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Sabrina deSouza talks about The Catarbie Conspiracy

Sabrina deSouza on plotting The Catarbie Conspiracy...

READERSVOICE.COM: Is it enough to have characters deal with a series of episodes before they get out of the situation they find themselves in, or do the episodes have to add up to something?

SABRINA deSOUZA: Each little episode that the characters go through, like Tarheen learning how to focus his magic to see where the fruit originated from, will become important to the overall plots.

Some of the episodes were small enough on their own – I think you need to have these little episodes that build up like a crescendo. The forest episodes were the cumulative crescendo. I found that as a reader, if it was as simple as lets go in, get the girl and get out, then there is no adrenaline rush of excitement and you can easily put the book down.

If however, there are complications along the way, then the reader becomes engrossed in not just one story, but several and the excitement is more satisfying and you can’t put the book down until you finish all the little plots. Remembering to tie up all the little loose ends is perhaps the key to the multi-episodes, otherwise it’s just a confusing mass of activity.

RV: Some of the scenes and creatures in the novel are fairly dream-like, like the giant squid on the beach and those zombie like guys staggering into the Tree Inn. Not to mention the weird vine creatures in the forest. Do you use dreams for ideas?

SdS: Definitely from my dreams, nightmares and my imagination. I watched Return of the Living Dead when I was in high school and if you think about the fact that humans could theoretically create a chemical that could reanimate the dead, then I was pretty much scared out of my mind.

Quite a few times I might be reading something or seeing something in a movie and I find myself captivated by the scene – not because it was impressive, but rather that I didn’t like the way it was being portrayed. So what if the tree is moving and making noises. Why is it making the noises in the first place? And what has that got to do with the characters? Sometimes authors mention an element of horror but then don’t explain or do a “close-up” of the cause/source.

Other times, someone may have made a joke like “talking under wet cement” that I might not have heard of before and that I found hilarious or curious and they were included as conversations. Like the joke that went around about the chilli eating contest and the punch line includes getting relief from snow cones. Many of the jokes were obtained from my colleagues who got really involved in giving me heaps of one-liners that were included in book 1 or will be included in the later books.

As for the names of the characters – they’re all completely fictitious and some are made up. The Karach mimic tree was inspired by my two cats Garfield and Patch (both now deceased) who used to run around me (and my keyboard) while I was writing.

RV: Was it tricky weaving the main plots together, or did you have the idea of how they would get together and affect each other and then work backwards?

SdS: Tricky, yes. I started out just focussing on one plot and writing the story about the humans.

If I got a bit of writers block, I would then focus on the Tarheen angle. Since the Marjory House is also a key but subtle element to the series, I had to start introducing the arson investigation in bits and pieces. This was added in afterwards and the only logical part is when they’re not running around doing things, which means during meals.

I had to actually write out what actually happened in the house fire so that I could get all of the elements together. This will be added in book 6.

RV: How long did it take to write the novel?

SdS: Longer than I had anticipated. I worked on it sporadically from September 2001 until November 2004 in Darwin – this was probably only three quarters of the book. I didn’t do any work on the novel for about two years after I moved down to Canberra (too busy with work travelling all over Australia and overseas).

I finally finished it in 2005 but I didn’t find an editor until February 2006. During and after the editing process, I ended up revising some parts to tie up loose ends.

RV: What was your routine when writing the novel? what with work and everything taking up time.

SdS: During Book 1, if I wasn’t doing anything on the weekend and I actually remembered, then I ended up writing. Sometimes this would be 16hrs on a Saturday and Sunday. Sometimes a few hours after work – assuming I wasn’t doing overtime the next morning. During those days, I was working a normal 8am – 4:21pm Monday to Friday and doing overtime on 4-5 days a week in addition to the normal hours (such as processing passengers through the airport or boat people arriving at Ashmore Reef). It was just one of the things I was prepared to do to single-handedly pay off a mortgage and it meant that I didn’t have much of a social life.
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