*Questions and responses identified as BEF for The Bookend Family and CF for Candice Fox
BEF: Most of our readers are very interested in the lives of writers and most importantly, who they enjoy reading. Can you tell us about your early life, when you realized that you wanted to write, and which authors most influenced you?
CF: I had a very strange childhood. It’s detailed here and there in articles I’ve featured in, but long story short, it was crowded with children. My mother had four kids of her own, adopted two more, and then spent much of my youth bringing in children from the families of criminals and drug addicts all across Sydney. There were times when we had ten kids under the age of ten in the house. We had a family mini-bus, and did our weekly grocery shopping at catering warehouses. My mother was someone who found comfort in having too much of everything. She rescued and rehabilitated native animals alongside her fostering hobby. At one time we had thirty cockatoos, all of them suffering beak and feather rot which made them bald. Thirty big, pink, squawking, birds slowly dying and falling off their perch onto the bottom of the aviary, one at a time.
With so much competition for affection and novelty, I spent half my time being an obnoxious loud-mouth, and the other retreating into my private fantasies. My mother picked a big, dark-green laptop off a rubbish pile one day and gave it to me. It didn’t have a save function (I had to use floppys), couldn’t operate without being plugged in, and would regularly die in the middle of my work. But it served its purpose. It kicked off a young obsession with writing.
BEF: On your blog you wrote that you spent some time writing at a "hot desk" Could you tell us more about that? What it is and what your experience was like?
CF: Funny story, that. I moved in with my partner last year – his was a small apartment in Potts Point, the perfect bachelor pad. A couple of months after I arrived, the owners of the apartment next door started renovating, which involved knocking through a couple of walls and jackhammering up every tile in the 100sqft space. The body corporate then decided to go from flat to flat jackhammering out all the concrete cancer (structural rust) in the building. After that, the apartment on the other side of us started jackhammering out the tiles in their bathroom, and then the council came along and started ripping up the road out the front and the back of the building. So within a hundred metres of where we lived, there were five jackhammer crews.
I used to do a lot of my work in cafes and libraries, but libraries tend to be a sanctuary for chatty weirdoes, and I have one of those faces. I also get terribly guilty if I spend a lot of time in cafes without paying for a lot of food, so I’d combat this by getting friendly and chatty with the café owners so they didn’t hate me. Then, there came the problem of being so friendly with the café people they’d never let me do my work.
I hired a cheap hot desk in Sydney to get away from the noise and the people and found it to be very good. There’d be about ten or fifteen other people hanging around making phone calls or working on their laptops, so it would inspire me to work. Tim and I have moved somewhere quieter, though, so now we share a home office with a big window looking out over the water.
BEF: I have heard that you have several unpublished Gothic novels. I’m interested to know what drew you away from that genre and brought your attention to writing crime and thriller fiction?
CF: I don’t know why it took me so long to get away from gothic fiction. I suppose my tastes changed. I’d been having the same fantasies since I stuck my nose in my first Anne Rice novel at age 16 of floppy-haired blonde men with cupid’s-bow lips and moody tendencies. I got over them in my late twenties when they all started to seem a bit self-obsessed.
I’d been reading crime since I was a kid, though, so I’d built a good repertoire knowledge of what and who can/will kill you. When I say I was a kid, I was a really little kid, so I got a head start on a lot of crime writers my age – I was getting stuck into my mother’s true crime collection at about age seven, and I recently horrified James Patterson at a cocktail party by telling him I’d read Kiss The Girls at twelve (that’s the one where he keeps all the women in the dungeon and does nasty kinky things to them with snakes). I guess I avoided writing crime at first because I was intimidated by how much procedural knowledge I’d need to make investigations believable. I also didn’t want to set anything in Australia because, as a teenager, I didn’t think our streets were gritty enough. Well, growing up and going out to clubs in my early twenties, working in a few bars and dating a few cops along the way, changed that.
BEF: Do you think that it’s your abiding interest in crime or the way that you express it that gives you such a distinct literary voice?
CF: I think that if my work comes across as ‘distinct’ it’s because I was trying desperately to be when I wrote Hades. The sad reality of trying to get your work to readers is that, as soon as any book you write is born into a cruelly crowded world. Big publishing houses get literally thousands of submissions every year, and because they already have wonderful authors who will sell, paying attention to wannabe authors will never be as important as working with the great authors they already have. And everybody thinks they can write, and does, so the flow never stops.
From the outset, my own agent said to me when I submitted that she wasn’t interested in taking on more crime at that moment – she’d had ‘quite enough’ of it, and that my work would ‘need to seriously blow [her] socks off.’ If you want to get anywhere in this business, you have to be distinct. You have to have something – a voice, a character, a concept, which is different. If you can have all three, you have some chance of standing out from the pack.
BEF: Both of your novels were dark, violent and tense, which is what most thrillers aspire to be. Do the emotions that are occurring in the book while you are writing them have any effect on your mood during that writing period, or do you have a way to prevent some of the darker tones from interfering with everyday life.
CF: My physiotherapist actually just asked me this! Because I have shoulder problems, he wondered if I was tense when I write because I’m experiencing what’s going on in the world I’m writing in. The answer is no. I am one of the lucky ones who enjoys writing whether I’m killing someone special or cracking myself up with one-liners. The only thing I never am is bored. If I’m bored writing it, it’ll be boring to read.
I have heard writer friends say ‘Oh, I had to kill somebody-or-other today and the tears were streaming down my face.’ Nah. Not me. Kill’em all, I say.
BEF: I read your blog Insensitive Questions for Authors, on your website, http://candicefoxauthor.com, and loved it! How many of those questions have you actually been asked? What do you think you will do if you are asked again?
CF: Oh, look that’s the sort of thing I get all the time. I’m always polite. You have to be, or you get a reputation for being precious. People by nature will say the wrong things – I’ve done it myself. ‘When does your next book come out?’ is just the literary equivalent of ‘When will you guys try for your next baby?’ and unless you’ve had a baby you don’t really get how insensitive that is. The ‘why aren’t you doing this?’ and ‘why aren’t your publishers doing that?’ questions generally come from my parents, and they’re the kind of career-ignorant questions which plague all kids, I think. Your parents just want you to be the best in your field, because they think you can be. It doesn’t hurt any less, though!
BEF: I have read and enjoyed your open letter to Stephen King. (For readers who have not read it you can click here to read the Open Letter to Stephen King.) Did he ever respond? Would you respond to an open letter to Candice Fox?
CF: No, he never wrote back. But when I started writing that for the talk I was giving, I was sort of addressing all the writers who’d never written back to me when I was a young aspiring author. If a writer writes to me and genuinely just wants to say ‘Hi! I loved your work!’ I’ll always try to find the time to write back. But ultimately, most of the contact I get is for advice.
Writers reach out to other writers hoping to find some kind of secret key into the business, or to make a powerful friend. It’s the natural reaction to seeing someone who has managed to leap all the hurdles and make it to the Promised Land. How did they do that? There must be some kind of secret thing they’re doing (which of course they don’t tell everyone, because then everyone would get there).
I’ve had writer hopefuls write to me or try to friend me on Facebook and ask me to look at their work, and I’ve done it a few times, but I don’t anymore. The situation is just too sticky. If the work is very poor or needs a lot of development, you find yourself in the terrible situation of being like ‘Well, I can’t give this work to my agent or publisher like this. So here are some tips that I hope don’t break your heart and make you curse my name for all time.’ If the work is very good, you’re in a situation like ‘Well this is very good! Try this agent, and this publisher, and tell them I sent you!’ and then when they do, and they get rejected, you end up looking like a jerk (If they do and they get accepted, well that’s great! But it’s never happened to me yet).
Then there’s the danger of my looking at something, and thinking – oh, that’s a good idea. I’m terrified of seeing a good idea in one of these things. Because truth be known, I’ve put things in books without knowing where they came from, and someone has said ‘Hey, you know that part where this and this happened? That came from this, didn’t it!’ Sometimes they’re right and sometimes they’re wrong. Many writers refuse to look at people’s work, or even answer their friendly letters, for this reason.
BEF: Hades and Eden are such interesting, powerful and original characters. Did one come first, or were they conceived together?
CF: It’s hard to say who was first, because at any one time I’ve got maybe ten or fifteen characters wandering around in my brain looking for something to do. Sometimes they’re fully formed, and sometimes they’re just sketches, like ‘Stalker Mother’ and who’s in there right now. Stalker Mother has been around for about a year, I think. I don’t know what I’ll use her for. She doesn’t even have a proper name. But every now and then I see something or hear something and I’ll think, ‘Ooh, that would be perfect for Stalker Mother’, so I take it and fit it to her. As time passes, she gathers more attributes, until she’s fully formed. Then she becomes so insistent that I have to find a place for her in a book. It might be that she’s fully formed and ready for a book, and I have to take a half-formed character and speed up their attribute accumulation so they can accompany her.
So Hades, for example, probably started as ‘Badass Old Guy’. And over time, I gave him a name, thought about his body, how he moved, what he sounded like. Closer and closer to writing the book I started getting really specific – what does this guy do for a living? What is his name? Around about this time I probably had ‘Old School Cop dude’ and ‘Sexy Goth police chick’ and they were rolling down their own snow hills, gaining size and speed. And when I got all three nice and big and juicy I started thinking about how they might interact with each other.
BEF: Considering how riveting Hades and Eden are, was it difficult to make Frank as equal but different?
CF: I think if Frank had been as eccentric as Hades and Eden we would have had an over-the-top novel. And that’s something I see aspiring authors do. Everything in first and second manuscripts is so crazy-eccentric-vivid-real that it’s exhausting, and inevitably, unbelievable. I wanted the reader to have a lounge chair they could sit in comfortably to view the craziness that is Hades and Eden and the rest. So when I was writing as Frank I gave him my thoughts, and my point of view, and my values, so he’d be easy to understand and make everyone else look mysterious by contrast.
Over time, though, Frank’s becoming one of these eccentric characters. I won’t give away any spoilers, but throughout the three books, stuff has and is going to happen to Frank which draws him closer and closer to Eden and Hades’s dark world. How do you stay normal and relaxed with this sort of stuff going on, with these sort of people around you? You know? The characters should never stop changing and growing, I think. You can love a character in many ways, and the more they grow, the more opportunities there are for that.
BEF: For readers who may not be familiar with the Kricket series, I would categorize it as a science fiction romance with paranormal elements. Part of what was so captivating to me about these books was this thrilling world you created. Can you tell us a bit about the process you experienced while creating this world, and what were some of the most difficult aspects to visualize and then put into the story?
AAB: I'm a pantser, which means I don't plot my books, I write by the "seat of my pants". I usually only have a general idea for a manuscript. The thought, when I begin, is to tell myself a story—something I'm aching to read, but somehow can't find anywhere else. I don't worry about my writing style or grammar in the rough draft. I'll go back in the second draft and rewrite it once I know who the characters are, what happens, and how it ends. Editing and rewrites are essential for me.
There always comes a time just after I start when I begin to "see" the story in my mind. It plays like a movie. The characters take over and show me what's happening in their world. I don't know if other writers have a name for that. I call it "catching the stream" because it's as if it's a different stream of consciousness. I know, weird, right? Anyway, when that happens, I try to write down what I'm "seeing" and "hearing".
I do sometimes get hung up when I know what I want the characters to do, but I have to think about how the world should look and react to them while they're moving through it. I constantly have to ask how would something that I take for granted work differently somewhere else. For example, in Sea of Stars, the Ship of Skye is a warship. It's military and equipped with advanced technology. I thought about how I'd live there on a daily basis. What would I eat? How would my meals be prepared? Who washes my dishes after I'm finished? Just asking myself those simple questions lead to the creation of the "dishery".
I think the most difficult place for me to imagine in Under Different Stars was the military base called Comantre Crosses. It's when Kricket gets her first glimpse of Etharian civilization. It took me awhile to visualize it and be able to walk through it—to breathe its air.
BEF: One of my personal favorite aspects was the use of language and how some words were vaguely devised from languages on Earth. I imagine this was a fun process, making up a new language. Can you tell us how you started to formulate the words you would use and why you felt words connected the reader to the story being told?
AAB: What I strive for most in all of my stories are believable worlds. I want readers to be taken by force along with Kricket. I need them to feel the disorientation that accompanies such a twist of fate. The use of language was one way to achieve this. Language is almost a character in this series.
Easy communication between the Etharians and Kricket was necessary to the story I wanted to tell. A translator device, inserted in Kricket's brain, serves to break the language barrier. Technology, however, isn't infallible, especially considering the rapid spread of slang in our culture. I extended that spread to Etharian culture as well. I saw an opportunity to highlight an aura of otherworldliness by creating one-off words and phrases that were unique to these outsiders.
It was difficult at first to create new words. I annoyed myself trying to be too clever. Finally, I decided to create simple words that sounded close to what they represent in American English. For example, "venish" is Wayra's favorite entree. It's a meat pie made from the Etharian version of a deer (venison). Venish and venison were close enough for me to remember what it was, which was key because I had to keep it all straight, too. The more I wrote, the easier it became to think of imaginative words. What I didn't anticipate with this type of misinterpretation of language was how funny it could be. Sometimes the language barrier is cathartic, providing comedic relief in the story. We share the inside joke along with Kricket. I didn't see that coming when I started.
BEF: I adored everything about Baw-da-baw! How did you come up with this, and did you know that this saying would produce so much emotion while reading it?
AAB: I modeled the Cavars after Marines. I wanted to create a battle cry for them—something akin to the Marines' "Oorah."
While I was writing Under Different Stars, I was also writing the fourth book in my paranormal romance series, Incendiary. Incendiary is about the epic struggle between good and evil. There are instances in that story where I needed to tap into a certain mood to write the vicious tone of its fight scenes. I use music to achieve this. I'll find a song that embodies the emotional essence of what I want to create while writing, and then I'll play the track on repeat. The song I was listening to for this particular fight scene was Bawitdaba by Kid Rock. So when I toggled over to the Kricket manuscript from the Premonition manuscript, "baw-da-baw" came out of Wayra's mouth and echoed off the cold stone walls of the cavern leading to Ethar.
BEF: Speaking of Baw-da-baw, we can't bring that up without a question about the Cavars. These guys seemed so bonded and very much the militaristic friendship that occurs on the battlefield with American soldiers. Did you reach out to people who have served or are you personally knowledgeable about what service life is like? It seemed like this was a binding structure for Kricket to connect to the Cavars since she lived life on the opposite spectrum having no one at her back.
ABB: Soldiers are fascinating creatures. Books and movies that depict the personal struggles of individuals immersed in life-threatening conflict draw me in.
Around the time I was writing the first book in the Kricket series, I was absorbed in a miniseries called Generation Kill. Produced by HBO, it's based on the book of the same title by Evan Wright. In it, a Rolling Stone reporter embedded with a Marine battalion chronicles the 2003 American invasion of Iraq. It's the true story of the journalist's experience. What I find most interesting about it is every character contributes to making a cohesive story. It isn't just about the conflict. It's about how these men thread together to create a tapestry of fear, courage, arrogance, sarcastic disparagement, and bravery. I try to impart that in my writing—the sense that these are real people with real struggles and compelling backstories.
BEF: I'm truthfully impressed with your attention to detail, and I think it shows best with how you created such strong individualized background characters. Many times in books people in the background seem to get lost back there, but in your books some of my favorite characters were the people off center stage; Wayra, Fulton, and Phlix. Was there a methodology to how you create these characters? They don't seem like fillers, as a reader they felt very much loved and integral to the story and Kricket.
AAB: Thank you. I almost feel like I cannot take credit for my characters. They show up in scenes and steal them. I end up writing what they say and how they say it. I didn't research any of the characters you mentioned, they were just there when I was writing. I think the important aspect to note is I’m interested in them when they show up in a scene. I want to know who they are. Who were they before they arrived at this point? What’s happened to them in their lives to make them the way they are? I treat them as if they’re real people I’m getting to know for the first time.
BEF: My day job is working with regulations surrounding foster care and adoption, so you can imagine I connected right away with Kricket's Earth story. I felt the emotions come through Kricket's story that I see daily on foster children I know. When you were creating Kricket, did you know you wanted to use this powerful and problematic situation from the beginning to create the strength she carries or was it a result of needing a traumatic situation to show her survivor spirit?
AAB: Although my childhood was quite colorful, I have no personal experience in the foster care system. I have, however, interned while in college at a domestic violence shelter. I was able to teach art to children living in hiding there. I've also worked with disadvantaged teens as a youth counselor for a summer jobs program. Some of these young adults were in foster care homes. My role was to interview them for positions we had available in the community, break down their barriers to employment, provide transportation to job sites, and help them when problems arose. I learned a lot from those teenagers. They were very smart, but their brilliance went largely unnoticed because it manifested in urban survival skills.
I think you don't have to be parentless to ache for home—somewhere you fit in. Many of us struggle to find our places in the world—to try to understand who we are and what we stand for in life. But I felt that a young girl who had defected from an inhospitable foster care situation would feel this more passionately than most—maybe even personify it.
BEF: I was overjoyed with the ending of this series. I love that there is open road for the reader to flex their imagination and ponder what happens next to these characters. I would love to know if that is a writing trait we will continue to see or if this was how you felt this particular story needed to end?
AAB: The ending of Darken the Stars was a struggle for me to write. I agonized over three alternate endings and an outline for a fourth ending (and I never write outlines). I discussed them at length with my editor, Jason Kirk. He pointed out to me that everything I'd written beyond a certain point read like the beginning of a fourth book. We decided to cut 5K words from the manuscript. In exchange, Jason suggested I write an epilogue. He thought I should sum up what Kricket learned from her time on Ethar.
I sobbed while I was writing the epilogue. It was so emotional for me because I wrote the first story, Under Different Stars, in 2010. I published it at the end of 2013. It received a lot of attention. I spent 2014 and some of 2015 writing Sea of Stars and Darken the Stars, even at the expense of my other series. I've been living in Kricket's world for a long time. Tying up all the strings in a neat bow was important to me. I wanted a perfect HEA (happily ever after), but that was disingenuous to her story. Kricket wants love on her own terms, and I know this way she will have it.
BEF: Now that this series is wrapped up with the final book, Darken the Stars released on September 8, 2015, do you have any plans brewing for your next project and are you able to tell us anything about that?
AAB: I'm finishing the Premonition series with Iniquity, the fifth and final book in the series. The release date is December 8, 2015. I have several ideas for new stories, but I'm not ready to talk about them just yet.
BEF: One final question, of all the gifts that the different priestesses' have in the Kricket series, what one gift would you choose for yourself and why?
AAB: I would choose Giffen's gift of telekineses. (Is that allowed? He's not a "priestess", he's a "lost boy", but he shares the same type of genes. I guess I could say Brighton's gift, but I'd want to be able to use it like Giffen can.) A close second would be Phlix's gift of a shadow land.