Sarah Beth Durst ’96’s latest work of fantasy fiction for teens is set at Princeton Reunions. (Adam Durst ’96)
A Princeton connection turned out to be key to launching Sarah Beth Durst ’96’s writing career. She had penned drafts of novels and shopped them around for about 10 years, collecting a slew of rejection letters. But her luck changed when she connected with Andrea Somberg ’01, a literary agent, in 2006. Within weeks of signing with Somberg, Durst had secured offers from several publishers for Into the Wild, a novel about a girl who must battle witches and fly griffins to rescue her mother and save her town from becoming a fairy tale kingdom. They got the news of the offers the week before Reunions.
Since then, Durst has written three other novels — all fantasy fiction for teenagers. Her latest, Enchanted Ivy, published last fall by Margaret K. McElderry Books, is set at Princeton during Reunions.
The coming-of-age novel follows Lily Carter, an eleventh-grader who attends her grandfather’s 50th reunion. His friends tell her that if she passes a secret legacy test, she will win automatic admission to the University. Lily takes on the challenge and quickly stumbles on an alternate Princeton — a magical and dangerous place where gargoyles come to life and “weretigers” and dragons roam.
She befriends Tye — a college boy with black-and-orange hair who can turn into a tiger — and discovers that she is a half-breed, born of a human and a magical parent, which enables her to move freely between the human Princeton and the magical Princeton. Both were founded to keep peace between the human and magical worlds, and the portal for the two worlds is FitzRandolph Gate.
A betrayal and danger ensues — leading to a battle between magical creatures gone bad and a secret group of Princeton alumni whose mission is to keep the magical creatures from harming humans.
Durst says that she has been drawn to fantasy fiction and magical worlds since her youth. “I was the kid who would open the closet door and expect to find a passageway to Narnia,” she says. And she regularly put “magic wand” on her birthday wish list. An English major who earned a certificate in theater and dance, she wrote a play, “To Ride A Dragon,” for her senior thesis.
Common to all her novels are strong female protagonists and the magic lying underneath what’s real. “One purpose of fantasy is to restore a sense of wonder in a jaded world,” Durst says. “That’s a lot of why I write.”
Up until about a year ago, Durst fit her writing in around her work as director of marketing for Target Analysis Group. Today, she no longer works a day job and can focus on her two children and writing full time at her home on Long Island.
She already has completed the galley of her next novel, Drink, Slay, Love, to be published by Simon and Schuster in September. The main character is a 16-year-old vampire girl gone good.