For the Girl Who Needs to Hide Her Diary, For the Girl Who Doesn’t Think She’s Worth So Much

A truly amazing thing happened to me this year. The Walls Around Us was chosen as the first-year read at Salem College, a women’s college in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, which meant that all incoming first-year students read my book over the summer (and wrote an essay on it!). So many young women, at the start of their college lives, reading my novel! And this week, I visited the campus and met with two classes of honors students and then, one evening, gave a lecture to the whole first-year class on campus, here, in this room:

salem_auditorium

When I was thinking of what I might say before a large group of young women, I was brought back to why this book was written, and why all my books are written… Why I write proudly and exclusively about girls, and why these stories are universal and just as worthy as the stories I remember reading all through school about men and more men and boys. I spoke about something that happened to me as a teenager that told me girls’ stories—that women writers—weren’t thought of as worthy… and why everything about my reading life and writing life is to prove that wrong.

I won’t recap the talk here, since in fact so much of it is infusing an essay I’m currently writing at the moment, and I look forward to sharing that with you in the future.

But I looked out at that room of young women, and I saw myself there. I remembered who I was (I’m still that girl—aren’t we always?).

I couldn’t fit the whole room in this photograph, but here is my first sight of the audience when I walked out onto the stage:

salem_audience

My talk touched on a lot of things—within the book, and within my life. I made a small mention of the book’s dedication, which was all connected.

This is the dedication of The Walls Around Us:

For the girl who needs to hide her diary

For the girl who doesn’t think she’s worth so much

Astute readers and/or those who know me very well might realize who this book is dedicated to… Someone specific, whose diary was found and exposed when she was a teenager, making her ashamed of her giant ambitions because who was she to have them? Someone so specific, who was told by multiple men in her life that she wasn’t worthy… That same girl stood on a stage on a college campus this week, giving a talk about her fourth published book. And the men who told her she wouldn’t, couldn’t, would never accomplish much? Look how small they are now.

Who dares to dedicate a book to herself? Someone who was told she’d never be able to publish a book at all.

me on stage

After my talk, there were questions (some of which I am shocked I even answered, as I don’t usually reveal the secrets in my books! don’t ever expect that to happen again!) and a book signing, and it was a wonderful thing to meet some of the students and sign the book to them and get the chance to chat with them.

A few of the students confessed to me that they wanted to be writers, too.

If any happen to have found my blog and are reading this post—specifically one aspiring writer in particular who didn’t know how she would ever be able to pursue her dream, I hope what I said was encouraging, and I am always here if you want to reach out. I mean it. You can email me.

A few of the students asked me to sign the book for them on the dedication page instead of the title page, as if they saw themselves in the dedication as I did.

As if the book was for them as much as it was for me—and I believe it is.

If you see yourself there, it’s yours, too.

Thank you so very much to Salem College for having me! What an incredible experience.

shoes

As I was traveling home, I was thinking of all the ways my life has shifted and surprised me this year. I never expected to have these opportunities or to even be this person—even though, yes, it’s what I dreamed of and it’s what I wanted. These were pipe dreams. And now, standing in the shoes shown here (gifted from a dear friend and now, clearly, my new lucky shoes!), it has somehow become my reality.

When I reached New York City, on the way home from the airport and stuck in traffic in Queens, I had a moment. I know I’ve turned onto a new path this year—one more focused on teaching; one more true to myself—but I also know I have a lot more to do, to say, to learn, to write, to become. There is more I want, there will always be more I want… that ambition I carried as a girl has only grown.

But it’s not daunting or debilitating, even if the new road I’m on is long.

I haven’t written in a true diary in years… not since I started this blog, so I guess this became my diary, my public record. I’m not hiding anymore. Look, no hands! Here I am, I’m here.

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The Surprises, the Failures, the New Chapters in This Author Life

bluelacesWhen I entered the YA world in 2010, with the impending publication of Imaginary Girls (before that I didn’t feel a welcome part of it because my debut was middle-grade), I looked around at all the authors and thought there was one single kind of career to aspire to, the Best Kind, and of course I should be aspiring to it: The full-time writer who publishes a book a year and reaches out with savvy, fun marketing to her fans (ahem, she has fans) and goes to all the cool conferences and festivals.

This was what I had to try to be, and if I couldn’t, then I would fail at this, just like I’d failed already at trying to publish novels for adults.

I gave it a good go. At one point I was trying to propose a middle-grade trilogy along with a new YA novel, saying I could write both in one year, and then of course both proposals failed before we even showed them to editors because I lost my steam and I began to have this little tickling laugh at myself: You can’t do this. You can’t write this fast. My agent knew it, too, and never pushed me. I was the one pushing myself.

I guess I pushed until I sputtered and fell over.

Time passed. Attempts. Failures. More attempts.

Everything involving The Walls Around Us came to be, and that was good.

And through it all, and in the aftermath of Walls, I’ve been thinking this: But wait. What kind of author do I really want to become?

If I’m going to be honest with myself, what feels right?

It’s funny, but I think at heart you often want to emulate the people who were there to influence you in those eye-opening moments when you first get serious about being a writer. For me, that’s when I was 22. I keep going back to my time in grad school at Columbia University, when I was 22 and starting my MFA in Fiction and writing my short stories. The authors I admired then weren’t publishing a book a year. The authors I admired were so far from commercial, most people outside my circle had never heard of them. The authors I admired—basically, every single one of them—were teaching writing in programs like mine.

So why didn’t I try to teach way back when?

I was too shy. I had no confidence. I was well aware I knew nothing. So instead of trying for any teaching assistantships, I found my way into publishing and chose the most quiet and out-of-the-spotlight position a person could take in book publishing, the copy editor aka production editor. The person no one thinks about until she misses a mistake.

I sat quietly in this job, or another job like it, for about five, six, seven years. Sometimes I walked the hallways of the publishing company I was working at—whichever one—wanting to disappear off the face of the earth with a red pencil stabbed through my neck because no one wanted to publish me. But I needed to live this experience. I needed those years of rejection to make me a better writer, and to want it all the more.

When I found YA and Imaginary Girls got me a good book deal, I waited until the day my advance check was deposited in my bank account, and then I quit my job. I knew I didn’t want to be a production editor anymore, but I would soon find out I wasn’t so good at being a prolific full-time author either.

So what was left?

* * *

It is eighteen years after that fateful August I moved to Morningside Heights to start my MFA, all the light and starry hope in my eyes, and a batch of IKEA furniture on the way to furnish my side of the apartment (I could afford one table and three chairs, one black fabric couch chair, and one bookshelf, all the cheapest models available). Eighteen years later, and I’m about to finish teaching my last week of my YA Novel Writing course at Columbia, the same university where this all began, and went into debt for, and regret sometimes even while knowing those were the happiest years of my life. My Columbia class ends next week, and I absolutely loved teaching it. I’m sad it’s over. I want to do it again.

All along was I supposed to pursue teaching?

Maybe so. Funny not to realize, but now that I’ve been teaching, I’ve come to see how much I do love it—this June I led my third workshop at the Djerassi Resident Artists Program; it was so wonderful, I’m doing it again in March, twice (applications just opened this week). And I have two workshops this fall, coming up at the Highlights Foundation and the Writing Barn (spaces still open in each workshop), and I’m working privately with some writers, and I’m pursuing other things to teach regularly if I can, and I’m doing all of this because I am hoping it will lead me to be like the authors I admired all those years ago, to build the kind of career that feels right after some trial and error at other ways. The goal: Teaching at a college one day, taking the time I need to write my next novel, helping new writers be the best they can be, the way I was helped and have not forgotten.

Working with other writers feels right—it feels good. Not having to be so self-centered and solely focused on my own stuff, my own books, my own marketing chatter, my own author career and where it’s going or where it’s not going… what a fucking relief.

I am frustrated, sure, that it took me this long to realize this kind of career would be a better fit for me—imagine how far along I’d be if I’d known, imagine how much angsting I would have saved myself—and yet, it is what it is.

I think of a writer from one of my workshops who recently sent out queries for her beautiful work and I am hoping she finds an agent who believes in her writing the way I do. I think of all the writers I’ve worked with over these brief few years I’ve been teaching, and the struggles some have had in this industry, and I wish and hope I can be a helpful light when the doors keep closing in their faces, the way hundreds of doors did on mine. I think of the writer whose unpublished novel I was reading last night and how stunned I was by the last page I read, and how I know it needs to be published and I wish I could snap my fingers and make it happen, but I know that’s not possible and maybe the feedback I’ll give her to work to make it the best book it can be will help in another way. I think of the writer just at the beginning of a novel and all the potential and spark I see in there, and how I said, please email me when you’re ready, even if it takes years, I won’t forget you, and if I can do something to help when the time comes, I will. I think of all the writers who work hard through all the madness of writing a novel, even when that novel won’t get published in the end, a fate many novels have, and I want to tell them it’s not wasted work and it doesn’t mean they won’t make it, and to keep trying, keep writing, keep reinventing yourself. I did.

This is the thing: The kind of author we want to be can change, as we grow as writers, as we realize who we are meant to be. It can expand. And maybe it can shock and surprise you.

It does not have to be what everyone else sees as successful.

You do not need to covet a seat at the popular lunch table.

You can carve out a new path for yourself. Start your own table. Pull up a few more chairs. Change the dream.

One day in the far future when I let myself go gray (I started going gray at 20 and I’m still dyeing, thank you very much), I want to know I gave back as much as I put out in the world, in my own small way.

Two Fall Workshops… Two Upcoming Deadlines…

Would you like to take a writing workshop with me this fall? I have two workshops coming up with a few spaces left in each… and the deadlines are quickly approaching…


HIGHLIGHTS BOOKS WITH BITE WORKSHOP

In September, I’m co-leading a workshop at the Highlights Foundation in Honesdale, Pennsylvania, with Micol Ostow. For the Books with Bite Workshop and Retreat: Writing Horror and Haunted Novels, we will be focusing on dark & twisty YA or middle-grade fiction, from thrillers to ghost stories to horror to dark magical realism and beyond. If your novel has some unsettling twists or explores some creepy subject matter, this may be the workshop for you!

WORKSHOP DATES: September 16–20

APPLICATION DEADLINE: Monday, August 24

[apply here] 


WRITING BARN WORKSHOP

In November, I’m teaching an intensive workshop at the Writing Barn in Austin, Texas. A Week in Residency with Nova Ren Suma (ahem, that’s me!) is for writers of YA or middle-grade fiction working in any genre who want a focused week for workshopping and writing. Guest authors Lynne Kelly and Nikki Loftin will also be visiting to give craft talks.

WORKSHOP DATES: November 8–14

APPLICATION DEADLINE: Tuesday, September 15 (late deadline October 5)

[apply here]


There are a few spaces open in each of these workshops, and admissions are rolling… so apply as soon as you can to guarantee your spot!

Please tell any writers you think might be interested. And of course, if you have any questions about either workshop, you are welcome to email me or leave a comment here.

Teaching YA Novel Workshop at Columbia University

columbiauHere’s an announcement for NY-area writers and university students! This summer I will be teaching a YA Novel Workshop in the School of the Arts at Columbia University…

The course is for YA writers working on a novel-in-progress, and is open to Columbia students as well as visiting students from other universities and adult professional students through the School of the Continuing Education. The class starts on July 6 and runs for six weeks—and there is still time to register!

Here is an abbreviated course description:

Young adult fiction is a popular and still-growing category in book publishing that encompasses all genres—fantasy, paranormal, romance, historical, science fiction, dystopian, coming-of-age realism, literary fiction, and more. YA books are written for a core audience of teenagers, but their reach often crosses over to adult readers. In this class, students will embark on writing their own YA novels. Each student’s work will be critiqued in weekly writing workshops, with the discussion focusing on guiding each writer to find the best way to tell his or her story. With an eye always on our own work, we will discuss craft issues including voice, POV, character, style, plotting, and more. There also will be weekly discussions of the work of current YA novelists including Laurie Halse Anderson, Libba Bray, David Levithan, Courtney Summers, Rita Williams-Garcia, and more. The emphasis, however, will be on writing and critiquing our own work. Students will write up to three chapters of an original YA novel along with a partial outline for their book in progress. The class will include a visit from published YA authors who will speak about craft, audience, and getting published.

For more information about taking a summer session course with Columbia University’s School of the Arts, and to register, visit this page.

SCBWI Metro NY Tuesday Professional Series

If you’re in New York City, I’d love to invite you to a talk I am doing for the NY Metro chapter of SCBWI on Finding Your Own Unique Voice on June 9. You do not need to be a member of SCBWI to attend.

Here are the details:

scbwi metro ny logoTuesday, June 9, 7:30–9:30pm

SCBWI Metro NY Tuesday Professional Series

Finding Your Own Unique Voice: Taking Risks and Being True to Yourself as a Writer, with Nova Ren Suma

How do you find your voice as a writer—a voice distinct to you and only you? In this crowded publishing market, we must find ways to stand out, and it’s not about chasing trends or trying to please everybody—so much of it is about being honest, brave, and distinctly yourself. In this talk, YA author and writing instructor Nova Ren Suma will share how she came to write her latest novel,The Walls Around Us, for herself first and the risks she took along the way. She will give craft advice on carving out a unique voice for your story and practical advice on building a career that is most true to you. Q&A to follow.

Location: Anthroposophical Society, NYC  | Tickets

For more information and to order tickets see here.

Mondays with Me: Some Upcoming Events

If you don’t follow me on Twitter or see me around Facebook, you may not know that I have some events coming up. They all happen to be on Mondays. Is that my thing? Bringing the creepy to Monday nights?

Anyway, if you are in the DC/Maryland/VA area, New York City, or Northern California, maybe you’ll come see me this month or next? Come spend a Monday with me…

Bethesda, Maryland
Monday, May 18, 7pm
The Walls Around Us Book Event & Reading
Bethesda Library, in conjunction with Politics and Prose
7400 Arlington Rd
Bethesda, MD
I’ll be visiting the Bethesda Library to read from The Walls Around Us and talk about the book, for this event supported by Politics and Prose, who will be selling books on site.

New York City
Monday, June 9, 7:30pm
SCBWI Metro NY Tuesday Professional Series
Finding Your Own Unique Voice: Taking Risks and Being True to Yourself as a Writer
Anthropological Society
138 West 15th Street
Ground floor, between 6th Avenue & 7th Avenue
New York, NY
I’m speaking in the SCBWI Metro NY chapter’s Tuesday Professional Series on finding your voice as a writer—a voice distinct to you and only you. In this crowded publishing market, we must find ways to stand out, and it’s not about chasing trends or trying to please everybody—so much of it is about being honest, brave, and distinctly yourself. Q&A to follow. You can book a ticket and reserve your seat now. You don’t have to be a member of SCBWI to come.

Palo Alto, California
Monday, June 29, 7pm
NYMBC Presents YA Thrills & Chills
Books, Inc. Palo Alto
74 Town & Country Village
Palo Alto, CA
I’ll be doing a Not Your Mother’s Book Club YA event with Katie Coyle (Vivian Apple at the End of the World) and Lauren Saft (Those Girls) at the Palo Alto Books, Inc. Panel and book signing.

I’ll also be at the ALA conference in San Francisco this June, though not on a Monday. More details on that will be on my website soon!

 

 

 

 

The Great Slasher Girls & Monster Boys Giveaway

Slasher_Comp_2All this talk of short stories, and did you know after a long drought in the short-story department, I am having one published? And it’s freaky and bloody and twisted? You’ll find it in the Slasher Girls & Monster Boys horror anthology forthcoming from Dial/Penguin this August.

It contains stories not just from me but from Leigh Bardugo, Kendare Blake, Marie Lu, Carrie Ryan, Megan Shepherd, April Genevieve Tucholke, Cat Winters, and more more more!

And now we have ARCs… so we’re holding a giveaway!

The lovely—and absolutely twisted—April Genevieve Tucholke has just posted the details

Enter! Scare us! Enter! Freak us out! Enter!

The Great SLASHER GIRLS & MONSTER BOYS ARC Giveaway

(US-Only, ends Monday, May 18)

Slasher-arc-pic

HOW TO WIN:

We want to see you at your creatively slashiest. Show us your macabre side and post a pic of something scary to Instagram or Twitter, under hashtag #SLASHERGIRLSARC 

SCARY PIC SUGGESTIONS:

1. Hold a seance

2. Read a horror story in a cemetery

3. Recreate a horror scene from film/tv

4. Play light as a feather, stiff as a board

5. Say Bloody Mary 3 times in a mirror at midnight

6. Show us your Slasher boyfriend/girlfriend/platonic friend–Pinhead, Freddy, Xenomorph Queen…

7. Draw a chalk outline of a body on a sidewalk. Possibly yours.

SUPER SPECIAL ENTRY: Dig your own shallow grave. Anyone who goes to this much trouble will

be placed in their own pool, i.e. your chances of winning are extremely good. Shallow grave

guidelines: Be safe about digging. We’ll not be responsible for bodily injury due to spade

mishaps, digging near power/gas lines, or digging on a too hot day, etc. Keep it safe, keep it

shallow. On a beach, perhaps. Or in your garden.

Enter the giveaway as many times as you want (but dig your grave only once).

The Special Pool entries will be given priority.

And don’t let us hinder your slashy creativity. If you have other ideas, let’s see them! Tweet us

your fave horror quotes! Show us your…scary dogs? Just keep it legal. And don’t forget to RT and use

the hashtag #SLASHERGIRLSARC

(US-Only, ends Monday, May 18)