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16 March 2011 @ 10:30 am
Interview with Sarah Beth Durst, author of ENCHANTED IVY  

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/



ex_marissam on March 16th, 2011 03:44 pm (UTC)
Wow, just the answers to this interview feel magical! Gargoyles and tigers and magic gates... you've hit all my high points. Will definitely be checking this book out!
Sarah Beth Durstsarahbethdurst on March 16th, 2011 05:13 pm (UTC)
Thanks, Marissa! I hope you like it!

I'm really looking forward to Cinder. It sounds awesome!
lena_coakley on March 16th, 2011 04:03 pm (UTC)
Sounds absolutely magical. A story with a talking gargoyle is a must-read in my book. But I never knew Princeton had exceptional pancakes!
Sarah Beth Durstsarahbethdurst on March 16th, 2011 05:15 pm (UTC)
Pj's Pancake House in Princeton has the BEST pancakes. Just thinking about them makes me hungry.
(Deleted comment)
Sarah Beth Durstsarahbethdurst on March 19th, 2011 03:15 am (UTC)
Sometimes doing something crazy is perfectly right. :)

The college application process gives you this illusion of control over your future. But it's just an illusion since the things that end up shaping you are the things that aren't in a college brochure or mentioned on a campus tour.

Hope you like Enchanted Ivy!
kikihamiltonkikihamilton on March 16th, 2011 10:10 pm (UTC)
Sarah - thanks for a great, tantalizing interview. ENCHANTED IVY sounds like my favorite kind of read! I was wondering - did you have any resistance to setting a YA story in a college setting?
Sarah Beth Durstsarahbethdurst on March 19th, 2011 03:17 am (UTC)
Thanks, Kiki!

I didn't encounter any resistance, but then my main character is a junior in high school -- she visits Princeton for her grandfather's 50th reunion.
ebooraem on March 17th, 2011 10:06 pm (UTC)
Sorry I'm late to the party. Sarah Beth, thank you for saying you can't write in coffee shops...I can't either (also can't listen to music) and I always feel so inadequate.

How odd that YA pays so little attention to the college application process! And yay for ENCHANTED IVY for hitting that theme. I loved ICE and can't understand why I haven't gotten my hands on this one. Can't wait to read it!
Sarah Beth Durstsarahbethdurst on March 19th, 2011 03:19 am (UTC)
Thanks so much! Hope you like Enchanted Ivy! I'm glad I'm not the only one with coffee shop issues.

Congrats on the very cool mention in the Washington Post!
ebooraem on March 19th, 2011 01:27 pm (UTC)
Thanks! That was a nice little Friday surprise...