Happy Tuesday, friends!
I’m very very excited about this new edition of Tea Time Talks. If you missed the first post with R.M Virtues, this is an interview feature here on The Infinite Limits of Love. I’ll be interviewing authors, industry folks, content creators, and more.
As some of you already know, I’m a big Nalini Singh fan and I’m beyond honored that she agreed to an interview with me. Nalini Singh’s newest book in the Psy-Changeling Trinity series, Last Guard, was released last week, and in this interview, we chat a little bit about the book, her writing process, and what’s next for her.
This feature on the blog is called Tea Time Talks. So, what are we drinking and eating today?
While I love tea, it’s late on a winter’s day in New Zealand as I answer this, so I’m having a pot of hot cocoa. Yesterday was a tea day, however, and I decided to have an apple-ginger infusion that was this beautiful pale golden color.
As for snacks, today I tried freeze-dried fruit that caught my eye at the grocery store. I’m not quite sure about them, but they are weirdly moreish. I also had chocolate, because of course!
For readers new to the Psy-Changeling series, how would you pitch it in a Tweet (280 characters)?
Welcome to a world of telepaths and telekinetics where emotion is outlawed and love a crime. Throw in the wild grenade of changeling shapeshifters as passionate as the Psy are icy. A collision is imminent. Change inevitable. Strap in for the ride.
You’ve been writing both the Psy-Changeling and Guild Hunter series for a very long time. How do you keep the series interesting for yourself as a writer and for your longtime and new readers?
I began both series because the stories were so vivid in my head and I was so excited to write them. That excitement in the story remains alive in me, and I think it translates to the page. At the core of it, it comes down to my deep love of the worlds and the characters. I couldn’t spend months and months with each book if I didn’t feel that passionate drive to explore, to learn more.
One thing that’s really important to me is that each character is unique. Canto, for example, is not interchangeable with Valentin, and Faith can’t step in for Payal. Because each person is unique, that leads to each romance being unique, too.
That gives me great joy as a writer, and I feel it speaks to readers too. These characters feel very real. Everyone has their own favorites, both in terms of characters, and in terms of couples.
From an overall plot perspective, I also made a promise to myself when I realized Psy-Changeling was going to be a series: that each book would lead to, or have, some forward progression in the overall storyline. I did not want to be in a holding pattern.
I carried that promise through into the Guild Hunter series as well, and I feel I’ve held true to it. Some books shove the plot forward with shattering force, while others only seem to put a tiny fragment of change in place. But there is always change, and some of those tiny fragments are the building blocks of massive future changes.
I think the combination—of strong characters and continuous forward motion—is what keeps the series fresh for readers.
I’m relatively new to the Psy-Changeling series and I’ve enjoyed watching the evolution of this series while I binge-read the books. I really appreciate how grounded in reality your futuristic fantasy worlds are. Mental health has always been a pivotal part of this series and we see a bigger focus on that in Last Guard. I was wondering if you could speak to that as well as say a few words about the disability representation.
I think it’s important to start off by saying that I don’t go into any character thinking first about representation (of any stripe)—I feel like approaching things from that angle leads to a risk of stereotypes or flat caricatures. It becomes less about the character and more about an idea or a concept.
I write people. In all their glory. The good and the bad. The shadows and the shine. The challenges and the gifts.
This is the number one thing I tell new writers when they ask me about how to write strong characters. Write people. And people are complex, wonderful, weird, interesting, and have a thousand different facets. They are not one element, whether physical or mental, and should not be defined by it.
My writing process means I get to know my characters as I write the first draft, and they grow very organically. And so, if a character appears with an element or trait to them that I don’t know much about, I then do the research and/or consult with those with expertise on the topic. Because getting that right is part of writing a strong and cohesive character.
A created world or alternate reality is not an excuse to get facts wrong. By facts, I mean anything that is analogous to our world and can be verified. As an example, I researched glacial erratic boulders for Slave to Sensation and natural neurotoxins for Hostage to Pleasure. Such boulders still exist in my world, as do dangerous ticks and spiders and snakes, so I must get those facts correct.
I research character elements the same way. Mental health is slightly different for the Psy because their brain chemistry is different, but they do have brain chemistry, so much of our general knowledge on that subject applies. In the same way, while Canto’s wheelchair might be slightly futuristic because of the time in which the series is set, it still serves the same function as a wheelchair in our world. Hence, there’s no excuse not to make sure I get it right.
If certain elements have come to the fore more in the series as it continues, it’s a function of the story—because I’m quite militant about the story being the driver. I don’t want any character to ever be a token. They are not there to showcase an element of diversity—they’re there to kick ass, take names, and change the world—while being themselves in all their beautiful complexity. That, to me, is the definition of true diversity: that each and every protagonist is a fascinating, multifaceted individual with their own power in how they impact the storyline.
In terms of mental health specifically, back when the series began, the Psy were still pretending to be perfect. Nope, no problems here, it’s all fine. Then the cracks began to appear, and now, they’re at a point that they must face it head on. Their society is fractured, and so are their people. Many are broken. There is no more hiding.
But of course, I’ve grown as the series has grown. I’ve gained in maturity and learned more of life along the way, and it’s inevitable that it’ll show in the stories I write. I think readers like you who’ve read the books back to back will see that growth far better than I ever will. Because for me, it’s been a continuous timeline—I spend six months writing a Psy-Changeling book, the other six months thinking about it, then back into the next book.
And when I go back and reread, all the timelines exist in my head at the same time. Past, present, and future, so again, it’s harder for me to see changes in my writing. But I’m glad things do change and grow—because I don’t want to be static as a writer, either. I want to learn and develop and expand my horizons with each book.
One of the things I enjoyed doing after catching up on the Psy-Changeling books was to rank the male leads – I knew my top male lead (Kaleb), but the rest was pretty challenging. I know this is a very mean (SORRY) thing to do to an author, but I am curious to see your own ranking if you’re willing to share.
I honestly don’t have one. I know sometimes people think I’m just saying that, and I must have a super secret favorites list, but I truly don’t. Because I’m so deep into a book when I write, the characters in my work-in-progress are my absolute favorites for that chunk of time—and that is as it should be.
This is their book, their time in the sun. Of course they should be my favorites. Of course I should be obsessed about them. How else could I do their story justice?
I didn’t want to ask you this but my friends, Lisa, Katie & Brie, would disown me if I didn’t. How do you feel about everyone’s favorite well-dressed rat alpha, Teijan, and can readers expect to see him as a lead in a future book?
Teijan is awesome and he’ll be back. I don’t think he’ll be a lead, but he’s too fascinating not to return.
You’ve written books in a variety of different genres. Is there a particular genre that you enjoy more than the others? Are there any other genres that you would like to dabble in that you haven’t had the opportunity to write yet?
I’ve come to realize that I love anything that features family—whether that’s the family we’re born with or the family we create for ourselves or a mix of both or something else altogether. I also love creating communities. All my romances feature families and/or communities of one kind or another.
My thrillers also revolve around communities, though those communities tend to be a lot darker and more murderous!
So as opposed to enjoying one more than the other, it’s more a case of enjoying them all in different ways. Switching up genres makes me stretch my mental muscles, think in different ways. That change energises me, and I think it makes me a better writer, because I then carry what I learn in one project to my next one and so on.
As for other genres… I have this one historical novella that I wrote years ago and still love, but the historical details are all wrong because that is not my strong suit! I’m thinking of creating an alternate reality for it, because that historical research is a killer.
More seriously though, I always leave the door open. Who knows what might intrigue me in the years to come?
Your coastal/rural New Zealand-based thrillers are some of my favorite mystery books I’ve ever read. Your descriptions of New Zealand are breathtaking and it’s definitely helped move New Zealand to the top of my travel bucket list – my sister lives in Australia so I am determined to make it to that part of the world. If you could take one of your fictional couples on a one-day tour somewhere in New Zealand, where would you take them?
Almost any location in the South Island would be breathtaking, but since you asked for just one, I’ll nominate Arthur’s Pass, since I just returned from there not long ago. Stunning alpine scenery unlike any other in the world, endless landscapes, mysterious misty mornings, frost that glitters like glass…it’s so, so lovely with all its edges and its starkness.
Before we wrap-up this conversation, can you tell us about the last two books you haven’t stopped thinking about?
It isn’t fiction, but the photography book Humans by Brandon Stanton left a mark. I love how he photographs people, and how he gets to the heart of them with the quotes he includes from his conversations with them. There is equal wonder and darkness in humanity, and his book showcases so much of both.
In fiction, I found The Empress of Salt and Fortune by Nghi Vo a beautiful and intriguing fantasy. It also fascinates my writer’s mind because of the worldbuilding done within a very short number of pages—but I won’t be deconstructing it in any way, because I loved being swept away by the world. For me, that’s the mark of an unputdownable book—when I switch to full reader mode, with the writer part of my brain only emerging after I’m done.
Finally, do you want to share anything with your readers about upcoming books from you and the best way fans can support you?
After Last Guard, my next release is Archangel’s Light, the astonishing covers and blurb for which are now up on my website.
In non-scheduled book release news, I’m working on a new contemporary I want to have out in the first half of 2022. No firm dates yet, but it’s finally Danny’s turn! (It’s a delightful, delightful book – I grin often as I write it).
And I’ll soon start to work on the next Psy-Changeling book, but I’m giving my brain some more thinking space first.
The easiest way to keep track of release dates is to join my newsletter. I send roughly one a month, and sometimes we take a vacation month, so you definitely won’t be spammed. It’s the best source of breaking news, and I try to share a free short story with subscribers a few times a year. My latest story (told in three parts) was about Zara, a wildcat changeling readers meet in Slave to Sensation.
As for fan support, just keep on reading and talking books – mine or any other author’s. Word of mouth is the best advertisement ever—I can attest to this as a reader who has bought many, many books because of how much others love them. Book love is infectious and that’s an utterly joyous thing. 😊
Thank you so much for stopping! I really appreciate you taking the time to answer my questions.
Thank you for the invitation!
Nalini Singh’s latest (and upcoming) releases:
Find Nalini Singh
You can also check out some of my reviews for Nalini Singh’s books posted on this blog by clicking here.