Today is a very happy and exciting day for me. If you follow this blog regularly, you'll know that the authors I feature here all share some contribution in my writing life. Unbeknownst to them, they are my sources of inspiration, mentors, and teachers who fuel my charge along this path. None more so, than the person I am introducing to you today. She is a truly generous spirit, who shares so much knowledge, time, and space with us writers. Her haunting stories, come alive and linger with readers through her beautiful words. I don't think I've fan-girled over any one author this much in quite a while. She is none other than, Nova Ren Suma.
I first learned of Nova when I chanced upon her blog series, "What Inspires You." Stepping out of my comfort zone, I asked her permission to write my own post on my blog. She agreed and even blogged about my post. Through her, I met Camille DeAngelis, and just recently, two other writerly and readerly folks in my local area. Each and every one of them are just as generous as she is. Nova is a spoke in the six degrees of separation in my writing universe.
Her most recent blog series, "Haunted at 17," and all those that participated on their own blogs, had me enthralled. I visited almost every site she listed and marveled at the honesty and the voices of authors like Libba Bray and Jennifer R. Hubbard. Designed as part of the launch of her latest novel, 17 & Gone, the series quickly triggered a "must read - NOW" impulse in me; dropping everything each time a new post came up on my blog reader.
Now, without further ado, I give you, 11 Questions with Nova Ren Suma.
How early in life did you realize that you were a writer? At what point did you decide to pursue publication? What brought you to that decision?
My mother would say that I wrote my first book when I was about four (I think there was a pigeon family in it, and, of course, illustrations), but I remember a sixth-grade creative writing class lighting that first true spark in me. That was when I fell in love with short stories and realized I loved writing them. Publication wasn’t much of a conscious goal for me in the beginning. It was the writing itself I enjoyed, not the after. But in later years, in college, and in grad school, I learned that publishing your work is expected, and without that outside validation you aren’t taken seriously. I have to admit: Even now, the publishing aspect of being a writer is my least favorite part of this. It barely comes close to that glimmering, gorgeous moment of finding the absolute perfect sentence.
Your published work is in the Young Adult genre. Have you ever written in other genres? What is it about this genre that calls you?
I started off writing literary fiction for adults—that’s what I studied in my MFA program when I was in my twenties and it’s what I always intended to publish, simply because it’s what I loved to read. My first two novels were adult novels, and they currently live in manuscript boxes under my bed. I fell into YA almost accidentally, though of course I’m thrilled to be a part of such a supportive community now. The funny thing is that my writing itself hasn’t changed: The style and voice are both much the same, if my skills as a writer have grown (I hope my skills have grown). I think it’s the market that’s changed. It’s not so much the YA publishing category that calls to me, it’s the characters themselves, the voices, the lens, the perspective. I love writing from that moment of being a teenager. It’s fresh, urgent, and so alive.
Is there a specific topic, whether within your genre or outside of it, that you feel you cannot write about? Would you explain to us why?
There is a wall inside me that I can’t seem to climb. I don’t think it’s possible for me to write romance—the kind of romance that has a happy resolution and ends on a soaring note and a kiss, for example. Doomed romance; maybe I could write that. Hearts getting mashed up and stomped on, sure. Bad relationships. Lying, cheating partners. That’s more of where my pen wants to go. I wonder why this is often, because outside my writing, in life, I found my love when I was still a teenager and we’ve been together now for nineteen years. Maybe because I have my own happy ending it makes me less interested to explore that in my writing.
Could you describe for us the birth process of your stories? Are all your stories born or developed the same way?
I often start with a flimsy idea, a place I want to write about, a vague and tenuous situation connected to that place or a slippery version of a person who leaves a line of voice in my head I want to follow, but I lost them in the dark. Everything is blurry at first. Fogged up, and I can’t see my hand before my face. Stray snippets of sounds, lines and pieces of dialogue that don’t connect to anything. All the work then is writing toward making things clearer, finding a story in the fog.
I’ve noticed that you spend a lot of time at artists’ colonies or writing residencies. How essential is this route to your writing career? What is it that makes this an important part of your creative process?
Attending writing residencies and artists’ colonies isn’t essential to my career—it’s not essential for any artist. What it is, simply, is a gift. For years I wasn’t able to go to things like this, since when I’m working full-time it’s next to impossible to take a month off to go away to write, so it’s only been recently that I’ve been able to visit a string of colonies. Each time feels like my last. I have those moments while there, dazed, when I wonder if I’ll ever get into another residency again. If I’ll ever be allowed to do this. The time there is precious, and every word I write has a bit of magic attached because of that.
Where do you typically find inspiration for your stories and the characters you create? Is there a particular source that you return to regularly?
Inspiration comes from my life, I’ll admit that. From my past. From distorted memories I’ve carried with me since I was a teenager, and sometimes from people I meet now, or people I see in the street or on TV or in the supermarket or anywhere, really. I never know where I’ll find inspiration, so I have to be open to it hitting at any moment. You’d think I’d learn to carry a notebook and pen with me everywhere I go, but I’m still sometimes caught without, frantically repeating a line in my head while rushing home ten blocks so I can write it down before I lose it forever.
Can you describe for us a typical writing day? Do you write every day? Do you dedicate regular hours to writing? What would be the optimum conditions for a “perfect” writing session?
I don’t write every day, though every day I don’t I admonish myself for not trying. Every day I certainly have the best intentions, but I also do get distracted. The “perfect” writing session seems to be one I can’t ever plan. Like this morning, which happened to be Easter Sunday: I got a good table at the café and settled in and suddenly decided to work on a piece I hadn’t planned to even touch that day. I put my music on, dove in, and before I knew it four hours had passed and I had that buzzing, humming feeling in my chest when something has clicked and I don’t want to stop. I wish I could replicate that experience tomorrow, but even if I get to the café at the same time and sit at the same table and drink the same mocha, I can’t guarantee the same thrill of inspiration will hit me.
How does real life affect your writing life? Is it a hindrance? A refuge? A refueling point?
Real life is the obstacle for all of us, isn’t it? There are always excuses, things that need doing, stresses that seep in and ruin the writing on the page. One day I’ll find a way to balance both sides of life, but I haven’t yet.
Have you ever found the inkwell dry? How do you refill it?
I go through cycles. I have wonderful, thrilling moments where everything all around me is inspiring and threatens to become a part of my novel and I never want to stop writing and I love writing and nothing could keep me from it la-la-la… and then I have those gray days, those gray weeks, when nothing comes. When I stare with dread at a blank page and berate myself for being a phony. Down in that rut I have a hard time seeing out and I’d say that nothing can fix it but time, but the truth is, there are some ways. Rereading a good book I’ve loved, an old favorite, that helps. Taking a walk around the neighborhood helps. Talking to a writer friend I can trust helps. Standing in a rainstorm helps—though, unfortunately, I can’t seem to control the weather and tell it to rain when I’m having trouble writing.
What part of the writing process do you enjoy the most? Like the least? Why?
I touched on this earlier, but it’s the publishing part of the writing process that I like the least. Lately this has become promotion: Having to talk about myself and my books, the busywork, the putting myself out there and facing the reactions. Basically the business side of being an author. I’m sure I’m not alone in that.
This is a question that was posed on the blog of one of my favorite authors, and answering it helped me identify my priorities in terms of what I want to focus on as a writer. So, I’ll ask you: “If you had just one story left in you, and it was guaranteed to be published, what would that story be?”
It’s the novel I’ve just started allowing myself to play with, after carrying it around for at least the last five years. I recently decided I don’t want to wait anymore. I’ve stopped waiting, and I’ve started writing.
Nova Ren Suma is the author of young adult novel Imaginary Girls (Dutton/Penguin, 2011) and the middle-grade novel Dani Noir (Aladdin/Simon & Schuster, 2009), reissued for the YA shelves as Fade Out (Simon Pulse, 2012). She has an MFA in fiction from Columbia University and has been awarded fiction fellowships from the New York Foundation for the Arts, the Djerassi Resident Artists Program, the MacDowell Colony, the Millay Colony, and Yaddo. She grew up in small towns across the Hudson Valley and can currently be found in New York City. Her newest novel, 17 & Gone, is out now from Dutton/Penguin.
Visit Nova online at www.novaren.com or read her blog at www.distraction99.com.