*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.