August 01, 2017

Alisha Rai

“People are complex, imperfect, convoluted creatures.”
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We talked to Alisha Rai about her biggest Twitter pet peeve, how she wove family issues and mental health into Hate to Want You's love story and her past as a romance novel-obsessed teenager.

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Alisha Rai’s Hate to Want You was easily the most sought-after galley at this year’s RT Booklovers Convention. Rai’s reputation for absorbing interpersonal drama coupled with unforgettably hot love scenes (and that stunning cover!) guaranteed intense interest, and the word-of-mouth buzz has been growing for months. Now that her first book with romance giant Avon has finally been released to glowing reviews, we talked to Rai about her biggest Twitter pet peeve, how she wove family issues and mental health into Hate to Want You’s love story and her past as a romance novel-obsessed teenager.

Describe your latest novel in one sentence.
It's grown-up Romeo and Juliet plus mature adult communication minus the sad ending stuff plus secret annual hookups.

I’ve seen a lot of comments online comparing this book to Romeo and Juliet. Did you have that play in mind while writing, or was it only after the book was finished that you saw the similarities?
When I first got the idea for the book, I jotted down "their only love sprang from their only hate," so yes! But ultimately, I think the Romeo and Juliet comparison is only really applicable in that the two main characters have a bit of a family feud to contend with.

I was riveted by how realistically Nicolas and Livvy’s internal issues and traumas complicate the relationship between them, and also their relationships with other characters. How did you develop such emotionally nuanced conflict in Hate to Want You?
I think a lot of developing nuanced characters is being utterly charmed by how messy humans are. People are complex, imperfect, convoluted creatures. Love (any kind of love) is funny, because it's often like working through a grab bag of puzzle pieces from a million different puzzles that don't and shouldn't really go together. Getting those pieces together in a way where the end result makes the characters happier together than without each other is difficult without conflict.

Sometimes that conflict feels like it's insurmountable, but I think maturity and communication can alter perspectives and help ease those puzzle pieces into place. People can fit, even if it seems like their issues might keep them apart.

You’ve loved romance since sneaking a romance novel out of the library when you were a teenager. Do you remember which book it was? What sort of books introduced you to romance?
Yes! It was a Shirley Busbee, though I don't remember the actual book. The cover caught my attention, because I was thirteen, and almost naked people were what I was really into at the time (this was pre-Tumblr).

After that, I read every single romance that the library had in it. Historicals at first, because they were the easiest to identify, but romance is vast, so I quickly graduated to suspense and contemporaries and paranormals and sci-fi. Nothing was safe from me.

What is your biggest Twitter pet peeve?
That the gif function doesn't have every single gif of Jason Momoa as Aquaman yet.

Did Livvy or Nicholas change a lot throughout the writing process? Or were their personalities fairly clear to you from the beginning?
My heroines are almost always very clear to me from the beginning, and Livvy was a smart, sassy, wild-haired artist from the first page.

Nicholas took a lot more work. In fact, in early drafts, I struggled a lot with the opening, and I finally realized it was because it started in Nicholas's point of view. A hero not given to emotional displays of emotion is a difficult place to start a romance. He finally gelled for me, but he was a tough nut to crack.

Both characters come to epiphanies about their relationships with their parents that drastically change their view of them. How did you approach writing the early scenes between Livvy and her mother, and Nicholas and his father? Did you want to imply the emotional truth of those relationships early on, or have readers go on a journey alongside the characters?
Definitely the latter. Relationships with parents are ongoing, never-ending journeys that rarely have perfect tidy endings. Nicholas and Livvy's relationships with all of their family members will continue to evolve past the end of this book (and will be explored in the other books in the series as well).

One of the most moving aspects of this book for me was your insight into Livvy’s mental health and the mindfulness techniques she relies on. Have you found these helpful in your own life? Or did they come from research you did into coping strategies?
A little bit of both. I think there's some coping mechanisms that are pretty widespread because they're almost instinctive. Specific techniques mostly came from research and consultants (@TGStoneButch on Twitter has many invaluable resources on coping with trauma and anxiety, for example).

What’s next for you?
Nicholas and Livvy each have a sibling and I can't leave them hanging! Wrong to Need You will be out in November, and Hurts to Love You will be out in the spring of 2018.


ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Read our review of Hate to Want You.

Get the Book

Hate to Want You

Hate to Want You

By Alisha Rai
ISBN 9780062566737

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