2021 has been a great year to be a Sarah Beth Durst fan. Even and Odd, her new middle grade about sisters who share magic on alternating days, hit shelves in June.
On the adult side, The Bone Maker is Sarah’s newest novel for adult readers, which begins after “the end” when five heroes who thought they’d already saved the world in their youth have to do it again.
Sarah is one of my favorite authors and I’m so glad to have her back to discuss her latest.
Miss Print: What was the inspiration for The Bone Maker?
Sarah Beth Durst: One day, I jotted down on a Post-It: “Lots of pockets!” You see, my jeans have these really shallow pockets that aren’t even large enough to hold my cell phone, and I decided that, regardless of what kind of book I wrote next, my protagonist would have lots of pockets.
So I asked myself, “What would be in those pockets?”
And my brain answered,”Bones.”
I suppose that probably says a lot about my brain…
The book grew from that one thought into a standalone epic fantasy about second chances in a world steeped with bone magic. THE BONE MAKER takes place twenty-five years after a team of heroes defeated a great evil, losing one of their own in the process. They think their story is over, but it’s definitively not.
The pockets even ended up being a part of it! Here’s the opening sentence:
“Kreya always wore her coat with many pockets when she went out to steal bones.”
Miss Print: The magic system in this world is founded on bone magic which can include using bone talismans to enhance things like strength or stealth, creating said talismans, reading bones to divine the future, creating bone constructs, or–working with darker magic–bringing back the dead. Which kind of bone magic would you want to have? While we’re talking about bone constructs: did you have a favorite one to imagine for this book? Was it my own favorite, the rag dolls?
Sarah Beth Durst: I’d love to be a bone maker, like Kreya. She can animate the inanimate — and there are endless possibilities as to what you can do with that.
So happy you liked the rag dolls! They’re my favorite as well. They actually weren’t in the original outline — they crawled into the book as I was writing it, and I thought they were so very creepy that they had to stay.
Miss Print: The Bone Maker is written in close third person and follows several different character viewpoints. How did you decide which characters to showcase and when as the story progressed?
Sarah Beth Durst: With each scene, I’d ask myself who had the most at stake and who can best carry the story forward. And then I’d trust my instincts. A lot of writing comes down to trusting yourself and your own sense of story.
I’m very tempted to put the “BELIEVE” sign from Ted Lasso over my desk. Believing in yourself, your story, your characters, and your world… it’s key. That’s not to say that you need to be 100% confident while you’re writing, but it helps to remind yourself that you have — all of us have — been soaked in stories since the day we were born, and we all have developed a sense of what works and what doesn’t, as well as what we like and what we don’t. You need to trust that.
Miss Print: Did you have a favorite character to write or one who was more challenging? How would Kreya and her team be doing with the pandemic?
Sarah Beth Durst: I adored writing Zera (the bone wizard and Kreya’s former best friend). She’s so overdramatic and full of snark. I love writing snark!
Really, I am deeply suspicious of novels that don’t have a sense of humor. Humor is such a basic human coping mechanism.
As for how they’d do with the pandemic… I think they’d live together in Stran’s house. Kreya would end up creating a lot of rather unsettling-looking contraptions to help around the farm, and Zera would carve a lot of talismans out of chicken bones. Jentt would learn how to bake and would constantly need to fish stray bone fragments out of his sourdough starter.
All of them, though, would hate having an enemy that they can’t see and can’t fight and, despite swearing to leave the problem to others to fix, would end up doing whatever they could to help.
Miss Print: One of my favorite things about this book is that in addition to the focus on Kreya and Jentt’s marriage–both before and after Kreya’s resurrection attempts–readers get to see a lot of the teams’ friendships as they find their way back to each other. (One of my favorite quotes: “The laws of nature and decency say friends don’t give up on friends. No matter what tragedies happen. No matter how many years pass. People are meant to keep loving each other, even after death.”) Can you discuss what defines a solid friendship in one of your books? Do you have any favorites that you’ve read (or written yourself)?
Sarah Beth Durst: There are so many toxic relationships in both fictional worlds and the real world that I really wanted to write about healthy relationships — or at least relationships that grow to be healthy. I love the trope of the found family and the concept that strength comes from shared compassion, not just shared trauma.
The characters in THE BONE MAKER are old friends who, for the most part, haven’t seen one another in twenty-five years. They’ve got some serious history between them, and I loved exploring how their friendships were shattered and how they glue them back together, stronger than before.
Some of my favorite books have great found families in them, such as EVERY HEART A DOORWAY by Seanan McGuire, SIX OF CROWS by Leigh Bardugo, and THE HOUSE IN THE CERULEAN SEA by TJ Klune.
Miss Print: Has your writing routine/process changed for this novel (or other projects) in light of the pandemic?
Sarah Beth Durst: My writing routine/process has intensified. Every time I look at the news… It’s just all so horrific. I’m not a doctor or a nurse or a scientist or a teacher — I can’t help that way, but what I can do is write stories that I hope will give people an escape from everything for at least a few hours. And so for the past year and a half, I’ve been writing as much as I can.
Miss Print: You always have something in the works, can you tell me anything about your next project? Or about your other 2021 release?
Sarah Beth Durst: My other 2021 release is a book for kids (ages 8-12) called EVEN AND ODD. It’s about two sisters who share magic on alternating days. When the border between the mundane world they live in and the magical world they were born in shuts abruptly, they embark on a quest to reunite their family — with the help of a unicorn named Jeremy! It’s out now from Clarion Books.
And my next book is also for kids and will be coming out in June 2022. It’s called THE SHELTERLINGS, and it’s about a squirrel named Holly who is a resident of the Shelter for Rejected Familiars. It has a lot of talking animals. I mean a LOT of talking animals. I can’t wait for people to read it!
Thanks so much for interviewing me!
Thanks to Sarah for taking the time to answer my questions!
You can also read my review of Race the Sands here on the blog.