Twelve Questions: Nalini SinghSave
Kiwi author Nalini Singh has sold more than six million books in 20 languages. Her paranormal romance books, featuring angels, vampires and changelings, have made the New York Times bestseller list 25 times.
By Jennifer Dann
1. Have you been offered a TV or movie deal?
We've had bites but nothing signed on the dotted line yet. My agent in Los Angeles tells me not to get too excited by the interest because it's really difficult to get a deal to the stage where something's actually getting made. Fantasy stories have big budgets as well.
2. Do you ever get recognised in New Zealand?
Actually, thank God, no. I'm really happy about that because like every writer I don't want to be famous for myself, I want my books to be in the spotlight. New Zealand is one of my smallest markets internationally. I'm most well-known in the United States and Germany, which have had the paranormal romance (PNR) genre much longer. My books weren't even available here for a number of years after they were published in the States.
3. Were you influenced by True Blood author Charlaine Harris or Twilight author Stephenie Meyer?
No, I've been in the PNR genre for a long time so vampire romances weren't brand new for me like they were to some people. I've actually been published alongside Charlaine Harris in a multi-author anthology. I've read Twilight. It was very readable and it had something that really captured people's imaginations in the same way that Hunger Games and Game of Thrones do. You can try and dissect it but you'll never figure it out because it's never predictable.
4. What are your fans like?
I do book tours around the world so I've met a lot of them face to face. They're a really cool bunch of people. Mostly they want to know what's coming next in the series and get the spoilers, like a TV show. Often they have a favourite character they want to become the main character. I get everyone from teenagers to retired people. My Psy-Changeling series has mainly female fans, whereas my Guild Hunter series has a strong contingent of male fans because it's more "urban fantasy". There's a romance element but adventure is at the core. My fans are from really diverse cultural backgrounds because my characters are too. I didn't realise I was doing that until readers started emailing me to say how nice it was. I live in Auckland, which is a very diverse city and I want my fantasy worlds to reflect the world we live in.
5. What's your cultural background?
I'm Fijian Indian. Our family lived in Suva until I was 10 when we moved to Auckland for Dad's work. He's a computer programmer. I went to Edendale Primary School and studied law and arts at Auckland University. I think of myself as a Kiwi author but I've been told my books have an international voice. It's not something I do consciously. It just happened because I grew up in two different places. Sometimes it's actually Kiwi readers who are most surprised to learn I'm a New Zealander.
6. Did you always want to be a writer?
It was really funny, but I didn't know you could be a writer for a living until I was at uni doing my LLB. I joined the Romance Writers of New Zealand and met successful full-time writers like Daphne Claire, Susan Napier and Robyn Donald. It wasn't a surprise to my family. Basically, I spent my whole growing up years in my room, typing away. I'm a very eclectic reader. I went through a stage at intermediate school where I'd pick a section in the library and read all the books in it. So I read the entire Dickens section and then in my teen years I was a huge science fiction and fantasy fan. I found romances at about 15 and just gobbled those up, but still loved the fantasy.
7. Had you heard of Paranormal Romance?
I hadn't. I didn't know it was a thing. But that's what I was looking for - a fantasy book with just a bit more romance. So I started out writing Mills & Boon. I sent my first manuscript to London when I was 18 and got my first deal when I was 25 with Silhouette in New York.
8. Had you experienced any real romance yourself at that age?
I wouldn't have had anything that qualified when I first started submitting stories. Like most writers, I watch people. Not in an evil, stalker-y way. I'm just really interested in people and absorb things around me. People say, "How can you write about something without having experienced it?" But writers do it all the time. I'm pretty sure Stephen King hasn't gone out and murdered a whole lot of people. You just have to have a good ear for emotional nuance, really listen when people talk and observe how they act in certain emotional situations.
9. Have your parents read your sex scenes?
My mum's actually read all my books. She's like, "You're a grown up". But I will say one thing that I think's really important - in a romance there is never a sex scene. It's a love scene. One of the best pieces of advice I ever got was that a love scene must serve the same purpose as every other scene. It either makes things worse, better or moves the plot along.
10. What's your writing process?
To write a good series you have to know where the overall story arc is going, but I'm not a big plotter in terms of writing things down. When I first started going to workshops I tried writing an outline but it was terrible. I was so bored I couldn't be bothered writing the book itself. I start out by writing a "dirty draft" which takes about three weeks. This is where I get into the head of the characters and test the plot by putting them in key situations to see what happens.
11. Do your characters reveal themselves to you?
Yes. For me, writing is almost like watching a movie inside my head. I watch it play out and sometimes the characters talk to me and I talk to them, but I am just the scribe. So if two characters have chemistry, I can feel it as I'm writing. There's a spark and it's like, "Okay, how's that going to work?" I really try to be honest to the characters. When I first started I tried to make characters do what I wanted and it didn't work because you need that organic emotional growth. That's what the best romance writing does. Some people will say, "I think I'll knock off a romance book and become rich", but romance readers are very savvy. They will know if it's been written with passion.
12. Most of your books work towards a happy ending. Is that something you'd like for yourself?
Of course, but not everyone's happy ending is the same. In a good romance, for the ending to be believable, you have to make it a happy ending for those characters. So my happy ending may not be yours or someone else's. I hope for a happy ending for everybody.