I recently had the pleasure of sitting down with long time REN’AI RENSAI editor and cover designer Lindsay York to talk about the latest installment, “NIGOU.” As someone who has been with the series since the very beginning, Lindsay has seen it and its characters evolve in ways neither of us expected. I couldn’t think of anyone better to bounce some ideas off of, which you can see below!
I hope you enjoy these insights into the development of RR and how it has come to this point. I certainly wasn’t expecting some of these questions!
Was it at all challenging opening up Reina and Aiko’s relationship into the world of polyamory? They’ve always been happy to pick up new partners and have naughty antics *together*, but things definitely seem different this time, with both setting off and doing things on their own.
For quite a while now I’ve known that this is where their relationship would end up. I think since around “Seikou.” or so they’ve been working to this point, whether they knew it or not. Really, they’ve been polyamorous for quite a while, even before they started using that word. The only thing that has changed is how serious they’ve become about it.
So to that end, I didn’t think it was challenging at all for them. The other two were a whole different can-of-worms unearthed in the apple orchard.
In dealing with polyamory, there’s a lot of talk about primary and secondary relationships in the novel. Did you ever worry that the secondary relationship (Reina and Jun) was overshadowing the primary relationships?
When you’re writing about polyamory in fiction, this is probably the most challenging thing to balance. While I was writing this novel, I often worried that my longtime readers who have been with me since “Daisuki.” would feel a little betrayed after investing so much in Reina and Aiko. But this novel isn’t about them and their relationship. Nor is it about Jun and Saya’s relationship. This novel is about Reina and Jun, although their primary relationships of course are a huge part of their lives (as they should be!) I wanted to focus on them and how they grow together in their own way. Nothing has changed between Reina and Aiko. They are still in love, they are still married, and they will be ‘til death they part. So does the secondary relationship overshadow the primaries? Of course it does. It’s supposed to. The narrative was constructed to do just that, because if I focused more on the primaries, I would be writing an epic treatise instead of a novel!
Did the differences between the primary relationships — one being a long, established marriage between two older women of the same age, and the other being a relatively new love with an age gap — offer a challenge in setting the stage for the novel?
I think so, particularly in the latter’s case. Reina and Aiko are very settled in their relationship. They know what they want and how to build a life together. Jun and Saya, on the other hand, have only been together for a year by the end of this novel. Jun often worries that she’s selfish and a terrible person for asking this of Saya… something that probably wouldn’t happen if they had been together longer and had more time to settle. They’re still learning about one another whereas Reina and Aiko have no secrets. But I think this is part of what made it fun to write. Every story needs to challenge the author in some way. For me, it was convincing my characters, myself, and the readers that this is a situation that can be embraced by everyone involved.
From the main cast, Saya is the one who struggles with polyamory. She’s also the youngest though, by a decent margin. Do you ever see her “coming around,” so to speak, and entertaining casual partners or even a nigou of her own in the future?
It’s hard to imagine that Saya is in her late 20s now, because I feel like she’s so much younger. Not naive like Aiko was at the same age, but inexperienced with relationships and still trying to decide what she really wants from her girlfriend. I’m constantly learning things about her while writing her scenes and dialogue. Jun is her first serious relationship, and she’s understandably possessive to a degree. She’s always second guessing the validity of her relationship and whether or not she and Jun are really meant to be due to their outrageous differences, but a young person’s love can be very resolute. In this novel she’s discovering things about herself as well, much like Aiko did at her age. But I think she will choose a different path since she’s such an independent thinker. Not to rule out a second partner for her down the line, but Saya has to first take some time exploring her own limits and what she wants from her love life. The good news for her is that she has ten years to catch up with everyone else.
Aiko is remarkably okay with her spouse deciding to take a nigou, given her past insecurities and jealousy when it comes to Reina’s bedroom habits. What was it like taking a character full-circle in development like that?
I had planned this since the beginning of Aiko’s development from the time of “Daisuki.” Funnily enough, the first story I wrote her in takes place in 2007, and she is very cool with Reina’s bedroom habits, as it were. Cautious, but cool. The character changed for what is now RR, but I always wanted to bring her back to how I originally envisioned her – a housewife with a sexually adventurous and promiscuous partner, but a smart woman who enjoys her life to the fullest.
When I am writing Aiko’s insecurities, I always remember her from “Hatsukoi.”, when she was hilariously naive about what life with Reina would be like. Back then, she didn’t care what it entailed, as long as it was fun and they were in love. I think it’s important to note that Aiko has never really changed. She still wants to have fun and be in love. Everything that seems to have changed on the surface is because Reina brought it out of her over the years. The potential for this sort of life was always inside Aiko. She was never forced into it and had lots of opportunities to leave early on. Why did she stay with Reina those first few years? Not just because she loved her, but because Reina was the first person to resonate with Aiko’s subconscious desires.
But to make this long response even longer, it was important to me that this be the novel where Aiko sets herself free, so to speak. She has depended on Reina for emotional validations for so long, that she needed to get the hell out of the house and be crazy on her own. Some people are late bloomers like that. And I think a large part of the reason Aiko is so nonchalant throughout the plot is because Jun is someone she knows and trusts. If Rena wanted a complete stranger for a nigou, this would be a much different – and much shorter – novel.
Aiko spends a heap of the book with her neighbor, Yuri, this time. Are Aiko and Yuri a sort of mirror of Reina and Jun, or does their dynamic represent something different?
The relationship Aiko and Yuri have is much different from Reina and Jun’s. Theirs is an intimate friendship that happens to include sex. Yuri and Aiko have been sexually involved for a few years now, even independent of Reina. It’s never come up in the series, but Reina was not originally involved with them. That came later, when Yuri was more comfortable with it. So, really, Aiko was the first of the relationship to have sex outside of it on her own, a fact that Reina probably has never thought about.
Reina and Jun are different. They are not really friends outside of the bedroom, but what they fulfill inside it make their lives better. There is also gender expression to keep in mind. Aiko and Yuri can get away with holding hands in public and being intimate since they are both very feminine. Unless they start making out, no one will really pay them any mind since it’s normal for two women to be close like that in traditional Japanese society. In the early 20th century it was even encouraged for Japanese women to have those kinds of friends. But Reina and Jun are more masculine, so they stick out and confuse even each other. I think instead of holding hands they would rather eat a bucket of live scorpions.
I always think of Aiko and Yuri as having this innocent affair built on friendship, whereas Reina and Jun have a friendship that came from a passionate affair.
There’s definitely more than a dash of kinky sex in the novel. What sources did you look to for inspiration when it came to writing those scenes? Were any of them particularly difficult?
I don’t know what sources I would say I had, other than my own imagination. That sounds pretty embarrassing, huh? What I guess I mean is that the characters inspired me. I know what Jun wants in bed, and I know what Reina wants in bed. When I realized a long time ago that they are a perfect sexual match, the whole concept of “Nigou.” was born.
None of the scenes were very difficult. As a rule, I won’t write a graphic love scene if I’m struggling with it at all. I’ll either come back to it later or I’ll scrap it or fade it to black. But there is one scene in this novel, and if you’ve read it, you know already which one I am talking about. It’s in the second half, where their role-play reaches a new high. They are so trusting of one another that they are able to enter a sexual relationship built on a master-servant sort of thing. Not every time they have sex, but often enough it is usual to them. For Jun especially, there are some very serious control aspects that need rearranging. I wanted to portray her willingly giving up her control to Reina while still affirming that she had her agency. I suppose it was a difficult scene because it can easily fall into “humiliation” kink, which I think is hard for many women to come to terms with in their own desires. Even I surprise myself whenever I reread that scene – it’s always crazier than I remember!
Even for all of the kinky action, it’s notable that you keep *certain* kinks out of play, like any violence or particularly harsh physical treatment. Was this because of the characters’ desires, or a personal desire to keep that out of the book?
In a way it’s both, since a lot of their feelings are an extension of my own. Just like I wouldn’t want very hardcore kink, they don’t either. Partly because I wouldn’t want to write about it. (For example, there are a couple of other kinky things I could see them consensually doing that I don’t have much interest in writing about.) But it’s also inherent to the characters. Reina wants to dominate, but she doesn’t want to hurt. Jun wants to submit, but she doesn’t want to have her agency stripped from her. They can both stop the action any time they want. Plus, they are not violent people, nor are they into pain for the sake of it. Any pain they feel must lead directly to pleasure or in some way be connected to it. No whips though. Maybe later.
Any final thoughts?
This is a story I have been wanting to write for quite a while now. Maybe not this one specifically, but this type of story. I’ve always been attracted to writing tales where multiple lovers is acceptable. Like in any other romance novel I write, I want to give a reader a good, satisfied feeling at the end, whatever that means to them. I’ve felt very privileged these past two years to write about this universe and share it with all of you. Taking the RR universe to this level was something I wanted to do from the beginning, and now to see it come to fruition… whether it becomes a fan favorite or disappears into the digital ether, I am happy to have written it. I’m even more excited to wrap up the RR series this year knowing that this is what has become of the characters so far.