Sunday Brunch: A Chat with Authors Sarah Beth Durst and Monica Gomez-Hira

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[Note from Frolic: Our resident YA expert Aurora got the chance to chat with authors Sarah Beth Durst and Monica Gomez-Hira and ask them a few questions each. Up first, Sarah Beth Durst!]

Aurora: What was your inspiration behind your most recent novel? 

Sarah Beth Durst: I started thinking about what happens after the great battle. What happens to the brave band of heroes after all the fireworks and Ewok “yub-nub” celebrations are over, after weeds have buried the ruins of the dark tower, after truth has faded into legend?

And I combined these questions with an image that had been lurking around in my brain of a silver-haired woman reaching into the pocket of her coat and pulling out a carved bone.

For me, that’s where books come from: separate ideas that collide, combine, and grow.

The woman became Kreya, the leader of a band of heroes who once defeated a corrupt magician and his inhuman army. She’s a bone maker, capable of animating objects with bone magic. And her story begins twenty-five years after it should have ended.

The Bone Maker is set twenty-five years after a band of heroes defeated a corrupt magician who led an inhuman army of animated bones. Five former heroes are called on to save their world again, but none of them are who they once were — one is broken, one has gone soft, one is pursuing a simple life, one is unable to let go of the past, and one is dead. 

It’s a standalone epic fantasy about second chances. And a lot of bone magic!

What character in this novel do you most relate to and why? 

Oddly, this is a hard question. You’d think it would be easy — all the characters sprang out of my brain so they are all, in a way, me. But honestly, I’m not like any of them. And that’s 100% intentional.

In order to write a character, I have to feel as though they’re distinct from me. They need to be their own person with their own history and their own worldview. And then I have to fall in love with them.

I love all my characters in The Bone Maker — Kreya, the prickly and driven leader; Zera, the overdramatic bone wizard; Jentt, the love of Kreya’s life and a former thief; Stran, the formidable warrior-turned-farmer; and Marso, the bone reader who shattered his own mind — and I can’t wait for readers to meet them!

Why do you feel novels with powerful and unique characters are so popular and have such a voice right now? 

Because we need hope. Desperately. And fantasy literature, with its penchant for powerful and unique characters, has the capacity to provide that hope. The kind of stories that I love to read — and the ones I love to write — are designed to show us how to cope with the world. It doesn’t matter that the world in the book isn’t our world. As the fictional heroes battle their bone armies, bloodthirsty nature spirits, deadly monsters, or whatever they face, they are shouting to the reader, “You can survive! You are not alone!”

Please describe the content of your latest book and what can readers expect from it. 

The Bone Maker is set in a world of towering mountains and sparkling cities, shaped by a macabre kind of magic. It’s full of battles and politics and friendship and bones. And it begins like this:

“Kreya always wore her coat with many pockets when she went out to steal bones.”

What’s next for you in the books world? 

I write fantasy novels for adults, teens, and kids. The Bone Maker is an epic fantasy for adults. My next book, Even and Odd, is a fantasy adventure for kids ages 8-12. It’s about two sisters who share magic — and there’s also a unicorn named Jeremy. It will be out in June, and I’m really excited about it!

Who is your current favorite writer? Why? 

I’ve had the same favorite writer since I was ten years old: Tamora Pierce. She writes fantasy adventure stories about strong girls who save the day.

I discovered her first book Alanna — the story of a girl who wants to become a knight in a world where only boys become knights — the same year that I decided I wanted to be a writer, and I have this crystal-clear memory of closing that book and thinking to myself, “If Alanna can become a knight, then I can become a writer.”

Her books do what I think every good fantasy novel should do: make you feel stronger.

I dedicated my book Race the Sands, an epic fantasy novel about monster racing, to her. 

Any writing advice for aspiring writers?  

Be kind to yourself. Trust your own sense of story. 

Write what you love. Write the kind of book you want to read. 

And don’t listen to writing advice! Or more accurately: don’t listen to writing advice that doesn’t work for you. Everyone’s brain is different, and so everyone’s creative process is different — you need to find what works best for you and ignore anyone telling you that you’re doing it wrong. There is no wrong. There’s only writing the story.

Up next, author Monica Gomez-Hira!
Aurora: What was your inspiration behind Once Upon a Quincenañera

Monica Gomez-Hira: Once Upon a Quincenañera started from an idea that I’d been playing with for a while before I started writing. I had been to a few very extravagant quinces when I was younger, and I became fascinated with the rituals behind the party. It was a coming of age that was planned as carefully as any wedding.  It sounds kind of weird, but I loved watching the way the families interacted behind the scenes during the party. It just seemed like a situation rife for conflict and high drama. I didn’t have one, which I kind of regret now!

Still, though…the idea didn’t really come together for me until I added the party princess company, and making my main character the girl who hadn’t had a chance for her own coming of age celebration, and who was now being forced to work at one and decidedly not wanting to do so. 

What character do you most relate to and why?

I’m definitely the most like Ariana. I’m the youngest in my family, and as such, I can be bulldozed by all of the strong personalities around me. And like Ariana, I had difficulties asserting myself because everyone was so sure they already knew who I was as a person.

I wish I could say Carmen, but she’s more wish fulfillment for me! It was fun to write a character who wasn’t afraid to say whatever she was thinking, and who had such a strong sense of herself. 

Why do you feel novels with powerful and unique characters are so popular and have such a voice right now?

I think there is a real hunger right now for immersive entertainment—to feel like you are in a completely different head space and experience.  And thanks to the increase in books by people from diverse communities, we are getting a chance to explore characters and voices that have never really been center stage. You can learn from them, you can see yourself in them. It’s one of the greatest pleasures of reading. And as our world expands more and more, thanks to the global reach of the internet, it makes sense that now that people really want to explore that in our entertainment. Books are a way to live a thousand lives, if you so choose.  The more you get to do that, hopefully the more you stop seeing people as “them vs us” and start seeing how connected we all really are.

Please describe the content of Once Upon a Quincenañera and what can readers expect from it.

Once Upon a Quincenañera is the story of 18-year-old Carmen Aguilar, who needed to take an internship at a party princess company in order to earn one last credit and get her high school diploma. She starts to play Beauty at parties, but unfortunately for her, she ends up being paired with a true Beast—Mauro Reyes, the ex who broke her heart. And then things go from bad to worse when the company, Dreams Come True, is hired to perform at her estranged cousin Ariana’s extravagant quinceañera. 

The reader can expect telenovela twists, romance, family drama, humor, and a true coming of age journey for more than one character. Or at least…that’s my hope!

What’s next for you in the bookish world?

I’m working on my second book, which is also going to be a romance crossed with a family drama featuring Latinx characters. 

Who is your current favorite writer? Why?

There are so many great writers working right now! It’s truly a golden age. In the YA space, I love Jenny Han, Nina LaCour, Rachel Lynn Solomon, and Laura Taylor Namey. I love how I can just fall into the worlds they create, to the point where I lose track of time. Their characters live on in my mind long after I close the books.

Any writing advice for aspiring writers?

Learn to cultivate patience! Every writer goes through periods in the process where nothing looks like it’s working or will ever work. It’s tempting to quit right here, but you need to learn to sit with the discomfort and keep trying to get back into the flow of your writing. Sometimes you’ll need to start over or cut a bunch of words, but nothing in writing is ever wasted.  You gain in experience and confidence with every word you write. 

The other main piece of advice I have for aspiring authors is to connect to a writing community, either in person or online.  Being a writer can be lonely, and it’s so easy to believe that everyone is having an easier time than you are.  And showing your work to other people is a great way to make it feel real, and to get yourself to take is seriously. My writing community has always been there to celebrate and commiserate, and to hold me accountable when I’d rather be watching Netflix! Learn from your writing community, check out writing contests, and put yourself out there. I spent too long feeling like, because I wasn’t published, I didn’t have a right to call myself a writer. But my writing community taught me that I still had things I could contribute, and people I could help or encourage. It really feels like we’re all in this together, and that’s invaluable.

Which of these great books will you be picking up from your favorite bookstore?
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