Friday, June 10, 2011

Author Interview: Nova Ren Suma

Nova Ren Suma, the lovely author of Imaginary Girls (what is easily one of my favorite books of the year) was kind enough to answer some questions for me, and I have to say, I think this is one of my favorite author interviews I've done yet. So check it out, and get geared up, because Imaginary Girls is out next Tuesday!

If Chloe made the front page, what would the headline say?

The whole page would be filled with a photograph, not of Chloe but of her older sister, Ruby. The headline would be all about Ruby, but if you looked closely at the photo you'd see Chloe there. Off to the side with her eyes on her sister, or blurred somewhere in the background. That's how things seem between Chloe and Ruby... on the surface. Ruby tends to get noticed first.

Which do you think is harder, being the older sister or younger?

IMAGINARY GIRLS is written from the perspective of the little sister, but in real life I'm the big sister and I have a little sister, Laurel Rose. (I tend to call her by her middle name "Rose.") Even though I lived in Chloe's head through the writing of the story, since the voice was limited to only what Chloe saw and knew and believed, I'm way more used to being the older sister. In fact, I can't separate myself from being Rose's big sister, and I do find it hard. I worry about her. I think about her constantly. I want to do so much for her, but I know she has to live her own life. I have to let go, even though I hope she knows I'm always here for her if and when she needs me. So I say being the older sister is harder... I guess you'd have to ask her if she disagrees.

Particularly since you have a sister of your own, what was the hardest aspect of writing Ruby and Chloe's relationship?

It's important for Chloe not to blindly follow Ruby throughout the story. She must come into her own, and she must rebel, or least try to. It was these moments, when a wedge was driven between the sisters, that were hard for me to write. The growing motivations behind the turn had to be found—and sometimes deep secrets had to be revealed to get us there. There were some specific scenes between the sisters that I ended up rewriting and reordering again and again. I needed to find the right tone. The perfect secrets to spill. And Chloe needed to react to the growing knowledge of who her sister was and what she was capable of doing. Some of the illusion had to fall away.

In real life—though Chloe and Ruby are most certainly not me and Rose—I can't stand having an argument with my sister. I actually can't ever be mad at her. I adore her too much. So maybe that's part of why the tension between my characters was hard to get down on the page.

How different do you think the book would be if it was focused on a brother relationship instead of sisters?

It would be an entirely different novel. In fact, it wouldn't be a book written by me. I love writing from the female perspective—I can't imagine writing a novel about two closely entwined brothers.

What is your favorite memory from childhood with your sister?

There are so many wonderful memories I have with Rose, when she was a baby and I was taking care of her, and throughout the years that followed. (In real life, we have a wonderful mother who was very much there for us, but she did let me take care of my baby sister, and I'm sure it helped her out, since she worked full-time and had three kids.) When Rose was a baby, I never wanted to let her go. My mom knew that I could always be counted on to want to dress her in the mornings, feed her, change her diapers, play with her, basically smother her... and it's a wonder she still likes me now. I remember wanting to carry her everywhere and getting insanely jealous if she wanted to sit on someone else's lap. I used to comb "rainbows" into her hair—I pretended the comb was magic—and I found out many years later that she believed me!

One memory that popped into my head just now is how I did my fifth-grade science project on my little sister. I think it was fifth grade. The project was about how toddlers react to different kinds of music. I think the categories were things like Rock, Rap, Classical, Jazz, and Madonna. I guess Madonna merited a whole category of its own. I let Rose play on my bedroom floor and I took Polaroids of her while she listened to different songs. So there's a photo of her bopping around for Rock. Looking cool for Jazz. Lying down half asleep for Classical. And, clearly, I planted evidence during the Madonna segment because in that one she's wearing layers of beads like in Madonna's "Like a Virgin" phase. The photos were mounted on a big board and my findings were shared at the school's science fair. I love thinking back on how I experimented on my sister—and clearly she survived.

If you could pair Ruby, Chloe, and Pete with any character from any book, who would you pick for each?

I wonder what would happen if Ruby met Lena Duchannes from Beautiful Creatures and Beautiful Darkness. If Chloe had to do without Ruby—if she had to make a name for herself on her own—I'd hope she'd follow in Tris's footsteps from Divergent.

As for Pete, the poor guy needs to find a girl who likes him back, and if I were kind I'd slip him into a romance novel. Maybe someone could suggest a good companion to keep his mind off Ruby.

What form would a boggart take if it was put in front of you, and what would it take after you cast Riddikulus on it?

If we put all my fears together in one speeding object, I guess it would be me stuck in a fiery, out-of-control car full of sewer rats.

And what could be counted on to send me into hysterics? My family has a holiday tradition the night before Thanksgiving involving cooking while we listen to a radio show, and sometimes masks or costumes have been known to make an appearance. Put my mom in the gold mullet wig and have her dance around with the oven mitts while we're purposefully making embarrassing "mistakes" baking the zucchini muffins (so we can eat them, obviously) and I just cannot function. It's wonderfully ridiculous.

If you were a demigod, what god/goddess would be your parent?

If anyone's been a goddess to me, it's my mom. She did so much for me, and she's the reason I'm a writer today. But I think of her more like Glinda the Good Witch, seeing as The Wizard of Oz is her favorite movie. I hope that makes me a witch myself, since I think that would be far more fun than being Dorothy.

Thank you, Nova, for those awesome answers, and congrats on the release!


  1. I haven't heard of any of her books, but my interest in piqued so I will definitely be checking them out and giving them a read!

  2. Aww, this was such a sweet interview! (And yay @ the Madonna mention! I used to bop around to her music as a kid too--minus the beads :) )

  3. I really can't wait to get my hands on a copy of this book. It's on my calendar for Tuesday. I'm also close to my sister, but remember the tension. (She doesn't, thankfully! She thought I was a perfect sister.) Great interview!