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Tag: Sarah Beth Durst

2017 Alex Awards Winners: An Interview with Sarah Beth Durst on The Queen of Blood

cover art for The Queen of Blood by Sarah Beth DurstThe Queen of Blood is the first book in Sarah Beth Durst’s Queens of Renthia series and one of the winner’s of YALSA’s 2017 Alex Awards. Today I’m thrilled to have Sarah Beth Durst here on the Hub to answer some questions about the book.

Congratulations on The Queen of Blood’s selection as a 2017 Alex Award finalist! Where were you when you heard the news? Who was the first person you told about your win?

Sarah Beth Durst (SBD): Thank you so much!!!

Shortly after I heard the news, I called my mom.

Me:  “My book won the Alex Award!”

My mom: “My dog was attacked by three coyotes.  I chased them off.”

Me:  “We had very different mornings.”

She began her day to the sound of her dog yelping.  Looking out the window, she saw three coyotes had pinned him to the ground out beside the well.  She ran outside — without any kind of anything to defend herself — and shouted at the coyotes.  Scared them off.  The dog was fine.

I began my day to the sound of the garbage truck rumbling one street over.  Looking out the window, I saw the truck hadn’t reached my street yet.  I ran around the house — without any kind of anything to defend myself — trying to empty all the trash cans and toss out anything suspiciously green and fuzzy in the kitchen before the garbage truck reached my street.  And as I was scurrying around, I was checking my email on my phone, because multitasking.  I saw an email from one of my editors that read, “Congratulations on the Alex!!!  Just heard the news!!”

I was floored.  It’s a moment I’ll never forget (though I did, in the moment, forget all about the garbage truck!).  I’ve wanted to be a writer my entire life, and to have librarians (the ultimate book experts) essentially say, “We like your book, and we think other people will too.”…  Really, it means the world to me.  I am so honored and grateful and thrilled!

Is This Just Fantasy?: It’s A White, White World–And That’s Got To Change.

Just Fantasy PoC fantasyAs a life-long devotee of fantasy fiction, I’ve frequently defended the value of stories that feature dragons, magically gifted heroines, or angst-ridden werewolves.  And while I’ve often stated that fantasy fiction isn’t necessarily an escape from reality simply because it includes magic or ghosts, even the most committed fan must acknowledge that the genre is incredibly disconnected from reality in fatal ways.  For one, fantasy fiction remains an overwhelmingly white world–an area of literature where you might find vampires or psychic detectives but rarely characters of color.

This lack of diversity is a widespread problem in young adult literature and the larger publishing industry but speculative fiction is especially guilty of inequitable representation within its stories and industry.  Just last week, The Guardian published an article by speculative fiction author & essayist Daniel José Older  discussing the insidious ways that systemic racism and white privilege has permeated the science fiction and fantasy publishing & fan communities.  At last month’s YALSA Young Adult Literature Symposium, there was an entire panel titled “Where Are The Heroes of Color in Fantasy & Sci-Fi?”, which Hub blogger Hannah Gómez recapped with great accuracy & insight.

So, how do we, as readers, fans, & promoters of these genres, demand & nurture fiction with imaginary worlds as diverse as the one we live in?  To start, we need to read, buy, promote, and request titles by and about people of color.  Accordingly, I pulled together some authors and titles to check out, focusing on fiction that falls on the fantasy side of speculative fiction.  This list is far from comprehensive; for more titles, I recommend checking out Lee & Low’s genre-specific Pinterest board, Diversity in YA, and We Need Diverse Books.

High Fantasy

2004 Edwards Award winnerearthsea Ursula K. Le Guin has long been considered one of the best and most beloved high fantasy writers; she’s also consistently written stories with people of color as protagonists–although film adaptions & book covers have often blatantly ignored this, white-washing characters like Ged, the brown-skinned protagonist of A Wizard of Earthsea.  The 2013 Edwards Award winner Tamora Pierce also includes characters of color in her novels; her Emelan books feature both black & multiracial protagonists.

silver phoenixFans of thrilling adventures & complex heroines should try novels by Cindy Pon, Ellen Oh, or Malinda Lo for rich high fantasy tales rooted in a variety of East Asian cultures.  Cindy Pon’s lush & exciting Silver Phoenix and its sequel, The Fury of the Phoenix follow young Ai Ling as she discovers her unique abilities and battles an ancient evil based in the royal palace. Ellen Oh’s Dragon King Chronicles (beginning with Prophecy) also focuses on a powerful young woman struggling to embrace her destiny–the yellow-eyed demon slayer Kira who might be the key to saving the Seven Kingdoms from destruction.  Malinda Lo’s Ash (2010 Morris Award finalist, 2014 Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults and Huntress (2012 Best Fiction for Young Adults, 2012 Rainbow List, 2012 Amelia Bloomer List) are richly imagined, romantic novels I recommend to all fantasy readers!

Put Your Trust in an Unreliable Narrator

photo attributed to Flickr user w00kie
photo attributed to Flickr user w00kie

Some of my favorite novels are those where the narrator is unreliable.  This is usually  due to an impaired mental state like schizophrenia or amnesia.  Whatever the case, unreliable narrators don’t usually present themselves right away, but when they do they seem to turn the novel you are reading upside down–and I love it when that happens!  Reading becomes exciting, because you realize that you don’t know where the story is going and you have to decide: are you going to risk it and put your trust in your narrator or are you going to be suspicious of him or her all the way to the last page?

There has been a bit of buzz about unreliable narrators recently.  Teen Librarian Toolbox recently posted about unreliable narrators, inspired by reading Liar & Spy by Rebecca Stead.  Beth Revis posted a cool look at why she thinks unreliable narrators are so popular right now and why she chose to make her main character in Across the Universe unreliable.  Finally, check out this post on Stacked that talks about the mini-trend of amnesia fiction.  Generally if your main character has amnesia, there is something unreliable about them; they are missing some key parts of their memory that would definitely make the mystery easier to solve.

If you’re interested in taking a chance with an unreliable narrator, then check out the list of titles I compiled below.  But don’t say I didn’t warn you!

The Beanstalk, a Glass Slipper, and a Frog Prince: Fairy Tale Mash-Ups in YA Lit

frog princeIn honor of Tell A Fairytale Day tomorrow, let’s talk about fairy tale mash-ups. YA authors do lots of great things with fairy tales, from detailed re-tellings like Robin McKinley’s Beauty (one of my favorites) to wild re-imaginings like Marissa Meyer’s cyberpunk version of Cinderella, Cinder (2012 Teens’ Top Ten). One of my favorite of the many contemporary takes on fairy tales is the mash-up. This is a story that recombines elements or characters from multiple fairy tales to make a new story. Below, I’ve compiled a list of five notable fairy tale mash-ups. Be sure to add your favorites in the comments if you don’t see them here!

Great Fantasy YA Novels for Book Clubs

ya fantasy novels for book clubsLast fall I wrote a post on great contemporary YA novels for book clubs, but realistic fiction set in today’s world doesn’t grab every reader, and in my opinion, the best book clubs seek variety in their reading choices. The following titles will appeal to longtime fantasy fans and might hook readers who shy away from fantasy in their normal reading. Some of these are new, some are old, some are more obvious choices, and others are easily overlooked. What they have in common is thought-provoking premises and compelling characters — just what you need for a good book club discussion.

Vessel by Sarah Beth DurstWhen I think of fantasy novels, I typically imagine a lush forest or vaguely medieval setting, but Vessel by Sarah Beth Durst takes place in a stark and harsh desert environment. This unique fantasy follows Liyana as she works with the Trickster god, Korbyn, to rescue five gods who have been kidnapped and prevented from joining their tribes, thus assuring the continued survival of their people. This is a novel about challenging what one has always been told and making room for a new paradigm or worldview. It’s about the nature of sacrifice and standing up for what one believes in. It’s about tradition and faith as much as about adaptation and instinct. The antagonist isn’t an evil villain, but rather a sympathetic character trying to do what is right. Fantastically written with amazing world-building, this novel will delight long-time fantasy fans but is still accessible to those less accustomed to the realm of fantasy.

Showing Our True Colors: YA Covers That Got it Right in 2012

Publishing companies aren’t putting out enough YA titles that feature protagonists of color. And when they do, some book covers try to hide or obscure the characters’ race by showing them in silhouette or in shadow, or at times whitewashing them completely. Even the most diverse library collections sometimes look homogenous when you just see the covers. Don’t believe me? Check out my post from last week: “It Matters If You’re Black or White: The Racism of YA Book Covers.”

The problem is insidious, but it’s not completely pervasive, as many of you pointed out in the post comments last week. There are a lot of publishers, authors, and books that have no problem putting people of color on the covers of their books. So I just wanted to take a moment to recognize and celebrate those folks who understand how important it is for everyone to be able to see their own identity validated on the cover of a book. Here are some books covers that got race right in 2012.

Ichiro by Ryan InzanaA.D.D.: Adolescent Demo Division by Douglas RushoffNever Fall Down by Patricia McCormickBoy21 by Matthew Quick

Best Books You’re Not Reading: Four Ways of Looking at a College Experience*

So the new school year is about to begin — but instead of new pencils and folders, many readers are contemplating questions like “Where do I get extra-long twin sheet sets anyway?” and “The textbooks cost how much?”  In other words, they’re heading off to college.

I thought it would be fun to take a look at the college experience from the perspective of several different genres, with a mixture of books published as YA and crossover titles you might have missed from the adult shelves.

Literary Fiction/Suspense

The snow in the mountains was melting, and Bunny had been dead for several weeks before we came to understand the gravity of our situation. He’d been dead for ten days before they found him, you know. It was one of the biggest manhunts in Vermont history … It is difficult to believe that Henry’s modest plan could have worked so well despite these unforeseen events. We hadn’t intended to hide the body where it could be found.

The Secret History by Donna Tartt

How did the narrator (a Classics student named Richard Papen) and his friends come to the point of getting away with murder? His longing to attend to a quaint New England college, to be accepted into the elite fraternity of Classics majors studying under the charismatic professor Julian Morrow, was the beginning of a slippery slope. You’ll want to keep turning the pages to see how far Richard can fall while remaining a wry and witty storyteller to the end.


Highlights from the BEA Exhibit Floor

Book Expo America is an exciting and exhausting experience. It’s an event where professional development and fandom intersect.  You get a chance to learn about upcoming titles for your collection, hear creators talk about their craft, network with other professionals, and tell your favorite authors how much you love their books.

I began my whirlwind Wednesday at BEA at the Children’s Book and Author Breakfast, where authors Walter Dean Myers, Chris Colfer, John Green, Lois Lowry, and Kadir Nelson gave insight into the process of authorship and spoke about why books and reading are so important to the human experience. It was a big room with a full audience, and I think every one of us felt like the authors were speaking to us each personally. I won’t dwell too much on the breakfast as its funny and moving details were already covered by Jessica Miller in her earlier post, but it kicked off the day with a sense of community. The people who attend BEA are book people, a familiar and welcoming tribe.

Afterwards I went to wait in line for John Green, who was signing copies of The Fault in Our Stars in the autographing area. I am intimidated by my admiration for John Green–I have possibly read Paper Towns upwards of five times–but even when you’re in the grips of fandom, authors are kind. I got to thank him for the work that he does, and, seeing that I was a librarian, he thanked me for the work that I do.

The next author I sought out was Jonathan Maberry, whose series about zombie apocalypse survivor Benny Imura is a favorite among my library’s teens.