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Interview: May 21, 2014

Have you ever wondered what happened to that lost pearl earring, or your other sock? What about those play tickets that you know you had in your back pocket? According to award-winning author Sarah Beth Durst, they’re all floating around in Lost, a mysterious desert town that is filled with lost glasses, keys and people --- people who can’t escape until they’ve figured out what they’re missing. Sarah Beth’s new book, THE LOST, follows a young woman named Lauren who ends up in this dusty place and needs to figure out how to get back home. Read below to learn more about the book --- as well which personal items Sarah Beth thinks she might have misplaced in Lost, why she loves the southwest and what’s next for the series. In the acknowledgments of THE LOST, you mention that the book was born at a stoplight, when you wondered what would happen if you went straight instead of turning. What else inspired THE LOST, especially the land of Lost itself?

Sarah Beth Durst: Sometimes, you can pinpoint the exact moment that an idea hits you in the head and knocks you over --- the apple falling on your head or the lightning striking you. You'll always remember that moment when you thought up the flux capacitor (which, as everyone knows, is what makes time travel possible). But other times ideas sneak up on you, and you don't know where they came from or when they lodged in your brain, but all of a sudden, they're there and you keep thinking about them. THE LOST was like that. :)

Which is a long way of saying that I totally don't remember where the idea came from. I remember where the idea of Lauren came from (i.e., that stoplight), but as to Lost could say the inspiration for that is lost.

TRC: You’re from Massachusetts and currently live on Long Island, but THE LOST is set in the Arizona desert. What made you set the book there? Did you spend time in the desert doing research?

SBD: I love the Southwest. It's so beautiful and feels so steeped in magic and mystery. And I am fascinated by all the deserted towns…My mother lives in west Texas, where there are lots of forgotten towns. She often says if you blink, you'll miss them. Though Lost is loosely in Arizona, I based the feel of the town on the feel of those empty places.

TRC: Even though it’s sure to appeal to teens, THE LOST is technically an adult novel. How do you distinguish between YA and adult books? Do you think about the age of your audience when you write?

SBD: For me, the story dictates what kind of novel it is, and THE LOST needed to be about an adult. It had to be about someone old enough to have seen her dreams wither and to feel empty inside. So that automatically made it an adult book. But I didn’t write it with the age of my audience in mind. I try not to think about the audience at all when I write--- I try to focus purely on telling the story.

I believe the key to writing any story is to stay true to your characters. If you do that, everything else --- style, plot, theme, voice and even audience --- should fall into place.

TRC: You’re famous for all of your great fantasy novels. What do you find so appealing about writing fantasy?

SBD: So many things! First, it's what I love to read, and I firmly believe that you should write what you love. Second, it lets you travel to places you've never been and could never go (since they usually don't exist!). So there's a wonderful wish-fulfillment element to it. And third, it's simply the way my brain works. I see a closet door, and I automatically start wondering whether there's a monster on the other side, a portal to Narnia or simply talking bunny slippers.

TRC: Would you ever experiment with another genre, and if so, what would it be?

SBD: Probably not. :) I love bringing other genres into my fantasy, but I doubt I'll ever abandon fantasy. Fantasy fulfills everything that I think a story should be. It takes you on a journey into the impossible and brings you home safely, maybe a little bit changed. It's a literature of hope and empowerment, and it has the ability to restore a sense of wonder to the world. Simply put, fantasy is the reason I love books.

TRC: Your other books are so wonderfully different from THE LOST and from each other. How have you grown as a writer in the process of writing THE LOST?

SBD: I wanted THE LOST to be evocative and almost impressionistic in feel. So I wrote it in a much more organic way than I’ve written a lot of my other novels. I let the plot grow out of Lauren and basically just followed her where she went. It made it a really wonderful writing experience, filled with surprises.

One of my favorite surprises was Claire. She wasn't in my original outline, but I was writing a scene in which Lauren is cornered by an angry mob, and then all of a sudden out walked a six-year-old girl in a tattered princess dress. She was holding a teddy bear and a very sharp knife. She took Lauren's hand and calmly led her through the crowd --- and she became one of the major characters in the trilogy.

TRC: In some ways, THE LOST is like a road-trip novel. What’s the longest road trip you’ve ever taken? What road trip would you want to take?

SBD: The longest road trip I ever took was across the U.S. I went once with my family while I was in high school --- that's when I fell in love with the Southwest that you see in THE LOST --- and I went again with my friends the summer after college. Both times we drove through Arizona, New Mexico and Utah. I hope to drive through there again someday.

TRC: Without spoilers, as you were writing, what was your favorite object that you found in Lost? What things of yours could be found in Lost?

SBD: Years ago, several masterpieces were stolen from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. They included a Rembrandt. These paintings show up in Lost in a key scene.

As to things of brother once painted a picture of a sunset. I'd always planned to hang it over our couch in the living room, but it never showed up off the mover's truck. I think they broke the frame and ditched it, rather than admitting it. Bet that painting is in Lost, along with several missing earrings and my husband’s favorite umbrella.

TRC: What question have you been waiting for an interviewer to ask about THE LOST?

SBD: No one has asked why I chose to write this novel in first person, present tense. It's my first novel purely in first person and also my first entirely in present tense. Guess maybe no one's asked that because it's a boring, technical question, but choosing the point of view and the tense was a major turning point in writing this novel. I was trying to write it in third past, which is my go-to tense, and I simply couldn't get a grasp on Lauren's voice. And then I switched it to first, present... and it felt as though she was born in that moment.

I do have to admit there were many, many late nights when I wanted to shake my fists at the sky and shout "Verbs!!!"

TRC: The sequel to THE LOST comes out in December. Can you give us a hint of what comes next?

SBD: THE MISSING picks up only a few minutes after THE LOST ends. In it, you'll learn a lot more about the Missing Man and Lauren's well as what happens to people who aren't found. THE MISSING will be followed by THE FOUND in April.

TRC: Can you also give us some hints about your next YA novel, which comes out in October?

SBD: CHASING POWER comes out in October from Bloomsbury, and it's an Indiana Jones kind of adventure about a girl with telekinesis and a boy who can teleport.

Thanks so much for interviewing me!