What is your blurb policy?
I absolutely love writing blurbs for books I’ve fallen for, and it’s always an honor to be asked. So this is sad to say, but right now I’m taking a break from reading manuscripts for blurb requests while I focus on teaching and writing my own novel. Once I am blurbing again after I meet my book deadline this fall, here’s my policy: I only blurb YA novels, and limit the number of novels I blurb per year. I always prefer that blurb requests go through my agent, Michael Bourret.
Where did your name come from, and what does it mean?
Yes, Nova Ren Suma is my real name. People often ask me what it means or where it came from. My first name, Nova, is said to mean “chases butterflies” in Hopi in The New Age Baby Name Book where my mom found it, but this meaning is disputed. I’m partial to the galactic definition myself. My middle name, Ren, means “lotus flower” in Japanese. Suma, my last name, is Sicilian. I’m half Italian, half Jewish on my mom’s side, and the child of 1960s hippies (obviously, right?). I’m married to the love of my life, but how could I change my name?!
My books should be shelved under S.
Where are you from?
My family moved around a lot when I was a kid. I say I’m from the Hudson Valley, and mostly I am, though not entirely.
I was born on Long Island but left when I was a baby. I lived for a short time in New Jersey and then moved to the Hudson Valley in upstate New York. Until I was five I lived in Saugerties, New York, where my parents had two enormous gardens and a roadside vegetable stand. When my parents divorced, I moved with my mom and brother to Pennington, New Jersey, where my mom remarried and I gained a beautiful baby sister. When I was twelve, we moved back to the Hudson Valley and I went to middle school at Rondout Valley Junior High when we lived up a mountain road in Kerhonkson, New York. I spent one year—ninth grade—living in Matamoras, Pennsylvania, just across the river from New York state, and then we moved back one last time to the Hudson Valley, this time to Woodstock, New York, where I spent my last three years of high school at Onteora High School. My family moved a few miles away to nearby West Hurley, New York, when I was in college.
So you could say my most formative years were spent in Woodstock when I was fifteen, sixteen, seventeen, and eighteen, but I haven’t lived there since.
Where do you live now?
I moved to New York City for graduate school when I was twenty-two and haven’t left since, even though I find myself missing the Hudson Valley. I live in downtown Manhattan and write at cafés in the area and at the Writers Room.
WRITING & PUBLISHING
When did you start writing?
I remember a creative writing class in fifth or sixth grade that opened me up to writing stories, and writing poetry all through junior high, but I became serious about becoming a writer when I was in high school. A significant moment for me was when I attended a summer writing workshop at Simon’s Rock College when I was seventeen. I had to work many months to pay back a family friend’s loan that helped me afford to go, but it was so worth it. That Simon’s Rock summer workshop changed my life—and, in fact, it’s still running. You might look into it if you’re a teenager or know a teenager who loves writing.
Did you study writing in college?
I knew I wanted to be a writer, but I also wanted to be something else, too: a photographer. So I had a self-designed major at Antioch College that combined all the things I loved: journalism, creative writing, and photography. When I got accepted to writing MFA programs while still in college, I decided to focus on studying fiction first and went off to Columbia University. I told myself I’d study photography next, but I never did.
Do you have an agent?
My agent is Michael Bourret at Dystel & Goderich Literary Management. I signed with him for my second novel, Imaginary Girls. He’s wonderful, and I do recommend him highly, but please do not use my name as a referral without asking me first.
Did working in book publishing help you get published?
Yes and no. I worked for years in book publishing—mostly as a copy editor or production editor—and my most recent day job was as a senior production editor at HarperCollins Children’s Books. I left this job in the fall of 2009.
Yes, it helped because I made contacts in children’s publishing that I would not have had without my day jobs. And these contacts led me into writing work-for-hire projects and ghostwriting, which taught me a lot and helped me publish my first book under my real name.
At the same time, no, working in book publishing as a copy editor did not help me get published. It was a non-creative job, and most of my contact with editors was in this capacity. I tried to keep my writing and my work separate (for a long time, I even kept the fact that I was a writer secret), and I always made the books I worked on a priority while I was at the office. Sometimes people still think of me today first as a copy editor, when I would much rather be seen as an author.
Getting a day job in book publishing isn’t the way to get a book published. Writing the book is. But working in book publishing really is rewarding.
Did you get your MFA in writing for young adults?
When I applied for MFA programs, not only was I completely unaware of YA-specific writing programs, I didn’t realize I even wanted to write YA at the time. I got my MFA in fiction from Columbia University, where fiction program focused solely on literary fiction for adults. When I was a student, there were no classes in writing for children or young adults even available. It just didn’t come up. If I’d waited to get my MFA, or could get a second one, I might choose a program where I could focus on writing YA. I’ve recently wished I’d gone to Vermont College of Fine Arts for an MFA in Writing for Children & Young Adults… so I did the next best thing: I joined the faculty there.
Do you think I need an MFA to publish a novel?
Absolutely not. Especially to publish a YA or middle-grade novel—and this is not because YA or middle-grade novels are lesser or easier to write (it makes me angry when people assume this!), but because there are simply fewer MFA programs for writing for children, so having an MFA is not as common as it is in adult literary fiction circles and hasn’t become such an accepted stepping stone toward publication.
You should get an MFA if you want to—you should do it for you. It is not a necessity, but it can be a wonderful way to focus on craft and raise your writing and knowledge of your field to new levels, if it’s something you passionately want to commit to for two years. Having an MFA will also allow you more opportunities to teach, if that’s something you’re interested in pursuing.
How do I know if my novel is a YA novel?
I see YA as a perspective. So, are you writing from that perspective?
Is your main character a teenager? Is s/he not in college? Is the story being told from in the moment of being a teenager and not looking back from a nostalgic distance? If you can answer yes to all three of those questions, it’s quite possible you’ve written a YA novel. But, still. There is no hard-and-fast rule for what is YA and what isn’t YA. Novels from the teenage perspective are often published in the adult market. The lines are often blurred and it can come down to a choice made by you, your agent, or your publisher.
Want to know how I decided? I read YA novels. Lots and lots of them. I devoured books and fell in love with YA and I actively decided that YA was what I wanted to write and publish.
What made you decide to write for young adults?
I always assumed I’d write novels for adults. I started writing work-for-hire books for children and tweens on the side simply to pay my bills. But then everything changed when I discovered an author who opened my mind to the possibilities of YA. That author was Laura Kasischke (Boy Heaven; Feathered), and here’s a blog I wrote about that moment.
Do you get to pick the covers on your books?
No. Most authors who are traditionally published by trade houses do not get to pick their covers. The publisher has a design team who does just that, coordinating with editorial and sales and marketing. I’m often shown the cover for feedback, but I don’t choose the image or design.
Will you tell me what books you ghostwrote?
Of course not.
I would like to take a writing class from you. Where are you teaching?
I just joined the faculty of the Writing for Children & Young Adults low-residency MFA program at Vermont College of Fine Arts, starting with the January 2016 residency. More information about this wonderful program can be found here.
I also teach short workshops and retreats, which I always announce on this site. Please see my Workshops page to see what workshops and retreats I have coming up.
Do you take private students or do manuscript critiques?
I have in the past, but I am currently not taking on any new clients while I focus on teaching at VCFA. Please see my Mentoring page for details.
Do you teach online?
I don’t have any online class coming up, but keep an eye on the Workshops page in case this changes.
Is Imaginary Girls your first novel?
Imaginary Girls is my debut YA novel, but it’s not my first novel. My first published novel—not including work-for-hire novels I ghostwrote—was a middle-grade novel called Dani Noir, which was later reissued for the YA shelves under the title Fade Out.
I actually started writing the book that would become Imaginary Girls before I even started Dani Noir. I put it aside to fulfill my Simon & Schuster contract… so even though I started it first, it ended up getting published after.
I also wrote two adult novels that I did not end up getting published before I started Imaginary Girls.
I’ve read one of your books and I have questions and I’d like to know which of my interpretations is right. Will you tell me?
No. That’s for you to decide.
Will you tell me what happens at the end of The Walls Around Us?
What do you think happens?
There’s your answer.
I live in the Hudson Valley and recognize the town and the reservoir you wrote about in Imaginary Girls. Why did you never name them in the novel?
The town found in Imaginary Girls is most certainly inspired by Woodstock, New York, the town where I lived and hung out with my friends when I was a teenager.
However, this was a town where I haven’t lived for many years. So the place was inspired by the town of my memories. I wrote the town as I remembered it, distorted and reimagined to suit the story, and so much of it isn’t necessarily true to local maps and actual reality. As I wrote, the place began to take on a magic all its own. And there seemed to be even more magic in leaving the town unnamed, and the reservoir too (which was based on the Ashokan Reservoir), though I know many people will see the truth in it. I love when real things twist and turn into something new in fiction.
Also, I find that people not from the area have preconceived notions about “Woodstock” and that’s not what Imaginary Girls was about. It was important to me to leave that out of the story. Maybe I’ll write about Woodstock in another way, in a different story one day.
Is the drowned town of Olive in Imaginary Girls based on a real place?
There really was a town called Olive in the area and you can read a little about its true history on this Wikipedia page.
Much of what is in Imaginary Girls is fictionalized and changed to fit the story, but it was inspired from real facts. For some history about the Ashokan Reservoir and the towns that were demolished to build it I’d recommend the book The Last of the Handmade Dams: The Story of the Ashokan Reservoir by local historian and author Bob Steuding.
Is Fade Out (published in 2012) actually your first novel, Dani Noir, in paperback and under a new name?
Yes! My middle-grade novel Dani Noir (originally published by Simon & Schuster/Aladdin in 2009) was lucky enough to get a second chance at life on the YA shelves in the summer of 2012. Simon Pulse—a YA imprint at Simon & Schuster—published the book in paperback under the new title Fade Out. It is a clean YA story appropriate for readers grades 7 and up. And there have been small updates made to the story, too… so it’s a little different from Dani Noir.
In order to distinguish the YA paperback release from the hardcover tween release, my publisher wanted to give it a new title and cover. If you are attached to the original title and cover, you can always still order the hardcover edition of Dani Noir just as it is.
Will you be writing another middle-grade or tween novel?
Perhaps! My next novel with Algonquin is YA, but you never know what may come after that…
When does your next book come out?
I am now writing a new YA novel for Algonquin Young Readers. It may come out in 2017, if I can stay on schedule. As soon as I can say more about it, I’ll be sure to update here!
…do an interview with me or write a guest post for my blog?
I am taking a break from blog interviews and guest posts right now, but thank you for thinking of me.
…send me your latest book to review?
No. My publisher sends out review copies. Please contact them instead.
…sign my book?
It’s become too complicated to have books with self-addressed stamped envelopes sent to my PO box—mainly because I hate waiting in line at the post office!—so please don’t send me books to sign and send back. BUT I do have some bookplates, and see below if you want one. If you want to get your book signed in person, check my appearances page for upcoming events.
…send me a signed bookplate?
If you want a signed bookplate, send me a self-addressed stamped envelope plus a little note saying who I should sign it to, and mail it here:
Nova Ren Suma
PO Box 399
New York, NY 10276-0399
…be going on book tour to my city?
You can check my Appearances page updated with any new events.
…visit my school or library?
You are welcome to email me about school or library visits and I will connect with my contact at my publisher to see if a visit is possible.
…Skype or chat with my class or writing/reading group?
I need to focus on my book deadlines and teaching right now, so I am sorry, but I cannot do Skype visits at the moment.
…read my fiction and tell me what you think?
I’m afraid that I can’t read and critique other writers’ work at this time unless they are my students. I teach at Vermont College of Fine Arts and also lead writing workshops at various places around the country and you can keep up to date on announcements here.
…give me advice on applying to a writers colony?
There is no magic answer to advise you on how to get into a writers colony like MacDowell or Yaddo. All I can say is apply and keep on applying even if you get a no. Always send your best work, and always try to get a reference from an authority in your field who knows your writing. Good luck!
…answer my email if I send you one?
Yes, I will try. Though it may take me a while. Apologies.
…mind if I mail you letters or presents?
I love letters. You can mail me letters to my post office box:
Nova Ren Suma
PO Box 399
New York, NY 10276-0399
I’m totally kidding about the presents!