Under normal circumstances, I’d chastise writer Sarah Beth Durst for writing a heist novel for young adults. “You shouldn’t encourage kids to do bad things,” I’d say. But while the heist in her YA novel Fire And Heist (hardcover, Kindle) is pulled off by a sixteen-year-old, said sixteen-year-old is also a were-dragon, which makes this more of a fantasy than an encouragement.
I always like to begin with a recap of the plot. So, what is Fire And Heist about?
Think Ocean’s Eleven with were-dragons!
Sixteen-year-old Sky Hawkins is a socialite, a thief, and a were-dragon, which is like a werewolf but with less fur and more fire. On the night of her first heist, she discovers a dark truth that could reunite her family…or tear them apart forever.
Where did you get the idea for Fire And Heist and how did the story evolve as you wrote it?
I remember the moment I had the idea. I was standing in my kitchen with my family. We were eating chips and debating which heist movies were better, when I suddenly had the idea that became Fire And Heist: a heist, executed by a girl who could breathe fire and turn into a dragon.
One of my favorite parts of writing is taking the initial idea and pulling it apart, twisting it upside-down, and stretching it out until it grows into an entire world. Fire And Heist is set in our world, specifically in Aspen, Colorado…sort of. It’s our world if Sir Francis Drake burned the Spanish Armada by transforming himself into a dragon and spraying the ships with his fiery breath.
I really love worldbuilding.
I also love digging into the heart of the characters and seeing what makes them tick. While I began with a heist — and it certainly has one — Fire And Heist grew to become about family.
Fire And Heist sounds like a fantasy novel. Is that how you see it, or do you think there’s other genres at work in this story as well? Because the pun-y title makes me wonder if it’s light-hearted.
You’ve probably heard the writing advice “write what you know,” but I’ve always thought it should be “write what you love.” And I love fantasy! Fire And Heist is my 17th novel, and 7th for young adults, and all of my novels are fantasy. I love infusing stories with wonder, magic, and adventure.
But I also love writing humor. All of my novels have humor in them, to varying degrees. In fact, I’m deeply suspicious of any story that doesn’t use humor; it’s such a basic human coping mechanism. In Fire And Heist, my protagonist Sky is quite fond of snark.
In writing Fire And Heist, did you base how being a were-something would work on any specific fictional depictions?
One of the wonderful things about writing fantasy is that you have such a long, rich history of fantastical literature to draw from. My approach is to do as much research as I can, and then pick and choose the pieces from our beautiful tradition that I like best and weave them together to create something new.
Dragons aren’t new. Were-creatures aren’t new. But I hope that my my wyverns are new and interesting and fun.
You just said that Fire And Heist is a young adult novel. But do you then think it’s a young adult novel in that it’s only for young adults or that there’s nothing in it that’s inappropriate for young adults?
I actually don’t think there’s such a thing as a novel that’s only for young adults or only for kids. Stories are for whoever needs them.
If you’re looking for Game Of Thrones, then you might want to try my epic fantasy The Queen Blood, the first book in my Queens Of Renthia series, which is about bloodthirsty nature spirits and has a respectably high body count. The third book of the trilogy, The Queen Of Sorrow, just came out this year.
But if you’re looking for a fun book that will take your mind off worrying whether Daenerys and Tyrion are going to survive through the next season, then I present to you Fire And Heist.
Also, fifty isn’t old!
It is when you’re walking around the young adult section of Barnes & Noble. Anyway, Fire And Heist is not your first novel. But are there any writers, or specific stories, that were a big influence on Fire And Heist but not on any of your earlier work?
This is my first novel to include a heist, so I did a lot of reading and watching. For books: Heist Society by Ally Carter, The Palace Job by Patrick Weekes, The Lies Of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch, Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson, etc. For movies: Ocean’s Eleven, The Italian Job, The Thomas Crown Affair, etc.
I also read a lot about real-life heists, such as the famous Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum heist and the Antwerp diamond heist.
Definitely wish I could have attached an “I’m writing a novel” disclaimer to a lot of my Google searches…
You’ve written stand-alone novels as well as the Queens Of Renthia series. Is Fire And Heist a self-contained tale or the beginning of a series?
It’s a stand-alone. I love writing both series and stand-alones. With a series, you can sink into a world and don’t need to say goodbye to the characters so quickly, and that can be great. But a stand-alone provides the joy of being able to go on a complete adventure in one sitting.
A few years ago, you wrote a cheeky vampire novel called Drink, Slay, Love that got made into a Lifetime movie. Has there been any interest in doing the same with Fire And Heist?
Seeing Drink, Slay, Love on TV was such a surreal, fantastic experience! I’d be thrilled to see Fire And Heist as a movie or a TV show or a video game. Maybe someday…. You can never predict with Hollywood.
If Fire And Heist was to be made into a Lifetime movie, who would you like to cast in the main roles?
I don’t know who would be in my dream cast. But I’d love to meet Harrison Ford, so maybe he could just be cast as all the characters so I could meet him… Then again, I’d probably end up saying something cheesy like, “Hi. I’m Sarah. I know you shot first.”So maybe that’s a bad idea.
Finally, if someone enjoys Fire And Heist, which of your other books would you suggest they read next?
If you like the humor in Fire And Heist, I’d recommend my vampire and were-unicorn novel, Drink, Slay, Love, or my Indiana-Jones-style adventure with telekinesis, Chasing Power. If you like the worldbuilding and adventure, I’d recommend my epic fantasy series for adults, The Queens Of Renthia, which starts with The Queen Of Blood, or my middle-grade fantasy adventure Journey Across The Hidden Island.