Aren’t you the lucky ones, that today, for another fab stop on the 2009 Winter Blog Blast Tour, you get to meet the lovely Nova Ren Suma, debut author of the 100% wonderful Dani Noir (which I loved, muchly: read review right now).
I’m so excited to have Nova here, because she is a cool gal and a wonderfully talented fresh new voice in kids’ books. Welcome Nova! Thanks for hanging out with me here today.
I read in another interview that your motto is “What if?” How does this motto influence you as a writer?
First, before I answer all these great questions, let me take a second to tell you how thrilled I am to be interviewed here on Shelf Elf. I’m so glad you enjoyed DANI NOIR!
Now on to the interview… When it comes to writing, I can’t help but keep the question “What if?” in the back of my mind. Even when I’ve outlined an entire novel and think I know exactly what I’m putting down in every chapter, I still can’t be sure if I’ll follow it when the time comes. My characters tend to do things I don’t expect, and I wouldn’t want to stop them. What if she says this? What if she’s hiding that in her pocket? What if he saw? What if…? There are so many ways a story could go, and it comes most alive for me when I keep my mind open to the possibilities. DANI NOIR definitely has a lot of these “What if?” moments.
I ended up asking myself this question in my writing career, too, back when I was struggling to get an agent for an adult novel. It was hard, I won’t lie, but when it wasn’t working out I thought, What if I tried something completely different? And that’s how DANI NOIR came to be. The irony is that writing for tweens and teens turns out to be the perfect fit for me, so maybe I should ask myself the “What if?” question way sooner and far more often.
At the outset of your book, film is an escape for Dani. Later it helps to inform how she sees people and the world and leads her to recognize what is interesting about her own life. Then she is able to step back into real life and in a way, start fresh. How do you experience film – as an escape, as a window to the world, a mirror to your own life…?
Watching a good film is one of my only true escapes. When a movie is on, you usually stay put and watch it all the way through—everything else falls away and you see and hear only what’s up there on screen. When I’m stressed, I want to slip into a movie for a while and forget what’s bothering me. Maybe I shouldn’t admit this, but I’ve been known to procrastinate up to the very edges of a deadline by taking a break to watch a movie.
I guess that’s why the movie theater is an escape route for Dani at the start of the story—it seemed so natural to send her there. Where else could she be so completely transported out of her boring small town where nothing ever happens (or so she thinks…) if not at the movies?
Name 3 films that have changed your life (and tell us why!)
Heathers: So in this cult classic, there’s a clique of three girls named Heather plus one lone Veronica who ends up taking them down. In school—I am not kidding—I did have three friends named Heather, and of course my name is Nova, so I didn’t really fit, but that was just a simple coincidence; “Heather” was a very popular name back then. Really, this movie taught me some meaningful lessons about being a misfit. I’ve learned that I’d rather NOT fit in than turn evil just to be part of the in-crowd. Actually, I don’t even want to be part of a perfectly sweet and non-evil in-crowd. I’d much rather be a Veronica.
Edward Scissorhands: (OK, someone really likes Winona Ryder.) I’ve always loved fairy tales—my favorites, as a kid, were “Sleeping Beauty” and “The Snow Queen”—and this movie brought to life a fantastical modern-day fairy tale in the midst of the suburbs. I love that kind of contrast. It’s movies like this that change me as a writer and inspire me to push boundaries, which is just what I’m doing in my next book.
Gilda: Clearly this movie changed my life because it’s what inspired DANI NOIR. I was floundering with the first chapter, not sure which direction the story should go in, when I saw Gilda, really saw it, for the first time. There was something about the moment when Gilda, played by the fabulous Rita Hayworth, first appears on screen that stopped me in my tracks—I remember standing in the middle of my living room, staring at the TV. All these emotions play across her face—an entire story in a few seconds. I was completely energized. Here’s that moment if you’re curious: http://www.youtube.com/user/novarensuma#p/a/f/0/tgdKgV9Y62w.
Describe Dani. What kind of girl is she?
Dani is thirteen. She’s got a little bit of an obsession with old black-and-white noir movies, and if she could be anyone in the universe she’d be a mysterious and glamorous femme fatale, like her favorite movie star Rita Hayworth. Only thing is… in real life, Dani’s no femme fatale. Not even close. She gets herself into messes and makes mistakes, says a whole lot of things she shouldn’t, and ends up grounded so she can’t even go out at night like any self-respecting femme fatale should. Dani’s trying hard to be someone she’s not, but in doing so she starts to figure out who she maybe really is.
If you had to choose five things (ideas / books / films / objects / topics…) that have most inspired your writing, what would you choose? (Pictures of any / all things would be fantastic!)
1. Places I’ve lived:
(View out my apartment window)
3. Graffiti messages
(Message on a wall in downtown Manhattan)
4. Slow songs
(Scary Mansion – here’s their publicity site)
Best Cure for Writer’s Block:
A walk around the block—literally. My writing spot is in downtown Manhattan and there’s a great little walk I do when I’m stuck. It takes me past this old landmark building that was originally built in the 1830s and is still standing. I like looking up into its old windows, imagining what must have gone on inside all those years ago. I also like walking the avenue looking for new graffiti. Graffiti messages on the landmark building would probably be the most inspiring thing ever, but that’s surely illegal.
Best Writing Snack:
A mocha, preferably hot and foamy. I don’t like to break to eat when I’m writing—I lose momentum; maybe it’s all the chewing—but a good mocha (chocolate + caffeine) can keep me going for hours.
Your Author Idol:
Don’t want to embarrass myself by being a fangirl here, but I really admire Sara Zarr. I absolutely love her novels, but I also love how she handles herself as an author with her fans and with aspiring writers online. She’s immensely talented, very smart, and also clearly a good, generous person. She’s the kind of author I’d like to grow up to be.
Fav Writing Spot:
I have two: I write early mornings in a café in Greenwich Village that serves the best mochas possibly in the universe (see above re: writing snack), and I am also a member of an urban writers colony, where I rent a desk in a big loft space with other writers. This is the place I get most of my work done, and feel most at home (which may explain why I sometimes go wearing pajamas), though they don’t serve mochas. I can’t imagine being a productive writer in this city without having my writing space to escape to.
Best Writing Advice:
Make your own rules, and then break them when you need to.
I think it’s important to make up your own rules for YOU. Other people may have great success with their writing methods, but that doesn’t mean they’ll translate for someone else. I try to force myself to write every morning; some people write better at night or like to save it all up for the weekend. I outline first; lots of writers abhor outlines (and I admire them for it!). I line-edit my first draft as I go; apparently that’s a big no-no and it would probably be the worst possible advice I could give another writer. Once you start experimenting, you’ll know what works for you.
As for breaking the rules. I do this more than I should, but so far it’s worked for me. Like, when I was writing DANI, I was determined to write it straight through from start to finish, no skipping around and no putting scenes aside to write later. Then I got all muddled up in the middle and had no idea how to get myself out. I was NOT ALLOWED to skip any chapters (this was my rule), so for weeks I struggled and fought and put down awful sentences and then erased them and replaced them with even more awful sentences. Then I realized I was the only one keeping myself to this rule of not skipping around. So I jumped—to the end of the book. I wrote the last four chapters and went back and wrote the middle. It was exactly what I needed to write that particular book. Now I’m writing a new manuscript without allowing myself to skip around (but I’ll totally break my own rule if I think I have to, shh!).
DANI NOIR captures a summer in Dani’s life that is a real time of change for her. If you had to identify a similarly transformative period in your life, what would you choose?
The year I turned fifteen was the most transformative time of my life—I started it as one person and ended it as a whole other person, the person that led me straight ahead to who I am today. This also happened to be the most painful year of my life, but I guess you can’t transform without it hurting at least a little.
What part of this novel are you most proud of?
I wanted Dani’s voice to feel real and honest—I tried to imagine her as a real person and, soon enough, it began to feel like I was channeling her when I wrote it. (Disclaimer: I don’t think I should be held responsible for any melodramatic or snarky things I may have said or done during the writing of this book.) Now, looking back on DANI NOIR all this time after writing it, I do still like Dani’s voice best out of everything in the book. I still feel like she’s a real-live girl and not a character I created, so I have to say I’m most happy about that.
Could you select a few quotes from DANI NOIR that best capture the spirit or themes of your book?
Dani, on Rita Hayworth:
“Say there was this movie and both Rita Hayworth and Jessica Alba were in it. Jessica would say her lines and she’d be great like normal, but then it would be Rita Hayworth’s turn.
Rita Hayworth would toss her hair (red in real life, but in black-and-white it could be any color). She’d blink super-slow, like she was underwater. Then she’d turn, finally, and settle her eyes on Jessica. It would take a few seconds but feel like forever and you wouldn’t be able to stop staring. Then Rita Hayworth would say maybe one word, drawing it out, making it sound like the most beautiful word anyone could say, like in any language, ever. The word could be “hi” or “mayonnaise,” it doesn’t matter. And before you know it, Rita Hayworth will have eaten Jessica Alba alive.”
Dani, lamenting the hideous monstrosity that is her cell phone:
“Besides, the phone is pink. Pink! A femme fatale would have a sleek black phone with tiny buttons, a thin sliver kept in her hip pocket. She’d set the ringer to silent. And she’d get calls all the time, but she’d rarely answer. What femme fatale would?”
Dani, on real life vs. the movies:
“It’s complicated, people tell me, like I can’t understand the huge messes grown-ups make of relationships.
But I do understand.
I understand how—in the movies—you walk away at the end knowing who the bad guy is. It’s not like in real life when you walk around all confused, wondering if you’re the bad one for hating them.”
If you had a magic movie camera that could zoom in on your future, what would you hope to see yourself doing / writing ten years down the road?
I’ll give the answer I’m sure everyone expects me to—but it’s most definitely the truth: I’d still be writing and publishing books, YA novels and more tween novels, and maybe when the camera zoomed in on me I’d be putting the finishing touches on a new novel I haven’t even had an inkling of a thought about yet.
Oh, and I’d live in Paris with my husband, because I’ve decided we have to live in Paris before we die, and we’d have a balcony because it would be really nice to have a balcony. And we’d have a kitten too (my annoying cat allergy would have gone away, this camera’s magic, right?), and I’d be happy. I hope that magic movie camera finds me happy.
Thank you so much again for having me here on Shelf Elf!
It was a treat for me Nova! Say hi to Dani for me!
Be sure to visit all of the other stops on the Winter Blast Blog Tour today. Here are the links:
Dani Noir is published by Aladdin.