the nova hour (and no, not the pbs show)

May 31st, 2011


I knew that Nova Ren Suma’s debut YA novel IMAGINARY GIRLS was something special before I ever read a word of it. I’m not one to judge books by their covers. Really, I’m not. I know all the decisions that go into covers and all the inappropriately jacketed books that hide really quality literary novels behind silly, doofy looking covers. But this cover, you saw it, and you just knew, the book was going to kick ass:

I think this might be the most stunning YA cover I have ever seen. Ever. It tells you the book, IMAGINARY GIRLS, is something special, something eerie, something otherworldly. Something unlike anything you’ve ever read before. All of which is true and none of which begins to scratch the surface of this beautifully written—and beautifully written in a way that is different from anything I’ve ever read before—creepy, elegant, ambient, riveting, provocative novel that I’m still thinking about several months after finishing it.

It’s also one of those books that I read thinking: How Did She Do That? The characterizations. The metaphors that don’t stand out as metaphors but just sort of quietly slither under your skin. The way the whole book washes over you, leaving a thin layer of silt, which, is fitting. You’ll see when you read it. It comes out June 14th and you can win a signed first-edition if you keep reading. I was even more blown away because I mistakenly thought Nova was one of those wunderkinds—you know, 23, straight out of school, immediate book contract, instant genius. That she’s not, that she traveled a long road and had her knocks along the way, makes me admire her all the more ,and also makes the incredible depth of this book that much more understandable. (Not that the wunderkinds aren’t capable of depth. The incredible Lauren Oliver published BEFORE I FALL when she was 27, a fact that never ceases to blow my mind.)

I got my story straight when I finally sat down and asked Nova the questions that I’ve been wondering about and she answered thoroughly and thoughtfully.  So, prepare to get to know Nova Ren Suma and all you up-and-coming writers, prepare to be inspired. IMAGINARY GIRLS is going to be one of the books everyone is talking about this summer, and the story of how it came to be is testament to perseverance and patience and hope. Cream, does, eventually, rise to the top.

GF: So, I have to start off by saying that I totally thought that you were one of those writer starlets—23, straight out of grad school, wrote a first book and then a big YA book. And while I’m right about the first book—the middle grade DANI NOIR—I appear to have been wrong about everything else. You don’t have to give your age or anything but can you give a sense of your background, your road to becoming an author.

NRS: Can I start, before admitting I’m no writer starlet, to say how thrilled I am to do this interview—and how much I love (love! love!) IF I STAY and WHERE SHE WENT? It’s an honor to have this conversation with you and I’ll try not to get tripped up.

Okay, so I’m certainly not a writer starlet, though it isn’t for lack of trying. I entered my MFA program straight out of college, with lots of stars in my eyes. In a way, I felt the program promised so much: the story in The Paris Review or The New Yorker, the fancy agent to wine and dine us, the six-figure book deal by graduation… And sure, that did happen to some, but those promises didn’t come true for me, and I don’t think it’s the fault of Columbia University; it was my own naive expectation. I was also not the best at networking, and I think my shyness and lack of confidence cost me a lot.

Years passed. I graduated, I wrote two novels—meant to be adult literary fiction but mostly written in teenage voices… it never occurred to me that they could have been YA—and I got close but never snagged an agent. Eventually I hit a low point where I began to think it just wouldn’t happen for me. You know, the dream: the agent, the book, the permission to call myself a “writer.” I worked various day jobs in publishing, most of them as a copy editor in children’s books, and I began doing work-for-hire writing on the side, because it’s hard to make it on a publishing salary in New York. I wrote about seventeen books—from middle-grade series novels to picture books to movie tie-ins—and the first book I ended up publishing under my name was DANI NOIR, a middle-grade novel that came about because of the connections and hard work I put into ghostwriting.

But something else was going on, too. Before I signed the contract for DANI NOIR, I had an eye-opening experience about YA fiction. At my day job—at that point I was a senior production editor at HarperCollins—I was working for the first time on YA novels and I was falling in love with the genre. There was one writer in particular whose novels inspired me: Laura Kasischke, author of BOY HEAVEN and FEATHERED. But DANI NOIR was happening, so I put what would become IMAGINARY GIRLS aside to write that. Still, the idea of writing my first YA novel kept tugging at me.

Thankfully, there was one last test. After I turned in the DANI NOIR manuscript, I was approached with a work-for-hire opportunity, to write for a new series—guaranteed publication, as many as three books—or return to IMAGINARY GIRLS and keep writing without any guarantees that I’d ever get an agent or a publisher from it. I needed the money the other project would have offered, but I went with my gut. It felt like a last-ditch effort for me… and it turned out to be one of the best decisions I ever made.

GF: I also heard you say that if you could give novice authors advice what would it be, it was something along the lines of “embrace YA sooner.” As someone who also backed into writing YA (though I had a long history of writing for teens), I totally understand that. Without rehashing what you’ve just told us, can you tell us what you mean about this. How did you find your way into YA and how did you know that you’d found your natural home?

NRS: I know I talked a bit about that already, but it was my day job that opened my eyes. Since I got into children’s book publishing accidentally (I interned for the art editor of The New Yorker, Françoise Mouly, and she ended up hiring me to be her assistant at the small-press children’s book publisher RAW Junior that she’d founded with her husband, Art Spiegelman), I’m forever grateful for it. It was an odd, winding path for me, but I ended up in just the right place.

There is so much I would have done differently in my writing career. Choosing a fully funded grad school is one (I can’t ever recommend that anyone take out as many loans as I did to get an MFA), and writing for teens is the other.

The thing is, I’ve always seemed to write about teenagers or from a young perspective. The first novel I wrote, a semiautobiographical coming-of-age story, was written in a large part from a kid’s perspective, and the second novel I wrote, so much fiction it bordered on the bizarre, was written from the perspective of two teenagers, a brother and sister, with alternating chapters. My short stories were most often about teenagers. I once wrote a short story from a fortysomething woman’s perspective… and the best scene is when she takes her teenage daughter to get her nose pierced on St. Mark’s Place, and that’s because the daughter brought the scene to life.

I often think that writing for teens was staring me in the face for so long and I have no idea why I didn’t see it. I know it took me a while to get here, but I’m thrilled to be a part of this. I love how you called it my “natural home”—that’s just how it feels.

GF: We’re glad to have you in the YA community. It’s pretty awesome as you’re probably finding out. It’s sort of like our secret. I know that you’ve spent a fair amount of time in the adult literary world (MacDowell Colony, etc.). Have you experienced any snobbery from the adult lit world now that you’ve switched over to YA, along the lines of all the crap Sherman Alexie got when he wrote THE ABSOLUTELY TRUE DIARY OF A PART-TIME INDIAN? You don’t have to name names!

NRS: Oh my, yes. I won’t name names, but I’ve gotten attitude about writing for young adults, the usual jokes about vampires, and some snobby dismissals.

There was one time when I did a reading from IMAGINARY GIRLS at a famous location in the adult literary world. After the reading someone came up to me, all complimentary about my pages, saying all these wonderful things. Then came the kicker: “It sounded like a REAL book!” this person said. It was meant as a high compliment, but I didn’t take it that way.

Yes, YA novels are REAL BOOKS.

I recently had residencies at both Yaddo and the MacDowell Colony—I was the only YA writer there both times, though I just missed Cecil Castellucci at MacDowell and was very sad about that. I was so nervous to go, but I went in introducing myself not just as a writer but as a YA writer. I’m so proud of it. I discovered that many of the writers for adults that I met are extremely curious about YA now. Maybe authors like Sherman Alexie have something to do with that. At one point, four or five writers at one of my residencies admitted to me privately that they wanted to write YA novels and asked me how to know when what you’re writing is YA.

I do want to say that for the most part, I met some amazingly supportive artists and writers at these places. At my most recent residency, at MacDowell this winter, we had this ritual of announcing each artist’s last night after dinner. On my last night, a playwright/screenwriter stood up in the dining room during dessert and announced that it was my last night, and then from other corners of the dining room other artists and writers and poets and composers called out about my book coming out that summer, “IMAGINARY GIRLS! June 14!” And they all applauded. If I had any insecurities about being fully accepted, they fell away in that moment.

GF: I recently heard you talk about one of the inspirations for writing IMAGINARY GIRLS, which was swimming in the reservoir in your hometown in upstate New York and later learning about the history of the flooded towns. But I’ve also heard you speak about your intense bond with your sister and that seems to be very much at play in this book, too. Did one idea spark the book, or was there a you-got-your-chocolate-in-my-peanut butter moment (And young ones who don’t understand this cultural reference, look it up here)? Can you elaborate on these twin inspirations and any others that were part of the mix.

NRS: It’s true that a town where I went to high school in the Hudson Valley—and the reservoir there—inspired the town in the novel, but the true heart of the novel, the seed of inspiration that started everything, is my relationship with my little sister, Laurel Rose. Anyone who truly knows me knows how much I adore my little sister and always have. The day she was born (at home, just like Chloe was in the novel) was one of best days of my life, and Rose and I are still close today.

IMAGINARY GIRLS began as a short story about two sisters, Chloe and Ruby, and then the idea of the flooded towns in the reservoir seeped into the story and colored their world.

A scene that had been in the original story, and that later became awkward and extraneous and had to be cut from the novel, was on the mezzanine of a concert hall, when the older sister, Ruby, left her little sister, Chloe—around eight years old at the time—alone for hours while she went to hang out with her friends. This actually happened, when I was in high school, when I took Rose with me to a They Might Be Giants concert. While in the story it became an enormous and terrible secret between the girls, in real life it could have turned into that… but thankfully my sister was okay when I came back to get her. But it’s something I’ve been guilty about for years, and it’s why I wrote the original sister story in the first place. An apology in a way. An apology that went full-on into fiction and turned into a surreal and dangerous love letter.

GF: One of the many, many things that blew me away about IMAGINARY GIRLS was Ruby. She has that thing, that charisma, that we’ve all witnessed in girls before. That thing that makes them beautiful, even if they’re not all that pretty, that makes guys and girls drop at their feet. I think that’s a hard thing to show on the page, but you did it. Within 10 pages, I totally bought Ruby. This might be a self-serving question, but how in the hell did you do that?

NRS: Gayle, thank you so much! I wish I could explain how I brought Ruby to life—if I knew, maybe it would help when creating future characters—but she simply vividly existed and begged for a story to be told about her. I always saw her from the outside, though, and I think Chloe’s view of her is a lot to do with how her character came to life. It’s a mix of who Ruby really is, and who her little sister thinks she is. I don’t think the novel would work if it had been told in Ruby’s voice.

Ruby is my way of writing a mythical creature. I didn’t write a novel about angels fallen from the clouds, or centuries’ old undead with psychic powers, or faeries or mermaids or anything like that. I wrote Ruby. I wrote a larger-than-life person told from the perspective of the person who loves her most in the world.

During the writing of the novel, my own sister was going through some very tough things. I see now that writing Ruby the way she is was entirely wishful thinking on my part. She’s who I’d be for Rose if I could. I’m nothing like Ruby—in fact, I’m far more like Chloe—but I understand Ruby. If I could make everything better for my sister, no matter the costs, I would.

GF: I love that Ruby is ruthless and Machiavellian, so kind of evil that way, but she’s fiercely loyal and protective of Chloe, the one person she loves, even if she’s trying to control her. So much gray in both these girls. I know the book is not out yet but what are the reactions to Ruby so far?

NRS: I’m not sure about the reactions to Ruby. I hear the good things—when people tell me to my face—but I’ve stopped reading blog reviews and checking Goodreads ratings and I try to close my eyes when something pops up on my Twitter feed. That’s just because I’m in the delicate place of writing a new novel and I need to keep my confidence up, so it’s better to not go looking.

The good things I hear are that people are drawn to Ruby. They find her magnetic and fascinating, though I’m often asked what she is, as if there is one easy answer. Maybe there are those who hate her, I don’t know. I see so much good in Ruby—I see her true intentions—and I just can’t let go of that, though you could argue that my own attachment to my little sister colors my view of Ruby and always will.

GF: What kind of books do you read when you’re writing? I know some authors can’t read novels when they’re drafting. You? Do you listen to music?

NRS: I do listen to music while I write—I have playlists for my novels, and often a single song will go with one section or chapter, which means I can listen to it on repeat for a week or more at a time.

But I’m going through a frustrating period right now where I find it very difficult to read novels while I’m writing the first draft of my new one. I may try reading novels that are distinct enough—adult novels and middle-grade novels not in first person—but the problem is that I just take in so much when I’m first-drafting. Everything and everyone around me can inadvertently influence what makes it to the page. Conversations overhead. Bathroom graffiti spied in my favorite café. Fear of ticks at the writers colony where I wrote the first of these pages. The storm of ice that fell while I was at another colony writing a later chunk of pages… It’s dangerous.

So lately I’ve been reading nonfiction. But I make exceptions for books I’m really excited about—there was absolutely no way I could wait to read WHERE SHE WENT, I hope you know—and I’ll tell you the novel that is begging and daring me to read it this weekend: BEAUTY QUEENS by Libba Bray. [Editor’s note: BQ is so worth it!]

GF: Do you do a lot of research? Did you research IMAGINARY GIRLS? If so, which elements needed research?

NRS: I don’t do a lot of research. I’m terrible that way. I like making things up far more than I like sticking to facts. But I do like to take something real and undeniably in this world and bend it my way, for the sake of a story. I’ve always done that in my writing, and it’s the reason that even after all my journalism classes in college, and editing the newspaper, I gave up writing journalism in favor of fiction.

I wrote IMAGINARY GIRLS from memories of a real place—but it was a place that lived in my mind, one that surely doesn’t exist anymore, since it’s been a while since I spent my summers there during high school. So it’s as much invented as it is real. I didn’t want to go visit while I was writing, for fear it would shatter the illusion I’d created for myself.

There was one piece of the story that I did research, and that was the history of the building of the Ashokan Reservoir, which is the reservoir the one in IMAGINARY GIRLS is based on. Still, I took facts and bent and recast them. That’s the beauty of fiction.

GF: I keep seeing IMAGINARY GIRLS referred to as paranormal or as fantasy, which I find bewildering. (The same thing happened with IF I STAY, which has a fantastical element, I suppose). Your book certainly has fantastical elements: Slight spoiler here but it’s in the trailer—dead girls not staying dead, among other things—but it doesn’t seem paranormal to me. Creepy magical realism? Yes. But not paranormal. Did you know/think you writing a paranormal book? Do you care how your book is categorized?

NRS: I don’t see IMAGINARY GIRLS as paranormal, and I do find it strange that it is often put in that category. I certainly don’t see it as fantasy. If someone sees this book as paranormal or fantasy, they will go in expecting something they may not find here. I think it’s just as much “contemporary” as it is “paranormal”—in fact, I’ve been calling it “contemporary with a fantastical twist,” but the truth is I wrote it inspired by magical realism.

I wish the book didn’t have to be in one category or the other, so I care only if it keeps some readers away because they have a preconceived notion about what it is. My editor was very careful in flap copy and catalog descriptions to keep it open to interpretation. I think she was very smart about that, and I wish all other outside labels could be ignored and the book could just be what it is.

GF: I’ve seen you refer to the amount of work that went into IG, and I know that editor Julie Strauss-Gabel has “put you through the wringer.” (Her words. I am familiar with that wringer.) Without giving away too much of how the book was before/afters—I don’t like to show too much of the sausage-making process—can you tell us about the amount of editing revision that you did? The depth/breadth of it?

Did Julie say that? Haha. She’s so right. She put me through the wringer, and it’s no exaggeration to say it was the hardest I’ve ever worked on anything in my life.

IMAGINARY GIRLS was sold on four chapters and a synopsis, so when I turned in the full manuscript, it needed a lot of work. (A LOT. A first draft is never a finished novel.) I revised my first full draft twice before turning it in. Then I went through five rounds of revision with Julie. Yes, you heard that right: FIVE. Some of those revisions were absolutely massive—between first draft and second, I threw out two hundred pages in the middle—and toward the end we were still fine-tuning, rewording and inserting passages and adding layers of connection and clarification. It was incredibly intense, not just for me, I think for Julie too. But a good editor—a really good editor who’s not afraid to get her hands dirty—is going to make you a better writer, and that happens through revision. Every round of revision took us closer to what the book was meant to be.

I remember something Julie said to me that kept me going. She said there was nothing she wanted to change about the “basic fabric of the book”—the setting, the voice, the concept—and knowing this, I felt complete trust in her. It was my dream as a writer to find the editor who saw such potential in me and found me worthwhile enough to take a risk on. Don’t we all want someone to see that in us, to push us harder than we knew we could work, because she somehow knows what we’re capable of? I feel so lucky that Julie saw that in me… and after all those hours of work and angst and rewriting and rewriting and rewriting… IMAGINARY GIRLS is far better for it.

In fact, I’d do it again. Maybe I will—because I’m writing a new book for Julie right now. I really am hoping we won’t need five rounds of revision on this one, though, because I hope I learned something last time. We’ll see!

GF: What has been the most surprising part of your journey as an author so far?

NRS: I’m still surprised that it’s happening at all. Not to say that I didn’t have faith in myself—I wouldn’t have kept on trying all these years if I didn’t—but I have a hard time believing it’s here, right now, simply because I wanted it for so long.

When the good things started happening with IMAGINARY GIRLS, I was in a state of shock for months. I sold my first book, DANI NOIR, without an agent, since it was something I’d developed directly with an editor, much like the work-for-hire books I’d written before it, and after my experience trying to find an agent in adult literary fiction, I’d accepted the fact that I’d probably never have one. The shock of my life came the week I decided to try one last time to find an agent… this time for IMAGINARY GIRLS.

The problem is, I had just 25 pages. But, with possible interest from my DANI NOIR publisher, and encouragement from a generous editor friend who helped me narrow down my list of agents to try, I sent out queries.

By the end of that same week, I had six agent offers. At the time I was working a day job in book publishing—I was a copy editor at a publishing house in New York—and I had agents emailing and calling me, all at once, all while I was supposed to be checking barcodes on other writers’ book jackets, a huge stack that needed to route upstairs as soon as possible, and I panicked. I remember rushing down the hall to my boss’s office. I needed to tell him that I wanted to take a personal day to meet some agents, but I didn’t even know how to explain what was happening. That there were literary agents who had actually offered to sign ME. After all my years of rejections.

The words spilled out and I remember very vividly how it felt to stand there before my boss’s desk, my legs going weightless under me and my head filling with a hot buzz.

Then I remember sitting down on the floor—actually sitting on the floor of my boss’s office!—and saying, “I think I’m going to faint.”

(Thankfully, my former boss was very understanding, and has been a huge support to me and this book, even after I left the job so I could write it.)

That was the late spring of 2009. I picked the perfect agent and he set me to work writing some more pages so we’d have a decent-size proposal. Then IMAGINARY GIRLS sold to Julie in June. But some days, I’m still sitting on that floor, dizzy with the knowledge that my dream might actually have the chance of coming true. I have to remind myself to stand up and believe it.

#     #     #

I love this story. Maybe it’s because I’m an old broad who didn’t publish her first YA novel until she was 37, this resonates with me. I know IG isn’t out yet so maybe it’s premature to call it a success, but it is a success. As a piece of art, it is. It’s just that good.

Okay, so you want a signed copy? How could you not after that?  All you have to do is comment on the blog with something you learned/mastered over time. We will have two winners. One winner will get a signed copy of IG. The other will get a CD of the playlist that Nova created while writing the book! Contest goes until the end of the week and because it’s the publisher mailing the book, not me, I’m afraid it’s U.S. residents only. Don’t worry. I’ll give away another copy post-pub anywhere in the world.

Let’s all thank Nova for this awesome and honest interview. Thank you, Nova!


Update: We have two winners: Katie and Tracy, who will both get a signed copy and a CD (thank you, Nova!!!). Thanks, everyone for all your shared wisdom! And again, thanks Nova!

  1. Writing adverb-free sentences
    Understanding that parents aren’t perfect

  2. This sounds like a marvelous book! I loved “If I Stay.”

    It was so interesting to hear about your publishing journey. So many books you wrote! Wow.

    Something I mastered over time: playing flute.

  3. What an amazing interview, thank you for sharing your journey. The cover is stunning and the books sounds fantastic. I will definitely put it on my to be bought list.

  4. Love those thoughts on YA! They’re most certainly “real books,” and it gets tiring when, as an adult, we’re put in a position to justify our YA love or getting funny looks while browsing the teen section at the bookstore.

    Something I’ve mastered over time? Crochet. When other kids were out playing kickball or decorating their sidewalks with chalk, I was curled up on the couch with a fat hook and a skein of pink yarn. My early pieces were pretty terrible, but now I can crank out a scarf in one evening.

  5. This book sounds really great, and the cover is… well, I can’t find the words, and I am rarely speechless.

    In the physical sense, I’ve learned (but not remotely mastered) knitting. In the grander sense, I’ve learned that .38 Special’s lyrics are so true: hold on loosely/don’t let go/if you cling too tightly/you’re gonna lose control.

  6. Ya know, I can’t think of a darn thing that I’ve mastered. But, I can think of tons of things that I’m still working on: keeping up a house with 2 kids, cooking, gardening, and writing. I’m a total work-in-progress but this interview has given me hope for the future. Thanks! And you’re right, that cover is gorgeous!

  7. The importance of revising! That it’s okay for your first draft to suck. :-) Thanks for the awesome, inspiring interview!

  8. What I’ve mastered over time is a love of YA. It took me a long time to get here but oh, baby…I’m here and loving it.

  9. Cannot wAit to reAd this book something I mastered over time was makeup applicAtion ( I’m a freelance makeup artist)

  10. Wow. seriously, just wow. This interview is so awe-inspiring. And I have to agree with you on that one: IG does have the most gorgeous cover I’ve seen.

    And you don’t have to enter me. I’m international.

  11. What a compelling interview. I can’t wait to meet Ruby! I agree completely about the cover. I have judged this book by its cover, and now I will buy it.

    Something I’ve learned is to be quiet when my girls are sharing their problems. Advice is necessary only 5% of the time, but it’s a crucial 5% so I have to ration my words.

  12. This is an awesome interview. Mrs. Suma, your journey is certainly inspiring– you never gave up hope and you got Imaginary Girls published, and all that! Imaginary Girls looks amazing, really looking forward to reading it!

    Something I mastered over time… realizing that no one is perfect… and probably overcoming being terribly shy. Seriously. :P

  13. A couple things I’ve mastered:

    (2) being super organized! :)
    (these took me quite a while…)

    Thanks for the giveaway!!


  14. I have mastered staying calm in tough situations. Let me say, this book IS amazing Gayle. I won an ARC of it, WOW is it amazing. It just blew me away. <3

  15. Great interview! Here’s my two.

    1. There is no shame in asking for help.

    2. I can never know everything, so there will always be something new to experience each day.

  16. I’d say the thing I’m mastering over time is the desire/ability to dig deep within myself to find the truths I want to write about instead of trying to fit the mold of what’s already being published. Oh, and I’m still trying to figure out the semi-colon. I afraid I need more time for that one.

    That is a beautiful cover. And I loved the interview. Thanks, Gayle and Nova.

  17. I’ve mastered the art of letting go of my fears.
    I was requested, rejected and tossed aside by a BIG publisher, then I gathered my courage, self-pubbed my debut novel (Goddess Cottage) last month and I am doing quite well.
    It’s a definite confidence booster and I am releasing my second novel next month.
    I think you have to let yourself BE in every moment and trust your own instincts.

  18. Oops. I didn’t follow the rules for entering in my earlier comment. Okay, here’s what I’ve learned:
    1. You have to believe in yourself before anyone else will.
    2. When you fall down, get back up.

    I would love, love, love to win a signed copy.

  19. I’m really excited to read this and share it with my little sister!

    I’ve learned that when you’re an older sister, it’s possible to become a better version of yourself for them, someone more talented than you’ll ever be. For instance, I’m a bad cook and hemophobic, but to them I make the best bowl of Mac&Cheese and I’m their favorite doctor when they’ve fallen off their bikes.

  20. Amazing interview! I cannot wait for this book!

    Something I mastered over time: forgiveness.

    (I know I’m disqualified from winning contests on your blog, but I will wanted to play.)

  21. Fantastic interview! I’m a work in progress, but I’m learning to embrace patience. Very hard for someone who wants things done right now;)

  22. What a great peek into both, the behind-the-curtain processes of publishing, and the complex, often heart-wrenching work of being a writer and becoming a published author.

    Thanks so much for sharing!

  23. I’m a work in progress – I don’t think I’ve mastered anything yet. Everything about me is still developing and growing, and I hope it never stops!

  24. The first few sentences of this review had me adding the book to my ‘to read’ list on Goodreads. Birthday gift cards will make that happen, hooray!

    A life lesson I’ve mastered over time would have to be the awareness that ‘this too shall pass.’ Eventually whatever you’re struggling with will be over, so there’s no point in getting too upset or letting it worry you too much. Also, nothing is ever as bad as you think it’s going to be. The things I dread and put off are never so terrifying that I can’t get through it with grace. That’s something I remind myself of when I have to do something I don’t want to.

  25. What a wonderful interview! Thanks so much for doing/sharing it with us!
    I believe we all dream in someday being “something,” and the chances of it becoming a reality, depend on your continued focus of keeping your eye on the prize………..YOU bring your dreams to yourself with your thoughts and efforts………Ok, enough of my
    I am a self taught fashion designer, yet there is ALWAYS room to grow………and edit!

  26. As I graduated high school with the dream of being a writer I had no idea how much work it was. One of the main things I have learned is, being published does not make you a writer, writing is what makes you a writer.

  27. First of, thank you so much for this interview! I absolutely can’t wait to read IMAGINARY GIRLS.

    Something that I’ve mastered? You know, I really don’t think I’ve mastered anything. I’ve gotten better at understanding other people, at writing, at finishing my work, at helping my family members, etc… but I don’t think I can honestly say that I’ve mastered anything. There’s still so much to learn!

  28. I’ve learned that the first draft will never be perfect, and that it’s best to just write rather than agonize over the words. As a perfectionist with some moderate OCD, that was a difficult lesson, but it’s really helped me with my writing. I’m looking forward to Imaginary Girls!

  29. Thanks so much for posting this great interview! I absolutely can’t wait to read Imaginary Girls. :)

    Something I mastered over time was typing up my own HTML for websites.

  30. I have been looking forward to this book so much I’m rapidly losing the ability to be coherent about it. Congratulations on the dream! And all the hard work that comes with it. :)

    Something that took me a very long time figure out was how to finish things. Writing projects, specifically, I could usually finish homework or a craft project, or chores if my mother was watching closely enough. When I wrote stories, though, I’d be chugging along and then I’d get another idea and I’d flit away to that one and never come back to the original. It took me years to figure out how to take care of those other ideas without moving away from the current project, and years more to figure out how to do it consisitently. I’m ridiculously proud of myself when I look at a stack of finished projects sitting next to my high school binders of eight million ideas and beginnings.

  31. I think the single most important thing I have learned is to love the person I am – past, present, and future. Despite any setbacks or possible regrets, it’s so important to hold yourself in high esteem and really believe in your merit. Then, and only then, are you capable of achieving all your dreams.

  32. Excellent interview – I’m really intrigued by this book now, and loved hearing Nova’s process of becoming a published writer… so inspirational!

    Something I’ve mastered over time is making perfect cinnamon and sugar toast – a treat I’ve loved since I was a kid!

  33. Adding this one to my list!

    I’ve finally learned that it is what it is. You can pretty up the rough edges and slap on a coat of paint, but the sooner you accept the basic state of affairs and start to work within those constructs, the better.

  34. Thanks for the give-away, it is nice to see someone so passionate about their writing!

    Over time I have learned that perseverance of Faith, can conquer all.

  35. Wow. What an utterly fantastic interview! I can’t wait to read IG. :)

  36. Wow, what a great interview. Exactly the words I need to be reading right now. I guess one of the things I’ve learned, but still need to remind myself daily, is that this waiting for the career to take off, what i’ve come to think of as the in the middle part, is as important as the life that i’m expecting to come after it. It’s not something to get through. It’s to be enjoyed. Cheesy, i know, but good to remember when you feel like throwing in the towel.

  37. Something I’ve learned over time (but maybe not mastered quite yet) is not to sweat the small stuff. I try really hard not to obsess over the little things.

    Thanks so much for the giveaway. I can’t wait to read this!

  38. This book sounds amazing! I can’t wait for it to be released and to add it to my library.

    One thing that I have mastered is rollerblading. I have spent my whole life working on it and doing it and I love every minute!

  39. Wow. This books sounds amazing!!!!!
    And on side note one things things I’ve learned over time is that I always need to put my best interests first, I can’t always try to be the person everyone wants me to be.I simply need to be me. Also have practically mastered shelving library books ;)

  40. I just want to let you know I had the opportunity to read an ARC of Imaginary Girls, and I loved it… The story, how the plot developed, the Characters… and Ruby… the mystery that was present all the time… It was a really nice surprise, and I enjoyed it a lot. One of my favorite books this year.

  41. I love love love this interview! I love learning how the process for any book comes about, and IG’s sounds intense.

    I so can’t wait to read IG. It sounds so amazing, and all I’ve heard is praise for it.

    Thank you for the giveaway!

  42. I was just going to say I was 37 when my novel came out. But alas, the ravages of age – I was 38! It took me a while to find YA too – I wrote three chick lit novels, all unpubbed, and a non fiction proposal before finding YA, which I love with every ounce of my soul. Can’t wait to read IG, but don’t enter me, I’ll buy it June 14.

  43. WOW. I cannot wait to get my hands on a copy of this book. And you’re right: as an aspiring and struggling writer, I feel incredibly inspired by this story.

    Something I mastered over time: When I began my current job as a legal assistant, I HATED everything about it. I cannot count the number of times I nearly gave up and walked out. But I needed to work, so I stuck with it. I’m coming up on a year of being here, and I’ve actually come to enjoy my days, and I understand and am challenged and – to an extent – fulfilled by what I do.

  44. The realization that your world is simultaneously smaller and so much larger than you could possibly know.
    This is what I learn every day.
    I hope to read IG as soon as it comes in (I work in an indie bookstore!)
    Thanks for the lovely interview Gayle!

  45. Wow. It’s been a long, long time since I’ve heard about a book I want to read quite so much as this. If only I lived in the US! Sounds like it’s worth the wait, though.

  46. LOVED this interview and thank you for the contest! I’ve learnt over time that my sister really isn’t that bad and whilst we fought when we were growing up, now we’re close and I share my love of YA books with her :)

  47. Thanks so much for sharing! I’ve been dying to read this book ever since I got my first glimpse at the cover months ago. I wish my pre-ordered copy would magically appear right now.

    As for what I’ve mastered? The understanding that people are paying a lot less attention to you than you think when you’re feeling embarrassed. And if they do notice? Who cares?!

  48. I’m am so looking forward to reading Nova’s new book, Imaginary Girls! I’ve always loved YA novels, and spent a lot of time as a young mother, checking YA books out of the library while my kids selected children’s books. The thing in my life that I really had to work hard it, was s fear of living alone, or doing things by myself. I learned to trust myself, to like my own company enough to live alone after my kids were grown and my marriage failed. Now I can read anything I want, any time I want, even if I wake up in the night and cannot sleep!

  49. What a truly fascinating interview by both interviewer and interviewee! Good job, ladies!

    Something I’ve learned over time…hmmm… It took me a while to learn the writing process from when I started “interviewing” bands at 15 for my ghetto zine until I graduated from college. My writing improved with critique, which is hard to take. Maybe I should learn that next. ;)

  50. Your road to becoming an author is very inspiring. Thank you Ms.Forman for bringing this book & author to light!

  51. I can’t think of anything I’ve mastered but the art of procrastination and making chocolate chip cookies. Will that work? I want to read this SO bad. Fantastic interview!

  52. Something that I mastered over time was: socializing. This sounds really weird, but if you knew me, you’d know that I used to be really antisocial. I didn’t (and still don’t) really like to talk to people my age. It sounds really weird. The only people I used to talk to were my teachers and my twin, only because I was required to. That’s why I think I read so much. But then in fourth grade, Hannah (my twin) told me that people were wondering why I didn’t like to talk. I liked to think that the reason I was antisocial was because I was always contemplating the larger matters of the world. I liked to bury my nose in my notebook or a good book.
    She begged me to actually try to socialize, so I did. It was a struggle, but I finally got over most of my antisocial habits after a couple of years and today I’m not too terrible at it. I’m still a tad antisocial. It honestly depends on my mood, and it’s taken a while to learn.

  53. Oh LOVE this interview. Her story is amazing and just makes me all the more excited to read this book! I’m so glad she stuck with it and now has this gorgeous book to show for it. :)


  54. I am so looking forward to this book. Nova’s journey is amazing and I admire her dedication and persistence. Over time, I’ve mastered piano. Love it!

  55. This book sounds amazing. Can’t wait to read it.
    Since you’ve talked about swimming I have to say I feel like I’ve mastered swimming. It is the one sport that I actually excel at which led me to participate in triathlons. Everyone who I swim ahead of passes me once we start running.

  56. I vividly remember the day of the auction, when Nova kept coming into my office, refusing to believe that people were bidding for the right — perhaps “privilege” is a better word — to publish what would become the exquisite IMAGINARY GIRLS. (My eyes still get watery every time I think about reading those first twenty-five pages.) Eventually I said to her, “You know, if this keeps up, one of these visits is going to end up with your giving notice.” As sad as I was not to be able to work with her on a daily basis soon thereafter, I am so much happier that she took the plunge and wrote such a beautiful, magnificent book. She can get up off the floor now. Really. Get up. Off the floor. I have a feeling it’s all gonna be ok.

  57. I actually don’t know if I have mastered anything over time. I am one of those pessimistic people who always sees the need for improvement in anything I do. I guess if I had to chose one thing though, I would say research, and locating hard to find items.

  58. What a great interview! Thanks so much to both of you. :)

    (Not entering the contest because I’m in Canada — but I’ll definitely be picking up a copy of IG when it comes out. Really looking forward to it!)

  59. I just love Nova Ren’s self-expression style. Can’t wait for the book release. One thing I’ve learned over time–wait, two things: 1. Make every sentence matter/everything in the novel has a purpose. 2. Don’t over-imply. The reader can’t “see” what I’m imagining. Get it on the page as clearly as possible.

  60. this book sounds amazinggg. and nova does too. her story is so inspiring, really!

  61. I learned how to accept the fact that I don’t need approval from every single person in my life, that I can make choices because *I* want to make them.

  62. I’m not confident in claiming “master” status of anything in particular, but the thing that comes closest is balancing my writing with having a day job and being a mother, partner, friend, daughter, etc. It’s an ongoing challenge, but I like to think I’m getting better at it all the time.

  63. That I can say no (nicely!) to something without an explanation or feelings of guilt.
    To trust in myself and listen to my gut.
    That people don’t change just because you wish with all your heart that they would.

  64. This sounds so interesting and I can’t wait to read it!
    I don’t know if anything is truly “mastered” because you can always improve, right? But I’d say I’ve mastered the art of texting! Haha!

  65. Wow, thank you both for the amazing, inspiring interview!!!

    Something that I’ve been trying to teach myself in the past couple of years, and I think I’m getting better at it, is to set smaller goals for myself. I used to have these unreasonably high expectations for myself, and then when I failed — inevitably, because I was trying to do something impossible — I felt super disappointed and depressed and guilty. Now I try to be happy with less. It works, sometimes :)

  66. i can’t wait to read IG!
    writing at least 2 hours/1,000 words a day; making keener observations of conversations, nuances in others’ faces, behaviours :)

  67. I’ve learned that I am my own person, and that I’ll stay completely miserable forever if I am always comparing myself to others, always worrying what other people think about me, always second guessing people’s motivations. I’ve learned that it’s okay to do that. I’m allowed, and that it is a MUCH better way of living my life.

  68. I love this interview, thanks! Very excited about Imaginary Girls!!

    Something I’ve mastered over time: patience.

  69. Something I’ve learned over the years can be summed up in one of my favorite quotes:

    “You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.”
    – Jack Landon

    thank you so much Nova AND Gayle for this awesome giveaway <3

  70. Loved the interview. Can’t wait to read the book (also – loved If I Stay).

    I’ve learned that my gut is way more trustworthy than my head.

  71. I’ve learned patience! No, really… And I’ve learned that being peaceful is more fruitful than giving into anger every time. Thanks for the interview and this great contest! :D

  72. Reading this was the perfect way to start my day (I’m working on my novel during breaks at work). Inspiring conversation! What I have mastered is finding a quiet space in my head to dream and think before the words hit the page. I’ve also gotten MUCH better at forgiveness.

  73. After reading this awesome interview, and the first few chapters off of Nova’s site, I can’t wait to get my grubby little hands on Imaginary Girls! But unfortunately, I live in France so I’m disqualified to win a copy. Thankfully, I’m able to order it from The Book Depository. Only 13 more days to go. Can’t wait!

  74. Aggh, the two of you doing an interview is like an awesome sandwich!!! Okay, something I’ve mastered over time:

    Speaking Russian. Unfortunately, the means in which I use my Russian tends to snot it up with slang, abbreviations, and jargon, so it takes me a long time to iron away the Sloppy Russian wrinkles and remember how to read Dostoevsky and Bulgakov. I’m still working on it, and it is such a complex and beautiful language, but so worth the effort for me.

  75. Can’t wait to read this book!

    What I learned: Failure is just one step on the path to success.

  76. I was thrilled to be able to read the first four chapters of IG, and can’t wait to read the rest!

    I won’t say I’ve mastered this, but I have learned to be more patient, to enjoy the process, to be unafraid of taking a more meandering path — this is true not only for my writing, but in other areas of my life (having 4 young kids does this to a person). I’ve also learned to be less afraid of falling and failing, and therefore take more risks. What I’ve mastered? Life on interrupted sleep, and how to tune out the chaos.

    Bravo, Nova!

  77. Great interview. The book sounds awesome and the cover is so gorgeous. I am really excited to read it. Things I’ve mastered. Hmm. I doubt I’ve mastered anything, but I’m pretty good at inserting acupuncture needles and changing diapers, although usually not at the same time. I can also make my eyes shake, do a damn fine dance to Darling Nikki, and see the future every once in a while. I still haven’t gotten the hang of spell check, though. Also it’s my birthday today so I can say I’ve managed to get through the last 34 years without ending up in jail. That’s kind of like mastering something. Congratulations, Nova. Can’t wait to read!

  78. Things I mastered (“mastered” used loosely, of course) over a long period of time: horseback riding, ice skating, b&w photo developing, making it through a power yoga class. Things I tried but gave up before it could ever be time to master them: pottery, painting, piano playing, tango dancing.

    This was a fabulous interview, by the way! Fingers crossed for this contest. I can’t wait to read Nova’s book.

  79. Awesome interview! I love reading books by younger authors. Gives me some more teen hope. ;)
    Something I’ve mastered? I don’t think I’ve really “mastered” anything, but I know my writing has definitely improved over the years. And I loooove to write. ;)

  80. I started knitting when I was nine. Now, at 26, I can say I’ve mastered it!

  81. Excellent, inspiring interview even for an older broad like me who loves YA (your books included, Gayle, plus Dani Noir) and is realizing my current work-in-progress is YA and not chick-lit-mystery like past three. (If my publisher is reading this — surprise!)
    I love all the comments, too, and how many of us consider ourselves works-in-progress. What I’ve come closest to mastering over time is living with lupus, and knowing that while this chronic disease forced me out of my journalism career, it doesn’t define me, and I’m still a writer.

  82. I believe I’ve mastered the art of sleep :)

  83. I’ve learned not to complain. When we first started dating, my boyfriend said I complained constantly — about food, temperature, you name it. Eight years later, I don’t recall why these things bothered me or why I complained so much. Now I either become silent (when I’m hungry) or set a time limit (until we walk to the end of this street) during which I rant and then shut up. My tirades are rare, though. In general, I’ve grown into a much more placid person who takes everything in stride.

  84. I would love a copy of the book! Something that I’ve mastered is sort of strange….cup stacking! It seems impossibly hard to begin with, but once I learned the sequences I just had to work on improving my hand-eye coordination and speed. Now I stack like a pro! :)

  85. So many things I have mastered but the most important one I think would have to be allowing myself to be open and not allow my past problems to effect the present. I went through a lot when I was younger and even through high school. But with the help of loving friends and loving boyfriend I have overcome my faults and problems to turn them into a learning experience and use them to help others who are battling depression and suicide.

  86. Something I have learned is that it’s never too late to follow your dreams. Recently inspired by Mia, I have decided to finally learn how to play the cello, even with two small kids and a full-time job, rather than wait until I’m retired and have more time on my hands. Thank you for the unintentional push to be passionate about something even while completely immersed in the 12,000 other things that fill up life!

  87. something i’ve learned overtime is not to have too many huge regrets in my life. i don’t want to be 60 years old and be filled with “what ifs.” i already have a couple of huge ones and i’m only in my twenties. now i’m realizing i need to live my life and think for myself instead of just having other people decide for me–if i do that i hope i won’t have too many regrets of things i wish i did but didn’t in my old age.

  88. Well, I have never been very good at art. This is mostly because I have never taken an art class, and everything I know I’ve taught myself. I’m still not amazing, but I can actually draw some pretty decent stuff-either out of my head or based off of something. Also, I REALLY REALLY want to read that book now!!!! =D

  89. Great Interview! I also love the cover, and the whole book sounds interesting. I havent really mastered anything yet, but I will soon, and this interview has gave me insight of what that world is like! I cant wait to read this book !

  90. That was an amazing review & like you said how could I not want to read it after reading that review! I am still young and I haven’t had a chance to really live life. However, in the short years that I have lived I have learned that it pointless to hold grudges. The person that did you wrong could really care less. They are living their life without giving you a single thought. All you are doing is wasting time and energy.

  91. Great interview! I loved hearing about Nova Ren Suma’s background. Something that I’ve been learning over time (and am still working at mastering) would be photography. I love it, and I’ve always been told by various art teachers that I have a great eye for things, and I’ve gotten pretty good with my camera. But mastering it the way that I have envisioned it in my head is something I have to keep working at, possibly forever, lol. Thank you for the wonderful interview and the chance to win a copy of this book! It sounds amazing.

  92. Great interview! I’m not sure there’s much you CAN master in life, but the fact that we all strive for something makes living worth it. Oh, and I cannot wait to read Imaginary Girls. It sounds amazing and the cover is breath-taking.

  93. A thing that I mastered over time would be to create a hard outer shell over myself. Hiding away my emotins, and a piece of who I am. Letting my true self be revealed only in my journel. Of course I do try to be myself at most times; but sometimes, some things need to stay hidden.
    The worlds like that…

  94. What I have mastered over time: positive visualization. During exams, break-ups, relationships, friendships, carear goals, EVERYTHING. I close my eyes, take deep breaths, and visualize what I want to happen. It is the only way I have learned to deal with the crippling stress life some times brings. Positive visualization has truly changed my life.
    (It works!! Try it!)

  95. Something I have “mastered” over time (loosely mastered :)) is roller skating derby-style. :)

    Great interview. Thanks for the giveaway!

  96. I’ve learned that things don’t have to be perfect, they just have to be.


  97. Every time I open my mouth to tell a lie—even a white lie—it tastes bad in my mouth. I haven’t told a single one in over six months. #newyearsgoals

  98. Something I’ve mastered over time is well, though it’s rather uninspiring compared to some of these comments, is portion control. I know that sounds lame but it has been a struggle for me all my life and at near 30 I feel like I finally have a healthy perspective on my weight.

    EXCELLENT interview! You two have skills together.

  99. Learned/mastered over time: patience and faith.
    ..That’s why I am counting on that international post-pub copy. ;)

    Great interview and much love from one of your international readers.

  100. Something I’ve learned over time: Life happens. Embrace the good, dismiss the bad, and celebrate any victory, no matter how small it may be.

    I’ve heard a lot about Imaginary Girls; I’m looking forward to reading it eventually.

  101. Something I’ve (mostly) mastered: patience. Being impatient almost always won’t help, so what’s the point? Now, I’ll be waiting for my signed book at the mailbox…patiently.

  102. This was a fantastic interview, so thank you Gayle and Nova for chatting! The cover of Imaginary Girls still gets me each time I see it. It’s always great to hear great writing takes patience, time, and work particularly as I finish up my school quarter this week!

    If I’ve mastered anything overtime, it would be efficient packing believe it or not! After many moves and many travels over the years, packing quickly and compactly saves time!

  103. Something that I have mostly mastered is procrastination. I used to procrastinate with everything, but I have been doing much better lately. I just have to force myself to do what I need before I have a chance to put it off.

    Steelereviews AT gmail DOT com

  104. To apologize for something you’ve done wrong isn’t a weakness, but a strength, and your first reaction to something isn’t necessarily the best one.

  105. What a meaty interview! Loved it!

    I feel weird claiming to have ‘mastered’ anything, but I’ve come a long way with my writing over the past six+ years, enough to get a book sold. I’ve also put in the hours to become a decent (hula)hooper. It’s a great complement to the time spent in front of a computer.

  106. Thanks, Nova, for the great interview:)

    I’ve read so much about this book and I’m really excited to read it. I’m an international participant, so I can’t enter for the giveaway right now but I would like to wish Nova all the best in her future writing endeavours.

    Good luck!


    P.S. Gayle- I’ve just started reading If I Stay tonight. I got it a few weeks back and promised myself I would wait until exams were over before reading it. Exams end this Friday and I couldn’t wait any longer. I really should be studying for my last two exam papers but I just had to read your book. I’ve got Where She Went on its way to me in the mail, so hopefully it’ll be here as soon as I’m done with If I Stay. I’m only a few pages into If I Stay but I’m hooked already. I just have to limit my reading until I write that final paper this week. I wish you all the best with your writing- and I hope to be around to read many more of your works:)


  107. Great interview! One lesson that took many years to learn is that often times the things that we worry about the most never happen. Excessive energy is wasted on events that rarely occur.

  108. I love the cover, too! And this is a great interview:) Can’t wait to get my hands on this VERY REAL book called Imaginary Girls! ;D

  109. Oh, and I almost forgot! I’ve learned and mastered how to look like I’m relaxed in a very odd situation! There’s plenty of those… Thanks for the giveaway!

  110. Wow, reading this post just brightened up my day. I LOVED it. So inspiring.

    Discipline. I haven’t quite mastered it yet but disciplining myself through dance.

  111. I wanted to say thank you to everyone for reading and posting these great comments—and for sharing what you’ve learned and mastered. I loved reading these!

    And a giant thank-you to Gayle for having me and for being such a supporter of IMAGINARY GIRLS. It was an honor to do this interview with you, Gayle.

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