Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Out of the Wild Excerpt

I just noticed that this is my 200th blog post! Cool! Well, in honor of that, and the fact that Out of the Wild (the sequel to Into the Wild) comes out in just 113 more days (not that I'm counting or anything), I've added the first chapter of the new book to the Excerpts page of my website. If you're interested, I hope you'll enjoy this sneak peek at Out of the Wild!

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Monday, February 25, 2008

Obscure Fairy Tale: Sleeping Beauty and Her Children

I love Disney movies. I love Cinderella's talking mice, Sleeping Beauty's song in the forest, and Robin Williams as the Genie. I think Disney's Little Mermaid is far better than the Hans Christian Andersen's original tale. And I think the Lion King is the most brilliant retelling of Hamlet ever done. (My pet theory: the primary difference between the two versions is that the Ophelia in the Lion King is a strong character and therefore tragedy is averted.)

But I do NOT love how passive so many of the Disney heroines are (particularly in the older movies). For example, Sleeping Beauty is lied to by her loved ones, entrapped by Malificent's spell to touch the spindle, and then konks out for most of the movie. She doesn't really DO much of anything.

I used to grumble that Disney chose the most passive versions of the fairy tales to retell. But while I was researching fairy tales for INTO THE WILD, I discovered that this isn't true. While Disney's Sleeping Beauty is no Buffy-esque heroine, Disney actually didn't choose the worst version of Sleeping Beauty.

THIS is the worst version of Sleeping Beauty.

Sleeping Beauty and Her Children (from Italo Calvino's Italian Folktales)

Once upon a time... a queen wants a baby. She prays, "Please, let me have a daughter. Even if she has to die at fifteen from pricking her finger on the spindle, I want a daughter."

I am all in favor of the importance of having a good imagination. Hyperbole is a lovely literary tool. But for heaven's sake, leave it out of your fairy-tale wishes! Or at least promise something less, y'know, death-related.

Nine months later, the queen has a baby girl. They name her Carol.


When Carol is nearly fifteen, the queen remembers her prayer. The king orders all the spindles to be destroyed and offers to financially recompense anyone who made their living by spinning.

It just slipped her mind for fifteen years? Denial much? As for the king, I really like that he thinks of all the careers he's ruining. Dork that I am, I always worried about the impact on the economy that destroying all those spindles would have. Now I'll just worry about what everyone will wear. Pleather? Latex? Spandex? Gold lame?

As further protection, the king locks his daughter in a tower.

Overkill much?

Alone and bored, Carol watches an old woman secretly spinning thread in her house across the street. Curious, she asks the old woman what's she's doing. The woman says, "I'm spinning," and Carol asks to try it.

Why does no one ever tell Sleeping Beauty not to touch the spindle? Seriously, how hard would it be? You don't need to have an actual spindle. Just show her an illustration. Use words. Wave your hands about to demonstrate. Mime.

She lowers a bucket down to the street, and the old woman loads in a spindle and wool.

I'm thinking that there's no spinning wheel in this version...

Carol tries it, pricks herself, and falls to the door dead. Later, her parents find her. Unable to believe she's really dead, they refuse to bury her. Instead, they dress her in a bridal dress with seven skirts with silver bells, and they build a castle with a single window and no door. They place her in the castle and leave.

Well, that's... weird. At least all those spinners got work again with those seven skirts. But why bells?

Many years later, a young king discovers the castle. Using a rope ladder, he climbs up to the window. He finds a woman so beautiful that he cannot resist kissing her and kissing her. He returns day after day and stays for so long that his mother begins to worry about him.

I'm with the mom. This isn't healthy.

Eventually, the sleeping maiden gives birth to twins, a boy and a girl.


After their birth, the twins are hungry, but their mother lies there like a dead woman. So they suck on their mother's thumb instead, and they suck out the spindle tip.


The princess wakes and is surprised to see two babies with her. She's even more surprised when the young king climbs in through the window.


They talk, discover each other's royal origins, and rejoice. They name their children Sun and Moon.

Rejoice?!? REJOICE?!? He... She was... "Well, at least he's not a peasant?!?" That's her reaction?!? AHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!

The young king returns to his castle and falls so ill that he cannot eat. He only repeats, "O Sun, O Moon, O Carol, if only I had you at my table!" His mother, hearing this, suspects he's been bewitched. She searches the woods and finds the castle. She orders soldiers to seize the baby Sun.

Why am I suddenly thinking of that grammar joke "Eats, shoots and leaves"?

The queen-mother gives the baby to the cook and tells him to roast the child for the king.

Oh, yes, that's why I was thinking of that joke. Word of advice: If you ever fall into a delirious illness, please make sure you don't accidentally beg to eat your family.

The cook can't bring himself to kill a baby so gives the child to his wife and instead serves roast lamb. The king's mother brings the meat to her son and says, "Eat. You're feasting on your own!"

Yuck. Read The Juniper Tree if you like this story element.

The next day, the queen sends soliders for the baby Moon. Again, she instructs the cook to roast him, and again the cook gives the child to his wife and secretly roasts another lamb.

Okay, Carol. We have to talk. Even though you are in a fairy tale, you still have options. You could hide your second child. You could run away. You could attempt to rescue your firstborn. You could seek out the cook's wife. You could seek out your parents and persuade them to declare war on this kingdom. You could DO SOMETHING. ANYTHING!

The third day, the queen's soliders fetch Carol. At the palace, the queen beats her, and Carol asks why. The queen says, "You're a witch who has bewitched my son!" And she threatens to boil her in burning pitch.

I kind of sympathize a little tiny bit with the queen. Okay, the baby-eating thing is over-the-top, I'll grant you that. But she's worried about her son and rightfully so. He's a sick, sick boy.

The queen orders Carol to remove her skirts. She removes the first skirt, and the silver bells ring. But the young king is listening to a band of musicians and doesn't hear it. She removes skirt after skirt, and by the seventh skirt, the young king hears it.

I like that the skirts with bells serve a purpose. One might argue that the purpose could be served by Carol shouting loudly, "Help! It's me, Carol! I'm about to be thrown in a kettle of boiling pitch! Turn off the music and save me, you self-centered evil man!" But of course, that would mean Carol was actually DOING SOMETHING. Not her style.

The young king springs out of bed and stops the queen from putting Carol into a kettle of burning pitch. He then learns that his children were saved by the cook. He rewards the cook, throws his mother into the kettle of burning pitch, and lives happily ever after.

And that, my friends, is the version of Sleeping Beauty with a heroine too passive even for Disney.

For more obscure fairy tales (with commentary), check out the Obscure Fairy Tales page of my website, where I've gathered links to all my prior obscure fairy tale posts.


Saturday, February 23, 2008

Andre Norton Award Final Ballot

It's now official! INTO THE WILD is on the final ballot for the 2007 Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy. (Yay!) SFWA members vote in March and the winners will be announced on April 26th at the Nebula Awards Banquet in Austin, TX. (I just bought my plane ticket to Austin! Hee hee!) Congrats to all the Norton finalists, as well as all the finalists in the other Nebula Award categories.

[SFWA MEMBERS: Please note that an electronic version of INTO THE WILD is now available for your perusal from the private version of the final ballot.]


Flora Segunda, Ysabeau S. Wilce (Harcourt)
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, J. K. Rowling (Scholastic/Arthur A. Levine Books)
Into the Wild, Sarah Beth Durst (Penguin/Razorbill)
The Lion Hunter, Elizabeth Wein (Viking Juvenile)
The Shadow Speaker, Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu (Hyperion/Jump at the Sun)
The True Meaning of Smekday, Adam Rex (Hyperion)
Vintage: A Ghost Story, Steve Berman (Haworth)


The Accidental Time Machine, Joe Haldeman (Ace)
The New Moon's Arms, Nalo Hopkinson (Warner)
Odyssey, Jack McDevitt (Ace)
Ragamuffin, Tobias S. Buckell (Tor)
The Yiddish Policeman's Union, Michael Chabon (HarperCollins)

"Awakenings", Judith Berman (Black Gate Spr 2007)
"The Fountain of Age", Nancy Kress (Asimov's Jul 2007)
"The Helper and His Hero", Matt Hughes (F&SF Feb,Mar 2007)
"Kiosk", Bruce Sterling (F&SF Jan 2007)
"Memorare", Gene Wolfe (F&SF Apr 2007)
"Stars Seen through Stone", Lucius Shepard (F&SF Jul 2007)

"Child, Maiden, Mother, Crone", Terry Bramlett (Jim Baen's Universe Jun 2007)
"The Children's Crusade", Robin Wayne Bailey (Heroes in Training)
"The Evolution of Trickster Stories Among the Dogs Of North Park After the Change", Kij Johnson (The Coyote Road)
"The Fiddler of Bayou Teche", Delia Sherman (The Coyote Road)
"The Merchant and the Alchemist's Gate", Ted Chiang (F&SF Sep 2007)
"Pol Pot's Beautiful Daughter (Fantasy)", Geoff Ryman (F&SF Oct/Nov 2006)
"Safeguard", Nancy Kress (Asimov's Jan 2007)

"Always", Karen Joy Fowler (Asimov's Apr/May 2007)
"Captive Girl", Jennifer Pelland (Helix #2 Fall 2006)
"Pride", Mary Turzillo (Fast Forward 1)
"The Story of Love", Vera Nazarian (Salt of the Air 2006)
"Titanium Mike Saves the Day", David D. Levine (F&SF Apr 2007)
"Unique Chicken Goes In Reverse", Andy Duncan (Eclipse One)

Children of Men, Alfonso Cuaron, Timothy J. Sexton, David Arata, Mark Fergus & Hawk Ostby (Universal Studios)
Doctor Who: Blink, Steven Moffat (BBC/The Sci-Fi Channel)
Pan's Labyrinth, Guillermo del Toro (Time/Warner)
The Prestige, Christopher Nolan & Jonathan Nolan (Newmarket Films, Oct06 based on the novel by Christopher Priest)
Star Trek: New Voyages: World Enough and Time, Marc Scott Zicree & Michael Reaves (
V for Vendetta, Larry Wachowski & Andy Wachowski (Warner Films, based on the graphic novel illustrated by David Lloyd)

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Friday, February 22, 2008

Farewell, Evil Tree

Remember that evil tree I told you about last month? Its roots had clogged up our pipes, which backed up the kitchen sink, which made the dishwasher overflow, which caused water to seep through the floor into the basement and directly onto our boiler, which caused its control circuits to short out, leaving us with no heat in the middle of the night! (Yes, this really happened.) Well, apparently, what goes around comes around, even for trees.

A few nights ago, there was a big storm and it was really windy outside. Sometime in the middle of the night, my husband and I heard a loud thud. We sat up, exchanged confused glances, and then fell promptly
back to sleep. In the morning we found our tree, the very same (evil) tree, ripped off of its stump and lying on our patio. It missed hitting our house by only a couple feet.

Here lies evil tree. Apparently, it really was rotten to the core.

My husband thinks evil tree was trying, once again, to attack us, ending its life in a failed attempt to crush our house. I think evil tree felt remorse for its past misdeeds, and when the wind came howling, missed our house on purpose, as an act of redemption. Either way, evil tree is no more.

Now, how the heck do I get it off my patio?!

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Monday, February 18, 2008

Boskone 2008 Trip Report

Sometimes I'm attacked by shyness. When this happens, I feel like I'm trapped inside a Meow Mix commercial. I look inside my brain for something witty, intelligent, or at least semi-articulate to say, and my brain supplies me with, "Meow-meow-meow meow, meow-meow-meow meow."

So not helpful.

But I've wanted to be a writer for so long that I'm determined not to let the shyness win at book events. I force myself to be brave enough to let the real Sarah out. The real Sarah loves people -- she loves meeting people, talking to people, hearing their stories. The real Sarah gets giddy over fantasy books and marine mammals and rosy sunsets and chocolate-covered raisins. The real Sarah sings silly songs off-pitch with little provocation and isn't afraid to talk in public about how much writing means to her.

The real Sarah was in attendance at Boskone this past weekend. Boskone is a Boston-area science fiction and fantasy convention, and it is one of my favorites because it's attended by three YA powerhouses: Bruce Coville, Tamora Pierce, and Jane Yolen. I adore this trio. They write life-shaping books, and they are all brilliant and funny and kind. And I was mildly petrified (and incredibly excited) because I was scheduled on programming with them!

Here's photographic proof:

Me, on a panel with amazing people

I loved every one of my authorly events this weekend. I was on a total of four panels. My favorite was "The Works of Bruce Coville" with Tamora Pierce, Jane Yolen, and Mary Ellen Wessels. We each had a microphone for this panel, and I commented that we could be a barbershop quartet. So naturally, we all picked up our microphones and started to sing. Jane took melody, "Bru-u-u-ce Coville, Brucey-baby." I did the do-wop. I think that was my favorite panel ever.

And after the panel, I got to chat with two terrific girls who had been sitting in the front row. And one of them was holding a copy of my book! T
heir mom was nice enough to take a picture of the three of us:

Sunday morning was also awesome because I was on the "YA Novel" panel with Tammy, Bruce, Jane, and Stephen Fisher. I was just so giddy to be on that panel that light nearly started beaming out of my curls.

Me, so excited that my brain nearly exploded

After the YA Novel panel (aka the Panel of Awesome Delight), I had my kaffeeklatsch. A kaffeeklatsch is a meet-the-author event where you can sign up to sit at a table and chat with an author for an hour. Maximum sign-up is ten. I'd been a bit worried that no one would sign up and I'd be sitting by myself talking to the tablecloth!

But I had ten. A completely full kaffeeklatsch!!!

I was so thrilled that I nearly hugged them all. (I admit it: I'm a hugger.) After the kaffeeklatsch, I did a reading from Out of the Wild, and that was super-fun. This is my new book, coming out in June, and I'd only read from it once before (at World Fantasy Convention). But everyone laughed at all the appropriate places, so that made me very happy.

I also had lots of great conversations with super-awesome people in between my authorly events (and also on the train ride home). I won't list them all here for fear I'll forget someone, but if you're one of those people... hello! I loved talking with you! Hope to see you again soon!

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Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Fairy-Tale Couples

Happy Valentine's Day!

Every year for Valentine's Day, I buy my husband a fairy-tale-themed card. He's my Prince Charming, my dream-come-true, my happily-ever-after. Lately, though, I've started wondering if these cards are sending the right message. Is "You're my Prince Charming?" really such a compliment?

WHY I DON'T WANT A FAIRY-TALE RELATIONSHIP (or Reasons to Buy the Card with Love Birds on it Instead)

Cinderella and Prince Charming
HER: Wins the boy by pretending to be something she's not. Flees rather than pursue open lines of communication.
HIM: Submits to a meat-market approach to dating. Foot fetish.

Princess and Frog Prince
HER: Tries to weasel out of promises. Cruel to animals (in one variant, she hurls the frog against the wall rather than allow him in her bed).
HIM: Uses blackmail to get into the girl's bed.

Beauty and the Beast
HER: Displays signs of Stockholm Symdrome.
HIM: Intolerant of future in-laws. Uses passive-agressive behavior (i.e. nearly dying) to win the girl. Too much chest hair.

Little Mermaid and Prince (Hans Christian Andersen version)
HIM: Marries someone else.
HER: Dies.

Sleeping Beauty and Prince
HER: Not a great conversationalist (due to snoring).
HIM: Falls in love with a sleeping girl. Not so interested in conversation. (Wait, maybe that makes them a perfect couple...)

Snow White and Prince
HER: Leaves her loyal friends after just one kiss.
HIM: Falls in love with a dead girl. Ick.

WHY I'M GIVING MY HUSBAND THE CARD ANYWAY (or Why I Still Think Fairy-Tale Love is Romantic)

Cinderella and Prince Charming
She dates him in defiance of her family. He searches the kingdom for her based on very scant evidence. That's so awesome!

Princess and Frog Prince
Well, he does rescue her golden ball from the pond. And he's quite persistent in courting her, even though it's clear she's an immature brat... Okay, I don't think this one is very romantic. The guy blackmails, bullies, and manipulates her in order to break his enchantment. That's using someone, not loving them.

Beauty and the Beast
You guys know how I feel about this fairy tale. This is the shining example of true love in fairy tales. Beauty and the Beast spend time together before they reach happily-ever-after. They get to know each other, and they truly fall in love.

Little Mermaid and Prince
Okay, not so much with the true-love here. She sacrifices everything she knows and everything she is, he rejects her, and then she dies.

Sleeping Beauty and Prince
The Prince did what no one else was willing to do: kiss a princess who had been sleeping for a century. Seriously, this is a real feat of bravery -- do you know how much dust and how many spiderwebs can gather after a century? Take a look at my living room for a hint.

Snow White and Prince
As a wedding present, he lets her murder the evil witch. Now that's true love. (See story.)

Wishing you all a (fairy-tale?) romance this Valentine's Day!

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Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Boskone and the Croton Library Book Club

Upcoming Event: Boskone

This weekend (2/15 - 2/17), I'll be a program participant at Boskone, a Boston-area convention that I adore. (Click here to read my trip report from last year's Boskone. You'll need to scroll down the page to get to part one.) I'm really excited about my schedule for this year: four panels with authors that I worship, plus my own reading and kaffeeklatsch! (A "kaffeeklatsch" is a meet-the-author discussion group.)


10am Panel - Sarah Beth Durst, Gregory Frost, Farah Mendlesohn, Amy Thomson, Jane Yolen - "The Pill in the Sugar: Morals and Young People's Literature"

3pm Panel - Ctein, Sarah Beth Durst, David Weber - "From Tribbles to Treecats"

5pm Panel - Sarah Beth Durst, Tamora Pierce, Mary Ellen Wessels, Jane Yolen - "My Teacher Is a Unicorn Hatcher: The Work of Bruce Coville"


10am Panel - Bruce Coville, Sarah Beth Du
rst, Stephen C. Fisher, Tamora Pierce, Jane Yolen - "The YA Novel"

11am Kaffeeklatsch - Sarah Beth Durst

12:30pm Reading - Sarah Beth Durst

If you're going to be at Boskone, I hope you'll consider dropping by my reading and/or kaffeeklatsch so I don't feel all lonely and unloved. And if you come to my panels, please excuse my tendency to gibber, gush, and forget my own name while trying to sound intelligent in front of people I admire. (Repeat to self: I will NOT cluck like a chicken. I will NOT cluck... Again, for the record, I'd like to state that spontaneous-clucking has never actually happened to me, but it would be oh-so-embarrassing if it did!)

Trip Report: Croton Library Book Club

Today I visited the 5th & 6th grade book club "Half & Half" (so named because half of them like apple juice and half prefer milk -- yes, I asked) at Croton Free Library in Croton-on-the-Hudson, NY. Shockingly, I didn't get lost driving there. I say "shockingly" because I've been known to get lost on the walk from my kitchen to my bathroom. (Is it my fault that some of my books have alluring voices and sing out, "Read me, Sarah, read me!" as I'
m walking by?) So any time I leave the house, it's a severe test of my navigation skills. (Seriously, I'm convinced that if I had a GPS system, it would give up on me. "Oh, Sarah, Sarah, Sarah, I told you to turn right. Why didn't you listen? Now you are hopelessly lost. I'm sorry, but you're just going to have to figure this one out on your own. Use the stars for navigation, and remember that moss grows on the north side of trees.") But I made it, and I'm so glad I did. I had a lovely time!

I have a great photo of the awesome Half & Half girls and their super-awesome librarian Maggie, but I didn't ask permission to post it so I'm going to show you some other photos as proof of their awesomeness.

Exhibit #1: A display of picture books that Maggie set up, featuring some of the characters who star in INTO THE WILD:

Exhibit #2: The Question Jar. The Question Jar is filled (okay, not filled -- look at the size of that jar!) with questions about this month's book. Each person pulls out a question and answers it. We got into some lovely conversations about heart's desires and free will. At the end of the meeting, they
let me do the honors of gluing a picture of my cover art onto the Question Jar.

Exhibit #3: Cupcakes!!! Maggie baked cupcakes in honor of my visit. And not just any cupcakes: INTO THE WILD cupcakes. My book inspired dessert! I think this is so cool! And, incidentally, so yummy.

In summary: Croton Book Club = Awesome. Huge thanks to Maggie Davies and all the book club members for a wonderful afternoon!

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Thursday, February 07, 2008

Deep Thoughts

Who needs rhetorical questions?

[From a bathroom-stall art exhibit created by artist Silas Kopf. This is part of the faux-graffiti scrawled on the door. It amuses me beyond all reason.]

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Friday, February 01, 2008

First Review for Out of the Wild

I swear my heart nearly stopped beating this morning when I saw a Google Alert for the very first review of Out of the Wild!!! I didn't even know anyone had a galley yet. The review is by Tasha Saecker (Kids Lit) of the Elisha D. Smith Public Library in Menasha, WI, a member of the fantasy/SF nominating committee for this year's Cybils. To my great (enormous, overwhelming, knee-shaking) relief, she likes it! She writes:

"Out of the Wild is one of those incredibly rare sequels that is even better than the first book."


And then there was this part, which really made me happy:

"Durst's writing continues to be the same high quality as the original book. Her tone is completely consistent between the books, two halves of a whole story. After the first story, I never expected a sequel. It had been a completely satisfying and complete tale. But now having read the second book, I realize that half of the story was missing though I didn't know it at the time. What an accomplishment - to create a complete tale and then create another book that makes the first even more complete and powerful."

Oh, go on. *blushes* No, really, go on...

"Durst's books are very friendly, filled with humor, and will be enjoyed by many types of readers. This is fantasy that has an ease about it and should be recommended to readers who enjoy fantasy but also to any child who enjoys a great read. Highly recommended for ages 9-12."

Okay, okay, I'm done quoting. You can click here to read the full review.

In other cool news, Look Books posted an interview with me. (Thanks, Felicity!) Click here to read.

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