At what point in your drafting/writing process did Alejan and the other winged lions show up? If you had to choose would you rather hang out with a dragon or a winged lion?
SBD: The winged lions were there from the start. Everyone else joined the party later.
Before writing this book, I would have said I’d rather hang out with a dragon. But now… I want to meet a winged lion! They’ve got it all: the flying, the soft fur, and the personality.
MP: Which scene are you especially excited for readers to get to in Journey Across the Hidden Islands?
SBD: Whenever my husband reads one of my books, he insists on going into the other room, because otherwise I’ll just sit there and stare at him while he reads, watching his reactions. I am so, so, so excited for readers to journey with Ji-Lin and Seika! I can’t wait for them to meet Alejan and Kirro, to flee from the koji, and to see the islands… Okay, I guess that means my answer is “all the scenes.” Basically, I just want to sit and stare at everyone and watch them read. :)
MP: Can you tell us anything about your next projects?
SBD: Yes! My first picture book, ROAR AND SPARKLES GO TO SCHOOL, comes out from Running Press Kids in June. It’s about a little dragon named Roar who is worried about his first day of school, and it’s illustrated by the fantastic Ben Whitehouse.
And then THE RELUCTANT QUEEN, Book Two of the Queens of Renthia, comes out from Harper Voyager in July. It’s an epic fantasy for adults set in a world filled with bloodthirsty nature spirits. I am having the best time writing these books! I’m currently working on book three, which will complete this story arc.
If you’re interested, there’s a bunch more info on my website: www.sarahbethdurst.com
Thanks so much for interviewing me!
Thanks to Sarah for taking the time to answer my questions!