Photo Credit: Erik Ryerson

Nova Ren Suma is the author of The Walls Around Us as well as the YA novels Imaginary Girls and 17 & Gone, which were both named 2014 Outstanding Books for the College Bound by YALSA. She has a BA in writing & photography from Antioch College and an MFA in fiction from Columbia University and has been awarded fiction fellowships from the New York Foundation for the Arts, the MacDowell Colony, Yaddo, the Djerassi Resident Artists Program, the Millay Colony, and an NEA fellowship for a residency at the Hambidge Center. She worked for years behind the scenes in publishing, at places such as HarperCollins, Penguin, Marvel Comics, and RAW Books, and now she teaches writing workshops. She is from various small towns across the Hudson Valley and lives and writes in New York City. Find Nova online at or follow her on Twitter at @novaren.

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Author Q&A

1. Favorite books/authors who inspired you?

Laura Kasischke’s YA novels are what drew me to start writing YA fiction. When I discovered Boy Heaven and Feathered—the language, the possibility, the surreal edge to her stories—I was so inspired that I put aside a novel I’d been writing for adults and started something brand-new. That book became my first-ever published YA novel.

2. What’s your writing routine?

I write at a local café most mornings, weekdays and weekends. On the days the baristas who know me are working, they often have my iced soy mocha waiting for me when I get up to the register to pay, so I barely even have to wait in the line. I also write at my writing space, the Writers Room, in downtown Manhattan, where I’ve been a member since 1999. I find I write best in the mornings, when my mind is fresh and (a little) less cluttered.

3. What part of your book was the most fun to write?

This is going to make me sound twisted, but my favorite part to write (and the scene that came most naturally, practically spilling out of me) is a disturbing piece told from Violet’s POV, out back behind the community theater where she is in dress rehearsals for a performance of The Firebird. I won’t say more, but you’ll know the scene when you get to it. I wouldn’t say it was “fun,” but it was intense and exhilarating and I couldn’t believe I wrote it.

4. Which part was the most difficult?

The beginning of a novel is always the hardest for me to get down—because it has to be exactly right in terms of voice and mystery and starting moment and all I can see is a giant blank white space leading off into infinity. Until I discovered how to begin this story, I couldn’t find my way in . . . I spent almost a month trying to write the opening paragraph. Once I got it though, I got it, and the whole story opened up from there.

5. Which character do you relate to most? Why?

I connect to Amber more than all the other characters, though there are often pieces of me scattered in every character I write. Amber and I share some secrets. I can see myself where she is. And if I’d found myself locked away in a juvenile detention center for the rest of my teenage years, I, too, would have been drawn to the escape of the library and the books as she is. We share that, as well.

6. What advice would you give to aspiring writers?

The first novel you write may not be the first novel you publish—and that doesn’t mean you failed. Sometimes, when we let go of a novel that isn’t the right one, it opens us up to discovering the one that is.

7. Cats or dogs?

One day I’ll finally get a kitten.

8. If writing weren’t part of your daily work, what career would you like to have?

When I was in college, I had a self-designed combined major made up of writing and photography. Then I got into MFA creative writing programs, and I put photography aside to run off and do only writing. I still wonder what would have happened if I’d chosen photography first, so when I imagine a fantasy career for myself, I’m always an art photographer making strange, surreal, evocative pictures. They’d be a lot like my novels, just in image form, and probably black-and-white.

9. Which author would you most like to spend the day with?

That’s easy: Libba Bray. She’s brilliant and hilarious, and always knows when it’s time to stop the writing and have a snack.

10. What is your secret superpower?

I’m pretty good at inspiring, supporting, and motivating other writers. Now, if only I could find a way to turn that light on myself!

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