Nova Ren Suma is the the #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Walls Around Us. She also wrote Imaginary Girls and 17 & Gone, and is co-creator of Foreshadow: A Serial YA Anthology. A Room Away from the Wolves is her newest book. Readers will love this ghost story set in a refuge for troubled girls in New York City. YEM spoke to Nova about writing style and her newest YA novel.
Young Entertainment Mag: What let you know that writing was what you wanted to do? Did you actively pursue it, fall into it, something else entirely?
Nova Ren Suma: I began writing short stories in high school. I was so quiet, so shy, I barely spoke in class, but when I wrote my stories, I could say the things I never could out loud. I could be the daring person I could never be in real life. Could face fears, I could speak up and even scream, I could imagine whole new scenarios. It was addicting, and once I started I couldn’t stop. I wasn’t writing for publication then, or really for anyone else to see it. I was writing for myself. When I let myself return to that headspace and be as weird and wild as I really am deep down inside, that’s when I do the best type of writing. Writing for myself just the way I did when I started. Those scenes are my favorite and often resonate the most with readers.
YEM: Many of your stories have recurring themes of young women struggling against terrible family/home situations, bizarre and scary mysteries, or both. Were there any books or films about this topic that inspired you?
Nova: I am absolutely inspired by Shirley Jackson—and two of her books in particular. We Have Always Lived in the Castle and The Haunting of Hill House. You can see the direct influence of both on my books, particularly A Room Away from the Wolves and The Walls Around Us.
YEM: What is an important thing you have learned while writing?
Nova: About the world, yourself, your audience, or the writing itself? Or perhaps about something in one of your stories. I learned that when I think I can’t do something—when I think it’s too weird, or too complicated, or too ambitious—that always means it’s an idea worth tackling and trying. Otherwise, why bother writing at all?
YEM: Your latest work is titled A Room Away from the Wolves. Tell us about it.
Nova: A Room Away from the Wolves is a Gothic, ghostly novel about the world of dark secrets 17-year-old Bina discovers when she runs away to Catherine House, a refuge for troubled girls deep in the heart of New York City. It’s about the tangled bonds between mother and daughter, complicated female friendship, and needing to find a place to belong. Catherine House is a place full of supernatural secrets, living memories, a door to the face the past, while all along its founder, Catherine, watches from a frame on the wall above the fireplace. During one intense summer month, Bina will discover that her choice to stay or leave may be entirely out of her hands.
YEM: New York, as a setting, practically oozes mystery. What makes New York such a perfect setting for A Room Away from the Wolves?
Nova: Bina’s mother always talked about the mythical New York City in bedtime stories. Her mother lived in NYC the summer she was 19 trying to be an actress, the place where her dreams could have come true, if only she’d been able to stay. Much like Bina, my own mother used to tell me bedtime stories about the city and her youthful adventures. It became as mythical and magical to me. I longed to live there one day. If I could have run away to anywhere, it would have been New York. The book had to be set there and couldn’t be set anywhere else.
YEM: Where do you think your writing will take you next? To fuel your next story?
Nova: As a matter of fact, I’m returning to my roots and to where I’m from: the Catskill Mountains of upstate New York. The book I’m writing next somehow reminds me of my first YA novel, Imaginary Girls. That same surreal maybe-magical quality of the region is in the air. In fact, I imagine it taking place just up the road.