GAUNTLET THROWN, PENGUIN. I AM ON TO YOU.
So I agreed to do a Q&A with Nalini, and what follows are my scurrilous attempts to get information out of her. We worked on this through March and April, and, well, I did my best.
Q: Who is the Ghost?
Nalini: I'm sorry, we seem to be having some email interference. What was that question again?
Q: If you were to tell me who the Ghost is, who would it be?
Nalini: Who would who be? Now I sound like an owl.
Q: Speaking of the Ghost, is he/she gluten-free?
Nalini: I can honestly say I have never ever, been asked that particular question. Ever.
In the medically advanced future, such issues no longer exist (if you think that's science fiction, check out this article about the development of a pill that could allow people intolerant to gluten to eat it to their heart's content).
I have a question – if you had magic pill-making abilities, what would the pill you create do? I think that's what we should talk about. It's a fascinating topic.
Q. I'd make a pill that would make you tell me who the Ghost is. I bet the Ghost is gluten free. What's your favorite gluten-free food? If the Ghost is one of the ingredients, that's cool.
Nalini: Chocolate is the food of the gods, in any incarnation. Though I think this $25,000 “Frrrozen Haute Chocolate” might give me indigestion even were I a gazillionairre (diamonds with your dessert anyone?).
Q: Next question: what scene or moment in the book were you most excited about writing? The part where the Ghost, who is … (I'm sorry, I forgot. Can you tell me again) waiting for some cookies to be made?
Nalini: Talking of cookies, let me tell you about a New Zealand specialty. It's called an Afghan Biscuit. Don't ask me the origin of the name because nobody knows. Just accept it so we can move on to the delicious goodness that is the biscuit.
(Funny story – when I first started reading historical romance novels, I kept wondering why people were eating cookies with their dinner. They weren't of course, because U.S. biscuits are not cookies. Our biscuits however, are. Clear?)
An afghan biscuit is a delicious buttery, chocolatey creation made with the added crunch of cornflakes, then covered with a layer of thick chocolate icing and garnished with a walnut. It might not look like much in a photo, but eat one and you will eat the entire tray. Nom, nom, nom… Here is the original recipe from the Edmonds Cookery Book (also a NZ institution). And here, is the fantastic GF version by a blogger named Sleeping Horse that I may possibly have found on the Internet while deciding to do some midnight baking.
Trust me and go make this biscuit (it's super easy). You will find a new favorite while making friends and influencing people.
Since I shared – what's your favorite cookie (not biscuit) recipe Sarah?
Sarah: I'm generous (UNLIKE SOME PEOPLE NALINI) so I will give you both Biscuits AND Cookies. My favorite biscuit (US-style) recipe is the Cooks Illustrated drop biscuit recipe, which you can find here at Serious Eats. It's clearly not gluten-free, but even Ghosts would like it. You know, if Ghosts eat.
As for cookies, there is one recipe that's kind of a pain in the butt with the putting the dough in and out of the fridge and the rolling and the sugar but GOSH DARN are they good: chewy chocolate gingerbread cookies – recipe from Martha Stewart, if you can believe it. And I think you could substitute a non-gluten flour, though I've never tried it.
Nalini: Those cookies sound divine! I must make them soon.
Sarah: Don't think I haven't noticed you trying to distract me, but I'll play along, you evil thing.
Nalini: *Twirls evil mustache…oh wait, I don't have one. Or I SHOULDN'T!! Excuse me while I go find a mirror.*
Q: How many sheep do you have? You're from New Zealand so it's required by law that you have sheep, right?
Nalini: Wow, I totally didn't expect you to know about that law! Yes, it's true, we're all meant to have sheep. With sheep outnumbering people 7 to 1, they have to go somewhere. The sheep used to outnumber humans 20 to 1, but they've fallen on hard times recently – we're all very depressed that there are now only 31 million sheep vs 4 million people. I mean, only 7 sheep per person?! Inconceivable!
Anyway, I actually had to give my sheep away, but it wasn't illegal because my yard was deemed “sheep-unfriendly”. I miss their nightly ba-ba'ing, but if I want to see sheep even in the middle of the city, all I have to do is hop in the car and drive to one of the volcanoes. Oh yes, these volcanoes are not dead, just kind of chilling for the time being. Because we Kiwis like to live on the edge you know. Occasionally, one of the volcanoes wakes up and start smoking and throwing out volcanic ash and rocks, but mostly, they just kind of sit there looking beautiful and we all pretend we aren't sitting on top of a LIVE (!!) volcanic field.
Part of looking beautiful is having nice areas for people to walk on. But imagine mowing all those volcanoes! That's why we have self-mobile environmentally friendly lawnmowers – they are called sheep. See this picture of One Tree Hill? See the white dots? Those are sheep mowing the paddocks – they're hard workers the sheep.
(Except for the little lambs. Aw….)
Q: Where do you keep your Hobbits?
Nalini: They live at Hobbiton of course.
Q: Do the Hobbits know who the Ghost is?
Hobbits are very wise. They know many things.
Okay, okay, I know I've been teasing you this whole interview by not revealing the Ghost's true identity, but the thing is, the Ghost has already been unmasked. Yes, it's true. Elyssa Patrick figured it out and she totally SPOILED it for EVERYONE by posting a picture of the Ghost online. Since you've been so nice with this interview, I might as well show you – but don't blame me for getting spoiled! I did warn you.
Q: Hold up, 31 million sheep? The Ghost is a SHEEP, isn't he!? Or a Ghost in sheep's clothing. I'm going to examine that picture very closely.
Nalini: No, no, no. The Ghost is a wolf in…er…wolf's clothing. Except, you know, not really a wolf, because being a real wolf 's totally possible in the Psy-Changeling world. A metaphorical (and very, very, VERY dangerous) wolf.
Q: How hard as it been for you to keep the sheep secret? Or the Ghost? What about that secret?
Nalini: You have no idea how hard it's been to keep the Ghost secret. I've had to slap my hand over my mouth on more than one occasion because it's been on the tip of my tongue. I also resolved to avoid all alcohol at conferences so as to remain compos mentis, but then cunning people kept buying me appletinis and strawberry daiquiris and slipping in sly questions here and there. Then there were the chocolate bribes…. Hmm, hold on…maybe I should never reveal the identity of the Ghost?
Q: What part of the Psy Changeling world is your favorite? What area or place do you really enjoy writing about?
Nalini: I can't pick a favorite! I love writing about every tiny corner of this world. Each piece adds to the wider picture, until it's a living place full of interesting corners and hidden pathways. Every time I write a book or novella or short story, I get to explore further aspects of the world – I love that there are so many layers to it, that it grows and changes from story to story, depending on the events that take place. For me that's one of the joys of writing a series – being able to see the change and growth in both my world(s) and the characters who populate it.
Q: Any of the Psys or Changelings gluten-free?
Nalini: Hey, didn't we start the interview with this question? In the medically advanced future, such things are so last century – the Psy splice genes and fiddle with DNA like nobody's business after all.
Q: Do you miss writing category romances at all? Any category tropes going to find their way into the Psy Changeling world?! PLEASE?!!
Nalini: You mean like a secret baby? NO!! Okay, had to get that off my chest. Everyone has a trope that just does not work for them and for me is it's the secret baby. Even when very good friends who write category use this trope in one of their books, I'm always the annoying person who's poking holes in the heroine's justification for keeping the child a secret.
As for other tropes – I think there are certain ones that pop up across all subgenres of romance, whether the books are short or long. For example friends to lovers. I love this one, and it's one that we saw in Mine to Possess. However, I don't tend to think in terms of tropes but rather characters and their motivations, so I'm usually not aware of a trope in a story until after the fact.
When it comes to writing category, I don't miss it now. I think my style is more suited to the longer format, with more room for subplots and friendships/family relationships as well as the central romance – I've realized that in my reading and writing both, I like the sense of continuity provided by having an interlinked cast.
However, and though paranormal is my first love, I do still enjoy writing contemporaries, and I have one I'm working on in my spare time that may make an appearance at some stage, so watch this space.
So there you have it. The Ghost is a secret baby tycoon billionaire! Who likes cookies.
I did my best, y'all.