I bought Nova Ren Suma's book, Imaginary Girls, because I loved the cover (I love covers) but when I read the first three pages, I slammed the book shut. Damn this book is good. I saved it for my SF/NY flight and as soon as I got settled, I started in again. I didn't look up. I didn't watch the movie. Five hours went by and I was completely transported.
RQD: What are you working on? What interests you about these characters?
Nova Ren Suma: I’m working on a few things—all in different stages—so my head’s a mess right now. My next YA novel coming out with Dutton (release date still to be determined) is a ghost story, in a way, and sometimes the pieces I write for it deeply disturb me. WHO wrote that? I think. And then I realize… Oh, that was me. The characters in it, these girls with frightening fates, have been haunting me for the past year. I’m interested in rescuing them from what they have to face, and I think they’re interested in pulling me in with them.
RQD: What art or artists (not fiction, but theatre, painters, music, etc.) interest you?
NRS: There is a photographer who’s fascinated me for years. I first discovered her photographs in a college photo class, when we were studying self-portraits, and she’s been my favorite artist ever since: Francesca Woodman. It’s a very sad story (she committed suicide at age 22), and in her beautiful black-and-white images—many of which are of herself—you can see how stunningly talented she was. There’s so much said in these images, by the way she blurs herself out and hides within the frame, by what’s shown as well as what’s not shown. I can’t even articulate how much I love her photographs.
I’m also drawn to female musicians—to a certain kind of voice (always honest), and a storytelling quality in songs. I have such a crush on Amanda Palmer… she’s amazing. And I’m a huge fan of Chan Marshall, Karen O., PJ Harvey, Emily Haines, and Alison Mosshart. I’d listen to, and write to, any song they sing.
RQD: What book, story or poem do you return to over and over?
NRS: There are some books I’ve read again and again and will continue to, probably for the rest of my life. One is a novel called The Last Life by Claire Messud; I’m obsessed with it. Another is Story of a Girl by Sara Zarr. Then there are the short stories, the Alice Munro collections and Jesus’ Son by Denis Johnson (which I’ve been known to read aloud to others, especially his story “Dirty Wedding,” which, just… wow) and Miles from Nowhere by Nami Mun and the brilliant fairy-tale retellings in Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber.
RQD: What are you reading now?
NRS: I’m reading some YA manuscripts I must keep secret… but I’m loving what I’ve read so far. I also believe in using tempting books as motivators, so my reward for finishing the proposal pages of my next novel and turning them in to my agent will be 1Q84, Haruki Murakami’s new novel, which promises to be very magical.
RQD: What did you read as a kid? What is its impact on your work now?
NRS: I read anything and everything I could get my hands on. When I look back, I see that the books that most impacted me were the novels I found on my mom’s bookshelves. She was—still is—an avid reader. Seeing her read and love books all throughout my childhood certainly shaped me as a person and ignited this dream in me to write my own books one day. When I was about twelve or thirteen I borrowed her Margaret Atwood books: Cat’s Eye and The Handmaid’s Tale. They opened my eyes to what kinds of stories I could tell. They showed me that stories about girls could be books, too. I decided I’d grow up to be a writer very soon after that.