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Interview: Nikki Logan on using the wilderness as setting in romance novels

 Interview: Nikki Logan on using the wilderness as setting in romance novels

'The passion and risk of falling in love are perfectly mirrored in the danger and beauty of wild places,' says WA-based romance author Nikki Logan.

Nikki's latest release, Wild Encounter, is set in the wilderness of Zambia, a setting that goes beyond being simply a 'place'. Rather it plays a role in both the development of her characters and in the overall tone of the book.

Setting as metaphor for the romantic arc

Being in the wilderness strips people back to their basic essence, she says, and it's at this level that relationships are formed.

'I think of the emotional lives of my characters as somewhat arid and isolated before they meet Mr or Ms Right. An effective setting can be a metaphor for the whole romantic arc.'

She adds that stories set in wild, untamed places tend to reflect the uncontrollability and unpredictability of falling in love: 'Nature is nothing if not surprising.'

Wild Encounter'isn't the first of Nikki's books to draw heavily on nature: it's a theme that's present throughout much of her work.

'The nature angle of my books'I hope'supports the main story arc and contrasts or enriches it or reflects something about the characters.'

Nature and human nature

In A Kiss to Seal the Deal Nikki used her heroine's 'frankly disgusting' research job, involving sifting through seal excrement, to contrast with the hero's beliefs about her and her values.

'Seeing her working with wildlife is, for the hero and for us, a great way to create exposition about her in a way that's comfortable and interesting to read.'

In Wild Encounter'there are parallels between the captivity experiences of Clare and the dogs that she is responsible for. Similar parallels exist between the behaviour of wild creatures and the gang of bad guys that kidnaps Clare.

'Part of Clare's success in staying alive with them is because she recognises the predator and pack dynamic in their group from her work with wild predators. After all, beneath all the social niceties of modern society we're all still predators at heart. Throw a bunch of people into a dangerous and wild situation and those traits come out.'

The biology of the reading experience

There are other ways that we can be primed to display certain traits or respond in a particular manner. One of these, Nikki points out, is through reading.

'I wrote a writing how-to book called The Chemistry of Reading that looks at the biology of the reading experience and how it can be used to maximise the effectiveness of a story.'

Though there's a good deal to the phenomenon, Nikki says that in essence it has to do with the fact that 'mirror neurons in our body don't distinguish between our own experiences and those we 'witness' or share'.

Reading involves a kind of 'cognitive witnessing', she adds.

'So our bodies react to what happens in the story as if it's actually happening to us. Complete with miniaturised versions of our body's chemical responses.'

Romances are particularly effective at triggering this because women are experiential. We are, she says, biologically hard-wired to share experiences.

'We get a literal emotional 'rush' from a well-crafted romance as we bond with the characters and share their successes and failures and worry for them and celebrate with them.'

These 'rushes' prime readers to want to replicate the experience. This explains the often voracious reading habits of romance readers, and also why romance readers are happy to read across sub-genres and stylesjust so long as they're receiving a well-crafted story that fulfils the promise of the 'romance emotional rollercoaster'.

'Each time we read one the good experience is validated and that pretty much ensures an appetite for the next one. Though it's amazing how fast the 'romance' wears off if we get one or two duds in a row!'

On misdirection and the suspension of disbelief

It's interesting that Nikki should mention duds, because the romance genre can be a difficult one to write in. Readers have strong preconceptions and expectations of how a story will play outincluding the ending.

Nikki strives to keep things fresh by pushing the envelope and making a conscious effort to avoid convention.
'I recognise the importance of tropes, especially in category romance. But there are hundreds of ways to deliver on that trope and I try hard to find one of the 'road less travelled' ways of doing it.'

Nothing bores her more as a reader than a book that contains no surprises and that feels formulaic. And yet at the same time, there is a particular formula to the genre, and readers to object if authors stray too far from it.

'It's a tricky line to walk. Ultimately, the question of the suspension of disbelief is best answered in creating rich, 3D, credible characters that a reader can like and relate to.'

It's crucial for a reader to be able to bond with a character if they're to care what happens to them.

'We buy into their story and their experiences, and we even start to feel those experiences as though they were ours. We're invested on a really fundamental level. Once that's happened and the stakes get high we're not only able to suspend disbelief, but we're eager to do it. We want to fall into their world and share their experiences and see what happens to these two good people.'

Well-crafted characters and stories featuring rich world-building and relatable, credible conflicts all help to immerse readers, she says.

Of course, the ease with which this can be achieved also depends on the subgenre, with romantic suspense being one that's particularly challenging.

'You're actively asking your reader to think and not just feel. So finding that happy balance where they're content to feel the emotion but aren't distracted and pulled out of the story by the convolutions of a riveting plot is important.'

How film and theatre can inform fiction writing

Being able to create this balance has a lot to do with an author's writing skills. Nikki has found that her fiction writing has been informed by her previous experience in film and theatre.

'I thank my film training for my very visual approach to writingone that focuses on rich world building and word picturesand my theatre training for my strong dialogue.'

The former is a medium that allows a good deal can be communicated non-verbally, or in what's known as mis en scene, or what's in the scene, she says.

'That was a great grounding for saturating scenes with reader clues to the coming or unfolding story, whether conscious or not.'

Similarly, the spare sets and limited special effects of theatre mean that the emphasis is on the characters and their dialogue.

'The dialogue has to be strong to drive the story forward and keep the audience informed and engaged.'

Fiction writing falls between the two, and in her novels Nikki strives to 'combine the best of the mis en scene concept with the best of the richness of dialogue and the incredible freedom of narration and backstory and internal POV and other conventions of fiction.'

Having a good head for marketing is also key to any contemporary writer, particularly as so today's authors are required to spend a good deal of time self-promoting, networking or engaging with their readers.

Having worked in promotions, PR and advertising, Nikki is very much aware of the value of having a clear unadulterated brand, and in knowing which opportunities to accept and which to pass by.

So it's both Nikki's marketing nous and film-making background behind this book trailer:

What's next from Nikki?

Nikki is presently working on a sequel to Wild Encounter featuring M16 operative McKenzie, and a paranormal romantic suspense set in Indonesia.

She's also finishing up a contemporary romance that she says 'flirts with a really old really controversial trope that you don't see a lot of anymorethe 'what if we're really siblings?' trope.'


Visit Nikkis website | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads

 Interview: Nikki Logan on using the wilderness as setting in romance novels

Nikkis latest release is'Wild Encounter (Sep 2012, from Dead Sexy, Entangled Publishing)

A wildlife release mission in Africa turns deadly when the convoy is hijacked by smugglers, and veterinarian Clare Delaney is taken hostage. Terrified for her life and her animals, the intrepid Clare establishes a rapport with the man she believes is the criminals' leader, and reluctantly finds herself under his protectionand falling hard for the enigmatic man.

Alpha-to-the-max Simon deVries sees right through his sexy captive's attempt to seduce her way to freedom. So when their simmering attraction flares into true passion, it takes them both by surprise. Now he's torn between completing his secret mission and letting her escape without telling her his true identity. He knows if he lets her go, he will be risking his career, his lifeand his heart.

Purchase Wild Encounter'from Amazon | Barnes & Noble

Your turn: what are your thoughts about the pairing of nature and romance? Do you think that they complement each other?


  1. Wow, what a great interview, Nikki! I learnt something new about you in regards to your film and theatre training I hadnt realised how much it had impacted your writing. Makes me wish I didnt have a boring old Commerce degree :) And I LOVE that trailer!

    • Stephanie /

      Lovely to see you here, Leah :)

      Its always fascinating to hear what influences writers. My background is in linguistics, and I think the cross-cultural communication and anthropology aspects of that have been a definite influence.

    • Oh Leah a commerce degree will *surely* come in handy when trying to puzzle out royalties and market dynamics and trends blah blah. Numbers so not my forte :)

  2. What an interesting article about how biologically involved we are as readers. And it is totally true for me, I know Ive scared fellow train travelers with exclamations, body jerks, and giggles.

    • Stephanie /

      Ive definitely felt the rush involved in reading, and do think its definitely addictive in a way. I wouldnt be surprised if theres a serotonin thing at work similar to the rush we get after exercising.

      • Yes, seratonin but dompamine is the big one. It predicts how much were going to enjoy something and motivates us to do it (ie: read) so when we do enjoy it its seratonin ahoy!

        Jami (and Steph) youd probably enjoy The Chemistry of Reading if you already have a sense of what your body is doing as a reader.

        • Stephanie /

          Ah, thats the term I wanted! Can you tell Im a completely lay-person when it comes to this stuff? Im definitely going to check out a copy of The Chemistry of Reading, Nikki. :)

  3. I love Nikkis books and she gave THE BEST workshop about the Chemistry of Reading at the recent RWA conference on the Gold Coast.

    Love your work Nikki.

    • Stephanie /

      Shes great, isnt she? Im almost done with Wild Encounter, and its definitely a wild ride!

      Im definitely going to look more into this reading chemistry business. My husband recently bought a book called A Billion Wicked Thoughts (or something similar) that touches on the same ideasmight be another one to read alongside Nikkis book on the subject!

    • Hi Ebony, thank you so much. I get so excited when I think Im onto something and with the chemistry thing the more I read and clicked with the more excited I got. I *may* have gone all evangelical on you guys :)

  4. What a fantastic interview. I love hearing about the psychological aspects of reading and writing. I certainly enjoy stories where i can connect with the characters emotionally and particularly so in romance where it is the interaction that can send your heart racing just as much as the protagonists!

    • Yes, exactly, Jayne. Every part of a story, ultimately, should be arousing some kind of response in you and not just the romantic arc.
      (Off now to check out your blog)