The following conversation is part of our Beyond The Bio series, featuring conversations between teens and authors they love. If you're a teen who'd like to participate, please click here to find out how we can connect you with authors you love. Today's guests include high school sophomore Lia H. and Nova Ren Suma, author of A Room Away From Wolves--now available in paperback.
Lia: Hello Nova! I've just finished your book and let me tell you, I loved everything about it. Where did you get the idea for the book?
Nova: Thank you so much! I’m so thrilled! The idea first came to me when I was away writing a whole other book… I was staying in an old house with an unsettling portrait of a woman on the wall. I swore she was watching me. It was the setting of the story that came into my mind first for A Room Away from the Wolves—what eventually turned into Catherine House, a possibly haunted boardinghouse for lost girls. I couldn’t shake wanting to write a story about that place, so I changed up my whole plan for what my next book would be and let myself start running with it. You could say I was haunted by the story idea and had to write it.
Lia: Sabina's mother's distrust has caused her to run away to Catherine's house. Have you ever run away from anything?
Nova: I’ll admit that I have. I wanted to run away from home so many times when I was a teenager, but I never went through with it. I couldn’t leave my mom. When I was a bit older, though, in college, there were some important things I ran away from, and even now when I look back on it all I see are my mistakes. It’s funny. I regret the things and opportunities I ran away from now. But I don’t regret the things I stuck through and spoke up about and tried to fix.
Lia: My favorite moment was when Bina was hitchhiking by herself. She's kept referring to the way her mother had done it in the past. Would you ever go hitchhiking? Or have you ever done it before?
Nova: Ohhhhhhh. I am not sure how much I should confess! But yes, I have gone hitchhiking before on the side of a road much like the one in my novel—but I was with a friend, and we were getting a short ride into town. I remember being scared more than anything else. I look back on some of the risky things I did a long time ago and I realize how lucky I was… I think that’s why I keep going back there in my head and writing about it. I could have easily not been so lucky. I would not go hitchhiking now because I don’t trust anyone.
Lia: Monet is my favorite character throughout the whole book for her lying and mysterious ways. Does she have anything in common with you?
Nova: Monet is my favorite character, too! I loved writing her scenes, especially the one when she surprises Bina by climbing in the window off the fire escape. She’s the kind of girl I wanted to be—and the kind of girl I was drawn to when I was young, wanting to be in her orbit. She speaks her mind, she is unapologetically herself, and she is filled with secrets… many of which we are still left guessing about at the end of the story. I’ve known many girls like her, and she’s more like them than she is like me.
Lia: Sabina’s father isn’t in the picture. I can relate because mine isn’t either. What would tell you readers who don’t have both their parents in their life?
Nova: My father isn’t in the picture either, and I can see now that I was not missing anything. I didn’t need him. I needed myself to be strong, to know my worth, and to understand that I can have a good life and good relationships even if he failed me. Over my life I have found family in different ways, and I think that’s something to tell readers who may not have a parent or both parents in their lives: You do not have to be alone, and you are strong enough to create a life filled with other kinds of bonds and even a nontraditional family made of friends and other people who are important to you in different ways. Plus, if you are an artist or a writer or creative in some way, these hurts we carry around with us from when we were kids can turn into the most amazing things when we disguise them and face them in our work. I think I’m okay now because I channel my hurt into my novels: You will find some of that father and stepfather hurt in A Room Away from the Wolves and my other books like The Wall Around Us. It’s been healing to me to be able to write through it. If you can find a creative way to express your tangled and difficult feelings, they stop being so heavy inside you.
Lia: I'm always reading, no matter what. Do you have any recommendations?
Nova: I know this feeling in my soul! I love reading YA novels about wild, unraveling girls and young women, and adult novels about the same. I love Courtney Summers novels and A.S. King novels and Alice Sola Kim short stories and Carmen Maria Machado short stories and strange slippery things that don’t fit into a single box. One of my favorite YA novels of the recent past is The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X.R. Pan, and one of my favorite adult novels ever is The Last Life by Claire Messud (I have read it now about five times). I’m reading a novel right now that’s coming out in Spring 2020 that I think you really need to get your hands on: It’s called Tigers, Not Daughters by Samantha Mabry—it is shivery and delicious and has the best characters and, oh, just trust me. And I just finished a darkly strange adult novel that blew me away called The Seas by Samantha Hunt. It’s about a nineteen-year-old girl trapped in her small town and in love with the wrong man and I think I need to read it again to savor it.
Lia: I love your writing. Are you working on any new projects or books?
Nova: You have truly made my day, thank you! I am working on a new novel that will be coming out one day from my publisher Algonquin. There are sisters. There is some possible magic. And there are some really disturbing secrets. When there’s an advance copy available in a year or so, I should make sure you get one, because I think you'd like it!
And if you like short stories—I hope you do, and these are free—you should check out this online publication called FORESHADOW: A Serial YA Anthology and read some of our YA short stories! This is a project I co-edit with Emily X.R. Pan—yes, the same one above!—and there are so many stories I’ve fallen in love with there. Take a peek and let me know what you think!