Five Quick Questions with Nalini Singh

Novelist Nalini Singh answers our five quick questions. She will be teaching at thenalini upcoming Kāpiti Writers’ Retreat, 3-5 March.

Did you intend to write romance and in series form? Where does the inspiration for your work come from?

I love the hope inherent in romance. It’s such a huge genre and encompasses stories that go from the light, bubbly end of the spectrum to the dark and painfully emotional, but there’s always that hope.

I mostly write in the paranormal romance/urban fantasy subgenres and that’s a really good fit for me, because I’ve always loved sf/fantasy and mystery stories alongside romances. PNR/UF allows me to meld all those genres, and to create these big sprawling worlds full of intricate layers.

Writing series was a very natural progression. Series have always been one of my great reading loves–as a teen, when I read stand-alone books, I’d make up my own mental stories about what happened next. I love following characters and worlds over a long period of time.

As for inspiration, I believe in being open to what the universe has to show me. A story can be inspired by something I see or smell or hear or read in a newspaper even. There’s no rhyme or reason to it. The other day, I read a fact online and boom, off went my brain and I quickly noted down the story idea.

What kind of freedoms and limitations does the paranormal provide?  

There is a huge amount of freedom in the paranormal subgenre. I can go wherever my imagination takes me so long as I follow the rules of the world I’ve created. The latter is critical in crafting a strong, cohesive world and characters who’ll stand the test of time. Continuity can make or break a series.

You have written over 30 books. What keeps you going and do you have a particular routine that you follow?

I love writing. Deeply, passionately, madly. I wrote even when no one else was reading my stories–and it’s still what I do in my spare time. It remains a hobby as well as my profession. So the drive comes from within.

In terms of meeting deadlines and staying on track, I make up a schedule for myself for each book, so I don’t end up rushing. I like to work at a steady pace. But I’m not really strict about the structure of each particular day – as long as the work gets done, it doesn’t matter if it’s in the morning, or if it’s in the evening.

I also work on two projects at a time these days. I try to make sure that they’re two different types of projects (a contemporary story and a paranormal story, for example) at two different stages (e,g., first draft vs. third-draft edit). This keeps my mind fresh–so rather than fruitlessly grinding away at a chapter if it’s just not working, I’ll switch projects to give my brain room to breathe, and then, when I go back to the chapter, I’m usually much more enthused and may even have thought up a better way to approach it.

These days, I’m also trying to be much more disciplined in the time I spend online. No checking emails all through the day–it’s amazing how much time that frees up!

What do you see as critical to be able to make a living from writing? (I’m assuming that you do)

Yes, I’ve been a full-time writer for a number of years. I think self-discipline and being professional are critical. My publishers schedule my books almost a year in advance because they know I’ll deliver the project on time–and if something unexpected comes up that will make me late, I let them know as quickly as possible.

Professionalism goes beyond dealing with publishers, however. It’s how I, as an author, interact with my readers, my peers, others in the industry. I always try to be positive in my interactions with people because I love the publishing industry and I want it to be a thriving, positive place for readers and writers. (Also, why waste life being negative?!)

And professionalism also means being aware of the industry. There’s a lot of change going on in publishing at the moment–it’s important to keep up with that, to understand what that means in terms of the options available to you, and how those options might not always stay the same.

As for the self-discipline aspect of things, in the end, that comes down to turning up at the keyboard (or the notepad) when I’ve said I will and putting in the work. The first book of mine that was ever published, I wrote while working in a very demanding job. I used to write late at night and even on my bus commute, and I pretty much gave up TV.

I know of another writer who wrote her first published book by getting up at 5 am, an hour before her young children woke. That was the only time she had to write in the day, but she got up every single day and she used that hour.

It’s all about making a promise to yourself and your writing, and keeping that promise. I always tell people who are struggling to find time, to try to find fifteen minutes. Just fifteen. Then turn up for those fifteen minutes every day of the week. Because it doesn’t matter how great your ideas if you’re not putting down the words to give those ideas form and shape.

Tell us a bit more about your workshop. What should people expect?

I’m a very interactive workshop teacher, so they shouldn’t expect a really long speech. I like to work with the needs/interests of the attendees, and I like it when people ask questions that have us digging deeper into a topic.

Having said that, this is a very practical workshop, so while any discussion of writing will always include the joy of creativity, this particular workshop will be focused on the hard work it takes to edit your work to be the best it can be.

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5 Quick Questions with Jordan Hartt

Poet and short story writer Jordan Hartt answers our five questions of the week. He will be one of the moi2hosts of our upcoming Kāpiti Writers’ Retreat, teaching a workshop on writing about water and sharing his experiences and learnings about writing.

1. What drew you to writing?

When I was around seven, I think, I was running through the halls of a church building, running around, probably knocking things over. An older man grabbed my arm, gave me an older-person-to-a-younger-person lecture, and let me go. But the grip really hurt, and it bothered me. I felt like his fingers were on my upper arm for a week. So I decided to write a story about the incident, but within a couple of sentences I was writing it from his point of view, seeing it from his perspective. I wrote this whole backstory of him as a kid himself, running around a farm. When the story was finished all my animosity toward him was gone: I felt like I understood and had empathy for him. The story was not “good,” but that’s what writing does. It allows us to step completely into the the consciousness of another person. When we read “Things Fall Apart,” we become an Igbo man watching his civilization suffer under the encroachment of the colonizers. When we read “House of the Spirits,” we experience directly being various Chilean people in the nineteen-seventies. When we read John Updike, we become white people living in the suburbs in the United States. Reading allows us to taste what others taste, smell what they smell, hear what they hear, feel on on our skin their feelings, and see things through someone else’s eyes, becoming someone else through all the five senses. I think this is why reading is so incredibly powerful and life-transformational. It builds empathy and understanding, which allows us to make more informed, socially conscious decisions with our lives. Writing is the opposite side of that. When we write, we share our own points of view with others, so that they can see the world through our eyes, hear it through our ears, taste it the way we taste it. Writing is our own personal contribution to the conversation.

2. Your work–fact or fiction–are you bothered about the boundaries?

I write really slowly. It took seven years for my first book, “Leap,” to go from inspiration to finished product. And it’s really a relatively slim book. That book was all about trying to reflect the sound of the Pacific Northwest rain in the form of words and stories. All of the human “events” that take place in the book (a stillbirth, for example, or physical violence) are completely made up, but when I give readings people always come up to me and say things like, I’m so sorry you went through that. I think that’s the power of literary fiction: if we can create characters that are so true to real life, we can move people just as much as if they actually lived. I’m always seeking emotional truth in my work, I think, not literal truth. Similarly, when I read a book, or go to a reading, I want to be moved, as a human. I want to feel something and be transformed. I want to feel all the true, conflicting emotions that we feel. In the words of Ilya Kaminsky, I want to laugh at a story of a funeral, and cry at a story of a wedding.

3. A lot of your work can be read in multiple ways across or down the page and depending on how spaces or parentheses are perceived. How do you decide the form a piece will take? 

All of my work is designed to be performed, not read on the page. So the way it looks on the page are notes designed to assist in the spoken performance of the work. I’m very grateful that a publisher took the artistic risk of publishing it on paper.

4. The way you read when you perform is almost percussive. How does rhythm play out in your work? 

Because of my family’s Pacific Northwest roots we are deep Seattle Seahawks fans, an American football team. Football is a brutal, dangerous sport that should probably be illegal for what it does to the human body, but it’s also soaked deep into the soil of the Northwest now, and it is what it is. Anyway, the coach of the team, Pete Carroll, was trying to get our former running back, the great Marshawn Lynch, to come out of the backfield a certain way, and Lynch refused. “I just read it,” he kept telling his coach, over and over. “I just read it.” Meaning: I don’t know what I’m going to do until I see the defense and what they are doing. So I think for writers (or any other profession that involves interaction with others) giving a performance is the same way. I never know what I’m going to say until I see the audience, and gauge what they are doing, and putting that together with what I’m doing. Do they want to laugh? Do they want to cry? Or both? So every performance is different, but it’s all about going on a journey together with the audience into my experience of the Pacific Northwest. I challenge myself to give myself completely emotionally to the audience, and hold nothing back, and be completely true. So am completely and utterly empty afterwards. I can’t read publically from that book more than a few times a year, and a few pieces I can’t read out loud anymore at all: the emotion I felt when creating it has now completely passed through my body, and I can’t get emotionally back into certain spaces any more. The percussive elements–thanks for noticing!–come a little bit from the spoken-word rhythms of coffee-house poets in the Bellingham area; a little bit from the way Lummi, Quileute, and Makah storytellers tell their stories; and a little bit from “grunge”-era bands like Nirvana and Blind Melon. But really it’s trying to capture the way the Northwest rain sounds hitting various things like a mossy roof, or rusted trucks, or buoys, or fir trees, or a tarp, or an aluminum boat stored upside-down.

5. Your workshop draws on one of the four elements. What is it about water? And what should participants expect from your workshop?

The book I’m currently working on is a meditation on the Pacific Ocean, and the ocean’s relationship to the insignificance of the islands that dot it and the insignificant continents that surround it, and the ocean’s relationship to those of us fortunate enough to live near its immensity and power. So I’m spending all this year of 2017 reading books, stories, and poems inspired by, or focused around all kinds of water, and writing draft after draft after draft of water-inspired stories. So this workshop is a part of that. I’ll be writing just as much as the workshop participants will be. In the sessions, open to both poets and prose writers, we’ll write new work through the inspiration of water: whether rain, the ocean, a lake, a river, a waterfall, a chlorinated pool. We’ll explore water’s relationship to sand, rock, boat hulls, riverbanks, etc., and how these rhythms shape our own lives, as well as the lives of our characters, narrators, and metaphors. We’ll do a full discussion on this raw draft: participants will leave the workshop with a completed and workshopped piece ready for advanced revision; with new craft tools, connections, and community as a writer; and with writing inspiration to last a long time.

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Saying Goodbye to 2016, Saying Hello to 2017!

It was a great second full year of Kahini programming! afKahini served 594 participants this year in transformative writing experiences that brought people together and led to the creation of all kinds of new written work.

We’re looking forward to serving you again in 2017!

All Kahini workshops involve deep conversation and intensive reading and writing in some of the most beautiful, inspirational places in the world.

We’re currently accepting registrations for two of our life-wondrousing experiences: the second-annual Kāpiti Writers’ Retreat and the Hawai’i Writers’ Retreat.

All other workshops and experiences are full.

Discover Kahini’s experiences in Africa, the Americas, and Oceania.

Kahini presents the Kāpiti Writers’ Retreat and other gatherings in Aotearoa; the Kampala Writers’ Conference and other gatherings in Uganda; and five annual gatherings in the Americas: the Kaua’i Writers’ Retreat, the Jamaica Writers’ Retreat, the Maui Writers’ Retreat, the Desert Writers’ Retreat, and the Hawai’i Writers’ Retreat.

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