Settle in friends, I have two fabulous authors that might just tickle your fancy. One has been around for a little while and the other, well, she’s not new to romancelandia but she is pretty new to publishing her words in book form! Check out our December instalment of Words of Wisdom: When Authors Chat…Nalini and Chelsea styles!
Nalini Singh is the New York Times, USA Today, and internationally bestselling author of the Psy-Changeling, Guild Hunter, and Rock Kiss series. Her books have been translated into more than twenty languages, including German, French, Japanese, and Turkish.
Born in Fiji and raised in New Zealand, she was first published in 2003. Most well known for her intense paranormal romances set in intricately built worlds, Nalini also writes a fun and sexy contemporaries. She loves writing, loves reading, and generally adores books in every possible form.
Her most recent releases are: Silver Silence, Archangel’s Viper, and Cherish Hard. You can find more info on her books, plus free short stories, on her website. She’s also on Twitter, Instagram and on Facebook.
Chelsea Mueller writes gritty contemporary fantasy. Her novel Borrowed Souls is out now, and promises magic, mayhem, and sexytimes with a hot dude who rides a motorcycle. (You’re welcome.) She founded speculative fiction website Vampire Book Club, blogs about TV and romance novels for a variety of outlets, and is co-chair of SF/F charity Geeky Giving. She loves bad cover songs, dramatic movies, and TV vampires. Chelsea lives in Texas, and has been known to say y’all.
NS: I’ve always been a huge reader. I used to spend hours in the library and it still wouldn’t be enough time! My love of writing came from my love of reading – I wrote my first full-length books while I was still in high school and had such a fantastic time doing it! I didn’t submit anything to a publisher until I’d finished high school, and despite a rejection, I was hooked!
I kept on writing, kept on submitting, until one day, I was eating my cornflakes in the morning in New Zealand and I got a call from New York. I can’t begin to describe the thrill of that moment. It lives in my heart to this day.
I was lucky enough to get a second “call” experience a few years later when I sold the first books in the Psy-Changeling series at auction. It meant such a huge deal because prior to that, I’d been having trouble having anything accepted by my previous publisher. I basically started all over again, going from short category romances to single title paranormals. This is partly why I always tell other writers to never give up. You never know what’s around the corner.
CM: I’m on board the “never give up” train, too. I spent all my college years, and several after as a journalist. Newspaper markets tanked, though, and I found myself transitioning into a marketing career. I quickly discovered I missed writing every day. So I started writing fiction and loved the outlet.
The first book we took out to publishers got a whole lot of “yes!” reactions from editors and an equal number of “um, what?” reactions from the marketing departments. (And I’m in marketing! WHAT?!) So for the next go, I didn’t think about the market, and just wrote a book that made me utterly happy. That became Borrowed Souls. I packed it with all my favorite things—magic, gritty worldbuilding, a hot, gruff dude. You know, the good stuff. 🙂 And it sold. Fast. Now I’ve kept that mentality and continue to write books I love the hell out of (and that I can’t wait to share with readers).
NS: I have to second Chelsea’s words – I think our best work comes when we stop thinking about how something is going to sell and just write – with passion and love for the story we’re telling.
BIGGEST LESSON LEARNED
NS: I love where I am now and it took that journey to get here, so no, I wouldn’t change anything. I guess the one thing I’d do if I could go back in time, is tell my younger self not to get so disheartened when she received rejections. (Because oh, they hurt!)
CM: Nalini, you have the right idea! #NoRegets
The learning curve on traditional publishing is real, though, and learning to understand what I can control (my craft and prose, the character journeys, the book) and also to accept that I don’t have control over much else. I don’t know that younger Chelsea would have accepted “you’ll get answers when you get them, busy yourself in the meantime,” but adjusting to that mentality vastly improved my outlook and writing output. Win-win.
CM: Is it cheating to say writing the book that makes my heart pinch when I think about it? Okay, okay. Each step in the traditional path has made me feel like more of a “real” writer. Getting an agent was big. Signing that first contract, though, made it all real.
NS: Those are definitely huge milestones. I think for me, it came in stages, but one of the first was actually writing a complete book. This was well before I was published – when I was making my high school friends read my stuff. Just knowing I could finish writing a book, that really gave me a lot of confidence. I still have that first book somewhere!
CM: Definitely. Finishing a book is hard.
HANDLING CRITICISM AND NEGATIVE REVIEWS
NS: Because I came up through traditional publishing, I was already used to negative criticism – for what is a rejection if not a minus one-star review?! So by the time I started receiving reviews, I had a pretty thick skin. Then I got a one star for one of my very first reviews, and I thought “Well, it can only get better from here.” 😀 I think a sense of humor is an asset when it comes to bad reviews.
As for criticism – this isn’t always negative. I’ve been working with my editor for over ten years now, and during those ten+ years, there have been plenty of times when she’s asked me to make revisions. We’ve discussed changes, gone back and forth. And none of that has been negative. Rather, it’s been very positive, because we’re both focused on making the book the very best it can be. So criticism, when given in the right way, can be an asset.
CM: #TeamThickSkin. I have maybe an unusual outlook on negative reviews? I just want people to feel something. If you don’t like what it makes you feel, that’s okay. I’d rather the journey in the book move you in some way, than have you go “meh.”
On the criticism front, I want to write the best book possible just like you, Nalini. Editors and, in my case, an editorial agent, are part of the team that makes that happen. As long as we’re aligned on the vision for the book, feedback on how to improve is golden.
WHERE DO YOU FIND YOUR INSPIRATION
NS: Inspiration is everywhere. I believe in being open to it. So it could be something I glimpse out of a corner of my eye, an interesting report in the newsletter, a piece of music that sets of something in my head, or just a thought that pops in from seemingly nowhere and boom, off I go. The other day, I took a photograph of a present a friend received for her birthday because I found it so evocative (she laughed – she’s known me forever!).
CM: Exactly! I’m all about the “what if….” So whenever I see a news article or overhear a weird conversation at Starbucks, I’m already building on it into a full scenario. Though, admittedly, I’m also a worst-case scenario worrier in real life. Maybe this writing gig is making the best of my “how bad could it be?” mindset? 😉
NS: I tend to learn my worlds through my characters. I see what they see, hear what they hear. For me, this keeps things natural and keeps the focus on the story while the world grows organically. Of course, I do a lot of redrafting because once I know the world (and the story), I have to go back to the beginning and layer in all the details.
My worlds are fluid in that they grow and change. For example, if there’s an earthquake in book #1, the city will have the scars from it in book #2 (how bad those scars are will depend on the timeline between books). But certain things aren’t fluid – and these are the rules that give cohesion and tension to a world eg. In my Guild Hunter world, vampires over two hundred or so can’t father/bear children. That’s a fact. It doesn’t change just because a character is beloved and I and readers would love for them to have a child. Willy nilly changing a world’s rules is the easiest way to break reader trust.
As for organized – with my series as long as they are, I have very detailed story bibles, but I also do regular rereads of my work to keep things fresh in my mind (and also because I love these worlds. That’s why I write them :)).
CM: For the record, I love the worldbuilding in the Guild Hunter series. 🙂
Overall, I agree. I love character-driven stories, and the way the setting shapes them and their behavior is key. I do work backward here sometimes. For example with the Soul Charmer series I knew it was a world where people could rent souls to escape sin, but why would they need that? Digging into who would want to do such a thing set the foundation for Gem City. It also let me think about why my main character would find the whole thing seedy. What happened in her past, and what happened in this world, that made her who she is?
As the world changes, so does she.
GIRL POWER: WRITING STRONG HEROINES THAT CAN STAND UP TO YOUR ALPHA MALES
NS: For me, strength comes in different forms. My first Psy-Changeling heroine was an empath, who literally can’t harm anyone else without their pain rebounding on her. She’s nowhere near as physically powerful as the hero, and yet, she has the capacity to take another person’s anguish and hurt and nightmares into herself. That takes as much courage as my Guild Hunter heroine, Elena, who can go toe to toe with immortals who’d think nothing of ripping out her heart just for funsies.
I think once I understood that idea – of strength coming in different forms, it fundamentally altered my writing. The balance happens naturally, because I’m not trying to make every heroine fit into some predefined mold of strength. There’s a synergy between the hero and heroine, and as they learn one another, so do I. And because they’re perfect for another, the balance finds itself as I tell their story.
CM: I kind of love that you’re reading my mind. I think we so often see these roundups online of strong heroines and they’re the ones who are damn near ninjas and have twelve knives and a shotgun on them at all times. While I love those heroines (who doesn’t love Sarah Connor?), it skews the perception about what “strong heroine” means. Emotional strength is powerful and important. I think it’s that emotional stamina that really help make heroines who go toe-to-toe with alpha males. Having hard definitions about what is right/wrong or acceptable/unacceptable can yield an empowered heroine.
NS: I mentioned above about not being able to sell new projects to my previous publisher. Frankly, it was heartbreaking because I’d thought I had a career going. How did I get past it? I decided to keep on writing and instead of trying to write something they might accept, I listened to my gut and wrote the book that was singing in my brain, a book that was nothing like any of my then-published books.
CM: But that book was very you, Nalini. Writing what sings to you makes a difference, doesn’t it?
NS: Absolutely. There’s just so much joy in it. You mentioned getting bounced back by marketing departments while submitting – do you intend to go forward with those earlier projects?
CM: I hope so. The market ebbs and flows on trends, and as the tides shift I think that book will find the light of day. (Any editors reading: I have an upper YA near-future sci-fi with science, sister bonding, and an almost-kiss while mid-sparring, if you’re in the mood.)
NS: That’s a pretty awesome elevator pitch!
MOST HELPFUL ADVICE YOU’VE BEEN GIVEN ALONG THE WAY
CM: Traditional publishing is full of waiting. Work on something else while waiting (on edits, on submission, etc.). Distraction is key. …also, it’s totally okay to binge Netflix for a week after finishing a project. There are not publishing gnomes that will attack you if you aren’t writing 1,000 words every day of your life.
NS: All true. My last post-deadline binge was The Expanse. AMAZING show and books!
My best advice was near identical to Chelsea’s first piece of advice – I got it during the time I was submitting to publishers. I was told to always have more than one thing/submission out there, so I wouldn’t be obsessing on one thing. If I got a rejection, I could more easily move past it because I had other submissions out there.
CM: I love The Expanse. I’m in the middle of a Dark Matter binge following turning in the a book. Highly recommend adding Dark Matter to your queue. It’s character-driven and quite Firefly-esque.
ASK EACH OTHER SOMETHING
NS: Congratulations on your debut, Chelsea! When I started out, social media wasn’t really a thing (yes, I’m a dinosaur), and reader feedback wasn’t as easily accessible. I’m curious – has social media/reader feedback impacted your writing as you work on your next book? And a follow up – did you need to come up with strategies to handle social media after your release?
CM: Thanks, and you are not a dinosaur. I’ll admit I wasn’t sure what to expect when Borrowed Souls hit shelves. Would my reviewer friends want to review it? Would they give it a real review? Would it be weird if they didn’t love it? Would they tell me if they didn’t love it? All those natural release-day jitters were added to because everyone has a direct line to me. Hell, people have called me “ChelseaVBC” at every RT Convention for the last five years.
It actually was fine. The reviewers gave my book the same treatment they’d give other authors: honest reviews and a fair amount of tagging on social media. There was plenty of direct feedback, which was (mostly) delightful. It’s good to know your baby is in the world and people want to be her friend.
It also brought immediate questions about what’s next, which was harder to handle. I didn’t want to spoil the next book, and a lot of people had “guesses” about what was going to happen. I had to stop looking at those social media comments while writing book two because I had a plan and didn’t want it to skew.
At this point, I do my best to dance around spoilers for upcoming books online, and signal boosts those who care enough to take the time to review and share on social.
NS: It sounds like you’ve got really great strategies. And I very much agree with the signal boosting – I so appreciate it when people take the time to make a comment/leave a review and I think it’s really nice to acknowledge that.
CM: You’ve managed to effortlessly (to outsiders) dance between a variety of genres, and carry readers along with you. Getting the Guild Hunter fans to jump on board for a contemporary with a gardener hero (ah! I’m so excited to read this book!) is a pretty big feat. Lots of other authors would have leveraged pen names, but you didn’t need to. What do you think the key is in writing in multiple genres, and how do you handle reader expectations when they’re crossing genre boundaries?
NS: He’s a fun hero – I hope you enjoy the book. 🙂
I think an author has to genuinely enjoy writing whichever genres she chooses. I started off in contemporary, so it wasn’t such a huge leap for me to do some more contemporary stories.
Having said that, there were over ten years between my category romances and my single title
contemporaries, and most people knew me for my paranormals. As a result, I took a lot of care with the marketing to make sure the books were very differently branded – it’s obvious from the covers and blurbs that these are contemporaries. Even my name is written differently on the cover. And I made sure there were lots of excerpts available.
I didn’t want to “trick” my readers into trying the new series. I wanted to give them all the info and have them decide, and I think as an author, that’s all you can do. If you’re known in one genre and decide to try another, I’d say go into it knowing your entire readership will likely not follow. On the flip side, you might gain some new readers through this new genre/subgenre.
Nothing is predictable. Which is why I’m going to lead back to something we’ve both said throughout this interview: Love what you do, love the stories you tell, find the joy there first, because you can’t control how anyone else will feel about your story.
CM: You treat your readers with respect and honesty, and write the books that sing you to. I love it.
Thank you so much, ladies! And readers, be on the lookout for a reprint of Nalini’s SILVER SILENCE just after Christmas. Her next Psy-Changeling book, OCEAN LIGHT, comes out in June 2018…here are the details.
Security specialist Bowen Knight has come back from the dead. But there’s a ticking time bomb in his head: a chip implanted to block telepathic interference that could fail at any moment—taking his brain along with it. With no time to waste, he should be back on land helping the Human Alliance. Instead, he’s at the bottom of the ocean, consumed with an enigmatic changeling…
Kaia Luna may have traded in science for being a chef, but she won’t hide the facts of Bo’s condition from him or herself. She’s suffered too much loss in her life to fall prey to the dangerous charm of a human who is a dead man walking. And she carries a devastating secret Bo could never imagine…
But when Kaia is taken by those who mean her deadly harm, all bets are off. Bo will do anything to get her back—even if it means striking a devil’s bargain and giving up his mind to the enemy…
Chelsea’s debut, BORROWED SOULS (Soul Charmer #1) is out now.
Callie Delgado always puts family first, and unfortunately, her brother knows it. She’s emptied her savings, lost work, and spilled countless tears trying to keep him out of trouble, but now he’s in deeper than ever, and his debt is on Callie’s head. She’s given a choice: do some dirty work for the mob, or have her brother returned to her in tiny pieces.
Renting souls is big business for the religious population of Gem City. Those looking to take part in immoral—or even illegal—activity can borrow someone else’s soul, for a price, and sin without consequence.
To save her brother, Callie needs a borrowed soul, but she doesn’t have anywhere near the money to pay for it. The slimy Soul Charmer is willing to barter, but accepting his offer will force Callie into a dangerous world of magic she isn’t ready for.
With the help of the guarded but undeniably attractive Derek—whose allegiance to the Charmer wavers as his connection to Callie grows—she’ll have to walk a tight line, avoid pissing off the bad guys, all while struggling to determine what her loyalty to her family’s really worth.
Losing her brother isn’t an option. Losing her soul? Maybe.
Smooches,Tags: Author Interview, Chelsea Mueller, Nalini Singh, Words of Wisdom