Charlotte Kandel, is behind The Scarlet Stockings Trilogy and The Summer Girl: A Movie Star Love Story. She kindly took the time to answer some of our questions about finding inspiration, moving from the corporate world to self-employment, and what it means to be a writer.
Why must I write? The overall answer is that writing for me nourishes a deep yearning to speak soul to soul to others; to plumb the whys and wherefores of existence and universal experience. Leaving aside the miraculously evolving technical world, the verities remain the same as centuries pass, since man first walked upright; love, despair, jealousy, aspiration, ambition, hate, and our internal struggle to fulfill the highest in our natures. Shakespeare’s sonnets of passionate love and loss remain as fresh and new, if not in language certainly in evoked emotion, as when he wrote them in 1600. The mind-expanding excitement of finding and exploring new worlds are as thrilling now as when Jules Verne imagined a Journey to the Center of the Earth in 1864. And yet each person experiences these feelings and quests as NEW. And they are new. Because they are new to the individual who is living them. To have something I write shine a light or bring comfort or laughter is the highest ideal in my book! For most of my life I wasn’t a writer, even though I desperately wanted to be. I see now that I wasn’t ready to write in the way I love to and that seems to work for me; through experience. Instead I indulged my snoopy passion for seeing what really happens behind the scenes, when the spotlight goes out and the makeup comes off and the real person is left nakedly present. So I chose a career in celebrity public relations and it taught me so much. Everyone is fallible, everyone, no matter how talented, struggles with identity crises, lack of self confidence and the question that haunts even at the pinnacle of fame — ‘is that all there is?’ From paces away I’ve seen that an actor or actress can hold an Oscar in their hand and feel both ecstatic triumph and deep, humbling fear. ‘What if it was a fluke, what if I can’t do it again?’ I can’t imagine a better ‘university’ for a would-be writer.
2) Which two books do you find indispensable? Who has given you the greatest experience of the essence of creativity, its depths and eternity?
Two books? Anne of Green Gables, with its brave, freckled orphaned heroine first touched my heart at the age of 7. Anne’s loneliness found an echo in me as I undressed for bed in an isolated English boarding school. Anne’s courage sparked mine. Anne’s determination to speak out helped my shyness and gave me a voice. Anne’s loving heart showed me the power of optimism. And even though it’s a cliché, the book I re-read every year or so is Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. So funny, so thrilling, so romantic, so glamorous, so TRUE. I think it’s at the top of everyone’s list because of the absolute believability of all the characters. They all have such intensely sensible psychological reasons for their behavior, even the silliest ones! And never was written a happier ending!
3) Where is the place in which you most love to write?
I absolutely love my house in Los Angeles. I’m a decorating, gardening, collecting, cooking addict. One of my favorite things wherever I am in the world has always been the sight of lighted windows at night, symbolizing safety and security. (Oh, that that were always true). I have an office crammed with books, photos and objects garnered on my travels. There are always flowers and a window looks out onto my front garden which, because it’s California, is lushly alive all year long. Having all this interesting STUFF and beauty at hand calms me and supports the free-drifting state of mind that helps the writing process.
4) If you could not send a reader all of your books, which one would you recommend first?
I’d love readers to start with my first book, The Enchanted Riddle, Book One in my magical realism trilogy The Scarlet Stockings. I wrote it in three months, shortly after I left Warner Bros. I say I ‘wrote’ it, but honestly it’s a bit of a mystery how it did get written. So often I’d sit at my keyboard and think ‘Don’t let THAT happen’! But it did because it wanted to. The heroine draws deeply on some childhood experiences. The scary, vile, glamorous villainess sprang full-blown into my mind, along with her dour sidekick. A total labour of love.
5) Which book, story or poem brought you greatest comfort as a teen?
‘Hope is a thing with feathers’ by Emily Dickinson. I needed hope to believe that the adult trapped in a child’s body would fly one day!
6) You’ve lived in (and have traveled to) many different countries. Has that impacted the way you write or the characters in your books?
The opportunity to travel is one of the best, best things that can be offered to any human being I believe. To sniff the exotic air of a different continent, hear the music of a foreign language spoken, come across a surprise round every corner, have that ‘I’m on holiday’ bursting exhilaration and sense of freedom. It truly is a wonderful, endlessly mesmerizing world. Yes, yes, yes, I set my books in places I love, London, Paris, Ancient Egypt, Hollywood and Minnesota. My characters speak in dialect, if they’re Russian they sound Russian. If they’re from Cockney London, they drop their h’s as in ”Ow about a nice cup of tea’?! The universal advice given to writers when they first start is ‘write about what you know’. I say go out there and ‘know’ a lot.
7) You worked in publicity at Warner Bros. for 15+ years. Now that you’re an author, is it different being on the other side, as a “talent”? Have there been any surprises?
Oh the bliss of being free from the ego-driven stress of the movie biz. I mostly loved my job at Warner Bros., but sometimes hated it when selfish, horrible behavior was being richly rewarded and pandered to. When I left the studio I made a vow that from now on I would only work with people I liked and respected. When success has come I hope I haven’t been a monster. When failure has come I hope I haven’t been a monster. Enough with monsters for one lifetime!
8 ) What advice would you give to a young person, or your younger self, about love?
I’m the worst person to ask for love advice (although finally, finally I have a fantastic husband, #3; don’t ask about the other 2 please!). As my father once said, ‘You’ve been involved with some real crumb bums in your time, honey’. I had a predilection for bad boys, which I wrote about in The Summer Girl: A Movie Star Love Story.
9) You’ve written one series (The Scarlet Stockings Trilogy) and another book (The Summer Girl: A Movie Star Love Story). Has your writing process changed between these two books?
I hope I’ve grown as a writer since I started. Most people overwrite when they start; I certainly know I did. I’m much better now at self-editing, my motto being ‘curb that hyperbole’, a version of the doggy pooper-scooping. Maybe it’s the ex-publicist in my but I do tend to over-sprinkle the adjective around and am teaching myself to WATCH IT.
10) In closing, what single best piece of advice would you give to a hopeful young writer, in a sentence?
In terms of advice, I guess I’d say, ‘Writing is not for the faint hearted, GET UP FROM THE MAT and go another round.’