Five Questions With Nova Ren Suma

novaName: Nova Ren Suma
Title/Occupation: fiction writer, author of DANI NOIR (
Organization/Company: self

1. Where did you grow up and how did you end up where you are now?
When I was a kid, we flung ourselves between the states of New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania, but I mostly grew up in the Hudson Valley, up where city people go on vacation. They’d come to stay in the towns where I lived on weekends and during the summers, and all I wanted was to escape to their city. First chance I got, I moved to New York City. I still feel like an upstate impostor sometimes, even though I’ve lived here for about a decade. I wonder… can they tell by my shoes?

2. Which performance, song, play, movie, painting or other work of art had the biggest influence on you and why?

There’s a self-portrait by photographer Francesca Woodman from her “From Space” series that struck me when I first saw it in college. I wanted to be a photographer at the time, but I’ve taken the image along into my writing. In it, she stands naked against a crumbling wall, using sheets of torn wallpaper to cover herself. You see only her arms, her feet, her stomach. You don’t see her face. I’m shy, but this is how you have to live if you want to be an artist: hide some things and expose others. This is why I write fiction. It’s a great way to hide. Here’s a link to the photo.

3. What skill, talent or attribute do you most wish you had and why?

I’d be the social butterfly at the party, the one who’s at ease talking to absolutely anyone who swings by. I admire that kind of confidence. This could come in handy when asked the dreaded, “So what’s the novel you’re writing about anyway?” I wonder what it’s like to have a smooth pitch at the ready when someone asks that question.

4. What do you do to make a living? Describe a normal day.

I have a day job in book publishing and I write in the mornings and on weekends. On a normal weekday, I get up early before work, make a solid attempt to find pants that somewhat match my shirt, and then stumble out with my laptop to a neighborhood coffee shop. Often I’m the first person there after they’ve opened the doors. I get a mocha. Iced if hot out, hot if chilly. This mocha is essential to my day and I couldn’t survive without it, so it really must be mentioned here. Then I write for about two hours, or I try to. Sometimes I only get a sentence out, but it’s a sentence I didn’t have yesterday. Then, at 9:00 a.m. on the dot, I race off for the subway and hit Midtown for work. My day job consists of checking barcodes, marking typos, and sharpening red pencils. There’s also a lot of reading. When I’m done, my head is generally buzzing, so that’s why I write first thing in the morning. I want my writing to always have the best of me. Everything else can get what’s left over.

5. Have you ever had to make a choice between work and art? What did you choose, why, and what was the outcome?
For the longest time, I chose work over art. Deadlines at my various day jobs took priority. I stayed late. I took work home. I freelanced for extra cash and told myself I was being “responsible.” I told myself, I can always write tomorrow. But tomorrow became next Tuesday and next Tuesday became three weeks from Tuesday, and this is how you can be a great success at not ever publishing a novel. I stopped doing that, and maybe the rest of my life slipped, but my writing career is going way better.

It all started when I applied for a residency to the MacDowell Colony. A fluke, really, but somehow they let me in. I was working full-time and I sure couldn’t take a month off from work to go. So I had to choose: Go to MacDowell and likely lose my day job, or keep the job security and hope MacDowell lets me in some other time. I’m not usually a risk-taker, but I’ll tell you that MacDowell was incredible, best muffins I ever had, and the writing was great too. I spent the time rewriting a novel in a beautiful composer’s studio that I was told was a favorite of Leonard Bernstein. It was the most inspired four weeks of my life.

The outcome? The novel never ended up being published, and the novels I’m writing now are for tweens and teens. But, by some miracle, I did still have that job when I got back.

Nova Ren Suma writes short stories for adults and novels for tweens and teens.
Dani Noir is out this month from S&S/Aladdin. Imaginary Girls is due out tentatively in 2011 from Dutton.

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