Sarah Beth Durst is the author of Into The Wild, Ice, and Enchanted Ivy, novels that put a new spin on traditional fairy tales. She joins me here for a Q&A about once upon a time, witches, and were-unicorns.
A: I think “once upon a time” and “happily ever after” are two of the most powerful phrases in the English language (right up there with “I love you” and “free pizza”). You hear them and you’re instantly transported. As a writer, it’s fun to play with something that has such cultural resonance and so much emotional baggage attached to it. Kind of like playing dress-up with the Crown Jewels.
Q: Why do you think fairy tales still resound with audiences so many years after they were written?
A: Fairy tales are stories stripped down to bare bone. The characters lack internal lives and often are missing motivation and even logic. So that means that the reader (and writer!) is free to impose her or her own meaning on the stories. Combine that with the universal themes (true love, jealousy, revenge, etc.), and you have a set of stories that can be made relevant to virtually any culture in any time.
Also, fairy tales are awesome. Candy houses, dangerous fruit snacks, and heroines who befriend rodents — what’s not to love?
Q: How do you flesh out characters and plotlines from the fairy tales your stories are based on?
A: Honestly, it’s not so different from fleshing out a non-fairy-tale-related story. Personally, I always start with the characters. I ask myself: What does each character want and fear? Once I can answer that question, I put my main character into a situation that touches on those wants and fears, and I see how they react. At their core, most stories are about a character facing his or her worst nightmare and then changing because of it. It’s the why and the how that make things interesting.
Q: If you were a fairy tale character, who would you be?
I’d love to be Cinderella’s fairy godmother. She makes dreams come true, and she doesn’t fall off a cliff or die in a horrific fashion. In reality, though, I’d probably be a random extra who gets eaten by a wolf.
Q: I especially love your INTO THE WILD books. Who is your favorite character in these books and why?
A: Gothel, Rapunzel’s witch. She’s evil by nature but good by choice, which made her a lot of fun to write.
A: My next book is called DRINK, SLAY, LOVE. It’s about a sixteen-year-old vampire girl who develops a conscience after she’s stabbed through the heart by a were-unicorn’s horn. It comes out in September 2011 from Simon & Schuster, and I’m really, really excited about it!
Q: Is there a fairy tale your fans have asked you to write about? If so, what is it?
A: I’ve written about a bunch of obscure fairy tales on my blog (compiled here). One reader favorite seems to be the bricklebrit donkey, who spews gold out of both ends when you shout the word “Bricklebrit!” He hasn’t actually shown up in a novel yet, though…
A: It’s probably a good bet that I won’t ever write a novel about “The Juniper Tree,” which is a charming Brothers Grimm story about a mother who kills her son, tricks the boy’s sister into thinking she’s responsible, and then serves the boy’s body to his father for dinner. Talk about family issues! I like my stories to be a wee bit more upbeat than that.
Q: I love to hear about fan mail. What are the most common comments you receive from readers?
A: I love email from readers! My favorite emails are the ones in which readers tell me their favorite characters or their favorite parts or why they liked a particular book. One of the best things about being a writer these days is how easy it is for readers to reach out to you. I feel bad for pre-computer authors. I bet Jane Austen would have adored tweeting.
Q: Share a favorite line(s) from one of your books.
A: From ICE:
The bear bounded through the snow. Cassie clutched his thick fur and clenched her teeth as the impact jarred her bones. Snow spewed out in waves.
“Are you afraid?” the bear shouted to her.
“Like hell I am.”
Thanks so much for interviewing me!