Sarah Beth Durst is one of my favorite authors and one of the busiest. Last year she published her latest standalone middle grade The Stone Girl’s Story and Fire and Heist a new standalone YA featuring were-dragons. She also wrapped up her first trilogy written for adults with The Queen of Sorrow. Today Sarah is to talk with me a bit more about the series.
Miss Print (MP): The Queen of Sorrow concludes the arc of your Queens of Renthia trilogy. Did the framework for this story and its focus shift between when you first started drafting the series and when you began writing this installment?
Sarah Beth Durst (SBD): There’s an episode of the Flash where Captain Cold explains the Four Rules of Planning: “Make the plan, execute the plan, expect the plan to go off the rails, throw away the plan.” And that describes my writing process.
Before I began writing The Queens of Renthia trilogy, I planned out all three novels. But then when I sank into the actual stories…
You have to trust your instincts when you write. Trust your characters. Trust your story. In some cases, this takes you down a path that follows a nice, neat outline, but sometimes the best discoveries happen when you veer off that path. So I try to allow myself the flexibility to veer.
For example, the character of Garnah, the sociopathic poison-maker, didn’t exist when I first outlined the trilogy. She popped up while I was writing, and I fell so in love with her that she became an important character.
MP: The Queen of Sorrow shows readers several new parts of Renthia including quick snapshots of the other queens in neighboring kingdoms. How did you decide what scenes to use to show readers these new areas? Which are you most excited for readers to discover?
SBD: Renthia is a world filled with bloodthirsty nature spirits who want to kill all humans. (Not exactly a very safe tourist destination.) It’s also a world of extreme beauty, thanks to those out-of-control spirits: towering Lothlorien-like trees, mountains that pierce the sky, endless glaciers… In THE QUEEN OF SORROW, we’re mostly in the forests of Aratay and the mountains of Semo. But I also had the chance to show glimpses of the other countries. They’re brief scenes, but I spent a ton of time daydreaming about what those other places were like, who their queens were, and how they survived.
In particular, I can’t wait for readers to see Belene, a string of islands built on the bones of long-dead leviathans. It’s the setting for my next book, THE DEEPEST BLUE, a standalone epic fantasy set in the world of Renthia.
MP: For the past few years you have had several fantastic books out each year (which I love because it’s more books for me to recommend to my readers!) across a variety of ages and fantasy sub-genres. How do you balance working on two projects so close together? What does a typical writing day look like for you?
SBD: I tend to sink into a world when I write, so I prefer to work on one project at a time. Typically, I’ll spend a couple months working on my next book for adults, hand it off to my editor, and then transition to working on my next book for kids, hand it off to that editor, and so on.
On days where I have to think about two worlds at once, I eat a lot of chocolate.
I do try to write every day. I know this doesn’t work for every writer, but for me, it helps maintain momentum. And quite simply, it makes me happy!
Depending on what stage of writing/revision I’m at, I often set daily goals (a scene, a chapter, etc.), but I don’t have set hours that I write– I just try to write as much as possible between all the little things in life that need taking care of.
MP: Working from the last question, this year you’ll be publishing The Deepest Blue–another adult fantasy novel set in Renthia, this time in the island kingdom of Baleen. When did you realize that you had more stories to tell in Renthia? How will this story be similar to (or defer from) your other books set in this world?
SBD: While I was writing book one of The Queens of Renthia, THE QUEEN OF BLOOD, I sketched out a map: trees, mountains, fields, glaciers, a few islands to the south… and I immediately started wondering about them. So when the chance came along to write a brand-new story set in another part of Renthia, I jumped on it.
THE DEEPEST BLUE is about Mayara, one of Belene’s fearless oyster divers, who is about to marry the love of her life when an unnatural storm hits her island. To save her family, Mayara reveals that she has the power to control spirits — and when the storm ends, the queen’s soldiers come for her and send her, along with other women of power, to an island filled with bloodthirsty spirits. Whoever survives will be named heirs to the queen.
So, new story, new characters, new land. And a lot of sea monsters!
MP: Can you tell me anything about your next projects? What can readers look forward to from you in 2019?
SBD: THE DEEPEST BLUE comes out from Harper Voyager on March 19th. And my next book for kids, SPARK, comes out from Clarion Books / HMH on May 14th. It’s about a girl and her storm beast (a.k.a. a lightning dragon) and how even the quietest voice can change the world. I’m ridiculously excited about both books and can’t wait for readers to meet Mayara (my oyster diver) and Mina (my storm guardian)!
Thanks so much for interviewing me!
Thanks to Sarah for taking the time to answer my questions!
You can also read my review of The Queen of Sorrow here on the blog.