What to Expect at the Djerassi YA Novel Workshop


I’m really looking forward to June, and not just because my new book will be out and I can finally relax, maybe. It’s because I get to go back to this beautiful place in the mist, the Djerassi Resident Artists Program in Northern California, and I get to take a group of fellow YA writers with me. My third Djerassi YA novel workshop will be running June 21–26, and you can still apply to join me: The deadline is February 26.

The view at Djerassi, with the fog rolling in. You can't see it, but the Pacific Ocean is out there.
The view at Djerassi, with the fog rolling in. You can’t see it, but the Pacific Ocean is out there.

I first visited Djerassi as a resident artist, where I spent a month writing and exploring ideas and finding great inspiration. I love sharing this experience with fellow writers of YA fiction—a small week-long taste with opportunities for critiques and a private meeting with me and good food and good discussion and a sculpture tour and what else can I say to entice you??

When the fog clears, look... There's the ocean.
When the fog clears, look… There’s the ocean.

I’ve been fielding some frequently asked questions lately from prospective writers, and I wanted to try to answer those here. Please, if you have more questions, feel free to ask in the comments or to email me privately.

Some of the studios, where some of the writers will stay.
Some of the studios, where some of the writers will stay.

As it says in the general description, this is a fiction workshop tailored for writers working on YA novels of any style and genre, featuring daily critique sessions and time to retreat and produce new work. Includes 75 pages (25 for group critique; 50 in private conference) of manuscript review… And if you’d like some testimonials, scroll down on this page for the wonderful things the 2014 Djerassi YA workshop writers said.

The artists' barn, where we hold workshops every morning.
The artists’ barn, where we hold workshops every morning.

But you have more questions, so here goes, a FAQ:

What are you looking for in writing sample?

I’m looking for good writing, of course, but also the spark that tells me I would be able to be helpful to you as a writing teacher—a connection to your writing that tells me we would work well together.

It’s not all about the writing sample, either: I am looking at that last question on the application carefully, the short statement where I ask “what you hope to gain from this workshop and what writing experience and classes you have taken before, if any.”

I’m looking at the person as well as the writer, so I can try to craft a good, supportive, dynamic group of writers who will click with one another, and who will come from differing perspectives and backgrounds and places in their careers.

Please know: The sample pages you send in for the application absolutely do not have to be the pages you send in for the actual workshop. So send your best work for the application, and know you can send far rougher pages later.

When will the pages for critique be due?

A month before our workshop starts, so you have a chance to read all your fellow writers’ work and write feedback before arriving at Djerassi (and so I’ll have time to read, too!): so May 21.

You’ll be able to workshop up to 25 pages with the group. You will also have the opportunity to send me up to 50 additional pages for private critique, which we will discuss in person when we meet.

These additional pages can be from a different novel, if you prefer, or from the same novel—up to you.

Inside the barn, before the writers arrive.
Inside the barn, before the writers arrive.

What kind of writers are you seeking?

YA writers with experience, though not necessarily publications. Though, of course, published authors are very welcome to apply.

This is not a workshop for beginning-level writers who have never written fiction before. You should also know what YA is, and you should be enthusiastically, passionately writing it.

Diverse writers are encouraged to apply. You must be 18 or older to apply.

Can I workshop pages from a middle-grade novel there?

You can send middle-grade fiction for your writing sample, but I’d like to keep the workshop itself just to YA fiction this year. Please only apply if you know you will have the opening pages of a YA novel to bring for group discussion June.

(You will be welcome to show me pages from a separate middle-grade project in our private conference, if you’re so inclined.)

Is this workshop for women only?

No! (This was a question really asked, so I’m including it here.) It was only coincidence that the great majority of writers who applied last year were women… Most of my readers are women, too. Male writers and non-gender-conforming writers are encouraged to apply. I’d love a diverse group of writers.

Workshop morning.
Workshop morning.


How many writers will you accept?

Nine. Though, if I can’t help it, certainly no more than eleven, due to housing constraints.

Are you choosing writers RIGHT NOW THIS VERY SECOND and is there a chance I will lose my spot if I wait to apply until the deadline? (i.e., Are there rolling admissions?)

No rolling admissions.

I won’t be selecting the writers until after the deadline, which is February 26. I admit that I have peeked at the applications and read some writing samples and I’m getting excited… But I really will be making the decisions after all the applications are in. Notifications will go out on or before March 12.

Here I am taking a break during one of the workshops, on the listening bench.
Here I am taking a break during one of the workshops, on the listening bench.

What is the daily schedule?

We will meet for workshop in the mornings, during which we will critique each writer’s opening pages in a constructive, honest group discussion led by me. At the end of discussion, you will have the opportunity to ask the group questions about anything you’d like clarity on, or anything that didn’t come up in our feedback.

After you’ve been workshopped, you and I will schedule a private conference in the afternoon, where we will talk about how you thought the workshop critique went and discuss your additional pages.

During one afternoon, we’ll go on a sculpture tour of the property, which is totally voluntary but highly recommended.

Otherwise the afternoons are yours to write, nap, think, read, chat, hike the sculpture trails on your own, or whatever you’d like. In previous workshops, sometimes the writers would meet together for writing sprints—and you are always welcome to write in your private studio. Your time is yours.

Breakfast and lunch are yours to make from the fully stocked kitchen, but every night we meet for delicious dinner in the main house, made for us by amazing Chef Dan. (Who is wonderfully accommodating for special diets, btw, if you are vegan or vegetarian or gluten-free. Everything he makes is so good. He’s my favorite chef, over all the colonies.) We share chores after dinner and clean up the dishes. It doesn’t take long.

In the evenings we will have readings—a chance, if you’d like, to share more of your work!—and we will try writing prompts if everyone is interested. We might have a movie night. I did a reading myself in previous years, but this year I might add in a craft talk. We might have an honest discussion about the publishing industry in a place where only we can hear. I take my cue from you, and will craft the week to be whatever you’d like it to be.

Sculpture tour (February).
Sculpture tour (February).
Sculpture tour (June).
Sculpture tour (June, in the mist).

Is there any required reading?

A month before the workshop, you’ll get your fellow writers’ pages to read and start critiquing so you have ample time to have everything done before you arrive. Other than that, there is no required reading before or during the workshop.

Is there an opportunity for you to critique my full manuscript?

I’ve added in this option due to requests from last year. You can see my new critique and mentoring service on my website, but for 2015 Djerassi writers, the fee will be heavily discounted if you want me to read and critique beyond page 75 of your novel.

Are there scholarships available?

I’m sorry to say that we don’t have a scholarship program available.

(Last year, I was amazed at one of the writers, who ran a successful Kickstarter to fund her trip from Australia!)

The old barn, a short hike into the woods.
The old barn, a short hike into the woods.

Here’s a question I’m not asked: What do I want from this week?

I want to give you a safe place to talk about your novel, among like-minded writers. A place to be honest on the page. A place to dig in and ask questions and be open to feedback that could help raise your story to new heights. I want to dig in to your novel with you and help you get to where you’d like to be.

I also love being up at Djerassi, so I can’t wait to go back, just selfishly.

If my last two Djerassi workshops in 2014 were any indication, this is going to be an incredible week.

Dessert, made by Dan.
Dessert, made by Dan.

If you want to get a sense of the experience in a way I can’t tell you, here are some beautiful blog posts from some writers who were there last year:

Yield to Whim — Susan Bishop Crispell

The Path to Inspiration: A Week at Djerassi — Rebekah Faubion

Summer Workshops: Lighthouse Meets Djerassi — Carrie Brown Wolf

Life After Djerassi — Zoë Harris

My Djerassi Experience — Shelli Cornelison

Djerassi Part I, Djerassi Part II, and Djerassi Part III — Courtney Leigh

(2014 Djerassi writers: If I missed your post and I can share it here, please send me the link!)

Sunset, looking out at one of the sculptures resident artists have left around the property.

I hope this FAQ answers your questions—but if you have more, please ask in the comments below or feel free to email me!

Most of all, I hope you’ll be inspired to apply and join me this June…


Djerassi Workshop Applications Now Open!

My YA Novel Writing Workshops & Retreats at the Djerassi Resident Artists Program in February and June 2014 were such a resounding success—and such a joy to lead!—that I am doing another week-long YA novel workshop in June 2015! And exciting news: Applications are now open.

05 djerassi sunset

The Young Adult Novel Writing workshop and retreat in 2015 will run June 21–26. It’s a fiction workshop tailored for writers working on YA novels of any style and genre, featuring daily critique sessions and time to retreat and produce new work. Includes 75 pages (25 for group critique; 50 in private conference) of manuscript review. Full novel review available for an additional fee. For more information about the workshop, and also for testimonials from writers who attended the 2014 Djerassi workshops with me, please check out this page. You are also very welcome to email me directly with any questions you may have.

And yes… though it is a ways away, applications are now open!

The deadline is February 26, 2015, and I will be reviewing all the applications at once, and notifying by March 12, so there is no rush to apply… But if you’re writing a YA novel and want a beautiful retreat experience while taking a workshop with me, I hope you will consider applying.

I’ve added the option of a full novel review with me in private conference after some feedback from last year’s workshop writers, so if that intrigues you, I will send more details on that to accepted applicants in March.

p.s. If you happen to be reading this post and you don’t write YA, I want to tell you that you can still take a week-long workshop at the Djerassi Resident Artists Program! Workshop retreats in 2015 have also been announced on Writing Your Book-Length Manuscript with Jane Vandenburgh, Flash Points Fiction Writing with Laurie Stone, Writing the Debut Novel the Non-MFA Way with Heidi Durrow, Writing the Spec TV Pilot with Jamie Pachino, and Environmental Life Writing with Ann Fisher-Worth. For information on all the workshop retreats being offered in 2015, and for links to apply, visit the Djerassi website.

The Very First Djerassi YA Novel Workshop and Retreat

Earlier this month, you could find me high up in the Santa Cruz mountains of Northern California, not so far from San Francisco, at a beautiful artists’ sanctuary called the Djerassi Resident Artists Program. I was gifted a writing residency there once before, in 2012, but my visit this month was to share my love of the place—and its inspiration, its magic—with my fellow YA and middle-grade writers. The very first Djerassi YA Novel Workshop & Retreat was February 9–14, and it went better than I could have even hoped.

Eleven writers were selected from a group of competitive applications to join me at Djerassi for a week of workshopping, retreating, and exploring the beautiful grounds on the mountain. We discussed novels-in-progress in group critiques in the morning workshops, wrote in the afternoons, met for private conferences with me to discuss even more novel pages, devoured Chef Dan’s delicious dinners, explored the grounds and the sculptures left behind by artists in the woods, and shared more writing in evening readings.

I was struck by the talent of each one of the writers—and also by how giving and committed they were to supporting each other and critiquing their fellow writers’ work. It was a joy to teach this workshop and have the chance to read pages from these novels. I came away having learned so much myself, and itching to write… which is the best gift, in all ways.

My thanks go to the writers—the very first participants not just of this YA workshop series with me, but of a new alumni-led workshop program at Djerassi (the Djerassi Resident Artists Program will be announcing more info on this soon, so stay tuned). This international group of dedicated writers was the very first workshop on the Djerassi grounds!

My next YA Novel Workshop & Retreat at Djerassi is this coming June, and if it’s possible I am now even more excited to share this experience with a new talented group of YA and middle-grade writers. If you’re signed up for June, I hope this post gets you all the more excited about what’s to come. I’ll be emailing soon with more details on what to expect. I can’t wait to meet all of you.

Spaces are full for the next session this June, but guess what?

The first workshop week was so rewarding for me that I jumped at the chance to hold one more YA Novel Workshop & Retreat at Djerassi next year, in June 2015. Applications for the June 2015 workshop will open this spring. Watch this space for an announcement of when applications become available. If you’d like to be on my mailing list to be notified by email when the 2015 workshop applications open, leave a comment on this post or email me directly!

Below are some photos from our glorious week:

The Artists' Barn the night before all the writers arrived...
View inside the Artists’ Barn the night before all the writers arrived…
02 djerassi fog first morning
The magical mist shrouded the mountain the morning the writers arrived, but it would clear…
03 djerassi the fog clears
When the fog and mist cleared, a view of the Artists’ Barn, where we held morning workshops, and a peek of the Middlebrook Studios to the left, where some of the writers stayed…
04 djerassi galoshes
The writers came prepared for mud with multicolored galoshes…
05 djerassi sunset
There is nothing like a Djerassi sunset…
06 djerassi morning visitors
Our morning visitors, who would linger and peek in during our workshops…
07 djerassi workshop
Gathering for workshop one morning…
08 djerassi hike
Out hiking the sculpture trails, led by the Djerassi executive director, Margot…
09 djerassi sculpture climb
A daring climb to meet a sculpture…
10 djerassi old barn
The old barn, where I heard a couple creepy scenes were later written by some of our writers…
11 djerassi listening chair
Me, sitting on the listening bench, taking a moment to relax…
12 djerassi ocean view
The view of the Pacific Ocean. I swear that’s it, beyond the horizon…
13 djerassi valentines
We were surprised and delighted at our last dinner, on Valentine’s Day, by quotes about love (thank you, Celia!). This one was my favorite…
14 djerassi group photo
Me, in the center, with all the wonderful writers! You will be reading all of their published novels one day! (Photo courtesy of Elle LaMarca.)

Thank you to the awesome writers who took part in this workshop: Alisia, Asale, Edith, Elle, Jennifer, Jess, Kim, Marie, Rebekah, Susan, and Zoë! Special thanks to Margot (and Nick!) for offering me the chance to teach this workshop (and for the wonderful sculpture tour!), to Laura and Celia and Tom (and the best dog, Hank!) for making sure everything ran so smoothly even during the chaos of stormy airport pickups, to  Dan for our truly delectable meals, to Judy for facilitating the applications, to E for help behind the scenes, and to everyone else involved in making this week such a success.

Applications for June 2015 will open this spring! Contact me to be added to my mailing list for the announcement. I can’t wait to do this again… two more times!

Workshop and Retreat with Me: Applications Due October 18!


Now that it’s October, I thought I’d post once more about my Djerassi Writes YA novel workshop and retreat this coming February in the mountains of Woodside, California… and remind anyone who might be considering that applications are due next week, October 18! (Quick link: APPLY ONLINE.)

Djerassi barn

What will the week be like? (Spoiler: I think it’s going to be awesome.) This is the first time the Djerassi Resident Artists Program—an artists’ colony not just for writers but for visual artists and composers and choreographers, too—is hosting a weeklong workshop and retreat, so we are creating the week from scratch, envisioning mornings of workshopping your writing and afternoons free to write new work in your private studio or wander the beautiful sculpture trails or talk with me about books and words and building a career. In the evenings we will do readings from our work or discuss issues in the industry or books we love or, if we’re so inclined, excuse ourselves to write some more. All meals will be provided, and you’ll be housed in the rooms and studios where Djerassi Fellows are housed during the residency season, giving you a little taste of the artists’-colony experience.

Djerassi shortcut path

You’ll also have a private consultation with me about your novel-in-progress, in addition to the workshop feedback you’ll get from the group discussion.

Djerassi view

On a personal note, I was an artist in residence at Djerassi in 2012 (that’s where these photos are from), and found myself really struck by the beautiful place in the mountains of Woodside, California. I see it as the ideal place to dig in to a draft and create new words. When the opportunity to lead a workshop and retreat here came to me, how could I possibly pass this up?

Djerassi barn 2

I should say that though the title of the workshop specifies young adult novels, middle-grade writers are also welcome and encouraged to apply. (I have written one, myself, and I do love middle-grade!)


One of my favorite things about teaching writing—aside from the celebratory moments that keep coming when I learn one of my former students has signed with an agent or secured a book deal!—is the opportunity to dig deep into a novel and help the writer make it the best it can be, all the while always respecting that writer’s vision for the book. I’d be honored to have the chance to do that with yours.

Apply here by October 18.

Email me any questions you may have.


YA Novel Workshop & Retreat in Northern California

Have you ever wanted to take a workshop from me… in person? Plus have retreat time to write new work in a beautiful location where other artists go to create? Plus, eat delicious food from an incredible chef (not me! I can’t cook!)?

I am excited to tell you that THIS is happening and applications are now open:

Djerassi shortcut path

djerassi-2014poets&writers-adDjerassi Writes: Young Adult Novel Workshop and Writing Retreat
with acclaimed author Nova Ren Suma

Sunday, February 9th–Friday, February 14th
Djerassi Resident Artists Program

Application fee

Workshop fee
Applicants accepted pending review of writing samples by Nova Ren Suma
$1500 includes workshop fee, 5 nights lodging, and all food (single)
$1000 special couples rate of $1000 each (shared room/bed)
Private Consultation of up to fifty pages of a novel

Deadline for submissions October 18th
Notifications by November 15th

Application Process:

Applications for the workshop can be accessed through this link: https://djerassi.slideroom.com

Applications are now open!


Yes, this is an artist colony I’ve been lucky enough to visit on a residency, and now they’ve asked me to hold a workshop on the gorgeous, gorgeous campus in the Northern California mountains. Please feel free to email me at nova[at]novaren[dot]com with any questions or ask in the comments!

Inside an Artist Colony

What happens at an artist colony? I keep getting asked this, and each one is different, but here at the Djerassi Resident Artists Program in the northern California mountains I’ll give you a small peek of what happens:

I would just like to take a moment and say the trees in California are REALLY tall!

You must apply to get in, and international artists of many disciplines can apply, so right now I am here with seven other artists: another fiction writer, a playwright, a choreographer, a composer, a media artist, and two visual artists. We live together in two shared spaces (an Artists’ House that holds mostly writers and an Artists’ Barn that holds special studios for dancers and composers and visual artists). We don’t pay to be here and we’re not given a cash prize: The award is the time and space itself. It’s the month of being here, doing our work. We eat dinner together at night and share presentations with one another. In fact, my presentation is tonight! (Nervous.) We talk. We crave cake and pounce on it when the amazing chef provides a dark chocolate Guinness cake with cream cheese frosting (oh my!). And during the workdays and late at night we wander the house in our pajamas, deep in our creative stupors, going back again and again for more coffee or more tea.

You’re here to do your work, at your own pace, for yourself, in any way you want. No one is policing your time—or your internet usage. If tomorrow I want to lie on the porch outside my sliding glass door with my notebook on my face and “write” in my head, I can do that. If I want to stay in pajamas all day and have a strawberry breakfast and write as much as my fingers will spit out, I can do that also—in fact, I might just do that.

We’ve also been: amusing ourselves with poems and scary stories; trading books; laughing; sharing chores; baking sweet potatoes over a wood stove; admiring the amazing view of the land and the Pacific Ocean in the distance; eating the delicious food the chef makes us for weeknight dinners; not watching TV; and working, tons.

The on-site staff members who live and eat with us are also artists—so you’re surrounded at all times by creative people. Oh and animals. So far I’ve seen: one snake, two bunnies, multiple deer, one hummingbird, and Neil Young’s cows.

The Pacific Ocean sometimes looks like a part of the sky. And on the property, in the woods, are a series of sculptures made by artists who’ve been residents here. They’re like treasures, peppered throughout the trees, made to last as long as they will and then weather away and become a part of the forest.

"Vanishing Ship" by John Roloff
Faery by Derek Johnson
"Orpheus Coyote and Friends" by William King
(someone forgot to write down what this sculpture was)

Feel free to ask me questions, but I hope this explains it!

To find out more about Djerassi artist residencies and sculpture tours open to the public, visit www.djerassi.org


A tiny note about the world outside the artist colony: Yes yes, I know The Hunger Games opens tomorrow. Yes, I am in mourning that I don’t have a way to see it. Please don’t tell me how awesome it is. I won’t be able to contain my jealousy. Just please go and make the movie very, very popular so it is still in theaters when I get back to New York City on April 13!

A Good, Creative Day

I finished the draft of a short story today, ate a cheese sandwich, did laundry, saw the lucky bunny outside my sliding-glass door (three times!), got a special care package containing my writers colony galoshes and more, took a short walk even though my bad ankle is bothering me, looked around at where I was, and just felt really happy to be here.

The Artists' House, where I'm staying.
The Artists' House at the top of the hill
The shortcut path between the Artists' House and the Artists' Barn
A view from the shortcut path
The Artists' Barn
View from inside the Artists' Barn (that blue there between the sky and the land is the Pacific Ocean!)
That really is a view of the Pacific! Wow.

Tonight after dinner and after the night’s presentation, I’ll make some revisions to the story. It’s due! Then what’s next when I turn it in? Can’t wait to find out.