INTERVIEW: Chatting with Nova Ren Suma

Good evening!

I have a squee sort of announcement to make and um, that’s because I managed to score an interview with Nova Ren Suma! I contacted her right after I read Imaginary Girls, and she said she was UBER busy, but UBER happy to know I wanted to interview her. So she said July maybe, and then today she randomly got inspired to answer me!

I’m soooo glad she found the time to fit me in!

1) Were Chloe and Ruby real or imaginary girls?

They sure feel very real to me. I hope they do to you, too.

2) What inspired you to write this creeptastic story?

The creepy parts of Imaginary Girls came bubbling up from the place I was writing about. There’s something about the Catskill Mountain area of upstate New York, where I spent many of my years growing up, including when I was the age the narrator Chloe is in this novel, that gets you wondering, peeking out of the corner of your eye and asking questions. Really, it was writing about the reservoir itself (based on the Ashokan Reservoir, where I swam when I was a teenager)—and learning that actual towns were destroyed to build it—that got me thinking. I imagined Chloe swimming in the dark night overtop the place in the reservoir where her big sister, Ruby, told her a drowned town used to be… And I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I needed to write it.

3) Who are your favorite authors and why do you love their books so much?

I’m very drawn to strong first-person voices—voice is my most favorite thing in fiction, and if you have a solid and unique voice I will follow you anywhere—and all my favorite authors write with such strong voices. I love Aimee Bender, Jeffrey Eugenides, Laura Kasischke, Jo Knowles, Jean Rhys, Courtney Summers, Rita Williams-Garcia, and Sara Zarr, to name an eclectic few.

4) What are you writing next?

I’m deep into my next YA novel with Dutton. It’s not a sequel to Imaginary Girls, and the more I write it, the more I want to hold it close. But I’ll reveal details about it soon.

5) For the aspiring writers out there, can you give us a rundown of your writing strategy?

Since I write in first person—and like I said above, a strong first-person voice is what I most look for as a reader—what needs to come first for me is the voice of my narrator. My writing strategy is to find who is telling the story—who, and from what moment… right now, or from the future looking back and if so from what point in the future—and then the shape of the story comes from that. Imaginary Girls is the story it is because Chloe is the one telling it.

Once I have the voice, I like to write a chunk of pages before I plan the rest of the book. Usually I have a basic idea for the novel, but I wait to outline until I’ve written my way through the opening chapters. The starting point of a story might shift later, but those early pages help me know who I’m writing, and once I know who I discover what, and that informs the plot.

6) Can you tell us about any real life ghost stories you’ve lived through?

When I was in junior high school, my family and I lived in a rented house up a dirt road in the mountains. My bedroom was a room off the kitchen with a sleep loft, where I had my bed. It was a giant room separate from the other bedrooms. We thought this house was haunted, and I remember one day when I was playing the Ouija board up in the loft with a friend. I didn’t know if she was tugging the planchette or we were imagining things or what, but it was moving and giving us answers. My baby sister was up in the loft with us, just playing on the bed and being adorable. She would have been three or four at this time, and I loved her so much—still do, as you can imagine, as Imaginary Girls is dedicated to her. I remember asking the Ouija board something important, probably asking the ghost in the house to tell us its name, and suddenly the clip-on lamp on the bedpost burst apart, shooting the shade of the lamp and the lightbulb straight at my baby sister. It hit her in the head and she started crying. I was horrified and grabbed her and took her downstairs right away. I really thought someone, or something, was trying to hurt me by coming after the one person I loved most in the world. Seriously, I was convinced the “ghost” in the house did it.

I don’t know what I believe now, but I do know I was very afraid of sleeping in the loft after that, and I moved my bed downstairs.

7) How did you avoid freaking yourself out with this book? (haha, because I spent most of my time in spine chilling suspense)

Haha, thanks! I guess the truth is, writing this book did freak me out sometimes. I didn’t expect some of the things that happened—and I didn’t always know just what Ruby would do. Also, sometimes when I was writing, to get myself in a good and creepy mood I’d write with the lights off, or with a scarf over my head and my laptop like a dark little tent. In a way, I needed to let myself get freaked out in order to write this novel.

8) Who did you like better? Chloe or Ruby? (why?)

I’m a little bit afraid of Ruby. The fact is, I’m fascinated by her. I’m drawn to her just like everyone in town is drawn to her in this story, especially Chloe. I could talk (and write) about Ruby all day, but the way I see her is from a distance, always on the outside, with a healthy dose of caution thrown in. So I like Chloe better because she’s more like me. I’m not scared of her… except maybe at the end of the book, in that final scene.

9) What’s one cool thing people don’t know about you?

“Cool,” I’m not so sure about. But in my senior yearbook in high school I was voted “Most Individualistic,” which I think was a kind way of saying “Weird.”

Thanks a lot Nova for hanging out with me on my blog. Everyone who hasn’t done so yet, go pick up a copy of IMAGINARY GIRLS out in stores everywhere now!

Namaste,
Rhi

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