One Month from BOOK, and One Person Who Believed in Me

Today is May 14, which isn’t a holiday per se, but it does mean we are now one month exactly from the pub date of Imaginary Girls.

In lieu of telling you how anxious and insecure I’ve been the closer we get to the pub date—I’ve deleted a whole post I was writing about this—I want to talk about something positive. It starts out dreary though.

Truth is, Imaginary Girls was my last-ditch novel. I’d written two adult novels before it that I’d let go, painfully, due to varying reasons I’ve revealed on this blog over and over again, but what I’m thinking about is that dire point, after the last this-close rejection that I could handle, where I considered giving up entirely on becoming a published author. I wasn’t going to give up on writing, but I was beginning to think that I’d write only for myself, short stories mostly, maybe never send them out on submission, just continue writing because writing fiction is what I love.

It was around this time, a low point of my writing career, that I started the story, and then the novel, that became Imaginary Girls. The reason I didn’t give up can’t really be pointed to some kind of faith or resilience inside me, I mean that was in there somewhere, but it couldn’t only be that. It can be pointed to one person: E.

I met and fell in love with E when we were both teenagers. He’s seen me through every stage of this writing dream, from the very beginning when I confessed to him I wanted to be a writer under the condemned house on campus where we went to be alone on one of our very first “dates,” those naive years where I spent more time talking about writing than actually writing… and he’s been with me through the harder moments. The ugly moments. The moments I sometimes forget when I’m feeling nervous about what people are saying about my book that’s about to come out—blanking on the fact that there was a time when there was no book coming out and maybe never would be.

Like that one birthday of mine, in my twenties, when that morning I’d received an email from an agent who’d been having me revise a manuscript for years but had decided to turn it—and me—down for good. I stood in the lobby of a Loew’s movie theater, after seeing a film, openly sobbing at how close I’d come and how I thought it was all over. E simply held me and told me it wasn’t over. I cried for a long time, unable to stop even though we were out in public. I wanted to give up after that—I was done; I really felt like the universe was telling me I was done—but he wouldn’t let me. He never let me give up. Not ever.

E always knew this day was coming. He also was very involved in Imaginary Girls, in what the book turned out to be, but to avoid embarrassing E any further, because he is a very private person, I will stop talking now.

So, to celebrate being ONE MONTH away from Imaginary Girls, maybe we’ll go get some Italian tonight. As for you, my kind blog readers who’ve seen me through the years, I think I’ll have one last giveaway on June 14, including signed copies of the hardcover and maybe some other things, too.

In the meantime:

• You can read the first four chapters of Imaginary Girls right now, online, for free. Just click here.

Pre-order links can be found here.

• If you’re in New York this month, come hear me read from Imaginary Girls at the twi-ny party on May 18, or come see me at the NYC Teen Author Carnival on May 23. More info here. More events to come, just waiting for them to be official.

• Check out this Bookanista review of Imaginary GirlsShannon Messenger is giving away an ARC of the book, and you have until May 21 to enter. Go here to enter.

Are you a struggling writer who knows the low point I spoke of? Please don’t ever give up on yourself. I know how close I came, and even if you don’t have an E in your life to pull you back up, I hope you’ll keep on trying.

• And I’ll say one last thing. Are you the partner—the girlfriend, boyfriend, spouse, love, other half—of a writer? Please know how significant your belief and support can be. We know we’re difficult creatures. We know how frustrating it must be to live with us, especially when the rejections are piling up and the gloom sets in. But your patience, your positivity, your faith, your willingness to read our pages can change that. It can keep your writer going. It can make all the difference. So many of us wouldn’t have books without you. Thank you.

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.

The Day You’re Older

My birthday party, age 4

I’m older today. That’s right, the dreaded birthday has arrived.

I was recently at a tax appointment with my first grown-up accountant (not that I used children to do my taxes before, only that this is the first time I am being a grown-up and using a pro accountant to do my taxes) and as she plugged in our info, she noticed that our birthdays were approaching. E’s was Sunday, and mine is today. We’re the same age, and we’ve been together since we were technically teenagers, so sometimes it’s like watching your childhood disintegrate before your eyes. I remember him when he was young. I remember being young with him. Sometimes I look in the mirror and am shocked that we’re not who we were when we first fell for each other and became inseparable. It’s quite strange.

Unfortunately, E drank some magical potion when he was younger or something because he barely shows his age. Me, I’ve been dyeing my hair since I was 22. I blame stress. Anyway, our accountant said happily that it was almost our birthdays and we groaned involuntarily, couldn’t help it. This wasn’t the best of reactions, because though we may feel old—and maybe there are things we wanted untangled in our lives that are still in tangles and we really hoped we’d have it all figured out by now—we are not as old as we could be, and we have each other, and, as our accountant pointed out, we are alive. And every year you are still alive is a great thing. Many people don’t make it this far.

Hearing that when you are groaning about your upcoming birthday puts things into perspective, for sure. Maybe I am not where I thought I’d be at this age, but I’ve stopped running the race only I was in. My life unfolded, is unfolding, at a pace I can’t control, but every year I get closer to the dreams I’ve held since I was a kid… dreams that I confessed to E when we first met and fell in love, in fact. I’ve wanted to be a writer as long as he’s known me—longer.

So, here I am, one year older. The book I think of as my true debut—my real self on those pages—won’t be out for a year and a half, so I’ll be even older then. And you know what? The number just can’t matter. It can’t. I want to stop counting.

For those who wonder if they will ever reach the goals and dreams they long for, who measure their accomplishments in years and think they failed if the arbitrary year marker passed them by, I want to show you how much things can change.

Wait. That’s not for you—it’s for me. I want to remind myself how much things have changed.

This is from a blog post I wrote four years ago today, on my birthday in 2006:

Today… is my birthday. Today is also the day I received (via email, via the account of her assistant) a rejection for my novel from a prominent agent who I had tangled myself up in hope thinking perhaps-maybe-you-never-know-i-could-be-lucky that she might like the thing this time. Email said no: my revisions were not enough. My heart sort of cracked open at the timing though. Birthdays are notoriously awful days that remind me of everything I didn’t do right the year before and I suppose the email this afternoon was the final door slam of last year and there’s nothing much I can do about it now. This agent, btw, is a complete other person from the editor I was talking so much about in months past. The editor has never ever (ever) responded and I’ve pretty much given up on that whole thing, but there was a part of me that expected the No from her today, too. It’s my birthday; fate is cruel like that. But one rejection was certainly enough, thank you. So after the rejection we went to see a movie (Brokeback Mountain) and afterward in the lobby I was crying and it wasn’t over the movie and I couldn’t get my eyes to stop leaking and made a gallant effort in a bathroom stall that didn’t stick with me when I left the bathroom and E saw me and he felt helpless I know, for all these faceless people breaking my heart over and over again and he can do nothing to stop it. But really he is what is keeping me upright. I couldn’t take all this without him. (written 2/23/06)

That’s how much your life can change in four years.

So I’m older today, fine. But I’m here together alive with E—and though HE DOESN’T AGE, I SWEAR IT’S CRAZY HOW YOUNG HE LOOKS, we’ll be fine.

Happy one more year to me.

The Day After I Hit SEND

Imaginary Girls is with my editor as of last night. Yes. I am done. I AM DONE! (Well, until it’s time for revisions… heh.)

What a week. Last week at this time you would have found me staring at the pages of the novel, wary of how I’d ever finish editing and revising it in time to turn in to my editor, and maybe also a little wary of the moment I’d turn in to my editor, since I know how amazing she is, and how intimidating is that, and would I ever finish, and how, and would anyone like it, and, and, and???

Continue reading

“Go Write Your Novel”

“Go write your novel.” That was the first thing E said to me this morning when I woke him by letting the alarm snooze and getting back into bed, and it’s also the last thing he said to me as I walked out the door.

It’s what social networking sites should say to me before I log in. It’s the ticker that should run at the bottom of the TV screen, no matter what channel I’m on: “…go write your novel, Nova, go write your novel…”

I just want E, and anyone else who may have concern, not to worry—I am writing the novel. I promise. I am well aware of the deadline. And you know, soon, writing the novel is pretty much all I’ll be doing. In fact, starting next month, I’ll soon be on a strict Internet diet during prime writing hours—and I’m hoping that being emailless and Twitterless for long chunks of time, and not answering my cell phone because at my writing spot you can’t use your cell phone at your desk or you could get kicked out, won’t make people worry that I got run over by a bus or something.

So, if you can’t reach me: I did not get run over by a bus. I’m just writing the novel. (Or I’m watching TV*.) How about you? Are you writing YOURS?

——–
* Haha! Really, I’m writing the novel, I swear. I hope E doesn’t use this as an excuse to turn off the cable.

When You Just Know

I met and fell in love with E—my first and only love—fifteen years ago when I was just a kid, really. I barely knew a thing when I met him, but I knew I wanted to be with him. October 16 is the anniversary of the day we made our being together official. That was the night I knew I had fallen in love. The night there was no going back. From there, we swiftly began a committed relationship, so swift, in fact, that I once surprised him while he was out with his friends by moving all my stuff into his dorm room. (He says he wanted me to, let’s hope.) I came home for my first winter break with my new boyfriend in tow and said he’d be staying the month. My family, of course, fell in love with him too.

I’ve been saying it’s so crazy to still be in love with the same person after fifteen years, but that just sounds like the thing to say. What would be crazy is loving someone else. Being with him is exactly right. The only other thing I’ve felt completely solidly perfectly sure of is my lifelong dream to be a writer. Times are tough right now in so many other ways, to the point where I do not know what to do… But I still have E. I had fifteen years with him and I’ll hope for fifteen, thirty, a hundred more. How can I be so sure? Well, let me put it this way: I just know.

Drops of Possible Wisdom

I learn new things every day, about who I am as a person, about who I am as a person who writes, about who I am as a person who worries herself into such a state she can barely even write and then complains about it. For example:

If you have a book contract you will need an author photo. Thus, you should probably get working on that when the contract goes through and not be caught off guard when the publisher emails asking for it, as I was, especially if you are uncomfortable in front of a camera and have nothing to use. A very wise person—she knows who she is—told me to try getting a photo taken by someone who loves me and finds me beautiful. That someone became E. We did three separate photo shoots up on the roof of our apartment building. In each one I got more and more relaxed. His patience—with me, with the sun, with our flawed digital camera—was astounding, and I have now chosen the photo to send in. I’ll wait for the publisher’s response before showing it. I’m not sure if it’ll be on the book or not. But I’ll describe it for you: My hair is down (even though it’s usually up during the day, I feel most myself when it’s down). It’s a bit of a mess, but I don’t care. On my face is the faintest hint of a smile, no grimace. I’m looking straight at the camera, well, really, I’m looking straight at E. Maybe you really can look almost beautiful when the person who finds you beautiful is the one doing the looking. I hope the photo is acceptable to the publisher; I’ll get a test print made and then send it in next week.

Email your writer friends back. They may inspire you. (And I’m not the only one to think so.) I’ve been letting my email inbox pile up to such heights that I tend to panic when I look at it. But there was one email, especially, that I wanted to write, to a fellow writer I’ve known since college—he knows who he is—and I kept putting it off because it didn’t deserve a one-line, dashed-off response. It deserved a patient, honest response. It deserved, well maybe not the anxious rant it turned out to be, but it deserved time, something real. I wrote to him yesterday. He wrote me back. And somehow I feel energized by it. To hear how he’s working on his novel, and know I’m here working on my novel. These novels, they can be solitary pursuits where it feels like you’re in it all by yourself and no one understands and there’s no way out, but that’s not true. Chances are you know quite a few people in it too. So take the time to say hi to them.

Don’t you give up on that lost shoe. I lost a writing slipper about a month ago, one from the pair I bought in Chinatown, and I scoured everywhere looking for it. I finally determined that I must have, somehow, dropped it in the street when I was carrying it in my bag between home and my weekend writing spot. So I’ve been writing without my slippers, and I’ve felt off somehow, imbalanced. Like, I buy a pair of $3 Chinatown slippers and I can’t even keep a hold of them? How am I going to finish this novel! Yes, dramatic and irrational, all from the loss of one shoe. Then last night I was home at my computer, and I happened to look down. And there, on the floor beneath the very table where I sit every night, was my lost writing slipper. I don’t know how I didn’t see it all this time. Now it’s on my foot, and I finished one chapter today and wrote an entire other one. (Don’t freak. This book has short chapters; I’m not that prolific.) But listen. Sometimes the thing you lost comes back to you at just the right moment. Sometimes you haven’t lost what you think you lost at all. Sometimes, take a moment, look down: it’s been there all along.

It’s Sunday afternoon and I’m trying to tackle another chapter. I have been photographed, I’ve emailed, and I have on my shoes. What more could I ask for (except a month off from work to write my book, but that’s a whole other story)?

Either way, lessons learned and filed away for later, or for the next time I lose a shoe.

Momentary Burst of Motivation

I hit a moment yesterday morning in the minutes before I had to leave my writing spot for the subway that sent me flying high with motivation, making plans, assuring the good half of me that I would not let the bad half give up. I have flirted with giving up on things over the years but I haven’t yet.

In fact, I’m just getting started.

That was the morning. Once I reached my desk in Midtown it was easy to forget what pretty thoughts were dancing around in my head when I was downtown. Of course the rest of the day was spent watching this burst of motivation fizzle, feeling misunderstood by most everyone, and culminating at the end of the day in one of those low moods made worse by a stalled subway train at 42nd Street and an exorbitant bill in the mailbox to which my only response was and could have been: Ha!

I thought it would last the whole night. But e has a way about him. We talked ideas. We made baked potatoes. We watched The Lady from Shanghai. I’m very much in love with him—after almost fifteen years—and if I look into his eyes it’s hard to be down. He has deep, dark brown eyes, my favorite kind. Eating our baked potatoes, watching the stunning black-and-white scenes in the film, I thought how my days have such high peaks and low valleys and is this the normal way to live? But I was too tired to ponder this any further so, after the film, I stumbled up the ladder to bed. To go to sleep. To do it again today.

And here I am, trying to return to where I was yesterday. If only it were possible to bookmark a moment. Because where was I again? I seem to have lost my place.

14 Years Today

14 years together with e today! How is it possible to be in love (more in love each year) with the same person for 14 years? I have no idea how it turned out this way, but I can tell you it is possible. E and I grew up together. We would not be who we are without the other. When I have a secret he’s the first person to know. When I write, he’s the first person to read it. I know I’ve run into some questionable luck with my writing over the years, but I am very, very lucky to have this partner—it makes all of the rest seem insignificant. I couldn’t be more grateful. There are many more things to say, but I’ll tell him in person. Today is one of my most favorite days of the year.

Favorite Day

Today is the day my favorite person, e, was born. Thus, I made him banana pancake-crepes (my mother’s recipe) and we will have dolsot bibimbap (what else?) at our current favorite restaurant for dinner. In between we will do whatever he wants. I wish there was a way I could express in writing how I feel about him. It’s terrifically ironic to be a writer and yet be unable to find the words. Every year I think of writing him a story as a present, but happiness and true love don’t seem to make for very exciting fiction. Someday I will publish a book, and it will be dedicated to him. Maybe he’ll know then how I feel. Maybe one day I’ll find a way to express it beyond banana pancakes.