Now that it’s Spring Break season, do you really want to think about school? Well, yes, you do -- if that school is the Princeton of Sarah Beth Durst’s Enchanted Ivy, where a college visit is about to take a very strange turn for one incoming freshman…
I’ve been a fan of your books for a while, but I admit that I had a special attraction to this book… my husband went to Princeton, and the first time he took me to visit, I thought it was the most magical place ever. I’ve always wanted to spend a day there just writing. Did you get to do that while you were working on Enchanted Ivy?
Yay! So happy that you liked Enchanted Ivy! Thank you!
I visited the Princeton campus twice while I was working on Enchanted Ivy -- once for inspiration at the start of the project and once for details in the middle of the project. I took hundreds of photos: every sidewalk that Lily walked on, every door she walked through, every gargoyle she passed... I love to juxtapose magic and real details.
I kept the photos up on my computer monitor while I wrote, but I did the actual novel writing at home. I always wish I could write on location or in glamorous writerly places like cafes or mountaintops. But I tend to eavesdrop too much in cafes, and mountaintops are way too windy. I write best at my desk with a stash of chocolate next to me.
I did write a ton at Princeton while I was a student, though. And I'd pick picturesque places, like the University Chapel. I wrote a lot of really, really bad poetry in the light of the blue stained glass.
Did any of the Princeton-specific elements of the novel (talking gargoyles, were-tigers, the Gate) start simmering in your mind when you were a student there?
Sure, I used to imagine tigers prowling through the campus and dragons landing on the flagstones... but to be honest, I imagine those things pretty much everywhere I am. I love to picture magic lurking in the world around me. It's how my brain entertains itself.
I blame my childhood. I was the kid who always checked the closet for a gateway to Narnia, who always put "magic wand" on her birthday wish list, and who believed in the Tooth Fairy for way, way too long. Pretty much, I was destined from about age three to be a fantasy writer. :)
I had the specific idea for Enchanted Ivy much more recently. There's a campus superstition that says if you walk out the front gate, you won't graduate. A couple years ago, while I was in town for the Princeton Children's Book Festival, I walked through the gate (figuring it was safe since I'd already graduated), and I started to wonder: What if there's another reason you shouldn't walk out that gate? What if it leads to another, alternate, magical Princeton?
Enchanted Ivy deals with something that’s a huge issue for many teens, but doesn’t seem to play a large role in many YA novels – the college application process. Why did you decide to motivate Lily with the prospect of automatic acceptance to Princeton?
Junior and senior year of high school, I was obsessed with the college application process. It was all I talked about, all I thought about, and all I dreamed about. I saw it as my big chance to determine my future (or, you know, to really mess it up). I was keenly aware that it was a pivotal moment in my life. So I wanted to write about a character who was experiencing those emotions and who saw acceptance to her dream school as her key to a perfect future.
Over the course of the books, Lily discovers secrets about her family’s past. This seems to happen in most of your books… any specific reason?
Really? *thinks about other books* Yeah, you're totally right.
There may be some deep-seated embarrassing psychological explanation for this, but I think the reality is a more mundane craft-related answer. I like back story. I think it adds depth to a story and to characters. Blame the Luke-I-am-your-father moment in the Star Wars saga, but I'm a sucker for a tale with a glorious past.
I tried to get my husband to ask a Princeton-specific question to end off this interview, but he hasn’t come through. So I give you my four-year-old’s description of Princeton: “It’s big, and they have pancakes!” Do you have anything to add to that?
Your four-year-old pretty much sums it up. I miss those pancakes.
Thanks so much for interviewing me!
Thank you for visiting the Inkpot!
You can find out more about Sarah Beth Durst and Enchanted Ivy at http://www.sarahbethdurst.com/