An Interview with Nova Ren Suma

courtneybooks, interviews

You, guys. Hey, you guys. GUYS!

Guess! Guess! What! Day! It! Is! Today! GUESS! Have you guessed? If you’re in the know, you will have guessed. If you’re not in the know, oh, it is going to feel so good to tell you this wonderful news.

Are you ready?

Are! You! Ready!

Today is an awesome today and today is a day of celebration because today, of all days, is the official release day of…

Dani Noir by Nova Ren Suma!

Can we just get a look at this magnificant book in the wild*?



So unless you have been living under a rock or something, you KNOW how excited I am about this book. I was fortunate enough to get an early read on it back in July and I couldn’t even wait a couple of months to talk about how great it was (check out that entry for my review!), because it was just that great. If Nova had told me I couldn’t breathe a word about it, I quite possibly could have exploded. And then the fragments of my exploded self would have gone against her wishes and talked about it anyway.


Dani Callanzano is one the most memorable protagonists I’ve read. A totally snarky delight from start-to-finish. Even now, after that initial read (but oh, I will be reading that book again and again), I still smile at some of her sharpest remarks. The writing is tight and clever and the story is one that will have you popping popcorn mid-read (I DID THIS AND IT WAS LIKE THREE IN THE MORNING).

And Dani Noir is not only all of those things, it is this as well: when I was reading the book, I felt a younger version of myself connect with it. I remember 13-year-old Courtney and the books she carried around like lifelines and I know, I know beyond all reason, that had Dani Noir been on bookshelves when I was that age I would have carried it everywhere. I would have aspired to Dani’s cleverness, her wit, her charm, her sense of adventure. I would have wanted it for myself and I would have aspired to it.

There is something really incredible about reading a book many years past that age and reconnecting to your… well, self in such a way. I mean, what more can I say beyond that really? It meant a lot to me. You need to read this novel and have that moment because trust me–you will have it.

(Thank you, Nova.)

So. I am pretty thrilled about Nova’s debut being released in the world, in case you can’t tell. You know what else I am thrilled about? THAT SHE AGREED TO DO AN INTERVIEW WITH ME. HERE ON THIS BLOG.

You, guys. Hey, you guys. GUYS! Are you ready? Are! You! Ready! Here we go…


Congratulations on the release of Dani Noir! I have to say, it’s one of my favourite books of 2009. :) Can you tell us about your road to publication?

Courtney, as an unabashed fan of your books (I am not kissing up! this is the honest truth! swear it on Rita Hayworth!), I’m so honored that you liked Dani Noir so much. And favorite of 2009? I’m seriously floating over here. It’s getting hard to type.

*taking a moment*

OK, I’m back. So… my road to publication. I don’t want to bore anyone, because it was a long road and that means a long story. I’ll try and keep it short: I started out thinking I was writing fiction for adults. I must have been demented or something, because I was always writing in the voices of tweens and teens. I wrote these adult novels, and I couldn’t seem to get an agent and I couldn’t figure out why. Years passed. Are you asleep yet, as Dani would say?

This whole time, I’m working these day jobs and writing on the side and getting pretty discouraged. But then I get this big break: a residency at the MacDowell Colony—to go and work on my novel for a month. So I slipped out of my job as a copy editor at a children’s book publisher and I spent my month away revising a novel that never went anywhere, but that’s not the point of this story, so let’s not dwell. The point is, I got back and returned to work and then one day the editorial director came by and asked where I’d been. I told her about the writers colony. “You’re a writer?” she asked, all surprised, because I did tend to keep it a secret at work. She asked if I’d ever considered writing for young readers. One audition sample later, and I’m ghostwriting my first middle-grade novel.

I ghostwrote a bunch of books, but Dani Noir was my first shot at writing something of my own. An editor I once wrote for got me in touch with Kate Angelella at Simon & Schuster / Aladdin, and she liked my idea and is willing to give me a chance… Before you know it I’ve written chapters and I have an offer and I’m going around squealing about publishing a novel with my name on it for the first time and I still can’t believe all that really happened.

It was after Dani Noir was done that I signed with an agent for my next manuscript. So my road to publication was a little convoluted and hazy in spots, but it got me where I am so I’m thrilled.

Wow. That was a long story after all. I’ll shut up till the next question.

I am thrilled too. As a Nova Ren Suma fan it all equals books for me to read. Also, you couldn’t bore anyone if you tried. I love that story. What was the inspiration behind Dani Noir?

Two things: angst and Rita Hayworth.

The year I turned thirteen was tough, and I’ll never forget it. Dani’s story isn’t my story, but the way I felt back then is undeniably channeled through her. Part of me is still thirteen, living in this small mountain town called Kerhonkson, New York, wishing I were somewhere, anywhere else. Writing Dani Noir gave me the chance to act out in a way I didn’t back then. My thirteen-year-old angst is all over this novel, can you tell? ;)

As for Rita Hayworth, she was right there with me when I had that big *click* you get when you know the novel you think you want to write is a novel you really can write. I discovered Rita Hayworth, really discovered her, just as Dani does in the book, by watching the classic noir film Gilda. When the camera first shows Rita Hayworth in that movie and she stares you down, you sort of can’t help but have a Moment. She knocks you out. I pictured Dani in this dark movie theater, seeing what I was seeing, and her voice came alive from there.

Moment of shame: I haven’t actually seen Gilda, but between you and Dani, I am going to very soon. I want that Moment! You write for both tweens and teens (Nova’s YA debut is tentatively slated for release in 2011). What is your favourite thing about writing for the tween set? What is your favourite thing about writing for the young adult set?

I love writing for both–hope I can keep doing it!

I’m in the middle of writing a YA novel right now (yes, tentatively due out from Dutton in, fingers crossed!, Summer 2011), so I’m walking around feeling sixteen right now and it’s better than my current reality, I’ll admit. My favorite thing about writing for the YA set is living in the moment. Everything is urgent. It’s do or die like there’s no tomorrow or at least no next week, and I really get swept up by it. So addicting.

And my favorite thing about writing for tweens? The lightness. It’s like I have permission to not be so serious all the time. But with all the laughs and light there’s the drama of that time, too. Something that may seem small when you’re older is the biggest thing in the universe when you’re eleven or twelve or thirteen. I remember being misunderstood by pretty much every adult on the planet, and the best part of writing in a tween voice is talking back to all those people who thought I didn’t have anything to say. I did then. I do now. I probably won’t shut up for a while.

Now let’s ask the above question again–but differently. ;) What’s the hardest thing about writing for the tween set and the young adult set?

Being ultra-honest here: The hardest thing about writing for tweens is keeping myself in check. Maybe I’m a little dark for my own good sometimes, so I have to pull back.

For young adults, I’ll be too honest again (don’t laugh): The hardest part has been facing high school. I will diplomatically say that I did not like high school and I’ll leave it at that. So, when I came up with this idea for my first YA novel, I wonder if it’s a coincidence that the story naturally fell in the summertime—and so far there are no scenes taking place in school. A great challenge for me, in my next book, will be returning to the halls of high school. I’m scared already.

Funny… I just realized Dani Noir also takes place in the summertime. Am I afraid of junior high too?

School is terrifying. TERRIFYING. I understand. Dani is both a spunky and vulnerable protagonist. In one breath, she’s firing off a witty, cutting remark that had me laughing out loud and in another, she is making gut-wrenching observations about her family situation. Did her voice come easily to you? She strikes me as the kind of character who would make herself heard, not a problem, so I’m wondering if this was the case. :)

Dani’s voice could not be contained. What I mean is, there’s no way I could have stopped her voice from coming out of me. She was clamoring to be written! Her voice came so easily that if I didn’t have a word count and a deadline I could have kept going with writing her and I’d still be at it today. By now, Dani Noir would be 2,000 pages and I would have run out of femmes fatales to write about, but I’d still be having fun with it I’m sure.

I would read 2,000 pages of a book in Dani’s voice, just FYI. Dani has a lot of memorable one liners. Zingers, as I like to call them! One of my favourites is when she calls the room she’s been given at her soon-to-be stepmother’s house a shoe closet (“Wow,” I say. “What was this room before, a shoe closet?” and then, “Thanks for letting me use your closet, Cheryl,” I say with the utmost politeness. “I really appreciate it.”). What was your favourite zinger of Dani’s to write?

Dani says things I never could, and I sure love her for it. I’m also a little wary of her because of it. Some of my favorite bits to write were between Dani and Austin, the son of the movie theater’s owner, who’s always around when Dani wishes he would just go away. I remember being very amused when she was trying to find a place for Austin in the movie universe that lives in her head. She decided he wouldn’t even get a name in the credits; as a concession, she lets him be an extra. She says, “His character is called Guy Who Took Rita Hayworth’s Coat. That’s the best I can do for Austin.” I like how that’s what she thinks of Austin in the beginning… but it’s not necessarily what he ends up being by the end.

Hee! Family plays an important part of Dani Noir. I loved her relationship with her mother–it was just so thoughtful and loving. I also loved that you didn’t shy away from Dani’s feelings about her dad leaving her mom for another woman. Even better, you didn’t portray her father as a “bad” guy–he wasn’t a caricature. He obviously made some hurtful choices but you portrayed the reality of those choices and the fall-out really fantastically. I think that’s an extraordinary feat in itself because you’re telling the story from Dani’s POV and she’s obviously stung. Was striking that balance–not villainizing Dani’s father, but still having the hurt come through realistically–hard?

I couldn’t help but give Dani a close relationship with her mom. I said earlier that being thirteen was a tough time for me (*shudder*)—but what got me through it was how close I was with my mom. I remember one time, I got in big trouble when I was in seventh grade, so I must have been around thirteen. I did something I shouldn’t have and I won’t say what, but this is what happened: I did it and I felt so AWFUL that I immediately went and confessed it to my mom. She just gave me this LOOK, like Dani’s mom does in the book. This LOOK of utter disappointment. And that was all it took. I cried, I promised never to do it again. And I didn’t. Not ever again in my whole life. What Dani’s mom thinks is just as important to Dani, even if she doesn’t show it all the time. So much of what Dani does is to protect her mom—if retroactive and misdirected—and it may be clumsy and awkward and explode in her face, but it came from a good place, I promise.

As for the scenes with Dani’s cheating dad, I’ll admit that they were tough to write. That’s because I was so mad at him on Dani’s behalf. Finding the balance was a challenge for me. I had to pull back and give him a chance. But I do think Dani’s conflicted reactions to her dad throughout the story are honest to what she’d really do and think. All I wanted was to keep it honest.

I think you did and thensome. I LOVE the title. It’s very sharp. Was titling the book hard or easy? Did you go through any potential titles before settling on Dani Noir?

I admit I love the title, too! But I can’t take credit for it. The title is the work of my genius husband, who happens to be my first reader on everything I write, and helps me develop my stories. He knew I wasn’t happy with the title I had down, and one day he just threw it out there and said, “How about Dani Noir?” Immediately I was like, I MUST HAVE THAT TITLE PLEASE PLEASE CAN I STEAL IT? He said sure. And I was thrilled that Simon & Schuster liked it, too. I love the way they made the title a part of a movie marquee on the front cover. It turned out better than I could have imagined.

I think the title I had before was Femme Fatale in Training, or something long and clunky, but it didn’t feel honest to who Dani was. She’s not “training” to be a femme fatale or anything else—she’s just herself.

Femme Fatale in Training could be a book all its own, though! And a round off appaluse to your DH for naming your brilliant book. I’m a big, BIG fan of your cover. It has to be one of the best covers I’ve ever seen and I’d honestly frame it if I could. Can you tell us about how the cover came to be, and what your reaction was when you first saw it?

Oh I got lucky. The cover is all thanks to my editor Kate. She emailed me one day with the cover concept—I think she said she woke up in the middle of the night with the idea. Anyway, it was this brilliant burst of perfection and as soon as I read the concept my hopes soared. And then came the artist, Marcos Calo, who made the cover concept a reality and took it one step further and did a wraparound cover with Dani herself peeking out from the back. More brilliance!

There’s this blog post I wrote when I first saw the cover that shows my utter stupor. It involves a lot of capital letters and exclamation points. I literally stared at the cover art in a daze for many uncountable minutes—and the same thing was repeated when I saw the wraparound art on the back. I absolutely love how it turned out. Thank you to Kate and to the designer Lisa and especially to Marcos!

What was the hardest part of Dani Noir to write?

The middle. I knew how the story started, and I knew where it ended, but all the stuff to get us there got a little jumbled. I turned to noir movies for inspiration—and after a little Double Indemnity and the like, I knew what to do.

Agh, those cursed middles. Who was your favourite character–besides Dani–to write? Least favourite?

I looooved writing Austin. Dani was so mean to him! She was absolutely blind to him in a way I remember being to certain boys back in junior high, and so annoyed. Sometimes it’s easier to push someone away than to face the potential of what could be if you let your guard down. I got some undisguised delight in letting Dani push.

The hardest character to write for me was Dani’s dad. Dani has a much better relationship with her father than I have with mine. I know this is fiction and all, but I do write from a certain experience and sometimes it’s hard to separate that.

I know music is an important part of your process. Did Dani Noir have a playlist, and can you share some of the tracks from it?

OK, Courtney, this is going to be shocking. S-H-O-C-K-I-N-G. Especially because I love writing to music and I sort of can’t write without it. But this is the truth: Dani Noir does not have a soundtrack (Courtney’s note: I AM SHOCKED!!!!). There is not one song that goes with this novel. Crazy, I know! But the reason is, the soundtrack to Dani Noir is old movies. Sometimes, instead of playing my admittedly emo Pandora station while writing Dani Noir, I’d go to YouTube and put on different scenes from old noir films. That was the backdrop of Dani’s summer while the story is taking place, so it helped keep me in her head while writing her.

If you’ve read the book, you can easily guess which movies would make the movie playlist for Dani Noir: Touch of Evil, The Lady from Shanghai, and The Postman Always Rings Twice are a few.

Although I am SHOCKED! That makes perfect sense. I know all about Dani’s favourites, but now I need to know Nova’s, so here goes: what is your favourite noir mystery? :)

Guess what? It’s Gilda, just like Dani. ;)

I really have to watch it, dangit. What are your top five favourite books of all time?

Hardest question ever! Practially impossible to answer! I can’t necessarily call these my five favorite books of ALL-TIME, but here are five books I love that made me who I am:

Boy Heaven by Laura Kasischke–I love this YA novel. I happened to read it at a very significant point in my writing career, when I was down and out and thinking about giving up. Reading this book opened my eyes to what a YA novel could be, but–more than that–it made me think of the kind of novel I could try writing one day. So, to put it lightly, it really, really inspired me.

Cat’s Eye by Margaret Atwood–this was a book I swiped off my mom’s shelf when I was around Dani’s age. I read a lot of adult books back then because that was what was around the house, and our house at that time was pretty isolated. Margaret Atwood was the first contemporary writer that made me want to grow up to be a writer: She was a girl. She wrote about girls. And people thought it was important enough to publish! I don’t know if I’d be a writer today if I didn’t discover Margaret Atwood when I was twelve or thirteen.

The Last Life by Claire Messud–this is the story of a fifteen-year-old girl in France, the summer a crime her grandfather commits changes everything. There’s something about this voice, the way the place and the people and the history of generations comes through in what she says. I love first-person fiction, how distorted it can be by who’s talking, and this book is one reason why. I’ve read this novel probably five times, and I’m itching to read it again.

The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides–this novel is about a group of sisters, but it’s told through the eyes of the neighborhood boys, who have spent years watching them. The voice of it just blew my mind. This novel pushes me to experiment, to take risks, to tell a story in a way you wouldn’t expect. I love the distance: the boys never really know what the girls are thinking, but you feel closer to them than if you were in their heads. It’s brilliant.

Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys–when I was a teenager, I read Jane Eyre for the first time and fell in love with it. (I even performed a monologue of the scene in the Red Room in my acting class; fyi: I was a horrific actress.) But years later, I came across this book by Jean Rhys that was a retelling of Jane Eyre from the POV of Rochester’s first wife, the one locked up in the attic. Everything I thought I knew about Jane Eyre and truth and love shifted. It showed me that there’s always a voice unspoken, a story untold. It also showed me that no story is ever the same, because it depends on who’s telling it. I love that about fiction.

BRB, adding to my To-Read List! What do you hope readers take away from Dani Noir?

What a great question. I hope readers feel like they spent time with a real person: Dani may do things you wouldn’t, and say things she shouldn’t, but even with all her flaws I hope she comes away feeling authentic and I hope her story feels honest and true. Since writing the book, Dani has come to life in my mind and I often find myself thinking about her like she’s this real girl I hung around with last year and I wonder where she’s at now. It would make me feel a lot better about my sanity if one other reader got a little sense of that, too.

And maybe, once readers finish Dani Noir, they’ll be inspired to go off and check out an old black-and-white movie… who knows.

And finally, what can Nova Ren Suma fans look forward to next, writing-wise and where can we find you on the net?

First, thank you, Courtney, for all your support of Dani Noir and of me! These were great, thought-provoking questions and I’m honored that you’ve made a space for me on your blog to talk about the book. You. Are. Awesome.

So, next up from me writing-wise is the YA novel. It’s currently called Imaginary Girls and it’s the story of two sisters and their bond that can’t be broken. I’m also developing another tween novel idea, because I am not yet ready to let go of my thirteen-year-old angst, so I guess… be warned?

And as for finding me on the net, my main website is For all things Dani Noir, check out the official book website I’ll be keeping it updated with news and events and fun features. You can also find me pretty much all over the internet, because I like to keep myself distracted and it’s not like I’m under DEADLINE for this new novel or anything. (Um.)

I’m on Facebook and feel free to friend me. And MySpace too. And you can also check out the Dani Noir Facebook page for all things about the book if you’d rather just read it and not be my friend—no hard feelings, swear! And I’m on Twitter. I shouldn’t be. I should really be writing. But, hey, if you follow me and happen to distract me by telling me your favorite noir movie, I promise not to be mad: @novaren.

Thanks for reading, everyone! I hope you like the book.

Thank YOU, Nova! You. Are. Awesome. And I’ve no doubt anyone who picks up Dani Noir (AND THEY SHOULD IT IS OUT TODAY DID I MENTION THIS) will enjoy it.

Dani Noir, people. Remember that name! Nova Ren Suma–remember that name too. And make sure to pick up a copy of this book for yourself, past, present and future. And pass it along. It is just that great.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I gots a book to re-read.

* pictures courtesy Nova.