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Words (and crumbs) between the sheets

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Have you considered writing in bed? I started doing it for the first time not long ago. Silly, because one of the most tempting points for this apartment for my husband and I was that I’d have my own office space, which has lately been collecting dust. We’re heading toward winter here in Australia, so leaping out of bed first thing has become a less than exhilarating prospect, and the situation isn’t helped at all by Tim making me coffee in bed every morning. So after a binge session of Married At First Sight left the laptop by my bed overnight, I woke up one morning and decided to put some words down before hitting the shower.

And WOW. Did I ever put words down! Yes, I’m almost finished the second book in the Crimson Lake series, so for me, I always write faster and harder toward the end. But by writing in bed first thing in the morning I’m putting down 2-3k per day, about half of them in that morning session. I have some theories about why writing in bed is so good. Allow me to speculate.

  1. The bed is a private and intimate space, so perhaps there’s a corner of my brain that says – Hey, we’re safe here. This is where we relax, this is where our secrets are kept. Maybe the inner-sanctum type nature of the bedroom space in the household works against those inhibiting influences that hold back the words.
  2. This is not a place of ‘work’ – although I’m hearing men on my bad reality TV shows laughingly calling the bed the ‘workbench’ lately. Whoever came up with that is a douschebag. There’s no hint of work-like feelings between the sheets in the rudie-nudie or in your teddy-bear pyjamas, whichever you prefer, so I think this is helping the scenes come rolling in.
  3. Temperature control – Hello comfort! In what other occupation do you get to bring your doona and pillows with you? (Professional horror movie sleep-over attendee? Why isn’t that a job?).
  4. ‘Bonus’ time – anything you get done even before you shower and brush your teeth in the morning is ‘bonus’, right? It doesn’t count toward your planned achievements for the day because your day hasn’t even started yet! This is why people who work out in the early morning hours are so smug. Well, GUESS WHAT. Write in bed and you can claim all the smuggery of over-achieving early risers without the sheer insanity of hitting the gym in the morning.
  5. ‘Creative naps’ – Inspiration-encouraging napping is the right and privilege of all writers. And look at this – you’re already all set up for it! Genius.

Of course, I there are downsides to writing in bed. You’re going to need snacks and coffee, and you will have crumbs between the sheets – there’s no avoiding it, crumbs and sheets love each other. I do not recommend that collaborative novels be written in bed, unless of course you’re one of those weird couples who collaborate on novels. The five women who make up Alice Campion might have a difficult time. But overall, a real winner, at least for me. Try it some time! Happy snuggling everybody!

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Crimson Lake Tour – first leg

Queensland! I’m here! My delightful publicist Jess Malpass is here with me. We’ve been trekking around trying not to get sunburnt and meeting fans at bookstores in Port Douglas, Cairns City and today, Smithfield. Jess and I immediately bought matching hats upon arrival, and I did the classic Candice Fox move of losing my sunglasses a mere 12 hours after I bought them. We’ve discovered a weird shared obsession with cryptograms after buying a poshbook in port Douglas. It’s strange to see places from the novel again in real life. As we drove along yesterday I found myself saying ‘This is where Ted lives!’ and ‘This is where they found the croc!’ like I was talking about real people, and events.

Below I’ve stacked some random photos from the tour, but there are others on the Facebook and Twitter pages. Included is a tiny gecko I found in my hotel. Not five minutes after letting my miniature friend out onto the balcony did I find a compadre of his in the fridge. I am the lizard queen!

I never posted about NEVER NEVER hitting the New York Times best sellers – debuting in no. 1 in the hardcover and combined categories. It’s hard to describe how I feel about this, even though describing things if what I do for a buck. I talk a lot about my childhood on the tour, and the kinds of things I have been experiencing lately – best seller lists, tv deals, multi-book deals all over the world – these sorts of things never entered my young mind. My ‘big dream’ was to have one book published ever, and for my friends and family to read it. I’m overjoyed with all this – I can’t fathom what I’ve done to deserve it. Just being able to write and do nothing else for a living is such a blessing. I get up every morning and I really do actively get excited about my job. I’m so lucky.

I hope, if you’re reading this and thinking about coming out to see me, that you’ll make the effort. I so love catching up with fans and seeing what they thought of the books.

Have a great Sunday, everyone! More to come.

Candice

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Job description

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Here are some things I’ve done this week as a full-time author that people probably don’t know the job involves. I think there are two schools of thought on what I do – one involves swanning around at parties with other authors discussing Tolstoy and now and then pattering the keys. The other involves lying around on the couch all day drinking scotch, and now and then pattering the keys. In reality I do a whole lot of diverse stuff! (And now and then patter the keys.) Like this:

  1. I just agonized for ten minutes over whether a character was wearing a button-up shirt or a t-shirt across multiple chapters. I had no idea what I’d initially imagined, and an editor pointed out the inconsistency. You can’t grab a button-up shirt by the bottom and press it to your mouth to stem a bleeding lip, the way you can with a t-shirt (exposing washboard abs? Mmm.)
  2. This morning I saw the real estate agent in for an inspection (working from home win!) and she caught me in an email exchange with my publisher about death by poisons and viruses. The email on the big screen discussed ‘knocking off’ extra victims to up tension mid-plot.
  3. I received some new author photos, which I forwarded on to someone in Queensland who’s writing a magazine article about my JP collaboration.
  4. I picked up a true crime book I’d ordered. Gotta keep up the research! (Tax-claim win). I also received the debut novel of another author I’m appearing on a panel with on Friday.
  5. An audiobook company sent me some sound files of the actors auditioning to narrate my first novel. I gave my two cents on who I thought sounded better.
  6. A copyedit of two of my upcoming works came in. I had a quick squiz at one, approved the deletions and additions and then sent it back. The other, bigger one I’m kind of ignoring until I feel the motivation.
  7. I failed, again, to fill in some foreign tax forms. Why don’t I have a printer?
  8. I procrastinated. I think you must know there’s a whole bunch of it involved in this, but what I hear mostly is that us authors do it with housework. In reality there is a whole world of ways to do it that are more convincing to the self of their importance. Getting fit, for example. Long hours spent at the gym give me the righteous power of physical and mental health! I’ve gotta take care of my body and mind so I can power out those books forever, right?
  9. I saw my physio about my tight, hunchy shoulders. Desk height matters, writers.
  10. I wrote this blog post (procrastination win).
  11. I sent thank you tweets/facebook messages to kind reviewers.
  12. I added an ‘appearances’ page to this website. Although there’s only one appearance in there right now, I’ve got a whole bunch coming up that I haven’t got the deets for yet, so this can be where they live.
  13. I posted promos for my appearance in Melbourne this Friday night. (Come along! Don’t make me beg you! Details on the brand spanking new appearances page!).
  14. Bought scotch.

A Novel in a Year: Stage Four, Plodddding

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Here I am! I’m plodding happily along, putting in about a thousand words a session. I’d probably be at around this word count by this time of year anyway, but I have been held up a few times – by my own marriage, for one! – and by some editorial business. I’m at 11,000 words today on my own manuscript for the year (if you haven’t been following, I also do collaborations). I’ve been putting together detailed outlines and some mini-outlines for unmentionable projects that you’ll probably be able to guess anyway. The seductive whispers of other books have been plaguing me, as I’m only a tenth of the way in, and I could turn around without feeling so bad. I shun those voices! Be gone! You have no power here! Saucy, sexy books are a reality. Don’t give in to those sirens.

My, my, my, I certainly know what I don’t want to ever do for a living, and that’s organise weddings. Though I’m not an amazing sleeper, I’ve lost a considerable amount of sleep this month agonizing over everything that could go wrong in my wedding to the hilarious, handsome and decidedly hairy Tim Keen, fellow wordsmith extraordinaire. In the dark hours, I’ve imagined some pretty insane stuff, like ex-boyfriends/girlfriends turning up on the green and shouting that they’re still in love with me/him. The more extreme fantasies involved a relative shooting themselves in the middle of the dance floor. In daylight guessed that more likely, Tim and I were going to get something like a story frequently told about a wedding of a friend of a friend, who had a fat man with a beer walk right through the back of the ceremony wearing nothing but a pair of Speedos. While we did have our wedding in a public garden, and there were hangers-around with no idea of personal space, they tended to loiter during the photographs after the ceremony. We only had eyes for each other! Nawwwww alright I’ll stop now. Perfect, perfect day, anyway.

There are more editorial nightmares looming on the horizon, so I’m trying to trundle along on the book at a healthy pace. My crisis of confidence seems to be over – and I think that’s a mark of having thickly detailed characters who are intriguing (I hope, anyway!) in themselves/their pasts without necessarily having to rush here and there completing plot points to fill themselves out. If you’ve got a few deeply interesting people, worrying about plot is like worrying if three incredibly socially skilled strangers are going to get on with each other at dinner. They have the tools. They have the experience. They’ll make it work, even if they fumble around a bit first.

As a mark of good practice I’m attending a new boxing gym tonight, because James and my character, Harriet Blue, is a boxing enthusiast. I think it’s always good to write what you do, and do what you write – it’s a lesson I learned back in the day as a teenager, when I used to set all my books in New York. I’d never been to New York, and knew nothing about it. The books were garbage in the first sense because I was an overly emotional, melancholy teen with a bit of an over-infatuation with Anne Rice and Martin Scorsese, but in the second sense I think it didn’t help that I didn’t know what New York looked, felt and smelt like. I’ve boxed for a long time, and Harry boxes. It’s a chicken and egg thing. It’s time to get back to that, I think. Get some of the tension out so I/she can sleep.

As always, curious to know how you’re all going with your writing/submitting/editing. Keep your chins up, everyone. (No seriously it’s really bad posture looking down at your laptop. Sitting is the new smoking, for real).

A Novel in a Year, Stage Three: Paralysis

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Well, it’s hit. Or, if you’ve been following my canon metaphor, I’VE hit. I fired, and blurted out those first 5000 words joyously, and then paused to do some editing work on something which is due much sooner. Lo and behold, the editorial process has made me feel like an awful, untalented writer who’s going nowhere. My muse has died. I’m suffering inspirational asphyxiation. My magic feather has been seared to dust by the fires of indecision.

Well magic feathers, muses and convenient moments of inspiration are all bullshit, so don’t panic.

My experience of the editorial process from my publisher and the copywriting process from my editor is gentle. They pose questions rather than telling me straight out that there are flaws in the narrative. Is this too repetitive? Is this the best word here? They make sure to tell me when they love pieces of the work. But still, I feel emotionally ruined. I think it’s an ‘artistic person’ thing. I’ve seen the slightest criticisms take on the momentum of Mac trucks and lay even the most seasoned writers flat. If you think there are authors out there who don’t mind criticism, or ‘take it in their stride’, or ‘cherish’ it, seeing it as ‘an opportunity for improvement’, what you’re really seeing is DIRTY FILTHY BARE-FACED LIARS. The most proud of these amazing creatures will reserve their true hurt for the solitary late night hours, staring at the ceiling, imagining themselves responding to said criticism in witty cutting interviews on Sunrise. The slightly less proud (like me) will reserve their whining and sulking for their spouses. And everyone else will happily moan in public.

What’ll I do to snap myself out of this criticism-induced creative paralysis? Finish the edit. When the edit is done and all those awful little comment bubbles have gone away, I’ll pick myself up, dust myself off and continue on the new novel. If it’s not criticism and self-doubt, but instead a lack of ideas or a lack of what you think is ‘inspiration’ that’s got you stumped, go back through my blog posts to one of my first, called ‘Over the Wall’, where I deal with writer’s block.

So my word count is 5k or so, and my momentum has dropped to zero. Because I’ve got some experience at this game, I’m not worried, and I’m NOT thinking of writing something else. That’s the temptation trap for the newbie writer at this point – you think you’ve come to a halt this early because the idea isn’t strong enough. Don’t be the writer who had drawers full of unfinished projects. There will always be greener grass, and better ideas, just over there. Take what it is you like about the sexy new idea that’s trying to seduce you, and integrate it into the current project, or have the confidence in your own mental skills to know that idea won’t float away into the ether before you’re done with what you’re working on.

Back to the edit! *slumps dejectedly over desk* Urgh. Bleurgh. Gurgh. Someone kill me.

The Life

A young man approached me at a library talk in Sydney a little while ago and asked me what life is like being a ‘famous author’. So I thought for this blog post I might talk about how being an author effects my world on a practical level. This might drown some steadily floating dreams out there, particularly those belonging to young people, about publisher-funded book tours across the globe, being recognised in the street and gushed over, buying a mountain-top writer’s retreat with your first round of royalty cheques. But if you’ve got a more grounded version of the writerly dream still pumping away in your mind, this might confirm for you what you really want, what success for you would really mean. So here are the major points of the writerly life, as well as the debunking of some popular myths.

 

First of all: I’m not that famous. I’ve never been recognised anywhere as being That Amazing Author, Candice Fox. I’m recognised at my coffee shop as the black-coffee-milk-on-the-side-chick. I’m recognised at my local library as being The Fast Typer. I’m recognised at my nail salon as The Chewer. But for authoring – no. If you want street recognition, become an actor. Being an author is one of those jobs you can hide behind, only revealing your true self when you feel entirely safe; kind of like stripping, I guess. It’s not that it’s shameful, but I’ve found that now and then dropping the ‘I’m an author’ bomb in the wrong situation can cause some real dramas. It can cause your audience of new friends to heap reams of Hollywood cliches onto you about your bank account, your work ethic, your arrogance, and in some cases, (quite often, actually) it can inspire them to tell you their own book ideas. The heart-wrenching memoir never written. The fantasy epic mentally built up over decades, just begging to be given life. The breakout Western Shoot-em-up/Gothic Lit mashup ‘like nobody’s read before’! These conversations are usually long, deep, and one-sided, so keeping the author thing under wraps completely can sometimes be a good move.

 

Basically no one lives off their writing. That’s a sad fact. Sure, the money surrounding each book is a great bonus – I used my first advance to put a deposit on a modest Eastern suburbs, two bedder apartment – but there’ll be no Jaguars or private jets, unless you’re Matthew Reilly. Most writers I know surround their authorial activities with writing related stuff, like talks, teaching sessions, online courses and retreats. They are often writing teachers or lecturers. I’m a university lecturer and a PhD student, so I only teach during the semester and only for a couple of hours a week. My main source of consistent income is my PhD scholarship. Throughout my PhD, when teaching work has been hard to come by, I’ve taken other weird little side jobs – teaching kids to swim, freelance journalism, desk girl at a tattoo shop. Each time I’ve gotten a book-related payment I’ve gone out with my partner to celebrate over dinner and drinks, but I’ve stashed the rest for my future.

 

Getting published after the initial publication is easier, but that’s just common sense. My agent is a very good friend now, and she’s always available on the other end of the phone. Having said that, I have pitched her ideas that are not in her field, and she’s refused them – business is business, and friendship is friendship, and the two don’t mix. It’s easier to pitch, though. I don’t have to have a completed manuscript, an interesting bio or a meticulously-constructed synopsis. I’ve also proven a bunch of things to my agent that the pitcher in the slush pile hasn’t proven yet – I’m rational, professional, hard working and I always finish the book. That’s the key. Plenty of people have ideas, and plenty of them write, too, but finding a finisher is difficult. As an established author, the publisher I’m approaching knows I’m a hard worker also, and they’re encouraged by the fact that I already have a fan base and people like my style. I remember the good old days when I’d have to wait three months minimum for a rejection from a publisher, and agents seemed as hard to catch as white tigers.

 

Having written and published a book does not make it easier to do it again. I still have to have compelling characters, a cracker plot and page-turning pace, and that’s not something that just oozes naturally out of your head like earwax. In fact, the pressure to write book two of my series to the standard of book one nearly drove me insane with anxiety. Before my agent and publisher told me it was brilliant, I had no idea if it was any good. As an author, you don’t just discover some secret formula for writing a hit that you can go ahead and follow. You have to be inspired. You have to plot. You have to solve all the problems and make all the twists and build all the tension the way you did the first time, now on a deadline, with the same or better appeal. You HAVE to – or you’ll lose this beautiful and magical thing you fought so hard for for so long; your status as an author. And you will lose it: don’t you worry about that. Authors fall into obscurity all the time, or follow up their first cracker with a mediocre second and fade into the shadows. It’s terrifying, to be honest.

 

But it’s also wonderful. Being an author is wonderful, in all the ways I’ve written about it being wonderful before. The first time you open a box full of fresh new copies of your work. Seeing those fresh new copies become tattered and frayed, over and over, in loving and excited hands. Having a new idea, falling in love with a new potential novel, pitching it and seeing the excitement come over your agent or your publisher’s face – because they know what you can do already and they’d love to see you do it again. Seeing notifications that a new fan has joined the Facebook page – someone you don’t know and have never met. They join quietly, and they watch without comment. Just some stranger in the crowd who likes you.

 

I don’t think the novelty of that will ever wear off.  

Try a little tenderness

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One of my most horrifying encounters with a creative writing teacher happened while we were engaged in a one-on-one workshop class in his office, in which we were working on my first big novel, Touch. James was one of those quiet, badly dressed, golden-hearted teachers who I’ve often thought about years after our classes. His softly spoken doctrine on how to write still flutters through my thoughts today as words appear behind the cursor and creep across the page. He’s here, in my writing, keeping my excessive description down with a heavy but caring hand and lifting my vocabulary up ever so often, pointing a stern finger in my face whenever I’m tempted to cliche.

A menacing ghost I keep alive.

I sat down with James one morning and he had my manuscript spread out before him, and he gestured to the pages with a sort of disappointed shrug.
‘This storm here, at the beginning of chapter two,’ he said. ‘You describe it for a page and a half.’
‘Yeah?’ I said.
‘I know what a goddamn storm looks like.’
‘Not this one,’ I countered, trying to save my dignity. ‘It’s… uh. It’s pretty fucking epic.’
We used to swear at each other a lot, James and I. He started it. It’s just something we did.
‘Is this fucking epic storm critical to advancing the plot in any way?’ he asked. I scratched the back of my neck.
‘No.’
‘Well cut that shit out,’ he said.

He put his big black marker onto the paper and slashed the pages out like he was cutting open a box. It was tough. But it was the first of many times he would do it. I know what a messy apartment looks like, he’d say. I know what a bus station looks like. I know what a park full of kids looks like, too. Words tumbled and fell. My words. And when they were gone there was only plot, and character, and every now and then a piece of setting only where it was crucial and only where it was beautifully and uniquely described. I was sad for all those gone places, weather events, distant mountain ranges peeking between suburban rooftops. They had been fun to write. But remember what I was telling you last time you were here about things that are fun to write: They’re not always fun to read.

When you’re trying to decide if something has to go; and I’m not only talking about setting here, but dialogue and characters too; ask yourself whether you could have done what you were trying to do in less words, less instances. Think about songs, and how little space and time songwriters have to describe a character or a place or an emotion and how they do it, and whether or not your novel can be one great long beautiful song of few words but many ideas.

Look at this, from Kris Kristofferson‘s ‘Help Me Make It Through The Night’:

Take the ribbon from your hair,
Shake it loose and let it fall,
Lay it soft against my skin,
Like the shadows on the wall.

So much here isn’t written. Rather than telling us that we’re in a dark room lit by soft light, we know that there are walls and shadows and that’s all that’s necessary for us to feel the warm glow. Rather than telling us that tender loving sex is about to happen, or that she’s beautiful, or that he’s naked, his desire is merely for her to let her hair down and to touch him with her ribbon, so all of those things come in the same bag. In twenty four words, we have a shadowy room, gentle love, the caressing touch of hair, ribbon, skin. We fill in the intimacy and romance and tension and longing and all that other gooey lovey disgusting stuff ourselves. To write it would just be patronising, wouldn’t it? You patronise someone whenever you tell them something they’re quite capable of working out for themselves.

The same goes for dialogue. Real people don’t talk that much. I mean we talk, sure, but we don’t talk about things like love, desire, hurt, fear. Particularly men. It’s an awful lot more powerful to suggest that one character loves another than going and spoiling it all by having them say something stupid like ‘I love you’.

There are two asian guys sitting in the alfresco area of the cafe in which I’m writing this (the same cafe where I wrote Over The Wall). They’re smiley characters in skinny jeans and suit jackets, bathed in sunlight, doing everything they can to avoid sitting in their chairs the mainstream way; putting their feet on the other chairs, hanging their legs over the arm rests, tucking a foot under themselves. They’re bejewelled and drinking from tiny cups. One’s texting and listening. The other’s explaining something embarrassing; he won’t look at his friend. At the end of the story the friend lets his head hang back a little until it catches all the yellow light from above and smiles in a sad kind of way. Says nothing. And that’s critical. He says nothing. It’s the look that says ‘I feel ya, bro’ or ‘Man, that sucks’ or ‘Jeez, I’m glad it wasn’t me’, or all those things at once.

We say ‘I love you’ by brushing the back of someone’s neck with our fingers as we pass behind them sitting at a desk. We say ‘I hate you’ by breaking something that we know they cherish, not picking up the phone, turning our chair away from theirs. You can say ‘I want you’ by taking a ribbon from your hair. I remember a friend telling me once that she was in that shadowy, soft, tender place with a man between the shut door and the surface of the bed and the guy she was with said ‘Let’s do this.’ It turned her off so fast and so bad she had to leave. You can ruin everything with just a few words.

Try to be tender with your description. Light, and soft, and subtle.

When you say ‘storm’, your reader knows what you’re talking about, so as soon as you’ve used the word your reader has clouds and rain and lightning and thunder in their head. Add a couple of things your reader might have forgotten about this experience if you like: the heaviness, the earth taste to the air, the way a sound can, if it’s loud and sudden enough, move in your belly like an unborn child. Then leave it. Refuse to ruin it with more. Cut that shit out. You’ll be left with the intricate bones of an idea, and your reader will add the flesh and make it move.

 

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