Nova Ren Suma: A Self Portrait
Nova Ren Suma Revealed
About Nova Ren Suma
What is your birthdate?:2/23
Previous occupations:I've been an ice-cream scooper, a babysitter, a daycare worker, a bookstore cashier, an intern at magazines and literary journals, an assistant at a literary agency that focused on mysteries and whodunits, an editorial and production associate at a small-press publisher, an artist's assistant, an assistant editor of X-Men comic books, a copy editor, a ghostwriter, and a production editor for a children's book publisher.
Favorite job:Writer... exactly what I'm doing right now.
High school and/or college:I went to Onteora High School in the Hudson Valley of upstate New York and to Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio, where I had a self-designed major in writing and photography. Then, for graduate school, I got an MFA in fiction at Columbia University in New York City, and I haven't left the city since.
Name of your favorite composer or music artist?:I am torn between Cat Power and Elliott Smith. Don't make me choose.
Favorite movie:It doesn't exist yet. All I know about it are two things: My husband, who happens to be a filmmaker, will direct it. And it will be awesome... just wait.
Favorite television show:My So-Called Life, RIP
- Q. How would you describe your life in only 8 words?
- A. Doors open, doors close. Doors close, doors open.
- Q. What is your motto or maxim?
- A. What if?
- Q. How would you describe perfect happiness?
- A. Having all the time in the world.
- Q. What’s your greatest fear?
- A. Impossibility.
- Q. If you could be anywhere in the world right now, where would you choose to be?
- A. I'd move to Paris in a heartbeat if that's what you're asking.
- Q. Which living person do you most admire?
- A. My mom. She's made everything in my life possible, sacrificing left and right to make my dreams come true. And, after I went away for college, she went back to school and made her own dreams come true. Now she has an important job helping people. She's my hero.
- Q. What are your most overused words or phrases?
- A. I say "awesome" far too much. The world cannot possibly be this awesome. I write "like" all the time and like to say it, like, constantly, and I bet it's really annoying. When I write, I tend to start sentences with the word "but," almost as if I'm arguing with myself. But then I try to edit them out.
- Q. What do you regret most?
- A. My misspent youth, my student loans, and my two unpublished novels that live under my couch. That sure sounds like a lot.
- Q. If you could acquire any talent, what would it be?
- A. Psychic ability. Hey—you asked.
- Q. What is your greatest achievement?
- A. Each new success in my writing career feels like the one, but really it has nothing at all to do with writing. I found my one true love when we were both very young, and that's still the best thing that's ever happened in my life.
- Q. What’s your greatest flaw?
- A. It's a tie. I have great skill in negativity—I can make even the most exciting opportunity seem like a downer. And I'm also easily distracted—to the point where I have to physically remove myself from my apartment, which contains the television, in order to write.
- Q. What’s your best quality?
- A. I am incapable of giving up. I've been trying to be a writer for years—first for adults and now for younger readers. It hasn't been easy, and I remember flirting with the idea of giving up for good a few times. The thing is, I always knew deep down that I wouldn't. I could never give up; I just don't have it in me.
- Q. If you could be any person or thing, who or what would it be?
- A. Sometimes I think I want to be the complete opposite of myself: a graceful surfer who lives on some sunny tropical island and doesn't burn in the sun and whose only aspiration is to get up early for a good wave and then chill on the sand doing not much of anything. That's the fantasy. I'd miss spending all day holed up in a dark corner writing though.
- Q. What trait is most noticeable about you?
- A. I'm a bit of a mess. My desk, my apartment, my bag, my hair—you name it.
- Q. Who is your favorite fictional villain?
- A. Mystique.
- Q. If you could meet any historical character, who would it be and what would you say to him or her?
- A. Billie Holiday... I don't know what I would have asked, I just would have liked to know her.
- Q. What is your biggest pet peeve?
- A. Arrogance.
- Q. What is your favorite occupation, when you’re not writing?
- A. Wandering around downtown Manhattan, daydreaming about writing. I think I need a hobby.
- Q. What’s your fantasy profession?
- A. Astronaut. (Don't worry—I'd still write books on the side.)
- Q. What 3 personal qualities are most important to you?
- A. (1) Aspiration, (2) Individuality, and (3) Having an open mind.
- Q. If you could eat only one thing for the rest of your days, what would it be?
- A. I'm a picky vegetarian with a sweet tooth, so either dark chocolate or tofu. But never together—that's just gross.
- Q. What are your 5 favorite songs?
- A. At the moment of typing this: "2:45 a.m." by Elliott Smith, "I Feel" by Cat Power, "Family Tree" by Bellafea, "Black Balloon" by the Kills, and "Rabbit Fur Coat" by Jenny Lewis. Next month they'll all change except for "2:45 a.m.," which has held that spot for years.
On Books and Writing
- Q. Who are your favorite authors?
- A. I always want to read a strong first-person voice—voice is simply the most important thing to me, and the authors I love have them. Favorite authors include Jean Rhys, Alice Munro, Mary Gaitskill, Aimee Bender, Jeffrey Eugenides, Sigrid Nunez, Junot Diaz, George Saunders, Sherman Alexie, Jamaica Kincaid, Angela Carter. Favorite YA authors of the moment are Laura Kasischke, Bennett Madison—his upcoming novel, The Blonde of the Joke, floors me—Laura Ruby, Courtney Summers, Rita Williams-Garcia, and Sara Zarr. The first author I ever loved was Margaret Atwood, who I discovered on my mother's bookshelves when I was 12.
- Q. What are your 5 favorite books of all time?
- A. Only five? If I have to pick just five I'll go with: Good Morning, Midnight and Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys, The Last Life by Claire Messud, Runaway by Alice Munro, and the picture book that shaped my childhood: Dorrie the Little Witch by Patricia Coombs.
- Q. Is there a book you love to reread?
- A. The novella Breakfast at Tiffany’s.
- Q. Do you have one sentence of advice for new writers?
- A. Don't wait till tomorrow. By that I mean there's this thing that happens when you get the inspiration to write: a push of motivation or an idea comes at the most inconvenient moment, like when you're seconds from falling asleep, or in the shower, or about to step out the door, or anywhere—be assured—far, far away from pen and paper. For me, it always happens on the subway, when I'm commuting to or from my day job, stuffed in a crowd full of people and unable to write it down. I'd tell myself, Oh, I'll remember it later. I'll write it down tomorrow. And then, inevitably, tomorrow would come and I'd forget. There's always something that needs doing, and the writing always seems like it can wait. You wait for another tomorrow, and another, and that's how books don't get written. So don't keep putting it off—if you really want to write a book, get to work today.
- Q. How did you come to write Dani Noir?
- A. At the start of DANI NOIR, the narrator, Dani, is stuck in her middle-of-nowhere town, her only escape the old black-and-white movies she discovers at the local theater. Dani falls for film noir just the way I did: when she first sees Rita Hayworth starring as the femme fatale in a classic noir movie called Gilda. This was also the moment that the writing of DANI NOIR clicked for me—when I saw Gilda for the first time. The eye-opening scene is just as Dani describes: Rita Hayworth enters the room and nothing is as it was before.
I’ve done work-for-hire writing and ghostwriting for tweens and young adults before, but this novel was my chance to write in my own voice for the first time, to not have an assignment or a set of characters dictated to write about. Before this, my own original writing was always intended for adults. And yet, weirdly enough, I mostly wrote from the perspectives of teenagers: 14-year-old, 17-year-old, 13-year-old girls—so I see now that writing a novel for tweens was inevitable. Dani's voice poured out of me: She started on the rooftop of her house, surrounded on all sides by an endless sea of trees, just like places I lived at that age, and she came alive from there. I began to watch films the way Dani would see them. I began to picture Rita Hayworth as Dani might. And my imagination went wild from there. How would Dani imagine her life to be different if she were someone spectacular, someone who doesn’t listen to anyone, a femme fatale... just like Rita Hayworth? Once you can hear a character’s voice in your head, once you can SEE her, she’s not going to let you alone until you put her story down. Dani did that to me.