July 24, 2014

Interview with Sarah Beth Durst, author of THE LOST

We've interviewed versatile author Sarah Beth Durst before--the last time was when we talked to her about her fantasy novel Conjured. We are thrilled to have her back for another interview, because her latest book, The Lost, is a bit of a departure from the last few: it's got an adult character, and it's labeled as "an adult book with crossover appeal." Tanita and I were eager to ask Sarah about this one after we reviewed it in tandem a few months ago--what it was like writing a story that doesn't cleanly fall into the YA or MG category, how she sees the book's genre, and much more. Luckily, the opportunity for an interview came along, and we seized it with gusto. Here it is!

Finding Wonderland: Do you consider your novel to be "new adult," or if not, how would you classify it (if at all)? Did you set out to write a book that wasn't YA/MG, or was that a decision that came later?

Sarah Beth Durst: For this book, I wanted to write about someone who felt empty, who felt as if her dreams had died, who felt lost. For me, that meant she had to be at least in her late twenties. And so I knew from the very start that THE LOST would be labeled an adult book with crossover appeal, since it (A) has a 27-year-old protagonist and (B) deals with the universal theme of loss.

In a way, you could say that the story chose the label.

THE LOST is about a woman, Lauren Chase, whose life feels empty. She abandoned her own dreams to work a dead-end job to pay her mother's mounting hospital bills. One day -- the day that they're due to hear the results of her mother's latest medical tests -- she gets into her car to drive to work and, instead of taking a left at the light, just drives straight... and drives and drives until she ends up trapped in a town full of only lost things and lost people.

FW: What was it like working with Harlequin MIRA, in comparison to working with a YA/MG publisher?

Most of it's the same: you're working with wonderful people who love books as much as you do. What's better than that? But one thing that I did notice is different is the timeline. In the YA/MG world, you have to turn in your manuscript about one year before publication. With Harlequin, it was more like six months.

FW: How was it writing THE LOST versus writing fantasy for a younger audience? Did your concerns as a writer change with the intended audience? If so, how?

No different. And nope.

Actually, this is something I feel rather strongly about. I think that if you're true to your characters, then everything else will fall into place. If your main character is twelve years old and you are true to her and see her world through her eyes, then the story will come out as MG. If your main character is twenty-seven and you're true to her... then it will come out adult.

FW: We have questions about the thematic and metaphoric aspect of losing, gaining, loss and identity -- are you trying to write a novel about moving on from parts of our lives, or do you feel like the novel is more about hope -- that nothing is ever really lost -- ?

Yes, and yes.

I wanted to write about loss and about hope and about finding light in the darkness, shaping a new future out of the shards of the past, and filling the emptiness.

I think that in a way, every novel is about hope, because writing a novel is one of the ultimate acts of hope. By stringing words into a story, you are hoping that life has meaning, that people can connect, and that experiences and dreams can be shared. You are hoping to touch another soul. And I think reading is a similar act of hope, of reaching out, of seeking escape or contact or even healing.

FW: Would you say that this a retelling of Peter Pan? It really does have elements of the whole Wendy, trying hard to launch herself, even as her essential self clings to belief in the real, the very loyal and changeable Tinkerbelle, the very moody and mercurial - yet helpful Peter Pan figure in the Finder... (Although, who, then, in this scenario would be The Missing Man? Who is really missing from the Peter Pan stories? A father figure? Lauren's father???)

Oh my gosh, I love that! Wish I'd thought of it. Actually, that interpretation fits really well, so can I just pretend I planned it that way?

I did deliberately reference Peter Pan, Alice in Wonderland, and the Wizard of Oz, because I believe one of the primary things lost in life is childhood and the innocence of childhood. So I wanted to have shreds of those tattered bits of lost childhood, twisted and abandoned in Lost.

And in case you were curious, you will learn a lot more about the Missing Man in the next two books!

FW: In reading this book, it felt much more like magical realism than clear-cut fantasy, as many of your other books have been. How would you describe THE LOST in terms of genre? Do you see it as a departure from your previous writing? Do you see this more of a mystery or a contemporary romance?

Definitely magical realism. So this was a new challenge for me. My other books have all been different flavors of fantasy (epic like my romantic desert adventure VESSEL, comedy like my vampire and were-unicorn book DRINK SLAY LOVE, etc.). Each flavor has its own feel and tone. For THE LOST, I wanted to create an atmospheric, disoriented kind of feel, and so I chose to use a very close first person, present tense pov. Many, many nights, this left me shaking my fists at the sky shouting, "VERBS!!!"

I love playing with different kinds of fantasy. Always have. I was that kid who was always checking her closet for a way to Narnia, who always put "magic wand" on her birthday wish list, and who really wished her school could be invaded by friendly aliens at least once. In retrospect, it was kind of inevitable that I'd end up writing it.

FW: When can we expect a sequel? Is that what you're currently working on, and if not, what ARE you working on right now?

THE LOST is the first book in a new trilogy. The second book, THE MISSING, will be out on November 25th, and the third book, THE FOUND, will be out at the end of March 2015. My next YA book, CHASING POWER, will be out in October, and I am currently working on an MG novel, THE GIRL WHO COULD NOT DREAM, which will be out in fall 2015. I'm extremely excited about all of them!

Thanks so much for interviewing me!

Thank YOU to Sarah Beth Durst for stopping by our blog again and intriguing us even further about her upcoming projects!

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