When author Sarah Beth Durst ’96 had the idea for The Girl Who Could Not Dream, she knew right away what kind of book it would be: a children’s novel geared to readers ages 8 to 12.
“The story dictates the genre,” says Durst, who always wanted to be a writer. In her latest book, she tells the story of a girl experiencing her first adventure with her best friend, who is a wisecracking, cupcake-loving, multi-tentacled monster.
Durst has written nine fantasy novels for young-adult and middle-grade readers. She finds freedom in writing for children because she can be silly and sincere, chasing her imagination “down any rabbit hole.” The secret to writing for kids is not to write for them, but to “write for yourself through the eyes of a child. Your 10-year-old self must think it’s awesome,” says Durst, who won the Mythopoeic Fantasy Award for Children’s Literature in 2013.
Last year, Durst published her first fantasy novel for adults, The Lost, about a young woman unable to escape a town that is filled with things that are abandoned, broken, or thrown away. Writing for different ages has unique challenges, Durst says. “When you write through the eyes of a young protagonist, generally speaking, everything is new to both your protagonist and your readers. But when you write for adults, you have the privilege and pleasure of standing on the shoulders of giants.”
The advice to “write what you know” really should be “write what you love,” Durst says, and what she loves is fantasy. “It can work on so many different levels — the same story can hold a seemingly straightforward outward adventure and a layered metaphorical inward journey. A fantasy book can make the world feel larger and more wondrous.”
Kirkus Reviews calls The Girl Who Could Not Dream “funny, warm, and highly imaginative. … Readers will not want to stop reading this quirky, fast-paced adventure.”