#258 – Writing New Genres with Nalini Singh

New York Times bestselling author Nalini Singh joins us on the podcast this week to talk about her long standing career as a romance author and why she recently decided to try her hand at writing thrillers.

New York Times bestselling author Nalini Singh joins us on the podcast this week to talk about her long standing career as a romance author and why she decided to try her hand at writing thrillers. Nalini chats to us about her publishing journey, why she decided to give indie publishing a try and become a hybrid author, and she tells us what it was like to be included on Oprah’s list of Best Romances to Read in this Lifetime.

  • Nalini walks us through her journey to publication and the challenges she faced as an unagented author in New Zealand, and she explains how this helped prepare her for the digital publishing boom
  • She tells us why she decided to become a hybrid author and try her hand at indie publishing, and she tells us how she approaches series differently when publishing indie versus traditional
  • Nalini talks to us about her long standing career and why she believes a balance of reliability and openness to new things has been important to her success
  • She discusses plotting and writing long-running series, how she keeps readers interested over the span of many books, and she tells us how she keeps all of the details in her series organized after so much time
  • Nalini tells us about her newest foray into the thriller genre, how the writing process differed from writing romance, and she gives us insights into creating an unreliable narrator

Useful Links

Nalini’s Website
Follow Nalini on Facebook and Twitter
Quiet in her Bones
Psy-Changling Series
Guild Hunter Series
Slave to Sensation
Oprah’s 27 Best Romance Books to Read in this Lifetime
In Death
Crash Landing on You

Nalini was born in Fiji and raised in New Zealand. She spent three years living and working in Japan, where she took the chance to travel around Asia.

She has worked as a lawyer, a librarian, a candy factory general hand, a bank temp and an English teacher, but not necessarily in that order. Some might call that inconsistency, but she calls it grist for the writer’s mill.

Nalini been writing for as long as she can remember. All of my stories held a thread of romance, even when writing about a prince who could shoot lasers out of his eyes. Creating unique characters and giving them happy endings is her favorite thing.

Episode Transcript

Transcription provided by Speechpad

Joni: Hey, writers, you’re listening to the “Kobo Writing Life Podcast,” where we bring you insights and inspiration for growing your self-publishing business. We’re your hosts. I’m Joni, author engagement specialist at Kobo Writing Life.

Tara: I’m Tara, the director of Kobo Writing Life for English language.

Joni: So this episode features Stephanie McGrath, I believe it’s her last episode, and Tara talking to Nalini Singh. How was your conversation?

Tara: It was good. I mean, with the ghost of Steph, it’s sort of interesting to listen to again. But this conversation was amazing and we wanted to sync it up with Nalini’s newest release. You may have heard of her, she is a giant in the romance community with over 40 books published. And she is a hybrid author that does go traditional and also goes the indie route. So we talked about how she keeps, kind of, her career long withstanding for such a number of books. And then we also talked about how she shifted into, sort of, writing some thrillers with her latest standalone thriller “Quite in Her Bones.” And what the difference is between writing like this. And also, I was quite interested in the fact that it has an unreliable narrator which I, kind of, love and hate at the same time. So we talked to Nalini about how it was like writing that because romance doesn’t necessarily usually have unreliable narrators. But it’s good to be able to dip your toe into a different genre and a different style of writing. Also, we talk about Oprah and Talia Hibbert. I won’t give much more away, you have to listen.

Joni: Amazing. Excited to share this one.

Tara: Well, thank you, Nalini Singh, for joining us today. Super excited to have you here on the “KWL Podcast.”

Nalini: I’m excited to be here. Nice to see you again.

Tara: Yeah, nice to see you. It’s been two years now, I can’t believe that.

Nalini: I know, I know. Time has passed so quickly despite everything. It’s still…

Tara: Yeah.

Nalini: I can’t believe we’re in 2021 already.

Tara: I know. It is absolutely wild. But you are a huge name in the romance community. But if, per chance, somebody that is listening doesn’t know who you are, could you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Nalini: Okay. So I am Nalini. I live in New Zealand. And I write paranormal romance for the most part. I write the “Psy-Changeling” series which features telepaths and shapeshifters. And I write the “Guild Hunter” series which features archangels, vampires, guild hunters. But I also write some contemporary romance. I’ve written about some rockstars and some rugby players. And I’m now dipping my toes into straight thrillers.

Tara: Wow, you are just in everything, in every genre.

Nalini: Yeah, it’s the squirrel brain, you know? It keeps wanting to try new things every so often. I have this thing where… I call them my play projects so I work on them in the background. So I don’t really talk about them until they’re at a point where I want to share them with the world or, you know? So, yeah, I did that with my first rockstar book that I wrote. That was the first contemporary I wrote after, I don’t know, 10 years of writing paranormals, I think? And so I just wrote it to see how it would go. And then I enjoyed it and I wanted to do more so that’s when I, sort of, went out with it.

And then it was the same with the mystery, the thriller. I just was like, “Yeah, you know, I really want to do this. Let’s see how it goes.” But I like trying these new things without any pressure so I don’t try and get, like, a book deal or put up a pre-order or anything like that. I just do it at my own pace in the background until I’m at a point where I’m like, “Yeah, yeah. I feel like this is good, I want to keep going with this. I want to share this with readers.” So, yeah.

Stephanie: So let’s jump back maybe a few years. I have written down that you have 40 books published but I don’t think that’s true anymore. Do you know how many you have published?

Nalini: Not off the top of my head! I think someone asked me to count a while ago, and it was like 45, I think but don’t quote me on that.

Stephanie: Okay, so around 40-ish titles. So we were just wondering how did you get your start in publishing?

Nalini: So I started way, way, way before eBooks were even a thing, right? Forget self-publishing, eBooks didn’t even, like, exist. So I was doing fully traditional, you know, sending in query letters to publishers, getting rejections, and all of that. And it was particularly difficult because I’m based in New Zealand like I said, and at the time a lot of publishers would only take either submissions from agents or they would not take submissions from outside the country the publisher was based in. So the U.S. would take U.S. submissions, the UK would take UK, you know, Canada would take Canada kind of thing. And so I had to find publishers that I could submit to directly because getting an agent was just as hard. I was relatively young. I had no sort of credits or writing credits to my name kind of thing. So, yeah, I submitted to a lot of people, but I eventually got picked up with Silhouette Desire in New York and I wrote six books for them. And the last two, I think, overlapped with when I sold “Slave to Sensation” which is the first “Psy-Changeling” book. And so at that time, I did get an agent. And I guess it’s a good story to share because my entire career, I have not been inside the publishing landscape. So when I got my agent, I was in Japan. I was working in Japan. You know, everything has been done remotely so I think I’m quite a good example of having a career just from anywhere. You can be based anywhere and have a career in publishing. So, yeah, that’s how it began. I came up through the slush pile at first, and then, yeah. And then “Slave to Sensation” was my first agented sale.

Tara: That’s very impressive that you’ve had this remote career especially when you’ve gone the traditional route. Because now it seems like, oh, of course, you can just use your computer and publish an eBook. And, like, as we’ve learned from being at home for a year now, you know, you can work anywhere. So, yeah, that’s interesting that you’ve been doing this the whole time even though the digital landscape has completely changed.

Nalini: Yeah, I think it’s just something you get used to when you’re on an island so it’s just a fact of life. We don’t even think about it, we’re so used to it. But, yeah, it put us in a really good position, I think, for when eBooks did take off and more online things did begin to happen. I was 40, very familiar with the landscape and very comfortable with it. And I can see the same in my friends in my friend group down here. And as you know, some of them were very successful self-publishers and I think it’s helped that they were already working online so much already before all that took off. So at the time, I have to say, you know, it felt so hard. I used to get, like, copy edits mailed to me, I got FedExed. And normally, there would be a two-week turnaround. But once you added in the time for it to ship back and forth, it would be cut down to like a week to turnaround and to…

Stephanie: Oh, my God.

Nalini: …copy edit. And I remember at one point, I actually… This is amazing. This was when I was at Berkeley, I remember at one time, I actually was on the phone for two hours with my editor’s assistant. And we just went through it on the phone because it was, you know, to get it through done in time. And, you know, she was a legend. It just was amazing to do that. We didn’t have to do that too much because then everyone did start switching over to the electronic proofs and everything. But, yeah, it’s so old school, really old school.

Stephanie: So you mentioned previously that you, kind of, like dabble in other kinds of stories without letting anyone see it. Or not letting anyone see it, but, like, you, kind of, get it all finished before you decide to publish. Is that why you, kind of, decided to do indie publishing?

Nalini: So my indie stuff, I’m quite a techy person. I like gadgets so it’s like a joke in my family. You know, like, “Oh, a new gadget, let’s tell Nalini about it.” So I really love working with traditional publishers, but I also really, really was interested in the indie side of things and I really wanted to know about it. I feel like it’s such an important part of the publishing landscape now. And I didn’t want to know about it only from the outside, I wanted to be inside. So when I wrote the contemporary, I thought, “Well, this is what I’m going to, you know, go indie with.” Because I just find it a really nice balance, you know, doing that and then alongside my traditional stuff so I really wanted to build this hybrid career while getting experienced with doing the indie side of things.

So I’ve actually really enjoyed it because there’s different things I get from each. And the thing with indie also is that I’m not as much on a schedule so I can pick my dates. Which is really good because I do have these two other major series going on, so it’s really nice to be able to just push and slot in the indie writing, you know, in between, and then I can do the proofs and the edits according to, you know, the time that I have.

Stephanie: What do you think has attributed to your success in your long-term career? Maybe it’s because you went hybrid, I’m thinking, or like willing to try new things? Or what do you think has made you successful?

Nalini: It’s hard, you know? It’s hard because for me, this has been a long continuous journey, like, step by step. I think part of it is just steadiness. And I think that can apply to whether you have a traditional career, or an indie career, or a hybrid career. The steadiness of output or the… What’s the word I’m looking for? Like, reliability is really important to build a career because readers know that I’m going to give them a book or two every year from the start of my career, right? And so that starts building a relationship with readers. And that’s really important because if, for example, I published a book year one, and then I didn’t publish the second book until sometime five years later, who is going to remember my name at that point, you know, if I’m a new writer? So I think the fact I’ve written and published steadily has attributed to that. I also think, particularly, my paranormal books, the continuity has really helped because I am obsessive about series continuity. And I actually think that’s why they’ve held their relevance even though “Slave to Sensation,” the first book is now 15 years old, I think. And there are still new readers finding it and reading through the entire series. And I think part of that is because I’m really, really… Like, I spend weeks making sure every single piece fits within the larger series structure. And as a series reader, that’s what I like too. I like this big world and really getting immersed in it.

But the other thing also, I think, is because I love writing. And one of the reasons I love it is what you just said, Stephanie, I am always open to trying new things. And so if I get an idea, I don’t say, “Oh, no. It doesn’t fit into the publishing schedule that I have.” I’ll be like, “Okay. Well, I’ll just find 15 minutes a day to scribble on it.” And then I’ll play with it. And I think, because I constantly give myself that room to play, I’m always coming up with new stuff, new material to try. So, yeah, I think all of that works into it. Because I think, if I love writing, if I love what I’m writing, I feel that comes through in the books. And there’s passion in the books. And that translates to readers as well. Well, I hope it does.

Stephanie: I picture you with a murder board with their, like, plot line [inaudible 00:12:17] book series.

Nalini: I have so many notes. So I used to do it all myself but I have an assistant now, and who is my sister. And it’s gotten to the point now that she puts together, like, we call them manifestos for particular characters. So for example, when I was writing book 10, that character, oh, both the main characters had been in the series since book 1. So she put together a manifesto of, like, every appearance in every scene through the previous nine books. So I read through it all to make sure it’s, like, continuous, their characterization, everything flows, it’s all logical. I really loved it. I love being able to just read those bits where particular characters appear in a continuous flow. So that’s really helpful. And then, in terms of tiny details, quite often, there’s square brackets over things throughout the manuscript like eye color, hair color. Even when I’m absolutely sure I know, I double-check it because that’s how my brain works.

Tara: That must be fun to just be able to read those parts of the characters, like, just the little snippets. Does that help you with, kind of, remembering them or, kind of, writing them in general?

Nalini: Yeah, for sure. Because in my head, my characters grow continuously, all right? So they’re not static. But when I read all those pieces together, it’s a really concrete form of it. It’s the development. And I can see. What is really important to me is I can see what the readers know because my writing style is that I actually delete a lot of material because I write a lot of material. So, sometimes I think our readers know something and they don’t because I actually deleted it from the printed manuscript. So, yeah, it’s good for me to go back and be like, “Okay, so the reader actually doesn’t know this fact that I need them to know and so that needs to be woven into this story.” But, yeah, it’s just really fun sometimes to go back and see the beginning, and then see where characters are now.

And I have to say, I do exactly the same thing with any series I write. So, for example, my contemporary rock series. Even though each of those books stands alone, the characterization has to match, and things that I’ve mentioned in one book have to relate, you know, naturally to the next book. And in that series, I did this particular thing where I wrote two books in the same timeline. I don’t recommend this. It’s extremely, extremely difficult. It will drive you crazy. But it was really fun. But for that one, for example, I had to keep the timeline for one book as I overlaid the timeline for the second book on top of it so that, at no point, were two characters, you know, in two different places it was impossible to be. And, actually, if you read the books back-to-back, you know, they should mesh really well. You should be able to see, “Oh, here is the scene that we, kind of, knew about but now we see it from this point of view.” That was fun in a crazy-making way, yeah.

Stephanie: That, kind of, reminds me of “K-Dramas” when you get 1 scene from 10 different perspectives. And like, I like to, like, read that and watch that, but I can just imagine how that would be for writing it. Yeah.

Tara: It’s, kind of, wild that you were saying that you delete some stuff there because I’m sure that there are just readers angrily just shaking their podcast providers right now. Just being like, “Are you ever going to release those?” Do you ever save stuff like that for, kind of, special one-off, kind of, Easter eggs?

Nalini: I do, actually. I send them out quite often in my newsletter. So, usually, not tons of it because a lot of deleted stuff will make no sense outside the context it was deleted from. But if I get to see where it’s like actually understandable without the rest of what was written around it, then for sure, I’ll share it with readers. And sometimes, I have to put a note saying, you know, “This will no longer make sense in the timeline of the book because it got taken out and things got changed but here it is just for fun.” So two of my favorite authors, they’re science-fiction authors, Sharon Lee and Steve Miller, they have this thing called a splinter universe. And so they share, like, just little splinters from their worlds on there. And I just think that is such a cool concept. So I guess it’s my version. You know, I’ll just co-opt their words just for this one little explanation. But, yeah, it’s like these things don’t fit into the main storyline anymore but they’re fun. And, you know, they feature characters that I think, “Oh, readers might enjoy that.” And so, yeah, I do share them.

Tara: Yeah, nice. That’s good for the readers. So you’ve talked a little bit about writing these two-longstanding series. Did you begin them knowing that they were going to be continuous forever, that you were going to keep going with these or is there an end in sight? Or, like how do you keep going or plot with a series that you’re going to keep writing?

Nalini: So my first big series was the “Psy-Changeling” series. And when I first began, you know, I was a relatively new writer. I had published four Silhouette Design novels and I think I had two more under contract possibly. And so there was no guarantee I would get to publish. Again, this is pre-self-publishing so there’s no guarantee I could finish my series. So if you read the first, I feel like the first two books in particular, they close quite well because I couldn’t know if I would get to spread out as I wanted to spread out. But at the same time, the elements of the series are already there. Because I learned this by watching television, and you can always still tell a really well-written series of television because it has a very strong arch. There is an endpoint. There is a beginning, but you know that you get the climax, and then you’re coming down to the end. And it feels really good and it feels satisfying. So that was my goal. And from about book three to four, I started realizing my publisher was backing me and I really could spread out. And so I did, you can really see the series start to open up at that point. But the elements for all of it were at the beginning. Because when I teach workshops and series writing, the one thing I tell people is, “Think about where you are going because you can’t hold a series together if you don’t know what your goal is, your climax, whatever.”

So my favorite example of this is “Lost” on TV. I loved it, I loved it. But I felt like that it wasn’t really thought out for the final ending. They had this great sort of set setup, but then it, kind of, got frittered away at the end instead of being really tied. And so, always, when I begin a series, I know the end. And so with the “Psy-Changeling” series, at the time I wrote “Slave to Sensation,” I had the end of the series in mind. And so the technical end of that series was book 15 “Allegiance of Honor.” But when I got to that point, I realized it’s actually a new beginning because I basically changed everything in this world and we’re at a point where, you know, you could start again. And so I’m calling the second series, the “Psy-Changeling Trinity” series second season. So I write in seasons.

With the “Guild Hunter” series, I think it’s going to be one season only. But it’s an unusually structured series slightly because it does go into this one couple and then out again to different couples, so it’s just a little bit of a weird structure but it works for that series. But, yeah, for that one, I know where I want to end. And when it’s done, you know it’s done. I guess I could maybe do some offshoot books if I wanted after that. But, yeah, it will be difficult to close the series definitely because I’m so attached. But I think I would rather close it when they’re at a good point than sort of go and then it’s no longer having the same impact. And right now, I feel like the books are still having, there’s some impact, there’s still a story to tell. And so, yeah. So season two is in the “Psy-Changeling” is going well. And the “Guild Hunters,” you know, we are coming towards a close. I won’t say when. Because I never quite know exactly when the series will end, I do it by feel. There’s a few more books to go, but eventually, they’ll close and then I’ll cry like a baby. So, yeah.

Stephanie: Do you have any tips for how you’ve kept readers interested for so long? I guess it kind of plays into part with, like, your interest in the series as well, or like things you may have included in the plot?

Nalini: It’s hard to break down just because my brain doesn’t work like that. But I think it’s really important to have some kind of structure. So there are some series that I also enjoy where there’s no movement in the overall plot. It’s just, it’s like a romance within, we’ll say a town and then different people fall in love. And that can be great. But I think you have to be really careful for it to not become repetitive in that kind of setup. So I think if you want to write a really long series, it’s better to have some kind of world-building. And by that, I don’t mean paranormal fantasy only, it could be anything. It could be, for example, say, a military experiment, you know? So that’s a contemporary, sort of, action, adventure type one. And people have to find the answer to something that happened. So it’s, I think, when you have something that connects the books together, that it’s easy as… I know that as a reader, I find those series are the ones that I keep up with more just because I’m more invested in that background plot element as well. But the other element to add in is to make sure every single character is unique. So I know all of my people. You know, in my books, nobody is blending into anybody else. And part of the reason for that is that I’m very careful about who appears on the page. So in a long-running series, you can end up with casts of thousands. And it’s really, really tempting to just bring people in to say, “Hey,” you know, “Hello.” But they can only appear if they play a role in the plot. Otherwise, it becomes sort of like each book needs to have its own tension, its own plot. It can’t be sacrificed for characters just because you like them as a reader or even as a writer. Or even if readers really love certain characters, they can’t take over so each book needs to have its own heart. And I think writers need to focus on making sure each book within the overall series is as good as any other book.

Tara: Nice. That’s great. I thought it was interesting what you were saying there about when you did your first book and not being sure if that, you know, the publisher would say, like, “Two more books.” And then you were getting the freedom to tell your story. That’s so interesting to compare to somebody that goes indie from the beginning. And like, I wonder if the writing is different or, like, do you treat it differently when you know you’re publishing an indie series versus…? I mean, I’m sure you don’t have to pitch things now, but like, you know what I mean? Like it’s an interesting difference there, like, that you don’t want to be broadening things up to just be told that this is a single book.

Nalini: Yeah, I think it is different because there is more, sort of, freedom to just tell the story. But at the same time, in terms of indie, so I’ll take it from the point of view, say, someone starting out, right? They’re going indie, they have a series idea, and then go out with it. And so the good thing is they can write as they want. That’s fantastic. I think if I was starting out now and I was fully indie, I would have probably, you know, not… It’s hard to say, you know, because it’s a completely different process. But on the flip side. With indie, while there is the freedom to finish series, I think we have to take into account the costs involved when you’re indie. And so I know writers also now make those decisions where it’s like, “Well, I love the series but only 500 copies sold, you know, so can I finish?” So I feel like the same decisions do end up being made, but they’re being made by the writers as opposed to the publishers. So with a series, it all depends on whether you can get an audience. I think the one good thing about indie is if you know, “Okay, yeah, this series just hasn’t found an audience but I really, really love it and I don’t want to leave it hanging.” You do have the option to just write that one book or the one about that to, sort of, tie things up for the readers so it’s not just left open-ended. Whereas I know, previously when it was traditional only, there were series that were just left. You know, it just needed one more book, maybe, to just give readers some closure. And, I know there are some writers who did end up doing that. Eventually, when indie became a thing, they did, sort of, like a wrap-up type book so that’s really nice. I think that it’s a really… You know, that that’s one of the benefits of this new sort of publishing environment.

Tara:  Yeah, I guess the benefit of being hybrid as well. But, yeah, I like what you said about, yeah, the decisions are the same ultimately, but just indies have much more decisions to make.

Nalini: Yeah. I mean, I think it would be really heartbreaking, actually, if you had to make the call on your own, as opposed to someone else telling you.

Stephanie: I know.

Nalini: You’d be like [inaudible 00:26:09], you know?

Stephanie: You’d get that one person emailing you, “But I loved the book, why are you ending it?”

Tara: Devastating. Let’s talk about your latest release which is “Quiet in Her Bones” that was released a couple of weeks of February, I believe. And it’s a standalone thriller which is your second. So just curious, I wanted to know what made you want to write individual thrillers like this but you alluded to that you just, kind of, like dipping your toe into different genres. So was the writing process very different for this for you?

Nalini: I’ll answer a little bit more on the first one, which is that I am actually a big thriller reader from way back. I feel like the environment of New Zealand just really inspired me to write the kind of thrillers I write. But in terms of the writing process. Previously, when I’ve been asked this question, I’ve said, “Yeah, it has been different because I really need, not a big plotter usually. But with the mysteries, I’ve, kind of, had to figure out who did it. I have to know that before I can write the book or, you know, whatever the answer to the question is, that thriller question.” But then I thought about it and then I realized it’s exactly the same because when I write a series, I need to know the ending, so in that sense, it isn’t different. But one thing I am finding with both thrillers is that I wrote them in chronological order in terms of the timeline of the book and I don’t necessarily do that with my paranormals. When I do my first drafts, I’m all over the show so I just write scenes as they come to me. But I find with the thrillers, it’s really interesting, I find that it’s scene by scene. Like, this happens, and then this happens, and then this happens so that’s been really interesting.

But otherwise, it was more a mindset thing. And that was particularly why I didn’t talk about “A Madness of Sunshine,” the first thriller when I was writing it. Which was, I wanted to know if I would lean automatically towards romance because romance is my genre, you know? Would I just end up having a thriller element to what was eventually a romance or would I actually write quite heavily in the mystery thriller side and then, maybe, have a thread of romance? So that was interesting. And I found to write a thriller, I have to constantly keep in mind that this is a thriller, so the relationships I build are not romantic relationships.

So my first thriller… And so if anyone was going to try my thrillers, I would say try “A Madness of Sunshine” because that is probably a good bridge book because it does have a small element of romance in it. There is a sort of, there are two people who ended up solving this mystery. You know, they have a romance, kind of. It’s not like a full-on romance, so it’s not a romantic suspense, it’s just a romantic thread. But then you get to “Quite in Her Bones” and there is no romance at all. And so, I feel like I hit my groove and in terms of keeping the thriller at the forefront. And at the same time, I feel like the lessons I’ve learned in writing romance for so long really come through in the relationships I build in the thriller world. Because for me, it’s always been about the relationships. Not just romantic, friendship. Not just the good relationships, the bad toxic ones as well and how they affect people. And, yeah, so a lot of it is very similar writing. But, yeah, just that mental shift in terms of what my focus is going to be.

Stephanie: Do you find that your readers, from your romance readers moved to your thrillers or did you get a completely new audience coming in?

Nalini: A little bit of both. So some of my readers are like, “No, I don’t read thrillers at all.” And that’s fine because I know, you know, people have different tastes. And I really appreciate some of them have actually said, “I don’t read them but I’ll give it as a birthday gift to my thriller-reading friend who does.” So that’s really nice. But a group of them have moved to the thrillers. And then I’ve also got a new audience that doesn’t read romance but reads thrillers so it’s, kind of, a blending which is nice. I’m always aware that everybody reads so differently and you know, I’m happy for anyone who picks up my books to [inaudible 00:30:23].

Tara: Yeah. Even the ones that aren’t going to read them, they’re just going to gift them. Those are the best loyal ones.

Nalini: That’s great. You know, buy lots, give them away.

Tara: I wanted to ask you about the narrator of “Quiet in Her Bones” because it’s, sort of, an unreliable narrator from the offset.

Nalini: Yeah.

Tara: And I always enjoy an unreliable narrator. I find them frustrating but intriguing. And I was just wondering, like, was this fun for you to write?

Nalini: It was actually really fun. So at first when I wrote the first draft, I wasn’t aware that he wasn’t reliable, I just wrote him as a straight narrator. And then I was like, “It’s not quite making sense here.” And then, you know, I always write my way into my characters so when I figured out who Aarav was and what was going on, I was like, “Oh, it makes so much more sense now.” And then the second draft is when I really got into his head and really dug deep into what was happening with him. But, yeah, it was fun. It was fun actually. And the interesting thing was how much of the unreliableness. And it’s not a word but we’ll go with it. To put on the page in a way that the reader just wouldn’t stop reading because they think I’m making mistakes. So that was a tricky balance. I remember getting the edits back. And I think one of the editors had made a note, “This is a mistake.” And then a few pages then they’re like, “Oh, no. That’s not actually a mistake, that’s just his brain,” you know? So, that was okay because, you know, it was just a little thing where if someone picked up, that’d be like, “Oh, she made a typo.” But it couldn’t be so unreliable that as a reader, you would just be like, “Oh, this author doesn’t know what they’re doing,” you know? So I had to be quite subtle. Yeah, I really liked working with it. And I won’t spoiler it, but I liked why he was unreliable. You know, because I read lots of mysteries and thrillers. I do get annoyed with some of the reasons people are unreliable because I’m like, “There’s a murderer after you. Why are you doing this thing that makes you unreliable?” So I liked why Aarav was unreliable. And I felt that was logical and I could get behind a character who was unreliable for this reason. And I hope readers feel the same way. He is a character, I think, that’s going to stay with me a really long time. And also because he is actually the first one I’ve written in first-person. So, you know, I was inside him in a way, and his voice is very strong. So, yeah, I enjoyed the process.

Tara: That’s a good teaser for anyone if they haven’t read it yet, they should pick it up and get into the mind of this unreliable narrator. And, yeah, you said you were inspired by New Zealand and that really popped out at me reading it, that you write New Zealand really beautifully. It brought me back there to that trip when I got to meet you luckily. And in the past, you’ve used, like, different travel spots as inspiration for your, like, plots and your scenery in areas. Was it, sort of, nice for you to be using New Zealand or was it a challenge? Because I know some writers, sort of, say, like, when you’re writing a place that exists, you have to be much more true to it instead of writing, sort of, like your own fictional world.

Nalini: No. Actually, for these mysteries, it felt really good because it’s all places I know really well. And it’s about atmosphere, and I felt like the locations really contributed to the atmosphere of the book because it’s a breathtaking and so dangerous at the same time. And, yeah, so I actually really, really enjoyed it. And we went out for “Quite in Her Bones.” There’s a road called Scenic Drive that’s mentioned in the book and it sounds really nice, you know, Scenic Drive. But it’s like this winding road through the Waitakere Ranges National Park. So the park is, kind of, on one side of it and you’re, kind of, on the edge on Scenic Drive. So you’re in the bush, you know, with all this huge mess of old trees. And these forests, like, I was watching, like, a TV drama and it was set in a forest, I think in Europe. And they had all the firs, you know, like pines and things. And it was beautiful. Okay, New Zealand forests are not like that, they’re really, really ancient. And there’s a lot of underbrush and everything is all, kind of, twined together. So if you, kind of, try and hack your way through that, you’re really going to need an axe to get through. So it just has this presence to it and I just was fascinated by it. And I loved being able to go and explore these places and find the best spot for certain things. So, you know, “Quite in Her Bones” begins with a car found abandoned at the bottom, you know, of a slope into the Waitakere Ranges. And I, kind of, had to find a spot on Scenic Drive where a car couldn’t go off the road so that logically it would make sense. And I did. And so that was, kind of… I mean, it was interesting for me but it was actually really, really interesting being able to do that. And centering things so much in reality because normally, you know, I write paranormal romance, open fantasy. And, or, you know, even the rockstar world, that’s, kind of, like a fantasy world as well. So, yeah, it was actually really interesting to just be so rooted in reality.

And I had to do a different kind of research. So I am lucky that I had known some people who work in, like, forensics and police. And so I was able to just get information from them. Even that these are not police procedural type books, there are little elements that need to be correct. So if people who do know that area read the books, they’ll be like, “Okay, yeah, she got that right.” So it was very different, I have to say, but I enjoyed it. I always say there’s one genre that you probably won’t see me dabbling in, and that is historical. Because that research, I don’t want to do. I just read those.

Stephanie: Yeah, that seems like a nightmare. As a big historical romance reader [inaudible 00:36:45].

Tara: Since I’m the opposite, I would love that. I would get just stuck in the research, like, and just never write anything because I’m just reading all these books about different things. But speaking of, actually, that was leading me to a question that I had because some of the books that I read a lot about are, I think Steph, sort of, laughs. I mean, my team certainly laughs at the niche things that I get obsessed with. But I love, like, polar travel and like all of the early people that were explorers. And I know that we, when we met, we were talking about Antarctica and that you’ve actually been there. And you’re still my inspiration and this is going to be one day, Nalini, I will do it. And I will, like, be sure to tell you when I’m there.

Nalini: You have to send me a postcard from the polar post office. Penguin post office, it’s there, yeah.

Tara: Wow. Okay. I promise I definitely will. But I wanted to ask when the world opens up again, where are you planning on traveling to next? What’s on your list?

Nalini: You know, I would probably go to Fiji first. So if you read my bio, I was born in Fiji and I still have a lot of family and friends there. And, normally, from New Zealand, it’s three hours by plane. So for you guys in North America, that’s not a… You know, like, the other side of your country is further away. So even for us, you know, that’s a really quick flight, so I’ve been used to just going over there at least once a year, maybe a couple of times a year because the routes are so regular that you can easily get a flight and it’s not that expensive. And it’s just so relaxing there. You know, you go, it’s tropical and I just…

Stephanie: Oh, I want to go on vacation.

Nalini: It’s amazing. And for me, I don’t go as a tourist because I was born there and I lived there for long enough that it feels very familiar, so it’s like I step there and I’m just as comfortable. And so I feel like, I think that’s probably the first place I’ll go by choice. You know, it’s always possible that I’ll travel for like a work-related thing somewhere else. But, in terms of where I’d like to go first, I think, yeah, I’d like to go to Fiji, just sit by a lagoon somewhere and talk to my cousins, you know?

Tara: I would also like to go to Fiji to talk to your cousins just to be in Fiji, you know? I actually have a cousin that lives there too…

Nalini: You can totally go, you’ve got an excuse.

Stephanie: Yeah.

Tara: I don’t have family in any cool places or friends.

Stephanie: Irish family, I have about a million cousins, you have to remember.

Nalini: That’s the same with me, I have Indian family. Big Indian family.

Stephanie: Yeah, you must have cousins everywhere.

Nalini: Oh, my God. Sorry.

Tara: I also wanted to ask just, sort of, for my own amusement, because she’s been on the news so much. Your book “Slave to Sensation” has been included in Oprah’s list of the greatest romance books to read in your lifetime. So how does it feel to be blessed by lady O? Like Oprah has blessed you on this list, how does that feel?

Nalini: Amazing, amazing. I remember when the news first came out, I was just like, “Woooh.” I am still a little kid when it comes to, like, really cool stuff related to my writing. And I am not embarrassed about that at all. I am excited. I get super excited. And, especially when you consider where I came from. You know, I was a little kid in Fiji who loved to read, who was getting books from the book bus because, you know, that was the library that came to our little school. And, you know, then I was in New Zealand trying to get published without knowing anybody in publishing, without knowing anything. So this is quite a funny story. I sent out my first submission, I think, the year after I turned 18 so the year after I finished high school and I literally did not know anybody else who wrote or anything. I hadn’t joined any writer’s groups, I wasn’t really online. And so when I look back and I think of that kid and I think, “Oh, what would her reaction be to this,” you know? So, yeah, yeah. I’m super excited and I told everyone.

Stephanie: As you should. My favorite question that we always ask everyone is like, what have you been loving lately? It could be a book, movie, TV show, anything.

Nalini: So I am an obsessed fan of the J. D. Robb “In Death” books. And it’s been a really long time since I actually read the first set of books. So I’ve done, like, rereads of my favorites throughout the series here and there. But last year, I got into audio books more and I decided to go back and listen to the J. D. books on audio. So I’ve just finished listening to books one and two, and I’m going to start book three, so I’m excited about that. And it’s fun, actually, to go back to such a long-running series. So I think that series is at over 50 books now and I’ve read every single one. And it’s actually really, really fun because I’ve just read the latest one. And then it’s great to go back to the very beginning and see where the characters were. So because for those of you who haven’t read the series, this is basically a mystery series so each series, each book has a different mystery that’s solved but the characters continue from book to book. So Eve Dallas is the main detective and then there’s Roarke, her love interest, and then her friendships.

And so it’s so interesting to see who Eve was at the very beginning. She is this person who is all alone, doesn’t really have any kind of emotional connection with people, and to who she is now in the present day. And, yeah, so that’s been really fun, I’m enjoying it. Then I actually have a couple of “K-Dramas” lined up that I really want to watch. Was that a fresh landing on you is the one that I’ve said that?

Stephanie: Oh, yeah, yeah.

Nalini: I’m excited to dive into that, I love “K-Dramas” as well.

Stephanie: That one’s great.

Nalini: Yeah. Okay. Yeah, I can’t wait. But the thing is with those is I have to, sort of, set up time where I can binge because I can not binge. So that’s why, quite often, I’ll just wait for a really long time like until I hand in a book or something and then I just have the week off and then I’ll just binge it.

Stephanie: And their episode is so long too, but you have to…

Nalini: Yes, they are, they’re really long.

Stephanie: They’re so long. That’s what shocked me the most. I was like, “This is a full hour and 10 minutes that I need to devote to this.” Tara, are you going to get into the…? Didn’t you used to watch “K-Dramas?”

Tara: When I lived there. Yeah. Yeah, they’d be on so you’d get them but I haven’t rewatched. I think I actually watched some episodes of the show I used to watch in Korea which was “Boys are Better Than Flowers” or something like that.

Stephanie: “Boys Over Flowers?”

Tara: “Boys Over Flowers.”

Nalini: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Tara: Yeah. But I haven’t dived into anything new. I don’t know. There’s just so much to watch and so much to read. Even with all the time we have in our hands now, it’s not enough.

Nalini: I know. It’s, you have to make choices, right? Because it’s like, that’s another reason that I get behind on TV watching is that I watch a lot of stuff with subtitles like “K-Dramas” and like the mysteries that come out of various parts of Europe, you know? But that means I can’t be doing two things at once, I have to literally just watch. Whereas if I’m listening to an audio book in English, I can just be doing something else at the same time. And also, I’ve found that I was dropping my reading when I was watching television too much. So I really made a focus because I know reading makes me feel so much better. So really made an effort to spend more time reading as opposed to… To be honest, there was a lot of mindless TV watching, at a certain point.

Stephanie: Always?

Nalini: So I’m trying to more, sort of… Yeah. Like if I want to watch something, I want to watch something specific and want to be focused on it as opposed to just 20/20 TV watching, you know, where it’s like just mind-numbing.

Tara: Yeah. I punish my brain sometimes if I’ve been watching too much mind-numbing stuff. I’ll watch like a really serious depressing doc. Like, and I’ll focus on it. And I just do it on purpose. I think it balances in some way but I don’t know. But it’s interesting that you’re right, though, about the satisfaction from books versus watching something. It’s crazy how it’s different.

Nalini: It is different. I think it also depends on, there are some television things that are just so well done and it’s, like, so well structured. And, yeah, that’s very satisfying so I don’t want to take anything away from that. I just know, personally, for me. Years ago, I started keeping track of what I was reading in the year. And that was really just so I could, if I wanted to give a book a shout out or something, I would remember. I’d have some little notes about it. And then it just got into a habit. And I realized one year that I had read something ridiculous like only 25 books in a whole year. And I was like, “No wonder I feel like crap.” You know, this is so important for my mental health and I’ve just, sort of, somehow, let it go. And so that’s when I made this really, sort of, conscious decision that the reading has to take precedent for me. So, yeah, I can’t speak for everyone else. But I know, for me, as someone who came into writing from reading, that source of joy, and fuel, and energy is really important to me.

Tara: That, kind of, ties in a little bit. I wanted to mention Talia Hibbert because she is a super popular author and has done a Kobo Original with us “Wrapped Up in You.” And we chatted to her just for, like, our tech ladies of Kobo, a little talk. And one of the last questions was sort of like, “Oh, can you, like, give us a bookcase tour there, what are you reading?” She’s like going through all these romances, just a ferocious reader. And she picked up one of your books. And I was like, “Oh, Nalini.” And I was like, “Oh, I’ve met her. Like, when I was there, she was, like, delightful and drove me around Oakland. And we walked through this botanical garden together.” And Talia was like, “That sounds so nice.” She was just very jealous, so I want to connect both of you somehow. So the next time you’re in England.

Nalini: Yeah, I will follow through the [inaudible 00:47:05].

Tara: Yeah.

Nalini: I heard that she just hit “The New York Times” list…

Tara: She did.

Nalini: …so congratulations. Yeah.

Stephanie: Okay, hear this, we’ve got to shout out Talia.

Stephanie: Yeah. Like, we should all do a little trip and go back to that botanical garden. That was very nice.

Nalini: Oh, yeah. For sure. Everyone should come to New Zealand.

Tara: It’s on my list.

Nalini: Someone said to me, like I was showing someone else around. They’re like, “Oh, do you do this for everyone that comes?” I’m like, “Yeah.” And they’re like, “But doesn’t it get tiring?” I’m like, “Do you know how many people actually fly to New Zealand?” So, it’s like…

Tara: That’s a good point.

Nalini: …two a year or something. So your chances are really high if you do come to New Zealand. I’ve even met a few readers who have come through and have emailed me and said, “Oh, hey.” They’re so lovely. And most of the time, if I can, you know, I’ll have a coffee with a reader and it’s been really fun. I’ve met some interesting people who’ve been doing these fascinating travels around the world and they just happened to stop in Oakland for a week. And, yeah, we caught up. So, yeah, your chances are very high. If you come to New Zealand, Nalini will drive you around and take you places.

Tara: Excellent host, A-plus, you know, five stars on your Airbnb review. And Uber.

Stephanie: And then our final question is what can readers expect from you next?

Nalini: What can readers…? So I have a “Psy-Changeling” book coming out in July, “Last Guard.” I’m excited about this book. I just love these characters and just a super emotional book. I just want to have both these characters even though one of them is quite growly. And, yeah, I love them both, I’m excited. And then in October, I think I have “Archangel’s Light” coming out which is a “Guild Hunter” book. But this isn’t scheduled because this is my indie project and I haven’t quite worked out. I don’t like to put up a pre-order unless I know I can absolutely fulfill it, there’s no problem. But my plan is to write the next hard playbook. So there’s “Danny Story” in my hard play series. And so I’m hoping to write that after I hand in the book I’m currently working in.

So if all goes according to plan, I am hoping that will also be out later this year. So for this year, I think I’m just sticking to three releases because I decided I just needed a little bit of a break. And then, I’ll be, yeah, working on ideas for more mysteries as well because I really do enjoy writing them. It’s the dark side of me, I suppose. And I will say that I’m currently writing, it’s turned into a serial in my newsletters. And that’s free for anyone to join. So if you want to just get a taste of my writing, you know, feel free to join the newsletter and you can get all the back editions if you click back and you can read the serial. And it’s a cute little story set in the “Psy-Changeling” world.

Stephanie: Where can listeners find you online if they’re interested in joining your newsletter, if they want to follow you on any of your social media and platforms?

Nalini: So, my website is the best place to go, nalinisingh.com. Super easy and it’s got all my social media links there. I’m probably most active at the moment on Instagram and Facebook. I’m not so much on Twitter just because I’ve found that I was just losing huge chunks of time on Twitter so I have had to be really, like, disciplined about when I’m on Twitter, so I’m not there as much anymore. But, yeah, otherwise, you know, I am around and I try and interact with readers. I did a random Instagram live the other week and that was really fun, so I might do that again one of these days.

Tara: Nice. That sounds fun. This has been a real delight. Thank you for taking the time. Especially with scheduling when you’re halfway around the world, we really appreciate you talking to us.

Nalini: This was really fun. Thank you for inviting me. And, yeah, please do come to New Zealand.

Tara: I’m thinking about it.

Stephanie: Oh, yeah. The second they let us go.

Tara: Me and Steph are on that plane. I don’t care how long it is, I’ll be there.

Stephanie: Oh, yeah. It’s long.

Nalini: Vancouver, it’s 14 hours, I think, to Aukland?

Stephanie: Yeah.

Tara: Even to Japan.

Stephanie: When I went, it was two 15-hour flights I think or two 12-hour flights. I went through China so…

Nalini: Oh, yeah.

Stephanie: I’m not going to care. I mean, that’s fine. It doesn’t matter.

Tara: I mean, we’re really good at sitting still. We’ve just spent a whole year in our houses, you know, so…

Stephanie: So true.

Tara: Yeah. Oh, well, thanks very much, Nalini.

Nalini: Thank you. Thank you.

Tara: Thank you for listening to the “Kobo Writing Life Podcast.” If you’re interested in picking up Nalini Singh’s books, we will have the links in our show notes. If you’re enjoying this podcast, please be sure to rate, to review, and subscribe. And if you’re looking for more tips on growing your self-publishing business, you can find us at kobowritinglife.com. Be sure to follow us on socials. We’re on Kobo Writing Life on Facebook and Twitter, and at kobo.writing.life on Instagram.

Joni: This episode was produced by Joni Di Placido and Rachel Wharton. Tara Cremin and Stephanie McGrath were your hosts. Editing is by Kelly Rowbotham. Our theme music is provided by Tearjerker. And huge thanks to Nalini Singh for being our guest. If you’re ready to start your self-publishing journey, sign up today at kobo.com/writinglife. Until next time, happy writing.