Guest Post From Sarah Beth Durst: Music and Writing

photo of Sarah Beth DurstToday we have a guest post from Sarah Beth Durst, whose new book, Chasing Power, is out now!  Sarah has written in a variety of genres.  Her books include Vessel, Drink Slay Love, Ice, and my personal favorite, The Lost.  You can find an interview she did with Geek Girl when The Lost was published here.  

I have tried to write in silence. Also on beaches and mountainsides. And in coffee shops, where writers are supposed to sweat over words while guzzling lattes.

Doesn’t work for me.

Wish it did. I like coffee shops. And beaches. And mountains. But there’s too much glare on my laptop screen outside, and as for coffee shops… I’m a terrible eavesdropper.

And as for writing in silence… nope. I can last a little while. Sometimes, I might do a really focused bit of revision that requires it. But most days, if there’s too much silence, the words freeze up. I start listening to the hum of refrigerator or the tick of the clock. Or worse, I start listening to that little critical voice inside every writer’s head that says, “Those words aren’t good enough.”

Sometimes that little voice is useful. You need it in revision. But when you’re still finding the story… you need a way to shut that voice up so you can get some actual words on the page. For me, that way is music. The critical part of my brain is easily distracted by music. Guess it likes to sing along, because once the music is on, then I am free to think and write.

I often choose music that matches the mood of my stories. For my epic desert fantasy, VESSEL, I listened to a lot of Native American flute music. To write DRINK, SLAY, LOVE (my vampire girl and were-unicorn novel), I had a whole playlist that included “People Are Strange” by The Doors, “They” by Jem, “Ramalama Bang Bang” by Roisin Murphy, and “Walkin On the Sun” by Smash Mouth.

For my newest YA novel, CHASING POWER, I didn’t use a specific playlist. CHASING POWER is an Indiana-Jones kind of adventure about a girl with telekinesis. Kayla is sixteen years old, uses humor as a defense mechanism, and has a loose grasp on the concept of personal property (in other words, she uses her telekinesis to pick pockets and shoplift). She listens to whatever music is on the radio. So that’s what I did.

A few of Kayla’s favorites:

“Best Day of My Life” by American Authors

“Cups” by Anna Kendrick

“Another Postcard” by Barenaked Ladies

“Bad Day” by Daniel Powter

“Carry On” by Fun

“La La La” by Naughty Boy, featuring Sam Smith

And here’s what I wrote while listening:

Thanks so much for listening/reading!

cover of Chasing Power



An Interview with Sarah Beth Durst

TheLostCover_HiResToday we are thrilled to be interviewing author Sarah Beth Durst.  Her latest book, The Lost, comes out tomorrow (May 27, 2014).  I got to read an advance copy and I loved it.  The beginning creeped me out so badly that I couldn’t read it at night.  The middle was like a strange fairy tale, full of mingled beauty, horror, and romance.  The last section was deeply moving.  This is the first book in a trilogy.

I met Sarah Beth Durst last year at the Nebula Awards Weekend when her book Vessel was nominated for the Andre Norton Young Adult Science Fiction Award.  Her thoughts on fantasy as a literature of hope stayed with me so I was thrilled that she wanted to do an interview for Geek Girl in Love.  If you’d like to read the 2014 interview, it’s at Smart Bitches, Trashy Books.

In this interview, my questions are in bold and Sarah’s answers are in regular type.

The Lost is your first book that isn’t YA.  Was the experience of writing it different than your other books?  Was the publishing process different?

Whether you’re writing YA or adult or whatever, it’s all about telling a story the best you can.  The key is to stay true to the character.  If you have a twelve-year-old protagonist and you are faithful to her worldview, then the novel will come out as a middle-grade.  If you have a twenty-seven-year-old protagonist and you stay true to her, then you’ll have an adult novel.

As far as the publishing process, the primary difference is timing.  In YA, the manuscript needs to be complete a full year before it hits the shelves.  In adult publishing, the time between manuscript and finished book is more compressed.  Other than that, it hasn’t been so different.  I have worked with amazing people in both the YA and adult worlds.

Within the genre of YA, you’ve written in a lot of sub genres including fantasy, humor, suspense.  How would you characterize The Lost?  Do you have a favorite genre, and if so, why?

THE LOST is magical realism.  It’s about a woman who is trapped in a town full of only lost thing and lost people.

On the surface, it’s dramatically different from my other books — CONJURED (a sort of psychological thriller), VESSEL (an epic fantasy), DRINK SLAY LOVE (a vampire meets were-unicorn comedy), ICE (a modern fairy tale retelling), etc.  But at its heart, it is still me.  All my books have the same core: magic, adventure, and romance — just combined in different ways.

I consider myself a fantasy writer, no matter what subgenre sandbox I’m playing in.  For me, fantasy embodies all the reasons that I love books.  It takes you on a journey to places you’d never go and then brings you safely back again… maybe a little bit changed.  It’s a literature of empowerment and hope.  It has the capacity to restore a sense of wonder in a jaded world.  And I love that.

I think it’s important to write what you love to read.  A lot of times, I decide what to write next by asking myself, “If I were to walk into a bookstore or library right now, what book would I want to find?” and then I try to write that.

On your blog, in a post titled “18 things”, you write that creativity can come from a place of joy as well as pain.  Can you talk more about that?  Are there particular moments or aspects of joy that inform your writing?

Incredible art can be born from pain.  And there are wonderful artists who have suffered terribly and risen above it, and I admire and respect them.  But there are also artists who had fine childhoods and just really, really loves stories.  And that is valid and good too.

I believe that writing can come from joy as well as pain, and that writing can cause joy as well as catharsis.  Writing makes me happy.  The more I write, the happier I am.  And the happier I am, the more I write.

I am in love with writing, with stories, with words.  I love how you can craft a story out of nothing.  By arranging letters on a page, you can cast a spell to transport a stranger to another world, to touch someone’s heart, to cause laughter or tears, to comfort, to heal.

I believe that books can heal.  Books can take you away from whatever is hurting you.  Books can help you find your way past pain.  And I think it can be that way for the writer as well as the reader.  There’s joy to be found in the act of stringing sentences together — in the act of trying to make magic.

What do readers need to know about your upcoming projects?

THE LOST is the first book in a trilogy.  It will be followed by THE MISSING in December and THE FOUND in April.  In between (in October), my next YA book is coming out.  It’s called CHASING POWER, and it’s about a sort of Indiana Jones / Jumper kind of adventure about a girl with telekinesis and a boy who can teleport — and who lies as easily as he travels.

Thanks so much for interviewing me!