Welcome to The Sweetest Debut, a regular installment in which we reach out to debut (or near-debut, we’re flexible!) fiction, poetry and nonfiction authors working with presses of all sizes and find out about their pop culture diets, their writing habits, and how they explain their books to different people in their lives. This time, we speak to Mel Campbell and Anthony Morris, two Australian film critics who’ve teamed up to co-write their debut novel The Hot Guy. The book is out now, and is available as an ebook and in hard copy.
What’s your elevator pitch to folks in the industry describing your book?
Mel Campbell: Two professional film critics roast the romantic comedy genre in a love story that will make you laugh out loud on the train.
Anthony Morris: It’s called The Hot Guy. It’s about a guy. He’s really hot.
What do you tell your relatives it’s about?
Anthony: It’s a romantic comedy – accent on the comedy – about the world’s hottest man (who doesn’t realize he’s hot) and the regular girl he starts a relationship with. Also, there’s a sinister Facebook group dedicated to having sex with him, which he knows nothing about (aside from the sex).
Mel: I advise them that the book contains frequent coarse language, strong adult themes, many scenes of alcohol consumption and an intense, persistent silliness.
Name a canonical book you think is totally overrated.
Anthony: I couldn’t get more than a chapter into Gary Shteyngart’s Super Sad True Love Story. It was either too sad or not sad enough.
Mel: Kate Bush’s ‘Wuthering Heights’ is far, far superior to Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights. For a start, the book has no blistering guitar outro.
Name a book you’ve read more than twice.
Mel: The Growing Pains of Adrian Mole by Sue Townsend. I first read it as a kid, identifying sincerely with teenage dingdong Adrian and not realizing the jokes were all about his naïve intellectual pretensions. Then I reread it for the melancholy character work and Townsend’s insights into 1980s British class politics. Most recently, I’ve just been enjoying its viciously funny literary parody, as Adrian emulates (badly) his favorite writers’ styles.
Anthony: In my teens I read loads of science fiction novels multiple times, which probably explains why so many of The Hot Guy’s supporting cast are named after science-fiction authors. John Brunner’s Stand on Zanzibar still holds up surprisingly well, considering it’s set in the grim overcrowded future world of 2010 and there’s only one computer.
Name a book or other piece of art that influenced your writing for this particular project.
Anthony: So many rom-com movies! They kind of blur into one after a while. Mel and I have very similar senses of humor (thankfully), which largely comes from seeing so many of the same films for work and then making fun of the bad ones afterwards.
Mel: We should also pay homage to People magazine for its excellent anthropological work in the field of sexiest men alive.
What’s your favorite show to binge watch when you’re not writing?
Mel: I have a costume drama club with my friends on Friday nights. We just finished the BBC miniseries The Crimson Petal and the White, and before that we watched Taboo, The Last Kingdom and Versailles. But left to my own devices… god this is so embarrassing… I love Shadowhunters.
Anthony: I tend to have a lot of shows on the go at once… I just finished watching Banshee, I’m finally getting through Mr Robot, and I’m rewatching Fleabag and You’re the Worst. I also watch Pretty Little Liars, and am in no way embarrassed about that because it’s awesome.
What’s the last movie you saw in theaters?
Anthony: It’s our job! We’re both film reviewers. I think it was Snatched, which I… did not love. It had some funny moments early on though. Well, the woman behind me thought they were funny, as she would laugh hysterically for minutes at a time and then make a kind of sighing sound like a deflating balloon.
Mel: Alien: Covenant. I thought about ducking out to the loo during the drawn-out, disconcertingly sexual sequence in which Michael Fassbender teaches Michael Fassbender how to play the recorder. (“You just put your lips together and… blow.”) But I decided to stay in case this turned out to be an important plot point. It did not.
Do you listen to music while you’re writing? If so, what kind?
Mel: I guess this question is not about the time we were trying to write a love scene and Anthony started singing the Birds Eye Fish Fingers ad jingle.
Anthony: We write together in the same room, so no music – we need the silence so I can hear Mel’s cries of horror as I suggest adding numerous extraneous “erotic” sex scenes. They don’t always involve sea shanties, but it helps when they do.
What did you initially want to be when you grew up?
Anthony: A fighter pilot. Then I realized a): it wasn’t 1942 and b): being a pilot requires a whole lot of math.
Mel: A palaeontologist – I was obsessed with dinosaurs. It’s such a preschooler cliché. But the dream died when I realised palaeontologists were essentially overqualified stonemasons.
Did you have a New Year’s resolution for 2017? If so, what was it?
Anthony: Sadly, my resolutions were mostly fevered prayers for the success of The Hot Guy.
Mel: I’m afraid I also resolved to become a bestselling author this year.
Do you prefer a buzzing coffee shop or silent library?
Anthony: Silent library for sure.
Mel: I’m conflicted, because libraries usually don’t let you bring coffee in.
Do you write at a desk, bed or couch?
Anthony: The Hot Guy was largely written at a desk, with occasional sessions in food courts. But otherwise my writing usually takes place on my bed, which I continue to feel incredibly bad about.
Mel: Not only do I write at my desk but I also eat, read, watch movies and TV, and occasionally sleep there.
Is morning writing or late-night writing your go-to time?
Anthony: Late night for sure. The Hot Guy was written in the afternoons, but that was so we could go off and do our other writing in the evenings.
Mel: It’s really nice that when it occurs to me to tell Anthony something at 11:30pm, he’s actually awake and at his desk. Well, his bed.
Do you tend towards writing it all out in one big messy draft and then editing, or perfecting as you go (or something in between)?
Anthony: We plotted out The Hot Guy pretty extensively before we started work, so we knew what had to happen in pretty much every chapter. Then when we wrote it we polished as we went so when we had a completed draft it was close to finished. But we then went over it and added a bunch more stuff so… something in between?
Mel: Most of the messiness was verbal: our writing process is more like a TV writers’ room. We’d sit together, referring to our chapter plan, talking through the dialogue and solving any story and character issues. What got written down in the draft was what we negotiated verbally.
How do you pay the bills, if not solely by your pen and your wit?
Mel: Apart from freelance journalism I do copywriting, editing and proofreading, and teach a graduate course in media and communication studies called “Celebrity, Fashion, Publicity.” This week we analyzed Madonna’s speech at the Women’s March in January.
Anthony: Full-time freelance writing for me, which is pretty scary the way journalism is currently going. But at the moment I’m scraping by.
What is your trick to finding time to write your book while also doing the above?
Anthony: Just treating it as another job… which is hard, because writing a novel isn’t just another job. But we scheduled writing time for it each week and just made it work.
Mel: A film critic’s schedule works for writing a book. We’ll often have a media screening at 9:30am, then we’ll get lunch and gossip, then we’ll do some book writing and be done in time to head to the 6:30pm screening.