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



Book Review: Have Spacesuit, Will Travel

Vintage cover of "Have Spacesuit Will Travel"Well geez, who doesn’t like this book?  It funny, it’s exciting, it’s smart.  It’s solid Heinlein without all the sexual fantasizing of Heinlein’s later books.  It’s impossible not to like a book in which slide rules are a space man’s best friends and oxygen tanks are repaired with duct tape.  This is a book about solving problems, and whether the problem is how to get to the moon, how to escape from a pit, or how to convince a group of aliens not to destroy the Earth, our hero, Kip, never stops thinking and never gives up.

Kip, a teenage boy, starts the book with a dream – he wants to go to the moon.  His father, who is possibly the best father in all fiction, ever, supports him in his efforts without helping out too much.  The major themes of this book are of the importance of independence, self-reliance when necessary, teamwork when possible, and above all the importance of hard work and personal responsibility.  Kip tries to win a trip to the moon and fails – but he does wear a spacesuit as a consolation prize.  This turns out to be handy when he is kidnapped by aliens.  I suppose you could argue that another theme of the book is:  Always Be Prepared.

This book is hard sci fi – it’s light, and it’s fun, but it’s packed with math, science, and technology.  Kip names his suit “Oscar” and by the time he’s done giving Oscar an overhaul we, the readers, could probably assemble our own suit from scratch if we wanted to, just by following Kip.  The book is very much about solving problems as opposed to character development.  Kip ends the story pretty much the same person he was at the beginning, only with his horizons dramatically expanded.  The relationship between Kip and his fellow spacefarer, Peewee, an eleven year old girl genius, is fun to watch although the dialogue sounds more like Heinlein talking to himself than like two different people talking to each other.

I had a blast reading this book, and I have a new motto, thanks to an early line, “Any statement that begins with the words ‘I really ought to’ is suspect”.  I recommend this for anyone looking for a light, quick, sci-fi classic with an emphasis on facing and solving problems.