Author Interview & Book Giveaway: Micol Ostow on Her New Novel “family”

Sometime ago, I got an early read on the opening pages of a manuscript that has haunted me ever since. While I read, I was filled with a deep sense of foreboding about the story and its narrator, seventeen-year-old Mel. I was chilled, torn up by what going to happen, wanting to stop it, wanting to warn Mel, and yet helplessly carried along. I was also filled with a sense that this novel NEEDED to be published and I knew—yes, I knew it in my bones—that one day soon I’d be seeing its release. Today is that day! (Technically, that day was April 26, but I’m celebrating today for a reason I’ll tell you below.)

These pages that I read were from an early draft of Micol Ostow’s latest novel, family, inspired by the Manson Family murders in 1969.

I’m about to give away a copy of this incredible, original, and disturbing book, and I’ll also share an interview with its author, the incredible, original, and actually very sweet and not disturbing Micol Ostow. BUT, before I say anything more, to get a sense of how this book made me feel, I need you to see something.

This. The book trailer. Turn up your volume, cut the lights, and hit Play:

(I swear that trailer is going to give me nightmares.)

That probably gave you chills. Want more? Here’s the summary of the book:

i have always been broken.
i could have. died.
and maybe it would have been better if i had.

It is a day like any other when seventeen-year-old Melinda Jensen hits the road for San Francisco, leaving behind her fractured home life and a constant assault on her self-esteem. Henry is the handsome, charismatic man who comes upon her, collapsed on a park bench, and offers love, a bright new consciousness, and—best of all—a family. One that will embrace her and give her love. Because family is what Mel has never really had. And this new family, Henry’s family, shares everything. They share the chores, their bodies, and their beliefs.  And if Mel truly wants to belong, she will share in everything they do. No matter what the family does, or how far they go.

Told in episodic verse, family is a fictionalized exploration of cult dynamics, loosely based on the Manson Family murders of 1969. It is an unflinching look at people who are born broken, and the lengths they’ll go to to make themselves “whole” again.

So intense—so good.

I’m happy to say that Micol was kind enough to answer questions from me, in the first author interview I’ve ever posted on my blog. So why am I posting this today and not a few days ago when the book released? Because today is Micol’s birthday! Happy Birthday, Micol! To honor her birthday and her book’s birthday, here’s an interview with Micol—and also a chance to win a copy of her book:

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In Which It Becomes Real

Do you need to see something in person—touch it, hold it in your hands and feel its weight—to believe it is in fact a real and actual thing? Sometimes I think I do. With the good things. Especially with those.

So, though I’ve known Imaginary Girls—a novel I first began as a short story about sisters in 2006—was going to be published as a book, I’ve kept my full belief in bay until, you know, it was undeniable. The undeniable happened on Monday morning when a messenger found me in the street—he was having trouble reaching me on the buzzer—while I was lugging an enormous bright red sack of dirty laundry out of my building and down the sidewalk to the drop-off cleaner’s on my block.

“You might be the person I’m looking for,” this random man called out to me as I dragged the giant red sack onto the sidewalk.

My first reaction was, obviously, LEAVE ME ALONE, PSYCHO, as I’ve been living in New York City for many years. But I did turn and I saw he had a clipboard. At this point, I might have started walking faster, assuming he was trying to sell me something, or ask me if I’m a registered Democrat, but that bag of laundry sure was heavy and I couldn’t move too fast, and besides he seemed nice enough. He recited my address and said, “Are you Nova Ren Suma?”

Now he had my attention. I turned and he produced a package. I signed and then there—on the street, my dirty laundry at my feet—I opened it and saw this for the first time:


I held it out, there on my block with the Empire State Building’s spire visible in the far distance, and let it sink in that I was holding my book in my hands.

My book was A BOOK.

Yes! That photo is a finished copy of the hardcover of Imaginary Girls! This is my one and only advance from the warehouse until the June 14 pub date, and I can’t believe how beautiful it is in person.

More photos can be found in this album—showing the front and back flaps, the back, and a couple pages inside.

After reading my ecstatic email that morning saying I’d seen the book and how thrilled I was, my agent asked me if I believed if it was real yet? He knows me well, how cautious I’ve been with truly believing. When he asked that, I realized… I did. I do. For the first time, this week, I believe it.

I’d love to poll authors on when their books became “real”—was it when they saw the cover for the first time, or signed a contract, or got their first edit letter, or got the ARC, or held the finished copy in their hands like me—or was it only when they saw it on the shelves of a store or library? When is your reality moment? Ever?

Also, I wonder… what will it be like when books are only published digitally? If you can’t hold an ebook in your hands is it still “real”? (Well, as a new enthusiastic adopter of an ereader, I would say so… but will it still feel the same?)

Thank you, Dutton Books and the incredible designers at Penguin who produced such a beautiful book for me. I’m humbled.

…And I believe in you now. Thank you for making it real!

Page 1

On Being Exposed


I’m feeling a little naked lately, with Imaginary Girls getting read by early readers and me stumbling over the things being said about it—sometimes when I mean to be looking (I have peeked), and even when I don’t mean to be looking at all. Imagine what it must have been like for authors before the internet, before Twitter even. Would I so easily come across a stranger openly saying what they thought of what I wrote? Like on a street corner? On a park bench? Would they stuff notes under my door, tagged @novaren so I knew they meant me?

The photos in this post are self-portraits taken by my favorite photographer, Francesca Woodman. She used herself as her main subject, exposing herself first, making it so no one else could. Her story is tragic and I wish she kept living and taking photographs. So many of her images resonate with me. I feel like I know her, but I don’t. I can’t. Maybe none of us could.


I don’t think I posted this here, but Kirkus gave Imaginary Girls a star. I was shocked and didn’t believe it was actually real for days.

This post says things I can’t articulate. (Also, if you like YA dystopians, you should read her book, Divergent—it comes out next month and I thought it was fantastic. In fact, it kept me from writing my own book for many hours because I could not physically part myself from the ARC until I reached the last page.)

I read what she wrote about fear and I felt completely recognized.


I was shy as a teenager, but in a way I was more courageous than I am now. I’d share my writing with whomever asked. I’d meet friends for writing groups and we’d read our poems aloud to each other—I was never shy to do that—and I felt a clear assurance that I was a writer. I was one then and I’d grow up to be one. That was never a doubt. I believed in myself then.

Then something happened to me in my twenties. Maybe it had to do with getting my MFA so early (I would argue too early), and how vicious the workshops could sometimes be, or, later, with the rejections from literary agents on my first two attempts at adult novels. But I began to grow more closed off. It was rare I’d show my writing to friends—often they had to beg me, asking again and again and again, before I’d hit Send on an email. I didn’t believe in myself then.

I do believe in myself now, but I also feel petrified at the thought of being read. And exposed.

Still, I’m honored whenever anyone chooses to read the book. Thank you.

Don’t look below if you have an aversion to nipples.
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Giveaway Winners Announced!

My giveaway to win my last (signed!) ARC of Imaginary Girls and twenty, yes 20!, Imaginary Girls bookmarks ended just before midnight last night. Anyone with a sister (half sisters and stepsisters included) got an extra entry. And this morning I woke up and used the randomizer to select the ONE grand-prize winner and the TWENTY bookmark winners and guess who won first prize?

1. Anonymous

Heh. Well, since Anonymous didn’t leave a name or an email address, I had to click the randomizer again and choose a new winner. So here’s the official winner of the signed Imaginary Girls ARC and bookmark to go with it:

1.  Kenzie

Yay, Kenzie! Here’s what she said:

As a big sister myself with a little sister I adore, I love that so much! (And take a look at winner #12 below… I’m so thrilled that two sisters won!)

And now here are the TWENTY BOOKMARK WINNERS:

2. Anna
3. Christian
4. Nina (N.A.) Nelson
5. Uniquely Moi Books
6. Lauren Morrill
7. JessiM
8. Josie Baker
9. Elaina watler
10. Molly
11. Jeanne Ryan (Serenissima)
12. Bailey Kelsey
13. Jennifer Estes
14. Cindy @ Books Complete Me
15. jessica shaw
16. beth
17. Sally
18. Alexa
19. Jessica Arb
20. Sarah
21. Danielle Klimecko

Yay!

And that’s not all. There are 10 MORE WINNERS from Facebook. So if you didn’t win here, go check my Facebook author page and see if you’re on it!

I’ll email the winners soon to ask for mailing addresses—and to see if you want your bookmarks signed—but just let me reach my daily word count first. This new novel is due soon!

Thank you so much to everyone who entered!

Quick Book Updates in SEVENS Because I Like the Number Seven

ONE

My very last ARC and bookmark giveaway is still open. You can enter to win a signed ARC (advance reading copy) of Imaginary Girls—and I’m also giving away a bunch of bookmarks, too. Just leave a comment on this post and you’re entered, simple as that. And if you tell me you have a sister, I’ll enter you twice! 21 people will win.

TWO

Is that not enough for you? Want another chance to win a bookmark? I’m also giving away bookmarks on Facebook. Just comment here telling me you want one and I’ll pick 10 more winners. (I’ll give some more away on Twitter one day soon.)

THREE

Psst, book reviewers. Imaginary Girls is now on Netgalley. A couple people alerted me to this on Twitter yesterday. If you want to request Imaginary Girls for review on Netgalley now you can. Here’s the link!

FOUR

I’ll be at this year’s Teen Author Carnival! Will you be in New York City during BEA week? I’ll be one of the authors at this year’s Teen Author Carnival on May 23. I’m excited because it sounds like so much fun—and, also, so many other authors I want to meet will be there.

FIVE

Speaking of seeing me in person… come celebrate This Week in New York’s 10th Anniversary (and hear me read from Imaginary Girls) on May 18. Happy ten years, twi-ny.com! Check out the lineup of musicians and readers and… me. Oh, I should say that this event isn’t for teens… Fontana’s is a bar. But if you’re 21 or over I hope to see you there! I’m so honored to be a part of the celebration!

SIX

I know when you can buy Imaginary Girls in Australia. I know when, I know when, I know when—okay, fine I’ll tell you. So do you live in Australia or New Zealand? Your edition of Imaginary Girls, coming out from Murdoch Books/Pier 9, is being published on July 1. I saw it online and everything. Look, you can even pre-order! (Australian blog readers, what’s the best place to pre-order books in Oz? I’ll update my links.) That means I get to celebrate two pub dates, June 14 and July 1!

SEVEN

SCBWI People, I’ll See You in August! Yep. I registered for the big SCBWI LA conference—and it’s my first time going! (Not to LA, to the conference.) I’m excited to meet so many of my writer friends there, and my editor is on a few panels! Also, my agent lives in LA and I’ll get to see him again! And? And? This year’s theme for the Saturday night gala is a pajama party. That cinched it for me. Pajamas? I am there. Anyone else going to the conference? Register here.

Two Months to IMAGINARY GIRLS? Time for a Bookmark & ARC Giveaway!

Imaginary Girls comes out in the US and Canada on June 14, exactly two months from today! Since this book means pretty much everything to me—and surely you’ve heard me talk about it often enough and you’re like yeah, yeah, yeah, is your book out already?—I wanted to celebrate getting that much closer to publication by doing something special. While this may involve some Pinkberry frozen yogurt with blueberries and raspberries and strawberries on top and dancing around the living room, I also want to share my excitement with you. You’re welcome to dance around your own living room, but sending Pinkberry in the mail is not feasible—it would melt.

So… I have these:

(I lost my digital camera... so please excuse the slight blurriness to all these photos.)

Bookmarks! They’re nice and pretty and glossy in person.

I also have this:

(I havent signed this ARC yet, but I will, if you want me to.)

That’s my *very last* ARC (advance reading copy) that I have to give away. The last one.

And you can have it.

I will be choosing ONE WINNER to get a signed Imaginary Girls ARC as well as a few bookmarks (signed if you want ‘em signed).

I will be choosing TWENTY WINNERS to get Imaginary Girls bookmarks (signed if you want ‘em signed).

So if twenty-one people enter? Twenty-one people win!

(No, I am not giving away the Rolleiflex camera in the background of the above photo. It was my grandfathers!)

Want some enticement? Here’s what Publishers Weekly said about Imaginary Girls:

“A surreal and dreamy world where magical thinking is carried to a chilling extreme. Suma uses the story’s supernatural horror movie–ready elements in the best of ways; beneath all the strangeness lies beauty, along with a powerful statement about the devotion between sisters.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)

Intrigued? I hope you’ll enter.

Please note: This giveaway is open in the US and Canada only. But international readers, please keep reading.

Here’s how to enter, it’s pretty simple:

  1. Leave a comment on this blog post. That’s it!
  2. Really, that’s all you need to do.
  3. But—BUT this is important—please enter your email address in the comment form where it says “Email.” It’s private and only I will see it. That’s just so I can get a hold of you to ask for your mailing address if you won!

Oh but wait. Here’s how you can get extra chances to win:

  1. Do you have a sister? Since Imaginary Girls is all about sisters, if you have a sister you get twice the chance to win! Just tell me in your comment that you have a sister and I will count your entry two times. (And, sure, I guess everyone could start inventing imaginary sisters, but I am choosing to trust you on this one.)
  2. You can also enter to win a bookmark on Facebook—and that is open internationally. (Limit to two international winners.) Just go to my author page, click “like,” and leave a comment on this photo (or on the wall—I’ll count comments from anywhere) telling me that you want a bookmark. I’ll be choosing 10 more bookmark winners from Facebook in addition to the 20 bookmark winners I’m choosing here.
  3. And finally, I’ll randomly—at my whim, i.e., whenever I feel like it—give away even more bookmarks on Twitter, so you may want to follow me there because who knows when I’ll decide to do that. Maybe soon.

That’s it. Want a bookmark? Want my last ARC? Leave a comment on this post and you’re entered.

(I’m closing this giveaway on Monday, April 18 at 11:59 p.m. EST and I’ll announce the winners the next day.)

Fiery Hatred of Word Counts

("Flames" via Flickr, by steve_case)

I used to be very anti word count. I still am, in theory. I’ve never cared about the number of words written in a day—or a week or a month. It’s about the words themselves and the story formed out of them. Patting yourself on the back for writing an arbitrary amount of words in one day is all well and good, but you could have just typed “I am writing words these are words look at all the words” all day and you would have reached your goal just as well. That’s why NaNoWriMo is not my thing—tried it, “failed,” won’t likely try again. That’s why I’ve given myself chapter goals—i.e., must reach Chapter 9 by this date—but never word count goals.

Until now.

Yep. While writing my new novel 17 and Gone, I’ve starting giving myself a daily word count.

What made me change my mind? Besides a great desire to complete my first draft manuscript by deadline and needing a whole bunch of words to do it? I was inspired by another writer I witnessed working with a daily word count when I was away this winter. I liked his “method”—how calm he seemed as he moved forward, how he did reach his goal and made it seem so easy, and how he allowed himself to revise as he went and use those words toward the daily word count, too. I never liked the idea of slapping down words and not being able to work backward. I need to revise as I go. And I need to feel like I’m making progress—as feeling less panicked today only helps the words come out tomorrow.

So I started trying it. And some days I meet great success:

And other days, I stutter:

(Those screenshots are taken from Scrivener… which has a great Project Target thingie that is very satisfying to use. The bar starts out red… turns orange and yellow as you get out more words… and turns a happy green at the end. I love it.)

I’m still trying to find that Magic Number of words I should try to reach each day. As you can see, I recently upped my word count from 1,600 to 2,100. But this makes me fail more often than succeed, so I wonder if I should knock it back down to 1,600?

Tell me: Do you work with a word count? Or do you have a fiery hatred of putting a numerical value on your writing?

If you have a magic number, do tell.

Before I go and try to hit today’s magic number, one last thing:

• Tomorrow, I’ll be holding a giveaway here on the blog for my very last ARC of Imaginary Girls as well as bookmarks. Many Imaginary Girls bookmarks! I think I’ll give away bookmarks in three places: here, on Twitter, and on this Facebook page—you’ll need to “like” it first. But I’ll only be giving away the ARC here on the blog.

Imaginary Girls Crossing Oceans!

I have news to share.

It’s about this…

Imaginary-Girls

…traveling all the way over here…


…and here!

That’s right, savvy map-readers, Imaginary Girls is going to be published in Australia and New Zealand! This is my first foreign rights sale—ever, in my life—and I’m so thrilled. Pier 9, the fiction imprint of the indie publisher Murdoch Books, will be publishing an AUS/NZ edition of Imaginary Girls... as soon as this July! Pub date to be made official and confirmed, so please don’t hold me to that. But I’m so excited by how excited Pier 9 sounded to publish the book—excitement breeds more excitement and I could fill this post with exclamation points, but I will restrain myself and end this paragraph with a period. Haha, just kidding!

So, YA readers in the US and Canada aren’t the only ones who will get to read Imaginary Girls this summer. If you live in Australia or New Zealand, mark your calendars… Imaginary Girls will be in bookstores near you this summer very soon, too!

Special thanks to my literary agency Dystel & Goderich—especially foreign rights director Lauren Abramo and all co-agents involved—for this, my very first foreign sale. Yay!

Sometimes I Forget…

…that other people are reading this blog.

I confess a lot of things here. Over the years I’ve revealed too much of myself, like how hard it’s been, and when things got better and I started getting more visitors I had to go through my archives and make a lot of posts private… for my own protection. (At one point I was worried about getting fired from my day job for being so mopey!) Yes, sometimes I forget.

But today this post from another author, and a reader of this blog, helped me remember—and made me not regret everything I’ve confessed here. I’m so touched, I don’t even know what to say! Thank you so much, Danielle!

When I Realized SOMETHING Must HAPPEN

This post is for the literary writers. The ones who fall in love with their sentences and can sometimes, you know, when a sentence is extra-pretty, forget that a world exists outside it. A world where THINGS HAPPEN. Yes, I am talking plot.

Don’t run away! I’m scared of plot, too. But, wow, is it necessary. And I don’t just mean plot lowercase, I mean PLOT. Big giant plot. Imagine how awesome your book could be if you have a Big Plot and pretty sentences? That’s a book of my dreams.

I was inspired this morning by this post from agent Donald Maass about “beautifully written” literary/commercial novels. He says:

High impact doesn’t just mean high sales.  It means moving readers’ hearts, shaking their convictions and even changing their world.  Strong plot alone can’t do that.  A journey by itself is just a trip.  To collide with high—and lasting—impact, aim to make your novels beautifully written.

Read more of that post for advice on how to achieve this.

I write the L-word, or I strive to. Yes, literary. I’m not afraid of the L-word. This is not a literary vs. commercial smackdown post, either. This is about what happens when the literary and the commercial meet, and meld, and create something strong and, yes, beautiful. A novel can be entertainment, but it can also be a work of art—and why not both at the same time?

Literary has come to be a bad word. A while back, the wonderful agent Jennifer Laughran (literaticat) posted the definition of “literary” in this fantastic informative post and I remember taking issue with that one definition because it sounded like writers trying to be “literary” were only being snobby saying their novels were better than everyone else’s. I don’t think that. You’ll see my attempt at a definition there, but really, I don’t know how to define it. To me, “literary” just means a piece of writing that focuses on the writing itself, on the art of it. As someone who wanted to become a writer because she fell in love with books—with not just the stories but with the beautiful words, too—I think the writing of a novel, the execution, is just as important as the story. It can elevate an idea to a whole new level. I love stopping and savoring a paragraph. I love reading a book again because I need to taste those words one more time. Don’t we always hear that there are only a finite number of stories, but each of us is different in the way we’d tell them? I do believe this. So why not celebrate the execution and focus on the writing? That’s what I like, personally.

A big, quickly moving story can make your sentences soar even more than before. I love savoring a page and wanting to drink in every word and yet also at the same time wanting to race through to find out what happens. Now that’s a good book.

But for the longest time, I didn’t try to do that. I thought the pretty sentence was enough.

I went into a grand amount of debt to get my MFA in writing—stupid stupid stupid, but that’s a whole other post—where I studied and wrote literary fiction. For years, I focused inward on my sentences and my paragraphs. To the detriment of my writing, I kept my head down and tried carving out the perfect page. I spent years on a thesis—a semiautobiographical (I hear you gagging) novel for adults that was lacking in plot and plumped up to a full 500 pages. It wasn’t the plot of the novel that was ever really of issue in my workshops. I don’t remember studying plot. I remember the WRITING being everything, and characterization being king, and setting something to explore, and voice desperately wanted, and as for story? Plot? I remember the events of the story—the plot—being this thing commercial, genre writers had to wrestle with, so we didn’t really think about it. (Again, the idea of “genre” is a whole other post.)

Probably I just wasn’t paying attention.

Because then came the day when I had my thesis review. I remember sitting in the room while my thesis readers—MFA professors in addition to my adviser—talked about my novel. I remember very specifically that one professor said he worried my manuscript would fail as a novel.

FAIL.

Because not enough happened, he said.

My god, it hit me then… Something more is supposed to HAPPEN?

I passed my thesis review. I graduated. I got that expensive piece of paper in a frame on my wall saying I got the MFA. But the novel I graduated with? It did fail. That’s why you don’t see Bardo by Nova Ren Suma on Amazon.com right now. Not enough happened in the story—my plot wasn’t well executed even though I had a bunch of fine sentences—to merit it being published. I actually don’t even know what the plot of that novel was, if you want the honest truth.

Fast-forward like about ten years.

I’d started a YA novel and I had the voice, I had the characters, I had the world, I just didn’t have an actual story. I remember a deep conversation with my other half, (E, an actual person, I don’t have a split personality), about raising the stakes of the story. Thinking big picture and bringing in some PLOT. It was exhilarating. It was deathly frightening. It was what I thought I didn’t need to do because I had nice sentences. I was wrong, and E was right.

I’m talking about Imaginary Girls. Once I changed my book—throwing out a detailed outline and about 200 rough pages and starting over—I got an agent out of it, and a two-book deal out of it, but those are outside measures of success. The true measure of success is how I feel about my writing when I’m working on a project like IG. My writing feels more alive when I have a story worth telling.

This is what I strive for as a writer: beautiful writing where SOMETHING HAPPENS. My agent is always pushing me to be more active in my writing—he knows my strengths and my weaknesses, and he knows how to make me better. I admit I struggle, I do, every day, sometimes sending wild emails about how much I hate plot to certain writer friends, and lamenting how books can’t be published just made of unconnected pretty sentences, but I don’t really mean all that. A Big Story and a literary voice is the best thing I could imagine.

It’s what I tried for with Imaginary Girls, it’s what I’m trying for now with the novel I’m writing—and having trouble, and just wait till my editor gets a hold of this and we start talking building momentum and high-stakes plot points—and I’m taking it to a whole new level with the idea I have for my third YA novel… still forming and growing in my mind.

I’m not against quiet stories. I do love them, and I’ve written quite a few. But I’ve since seen the light. I want to write beautiful novels and I want them to be LOUD.