Nalini Singh Creates a Unique Alternate Reality e-interviewed by Martina Bexte (September, 2006)
Whether working as a resource management lawyer, at a candy factory, teaching English in Japan, or trekking across the grasslands of Inner Mongolia, New Zealander Nalini Singh maintains that she is first and foremost a writer. She tells us 'I've been writing as long as I can remember and all of my stories always held a thread of romance (even when I was writing about a prince who could shoot lasers out of his eyes). I love creating unique characters, love giving them happy endings and I even love the voices in my head. There's no other job I would rather be doing.'
Nalini worked diligently to pursue her dreams of publication and in 2002 sold Desert Warrior, to Harlequin's Desire line. Her subsequent Desire titles all hit the Waldenbooks bestseller list and Awaken the Senses went to #1 - which Nalini says 'absolutely thrilled me'. Craving Beauty was #1 on a romance list in Japan - also a high point since Nalini was teaching English there at the time. Her career hits yet another high with the release of her first mainstream novel, a paranormal romance titled Slave to Sensation. Nalini guides readers into a fascinating and thought-provoking alternate reality where human hybrids called Psy - 'a powerful race with phenomenal powers of the mind—and none of the heart' - dominate the fragile balance of power between their society and that of emotionally charged shape shifter clans.
Q: Your travels have taken you to many destinations around the world - can you share some memorable moments?
A: I loved climbing the Great Wall of China – we were at a spot on the Wall that was several hours from any major city, so there were stretches with literally nobody else around. The day was piercingly clear and because the Wall is so high, I could see for miles around. There was just this feeling of the most amazing peace. Also in China, I rode a camel for the first time – fun! I would definitely recommend that to anybody who wants to try. Another memorable moment, though not such a fun one, was the time our train broke down in the middle of the salt flats outside Salt Lake City at three a.m.. Then there was the Sapporo Snow Festival…okay, stop me! I could go on and on. I'm like the relative you don’t want to visit because they'll insist on showing you all their holiday slides! :)
Q: Has your obvious wanderlust helped add depth to your writing?
A: I think so. Every experience adds a new layer to me as a writer, and that's especially true with traveling, because you see such different types of things. The most obvious thing that traveling did is open my eyes to the kinds of settings that were out there. I didn't have to be bound to the obvious – I could explore and find what suited my story.
Q: Now that you're back home in New Zealand after a three year stint teaching English in Japan, are you setting aside your various professions to concentrate on your writing?
A: Don't tell anyone but I'm on vacation. I decided that I needed a month off after the move – it was just such hard work, especially since Japan was in the midst of a heat wave when I left! I knew I'd need time to wind down and settle back into life in NZ. After that month is over, I'll make some firm decisions. But one thing is certain – writing is my absolute and utter priority. I want to really give my all to the stories I have to tell.
Q: In what way did writing category romance help you move on to mainstream fiction?
A: It strengthened me as a writer, both in terms of skills and in how I deal with all that comes along with it. For example, because I had that time in the world of category I'm professional enough to take reviews as they come, good or bad. Of course, a good review delights me, but I don't take it personally if it's otherwise. That's a very valuable skill. Category is also a great place to learn to tighten your writing – because the stories are short, there's no room for 'fluff'.
Q: Will you continue writing stories for the DESIRE line?
A: Currently, I have one more Desire book coming out next year. I'm not contracted with them after that but since I enjoy the line and also enjoy exercising my mental muscles by writing in two different formats, I'd say the answer is yes. But of course, it also depends upon other factors including my imagination – when I got the idea for Slave to Sensation, I just had to write it, and that world continues to fascinate me.
Q: Slave to Sensation is your first mainstream release and a paranormal romance - have you always had an interest in the paranormal?
A: Yes, particularly in relation to telepathy and other extra-sensory abilities. It just captivated me that we might have the potential inside ourselves, if only we could access it. And if we could, what would we do with it? I realized very early on that not everyone would use their powers for good, which was an unsettling idea, but which didn't dim my enthusiasm for the subject.
Q: The alternate reality you present in Slave to Sensation introduces readers to a superior society called the Psy whose mental capabilities include telepathy, foresight, telekinesis and psychometry and who shun all emotion - indeed over the course of various generations the Psy Council decided 'its new mission was to condition young Psy to feel nothing. Not rage, not jealousy, not envy, not happiness and certainly not love'. Why did you choose to write about a society so out of touch with emotion?
A: To be quite honest, I don't know. I didn't sit down and create this society consciously – I sat down to write one day and the Psy whispered in my ear, 'This is who we are.' From the start, that was how I saw them. As ice. Without heart, without soul. As a writer used to dealing in emotion, it was difficult to write a race that felt nothing. I had to be very careful not to let my reality influence theirs, to watch every word to ensure it reflected their inner coldness.
Q: Did you find yourself needing to do a lot of research about human emotion?
A: No. I did a lot of research for this book but not on this topic. Writing emotion has always been second nature to me, part of the reason I went into a genre where emotion is the bedrock of the books. Then I chose to write a book about a race with no emotions – go figure.
Q: Your Psy society is a fascinating alternate reality in its own right - why add the more uncivilized shape shifters to the blend - is it because they are such extreme emotional opposites of the Psy?
A: Once again, Lucas and the other Changelings were just 'there'. I could see them clearly in my mind's eye – strong, proud, and dangerous. If I'd stopped to think, I might've wondered at the strange choice of putting Changelings and Psy together, but I just wrote. It was only after the book was finished that I realized exactly how disparate these two races were. And yet they were right together. I knew that in my bones. Nothing else would've worked.
Q: Of your two leads, whose skin was it easier for you to get into, the icily controlled Cardinal Psy, Sascha Duncan, or the smolderingly sensual alpha leopard, Lucas Hunter?
A: Oddly enough I got Sascha straight away. I knew who she was from the inside out. Lucas was a little harder, but perhaps that's because of who he is – an alpha leopard used to control. But after I got into Lucas's skin, boy was he fun to write. He's just so sexy, intelligent and wild at the same time. I especially loved writing the scenes within the DarkRiver pack when we get to see another side to Lucas.
Q: Lucas's DarkRiver cat clan and the neighboring SnowDancer wolf clan are not on the friendliest of terms and seem to only tolerate each other's existence even though in this first installment they grudgingly agree to work together to stop whoever is murdering their changeling women. Do you plan to explore their uneasy alliance in other books or spin-offs where the Psy would not be part of the story?
A: Oh yes, the relationship between DarkRiver and SnowDancer is one of the most important overarching threads in this series. But saying that, the Psy will always be part of these books, too, because no matter what the Psy Council wants, the worlds of the Changelings and the Psy will continue to crash into each other. How can they not? After all, they occupy the same planet, the same cities. Whether a book is more Changeling or more Psy in terms of the setting and characters will depend on the story being told.
Q: You have two sequels scheduled for release in 2007: Visions of Heat and Caressed by Ice. Tell us a little more about these two stories and how they will tie in to Slave to Sensation.
A: Visions of Heat is about Vaughn, one of the sentinels introduced in Slave to Sensation. Vaughn is far closer to his animal than other changelings, lethally so. But what happens if the animal in him is fascinated by one of the enemy? Faith NightStar is a Foreseer, one of the best in the Psy world. And she's colder than ice, Psy to the core. Except as this book begins, she's starting to see visions of blood and death, things she should not be seeing.
As to Caressed by Ice, it's going to be a little bit different. I'm working on the second draft and it looks like a major part of this book is going to take place in SnowDancer territory, which means that you'll get to meet a lot more of the wolves and learn more about how they function as a pack. But there's going to be a big Psy factor, too – and in a way that might surprise readers. (I just read my answer over and it sounds like I'm being cagey, but I promise I'm not! In truth, I'm afraid of giving away spoilers because this book plays off a lot of things that happen in Slave).
Q: Will Sascha and Lucas play a role in the forthcoming sequels?
A: Yes, yes! This series definitely has a story arc that continues from book to book, though the individual couples' stories stand alone. Lucas and Sascha are very important to that overarching story and I think they'll become even more important as things change in the world around them during the course of the other books.
Q: There are those who postulate that we as a species haven't come close to tapping into the wonders of the human brain…for example… some theorists say that we have repressed or effectively lost the sixth sense that our hunter-gatherer ancestors supposedly possessed and that was critical to their survival. Do you think that one day we'll re-claim what we've lost and perhaps go on to unlock all the mysteries within the human mind?
A: Yes. I absolutely believe that we are capable of far more than we know. And as the world grows more and more mentally focused (as opposed to our more physical past), isn't it logical to assume that the brain itself will develop and grow? Or as you said, maybe it's a case of becoming wise enough as a species to reclaim what we once knew instinctively?
Q: If we were capable of suppressing or even erasing such negative emotions as rage, anger and hatred do you think our world would be a less volatile place?
A: It might be less volatile, but I also think it'd be far less alive. I believe we need the balance our negative emotions provide. Control is one thing but to delete or suppress them destroys part of who we are, and how can that possibly be a good thing? Or put another way – how can you experience joy if you don't know what sadness is? So even if the choice presented itself, I think most of us would say no.
Martina: Thanks, Nalini, for giving us this opportunity to get to know you and your work - and good luck with Slave to Sensation!
Nalini: I really enjoyed the interview, so thank you!Find out more about the author, her background, her books, her blog, her travel diary, and generous tips for writers at her website, NaliniSingh.com.
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