We are so excited to welcome everyone back to another Saturday Spotlight!
Every month we hold one Spotlight where we feature one author and their upcoming release in a series of posts. For the month of March, we feel so privileged to welcome Sarah Beth Durst to Stuck in the Stacks to talk about her forthcoming novel: Race the Sands.
About The BookRace the Sands by Sarah Beth Durst
Published by Crown Books for Young Readers, Feiwel and Friends, Flatiron Books on April 21, 2020
In this standalone fantasy, a pair of strong and determined women risk their lives battling injustice, corruption, and deadly enemies in their quest to become monster racing champions.
Life, death, and rebirth—in Becar, everyone knows that who you are in this life will determine what you are in your next life. The augurs can read your fate in your aura: hawk, heron, tortoise, jackal, human. Armed with that knowledge, you can change your destiny with the choices you make, both in this life and your next. But for the darkest individuals, there is no redemption: you come back as a kehok, a monster, and you will always be a kehok for the rest of time.
Unless you can win the Races.
As a professional trainer, Tamra was an elite kehok rider. Then a tragic accident on the track shattered her confidence, damaged her career, and left her nearly broke. Now Tamra needs the prize money to prevent the local temple from taking her daughter away from her, and that means she must once again find a winning kehok . . . and a rider willing to trust her.
Raia is desperate to get away from her domineering family and cruel fiancé. As a kehok rider, she could earn enough to buy her freedom. But she can’t become good enough to compete without a first-rate trainer.
Impressed by the inexperienced young woman’s determination, Tamra hires Raia and pairs her with a strange new kehok with the potential to win—if he can be tamed.
But in this sport, if you forget you’re riding on the back of a monster, you die. Tamra and Raia will work harder than they ever thought possible to win the deadly Becaran Races—and in the process, discover what makes this particular kehok so special.
About The Author
Sarah Beth Durst is the award-winning author of sixteen fantasy books for adults, teens, and kids, including The Queens of Renthia series, Drink Slay Love, and The Stone Girl’s Story. She won an ALA Alex Award and a Mythopoeic Fantasy Award, and has been a finalist for SFWA’s Andre Norton Award three times. She is a graduate of Princeton University, where she spent four years studying English, writing about dragons, and wondering what the campus gargoyles would say if they could talk. Sarah lives in Stony Brook, New York, with her husband, her children, and her ill-mannered cat. For more information, visit her at sarahbethdurst.com.
Race the Sands is your 20th published book- what an accomplishment! How was writing this book different than writing your others?
Sarah: I think the key to writing twenty books is to figure out your own writing process. And eat a lot of chocolate. But mostly figure out your process.
I loved writing RACE THE SANDS. I loved inventing my sun-blasted land full of deadly monsters and creating my kickass monster-racing women. And for me, that’s the key: find something I love and write about that.
I call it writing by the Rule of Awesome. Figure out what you think it awesome and write that.
The beauty of writing your 20th book is that you know you can do it, because you’ve done it before. And that really does makes a difference, which is something no one told me when I first started out — in many ways, writing does get easier the more you do it, because it’s easier to believe you can. Writing is all about believing in yourself and trusting in your own sense of story. And did I mention the chocolate? Lots of chocolate.
The kehoks were so clever and unique! Where did the idea for them come from? Did you have a process for deciding what each one would look like?
Sarah: So happy you liked them! I love creating murder-beasts.
The kehoks are deadly monsters that bear the reborn souls of the most depraved humans, and they take a variety of shapes. The most important kehok in RACE THE SANDS is a black metal lion. This is the creature that Tamra, the disgraced trainer, chooses to train to win the races. It’s the one on the cover (art by Nekro).
Other kehoks are a mix of various predators. There’s a lion-lizard, a massive silver spider, a rhino-crocodile, a horse-size jackal with cobra teeth, an enormous snake, a winged lizard, a two-legged beast covered in spikes, and so on.
My process was simple: whenever I reached a scene that required a monster, I asked myself what unnatural mix of deadly creatures would I want to NOT eat me today.
There are quite a few POVs in this story. Was it always that way? Were there any characters that were harder or easier to write?
Sarah: Yes, I always envisioned this novel as epic fantasy, and for me for this book, that meant seeing the world through various characters’ eyes in order to capture the full sweep of the world.
The two women at the heart of the story are Tamra, a kickass single mom who trains kehoks and their riders, and Raia, a young woman who wants to be a prize-winning rider so that she can escape her abusive fiance and prove her own worth to herself and the world.
I love writing different ways for characters, especially women and girls, to be strong.
Developing a character is a bit like auditioning an actor for a role. I try out different personalities in a scene until one feels right. Sometimes you find the heart/voice of the character quickly — that was the case with Tamra. Sometimes it takes a little longer until you identify exactly what makes them tick.
For me, the key is to always fall in love with my characters. Once I love them, they feel real. And then, of course, I turn their lives upside-down.
Reincarnation plays a major role in the novel. If you could reincarnated into any animal, what would you pick and why?
Sarah: I think I’d want to be a housecat so that I could be fed and cuddled regularly yet still be independent. Or a dragon. Because it would be awesome to be a dragon.
Race the Sands is a standalone but the world is so lush and beautiful. Would you ever consider writing a companion novel?
Sarah: I love writing both series and standalones. With series, you don’t have to say goodbye to the characters, and that’s great. And with standalones, you get a complete journey in one sitting, and I love that too. They satisfy different needs for me as a reader and as a writer.
I always intended RACE THE SANDS to be a standalone. That said, I do love the world and had so much fun writing about monster racing, so who knows?
On a similar note, what are you currently working? Anything you can share with us?
Sarah: Next up is a book for kids ages 8-12 called CATALYST. It will be out in June from Clarion/HMH. It’s about a twelve-year-old girl who adopts a tiny kitten that keeps growing and growing and growing… and then starts talking!
And I’m currently writing my next epic fantasy for adults, which will be called THE BONE MAKER and will be out in 2021 from Harper Voyager.
What does your writing process look like? Do you figure things out as you go or do you plot things out?
Sarah: Both! There’s an episode of The Flash in which Captain Cold describes his process for his heists: “Make a plan. Execute the plan. Watch the plan go off the rails. Throw away the plan.” And that pretty accurately reflects how it works with my writing. I always outline, but I give myself permission to discover and experiment and play as I write. Sometimes the best moments arise by chance.
Which authors inspire your writing the most? Anyone you would love to co author a book with?
Sarah: I love fantasy. Always have. I love the way you can sink into a fantasy world, and I love the feeling you get when you finish and the world around you feels more magical than it did before.
A few authors who inspire me: Tamora Pierce, Terry Brooks, Charles de Lint, Guy Gavriel Kay, David Eddings, Seanan McGuire, Patricia Wrede, Anne McCaffrey, Mercedes Lackey, Robin McKinley, Patricia McKillip, Tanya Huff, Diana Wynne Jones, Garth Nix, Nina Kiriki Hoffman, Rae Carson, Bruce Coville, Jane Yolen, J.K. Rowling… I love all the subgenres of fantasy for all ages. Anything with magic, hope, adventure, and humor.
Did you always want to be a writer? What are some of the books that shaped your love of reading?
Sarah: Always. It’s the only thing I’ve ever wanted to be (except when I was five and wanted to be Wonder Woman).
Probably the most influential book for me was ALANNA: THE FIRST ADVENTURE by Tamora Pierce. I remember being ten years old, desperately wanting to be a writer, and equally desperately having no idea how one became a writer. A friend of mine gave me a copy of ALANNA, and I remember closing that book and thinking, “If Alanna can become a knight, I can become a writer.”
I dedicated RACE THE SANDS to Tamora Pierce. And the protagonist, Tamra, is named after her.
Do you have any reading or writing quirks?
Sarah: I listen to music when I write. Sometimes I make playlists that fit the mood of the novel — for RACE THE SANDS, I listened to a lot of movie soundtracks, like Wonder Woman, Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, and Kubo and the Two Strings. Not sure if that counts as a quirk.
I read mostly fantasy. I don’t like books where the plot is fueled by the characters doing something stupid. I vastly prefer for the odds to be stacked against the characters and for them to have to rise to the occasion. I like books with a thread of hope and a dash of humor. I am deeply suspicious of books with zero sense of humor. After all, humor is such a basic human coping mechanism, especially in dark times.
When you are not writing (or reading) what do you enjoy doing?
Sarah: My life consists of writing books and spending time with my family. I also love eating. Especially pizza.
Lately, I’ve been trying to teach myself to play guitar. I can almost do an F-chord…
Rapid Fire Questions
Coffee or tea?
Sarah: Neither. Hot chocolate.
Dogs or cats?
Sarah: Both. But if I had to choose, then cats. I write most of my books with my cat Gwen sitting on me. She’s my writing partner.
Favorite place to read?
Sarah: Outside in the sunshine.
What types of books are in your reading wheelhouse?
What are some 2020 releases you are excited about?
Sarah: I’m so excited for NETWORK EFFECT by Martha Wells. Love the Murderbot books. Also excited to read THE EMPIRE OF DREAMS by Rae Carson, A KILLING FROST by Seanan McGuire, and THE RANGER OF MARZANNA by Jon Skovron — all authors I love.
Lastly, where can our readers learn more about you and your books?
Sarah: Come visit my website at www.sarahbethdurst.com. And you can hang out with me on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook at @sarahbethdurst. Hope to see you there!
Thanks so much for interviewing me!
What About You?
Do you have questions for Sarah? Leave them in the comments and make sure to pick up your copy of Race the Sands wherever books are sold or request it through your library.