Interview: Nova Ren Suma, YA Author

color_on_roof_border_highNova Ren Suma is the author of IMAGINARY GIRLS and DANI NOIR (aka FADE OUT). 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 forthcoming March 21, 2013, from Dutton/Penguin, i.e. TOMORROW! Click here to buy!

17&Gone_300Let’s see how Nova answers the Proust Questionnaire!

What is your idea of happiness?
Those few moments after writing the perfect chapter, page, or paragraph, when your heart is beating from the wild intensity of it and you feel accomplished and content and fully alive… however long those moments last, before the inevitable doubts set in.

What is your favorite song? When do you first remember hearing it?
I go through cycles in which I love a song to death and basically kill it by playing it on repeat for weeks, even months, on end while I write to it. In order to see which song I most destroyed this way out of all the songs in my music library, I checked the “Top 25 Most Played” songs in iTunes. It’s Stars by the xx, which was one of the songs on the 17 & GONE writing playlist. I first discovered this song through my little sister, who opened my eyes to the xx years ago. I get the best music from her.

Which talent would you most like to have?
Public speaking.

On what occasion do you lie?
When asked how I am. So I pretty much lie every day.

What is your present state of mind?
As I type this, my new book, 17 & GONE, is coming out in about a month, so my state of mind is a little disconcerting. Mostly it’s anxiety, dread, and doomsday scenarios laced with childlike excitement and smiley giddiness. Talk to me after, and I hope to be much calmer and more myself.

What is your motto?
Life isn’t worth living unless you follow your dreams. I’d rather be an extraordinary failure who at least tried to reach her greatest dreams in life than an ordinary, even content person who makes excuses and never bothers to try.

What character trait do you most value in your friends?
Trustworthiness. If I can’t trust someone, I don’t count them as a true friend.

Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
I have to scan my manuscripts to remove instances of the words “just” or “only.” In conversation, I tend to say “awesome” a lot, even when things aren’t even approaching any level of awesome. It’s annoying, even disingenuous, and I wish I could stop.

Your favorite painting?
This doesn’t seem at all like me—because it’s a religious painting, and because it’s in shades of brown, and I don’t much like the color brown—but there’s this painting that has intrigued me for years. I wouldn’t say it’s a favorite, more an obsession. The painting is Joan of Arc by Jules Bastien-Lepage. I must have seen it in a museum somewhere, and I bought a print of it, which hung on my wall for years. I think it’s the expression on her face, the haunted look in her eyes, and her reaching arm. It also looks like she’s standing in the backyard of a house I remember from Woodstock, New York, my hometown. So in a way, it feels more like a memory of something I witnessed than a painting viewed in a gilt frame in a museum.

Jules Bastien-Lepage, 1879

Jules Bastien-Lepage, 1879

What is your favorite journey?
The one taken while writing a novel.

What is your favorite time of day?
I am going to be very specific. 11:11 a.m.
I especially like when I happen to look up at a clock, accidentally, and see it’s exactly that time.

With which literary hero or heroine would you most like to share a coffee?
My literary heroines are always the writers who create the characters, not the characters themselves. I wish I could have shared a coffee in a Paris café with Jean Rhys. Reading her work in my early twenties transformed my writing.

What do you need to achieve before you can die happy?
This is something I came to realize very recently. I’ve achieved what I wanted. I reached my dreams. I wrote and published the novel of my heart (IMAGINARY GIRLS, a book written for my beloved little sister), and I was able to spend time being a full-time writer and living in my favorite neighborhood in the world, Greenwich Village, with someone I love most in the world, my husband. It’s all I wanted out of life. I don’t need to collect more objects or own property or start a family or win awards or get famous or even publish more books. The truth is, when I am deeply honest with myself, I can see that I did what I set out to do. If a meteor struck me tomorrow, wouldn’t I die happy? I think so.

Who or what is your first love?
His name starts with an E. I met him when I was a teenager, and we are still together—nineteen years later.

What’s the last dream you remember?
This was two mornings ago. It was the end of the world, or some kind of disaster in the city, and E and I were running through a maze of streets. He got up ahead and I was trying to follow. He was wearing a white T-shirt, but I lost sight of him. I lost him. And I spent the rest of the dream looking for anyone in a white T-shirt, needing to catch up to him, needing to find him. When I woke up, I was so relieved he was there beside me in the bed.

What’s your madeleine?
Driving in a car at night while it rains. I’m in the backseat, my cheek pressed against the cool window, and outside is the pounding, rhythmic sound of a rainstorm. We drive through it. We don’t stop. A shiver crawls up my back, and I close my eyes.

This is something that happened a few times during my childhood. It reminds me of feeling safe.

Without thinking, in one word: what is life?
Possibility.