Today we are beyond excited to welcome Nova Ren Suma to the Penguin Teen Author Spotlight! As always, Nova writes thoughtfully and with a certain style that is just…Nova. So take a minute, grab a cup of tea, and settle in as you get to know Nova. Then, head out and pick up your copy of 17 & GONE STAT, because that wonderful writing you’re reading here? Yep, it’s even better in her books.
Name: Nova Ren Suma
Novel: 17 & Gone
Available: March 21, 2013
Who’s your favorite author, living or dead? My first true favorite author—the writer who changed the way I saw the world, and myself, and who greatly influenced my own writing style and shaped my voice—will always be my favorite author, even if I haven’t reread her books in years. It’s Jean Rhys, modernist author of Wide Sargasso Sea and Good Morning, Midnight. She spoke to me. Her first-person narration is spare and razor-sharp, and the way she expresses being a young woman in a cold, not-always-welcoming world is one I connected to, when I first discovered her in a college lit class. I once went to a café where Jean Rhys used to write in Paris and sat at a table where maybe she’d once written and ordered a chocolate mousse. I just wanted to be close to her—maybe I should have ordered a Pernod. I realize my beloved Good Morning, Midnight isn’t a book for everyone, but when I meet someone who loves that book as I do I know I’ve met someone who understands a piece of my soul.
What’s your favorite thing about your book? How much it surprised me. I mean that. 17 & GONE shocked me when I was writing it. I went in thinking it was one thing—thinking I knew what the book wanted to become, and assuming I had a handle on it—and then it shook me up and showed me its true face. The book demanded to be something else, and as its author all I could do was follow.
If you could spend one year on a deserted island with one character from literature, who would you choose? The deserted island would turn glorious, mysterious, and of course be filled with outlandish stories if I spent a year there with Holly Golightly from Breakfast at Tiffany’s. My image of her (solely from the book, mind you—I adored the book so much, and have such a vivid image conjured from it, that I can’t bear to see Audrey Hepburn’s portrayal of her in the movie) makes me sure that even if we spent a whole year together just the two of us, she’d still come away an enigma. I love that about her. My favorite characters in literature are never fully knowable—and always leave you guessing.
Where do you write? There isn’t one single place where I write—I live in New York City, in a tiny apartment, and I have a little corner stowed away for myself for writing, but I also need to work outside the apartment, too. I have to shuffle my writing spaces around, depending where I find myself during the day. I like to start off at a café, with a table against the wall.
Then I’ll usually head to my writing space, the Writers Room, a loft space downtown that’s billed as an urban writers’ colony. I find an empty desk, I arrange my space and I jump in. The Writers Room is open to members twenty-four hours a day, every day of the year, even holidays. I love knowing it’s always there for me—and I love the view.
Do you tweet? What’s the funniest thing you’ve ever tweeted? I do tweet at @novaren, and sometimes I’ll tweet something fully serious, just straight-up without meaning to be funny at all, and then I’ll realize everyone thinks I’m making a joke. I’m never funny when I mean to be, and apparently I am funny on accident, when I’m trying to be completely serious.
What is your favorite season? Autumn, when the air cools and the leaves crunch under your feet and I can wear my favorite blue jacket. Autumn barely lasts for weeks anymore in New York City, and it’s sad because I have so few opportunities to wear my favorite blue jacket.
If you could teleport anywhere in the known universe right now, where would you go? First off, could we agree I can take E, my husband? Because I wouldn’t want to go too far without him in case there’s trouble getting back. If he could catch a ride with me, we’d head to Buenos Aires. It would save on airfare if we could teleport, and we’d love to spend a month or so living there and writing. Maybe I should be more daring and say I’d teleport to another planet or another time, but I’m too afraid of bursting into fire or my lungs collapsing or free-floating in space for the rest of eternity. Besides, I really want to do a writing retreat in South America.
Do you have any writing rituals? When deep into writing a novel draft, I’ve been known to essentially cocoon myself during the process… and I mean this literally. I like to build writing tents. I’ll use scarves, sweaters, blankets, curtains, whatever works best to make a safe, small, private space for writing words. The most intense things come out when I’m working in a writing tent, and then when I’m done, I’ll burst up and out of it, blinded by the light, dazed and amazed at what I found inside.
What is your idea of earthly happiness? It’s a place. It exists. You can even visit it. When invited, all you need to do with your days is be creative. You can write. You can think about writing. You can wander and say you’ll write tomorrow. No one’s looking over your shoulder and keeping track. And all the while, you’re given a place to stay, and delicious food to eat, even delivered to your door in a picnic basket. At night, you can meet and talk and share your work with other artists if you’d like to, or return to your little house in the woods and write some more if you want to be alone with your work. You don’t pay a cent to be here. (The only thing you really have to do while in this place is your own laundry—and no one will look at you askance if you wear the same sweater three days in a row; most artists do.) This place is called the MacDowell Colony in Peterborough, New Hampshire, and I think it would be true perfection only if my other half, E, had been allowed to come with me and share the delicious contents of that picnic basket.
What is the best concert you’ve ever been to? One late summer night, days before I left for good for college, my high school best friend, Esme, and I drove across the river to see our then-favorite local Hudson Valley ska band, Perfect Thyroid. The band had a small cult following in our area, and Esme and I were kind of die-hard about going to their shows and very, very passionate about dancing to every song. I remember a small club, and being able to push to the front and clear out a space for dancing. (And keep in mind that dancing to ska music had its own name—skanking—and needed some room for when your arms went flying and your legs went kicking.) Esme and I kicked and spun around and danced for every set the band played. Every note. Every trumpet blast. We never stopped dancing. We didn’t rest. We didn’t sit a number out. That night, that show, felt like the end of something, and it was: our teenage lives, I guess. Our high school selves. Soon after, she went away to an odd little college in Vermont (Goddard), and I went away to an odd little college in Ohio (Antioch), and we never had a night like that again, together, just the two of us. But I’ll never forget it, dancing, dancing, dancing with my best friend at this tiny little concert to a band that felt like our own private secret, dancing, dancing until we wore out our shoes.What are you currently working on? I am far too superstitious to tell you any details about what I’m working on now because I’m a total weirdo who can’t talk about her books until they are “real,” but I’ll tell you what I’m NOT working on. I am not writing a dystopian novel. It’s definitely not a comedy. I highly doubt it’s the next War and Peace. And there are absolutely no cowboys or killer unicorns in it. Sorry, not a one. But if you like the creepy, dreamy elements from my previous books 17 & Gone and Imaginary Girls, that will all be there! Truth is, I kind of can’t help it.
Thanks, Nova! We can’t wait to read what’s next!
You can find Nova on Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook, her website, and her excellent blog (where you’ll read tons of guest posts from other awesome YA authors, as well).