Nova's Distractions

I'm Nova Ren Suma. I wrote the YA novels 17 & GONE and IMAGINARY GIRLS (both out now from Dutton/Penguin). My new novel, THE WALLS AROUND US, is coming March 24, 2015, from Algonquin YR. novaren.com

17&Gone

Imaginary Girls

Imaginary Girls paperback
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I choose to be happy regardless of how many books I’ve sold or how much money I have in the bank.

Writer Camille DeAngelis in a guest blog post for Nova Ren Suma. 

http://distraction99.com/2014/06/09/the-book-of-your-heart-series-camille-deangelis/

(via anna-schumacher)

Of course, it’s tempting to sigh, “It’s the best thing I’ve written and nobody wants it,” but I’m too old now—old as in wise—to indulge in that sort of talk. So what is there to be learned from a situation like this? Is it any different for me, handling this “failure” as an already-published novelist? Nope. It’s only a reminder that I write first and foremost for myself.
Camille DeAngelis, author of Mary Modern and Petty Magic, on the “book of her heart” in a guest post on distraction99.com

Sharing a new blog series: the Book of Your Heart! Here’s Camille DeAngelis (@cometparty) on the book of her heart:

thebookofyourheart-FEATURED
thebookofyourheart-eThree years ago as of this week, the novel I’d consider the “Book of My Heart” was published. On Saturday, June 14, when Imaginary Girlsis officially three years old, I will tell you all why it connects so deeply to me and why I’d consider it the book of my heart apart from all books I’ve written or will write. I’ll also hold a giveaway for some elusive hardcovers! So what is a book of an…

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Something happens when you publish a novel for the first time. And I mean after the shock and thrill of selling the book and all those glorious and dazed dream-worthy moments leading up to when the book hits shelves, all tangled up with your hopes and expectations and the promises you may have been led to believe… I mean after, when people outside your writer friends and your agent and editor and significant other and the people who work at your publisher start to read the book. When you see how it performs in the world. How it’s taken, remembered or forgotten. How it’s interpreted, or misinterpreted.

All these other voices start seeping in. Critics. Reviewers. Bloggers. Readers. Goodreads-enthusiasts. Tweeters. Screamers. Whisperers. People at events who ask kind of odd questions. People who sound disappointed. People who seem confused. People who say beautiful things—even and especially the people who say beautiful things.

Maybe this is just me, but I started hearing a lot of voices after Imaginary Girls was published. When I was writing the next book, 17 & Gone, I was hearing them. During every draft, on every page, I was hearing these outside voices, considering their expectations and their confusions and their hopes and their dislikes and likes and food preferences. The little cocoon I used to write in was burst open and slashed by fingernails. I was never alone. My mind was never quiet, even at a writers colony. I couldn’t stop hearing all the things I would do wrong, would screw up.

I fought this and finished the book and it was published… But the experience changed me. I vowed to never put myself in that place again.

When I was writing The Walls Around Us, I decided to be simply and only myself. This led to me choosing a new publisher: Algonquin Young Readers. And this led me also to be honest with myself about what I wanted to do this time. I wasn’t writing for recognition. I wasn’t writing for commercial success, or should I say “success” because the idea of that changes with every new hoop I jump through. I stopped caring so much—honestly, I began to not care much at all—what would be expected of me from my next book or wanted from me or what would disappoint. I wanted to write this story the best way I could, and nothing more.

Like I’ve said before, I wrote this book for me. Completely and entirely for myself, in the way I wanted it to be. And in these past months while I’ve stayed quiet on this blog, I was revising and working with my brilliant editor who helped me reach my vision, and the book was finished, polished, sent off, and copyedited. Next there will be ARCs.

The other week, while I was reviewing the copyedits, I allowed myself one last read-through of the manuscript. A close, careful read. A scrutinizing read. A chance to pick myself apart and be honest about how I felt about what I’d written.

I kept my ears open for those voices I remembered flooding me during the writing of 17 & Gone.

…But there was a clearer voice. Mine. And I finished my last read of my book with this strange, new, itchy feeling inside me.

Satisfaction.

I’ve never felt so content with anything I’ve written—EVER.

I found this note on the last page of the copyedited manuscript:

 

It was wonderful to see that, and I will never forget it.

But the best feeling was knowing I stayed true to myself… and after a whole ton of work, because yes I did work hard on this, I was able to make the book into everything I’d wanted it to be. I stood there on the creaky, slanted, wooden floor in my living room, and I felt myself in my own skin, the weight of my well-read pages in my hands, and I told myself to remember this moment.

No matter what happens after (after the book comes out, afterafterafter), I have this.

Remember the good things, writer friends. Hold them close. Keep them safe. Try not to let the outside voices drown them out.

(This post originally published on my blog distraction99.com)

After a long time away, I blogged again. This one is: When You Start Writing (Again) Only for You:

Note_from_CE_featured

Something happens when you publish a novel for the first time. And I mean after the shock and thrill of selling the book and all those glorious and dazed dream-worthy moments leading up to when the book hits shelves, all tangled up with your hopes and expectations and the promises you may have been led to believe… I mean after, when people outside your writer friends and your agent and editor and…

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anneursu:

Right now, children’s literature is seeing an intense flare-up in the ongoing conversation about the diversity crisis in children’s books. While this conversation has been going on for decades, now social media has given the people having it megaphones, and they are using them to brilliant ends. The conversation is loud, important, and people are listening.

 So naturally the mainstream media uses this time to publish pieces that give a straight white guy credit for revolutionizing the industry.

 Last Sunday, the New York Times Book Review featured a rather bizarre review of John Corey Whaley’s Noggin by AJ Jacobs. Noggin is about a boy whose cryogenically-preserved head gets attached to another boy’s body. Remember that part for later. Jacobs begins the review, adorably, by discussing how confusing being a teenager is and how Whaley’s book is a really metaphor for teenage alienation. And then, well, I really need to quote this part:

With Noggin, Whaley is straddling two genres. Its most obvious allegiance is to the category of teenage romances featuring supernatural characters.

 Well, obviously. Guy with cryogenically frozen head gets used to new body=supernatural romance. It must be embarrassing for Whaley to have his influences be so patent.

 Jacobs continues:

 But “Noggin” actually owes more to the John Green genre, which I like to call Greenlit. Green is the master of first-person, funny-sad young adult novels. His most popular — “The Fault in Our Stars” — also has a main character who is battling cancer.

 Ah. “The John Green genre,” and “Greenlit!” Sure! Jacobs is talking with a lot of authority for someone who has no idea what he’s talking about. He’s not alone, though—lots of people who have no idea what they are talking about believe that YA is two genres: Twilight and its imitators and John Green and those he supposedly inspired. Guess which one they think is better?

 The idea that first person funny-sad contemporary YA realism is “the John Green genre” might come as a surprise to all the women who have been writing it for a decade or two or three. I’m sure it came as a surprise to John Corey Whaley, too, who thought he was writing his own books. But both books have cancer in them, so Noggin obviously owes a big debt.

 Jacobs concludes:

Whenever I finish a novel with a high concept, I do a little test and ask if the book would hold up if the conceit were magically stripped away, if you removed the gimmicks and were left with only the emotional skeleton.

 First off, the equation between “high concept” and “gimmick” is reductive, demeaning, and highly revelatory. We could spend a long time unpacking the biases there. Secondly, how is this any different than evaluating realism? Don’t we, as readers, hope for all our literary stories to have a strong emotional skeleton?

 Finally, Jacob’s “little test” is critically suspect at best. Remember the part about the cryogenically-preserved head? This isn’t a gimmick, it isn’t frou frou; it’s an essential part of the story, a deliberate choice made by the author to deliberate ends. And I’m just not sure you’re supposed to evaluate surrealism by removing the surreal parts so you can evaluate the parts you understand.

 One thing we’ve learned: it’s all-too-easy to let popular narrative guide your views on YA—certainly much easier than ever researching or reading in the field you are talking about. These articles about YA are based entirely on accepted truths from people who live entirely outside the field; they keep getting perpetuated, and everyone nods sagely as someone else proclaims John Green is saving poor teenage girl readers from those silly silly vampire books.

 Why, just yesterday the WSJ featured a big profile on Green in conjunction with The Fault in our Stars release. And it would have been so easy for them to just write a good, accurate profile of a highly successful, really interesting author with a movie coming out. But the article just has to overstep:

Some credit him with ushering in a new golden era for contemporary, realistic, literary teen fiction, following more than a decade of dominance by books about young wizards, sparkly vampires and dystopia. … He’s thrown his weight behind several young-adult authors who write realistic novels and are now regarded as rising stars, including Rainbow Rowell, E. Lockhart, and A.S. King.

Well. Yes, some do credit him with that. But not anyone who knows what they are talking about.

 Rainbow Rowell is a star, but she rose to prominence last year, so calling her a rising star isn’t wholly ignorant, just a little behind the times; more, while John Green did give her a good review in the NYTBR, it’s demeaning to Rowell’s talent and accomplishments to credit her blockbuster success to it. And, speaking of demeaning, A.S. King and e. lockhart are John Green’s peers. They are stars, entirely on their own merit. They are blazing trails, not following them.  The idea that their success has anything at all to do with John Green’s weight can only be entertained if you think that stuff men do is just inherently more important. (And that John Green can time travel.)

Of all the ludicrous and sexist things that have been said about YA of late, this one is the most ludicrous and sexist. But it’s a particularly flagrant example of what’s been happening in the conversion for years. And there’s something really troubling about it all—in a field where the books supposedly appeal primarily to teenage girls, where the stars are innovative and brilliant authors who are predominantly female, we’re telling these readers that maybe they can aspire to growing up to be influenced by a guy, too.

 Also, A.S. King and e. lockhart do not write realism. There’s so much ignorant and insulting about the way they were positioned in that article, and it seems particularly cruel to deny these authors their immense sophistication and ingenuity—and then credit their success to someone who writes much more conventionally. King’s books are magical realism, as is lockhart’s latest (and her previous books all use postmodern techniques). Magical realism is actually an entirely separate genre from realism. 

 This is important: when the magic in magical realism is treated as irrelevant or erased, critics are taking a profound literary tradition and robbing it of its significance and import, erasing it altogether. And since this is a genre that rose out of and has been perpetuated by authors from Latin America, the Middle East, and Africa, (and whose practitioners in this country are predominantly female and of color) that gets pretty disturbing.

 The American literary canon defaults to realism. Novels that don’t fit in this mold are seen in dominant literary culture as other—a deviation from the norm. You can see this bias all through this article—the quotes from editor Zareen Jaffrey and agent Michael Bourret as presented* imply that only characters in realism can be relatable, and only realistic stories can be character-driven.

 Which is poppycock.  

 (*For the record, I don’t buy for a second that either of them said those words in that order.)

 Realism is a construct, the same as any other genre. In America, it sits in a place of privilege as something more literary and authentic—but this is about nothing but tradition. And it’s a tradition of white male authors and the white male critics who canonized them.   

 In American theater in the mid-20th century, serious plays tended to work a certain way; this is the well-made play—realistic domestic dramas with unity of place and time. This is the theater of Eugene O’Neill, Arthur Miller, and Tennessee Williams—all still considered the titans of American Theater. But around the 1960’s, voices started to rise up from the margins, and the dominant form didn’t work for stories they wanted to tell. The feminists, the writers of color, the LGBT writers exploded conventions in the structure and language of theater. For so long, realism was the standard, but for these writers, form was political—and they had to remake it in order to tell their own stories.

 Naturally, certain people get unhappy when anyone from the margins remakes anything. Young playwrights are still often taught that the correct method of storytelling in theater is the well-made play. And those game-changing contributions from feminist, black, Latin, Native, and LGBT playwrights still get treated as “other,” as fodder for diversity day on the syllabus instead of essential texts in understanding the history and capacity of theater.

 And, as much as those who clutch to realism as standard would deny it, this too is political.

 So the peculiar canonization of John Green and this string of bizarre articles that anoint him as the vanguard of a post-sparkly-vampire seriousness in YA isn’t simply about taking a white male more seriously than everyone else. It’s also about privileging a certain narrative structure—the dominant narrative’s dominant narrative. It’s not only that Green is a straight white man, it’s that he writes in the way that generations of straight white men have deemed important and Literary. And in art, the remaking of form has historically made the establishment very uncomfortable. There’s so much innovation in YA (and, hi, middle grade!) and its audience is wonderfully open to new stories told in new ways. By holding up Green as an exemplar, by shoving his peers into his shadow, these critics are telling writers who might be innovating: if you want to be important, write like him.

 It’s not just YA, of course. Recently the New Yorker posted an essay by Junot Díaz about his experience in an MFA program, “MFA vs POC.”

 The title pretty much sums it up. The essay is devastating if you care about literature, young writers, or, you know, human beings. Díaz recounts the misery of being a person of color in a program where whiteness is considered the norm, and where no one ever thinks there’s any reason to question that norm. Of course, this showed up in everyone’s writing:

 From what I saw the plurality of students and faculty had been educated exclusively in the tradition of writers like William Gaddis, Francine Prose, or Alice Munro—and not at all in the traditions of Toni Morrison, Cherrie Moraga, Maxine Hong-Kingston, Arundhati Roy, Edwidge Danticat, Alice Walker, or Jamaica Kincaid. In my workshop the default subject position of reading and writing—of Literature with a capital L—was white, straight and male.

This is a literary tradition perpetuating itself by ignoring other voices, treating them as unserious. It’s normalizing one type of storytelling and casting the others as suspect. And, among many other things, it’s going to make our literature really boring.

 This isn’t to say that contemporary realism belongs to white men alone; for recent example, Pointe by Brandy Colbert and Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass by Meg Medina use the form beautifully, and to affecting, important, and political ends. In their hands, realism becomes a tool for speaking truths about gender, race, and class.

It is one way. But it is not the only way.

 Fantastical elements, non-linear storytelling, unconventional language, postmodernism, experimentation and innovation—these elements tend to otherize a book in our literary culture. But why? Why is a fantasy less serious? Why is it okay to strip the magic from magical realism? This is a reactionary response, based on long literary history, and it’s all about power.

 We need diverse books. In children’s literature, this is urgent for the well-being of our kids. But it’s also about the well-being of literature itself. Art thrives on being challenged and questioned and pushed—and it’s not the establishment writers and critics who are going to do it. Every single writer benefits from reading stories that play with language and structure and reality—and so do the readers.

 We need diverse books, but it’s going to be hard to get them when we keep privileging a certain narrative structure, when we keep erasing the elements that make a book unconventional, and when we ignore decades of female writers to canonize one of the white men who follow the path they laid out. This idea of a white male vanguard leading a revolution in realism is reactionary on so many levels. It’s time to stop it. It’s time to start looking ahead.

The nervous moment when the copyedits on your novel that barely anyone has read land on your desk… But look at the note I found on the last page! #TheWallsAroundUs #Spring2015

Fate intervened. Some of us, that day, she led inexorably through the gates of death. Some of us, innocent and unsuspecting, took, unwillingly, that one last step to oblivion. Some of us took very little sugar.
Shirley Jackson, “We Have Always Lived in the Castle” (via micolz)

yaflash:

Also don’t even get me started on the number of times someone reads a YA novel that is beautifully written and full of rich characters and incredible story, and then they go, “This isn’t really YA. Obviously the publisher just wanted to put it in a HOT MARKET, but it’s clearly too good to be YA. It should be adult fiction.”

1) LOLOLOLOL people still think YA is a “hot market,” aka anything that shows up in that section will sell like hotcakes. Haha no.

2) Books for young people can also be good literature. The two are not mutually exclusive.

3) It’s okay to like a book that isn’t approved by a million white dude academics. You don’t have to prove to yourself or others that it’s “not really for kids.” You liked a YA book. It’s okay. You’re still very smart and sophisticated and junk, I promise.

4) Can we please just move past the idea that the default state of YA is “complete shit except for, like, three books that shouldn’t really be there.”

5) Please stop.

(via toricentanni)

kieljamespatrick:

Opens Book. “For the girls with messy hair and thirsty hearts”. Ok I’m hooked.

(via fuckyeahbookarts)