Non-fantasy readers are stirring up trouble when they label their mother-in-law a witch, but when you’re a fantasy lover, that can be a compli- ment. My mum-in-law, Sandy Curtis, has a magical talent – writing suspense thrillers. Her latest novel, Fatal Flaw, will be out in bookstores later this week so I used her as a guinea pig for my Q&A column. Unlike Bewitched’s wicked Endora, Sandy didn’t zap my husband into any small, furry animals during the interview – much to the dismay of my purring Scamp who was hoping for dessert.
Sandy: Nope. But mutants like Hugh Jackman … Ooops, I meant Wolverine. Drool.
C: Which would you choose – fangs or fur?
S: Neither, thanks. Having just read Personal Demons by Lisa Desrochers, I could develop a preference for demons or angels, providing they weren’t too demonic or angelic. You gotta like a man with a little bit of both.
C: Have you ever thought of writing a fantasy or paranormal novel?
S: Fleetingly. I have ideas, but don’t think it will ever happen. I’m too hooked on the realities of life that offer so many ideas for my current genre.
C: What magical gift do you wish for?
S: The ability to control time and give myself an extra 24 hours in a day that no-one else has. Or perhaps I should go for healing, especially after the year our family has had.
C: As the Bundaberg WriteFest organiser, what is your advice for aspiring authors?
S: Learn the craft of writing. You can’t become a tradesperson without doing an apprenticeship. Learn how to create wonderful characters. Learn how to plot a fantastic story. If your spelling, grammar and punctuation are lousy, learn how to correct them. Don’t jerk the reader out of your story by offering them something that isn’t the best you can make it. Go to workshops and hone your skills. Be determined to be the best you can be, don’t settle for mediocrity. And keep writing. And re-writing.
S: When operative Mark Talbert’s father is murdered, his agency demands he use his long-time friend Julie Evans to get to her father. The only problem: he’s in love with her. Add a killer with a multiple-murder agenda and a terrorist suspect with Brisbane in his sights and Mark and Julie are going to have to fight hard for their happiness – and their lives.
C: What is the hardest part of your research?
S: The technical stuff. Luckily I have friends and family members who are willing to share their knowledge. But sometimes even they are stumped by my strange requests. The internet is a fantastic research tool, but I find getting the info from the experts often leads to unexpected snippets that add authenticity to the story.
C: How do you create your characters – and your plots?
S: My characters usually come fully formed from the dark mish-mash of my brain. They talk to me, they live in my thoughts, they beg me to tell their story. I only realized the other day that I have more trouble remembering people’s name when I’m in the middle of writing a book. I think it’s because my brain is already so full of characters’ names that real people’s name are shoved to the back somehow.
C: What’s the most embarrassing thing you’ve ever done?
S: You don’t think I’m going to share it with you, do you? 🙂
C: How old were you when you started writing?
S: About eight, but life intervened several times and put barriers in the way. When I was 13, I remember writing a short story and needing to know if the police could take a fingerprint off a leather wallet so I wrote and asked them. My Mum got a phone call from police headquarters asking if my query was genuine. It took her a while to recover from the shock of having a policeman ask about me. The end result was a tour of police headquarters for me and seven classmates and meeting the police commissioner. I was so nervous my hands began to sweat and my tongue mumbled stuff my brain couldn’t comprehend. I decided that writing was definitely something I should stick with – I certainly wasn’t cut out for a life of crime.
S: I don’t have to stake out new locations – I see them everywhere. I was having lunch in the food court of the Anzac Square building in Brisbane when I looked up at the glass atrium roof five storeys above and spotted the small balconies on each floor. I was soon envisaging someone toppling over one of the balconies and falling on the sculptured metal tree in the middle of the food court. And someone did – in my fourth book, Until Death.
C: What is the wildest thing you’ve ever done?
S: Giving birth to three children. I finally learned what was causing it and stopped 🙂
C: If you were marooned on a desert island, who or what would you want by your side?
S: My darling husband. Not only does he know how to start a fire from scratch and how to find water, but a girl’s got to have some comfort when she’s dealing with all that sand and salt water.
Fatal Flaw follows on from Sandy’s fifth novel, Dangerous Deception, described by the Australian Bookseller and Publisher as “a page-turner with all the elements of the classic airport novel: action, mystery, intrigue, double crosses, relentless pursuits, sexual tension and a nail-biting climax.”