My guest this week is Nalini Singh! I have reader questions from our Patreon community and publicist and past podcast guest Erin Galloway about Archangel’s Light, Nalini’s latest release. We cover writing multiple series at the same time. We also talk about fan art, which she absolutely loves, and about reading slumps – and how to escape them.
Thank you to Ann, C, Varian, and Erin for the questions!
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Here are the books we discuss in this podcast:
You can find Nalini Singh on her website, NaliniSingh.com. You can find her Instagram, with lots and lots of fanart, at @AuthorNaliniSingh.
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This Episode’s Music
This is Adeste Fiddles, by Deviations Project!
This episode is brought to you by And They Lived Happy Ever After by Therese Beharrie.
From acclaimed South African author Therese Beharrie, this OwnVoices rom-com about a romance novelist with a touch of magic is loaded with heart, heat, and smart, sexy banter.
Successful romance author Gaia Anders has a secret: anything she dreams at night is magically written into her bestselling novels. After a lonely childhood in foster care, her dream life is the only one she trusts. Gaia’s waking life just can’t compare—until she gets caught in one utterly surprising, crazy-passionate, real-life kiss…with workaholic Jacob Scott, who has had a crush on his brother’s best friend Gaia since forever. Their chemistry is making him want a future he didn’t think was possible.
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Sarah Wendell: Hello and welcome to episode number 489 of Smart Podcast, Trashy Books. I’m Sarah Wendell, and my guest this week is Nalini Singh! I have reader questions from our Patreon community and her publicist – and past podcast guest – Erin Galloway about Archangel’s Light, which is Nalini’s latest release. We are going to talk about so many things, and I want to say thank you to Ann, to C, and to Erin for the questions. And stay tuned after the episode: I have an additional question that came in after I recorded, and Nalini was cool enough to email me an answer.
Hello and thank you again and again and again to our Patreon community for making this and every episode possible, especially the transcript part. [Thanks from me too! – gk] I love having the questions from the Patreon community, so if you would like to join, have a look at patreon.com/SmartBitches.
This episode is brought to you in part by And They Lived Happily Ever After by Therese Beharrie. From acclaimed South African author Therese Beharrie, this Own Voices rom-com about a romance novelist with a touch of magic is loaded with heart, heat, and smart, sexy banter. Successful romance author Gaia Anders has a secret: anything she dreams at night is magically written into her bestselling novels. After a lonely childhood in foster care, her dream life is the only one she trusts. Gaia’s waking life just can’t compare – until she gets caught in one utterly surprising, crazy-passionate, real-life kiss with workaholic Jacob Scott, who has had a crush on his brother’s best friend, Gaia, since forever. Their chemistry is making him want a future he didn’t think was possible. If you haven’t read Therese Beharrie, definitely start here. Lara, who is one of the reviewers here at Smart Bitches, adores her books, so don’t miss And They Lived Happily Ever After by Therese Beharrie. Find out more at kensingtonbooks.com.
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I always love talking to Nalini. She is one of my favorite people to talk to, and it’s really fun to make it work with all of the time zones between us, so I hope you enjoy this conversation as much as I did. On with my interview with Nalini Singh.
Nalini Singh: I am Nalini Singh. I live in New Zealand, and I write romance; I write paranormal romance, urban fantasy romance, contemporary romance, and I also write thrillers which are non-romantic, so not romantic suspense, just straight-out thrillers. My very first one had a slight thread of romance in it, so that was A Madness of Sunshine, and the second one was completely non-romantic at all. But the rest of my work is very romance-focused, and I call myself a romance writer.
Sarah: Well, I mean, we all appreciate that.
Sarah: So congratulations on Archangel’s Light!
Nalini: Thank you! I’m so excited that it’s, you know, out in the world!
Sarah: Has this been, like, a really hard wait? ‘Cause I know the anticipation for every book is big, but I, it seems like this one has a little bit more, I don’t know, almost growing pressure behind the release. Like, this one was a lot of anticipation from readers. Did, was the same true for you?
Nalini: Yes. Yeah, I was, I really wanted it to be out because I knew readers were waiting for it, but also it’s been a long time coming. So the wait for this book hasn’t just been the wait since I turned in the book and, you know, the edits were done and everything. It’s been years, and so it felt, it felt somehow longer because –
Nalini: – because of that time that had gone on before, and, and I was also just, I just wanted it out there for, for people to read and get to know these two, ‘cause I had such a fun time, I mean, writing the book, so –
Nalini: – yeah. With the publishing process, it, it actually helped a little bit because, you know, I would get the, I got it back for revisions, I got it back for copyedit, so I was reading it again, I was back in the world, and it made it a little bit shorter, but after the point where it was finalized, so it had been proofed; it was basically going, being typeset, you know, set up for print, set up for e-books; and then there’s those months where I don’t get it back again, and so then it’s just waiting?
Nalini: [Laughs] So yeah, that was, that was hard; long wait. I was just as impatient as readers, even though obviously I knew the story –
Nalini: – but I was ready to have it out in the world?
Sarah: Yeah. It’s different when it’s in your brain versus when you’re writing it down versus when you’re reading it on the page. Those are three different stories, right?
Nalini: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. And it’s just, just getting to hold the physical book in my hand? Especially the cover on this one is just astonishing –
Sarah: Who did you kill?
Nalini: – and I just – [laughs]
Sarah: Because not only is the US cover gorgeous, but the European/Australian version of, with the, with the wings is, I mean – seriously, what’s, what’s the secret? I, I don’t care about craft –
Nalini: It’s –
Sarah: – I don’t care about plot, about characters; who did you kill? Is this why you write thrillers?
Nalini: [Laughs] I, I can’t talk about it, Sarah.
Nalini: I, you know, I might incriminate myself, that –
Sarah: Oh, bother.
Nalini: No, honestly, it’s, it’s, both covers, I feel so lucky. They’re astonishing, and I just think both art departments just knocked it out of the park.
Nalini: Yeah, yeah.
Sarah: They’re, they’re gorgeous!
Nalini: Yeah, amazing.
Sarah: Now, speaking of art, this wasn’t in the questions that I sent you, but I was taking my noodly break on Instagram, and I saw your picture from –
Nalini: Yeah, it was last night.
Sarah: Yeah, time is –
Nalini: Did you see Michelle Taiki’s art?
Sarah: Yes! Tell me about this art! Holy crap!
Nalini: I know; she’s amazing. Michelle’s actually a Kiwi? She does this amazing, you know, art for both series. She’s mostly been doing the, the Guild, the Psy-Changeling series at the moment. No, she’s just brilliant, and I, and I love her work, and she’s been great. She’s sent me some prints, and they’re going to be going up in my office, but I have to say that recently on Instagram, I’ve just been tagged in so many great pieces of fan art. If you scroll back through my feed, I usually try and share those, and there’s a, there’s a story I have at the top with a fan art, all the fan art that I’ve shared, you know.
Nalini: It’s up there. There’s another artist who makes those, oh, what are they called? The Funko Pop –
Nalini: – type dolls?
Nalini: She’s been customizing those, and there’s this amazing piece of baby Illium –
Nalini: – that’s, that’s on my feed, and that’s Maria, and she’s, she’s done amazing work as well. So I just feel so lucky that people are creating art and sort of bringing to life what I see in my head, and it’s so interesting to see all the different visions the artists have. And I love, I love having it all around me in my office? You know, it goes up on the walls and – yeah! It’s just, it’s really nice.
Sarah: What an honor, right?
Nalini: Yeah, it is! I do feel honored, and, that people are spending their time, you know, creating these works and –
Nalini: Yeah. It’s because it is, you know, it’s truly art. I mean, and so many different kinds of art. Yeah.
Sarah: So I have some Archangel’s Light questions, some from me –
Sarah: – and Erin Galloway, your publicist, who’s fabulous, and some from my Patreon community, some of whom were very excited that I was interviewing you.
Sarah: So Erin and I both wanted to ask this question: when you started the series, the Archangels series, and people began shipping the angels together, you didn’t confirm that you had plans for them to be a couple, so when did you start planning the buildup for this? My theory is that it’s actually in Slave to Sensation, and if I go back and read Slave to Sensation I’ll find –
Nalini: No, that’s –
Sarah: I know! I’m completely serious.
Nalini: It’s –
Sarah: I’m complete- – it’s other series?
Sarah: I don’t care! I know how your brain works, ma’am. You drop clues like five, ten, twenty years ago? I will go back and reread Slave to Sensation and I’ll be like, oh wait, hold up! There is an angel reference right there. Don’t tell me I’m wrong.
Nalini: Unfortunately, I must tell you you’re wrong on that one, Sarah.
Sarah: [Laughs] You were looking at me like, does she not know the difference between my two series?
Nalini: I was like, is she going to have to edit this back out? But I would be like –
Sarah: Nope, I was completely dry serious there, yeah.
Sarah: You, you plant –
Nalini: No –
Sarah: – buildup like nobody I know. I mean, you did the same thing with Heart of Obsidian. I bet if we go back to –
Nalini: Yeah, so –
Sarah: – your grade school papers, when you were writing fiction in like fourth grade –
Sarah: – there’s, like, something about some girl who got kidnapped with a star and be like, oh well, there she is!
Nalini: I have to tell you something funny: I was talking to my sister Ashwini about my very first book –
Nalini: – Desert Warrior – I can’t remember why we brought that up – and she was saying she hadn’t read it for a really long time, and I said, well, I actually picked it up not long ago, and there’s all these panther references in there for the, for the hero? And this is a comp-, this is like a kind of, just a contemporary romance –
Nalini: – you know, it was for Silhouette Desire, and so it was, I thought that was hysterical. I was like, wow, I obviously had panthers on the brain!
Sarah: You had some shifter motifs going –
Sarah: See, I’m not even wrong! Not even wrong! Twenty, twenty-five years ago, Nalini’s plotting a book for 2024.
Nalini: Yeah. So to answer the, the Illium and Aodhan question –
Sarah: The actual question, yeah, fine.
Nalini: – [laughs] – yeah, I have to remember it, but, you know, the interesting thing is, I actually never planned this one –
Nalini: – at all? It is, yeah, it has been a very natural progression. So when people asked me like way back when, when people started shipping them together, I literally was like, I had no idea! So I just kept writing it. For a long time I had no idea what was going on with these two, because that relationship is really unique –
Nalini: – in terms of how long they’ve known each other, how close they’ve been, and how many things they’ve survived together? Probably at least halfway through the series, I probably started to get an idea that it wasn’t so much thinking in terms of a romance, but starting to realize that between these two, who could possibly come in between these two? Like, who could possibly be as much to either one of them as they were to each other? And I think once I had that realization, again, I was just thinking, I, where is this going to go? Because this relationship, this bond is so powerful.
Nalini: Like, where is going to go? And then when they had that big fight –
Nalini: – I think if I had to point to a moment where it was like I could kind of see where it was going, it was maybe there, because you don’t have that kind of fight with someone that doesn’t matter in every sense of the word to you, you know?
Sarah: Yeah. Yeah.
Nalini: And, and it doesn’t hurt that much, and it’s not that emotional, and it kind of runs through multiple books, how, the impact it has on both of them. But yeah, overall in, this is, this is one relationship that really grew naturally out of the characters, and I would just, honestly, I was along for the ride. I was like, I don’t even know what you two are doing –
Nalini: – I’m just here to tell the story you want me to tell, so let’s do it. And, and then, yeah, we got to this point, and I realized, this is it! This –
Nalini: – it, it has to be the two of them.
Sarah: And you’re dealing with beings that are incredibly old, and when you say they have history –
Sarah: – like, they have history.
Nalini: [Laughs] Yeah, in this world, they’re actually relatively young! I mean, they’re five hundred years old –
Sarah: Yeah, you know!
Nalini: – so just five hundred roughly –
Sarah: Barely got their angelic driver’s licenses.
Nalini: [Laughs] So –
Sarah: Not old enough to have rent an angelic car, yeah.
Nalini: So it’s like, for them, you know, they’re, they’re still very much growing into themselves and discovering who they are. Obviously, they’re adults in the angelic sense, you know. They’re squadron leaders and –
Nalini: – you know, powerful parts of the Seven, but in term, you know, these beings can live ten thousand years, twenty thousand years, hundred thousand years, so for them, five hundred years, it’s as much time as it needs to be –
Nalini: – to get to this point, you know? Yeah.
Sarah: Ann from my Patreon community said, I am jumping up and down that you are interviewing Nalini after the release of Archangel’s Light –
Sarah: – and I know that questions need to be spoiler-free since it was just released.
Thank you, Ann.
Ann says, how much backstory did you know before writing this book and before writing this series, and did any parts of their story surprise you, other than the part where they ended up together, which you just talked about?
Nalini: Before writing this book, I knew all of it, because I’ve spent – so Illium appeared in Angels’ Blood –
Nalini: – which was the very first book –
Nalini: – and then Aodhan’s first appearance was in, pretty sure it was Archangel’s Kiss, so it was the second book, so I’ve spent over ten years with these two, and I know them really, really well. And a lot of the stuff that ended up in the book, I’d already had in my head for a long time. I didn’t know as much when I started writing the series, because obviously, as I said, for me part of the joy of writing the series is that exploration of character?
Nalini: And, and, and it’s like peeling back the layers of the onion. And it’s not just with these two; it’s with all the characters. I find out so much as we go along, and that’s – so I’m obviously not a plotter in terms of the characterization? I just –
Nalini: I just peel that onion and, you know, see what they show me as we go along. But yeah, by the time I wrote this book I was, I knew. I knew them so, so well, and that’s part of why I could write this book at this time, because I felt like I could really do them justice? What was surprising for me – surprising’s not the right word, but surprising in the sense of when I wrote that scene about what happened to Aodhan – so staying spoiler-free here – it was, it felt so traumatic to write it, even though I had known about it.
Nalini: It was diff-, different to putting it on the page and actually making it real?
Nalini: You know, where before it was a part of his history –
Nalini: – and in this book we’re, we’re living it in the moment?
Nalini: That was really hard. I think if I had sort of thought about it before, and I would have thought, no, it’ll be fine, because obviously I have known about this for so long. You know, it’s not a fresh hurt; it should have become something I could write about with a little bit of distance, but I couldn’t. I was in that moment; I was in that moment with Aodhan; I was in that moment with Raphael and Illium and Jason and all of them. I was literally crying, and that’s fine, because I think for me as a writer, when that happens I know the scene is really powerful –
Nalini: – and I feel like the emotions are what they need to be. But yeah, I did not see that coming. [Laughs]
Sarah: Yeah. Well, it’s almost as if you, you know about it; by writing it down you’re telling someone about it, and that’s a completely different process. And I remember doing an interview with you, but I remember you telling me with Heart of Obsidian that there is a scene later that Caleb remembers one way – I don’t want to give too many spoilers in case people haven’t read that one – but I remember you telling me that you handed in the manuscript and the editor sent it back and was like, all right, where’s that scene? And you were like, I really don’t want to write that scene! And she’s like, where’s the scene? I need it! So I can understand –
Nalini: Yeah, yeah.
Sarah: – that actually getting this thing that you know happened out of your head and telling everyone about it for these characters that live in your brain, that’s really hard!
Nalini: It is! It is really hard, because when I write, also, I’m in certain points of view?
Nalini: And so it’s their emotional responses as well that are living in my head?
Nalini: As, and, and so Raphael is the point of view for this particular scene, and he’s enraged but also, like, heartbroken, and it’s just, when you know who Raphael is, and who Raphael was at that point in time?
Nalini: So it’s not the Raphael we know from Angels’ Blood or –
Nalini: – even Archangel’s War or any of those; it’s Raphael, you know, two hundred years ago. Just, it just all just felt so raw?
Nalini: And yeah.
Sarah: Ann also wanted me to ask if your villain has more evil surprises that haven’t been uncovered.
Nalini: [Laughs] You know, honestly I’ve given up predicting what, what surprises she’s got after –
Nalini: ‘Cause I was like, oh yeah, we’ll just go into this forest! It’ll be fine!
Sarah: Sure, yeah, no big deal!
Nalini: Yeah, no big deal, and then I was like, oh, no! Yeah, big deal! Big deal!
Nalini: Honestly, she’s left a mark. She’s incredibly powerful being –
Nalini: – who chose evil, and she has left a mark on the world. It’s a scar on the world, and it’s not just going to vanish –
Nalini: – because that’s how I write. You know, for me, part of the joy of a series is, is seeing the progression of things, and not just the good, but also the bad –
Nalini: – because, you know, you need that balance. Right now, you know, it’s actually still very fresh –
Nalini: – because again, we have to think in timelines that are immortal, right. It might be a year from the previous book, but for an immortal that’s –
Sarah: That’s a sneeze.
Nalini: – that’s – yeah, that’s nothing, you know?
Sarah: Yeah. That’s a sneeze.
Nalini: So – and you think of the amount of power that was involved, and –
Nalini: So there’s a ripple impact that’s going to keep running across the world. I think it’s going to reverberate. Right now I’m writing the next Psy-Changeling book, and when I do that I just let, for example, the Guild Hunters stuff just kind of simmer in the back of my brain –
Nalini: – to see what feels natural? So yeah, so we’ll see, we’ll see where we go. And there’s a particular book I want to write, but I need to figure some stuff out, so we’ll see. We’ll see what the subconscious tells me, comes up with answers.
Sarah: It’s funny you should mention, ‘cause one of Ann’s questions was, when you’re working on a book in one series, do ideas for the other series come to you? How do you manage going from very different worlds, from Guild Hunter to Psy-Changeling to thrillers to contemporary? Does it take you a while to decompress from one book to the next, or do you have what I think of as the Crockpot in the back of your brain, and instead of one you’ve got like five?
Sarah: And all the different genres are in there, and they just bubble away for a couple millennia and see how they do?
Nalini: Yep, yeah, I got the Crockpots back there.
Sarah: [Laughs] I love my mental Crockpot.
Nalini: So if something is bugging me, like, it’s, it’s ready, you know.
Nalini: It’s, it’s bugging me. So for example I had, had an idea for my next thriller, and I just gave myself a few hours to just compulsively write down all the thoughts about it –
Nalini: – and then, and then it’s okay.
Nalini: Then it’s okay; then I can put it aside, ‘cause I know I’ve, I’ve saved the idea –
Nalini: – I’ve saved the thought, and I can come back to it? That doesn’t mean the loop is actually closed; it’s still, the, the Crockpot is still bubbling back there –
Nalini: – but it’s not pushing into my – like, it’s not trying to take over –
Nalini: – my writing time, because my focus has to be on the book I’m working on. But yeah, I, I quite often will get ideas for a different series than the one I’m working on, and that’s usually what I do: I’ll write it down?
Nalini: Whether it’s in a notebook or – usually what I do is I, I create a file, put it all down, and then it’s really calming, because like you said, it’s, okay, I saved it now, so –
Nalini: – it’s, it’s there. You know, it’s ready for me to go back to. And what else I find –
Sarah: I don’t have to rely on my brain. It will –
Nalini: [Laughs] It’s still, it’s still there.
Sarah: – it, it’s – my brain is not going to hold onto this. I can just put it somewhere else. Yes.
Nalini: It is! It’s, it’s, like, in its space, you know. And also I find is, when I put it down –
Nalini: – I quite often find it solidifies things, and then other ideas sort of form slowly in the background?
In terms of switching, I actually like it that everything’s so different?
Nalini: There’s no bleed –
Nalini: – you know, from one to the other. It’s very different, so when I switch it’s a very clean break?
Nalini: There’s no worry about mixing things up or getting confused. It’s just –
Nalini: – you know, they’re, they’re their own discrete things, and that’s actually part of why I do, you know, I write all these different things, because they’re all so different, and it’s fun.
Nalini: It’s fun for my brain. I guess if you use an exercise analogy it’s like doing different exercises, you know –
Nalini: – and so keep yourself fresh –
Nalini: – the whole time. Yeah.
Sarah: And for your brain it’s like getting on a plane in New Zealand and going to sleep and waking up in Morocco.
Nalini: [Laughs] Yeah, it is! Yeah, yeah!
Nalini: Absolutely, absolutely! I, I, I’ve got nothing to add to that –
Nalini: – it’s a brilliant analogy, yeah.
Sarah: I remember talking to you once about how you used to know Japanese very fluently, and you don’t remember it –
Sarah: – and you said, well, it’s in my long-term memory –
Sarah: – and I didn’t understand what you meant until I went to Spain with my husband a couple years ago, and for some reason the combination of the sounds and the smells and the sights and, and being back there, I remembered all of this stuff. I remembered –
Sarah: – all this language. So my theory is that your long-term memory is just a, a truly cosmic thing of beauty.
Sarah: ‘Cause you have the long-term memory for all these series, plus some languages. Like, has anyone offered to study your brain?
Nalini: [Laughs] I think, yeah, read my books; you can study my brain.
Sarah: [Laughs] Yeah, that’s true! There’s a lot in there!
Sarah: Now, C from Patreon wanted to know, how has your writing evolved since you started? Are there things you pay attention to now that you didn’t when you were first writing? And I love this question, because I, like I said, I did just read the whole series, and I could sort of trace the evolution of paranormal romance and the archetypes of paranormal romance heroes through the series as they evolved and grew and changed, and I was like, this is so cool! So are there things you pay attention to as your writing changes and grows?
Nalini: So it’s really interesting: I think someone like you, who has read the series, you know, in a close proximity – you know, you’ve read the series through – you’re more likely to pick up things than I am myself?
Nalini: Because for me, it’s a continuous process?
Nalini: I’m probably not as aware of things as a reader would be?
Nalini: Obviously, I’ve learned certain structural things, you know, grammatical things, those type of things, that’s just knowledge that built up over the years, but I think what I’m more aware of is, obviously I’ve matured –
Nalini: – over the years, and I feel like that maturity comes into the writing –
Nalini: – as well. I know more about the world; I have a wider circle of people I know.
Sarah: Except for lockdown, yeah.
Nalini: And yeah – yeah.
Nalini: I mean, you know, being in New Zealand, it’s, it’s, I’ve always had a lot of online connections?
Sarah: Yeah, yeah.
Nalini: Like – and so that, you know, that’s continued on and it’s – so I feel like it’s not so much structural or technical writing things I’m as aware of, but I do think I’m probably more aware of the vastness of human experience, more –
Nalini: – because I’m older and I’ve, I’ve had more experiences. And just, yeah, growth and –
Nalini: And so that’s been kind of fun, because for some of my characters, I’ve grown alongside them, so they’ve matured and I’ve matured, and, and, and yeah, it’s, it’s interesting, ‘cause I think I can write more – well, I hope – I can write more complex and interesting relationships because I’m more aware of all the – how should I say? – the various facets of the human heart.
Nalini: And I think that’s, that’s a growth process that continues for all our lives.
Nalini: I mean – so yeah, yeah. So not so much the technical, but maybe in terms of the emotions I can access for my characters?
Sarah: Yeah. I was, I remember speaking recently with my husband about how, you know, for us, we’re, you know, boring middle-aged people; you know, things happen and we’re like, oh, okay; but for my children, who are younger, who are teenagers, what I call the, the pool of emotional experience is a much smaller body of water because they are, they’re not even fifteen yet, or not even sixteen yet –
Sarah: – so, you know, their pool of emotional experience is very small, and any disruption makes really big waves, whereas for, you know, people who have grown and aged and matured, your pool of emotional experience is much, much larger, and so it takes a lot to really upset the surface. Like, you’ll have little pebbles and stuff, and it’s like, all right, I can handle that. Which is, which goes back a little bit to Archangel’s Light, because the fight that they have, for beings that are so old, with an enormous ocean of emotional experience, a fight to cause that much disruption is a major, major thing. It’s like a, you know, a meteor hitting the ocean.
Nalini: Yeah. I think it’s, that’s a really good way to put it, because I think, I would use an explosion analogy, like a volcano?
Sarah: Yeah. Yeah!
Nalini: Because it’s been backed up for a long time. It’s been coming for a long time –
Nalini: – and then it blows, because, for part of them, the issue is that there’s been sort of a, like I said, they’re stuck in a holding pattern?
Nalini: So their emotional growth that should have happened has kind of become stuck at a point in time, and yeah –
Nalini: – it’s just circling.
Nalini: And it needed for them both to grow.
Nalini: It needed to, to be broken, that pattern that they fell into. It’s explosive.
Nalini: I mean, on the surface of it, when you look at that fight, it’s, I mean, it’s a fight! It’s not like a world-ending kind of a fight kind of thing –
Nalini: – but it is for them, because it’s the, you know, it’s that final domino that you push –
Sarah: Yep! And then –
Nalini: – and everything else –
Nalini: – falls over.
Nalini: Everything else comes out. So their fight itself might seem like a minor thing –
Nalini: – but that’s not what it’s about at all –
Nalini: – you know?
Sarah: There’s always a much bigger powder keg behind the little, behind the little fuse –
Sarah: – yeah.
Nalini: Yeah, yeah.
Sarah: But the upside of it being a volcanic explosion in the ocean is that’s how new islands are formed!
Nalini: [Laughs] That’s right! That, yeah, exactly!
Sarah: Which I’ve heard is a thing that happens.
Nalini: Yep. Yeah. And in a sense, that’s what happens here!
Nalini: Because of that, that explosion creates the space for something new to grow.
Sarah: Mm-hmm. Yeah.
Nalini: And, yeah. So, like, when I visualize it, it’s like, like a tiny sprout, you know? Like, growing –
Nalini: – and it’s fragile and it’s beautiful and has to be protected and given space to breathe.
Sarah: Yeah. C also wanted me to ask: your series lengths are amazing and delightful. When you are starting a series, do you know about how long they’re going to run, or do they expand over time?
I know you said with the Psy-Changeling that you knew that, where you were going to – it’s Allegiance that’s the pivot book, right? So –
Sarah: – you knew where you were going to Allegiance of Honor, and then you began the, the Trinity, the Trinity sequence – which sounds like a really bad spy movie; I beg your pardon –
Sarah: – but do you know how long all your series are going to run, or do the worlds just sort of shift and we just tack a few books on the end there; it’ll be fine?
Nalini: So it depends. So with the contemporaries, for example, I do know –
Nalini: – because the, the contemporaries are based around people?
Nalini: So a group of people: I had my rock stars, and I’ve got the family. It’s obviously, it’s within that, that group –
Nalini: – each person will have a story, so I know how many books there’ll be. But in terms of the speculative fiction stuff, so the paranormal romance/urban fantasy: yeah, I have no idea, honestly. And even with the Psy-Changeling series, even though I knew the arc, like, I knew where the first arc was going to finish, I actually had no idea how many books it would take to tell that story. I think it’s important to know the arc, because that’s –
Nalini: – what holds the whole series together –
Sarah: Oh, absolutely.
Nalini: – but in terms of – yeah – in terms of how long it takes, I’m super open to it and willing to go wherever the characters lead me?
Nalini: And it’s been interesting with the Guild Hunter series because it’s just, it’s just structured a little differently from most series, and so there’s space in there to have those stories that are unexpected –
Nalini: – that come up, and somehow it all works?
Nalini: So, for example, the, the Titus and Sharine story: ask me five books ago if that was coming, and I’d be like, are you crazy? What have you been smoking? You know?
Nalini: I can’t tell you a number, generally, in, in those series, but I can tell you the story I’m trying to tell.
Sarah: Yeah. And I know for you, with, with knowing where you’re going, that larger plot arc I think is always evident? I am very bad at watching television where I don’t know that the writers know where they’re going, or if I suspect that their goal is perpetuity in syndication, which means that they’re just going to keep, keep inventing conflicts that are just –
Sarah: – silly and never reserve, resolve them? The idea of a specific set number of stories, and this is the story and here it is –
Sarah: – it’s like the, the K-drama, the telenovela model. Like, we know the ending; we’re going here.
Sarah: So for you to know the overarching story, I mean, you might need to add a few cars to the train, but you know where you’re going.
Nalini: Yeah, I think, honestly, that’s how I learnt as well, with watching TV, and I got really frustrated with some shows that –
Nalini: – I could tell they didn’t know?
Nalini: They didn’t know because they were just making stuff up! [Laughs]
Sarah: Yes, you can always tell! I can tell!
Nalini: It made me crazy because I was like, there has to be, there has to be a resolution. So, for example, if a, if a person reads the first arc of the Psy-Changeling series, there is a resolution point. Things change; there’s a major change from Slave to Sensation to Allegiance of Honor.
Nalini: And then if they want, they can actually be like, okay, I’m satisfied. You know, there’s a satisfaction thing there that –
Nalini: – you get that payoff. And do we want to go on to season two to find the impact of all those changes? And so season two begins: it’s a new beginning, and so you’ve still got the resolution from the first set –
Nalini: – so it’s not like a continuous thing where you never actually get any kind of resolution?
Nalini: Even in the Guild Hunter series, even though it’s structured differently, I feel like we’ve had those climax peaks where things have happened, and then we’ve had to, you know, like lulls, and then again we’ve had something happen.
Nalini: For example, the villain we talked about: you know, that did come to a resolution. She’s not sort of endlessly there herself. You know, she’s not there anymore because it had to be resolved. It’s important to me to give readers their payoff.
Nalini: Because of who I am as a writer, I also like the aftermath books. I like writing, okay, we’ve, we’ve got –
Sarah: Oh, emotional cleanup, yeah!
Nalini: Exactly! It’s like, okay, we’ve got the impact; we’ve got the climax; we’ve got this big battle. But I never like stories that finish at that point because it’s like, but I want to know how they figured it out after, you know, this world has been destroyed, for example, or this horrible thing happened, and it finishes with them, like, triumphant. But I’m like, yeah, but I want to know how they dealt with the chaos that was left behind. Things happen, it’s dealt with, and then we see the aftermath, and then perhaps something else is going to occur. But there is, there is also an overarching kind of theme –
Nalini: – that I, I want to deal with and, yeah, show and – I’ll stop talking before I spoil it, so.
Sarah: Oh no, you can keep talking!
Sarah: Do you remember we did an interview built on the whole idea that I was trying to get you to spoil your book, and you were just like, and speaking of flowers –
Nalini: Yeah, it’s, it’s really hard because with series, there’s so many threads running in my head –
Nalini: – and I quite often do actually have to tell myself to stop talking, because if I keep talking I’ll just tell you and, oh, and this is what I actually want to write, and this is where I see it going, and I’m like, no, no. Just be quiet now.
Sarah: See, that’s a skill. Of course my next question was going to be, what are you working on right now? Can you talk about it at all?
Nalini: Yeah, I can talk about it a little bit. I’m doing the next Psy-Changeling book. It’s titled Storm Echo, and –
Sarah: These are great titles!
Nalini: Isn’t it great? I love it!
Sarah: That’s a good title. I mean, I just love all of the, the, the Trinity titles, especially all the aquatic references? I’m a big fan of those.
Nalini: [Laughs] Yeah, it actually takes a lot of time to come up with them because I really want them to fit the book?
Sarah: Yeah! Yeah.
Nalini: And so yeah, I, I drive, quite often I drive Ashwini crazy ‘cause I’m like, brainstorm with me, brainstorm with me! She’s like, oh my God, stop! Stop! But she’s great.
Nalini: But yeah –
Sarah: I just imagine her giving you this absolutely mammoth bucket of refrigerator poetry magnets and be like, here, find your title in here! Just, just reach in and grab some words!
Nalini: [Laughs] I have to tell her that!
Sarah: Just reach in and grab some words, and there’s your title!
Nalini: It basically is that, because I find words that resonate –
Nalini: – with the book, and then I have to try and come up with a title –
Nalini: – with those. We will be back in San Francisco for part of this book, the characters are not, like, a Dark River Leopard or a Snow Dancer Wolf, but we will see some of our favorites again –
Sarah: Which is –
Nalini: – some reader favorites again, people you know?
Sarah: – is bear? Bear, bear? Bear? Is Bear?
Nalini: [Laughs] He’s not a bear.
Sarah: Oh bugger!
Nalini: It’s actually a Psy-Changeling romance, so there’s a Psy and a Changeling, so – and for the rest you’ll have to wait, because I really want to do a bit more work on this before I, I spill more details.
Nalini: Because I’ve been bitten before where I’m like, oh, I know what I’m doing! And the characters are like, ha-ha-ha-ha! You do not know!
Sarah: No, you do not know what you’re doing!
Nalini: [Laughs] So, yeah.
Sarah: That reminds me of something I did want to ask you: I know that you often have, for a lot of your books you have basically the, the Post-it note summary, like Knight to her Queen.
Sarah: Gosh, I’d have to look at the transcript, but Heart of Obsidian was something about obsession?
Nalini: Yeah, obsession/devotion.
Sarah: Obsession and devotion. So did you have –
Sarah: – a, a, a touchstone phrase for the, for Archangel’s Light?
Nalini: No. No, because I think – so, every book is different –
Nalini: – and every book has a different kind of thing that I –
Nalini: – that works for me. So, for example, when I was writing, when I was writing Shield of Winter I was listening to “Halo” by Beyoncé, like, on repeat like ten thousand times, because it just –
Nalini: – spoke to that book, and for Heart of Obsidian, you know I had that Post-it note with the touchstone. With Archangel’s Light, I think because I’ve been living with these two for so long, it was more just like this obsessive writing.
Nalini: Like just, just being there in the moment. It was so much time to tell this story –
Nalini: – I was just like, it was all on there. It’s all on the page, you know –
Nalini: – it’s – I had to just get it out, and then I had to figure it out, and I think a lot of the anchors for this book, I, you know, there’s quotes scattered throughout –
Nalini: – and a lot of those really spoke to me. I had a lot of them in my mind as I was writing, because they, they really resonated with me for their story, and there was a particular line that Illium says in a previous book, which is that all my loves leave me in the winter snow? That line just kind of just stuck –
Nalini: – and I think probably if you had to link to anyone, anything –
Sarah: It would be that one?
Nalini: – I would say that one, because I think it tells you so much about Illium –
Nalini: – when you get to the history behind that comment and why he would say that and his emotions behind it.
Sarah: My last question, as always, is what books are you reading right now that you want to tell people about, and I have a TV recommendation for you.
Nalini: Oh, okay! I’ve had an interesting reading month, which is that I, I kind of had a little slump. So –
Sarah: I hate that.
Nalini: Yeah. I, I’m out of it now, so I can tell you about one book I’m reading right now, but what I thought I would do is tell you about some books that I’m super excited to read that I, that I have. When I was in the slump, and I quite often find coming out of a slump I just reread, which is, it works, you know, and so I was, I’ve been rereading on audio the J. D. Robb books.
Nalini: Because they’re, they’re such a favorite series, and I’d never actually listened to them on audio? I, I’d always read the books. So that’s been actually really interesting, because we’re at like fifty-something books now, and going back to the beginning, there’s such a difference!
Sarah: Oh my gosh!
Nalini: In all the characters, yeah!
Sarah: There’s, they, they evolve so much!
Nalini: I think we tend to focus on Eve’s evolution, but even Roarke and the relationship that Eve has with Summerset?
Sarah: Oh yeah!
Nalini: It’s all these things have just evolving, and it’s actually really interesting. And the funny thing was, I had an early copy of the February 2022 book, Abandoned in Death –
Nalini: – so I’d read that, and then I went into this, these sort of audio rereads, and so I had the, a vision of who they are now very strong in my mind, and then going back to the beginning?
Sarah: Oh wow.
Nalini: So that was actually super interesting. I’ve paused the, the rereads for the moment because, again, I have to keep them in my back pocket for –
Nalini: – [laughs] – for when I need it?
And so what I’m reading right now, and really enjoying, is Wonton Terror by Vivien Chien. It’s a cozy mystery series; it’s Noodle Shop Mysteries, and I think this is book four that I’m on, and I just really like them; they’re, they’re fun. And so I think of Lana Lee as like, you know, Jessica Fletcher?
Nalini: Don’t invite her around because somebody’s going to die. [Laughs] But –
Sarah: I don’t know how these people keep getting invited places.
Nalini: I know!
Sarah: Like, every time they show up, somebody dies; has no one caught on to this?
Nalini: [Laughs] Exactly! So yeah, I’m actually really enjoying them. I, I love – she’s built, you know, the author has built this community of people that are always in all the books, and –
And then I’ve got a few books that I’m waiting to read. So I’ve got an early copy of Nisha Sharma’s Dating Dr. Dil –
Nalini: – which I’m looking forward to. So this, I think, is Nisha’s first adult rom-com romance, so I’m excited to see what she does with it. I already like the title because it’s, it’s actually a pun? So dil means heart, and I think he’s meant to be a bit heartless, so I’m looking forward to that.
And I’ve also just ordered a copy of Rebekah Weatherspoon’s A Thorn in the Saddle –
Nalini: – ‘cause that, she just, she did this Twitter thread, and I was like, yeah, that – so Twitter sells books. I mean – [laughs] –
Nalini: So I’m like, yeah, I need this book.
Sarah: Yes, it does!
Nalini: And, oh, and I’m also waiting, I think it’s next month or – anyway, it’s preordered – Jayne Castle’s Guild Boss?
Nalini: I love those books. I love those books. They’re, they’re sort of her futuristic Harmony –
Nalini: – books, so yeah. So that’s what I have on my To Be Read list and my current reads.
Sarah: Fabulous! Now, I don’t know if this show has made it to New Zealand yet, but I have a feeling it will? There’s a show that’s been on in the States called Only Murders in the Building. Have you heard of this?
Nalini: I’ve seen it online, and it looks so good. It hasn’t made it to New Zealand yet. I can’t wait!
Sarah: It is so good, and it’s one of those shows where you know they know where they’re going?
Sarah: Like, there’s an end. There’s, there’s a number of episodes.
Nalini: Yeah. Oh wow.
Sarah: This is the story. The mystery is so good, and it does that thing that you do, where there’s like a tiny little drop in one episode, and then six episodes later you’re like, oh, holy crap. That’s what that means.
Nalini: Oh, I can’t wait.
Nalini: It looks so good! Just like, just from the little, little trailer and things I’ve seen?
Sarah: It’s –
Nalini: Yeah, it’s definitely on my list.
Sarah: It’s super New York, too; I know you’ll like that part. Like, it’s extremely New York.
Nalini: [Laughs] Oh yeah?
Sarah: Yeah, ver-, New York, it’s one of the shows where it’s like –
Nalini: I love New York!
Sarah: – really New York, and a very specific part of New York. Oh yeah.
Sarah: And that brings us to the end of this week’s interview, but I have one more thing. It’s like those old Apple broadcasts; remember those? One more thing! In this case, one more question! Varian in my Patreon community emailed a question, and Nalini was kind enough to answer over email. Varian wrote:
“Quiet in Her Bones was deeply cathartic for me. It has one of the best portrayals of memory loss, and the fear that comes with it, I have ever read. I cried because of how hard I related to it. My question is, did you have this aspect of the book planned from the start, or did it come up in the writing process?”
And in answer to Varian’s question, Nalini wrote:
“I’m not really a big plotter when I write – I tend to have a basic sketch of things, then I just go for it. With the thrillers, I’m aware of the players, and what role each plays, but I don’t know them. That’s part of the fun of my first draft (a friend calls this a discovery draft) – it’s a conversation with my characters in a sense. I think constantly about them, whether I’m at the computer, or washing dishes. They come alive inside my head facet by facet, secret by secret.
“When I wrote my (very rough) first draft and met Aarav, I knew there was something about him that I wasn’t getting/didn’t know. It was subtle at first, just little things that made me take a second, then a third look. It was a slow reveal. I feel as if I discovered his brain trauma and associated memory glitches as he did. Which I think helped me to write it more naturally. It wasn’t something I imposed on the character – it was part of him from the first, though neither one of us knew it when he first opened the door to the detectives.
“I hope that makes sense! I’m a very instinctive writer, so breaking things down in terms of process is a bit of a mission at times. :)”
Thank you for the question, Varian, and thank you, Nalini, for your time and for answering that one as well.
I will have links to every single book we talked about in the show notes; never fear. I would never let you down like that.
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As always, I end every episode with an absolutely abysmal joke. Before I do that, though, if you’re listening and thinking, what music is this? This is Adeste Fiddles by Deviations Project. I play this music once a year, and I love it every time. So if you’re looking for that album, you’re looking for all this cool holiday music, that’s Adeste Fiddles, the greatest album name ever.
And now, joke time:
Why did the mustard lose the race between the sauces?
Why did the mustard lose the race between sauces?
‘Cause it couldn’t catsup.
[Laughs] It’s so silly, I love it! You can always send me the very worst joke you’ve ever heard, because you know I want to hear it, at [email protected].
Thank you again for joining me this week. I am honored that you hang out with me, and it’s a pleasure to keep you company, whatever you’re doing. We wish you the very best of reading. Have a wonderful weekend, and we’ll see you back here next week.
Smart Podcast, Trashy Books is part of the Frolic Podcast Network. You can find outstanding podcasts to subscribe to at frolic.media/podcasts.
[best holiday music]
This podcast transcript was handcrafted with meticulous skill by Garlic Knitter. Many thanks.