So, I’ve graced the cover of Random News, the Random House trade publication/catalog heading out to hungry book buyers looking to order for stores. Opening the envelope, extracting the little hand written note from my publisher that read ‘Lookin’ good!’ and then opening this magazine has been one of the milestones of my publishing journey. I immediately took the book to my nextdoor neighbour, whose face lit up as though a switch had been flipped. Then she scrunched her nose up, as she does, and said ‘This is so weird. Knowing someone famous.’
If you haven’t already, like the Candice Fox Facebook page for random bits of news. See what I did there? 😉 http://www.facebook.com/candicefoxauthor
It might be a bit odd for me to be telling you as a writer that you need to stop thinking. One of the few privileges you get as a person setting off on such a journey is the ability to look thoughtful; elbow on table and face in hand, staring at the light dancing in the trees. Stroking your beard now and then, if you have one (and in my opinion if you can have one, you should have one. I have crushing beard envy. Yes, I know that’s weird.) If you’re a writer, people expect you to think. It is the perfect excuse for being that person in the office who has five hundred and ninety origami kranes folded and scattered about their desk, the one who’s always staring at the elevator buttons as though reading them for some hidden code, the one who’s always in the dark on the balcony at the office Christmas party, champagned, quiet. Being a big thinker is ok, but sometimes thinking big can ruin everything. Let me demonstrate.
I’ve only been a runner for a few months. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do, though: I like the idea of it, the animalistic nature of an early-morning jog into the mist, a slice of ocean now and then glittering between the apartment blocks, alluring. I got the idea that I might like to be a runner when my marriage died, the curtains of that heady illusion suddenly fallen all around in artistic splashes of red velvet and me, unloved me, in all my ok-shaped-but-honestly-kinda-flabby-and-definetely-badly-dressed glory, revealed. I thought running would not only give me confidence and my body back but it’s a very measurable goal and I could judge myself by it, reward myself by it, compare myself to others by it (Beginning to see the problems?). I started going to the gym and running on the treadmill and fiddling with the speed and the incline and the fan and trying not to throw up and after a while I thought I was good enough to take it to the streets.
I got into my tights one morning, pulled on my shoes, hooked up my music, opened my front door and looked down the street.
Jesus, I thought. That’s a long goddamn street.
I figured 5km was a good goal to head toward, so I started bouncing along. My GPS told me that the end of the street was two hundred metres from my house. I was already struggling. Sweat was tickling in my hair, and my calves started itching, so now and then ducking to swipe at my calves, now and then plastering my hair back from my face, and all the time panting like a shot ox, I got about eight hundred metres into the run and slowed to a walk. On the morning of the next planned run, two days later, I lay in bed for a good twenty minutes just hating the assignment I’d set myself. I thought about places I knew that were approximately 5km away. They seemed like foreign lands. It would take me years, I decided, to be able to get to 5km and I probably wasn’t going to enjoy the journey in any case. Runners lead joyless lives. All they eat is buckwheat, whatever the hell that is, and polenta, and their knees and hips go by thirty if they don’t get hit by a truck, and their friends hate them secretly, the way I’ve secretly hated plenty of runner friends for their success at it. People are born runners. Long-legged types wearing bum bags and massaging their hamstrings outside cafes filled with colourful cyclists, talking about gel insteps and Deep Heat and the Sydney half-kay and beep tests you can download to your phone.
Stupid runners. I rolled over in bed. They’re wasting their time.
It’s possible, and surprisingly easy, to think your way completely out of anything you might want to do that is even slightly uncomfortable. And sitting down over the space of a year or more and writing a novel is the perfect example of something you can over-think and talk yourself out of in no more than a couple of sentences. Ninety thousand words? All of them completely original, appealing, interesting, grammatically correct, plausible, believable, entertaining, publishable? Ten thousand hours to master the craft? All of them alone, completely alone, nothing but novelty coffee mug and Microsoft Word and blinking cursor and oblivion-spelling empty page… Nothing but experience, imagination, desire, instinct, to guide you? Are you nuts? Do you have any idea how long it takes just to get an initial sparkle of inspiration into a narrative structure? To formulate characters, give them environments, upbringings, baggage, idiosyncrasies, hairstyles, cars, pets, jobs, habits, attitudes, accents, sexual fetishes, to get this cast together, to make them do something that strangers would be compelled to read about? Do you have any idea how many edits a manuscript needs before it’s even of submittable standard? Do you know how many full-length novels the average writer writes before they hit on a winner?
Let’s just stay in bed. It’s warm here.
Writing a novel is like the longest run you’ve ever been on in your life. You can sit there before you even begin with your elbow on the table and face in hand, possible beard action, and imagine how bad it’s going to be. Those first sweaty, stumbling, uncertain pages, the discomfort of finding a rhythm, the shock of wind that hits you now and then as you rise over a crest and realise how far you are from home, what’s before you. Like running, writing is lonely; no one will know you did or didn’t do it today, whether you did well at it at all, whether you failed and stayed in bed, whether you wrote something that you’ll have to scrap tomorrow, time wasted. Before you even open a document, you can open your browser and read about publishing houses tumbling to the earth and writers losing their contracts and editors sifting through thousands of manuscripts a year, giving them a page to impress, a single page, tossing them over their shoulder into the burn heap.
If you didn’t think about all that, though, what might happen? What if you thought of nothing beyond this word. This one. This line of text. What if one idea just crept into the next, and there was no need for an idea beyond what you have in your hands, a man in a room, a man with a gun, a man with a plan. Whatever it is. Plenty of writers talk about the need for structure, planning, big picture schemes, PostIt notes on cork boards, roads mapped out, GPS hooked up, progress measured and chapters outlined. But what if all you needed, in fact, was momentum. Slow at first. Gathering speed. Not a thought spared for the distance left until finish. Just the pure dedication to this moment, and the action of writing, or running, and the will in this moment not to stop.
I implore you to forget about the journey for a minute, because it will be long, and hard, and windy, and painful, and you’ll want to stop at the half way mark. You’ll want to stop ten minutes from now. You’ll doubt yourself. You’ll tell yourself you weren’t born for this. You’ll hate the people sailing past you, watch them disappear over the rise ahead. All of that’s to come, oh yes, I can’t tell you that it isn’t. But what if you just didn’t think about it. What if you just stopped thinking all together.
I ran 8km this morning. Easy.
Happy writing, everybody.
I’ve been a bad blogger. I’m sorry! It’s been a while since I was here to tell you what’s been going on, and yet even though I’ve returned I don’t intend to make this an exhausting recount of all the publishing success I’ve had since last we met. Indeed, things have been going a little nuts in Candice Town, but I’d rather have a look at what I’ve learned from the last few months than give you a yawntastic, self-praising timeline. When I was a kid dreaming of giving my first interview on Good Morning Australia as a hot-shot new novelist, I thought I had a pretty good idea of what would happen after that surreal moment when the phone rang one morning just before Christmas and my agent, a smile saturating her voice, said ‘I’ve got an offer for you.’ Turns out, I had no idea. So here’s a look at what has shocked, moved, puzzled and made me laugh about the process of finally dropping the feeling that I’m being a wanker when I call myself an ‘author’.
The strangest thing about being a new author, (and I should make it clear, one who hasn’t actually sold a single book yet, as release is still five months off), has been how incredibly irregular the excitement is. You’ll know from previous posts that I was shocked at how very ordinary the moment I got my first offer was compared to the street-parade-trumpet-blaring-heavens-opening-up-strippers-gyrating-on-my-porch vision I’d carried for many years. I literally received an encouraging punch in the arm from my stepdad, a flood of sudden tears from my mother, about eighteen dozen text messages of congratulations, and that was it. Christmas decorations needed to be bought, and Mum was going up the street, so I went with her, and that was that. The lack of reporters following me down the street and stalker fans affixing bloody love letters to my bonnet and moustached, round-bellied mayors giving my keys to the city wasn’t an anti-climax, however. What I got was a different kind of excitement to what I’d expected. The big explosive excitement was diffused into tiny moments throughout the next few months, most of them completely private. Being unable to sleep for the strange, knotted feeling in my stomach. Passing bookstores and looking at the displays. Getting text messages from my agent and feeling the muscles tense in my fingers as I open them. People introducing me into circles of strangers as ‘the famous author’. I think in a way, the excitement has been a slow burn for the people in my life, too. Bringing in my first print draft copy of the book and handing it to my stepdad was clearly, for him, a game changer. Watching him try to open it with his big fingers to see the words somehow without actually touching the pages, lest he should leave a print or mark or smudge, was very sweet.
It was an artefact to him. A precious thing.
Losing the guilt, that strange inexplicable guilt, at calling myself a writer when people asked me what I did for as living was a slow process. I denied the fact completely until I realised that I made more money in those months writing than I did doing anything else. So economically, if not emotionally, I was, actually, a writer. But there was this fear I suppose that unless I waved my contract around I’d be a called a fraud on one of these encounters, that someone would point at my face and accuse me of ‘wasting’ my life or failing to find myself a ‘real’ job. When do you become an author? After your first book? Your second? How much should you make as an author before anyone respects you? Should you have to make a single cent? Are you a writer when you make nothing from it? Are people born writers, or are they assigned the title? I didn’t know. For a while there after the first deal I’d meet new people and cower from that inevitable, self-defining question.
What do you do, Candice?
I’m a university lecturer. Freelancer. Cat lover. Gym junky. Writer.
I’m a university lecturer and a writer.
I write, and I teach writing.
I’m an author.
A goddamn author, Boo! Can I get a hellz ye-oh?
(I reached gangsta fist-pump level about a week ago and then retracted slightly for the sake of good taste).
In the long stretches of ordinary life, moments of the writerly life push upward and break through the hard earth like volcanoes, dangerous to the desire to keep a level head.
I got a deal for book two from Random House Australia a couple of months back that totally derailed attempts I had made to talk myself down about this becoming a career. I lunched with smiling, laughing publishing staff at a torch-lit place in North Sydney, guest of honour, client, partner, interviewee, quietly obsessed with keeping my hair straight throughout the meeting without anyone knowing how worried I was about my hair not being straight. I read my contract, calculated the days I needed to get book two written by the deadline, and began writing, writing something that I actually knew other people were going to read, the first time I’d ever written like that. On the clock. Measured for success.
Strangers began to appear on my Facebook author page. Someone at a family reunion in London approached my mum and told her how proud he was of me, and she had to ask his name and who he was (Incidentally, I have no idea who he is either, but thanks for the well wishes distant relative stranger man). My Australian agent took the book overseas and started shopping it around. I got a New York agent. I got an American deal, and then another. People started talking translation rights. Drunk on cheap pink champagne at my neighbour’s house, I squinted at my phone while kids tumbled and wrestled at my feet and tried to answer the question of how much I’d accept for them to print the books in Hebrew.
‘Seriously?’ I asked my agent.
‘Seriously,’ she said.
I’ve been surprised at how sickening it can be lately to sit down at the computer and ready my hands over the keys. I always imagined something like this, watching the words crawl across the page and knowing that eager eyes would be reading them one day, would be a joyous thing – and sometimes it is, don’t get me wrong, but sometimes, oh sometimes, I am afraid. I think I’m most afraid because I don’t know how I made HADES the book that it is, aside from loving its characters like they are real people in my life (and learning much from the cataclysmic failure of four other full-length novels… ahem!). I still love those people, and am so grateful to be able to keep them alive, so half the time I spend writing is enjoying the company of my imaginary posse, and that makes the work easier.
When I ask myself how I’m going to write another HADES, or something even better than HADES, ideally, I look for what I was trying to explore. I wrote HADES the way I wrote it because I was genuinely interested in that foggy barrier between good and evil, when evil thoughts become evil desires, when evil desires become evil deeds. Anyone who says they haven’t wanted to kill someone else at a certain point in their life is lying. Anyone who says they haven’t wondered what they would trade to cheat death at least once is kidding themselves. But when do you enact evil? What makes it creep out of your brain, down through your arms and out your hands? I was fascinated by survival instinct and how this much-denied, ancient human magic would interact with a little old-fashioned psychopathy. Right now I’m interested in those societal fringe-dwellers living bare, the kind of people who scrape at existence, who are born into brutal worlds by brutal people and how inexplicably they are drawn together, encouraged, it seems, by each other’s inherent darkness. Mob mentality. The deadly potential of idle hands. Some people are born bad, and they come up against a world so righteously and self-consciously trying to do good all the time (or at least, appearing to). What would happen if I let one of my most beloved characters wander into this unforgiving landscape? What goes on in the everyday lives of those who never belonged?
So right now, it’s a writer’s life for me. I go to writer’s club. I make plans about my work on paper. I show drafts to agents and publishers. I approve or make suggestions to covers. I sit at my local cafe with my dog on my lap and my coffee in my hand and think about things, think about my people, what’s in store for them, how they will take it. I try to fight back the excitement, that paralysing excitement, which can so easily turn into terror and grind the work to a halt, which sparkles every now and then when my phone chimes with an email or a bus with a book ad goes by or a shopkeeper smiles and points and says ‘Hey, you! Shouldn’t you be writing? Go home! Gettouttahere!’
They don’t want my business. *sigh*