We sat down with Crimson Lake author Candice Fox to ask her a few questions about her process, her inspirations, and her recommendations for fans of crime novels.
What are your writing rituals?
I grew up in a disgracefully noisy household that frequently had 12 or more kids in it, some of them foster kids who stayed with us for up to 12 months. My mum fostered over 150 kids during my childhood. I didn’t have my own room for a lot of the time, so I learned early on to write anywhere, and at any time, because the setup was rarely perfect. Because of my childhood I have the ability to tune out of my environment and work on plots and dialogue anywhere, no matter how stressful or chaotic the circumstances.
What do you enjoy most about writing? What’s the most frustrating part?
I like the power and control afforded to me as a writer – I get to create people I’d like to be and experience things that have nothing to do with my real life, consequence free. I don’t have to sit around wondering what it might be like to escape to the solitude of the tropical north and live like a hermit on the edge of a lake – I can explore that for tens of thousands of pages if I want to. The most frustrating part of this job for me is the editing process, by far. My novels go through five or six edits, and sometimes they’re edited by up to five different people. By that time I’m usually midway through my next book, so my mind and my heart are tangled up in new adventures, and I don’t like to go back.
What’s your favorite method of procrastination?
Oh, but there are so many. I knit and crochet little toys and give them away to children. I look at crime scene photographs or listen to criminal confessions and interrogations I find online. I clean the house or reorganise storage cupboards. I ‘research’ by bingeing on true crime TV or podcasts. I’m a big napper. I’m down for the count for at least an hour every day, around 2pm.
Where is Crimson Lake? Is it inspired by a real place?
Crimson Lake is inspired by a real place, but I’ve been advised not to name that place, and I can understand why. In the book I write about two very corrupt, menacing police officers, and with the small towns of tropical north Queensland manned by small police forces, it’s too dangerous that someone might take offense. My characters are actually almost never inspired by real people, because I find it too restricting.
Have any real life crimes found their way into your books?
They have. Usually it’s that I’ve become fixated on a particular case or a particular killer I’ve come across in my true crime research, and I’ve asked myself why I’m so interested in them because most true crime just washes over me in an enjoyable but indistinct manner. Parts of Black and Blue, which I wrote with James Patterson, were inspired by the killing of Thomas and Jackie Hawk by Skylar Deleon and his pregnant wife Jennifer. The Columbine massacre and other mass shootings are mentioned in our book Fifty Fifty, and I began to think about accusations of child sexual assault and their effect on a person’s life for the Crimson Lake series when Rolf Harris and Robert Hughes were arrested for those crimes.
What are some books, movies, shows, podcasts, etc that you might recommend?
There are so many. For a strings-free crime podcast that’ll disturb you on the go, head straight to Sword&Scale. For a run-on series with in-depth analysis try Someone Knows Something. I wrote Crimson Lake with True Detective in mind, so that’ll have to be my television recommendation. If you haven’t seen Casino or Good Fellas, by Scorsese, you’re missing out in life. And at the moment I’m reading and loving lots of James Lee Burke.
How has your love for rescuing animals found its way into Crimson Lake?
Along with collecting children, my mother was a big animal rescuer (and trash picker). She used to love the feeling of bringing home something or someone that had seemingly lost all hope and needed her as its redemption. I wanted to get involved, and my mother was insanely busy with all her responsibilities, so she gave me any birds that would come in because mostly they weren’t worth her trouble. Many of them died. It was an odd parenting decision.
I wanted readers to be confused as to whether or not to trust Ted in my novel, so I immediately presented them with conflicting evidence – a strong case that he had done something awful to a teenage girl, and a very vivid rescue scenario in which you see all his humanity laid bare. Originally, I’d thought of having Ted rescue a family of cats, but I know what it’s like to have a warm, frantic, injured bird in my hands and they say you should write what you know. It was fun to write because a scared bird is very obviously vulnerable. You get the misplaced feathers and the panting breast and the bulging eyes, something beautiful all messed up in its distress. And who doesn’t like fluffy baby geese?
Who have been your best teachers or muses?
I had a teacher in my university days named James Forsyth who was really one of the first people to dive deep into my writing on a line-by-line basis. I’d attended night college classes as a teen, but those really only assessed whether I could write short stories. James and I were supposed to work on a 40,000 word piece together, but I asked whether we could look at the whole novel I’d just completed. The guy had no idea what he was in for.
I’d tried to break down the door of the publishing scene with a tank – my manuscript was a 250,000 word multi-genre mess with a cast of thousands. There was a storm that went for four pages in the book, just a regular old storm that meant nothing to the plot. James faithfully took out his carving knife and slashed that manuscript to pieces with me, day by day, for six months. He was endlessly patient as I tried to argue for every piece of description, every brilliant sub plot. He was a brilliant teacher, and I’m glad to hear he teacher high school. Hopefully he’s catching writers before they end up writing enormous monstrosities like I did.
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