Sarah Beth Durst: Write What You Love, Not What You Know

Fantasy author Sarah Beth Durst discusses what inspired her to write her latest epic fantasy novel The Bone Maker, why she doesn't stick to strict outlines, and more.
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Sarah Beth Durst is the author of over twenty fantasy books for adults, teens, and kids, including The Queens of Renthia series, Drink Slay Love, and Spark. She has won an American Library Association Alex Award and a Mythopoeic Fantasy Award and has been a finalist for the Andre Norton Nebula Award three times. She lives in Stony Brook, New York, with her husband, her children, and her ill-mannered cat.

Sarah Beth Durst

Sarah Beth Durst

In this post, Durst discusses what inspired her to write her latest epic fantasy novel The Bone Maker, why she doesn't stick to strict outlines, and more!

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Name: Sarah Beth Durst
Literary agent: Andrea Somberg at Harvey Klinger Agency
Title: The Bone Maker
Publisher: Harper Voyager, an imprint of HarperCollins
Release date: March 9, 2021
Genre: Fantasy
Elevator pitch for the book: A standalone epic fantasy about bone magic, second chances, and five former heroes—one broken, one gone soft, one pursuing a simple life, one unable to let go of the past, and one dead.
Previous titles by the author:

  • Books for Adults: Race the Sands, The Deepest Blue, The Queen of Sorrow, The Reluctant Queen, The Queen of Blood, The Lost
  • Books for Kids: Catalyst, Spark, The Stone Girl’s Story, Journey Across the Hidden Islands, The Girl Who Could Not Dream, Out of the Wild, Into the Wild
  • Books for Teens: Fire and Heist, Chasing Power, Conjured, Vessel, Drink Slay Love, Enchanted Ivy, Ice
The Bone Maker by Sarah Beth Durst

The Bone Maker by Sarah Beth Durst

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What prompted you to write this book?

Every time I sit down to start a new book, I ask myself the same question: If I were to walk into a bookstore or library, what book would I want to read? And I try to write that. I firmly believe that the old adage "Write what you know" should really be "Write what you love."

I love epic fantasy. For me, it is (or can be) literature of hope and empowerment.

With The Bone Maker, I chose to write about aging heroes. What happens after the heroes defeat the evil and save the day? Sure, they ride off into the sunset, but what about when the sun rises again? And again? And again?

25 years after they defeated a corrupt magician and an inhuman army made of animated bones, the Heroes of Vos are called on to save the world again. But they aren't in their prime anymore. Far from it. It's a novel about second chances. Also, bone magic!

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How long did it take to go from idea to publication? 

It took about two years from idea to publication, and the writing process was much more about bringing the idea to life than it was about changing it. Some books do undergo a major metamorphosis during writing. (Once, I had a book actually change genres mid-revision! That was intense.) But with others, like The Bone Maker, it's more about honing the text until the heart of the story shines through.

I tend to do a lot of drafts. And I mean a lot of drafts—at least a dozen, often more, before my editor ever sees a word. I think of it this way: the story is within a room, and with the first draft, you're looking at it through a hole in the wall. You can only see so much. Next draft, you widen the hole. Then you make a window. Then a door. Then you open the door. And at last, you step inside, and you're within the story, with its world all around you.

Were there any surprises or learning moments in the publishing process for this title?

I thought I'd be doing book signings, giving readings, and attending conferences and conventions. But then 2020 came along, and it flowed right into 2021…

On the plus side, I've loved doing virtual events! It's especially cool to be able to meet readers in places too far away for me to actually visit. A few months ago, I did a virtual visit with readers in Seoul, South Korea, which never would have happened in a normal year. And I took part in an SFF convention that was based in New Zealand.

I also love every time someone's cat or dog pops up on their webcam. Once, a woman even joined the Zoom with a live owl beside her...

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Were there any surprises in the writing process for this book?

I always outline, so you'd think the answer would be no, but in truth, I treat outlines more like friendly suggestions. I love to be surprised by a bit of dialogue or a theme that I hadn't meant to include or a character who waltzes onstage unexpectedly.

In The Bone Maker, my favorite surprise was a pack of creepy rag dolls that Kreya, my protagonist, animates with her bone magic. I hadn't planned on them, but they crawled across the rafters above Kreya and stared down with their disturbing button eyes, and I knew they had to stay.

What do you hope readers will get out of your book?

Escape! I hope readers get a respite from whatever is troubling them in their life. I hope they sink into the world of The Bone Maker, go on an adventure, and then come back feeling ready to face the world again.

All of my books have a core of hope to them, and I hope that's what readers find—hope that they can face whatever dragons are in their life, as well as the reminder that, no matter what, they're not alone.

Sarah Beth Durst: Write What You Love, Not What You Know

If you could share one piece of advice with other authors, what would it be?

Be kind to yourself. Quiet that part of your brain that asks, “Is it good enough?” and just write. Trust that there are stories inside of you, and if you keep writing (and rewriting), those stories will find their way out.

Half the secret of writing is believing in yourself. The other half is having the sheer pig-headed stubbornness to stick with it no matter what.

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