Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!
I'm very happy to be hosting Sarah Beth Durst to hail the arrival of her fourth amazing YA fantasy novel, ENCHANTED IVY (and you may remember that she was my very first Story Secrets post last January for ICE).
Sarah Beth and I go way back...all the way back to the SCBWI Conference in New York the year before I signed with my agent and sold Tell Me a Secret. She had just come out with her first book, Into the Wild, and I was almost finished writing the first draft of mine. It didn't take long to become fast friends!
Sarah Beth, welcome back to Story Secrets!
Enchanted Ivy is about getting into college. You know, taking the campus tour, talking to the gargoyles, flirting with the were-tigers, riding the dragons... Essentially, it's about magic at Princeton. (read a first chapter excerpt here)
Holly Cupala: Hi, Sarah Beth! Tell us about Enchanted Ivy.
Sarah Beth Durst: Junior and senior year of high school, I was absolutely obsessed with the whole college application process. I saw college as this huge Life Turning Point (with all capital letters) that would determine the shape of the Rest of My Life, and I was desperate to do everything "right," i.e. choose the right school, write the right essay, etc.
Of course, after all of my neurotic obsessing, I choose my college because I liked the trees and wrote my essay about the trials and tribulations of having curly hair... Regardless, this novel grew out of that overwhelming pre-college experience.
Holly: You've written four gorgeous fantasies now. Any surprise discoveries for this one?
Sarah Beth: Midway through the first draft, I discovered that the novel is, at its heart, a mystery. It's all about unlocking the secrets of Lily's family, the Princeton campus, and the nature of the world.
I love those in-progress kinds of discoveries. You know, the theme that springs out of your subconscious, the minor character that develops into a fascinating fictional friend...
Holly: Now for the fun question...did you travel for research?
Sarah Beth: I went back to my alma mater.
When I started this novel, I didn't think I'd need to research Princeton since I'd lived there for four years, but it turns out that you see a place very differently when you look through a character's eyes. I visited the campus twice while writing the novel and walked every step my character did. In doing so, I discovered all these fabulous, bizarre gargoyles that I never knew existed, like an ape in graduation ropes and a dragon chained an archway -- and they ended up becoming characters in the book!
Holly: What authors would you recommend for new fantasy readers?
Sarah Beth: I'm inspired by the books that I love, such as those by Tamora Pierce, Diana Wynne Jones, Guy Gavriel Kay, Charles de Lint, etc.
Holly: Would you tell us about your writing process?
Sarah Beth: Enchanted Ivy took about a year and 15 drafts. I have been known to write as many as 36 drafts, but this novel really stayed true to my original concept throughout (with the exception of one character who refused to obey my outline -- so I had to put him in a coma).
My process is to address just a few issues with each draft. For instance, in one pass, I might focus on the character's emotions. In another, I might fix the pacing. In another, I'll look at the descriptions. I find that with each pass, I learn more about the story and am able to deepen and layer it on a global level while I fiddle with details at a local level.
Holly: Have your life experiences helped you get to the heart of your story?
Sarah Beth: I often joke that this novel is 100% autobiographical, except for the were-tigers and the dragons and the talking gargoyles... Really, though, Lily isn't me, and her family life is very different from mine. But at its heart, I believe that Enchanted Ivy is emotionally true. I tried very hard to tap into that pre-college experience and all the emotions -- the anxiety and the exhilaration -- that I felt at that time.
Holly: Any secrets you're willing to share?
Sarah Beth: I can share what I believe is the secret to being a writer: sheer pig-headed stubbornness. Seriously, I believe that the most important trait for a writer to possess isn't talent or intelligence or a sense of humor or any of that. It's persistence. Don't give up on your story, and don't give up on yourself.
Holly: What's up next?
Sarah Beth: My next book is about a vampire girl who develops a conscience after she is stabbed through the heart by a unicorn's horn. It's called Drink, Slay, Love, and it will be out fall 2011 from Simon & Schuster. It was incredibly fun to write, and I'm so, so, so excited about it!
Thanks so much for interviewing me!
That's hilarious. Thank you for stopping by, Sarah Beth!
Ok, readers, so now it's time for...THE GIVEAWAY.
Leave a comment below on one of the following: a) why you're dying to read ENCHANTED IVY; b) the kind of story you might write about a magical college campus, or c) if you were to write a fantasy whose title parodied a well-known book, what would you call it? (big points for creativity!) You have until midnight on Monday to post.
Lastly, check out the ENCHANTED IVY trailer: