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Debut Author Interviews: Kelly Bingham Interviews Sarah Beth Durst

In our continuing series of Class of 2k7 author-to-author interviews Kelly Bingham, author of Shark Girl, interviews Sarah Beth Durst, author of Into the Wild.



Check out below the cut for a fantastic interview by two amazing debut authors.
Wow, did I (Kelly Bingham)  ever have fun reading INTO THE WILD.  How can I describe this book?  It's full of fairy tale magic, darkness, goodness, harrowing action and adventure, bravery, quests and challenges, and a host of magical creatures so real, I felt as though I could reach out and touch them.
 
Tamora Pierce said:  "INTO THE WILD is VERY cool, with a unique look at the great fairy tale characters." Charles de Lint (author of THE BLUE GIRL) said:  "The fun of INTO THE WILD is in recognizing the iconic figures from fairy tales and seeing them in this new light that Durst has provided for us.  You'll breeze through this book and have a fine time while doing so."
 
Join me today in interviewing Sarah Beth Durst, author of INTO THE WILD.

INTO THE WILD has so many references to Fairy Tales.  Not just the well known tales, but some lesser known ones as well.  How much research into fairy tales did you do while writing this book?  Or did you come to this story with an already-existing wealth of knowledge on the subject?


I love fairy tales.  Original, fractured, retold, illustrated, modernized, Disneyized, minced, chopped, sauteed... I love them all.  The words "once upon a time" can freeze me in my tracks faster than Elmo's Song can mesmerize a toddler.  INTO THE WILD grew out of that love of fairy tales.  But I still did a ton of research.  I read hundreds of tales in dozens of incarnations while I was working on the outline and early drafts.  Most fun research I've ever done!

Did you find fairy tales you wanted to use in your story, but had no room for?  Was it hard to pick and choose which ones to draw from?

Yes!  So hard to choose!  I still miss the bricklebrit donkey.  He appeared in an early draft and then was cut due to the fact that he was completely irrelevant to the plot.  (He's a random fairy-tale donkey who shoots gold out of his front and back ends when you shout, "Bricklebrit!")  There are tons of fabulous fairy tale characters like that out there, but I had to be ruthless.  I basically held an open casting call at the beginning of the writing process, let the various characters try out for the parts, and then chose my favorites.  (Goldilocks still hasn't forgiven me for not making her the lead.)
 
You mention in your book jacket bio that your town was once transformed into a Fairy Tale Town, and this helped inspire INTO THE WILD.   Describe that a bit for us. What exactly came over the people of your town?  Was this a one-time celebration, or did it become a yearly tradition?  Were all the shopkeepers in costume?  The buildings transformed? Were there dancing bears in the street?

Yes, there were dancing bears and dancing princesses.  And annoying talking mice and poofy dresses and glass slippers.  Have you ever tried to walk in glass slippers?  I had so many blisters that...  Okay, fine, you caught me.  The Wild didn't actually take over my hometown.  Yet.  Smiley

In INTO THE WILD, "Zel" is Julie's mother.  She is Rapunzel, having escaped from the Wild and started life anew, complete with a hair salon, a daughter, and a loving relationship with her mother, a witch named Gothel.  What made you choose the story and character of Rapunzel for this pivotal character?

The basic premise behind INTO THE WILD is that long ago, the fairy-tale characters escaped the fairy tale to live in secret in our world, and now the fairy tale wants its characters back.  (And this is bad because the fairy tale -- the Wild -- wants to trap people inside its tales and force them to reenact the same tale over and over again.)  I chose Rapunzel for the pivotal role of Julie's mother because I thought that Rapunzel was the fairy-tale character who would most want to be free and would best understand the importance of freedom.  After all, she spends her whole fairy tale trapped in a doorless tower, denied any contact with the outside world (and this was in the days before email -- oh the inhumanity!).

I am also very jealous of her hair.

Julie is quite the heroine.  BOOKLIST said:  "Julie is an appealingly reluctant heroine, one whose goodness and bravery come with plenty of wry, contemporary sarcasm."  Julie experiences all the normal things a girl her age might--such as self-doubt, friction between her and her mother, and bullying from a popular girl at school.  Yet Julie faces far more than your average girl--she faces life-and-limb danger, a myriad of challenges and tricks, not to mention she eventually has the fate of the entire world on her shoulders!  How did you create Julie?  Did you draw from anyone in real life?  Did she "speak" to you or become real as you wrote, or did she arrive in your imagination fully formed?  

Julie evolved.  My writing process involves about a billion drafts -- I start with a very skeletal first draft and then gradually add the story's muscles and tissue and skin and facial features in subsequent drafts.  Julie started off very skeletal (um, not literally) and then grew and changed with the story.  She wasn't consciously drawn from anyone in particular.  I wish I could say she was based on me, but I think she's a lot braver and smarter than I am.  If I were confronted with the Wild, I'd probably be so excited that magic was real that I'd skip along all starry-eyed and be trapped by the Wild in, like, ten seconds.
 
INTO THE WILD explores a rift between Julie and her mother; how it has come to be, and how it is effected by the events of the story. The relationships between mothers and young daughters, in literature as well as in real life, are often fraught with tension.  Sometimes the reasons are not even fully realized by either the mother or the daughter.  Why do you think this relationship, as critical as it is to young women, is so often difficult during the teen years?  What drew you to add this element of conflict to your main character's struggle?

I'd like to say that I chose this mother-daughter theme because I wanted to impart some deep, meaningful message, but the truth is that I just acted on gut instinct.  Julie has to help her mom keep a massive secret.  She has to pretend her family is ordinary when it's anything but ordinary, and that's a pretty stressful thing.  So naturally there's tension and resentment and anger.  And then when the Wild captures Julie's mom...

Really, I just tried to write what rang true to me.  And I do believe that the mother-daughter relationship is a central one, so it was a natural choice as a major theme for INTO THE WILD.  My mom is and has always been one of my best friends (which is why this book is dedicated to her). 

Boots is a delightful, dimensional, and complex character in your book.  Your descriptions of his motions are so real. I have to ask: Do you have a cat?  Are you a cat person?  Regardless, where did the idea for having Boots (as a brother to Julie!) come about?

Yes, I have a cat.  She's nothing like Boots, though.  For one thing, she doesn't talk.  For another, if I tried to dress her up, I think she'd try to maim me.  Boots grew out of my firm belief that all novels should have at least one talking cat.

As young children, most of us have a vague dread over imagining "something under the bed."  In Julie's case, she really does have something under her bed, and it's pretty serious.  How did you choose to put The Wild there, as opposed to in a closet, or in her mother's care?

I used to be afraid of snakes under the bed: big, giant anacondas.  (Note: I grew up in Massachusetts, a state not normally known for giant anacondas.  My preschool, however, did have a pet boa constrictor.  Coincidence?)  I have clear memories of lying there in bed, wide awake and petrified, but unwilling to run to my parents' bedroom for fear that if I exposed my ankles, a snake would bite my ankle.  To this day, I can't fall asleep if my ankles are exposed.  So putting the Wild underneath Julie's bed was a no-brainer for me.

This was actually the very first idea that later became part of Into the Wild: What if a girl had a monster under her bed and her mother knew about it?  I thought that was an interesting idea and started asking myself who the mother was and why she knew about the monster and what the monster was...
 
INTO THE WILD has a strong theme of choosing our own lives, and not knowing our "endings," so to speak.  Julie is tempted, at one point, to succumb to the soft, hazy security of a fairy tale life....knowing our endings, knowing all we need to know and living it out, over and over. No messy surprises, no unforseen conflict, no disappointments, as often happen in real life.  What would you think if someone could offer you such "Security?"
 


 Depends on the fairy tale.  Most fairy tales have a pretty horrific middle portion.  If you could guarantee that I could be in a relatively conflict-free fairy tale like Beauty and the Beast (preferably the Robin McKinley retelling where she has her own massive library)...  Just kidding.  Sort of.  It is a real temptation.  Free will has flaws.  You could choose wrong.  You could have no good choices to make.  But at least you have the chance to create meaning for yourself, and you have the chance to change and grow.

Can you describe for us the submission process and publication process of INTO THE WILD?  How long did it all take, and what were some of the surprises along the way?


I have wanted to be a writer since I was ten years old.  It's the only thing I've ever wanted to do with my life.  So this is truly a dream come true for me.  But it certainly wasn't an overnight dream-come-true.  I started seriously pursuing publication after I graduated from college.  I read pretty much every how-to book and magazine that I could get my hands on.  I attended conventions and asked a ton of questions.  And I wrote a lot and then sent it out.  (And then wrote more and sent it out.  And then wrote more...  Rinse, lather, repeat.)  And finally, it happened: a year and a half ago, I signed with Andrea Somberg of the Harvey Klinger Agency, and six weeks after that, she had multiple offers for INTO THE WILD.  I do believe that luck plays a large role in getting published -- you need to be in the right place at the right time with the right book -- but I also believe the sheer pig-headed stubbornness can trump luck, and I'm the poster child for that.

In your acknowlegements, you thanked your husband, saying that the book was as much his as it is yours. In what ways did he support you during the creation process of this book?

Okay, can I gush here?  My husband is awesome.  Seriously awesome.  The word "supportive" doesn't begin to cover it.  He's believed in me every second of every day that I've known him.  He's my strength, my muse, my sounding board, my business manager, my partner, my teammate.  He has made my dream his dream.  One of the best things about this whole experience has been sharing every step of it with him.
 
What words of advice can you give to aspiring writers?

Don't give up, don't give up, don't give up.  I won't lie -- there is a lot of heartbreak involved in this whole writing thing.  It isn't easy.  But if it's your dream, if it's the only thing you want to do with your life, then stick with it.  I really believe you can make your own luck.  You can be in the right place at the right time with the right thing if you keep writing and keep submitting.

As far as actual writing advice...  Don't write what you know.  Write what you love.  (Did I steal that from somewhere?  Someone must have said that before me.)  Anyway, I really believe that's true.  Never mind about what everyone else is writing or what you think you "should" write because it's cool or respected or whatever.  Write the kind of book that you would want to read.  Chances are good that if you write something that you love, others will love it too.

What can we look forward to reading from you next?

I just finished reviewing copyedits for the sequel to INTO THE WILD.  It's called OUT OF THE WILD, and I'm really, really excited about it.  I was so much fun to write.  I loved hanging out with Julie again and turning her world upside down.  Smiley  OUT OF THE WILD will be coming from Razorbill / Penguin Young Readers in June 2008.
To learn more about Sarah Beth, Kelly or other 2k7 members check out our website.
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