Tuesday, December 13, 2011

#BIR2011: Imaginary Girls by Nova Ren Suma

There are a lot of books I love and adore... and picking the top seven for this event was hard enough. But what about picking The One... your very favorite absolute number one book in a year? Harder to do, right?

Well, as huge of a challenge as that might be... I do have one number one favorite of 2011. And yep, it's the book listed up there in the title, and the one who's cover is pictured over there to the side... you know, with that gorgeous cover?

And let me say, the inside of this book is as gorgeous and awing as the cover. This is the kind of book that challenges you, gets in your head, makes you think, yet lures you along for the ride that is full of thrills and enjoyment as well. The writing is breathtaking, the characterization stunning, and the story so intricately woven.

But what made me love it even more is the tone of it, the constant feeling of something being off, of something being weird...and maybe you piece it together on your own because of the clues Nova gives you along the way, or maybe you just go with it and wait for the answers to be revealed. But the tone is constantly eerie and creepy, disturbing in a soft and inexplicable way. That is what made this book stand out so completely for me, because take away that element, and it is a far, far different story, with a far less potent impact.

So to celebrate not only this being The One for me for 2011, but to kick off Day 3 of BIR2011, Nova has written a guest post that is, fittingly, all about writing that creepy air. Trust me, this is a post you do NOT want to miss.

Sometimes people tell me that my novel Imaginary Girls creeped them out. Maybe it kept them from falling asleep at night. Maybe it slipped in and rattled up their dreams. There are those local to the area I wrote about who say they now prefer not to drive the roads around the reservoir at night. I even creeped out members of my own family. Now, I’m very flattered to give some of my readers the shivers, but my first reaction when people told me this was absolute surprise.

I wrote something creepy? Creepy enough that someone might have trouble sleeping at night? Really? …I honestly had no idea I had that in me.

Of course, my mother (who’s known me, well, every single second of my life) has since helped me see the error of my ways. She reminded me that, in fact, the kind of creepiness that I found myself writing in Imaginary Girls—the slippery kind, not outright horror to make you jump and scream, but the unsettling and eerie kind of scare you’d finding yourself mulling over after, questioning from every angle—well, I’ve been fascinated with that since I was a girl. That’s the kind of thing that truly scares me, the inkling that there’s something very wrong, but you don’t know exactly what. Not-knowing means you can’t just battle it and win—so long as you’re the one left in the dark, it will always have power over you. (I wrote a bit about that on my blog this Halloween.)

I guess I was meant to write shivery, creepy stories. I mean, you could say it all started with a Ouija board. No, no, it started before that. It started with the houses where we lived, with their dark basements and creaky attics, with the silent nowhereland of trees all around. It was where we lived—in the Catskills, just like in Imaginary Girls—and it was places like the mountains, the dark roads, or the Ashokan Reservoir, where I really did sneak to take swims in the middle of the night.

My mom is right. I think I’m writing about what scares me because there are no answers. That’s what sets my imagination running.

It makes me think of a creepy, never-explained event that happened to me in the house we lived in when I was a teenager. I still tell myself I must have made it up, or I was half-asleep, or something, and yet there’s that inkling, the shivery voice whispering at the edge of my ear, that says it may have been real.

I was in my bedroom in the furnished basement of the house—and I should probably pause here to paint you a picture of this bedroom. Imagine a mess. Imagine clothes strewn everywhere and papers and shoes and books on the floor and, on this night, a garbage bag I’d grabbed from under the kitchen sink half full of junk and dropped by the door. I’d been attempting to “clean” my room that night so you could see the floor. Of course I got bored, and distracted, and at some point I shut off the lights and went to bed.

Sometime later, in the dark of the room, I became aware that someone was in there with me. I sat up, but the light switch was across the room by the door, so I stared into the fuzzy darkness, trying to see who was there. My door appeared to be closed, but I could have sworn there was a dark shape near it, a very tall shape with two distinct shoulders.

The plastic garbage bag on the floor crinkled and rustled, as if someone were walking over it. The shape—darkness on darkness—seemed to come closer, until it was just beside my bed. I couldn’t move. I felt the kind of fear that paralyzes you—the kind that makes it so you don’t think to scream, you don’t think to run, you don’t think at all.

I had this awareness in the dark. I felt like the shape bent over me and put a hand on my face. But here, here is where this occurrence became more odd. All the fear left me. I felt but at the same time didn’t feel that someone was touching my face. And I felt… protected. The presence was kind, fatherly, something I’d never felt before.

Then it was gone. All at once I felt overwhelmed by sadness, a great wave of it, like I’d lost someone I knew.

I seem to remember getting out of bed and flinging myself toward the door and the light switch. When I turned on the light, no one was in the room with me. Of course not. The garbage bag was there, crumpled, which could have happened when I ran over it to reach the light. The door was closed. If anyone had been in the room with me, they would have had to walk straight through it to get out.

My memory could be distorting this, I really don’t know. Fiction writers can’t be trusted with memories, can we? But this simple event has stayed with me for a long time only because I’ve never found an explanation for it. I’ve mulled it over. I’ve wrung it through. I’ve wondered… I’ve told myself I dreamed it. And yet.

Later, I think it was years later, my mom and her friend happened to mention that there was the story of a ghost that traveled the area of Maverick Road, near where we lived. He was a doctor, said to be tall and thin, who used to live there. They’d found mention of him in this book of history on the town where we lived. My mom and her friend used to say that they’d see a “Thing”—a tall, black line—that would pass quickly by the windows in a house where they worked nearby. But were the “Thing” and the shape that visited me at night one and the same—were they the doctor of Maverick Road?

I will never know.

And I don’t want to know. It’s better—creepier—that I don’t know.

Maybe this is partly why I write what I write, and why the creepiness crept its way into Imaginary Girls. What’s scary to me is the eerie and the shivery and the unknown. That’s the kind of story that haunts me. And that’s the kind of story I want to write.

So there you guys have it, straight from the talented Nova Ren Suma herself!

Nova Ren Suma is the author of the YA novel Imaginary Girls, which was published in 2011 by Dutton, and will be out in paperback June 2012 from Speak. Her tween novel Dani Noir will be reissued for a YA audience in a newly updated trade paperback edition as Fade Out from Simon Pulse in June 2012. 17 & Gone, her next YA novel, is forthcoming from Dutton in 2013.

She blogs about writing at distraction99.com.

Visit her online at novaren.com

Are you dying to get your hands on this book now? Good. Because I have one signed copy up for grabs to one lucky winner!

To enter, just fill out THIS form.

This contest is US Only (No PO Boxes) and ends December 21. But since there is only one winner here, you really should just go ahead and add this book to your holiday wishlist, because you do not at all want to miss it.

Eager for more BIR2011 action? Check out the blog today, where our group pick of Julie Kagawa's The Iron Queen and The Iron Knight are being featured!


  1. People really, really do need to read this book - I got an ARC and it's a great book - her writing is just gorgeous!

  2. Darn it. Just reading the story about when Nova was a teenager creeped me out. I'm such a wuss! Good thing I have my ferocious little guinea pigs to protect me if anything happens while I'm sleeping. Or at least they'll sound the alarm.... :) Thanks for the giveaway! I loved the guest post.

  3. I've got to read this one!
    Thanks for the giveaway op!

    Happy Holidays!

    Gena Robertson

  4. Great Post! Thanks for the giveaway

  5. I've heard this was a good book. Thanks for the chance to win it!

  6. Discovering so many great books on this tour :) Thanks for the chance to win!

  7. I loved this guest post. Plus, it really reminds me of Nova's awesome guest posts with various authors about creepy books!

    Thanks for the chance to win a signed copy! :)

  8. Imaginary Girls is not for the faint of heart, I would also recommend you be in a mood to think and have your mind blown. If you're looking for an easy young adult read, then this would not be it. For those of you who choose to continue onward then be prepared to be confused, to have your mind boggled, and to be wondering what the heck happened and why.

    Ruby and Chloe are sisters, Chloe is the younger and has always strived to do anything for her sister. Ruby has always tried to protect her sister, but we also get a bit of crazy along with it. After an incident involving a dead girl Chloe leaves the town and her sister, but Ruby is going to get her back. That may or may not be a good thing for Chloe. That is the basic premise, but there are so many other twisted things going on that the readers are sure there is more just out of reach. Chloe has always looked up to Ruby; Ruby I don't think is whole. The entire book I think was set up just to mess with you. I really can't say much without giving away the slow buildup of realization. I think parts will blow you away and parts will have you awed.