You can always tell a well-structured novel: the pages seem to turn by themselves. Sabrina deSouza planned The Catarbie Conspiracy well. It’s book one of six in the Houkura series. And all of these stories have been planned out in advance.
Like her characters in The Catarbie Conspiracy, Ms deSouza also went on a quest of sorts: the self-publishing adventure. This required overcoming at least as many obstacles as her fictional protagonists.
She had to find the best printing and distribution deal, create PDFs and buy the right software to do it, get ISBN numbers, hire an illustrator, arrange imports of books.
Distribution is never easy. Ms deSouza said large book store chains prefer to deal with authorised distributors rather than individual authors. It took a few months of persistence, filling out forms and making sure they got to the right sections, but she managed to get her book on the shelves in one chain.
So to get an idea of how to go about writing and self-publishing a large print run of books, read on.
READERSVOICE.COM: How long did you have the idea for the story in The Catarbie Conspiracy in your head before you sat down to write it?
SABRINA deSOUZA: I was tossing several ideas in my mind for a couple of years during the late 90’s but nothing serious. In September 1999, I went with one of my sisters (Charmaine) to the hospital ER (just after she gave birth to her youngest son) and while we were waiting I hatched out my plots on some scrap paper and a used exercise book to write the plot outline for the first seven chapters.
When my eldest niece had some “teenage” issues in 2001, I did more work on the teenage problems in the story lines and to write it in a way that teenagers would be able to read it, not just adults. Charmaine was my main story editor.
RV: Did you always have the big story (or arc) in your head and then add episodes and details, or did you start with just the idea of the three people finding themselves in another world, and go from there?
SdS:Yes. I knew the master plot of how all three of the smaller stories would interweave with the main story about the humans on Houkura.
I figured that instead of writing four separate stories, it would be more interesting if the storylines were made complex by mingling them with the other storylines. That way the reader doesn’t quite know what to expect.
RV: What aspects of different authors did you throw into the mix with The Catarbie Conspiracy?
SdS: Humour from Terry Pratchett and David Eddings. Mixture of technology and magic from Terry Brooks. Mystery and crime solving from Agatha Christie.
The illustrations were from Nancy Drew – some chapters were illustrated.
I’ve noticed that most novels only have one main story line. Because there are essentially four different stories running concurrently in the Houkura series, I was able to mix all the styles within the one book.
RV: If you could name your three favourite fantasy adventure novels, or novels from the fantasy genre, what would they be?
SdS: The Belgariad series by David Eddings. Any book by Terry Pratchett that featured the Watch Commander, Sam Vines.
I loved the way both Eddings and Pratchett would use their British humour during some of the scenes. RA Salvatore’s The Crystal Shard.
RV: Can you talk about how you used a kind of schedule to plan out your plots?
SdS: During the writing of Book 1, there wasn’t any schedule at all. Mostly because I was doing a lot of overtime on weekends while working at Customs and doing a lot of singing at the local church.
I didn’t get much time on weekends, and after a couple of weeks/months I would eventually remember to go back to the book and continue. Sometimes I would become inspired overnight and would go out of my way to write down what I wanted on scrap paper or directly onto the computer.
RV: Did you diverge from the plot outline much when you’d started writing?
SdS: Only a little, but this was mostly to flesh out certain scenes that were only written down as concepts at first. Once I started writing the story, some chapters became bigger than I expected because of the conversations or because it was not complex enough. Eg. Initially, I was going to write that if you ate the tubo fruit leaves, that you became infected with Catarbie – this was changed to touching the skin of the fruit and seeing the hairs wriggle into Gredat’s skin – the change to the infection was slight, but probably more visually effective than just eating leaves.
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