Nova Ren Suma wrote the middle-grade novel Dani Noir, which came out from Simon & Schuster/Aladdin in 2009 and will be out in paperback this fall, and the upcoming YA novel Imaginary Girls, which is due out from Dutton in Summer 2011. She blogs about writing at novaren.wordpress.com. And Deb Joelle adores both Nova and her writing, so check out Dani Noir! Thanks for joining us, Nova.
On Fathers and Writing What’s Difficult
I’m excited to be a guest here at the Debutante Ball—thank you for having me! My debut middle-grade novel, Dani Noir, came out this past fall, and my debut YA novel, Imaginary Girls, will be out in 2011, so I often feel like a lucky author with two entirely different debuts. And here you’ve caught me sitting smack between them!
When I agreed to be a guest poster here and saw the topic of “Fathers,” my immediate reaction was that I couldn’t write about that, no way, no how. But sometimes the things you shy away from happen to be the things where you have something to say.
The truth is, I have a conflicted history with my father, and we haven’t spoken in years. I was raised more by my stepfather, but we, too, have a conflicted history and are no longer in touch. So how do these damaged relationships make their way into my writing and color my characters? How can I write a realistic father who is something else entirely from the ones I’ve known? I’ll admit that it can be a hurdle. And I don’t know if I succeed. But it’s something I strive for every time.
I reached a difficult place while writing Dani Noir. In the story, my narrator Dani’s dad has done something unforgivable—cheat on her mom and lie about it. And while this is in no way autobiographical, I think maybe my own experiences growing up came through in the story and peeked out in my narrator’s view of her dad. My struggle as a writer came especially at the end of the book, when I was facing the resolution. I couldn’t leave Dani hating her dad, even after all he did to make her so angry; I knew I needed to show a more positive ending, leave the door open for healing between them, especially since this was a middle-grade novel. And yet I couldn’t just tie everything up and have it be all happy-go-lucky “I love you, Dad!” / “I love you, Dani!” either—my hands refused to write that ending. If you’ve read the book, you know that the final note between Dani and her father isn’t fully tied together with a bow—I won’t say anything more in case you haven’t read the book yet and are planning to. I’ve heard from some readers that they found this ending to be realistic and they appreciated that. I’ve heard that others wanted it to be more resolved. To me, it did feel realistic, and it felt far more positive than I expected. In fact, the scenes between Dani and her dad were the hardest ones for me to write in the entire novel.
The dynamic between fathers and teenage girls is something I still haven’t worked through in my fiction. In my next novel, Imaginary Girls, there are fathers—but they’re obstacles in the story and stay on the periphery. Will I ever have a story with a kind, loving, physically-in-the-picture father who’s not a caricature but a real, fully developed guy? Yes, I sure hope so, when the story calls for it. Because not every character is me. And I may be the writer, and these hands may be doing the writing, but I hope my characters and their stories trump my own experience every time.
How about you? How do you keep your own personal dramas from revealing themselves on the page? Does it ever seep through—even when you aren’t consciously aware? Or are you always able to keep up the dividing wall between fiction and real life?
How do you write what’s difficult?