Unexpected Questions with Sarah Beth Durst

The Lies Among Us by Sarah Beth Durst will be published by Lake Union on 4/2/24.

Sarah Beth Durst is the author of over twenty-five books for adults, teens, and kids, including The Bone Maker, The Lake House, and Spark. She won an American Library Association Alex Award and a Mythopoeic Fantasy Award and has been a finalist for the Andre Norton Nebula Award three times. Several of her books have been optioned for film/television, including Drink, Slay, Love, which was made into a TV movie and was a question on Jeopardy! Sarah is a graduate of Princeton University and lives in Stony Brook, New York, with her husband, her two children, and her ill-mannered cat.

If you were to write a story featuring yourself as the main character, what kind of adventure would you embark on?

I’d have so many talking cat sidekicks. So. Very. Many. And our adventure would be extremely tame because, outside of fiction, I am not particularly well-suited to danger.

Inside of fiction, though… One of the things that I love about writing is that it allows you to explore concepts in an extreme way. My newest book, THE LIES AMONG US, explores grief, sisterhood, and the corrosive nature of lies, as seen through the eyes of a woman who does not exist.

If you were stranded on a deserted planet with only one book to read, but it turned out to be one of your own, how would you feel?

If it were an ebook, I’d probably be rather annoyed because my Kindle is supposed to have hundreds of just-in-case-I’m-stranded books on it. Plus where would I charge it? But if it were paper… I’d be overjoyed because I could use the margins and the blank space between sentences to write a brand-new book.

I am one of those writers who loves to write. I write every day, in all the spaces in between the Stuff You Have to Do to Keep Living, like showering and eating and spending time with family and emptying the dishwasher and feeding the cat. If I don’t write, the world feels unbalanced.

I’ve wanted to be a writer for as long as I can remember. I’ve always seen books as these magic things — you have this little rectangle with the power to transport you into a different life, to make you laugh or cry or think, to change your mind and change your heart. And I’ve always wanted to be a part of that magic.

To date, I have written over twenty-five books, and I want to write countless more, whether I am stuck on a deserted planet or not.

If you could have any fictional pet as a companion, what would it be and why?

I’d want a (friendly) telepathic dragon because they’re awesome. But that does come with all sorts of logistical issues. I mean, we don’t even have a garage, much less a dragon cave.

So instead I think I am going to pick the shadow wolves from my new book, THE LIES AMONG US. Yes, they’re more than a little unsettling. But they exist to devour the lies that destroy people, especially the insidious lies that creep into families and eat away at souls. Shadow wolves exist, unseen and always hungry, to make the world a better place.

If you could have any magical power, but it came with a ridiculous side effect, what would the power be and what would the side effect be?

Ideally: the power to keep all the people I love healthy. Or to end world hunger, cure disease, prevent natural disasters, instill empathy in others, etc. I’d happily accept the side effect of occasionally and inconveniently transforming into a chicken for any of those abilities.

But assuming that all make-the-world-a-better-place powers were off the table… I’d like the power to magically befriend any animal. I’d use my skill for such important tasks as cuddling every cat in the neighborhood, riding a whale, and hanging out with capybaras. In exchange, I would accept the pointless side effect of being able to turn invisible but only when no one is around to see.

If you had to choose one of your own fictional worlds to live in, which one would it be, and why?

I wouldn’t choose the world of THE LIES AMONG US. For one thing, it’s set on Long Island, and I already live there. But in particular, I wouldn’t choose to live the way Hannah does. Hannah, my protagonist, is a woman who doesn’t exist. No one can see her, hear her, or touch her. And while she can see and hear the real world, she can’t interact with it in any meaningful way.

And I wouldn’t choose the worlds of any of my epic fantasies. I’d last about five seconds in those worlds before the trees ate me, monsters trampled me, or a bone army dismembered me.

Instead I’d choose to live in the world of THE SPELLSHOP, which is my forthcoming cozy fantasy. It has a talking spider plant, merhorses, winged cats, and a lot of raspberry jam.

I write a lot of very different books…

If you had to choose between fighting 100 duck-sized robots or one robot-sized duck, which would you pick and why?

Robot-size duck. Given my lack of any survival/fighting skills, I’d be quickly destroyed by one hundred robots of any size… assuming they were violent robots and not, for example, vacuums with zero interest in me. But with a duck, I’d at least have the potential to befriend it, and then Mr. Mallard and I could embark on many epic adventures.

Now if it was a swan… those birds are mean. Never fight a swan.

If you had to describe your writing style using a fantasy-themed board game, which game would you choose and why?

I’m going to go with Settlers of Catan because I always start with a plan: I’m going to reach the 3-to-1 port with the longest road and build a city on that forest with an 8, but then midway through I find I have too many sheep and the only available spot for a settlement is on the desert. Plus everyone keeps rolling a two.

I am a firm believer that you discover your story through the act of writing it. You need to be willing to toss out your initial plan and dig into the heart of your story, to trust your own subconscious, and to not be afraid to revise.

Revision is where the book comes to life, where you discover what you have to say, and where you chose the details that will make your story sing… which I suppose doesn’t have a whole lot to do with Settlers, but point is: my writing style…

Oh! I just realized this question asks about my writing STYLE, not writing PROCESS.

My writing style varies from book to book. So let’s go with Ticket to Ride for that. Not a fantasy-themed board game, I know, but one of my personal favorites nonetheless. The gameplay varies depending on which map variant you use, and there’s always hope for victory even when the odds seem bleak.

If you could have any sci-fi gadget in real life, what would it be and what practical uses would you have for it?

I want a sonic screwdriver. No particular reason. It’s just cool. (I would have picked lightsaber for a similar reason, but in all honesty, I’d probably hurt myself with it, though I suppose it could be used to simultaneously slice and toast bread…)

If you were secretly an alien visitor to the Earth, why are you here?

To write books.

Me and My Upcoming Books

I have three vastly different books coming out this year:

First is THE LIES AMONG US (out April 1 from Lake Union), which is book club fiction – a family drama, at its heart. It’s about Hannah and her sister Leah in the aftermath of their mother’s death. After their mother dies, Hannah doesn’t know how to exist without her. Literally. In fact, Hannah is not even certain that she does exist. No one can hear her or see her, not even her sister, who is taking the same dangerous path that consumed their own mother — where lies supplant reality.

Next up is SPY RING, a middle-grade novel (for ages 8-12) about two kids on a treasure-hunt adventure left by George Washington’s first female spy (coming May 21 from HarperCollins / Clarion Books).

After that, my next book is THE SPELLSHOP (coming July 9 from Macmillan / Bramble). It’s a cozy fantasy about a rogue librarian and her assistant, a talking spider plant, who take on the low-stakes market of illegal spell-selling and the high-risk business of starting over.

Please visit me at http://www.sarahbethdurst.com for more information about my books. I’m also on social media (Instagram, Bluesky, Threads, X, TikTok, Facebook, Tumblr…) as @sarahbethdurst.

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