Author Interview: Sarah Beth Durst on Race the Sands

Sarah Beth Durst author photoAny time Sarah Beth Durst has a new book coming  out, I know I should be excited. She is one of the most prolific and versatile authors writing fantasy right now and, get excited, I think her newest standalone for adults might be her best book yet.

I’m excited to have Sarah back today answering some questions about her monster racing adventure Race the Sands.

Miss Print: What was the inspiration for Race the Sands?

Sarah Beth Durst: When it was time to start thinking about my next book, I sat down at my desk, typed the words “Things I Think Are Awesome,” and started making a list of everything from pizza to armadillos to fire-breathing unicorns.  A page or two into that list, I jotted down two words:

Monster racing.

And a little voice inside me said, “YES.  I MUST WRITE THAT.”

So that’s where this book began, with two words.  Everything in sun-drenched Becar grew out of that one core idea: deadly races on the backs of irredeemable monsters called kehoks, who bear the reborn souls of their world’s most depraved humans.

Miss Print: Race the Sands is set in a world where what you do in this life determines what (or whom) you are reborn as in your next life. Augur Yorbel even reads a few characters’ auras during the story to see how they will be reborn. What creature would you want to return as?

Sarah Beth Durst: A dragon!

Or maybe that’s a bit impractical.

How about a cat?  A well-fed housecat whose humans know better than to move once I decide to nap on them.  Like my cat Gwen.  She’s sitting on me as I write this.  In fact, I write most of my books with her on top of me.  Sometimes it makes it tricky to see the keyboard.

Miss Print: On the other end of the reincarnation spectrum we have the kehoks–souls reborn as monstrous creatures because they have done something so heinous there is no hope of redemption (unless they win the Becaran races). The kehoks come in all shapes and sizes including, notably, the black lion Tamra and Raia work with. What kind of kehok would you want to be (assuming the whole doing something evil to be reborn as one wasn’t on the table)?

Sarah Beth Durst: I’d like to be reborn as something like my black metal lion.  Fast and fierce.  Preferably without any slime or tentacles.

Miss Print: One of the things I really enjoyed about this book was the way you utilize the ensemble cast by following a few different characters as the story unfolds. Did you always know the story would have this narrative structure? How did you decide which characters to showcase?

Sarah Beth Durst: I did plan from the beginning to show the story through multiple viewpoints, but I didn’t fully sketch out exactly whose eyes I’d use for which piece of the story.  I tried to trust my instincts.

A lot of writing is trusting your instincts.  We’ve all absorbed so many stories that we’ve internalized the rhythm of how a tale unfolds — the trick is to trust that sense of rhythm.

Miss Print: Working off the last question: Did you have a favorite character to write or one who was more challenging? And since this book came out during quarantine in April: How would everyone be fairing in quarantine? Who would you want to have quarantined with you?

Sarah Beth Durst: I loved writing Tamra!  She’s a former champion rider who now works as a professional trainer in the sport of monster racing.  She’s also a single mother who would do anything for her daughter, even sacrifice her own soul.  She’s fierce, driven, and unstoppable, and I loved spending time with her.

She’s named after Tamora Pierce, a fantastic writer and fantastic person.  I first discovered Tammy’s books when I was ten years old, the same year that I decided I wanted to be a writer.  I remember reading ALANNA, her first Tortall book about a girl who wants to become a knight, and thinking to myself, “If Alanna can become a knight, I can become a writer.”

As far as how my characters would fair in quarantine…  I think Tamra would take Raia and Shalla and ride on the back of a kehok out into the desert, away from the cities.  And Dar would be doing his best to take care of his people.  He’d be worried, but he’d do what’s right to protect as many as possible.

And the character I’d want with me…  There’s one brief mention in the book of a woman who bakes the best pastries in all Becar… I’d want those pastries with me.

Miss Print: You always have a few books in the works, can you tell me anything about your next project?

Sarah Beth Durst: Yes!  My next book will be a standalone epic fantasy called THE BONE MAKER, coming in March 2021 from Harper Voyager.  It’s about second chances — and bone magic.  It’s set twenty-five years after the heroes saved the world.  Now they’re called to save the world again, but they’re not the same as they once were.

My next novel for kids is called EVEN AND ODD and will be out from HMH / Clarion Books in June 2021.  It’s about two sisters who have magic on alternating days — Even has magic on even days, and Odd has magic on odd days — and what happens when the portal that separates our world from the magic world closes.

Thanks so much for interviewing me!

Thanks to Sarah for taking the time to answer my questions!

For more information about Sarah and her books you can also visit her website.

You can also read my review of Race the Sands here on the blog.

Race the Sands: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“Life isn’t just about who you were—it’s about who you choose to be.”

Race the Sands by Sarah Beth Durst“Call it what it is: monster racing. Forget that and you die.”

Tamra tells every one of her students that. She cautions them, every time, to stay focused on the race, the moment, and never forget that they are riding on the back of a monster. Not every rider remembers those lessons in the heat of the races.

The Becaran races are a chance for wealth and glory for the riders. The racers, the kehoks, get something else: a chance to be reborn as something less monstrous–a chance to try to redeem their damaged souls.

Tamra used to be a winner, a champion. Now she is a damaged trainer unsure how to overcome a bad reputation and mentor another champion. She only knows winning this season is her last chance to keep her daughter.

Raia is an untested rider. She has never raced, never even seen a kehok up close. Now she has to convince a trainer to take her on if she wants a chance to use the races to win her freedom and escape her domineering parents and fiance.

Together with a strange new kehok, Tamra and Raia have the potential to change the races and all of Becar forever. But only if they stay focused and remember: Only the race. Only the moment. Only the finish line in Race the Sands (2020) by Sarah Beth Durst.

Find it on Bookshop.

Durst’s latest standalone fantasy introduces readers to the beautiful and often brutal world of Becar–a desert country where every action can stain or elevate your soul with immediate consequences for your next incarnation. This raises, for all of the characters, thoughtful questions of how to live a moral life while also doing what needs to be done throughout the novel.

In a kingdom in flux waiting for the new emperor to be crowned, Tamra and Raia face their own mounting stakes as both women are forced to take chances on themselves and each other to try and win.

The story unfolds with a close third person narration following Tamra, Raia, and other key players in the story to create a strong ensemble cast notably including Tamra’s daughter, Yorbel–an augur with his own interest in kehoks, and Tamra’s patron Lady Evara who is the obvious successor to my favorite inscrutable fashion plate Effie Trinket.

Race the Sands is a fantasy that explores many things but at its core this is a story of mindfulness and focus as both Tamra and Raia answer what they truly want to accomplish and how far they are willing to go for those goals. The story also considers what makes a family–found or otherwise–as well as what happens when the people trusted to maintain order in society betray that trust.

Race the Sands is a fast-paced story filled with intrigue, action, and, of course, competition. A twisty, perfectly paced adventure ideal for readers who want their high fantasy with a healthy dose of mystery.

You can also check out my exclusive interview with Sarah!

Possible Pairings: The Candle and the Flame by Nafiza Azad, Hunted By the Sky by Tanaz Bhathena, The Hunter Games by Suzanne Collins, Forest of Souls by Lori M. Lee, The Midnight Lie by Marie Rutkoski, The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

Fire & Heist: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Fire & Heist by Sarah Beth DurstFor the Hawkins family, successfully pulling off your first heist is a major accomplishment. It’s an introduction into society, a rite of passage, and of course the best way for a were-dragon to start building their first hoard of gold.

The technical term is actually wyvern, but Sky has always thought calling herself and her family were-dragons really gets to the point even if no wyvern has been able to take on their true dragon form since they lost their connection with Home generations ago.

With Sky’s first heist coming up fast, Sky has to start picking her crew and figure out how to get over her ex-boyfriend Ryan once and for all. But with her mother missing and an ancient jewel in the mix that could change everything for the wyvern community, Sky’s first heist is going to be anything but routine in Fire & Heist (2018) by Sarah Beth Durst.

Find it on Bookshop.

This standalone fantasy is part adventure and part heist as Sky tries to uncover the truth about her mother’s work and the jewel she was tracking before her disappearance. High stakes heist scenes contrast well with high fantasy elements as Sky learns more about her dragon past.

Snark, light romance, and real mystery make Fire & Heist a page-turning adventure with distinct characters in a truly unique world. Recommended for readers looking for a new spin on both dragons and heist tropes.

Possible Pairings: Heist Society by Ally Carter, Wicked Fox by Kat Cho, Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer, The Last Dragonslayer by Jasper Fforde, The Story of Owen by E. K. Johnston, The Iron King by Julie Kagawa

Author Interview: Sarah Beth Durst on The Queen of Sorrow

Sarah Beth Durst author photoSarah 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!

For more information about Sarah and her books you can also visit her website.

You can also read my review of The Queen of Sorrow here on the blog.

The Queen of Sorrow: A Review

*The Queen of Sorrow is the final book in Durst’s Queens of Renthia trilogy. If you’re new to the series, start at the beginning with The Queen of Blood and The Reluctant Queen*

cover art for The Queen of Sorrow by Sarah Beth DurstDaleina has always wanted to protect her homeland Aratay and the people who call the forests home even when it leaves her as the unlikely queen of the kingdom.

Naelin never wanted to be a queen despite her enormous power but willingly takes up the mantle when it means she’s be able to keep her children safe.

Now Aratay and its vicious spirits are torn between two queens with vastly different priorities.

Merecot has always known she was destined to be queen. When her candidacy as an Heir of Aratay is blocked she schemes to become queen of the mountainous kingdom of Semo instead. But Semo has too little land for its many spirits–something even a queen of Merecot’s caliber can’t control forever.

When Naelin’s children are kidnapped she knows that Merecot is to blame and is willing to go to any lengths to retrieve her children even if it means defying her co-queen Daleina and plunging both kingdoms into a costly war.

As Naelin searches for her children, Daleina struggles to hold the kingdom together, and Merecot draws all three queens toward a confrontation that could save both kingdoms. Or destroy them in The Queen of Sorrow (2018) by Sarah Beth Durst.

The Queen of Sorrow is the final book in Durst’s Queens of Renthia trilogy. If you’re new to the series, start at the beginning with The Queen of Blood and The Reluctant Queen.

The Queen of Sorrow widely expands the world of Renthia as readers learn more about Merecot and Semo as well as the other neighboring kingdoms. This story shifts close third person perspective between characters across Renthia as they are drawn into a conflict that will forever change their world.

Durst expertly manages a large cast, numerous plot threads, and her complex world building to close out this high fantasy trilogy. With action, intrigue, and even some romance The Queen of Sorrow is the perfect conclusion to a powerful, must-read series that strikes the perfect balance between closure and hints of more to come. Recommended.

Possible Pairings: Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake, Roar by Cora Carmack, Eon: Dragoneye Reborn by Alison Goodman, A Creature of Moonlight by Rebecca Hahn, Princess of Thorns by Stacey Jay, Winterspell by Claire Legrand, A Confusion of Princes by Garth Nix, Uprooted by Naomi Novik, The Shadow Queen by C. J. Redwine

Be sure to check out my interview with Sarah about this book!

*An advance copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review consideration*

The Stone Girl’s Story: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

The Stone Girl's Story by Sarah Beth DurstMayka and her stone family were brought to life by the markings etched into their bodies–symbols that represent who they are and the stories of their live. Mayka’s father was a talented stonemason. He created fish that could swim, rabbits, birds, and even a turtle before he used everything he had learned to create Mayka a girl who lives and thinks even if she does not need to breath or eat the way humans do.

But stone erodes over time and Mayka’s father is no longer alive to tend to his stone creations. Without a stonemason to maintain them, the stone creature’s markings are fading. Unless a stonemason can recarve their markings Mayka and her stone family will cease to live–becoming nothing more than still statues.

Finding a stonemason won’t be easy. It will force Mayka to leave the only home she has ever known high up on her family’s mountain. Off the mountain Mayka discovers that there is more to the magic that brings her to life than Father ever let on. When her search for a stonemason reveals a threat to all stone creatures, Mayka may not have any time left to wait for a stonemason to save her in The Stone Girl’s Story (2018) by Sarah Beth Durst.

Durst’s latest standalone middle grade fantasy is an evocative adventure where, with the right markings, stone can be brought to life. Durst once again brings her imaginative vision to life in a novel whose heroine is as surprising as her world.

Mayka’s stone family consists of herself and a variety of talking animals eager to help in the search for a new stonemason. The high stakes of this mission are offset with the wonder and enthusiasm with which Mayka explores new lands and makes some surprising friends.

The Stone Girl’s Story is an engrossing adventure and a thoughtful commentary on agency as Mayka realizes that the best way to save herself and her friends might be to do it herself. A delightful addition to the author’s extensive body of work.

Possible Pairings: A Tale of Two Castles by Gail Carson Levine, Princess Academy by Shannon Hale, Frogkisser! by Garth Nix, Princeless Book One: Save Yourself by Jeremy Whitley and M. Goodwin

Be sure to check out my interview with Sarah about this book!

Author Interview (#11): Sarah Beth Durst on The Stone Girl’s Story

Sarah Beth Durst author photoSarah Beth Durst, one of my favorite authors, is back today to talk about her latest middle grade novel The Stone Girl’s Story which follows Mayka, a living girl made of stone, as she ventures far from home to find a way to help herself and her friends.

Miss Print (MP): What was the inspiration for The Stone Girl’s Story?

Sarah Beth Durst (SBD): I’m a terrible gardener.  Zero green thumb.  Plants see me coming, and they wither in self-defense, anticipating a horrible death from either too much or too little watering.  But I try.  And I’m always optimistic that next year, I’ll remember to weed/water/whatever often enough to have a lovely flower bed.

One spring, after hearing me talk all winter about flowers, my husband bought me a little stone rabbit for my garden, and I nestled it in between the daffodils.  But by the end of the summer, it was so buried in weeds that I couldn’t find it.  So I joked that it had hopped away to join its other stone friends…

That stone bunny became the inspiration for THE STONE GIRL’S STORY (and you’ll see him hopping around the first chapter as one of Mayka’s friends!).

Mayka is a girl made of living stone.  Forever twelve years old, she has outlasted the father who carved her and engraved her body with the stories that gave her life. But now the magical marks that animate her and her stone friends are fading, and she must leave her home for the first time to find help if she wants her story — and those of her friends — to continue.

At its heart, this is a story about stories — what stories shape who you are, who chooses the stories that define you, who tells the story of your life.

MP: Stone creatures in Mayka’s world are brought to life by markings carved into their bodies that describe various attributes and parts of their lives. If you were a stone creature, what are some markings you would want to include in your story?

SBD: I would want my markings to say how much I love stories — really, I think they’re as essential to life as air, water, and food — and how much I love to tell stories.  And I would want my markings to say how much I love my family.  Those are the two things that are most important to me: writing and my family.

Might also want to add a marking saying how fond I am of chocolate.

MP: Mayka leaves her home to find a new stonemason and gets to see the world beyond her mountain home for the first time. Reading this story I was struck by how vivid the locations and landscapes are as Mayka discovers them. Did any real locations inspire the places that Mayka visits?

SBD: Not intentionally, but the world does seep into you and then come out in your writing.  Things you think are beautiful, things you think are important, things that stick in your memory…  All of those things fertilize the soil of your imagination.

Mayka’s world is born of my imagination, but it’s shaped by my love of this world.

MP: Which scene are you especially excited for readers to get to in The Stone Girl’s Story?

SBD: One of the best things about being a writer is being able to invite people into your worlds, your stories, and your imagination.  I can’t wait for readers to meet Mayka and her friends!  I am especially excited for readers to meet Si-Si, a little stone dragon that Mayka encounters on her quest.

I think all stories need at least one talking dragon.  :)

MP: This is a busy year for you with three novels coming out. Last year was equally jam-packed with your YA novel Drink, Slay, Love’s movie adaptation coming out and the release of your first picture book Roar and Sparkles Go to School. (I love that you literally write for all ages now!) With so many projects going on at once how do you balance everything? What does a typical writing day look like for you?

SBD: I write every day.  I know that doesn’t work for everyone, but I find it helpful for keeping up the momentum of the story.  I don’t have a set time or consistent number of hours that I write each day — basically any time I have two hands free and am near my computer, I’m writing.

I typically work on one project at a time.  It takes me a couple days to switch between voices, styles, and worlds, so I prefer to work on one book for a few weeks/months (depending on where it is in the process) and then make the transition to another.

I also always like to know what I’m going to be writing next and will often start a new book on the same day that I finish the prior book.  I don’t like saying goodbye to characters that I’ve grown to love, so it helps if I can immediately say hello to new ones!

MP: Can you tell us anything about your next projects?

SBD: Yes!  My next book for adults comes out on May 15th: THE QUEEN OF SORROW, Book Three of The Queens of Renthia.  It’s the final book in my epic fantasy series about bloodthirsty spirits and the queens who can control them.  Very excited for readers to see how it all ends!

In December, my next YA book, FIRE AND HEIST, comes out.  It’s essentially Ocean’s Eleven with were-dragons.  I just posted the gorgeous new cover over on my website (www.sarahbethdurst.com/FireandHeist.htm).

And I’m currently in the middle of revising next year’s MG book (SPARK, about a girl and her lightning dragon) and adult book (THE DEEPEST BLUE, a standalone Renthia novel with a lot of sea monsters).

Thanks so much for interviewing me!

Thanks to Sarah for taking the time to answer my questions!

For more information about Sarah and her books you can also visit her website.

You can also check out our previous interviews discussing Sarah’s other novels here on the blog.

If you want to know more about The Stone Girl’s Story be sure to check out my  review.

The Reluctant Queen: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

*The Reluctant Queen is the second book in Durst’s Queens of Renthia trilogy. It contains major spoilers for book one. If you’re new to the series, start at the beginning with The Queen of Blood*

“Everything has a spirit. … And those spirits want to kill you.”

Daleina spent years preparing to protect the people of Aratay as a Candidate and Heir. She was never the strongest, but she was one of the smartest and most determined. After the Coronation Massacre she was also the only Heir left alive to to take the throne. In the wake of the massacre that killed so many of her friends, Daleina is doing her best to be a good queen.

But there’s a problem.

Daleina is dying and as her health deteriorates so does her control over the spirits. All of Aratay is in danger until suitable Heirs can be chosen but after the massacre most of the candidates are perilously young and unprepared.

Naelin is neither of those things. She is powerful enough to be an Heir and the next Queen. She has also spent the past years at pains to make sure no one knows the full extent of her power–especially the spirits who would kill her for it. She has no desire to remove herself from her quiet life as a woodswoman with her husband and two young children.

Champion Ven found Daleina and believed in her abilities when no one else did, knowing that she would one day be a great Queen. He knows that the same is true for Naelin if only he can get her to see herself the way he does. As time runs out, both Daleina and Naelin will have to accept that saving everyone they love will require both women to risk everything in The Reluctant Queen (2017) by Sarah Beth Durst.

The Reluctant Queen is the second book in Durst’s Queens of Renthia trilogy which began with The Queen of Blood (a 2017 Alex Award winner). This story starts several months into Daleina’s reign as Queen of Aratay when the kingdom should be calm. Instead, Daleina learns that she is fatally ill and has become her own kingdom’s greatest threat.

Durst expands the world of Renthnia in this story as Naelin and Daleina explore new parts of Aratay and look beyond its borders to Semo. The viewpoints in the story are also expanded with more from familiar characters like Ven as well as new characters like Naelin and her children.

This series is thick with action and tension. The stakes have never been higher for Daleina and Naelin (or for Aratay) as time runs out to find a cure for Daleina and prepare Naelin for everything being Queen requires. In this installment Durst thoughtfully explores the push and pull between duty to family versus larger responsibilities as Naelin tries to resign herself to her future as an Heir. Her dynamic with Daleina–Naelin’s opposite in many ways–adds an interesting dimension to the story as both women realize there is no right or easy way to wield power.

Durst has outdone herself with The Reluctant Queen. Its dramatic final act will leave readers anxious to see what the Queens of Renthia will face next. The Reluctant Queen effectively confirms that this series is a must for any and all high fantasy readers. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake, Roar by Cora Carmack, Eon: Dragoneye Reborn by Alison Goodman, A Creature of Moonlight by Rebecca Hahn, Princess of Thorns by Stacey Jay, Winterspell by Claire Legrand, A Confusion of Princes by Garth Nix, Uprooted by Naomi Novik, The Shadow Queen by C. J. Redwine

Be sure to check out my interview with Sarah about this book!

*An advance copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review consideration*

Author Interview #10: Sarah Beth Durst on The Reluctant Queen

Sarah Beth Durst author photoSarah Beth Durst is one of my favorite authors. It’s hard to pick just one of her books to have as my absolute favorite but I have to say The Reluctant Queen might be it. This book is the second in Sarah’s award winning Queens of Renthnia series which starts with The Queen of Blood. Today Sarah is here for our tenth interview to talk a little more about The Reluctant Queen.

Miss Print (MP): When we last talked about The Queen of Blood you explained that the Queens of Renthia series originally started with The Reluctant Queen as the first book before you made a switch and started the series with Daleina’s path to the throne. What was it like going back to this story after shifting the beginning in that way? Did The Reluctant Queen have any big changes because of the shift?

Sarah Beth Durst (SBD): Starting with book two, then creating book one, and then returning to book two made for a surprisingly fantastic writing experience.  It was nothing I could have planned or predicted, but it turned out to be the best thing for me.

The entire time I was working on THE QUEEN OF BLOOD, I had the story for THE RELUCTANT QUEEN churning in the back of my mind.  So when it was time to write book two, I knew the world, the story, and the characters so well that it felt like coming home.

Well, “home” if home were a massive forest with cities high up in the trees and tons of bloodthirsty nature spirits eager to destroy humanity…

MP: As its title suggests, this story focuses on a woman who doesn’t want to be queen. Naelin is very powerful and, as one character describes her, “deeply committed to living a forgettable life” and never attracting the attention of the spirits. Naelin’s lack of ambition and focus on her family is often in stark contrast to Daleina’s own position as Queen and her deliberate choices to take up that role. If you were in Renthia, whose path would you be more likely to understand and follow yourself?

SBD: I love writing about brave heroes like Daleina — she’s not particularly powerful (in fact, she’s at best a mediocre student, lacking the innate talent and skill of her classmates), but she’s determined to protect her family and save her world anyway.

I do consider myself to be determined (being a writer requires a certain amount of pig-headed stubbornness), but I’m not very brave.  Daleina ziplines all around her forest and faces down vicious spirits.  I, on the other hand, can’t even handle a nice, placid bike ride without being terrified, and I’m afraid of skunks.

So I’d probably chose Naelin’s path.

Actually, I agree with many of Naelin’s life choices.  She has immense power but chooses not to use it out of a (very, very reasonable) fear that she’ll leave her children motherless.

MP: The Reluctant Queen shows readers several new parts of Aratay including a much more in-depth view of the palace in Mittriel. What was your favorite room or place to showcase in this book? Which are you most excited for readers to discover?

SBD: My favorite room is the Chamber of the Queen’s Champions, even though Daleina isn’t as fond of it as I am:

Carved into the top of the palace tree, the Chamber of the Queen’s Champions was known far and wide as a marvel. It was said to have been created by one hundred tree spirits, working together under the command of a long-ago queen, in a mere instant. It was enclosed by arches of curled wood—living wood with leaves that whispered together when the wind blew. Sunlight poured into the center of the chamber, illuminating the queen’s throne in a perfect star pattern. The champions’ chairs circled it, each chair alive, budded from the tree. Higher than the surrounding trees, the only way to reach the chamber without using spirits was to climb the stairs that spiraled up from the palace on the outside of the tree’s vast trunk.

 

It was indisputably impressive, but today Queen Daleina hated it. She also hated the nameless long-ago queen who’d thought it was a grand idea to construct so many stairs.

MP: Since Renthia is filled with spirits that want to kill humans, we have already seen a lot of them by the time this book starts. What struck me while reading about the spirits is how unique they are. What inspired your vision for the spirits in Renthia? How do you make sure they are all distinct?

SBD: I wish I could tell you I’ve developed some fancy, professional-sounding writerly technique for creating the spirits… but honestly, I just try to make them as awesome as I can.  My personal favorite is an air spirit that is essentially a giant ermine with bat wings.  It looks kind of like Falcor from The Neverending Story.  (That’s the spirit on the cover of THE RELUCTANT QUEEN.  The cover artist is the amazing Stephan Martiniere.)

MP: In this book readers meet new characters like Naelin and her children Erian and Llor while also learning more about some of the familiar characters from book one including Daleina’s sister Arin, Healer Hamon, and Champion Ven. This book features quite a few more perspective shifts as the story unfolds from several points of view. Did you always know that this series would feature multiple perspectives? How did you go about balancing that aspect of your storytelling in your outlines and drafts?

SBD: That’s one of my favorite things about writing epic fantasy.  I love deciding whose turn it is to tell the story.  It feels like conducting an orchestra.

Mostly, I chose the POV character based on who is most affected by the upcoming scene, but I also color-code my outline to make sure that all characters have the appropriate amount of screen-time and that everyone has enough time to complete their character arc.

MP: Can you tell us anything about your next project?

SBD: Right now, I’m working on my next middle-grade novel.  It’s called THE STONE GIRL’S STORY, and it’s about a girl made of stone, forever twelve years old, who has outlasted the father who carved her and gave her life.  But now the magical marks that animate her are fading, and she must leave home and find help, if she wants her story to continue.  It will be out in spring 2018 from HMH/Clarion Books.  I’m so excited about it!

Thanks so much for interviewing me!

Thanks to Sarah for taking the time to answer my questions!

For more information about Sarah and her books you can also visit her website.

You can also check out our previous interviews discussing Sarah’s other novels here on the blog.

If you want to know more about The Reluctant Queen be sure to check out my  review.

Author Interview #9: Sarah Beth Durst on Journey Across the Hidden Islands

Sarah Beth Durst author photoSarah 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?”

“Winged lion.”

“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!

For more information about Sarah and her books you can also visit her website.

You can also check out my previous interviews with Sarah and reviews of her books.