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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Write the book you want to read, the one you cannot find.
― Carol Shields

My new YA novel 17 & GONE is on sale today!

17 & GONE is a story about the lost and the missing, a theme that’s haunted me ever since I myself was 17 years old. It’s a story that may not be what it seems. I hope you’ll want to read it!

For a peek behind-the-scenes at what went into writing this book, here’s my “Haunted at 17” confession.

And if YOU write a “Haunted at 17” blog to help me celebrate the release of the book, send me or tweet me the link! I’ll read every word and share it on Monday with the other posts. Plus, if you want, I’ll send you some 17 & GONE swag!

This book is out. In the world. As of right now. It has happened. No one can take it back from me now. 17 & GONE. I wrote it. 

This book is out. In the world. As of right now. It has happened. No one can take it back from me now. 17 & GONE. I wrote it. 

It’s the first day of March, so today is the first day I can officially say it: My new YA novel, 17 & GONE, comes out this month!

(March 21 in the US, and March 26 in Canada!)

The opening lines:


Girls go missing every day. They slip out bedroom windows and into strange cars. They leave good-bye notes or they don’t get a chance to tell anyone. They cross borders. They hitch rides, squeezing themselves into overcrowded backseats, sitting on willing laps. They curl up and crouch down, or they shove their bodies out of sunroofs and give off victory shouts. Girls make plans to go, but they also vanish without meaning to, and sometimes people confuse one for the other. Some girls go kicking and screaming and clawing out the eyes of whoever won’t let them stay. And then there are the girls who never reach where they’re going. Who disappear. Their ends are endless, their stories unknown. These girls are lost, and I’m the only one who’s seen them. 

Praise for 17 & Gone:

“Elegant, riveting, powerful, and poignant, this suspenseful, supernatural tale slips under the skin, inking out a haunting tapestry of menace and madness.” —Libba Bray, author of The Diviners and A Great and Terrible Beauty

“Suma breaks reality and twists it back together in a devastating and beautiful new form.” —Kiersten White, author of Paranormalcy and Mind Games

“Suma follows Imaginary Girls with another reality-blurring, psychologically complex mystery… . Through Lauren’s unraveling journey, readers learn firsthand what it’s like to question one’s own sanity.” Publishers Weekly

★ ”This is ingeniously crafted … [An] intimate, compelling exploration of a troubled young woman’s life.” The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books, starred review

“A truly original novel, different from anything else on the shelves… . Suma blends the real with the fantastic so seamlessly that readers will question everything.” Romantic Times Book Review

More about the book here!

I wanted to take part in this picture prompt from Real Actual Hilary—aka Hilary Smith, author of Wild Awake, a 2013 book I am DYING to read, aka “INTERN,” author of the blog “INTERN spills.” She posted an unedited photo of her bookshelf and encouraged others to do the same.

This is what happens when you run out of bookshelves: You find anywhere and everywhere to stack your books. The bookshelves we have can’t contain all of our books, so I had to expand. Here are the stacks I made on the fireplace mantel in the bedroom:

The book stacks on the fireplace mantel& so high, they cover the framed photograph on the wall behind it!

(Want to see more clearly? Bigger image.)

Those stacks are as high as I can make them without the books toppling down. They’re also disorganized in that some of E’s film-school books are in there (you may be able to find which books are his)—and some of my own grad-school course books are there, too.

Not photographed: Three bookshelves and multiple other book stacks elsewhere in the apartment.

Of note in these fireplace stacks:

  • The book that made me want to become a writer when I first read it at 12 years old (Cat’s Eyeby Margaret Atwood)
  • The book from which I performed a dramatic monologue in acting class during junior high (Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte)
  • The book that still has my angsty doodles and meaningful underlines during my teenage years (The Collected Works of Anne Sexton)
  • The book that blew my mind when I was 18 (Empire of the Senseless by Kathy Acker)
  • The YA novel that blew my mind when I was aspiring to write YA (Cracked Up to Be by Courtney Summers)
  • The novel that led me to give up writing fiction for adults and turn to YA (Feathered by Laura Kasischke)
  • The book I borrowed from a friend and just realized I forgot to give back (Birds of America by Lorrie Moore)
  • My favorite book during my twenties (Good Morning, Midnight by Jean Rhys)
  • One of my favorite YA novels of 2012 (Amelia Anne Is Dead and Gone by Kat Rosenfield)
  • The book I bought in the airport and still haven’t read (The Girl Who Played with Fire by Steig Larsson)
  • The book I should have read years ago because once I did I felt like it was written just for me (We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson)
  • The classic novel I hate (On the Road by Jack Kerouac)
  • The random movie that shouldn’t be on this shelf (The Lorax)

That’s my unedited bookshelf! Will you post yours?

(Originally posted on my blog)

On the outside, this happened:

I revealed the cover and plot summary for my new novel 17 & Gone—and I have a pub date: March 21, 2013!

If you are a librarian or a blogger or reviewer,you can request an ARC here, for when ARCs are available, which thankfully isn’t today.

And I need to update my websites once I get a moment.

But on the inside, I’m a strange jumble of nerves and yes excitement but more nerves, come from having something kept private for so long now being pulled up into the light. Do any other authors get this, too, or am I a complete weirdo?

I am also in the midst of a creative breakthrough that I can’t talk about yet. Partly it came from failing utterly at this writing experiment (which deserves a whole separate blog that I will get to) and also from needing to follow my heart right now. Needing to write what I want to write, and—no offense—not care what it is I think YA readers and the market and critics and anyone else might expect or want from me. 17 & Gone is very much me, it’s kind of ridiculous, and I love this book all the more for that, so I might as well fling myself off the deep end and keep going instead of wishing I could be more commercial, which is a flaw I have, like wishing I could be a flamingo when I’m actually an ostrich. I’m an ostrich, damn it!

I didn’t build this semblance of a life to try to be anyone other than who I am.

And thus ends the cryptic talk about my behind-the-scenes creative breakthrough! How many of these does a writer have to go through before it sticks?

Who do you show your writing to? On my blog today I’m revealing the few—very, very few—people who see my writing in-progress and why, for me, it’s so important to be careful who reads and to hold it close as long as you may need to.

Visit my blog for more, and tell me: Who are your writing confidantes?

There is the obvious karmic, good-energy stuff of not giving in to the dark side. It feels so much better to go to the gratitude place. And just as there is always something to feel bitter about, there is always something to feel grateful for. But there is also a practical side for writers, for all creative people, for all people, really. It can be oddly satisfying to wallow in bitterness. For about two seconds. And then you get pulled under and have to expend all this energy just swimming, keeping your head above water. Energy that would otherwise be spent creating.
Gayle Forman, author of If I Stay, Where She Went, and Sisters in Sanity, from her guest blog on the “Turning Points” blog series on distraction99.com. Read the whole inspiring post.

(Originally posted in the What Scares You? blog series on novaren.wordpress.com.)

(Design & illustration by Robert Roxby)

The book that terrified me when I was twelve years old isn’t a ghost story. It’s not a horror novel, either (though I did read all of my stepfather’s Stephen King novels—I basically read anything in the house that had words on it, including all my mom’s Atwood, Walker, Piercy, Jong, Zimmer Bradley, and Auel novels as well as cereal boxes and shampoo bottles).

No, the book that scared me back then isn’t fiction at all, and I think that’s why the lasting terror. Because this book was TRUE. A doctor said so. It certainly wasn’t published to haunt an unwitting twelve-year-old girl.

The book had a rust-red hardcover spine. The book jacket was long-lost, so all I remember is catching sight of the naked spine on my parents’ bookshelves in the living room.

In black block letters the spine said:

SYBIL

I was curious. And I was lonely and bored. We’d moved into a new house, in a new state, and I’d just started the seventh grade in a new school. I had an unflattering layered haircut, fingerless lace gloves, a weird name, a shy streak that kept me from speaking up in front of people, and a secret interest in dark and twisted things.

I was curious. And I was lonely and bored. We’d moved into a new house, in a new state, and I’d just started the seventh grade in a new school. I had an unflattering layered haircut, fingerless lace gloves, a weird name, a shy streak that kept me from speaking up in front of people, and a secret interest in dark and twisted things.

The house we were renting was down a dead-end dirt road, up a steep dirt driveway, and set at the top of a hill, overlooking a great expanse of nothing full of trees. The internet did not yet exist, but even so… We did not have TV reception. We had no visible neighbors. There was nothing but the house itself, wood-colored so it blended in with the trees.

We were renting this house from former revolutionaries (a whole other story I’ll write about one day), and it often unearthed some interesting finds. Pieces of buried political history. A jar of unwanted pennies under the sink. Easter-colored dishes with chips on the sides as if rescued from a food fight. So I don’t know if I thought this book belonged to the mysterious people who owned the house or if it was ours, and had been all along.

All I know is I’d never seen the book before we moved in.

I carried the book to my room and began reading. Sybil wasn’t a novel, I read, it was a psychological case study. A woman—in the book she’s known as Sybil Dorsett, to protect her privacy—has a whole host of people living inside her, many of them still children. They have names and separate personalities. They look different. They are different. She’s one body for sixteen different people.

I didn’t know this could be possible… Multiple Personality Disorder, as it was called then. I didn’t know you could carry this possibility inside you and then, when you got older than twelve… say, when you turned into a teenager (as this illness was often first shown to emerge in teenagers) it could split you apart into different people.

The book had drawings. Drawings Sybil made as her other personalities. Each in their own distinctive style, as if actually drawn by different hands. I remember them: Vicky and the Peggys and more. I remember wondering about the personalities… were they always listening? Where did they hide inside Sybil’s head… and in my head, who was hiding in there? How many of there were me?

Now I see that this book has controversy—maybe the story of all her personalities was made-up… by “Sybil” herself, or even her doctor. But at the time, it was deeply real. And entirely possible. It terrified me to think this could happen to me, or to someone I knew. And it made an awful kind of sense—due to some adults I knew. (I think this is why Nina LaCour’s scary true story that she shared for this blog series unsettled me so much. That, there: my childhood fear.)

Sybil was the first book that ever truly scared me to my core, but there’s another book I read far more recently that got under my skin. And that was its intention.

It’s a book about a house.

I guess you should know that I’m wary of houses, especially old ones with layers of history. Especially ones in the middle of nowhere, surrounded on all sides by trees. I can admit that because I don’t live in one—I live in a blessed apartment without any stairs to run up in terror while a cold finger claws at my back. In the apartment building where I live, at every hour of every day, I can hear other human occupants on the other side of the walls, or above or below me, or out in the courtyard playing beer pong (I hate them! But they don’t scare me), and I feel safe. Living in cramped and crowded Manhattan makes me feel safer than I ever felt living in that house off the dirt road that we moved into when I was twelve.

We’ve since considered that the house could have been haunted, as there were some questionable events involving a Ouija board that I’m not sure how to explain away, and a frightening part of the basement no one would enter, but I believed many things to be haunted back then… I was easily susceptible.

I still am. So of course I’m drawn to haunted-house stories. And here is the mother of them all.

Anyone else read The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson?

The house in question is a haunted mansion where a paranormal investigator goes to live with two guests who’ve agreed to stay there with him to see if they can witness any strange occurrences. One of those guests is Eleanor, who begins to witness some frightening sights inside that house—and I don’t know if we can believe what Eleanor tells us she sees. We’re meant to wonder. To question what’s real and what’s not, all of which plays into our fears. Well, certainly my fears.

I vividly remember reading this book in my living room. I was alone. The lights were all out except for a single lamp above my head. I came to a scene, a spine-tingling section involving a series of phantom knocks coming from out in the hallways, pounding pounding on a bedroom door, and when the lights in my living room dimmed for a moment as they sometimes do (nothing supernatural; our building often has brownouts), I shrieked loudly, and forgot that I was only reading a book. That it wasn’t real.

What gave me such chills is the unseen. When, in some stories and movies, the big scary monster is revealed in all its glory, it loses its power for me. Not so with The Haunting of Hill House. The not-knowing, the never-being-sure, the imagination let loose and running down the hallway pounding menacingly on doors… that, for me, is true fear.

Sometime later I was brought back to that heart-pounding moment in the book again.

I’d found myself in a single-room cabin in the woods (this during my latest visit to the MacDowell Colony, far away from home in rural New Hampshire where the dark nights were so full of… nothing else to call it but complete darkness… that after dinner when I went back to my studio alone I’d chatter to myself inanely as I walked the paths at night with my skittering flashlight—“just make it to the door you can do it no one’s out there just make it to the door look there’s the door you’re fine you’re fine you’re fine get your key out there’s your key you’re almost there” etc.) and I was reminded again of this book.

I was writing at my desk, at night, with my back to the door that led to the screened-in porch. I never went out out there because it was winter, and snow had swept in through the screens, piling up and making it impossible to use as a second entrance.

So there I was, writing, alone, in the quiet, at night. Then in the deep silence surrounding my tiny little house in the woods, I heard three sharp knocks.

From the door behind me, the one connected to the screened-in porch.

I remember turning very slowly to face the door. I’d heard nothing, I told myself. I’d made it up.

Uh, no. Because it knocked again.

Immediately where did my mind go? To The Haunting of Hill House, of course. Something had knocked on the door in that book… and something was knocking on the door in my studio in the woods right then.

Did I open the door?

Did I open the door to discover it was only the wind coming through the screened-in porch, and it had thrown a stick from the woodpile against the door, so it sounded like something knocking?

I did.

But before I opened that door, I don’t even want to admit here all of what I was thinking.

You see, my imagination gets away from me. Ask me (or my poor other half) sometime about the ceiling nightmares that plagued me for years when we had the loft bed.

There is that moment—spine-tingling, fear rising—when I’m convinced beyond rights or reason that it is REAL.

The strangers in my head…

The frantic knocks on the back door…

The thing crawling on the ceiling…

Books bring it all to life. And who am I to explain it away and open the door?



For more posts in the What Scares You? blog series—including guest blogs by many different authors, visit my blog on Wordpress.com.

On Halloween, there will be two exciting final things to end the series:

 1) A guest post by the scarily brilliant Libba Bray—on horror! 

and

2) A big book giveaway—I’m giving away more than 20 books!

You can read all the “What Scares You?” guest blogs with this tag.