Letters from Nova • August 2018
A Room Away
“There were places a girl could go, and disappear another way, and keep on living.”
A Room Away from the Wolves 
Coming Sept. 4 from Algonquin
Thinking of pre-ordering? This surprise post and video on Bustle from Emily X.R. Pan and 18 other authors absolutely shocked and shook me (and made me burst into tears)... You have to watch it.
1. A Room Away
2. Announcements
3. Debut Spotlight
4. Upcoming Events
5. Giveaway
A Room Away
[door to Sylvia Plath's studio at Yaddo]
Dear <<First Name>>,

These words are coming to you from the wilds of pre-book-release, which is why I’m late sending my August letter. I’ve been wanting to tell you about an attic room and the ghost of inspiration that found me inside it. But for weeks now I've been caught up in a world of promo deadlines, work catchup, innocent hopes, and sharp panic spikes. This weekend I had to lie down in the dark when I started to worry myself into a stupor over upcoming book events, and even with a room of my own to write in now, I haven't had much time to do any actual writing.

In case you didn't know or haven't heard it from me a thousand times, I have a book coming out in ten (!) days!

And hey, if you’re in New York City or the Philly area, please join me at one of my launch events on Sept. 4 or Sept. 6! I’ll share secrets about the book! You can tell me your ghost stories! We’ll talk! We'll celebrate!

Thanks for humoring me on that. I’ll be much more myself when this is over and I can focus on just writing and teaching again.

This letter isn’t about introvert nightmares, I promise. It’s about the places where we write, the places where we feel safe enough to let our guard down and get to the achingly honest truth on the page.

Sometimes we go to a place expecting to get work done on the thing we said we were going to write. But then something about where we are—the space, the moment, the swirl of scent and noise and magic in the air—reveals it has something else in mind. Something deeper and more true to you.

When this happens, you need to listen.

The first seeds of A Room Away from the Wolves came to me when I was writing in the very room pictured above. I'd had a stroke of good luck and was offered a residency at an artist colony called Yaddo in Saratoga Springs, New York. I went there for the second time in December of 2014, fully committed to writing an entirely different book that was supposed to come after The Walls Around Us. The story I tell to explain why I decided to abandon that book-in-progress after turning in a draft of it and instead write this other thing about mothers and daughters and magic and city dreams sounds more colorful when I tell you about the ghost.

So yes, while at Yaddo I had a possible-maybe ghost sighting (still not sure if my mind was playing tricks on me) and a fascination with a framed portrait of the colony’s founder in the living room over the fireplace, drawn to it every day and sure she seemed to watch me, no matter where I was in the room, and judge, with a certain glimmer in the eye, if she was pleased with my writing progress that day or not.

(Load the pictures in this email if you want to see the tiniest sliver of West House at Yaddo.)
[portrait of Katrina Trask over the fireplace]
This portrait of Katrina Trask, the founder of Yaddo, hung in the West House living room. Her story is an interesting and tragic one. I swore she kept watch from her perch above the mantel. Note the gold velvet chairs that find themselves in Catherine House in A Room Away from the Wolves.
That’s part of the story, and maybe you’ll hear me tell it in person at one of my events this fall.

The other part of the story is the attic room.

Residents were assigned rooms to sleep in and work in. (Sometimes it’s the same room.) I’ve heard that if you are given the gift to return, you will not get the same room twice, and that you should never ask for a specific room. Let the fates decide where you belong. 

That December visit, I was assigned the writing studio that had belonged to Sylvia Plath when she was in residence (along with Ted Hughes) in 1959. The room was on the top floor of West House, up a creaky set of stairs set apart from the bedrooms and other studios. It was small, with a ceiling that slanted down, a set of windows facing the driveway and a stretch of trees, and a skylight that was blurred and shadowed and didn’t show much sky. In the room was a recliner, a heavy-footed wooden desk, and a small framed photograph of sheep grazing in a gray field. 
[the stairs leading up to the attic room]
These are the stairs leading up to the attic studio. At night I always had some trepidation going up there by myself and turning that dark corner. Yet I was always happy when I did.
[desk in attic studio]
The wide wooden desk and the window in the attic room. Sylvia Plath looked out this window as she wrote, I told myself in a whisper. Another writer who wrote here is my dear friend Camille DeAngelis, whose novels are glorious, gorgeous, uniquely wonderful creations full of magic, and you should look her up.
[framed sheep]
I sought some kind of hidden message in this image that hung on the wall. I'm not sure if I found it.
It was a tucked-away room. Modest. Not at all grand, like quite a few of the other rooms I got to peek into were. But in 1959, it was the writing studio that belonged to Sylvia Plath. During her time at Yaddo she worked on breakthrough poems and faced struggles and came through on the other side. She wrote in her journal while there that she wanted “to be honest with what I know and have known. To be true to my own weirdnesses.”

Being “true to my own weirdnesses” is the thing I constantly come up against, battling doubt for each book. When I was writing in that attic room, I was compelled to reread Plath’s poems as well as her first and only novel, The Bell Jar. (Once you read Wolves—a girl on her own in New York City, a girl who’s questioned her right and desire to keep living—you may well see the feathery touch of its influence.)
[THE BELL JAR opened to page 289]
Sometimes rereading a writer at the exact right moment will surprise you. This was the copy of The Bell Jar I found in the fellows library and the rediscovery of those famous resonant lines: "I took a deep breath and listened to the old brag of my heart. I am, I am, I am."
I had an odd, prickly feeling. Maybe it was the ever-watchful portrait or the ghost I saw in my bedroom downstairs. Maybe it was the words I was absorbing from the fellows library and all my voracious reading (“I am, I am, I am”), but my heart began to slip off into another direction, even as I tried to keep it steady and performing as planned. I had a deadline. The date was blazing red on my calendar. I had a commitment. A promise to my editor. I’d said I would do a thing, and I hated to disappoint people. I didn’t want to fail, and not writing the book I said I’d write felt a lot like failure.

Yet all the while deep in the back cavern of my mind another story was percolating. The churning became louder. And louder. Louder still.

If I gave in, would it mean I failed?

After I finished that residency, and a skimpy draft of the other book and met the deadline as best I could, as promised and as planned, I realized I had brought an unnamable force home with me. I kept hearing a small yet insistent voice in my ear. This isn’t the book you should publish next, it told me. The story you need to be telling now is something else. I was embarrassed to admit I’d made a mistake, but eventually the whisper turned to shouting. Within months of leaving Yaddo, I emailed my agent and got his guidance on what to do next. I ended up shelving the other novel for another day (and there will be a day—I just think it wants to be a novel for adults). And I turned my sights to a magical boardinghouse watched over by a long-deceased woman named Catherine. I turned to a story about mothers and daughters and fire escapes and rooftops and troubled girls and finding a place to belong. You now know it as A Room Away from the Wolves, and oh, did I tell you it comes out September 4? It was the book I was meant to be writing next.
[me with a stack of finished copies of A ROOM AWAY FROM THE WOLVES]
I think it was my time in the room away that did it, that caught me up, gave me quiet, made me honest. I think I needed to get away from the wolves circling me (in this case, my fears of being a disappointment to the very people who just wanted me to be myself).

There are times I regret the year I lost writing another book. There are times I question myself and wish I wasn’t so slow. But I don’t think I failed.

I remember the attic room.

I remember the eyes over the fireplace telling me to go back up that narrow staircase and sit at my desk and do the work, no matter how long it took me or where it took me or what I had to leave behind.

I think I succeeded in being true to my own weirdnessess—and doing the work.

This is why I long for a room like that now, but as my fellow writers and creators know: We can't rely on the magical residency acceptance to save our writing. I haven't had that stroke of luck of another residency visit since those weeks at Yaddo. We have to carve out the space where we have it, in the time we have, and build a room away from the wolves inside our minds.   

"A room is a place where you hide from the wolves outside and that’s all any room is."
—Jean Rhys, Good Morning, Midnight

It doesn’t matter where your room is. It could be a café table surrounded by strangers and curtained off with a forcefield in your imagination. It could be your kitchen table. It could be a self-designed retreat with friends.

Wherever it may be, figurative or real, modest or grand, and however long you have it, I wish you your own room away. In it I hope you get to try and to fail, to listen to the voice in your head, and to discover your weird, wonderful truths.
p.s. Thank you for reading this long-delayed letter! Below I'll share news about an exciting new venue to publish YA short fiction, a recommended debut, upcoming events, and offer a chance to win a signed copy of one of my books! 
Some exciting things to tell you:
  • My pre-order giveaway is still open! If you pre-order A Room Away from the Wolves before Sept. 4, I'll send you gorgeous gifts as a thank-you! You can pre-order a personalized copy from McNally Jackson!
  • My short story project with Emily X.R. Pan has launched! We've created a new online venue to publish YA short stories, with a mission to highlight underrepresented voices and emerging writers! Check out Issue Zero of FORESHADOW: A Serial YA Anthology and read about us and our fundraising efforts in Publishers Weekly! Our Indiegogo campaign runs through September 15—help us reach our exciting stretch goal!
  • I have a short story in the fantastic witchy YA anthology Toil & Trouble, edited by Jessica Spotswood and Tess Sharpe, on sale August 28! I wrote my story "The One Who Stayed" in a fugue state of fury and firelight, and I hope you'll read it and the whole anthology of incredible writers. (Please let me offer a trigger warning for my story in case it is not for you. TW: sexual assault and its aftermath.)
  • As I type these words, the ebook of The Walls Around Us is on sale for a limited time on all digital platforms for $1.99. I've heard it contains a teaser of A Room Away from the Wolves!
[quote from Toil & Trouble]
Debut Spotlight
“Neurological. That should be scary, shouldn't it? Like maybe-you-have-cancer levels of scary. But if it's neurological, at least it's real. Reasonable. Just a thing that happens, a thing that could happen to anyone. Not something looking specifically for me. Waiting for the chance to pull me under dark water, hold me down." 

The Dark Beneath the Ice by Amelinda Bérubé
There's something so delicious about a book that wraps you in its unsettling, creepy tendrils and pulls you, shivering and unable to look away, up close... For those of you who love ghost stories, as I do, and stories that make you question what's real, as I do, you're going to love this frightening and beautiful August YA debut, The Dark Beneath the Ice by Amelinda Bérubé.

Amelinda's writing (which I've been so lucky to see in two workshops now!) makes my heart race, my mind twist and warp and reveal new shadows, and my whole body shake sometimes with fright and always with admiration. If you love stories with broken ballerinas, inner demons, girls falling in love wth girls, and heart-plunging suspense, well, you need to go grab this book! 

Upcoming Events
[A ROOM AWAY FROM THE WOLVES shiny beautiful hardcover]
A Room Away from the Wolves comes out Sept. 4, and I'm traveling to promote it! (Click through if needed to see entire message!)
Tues., September 4
McNally Jackson (Prince St) at 7pm • In conversation with Melissa Albert

Thurs., September 6
Head House Books at 7pm

Fri., September 7
Barnes & Noble Oxford Valley at 7pm • With Courtney Summers & Tiffany Schmidt

Sat., September 22
Boston Teen Author Festival
Sun., September 23
Oblong Books at 4pm • With Sara Farizan & Monica Hesse

Mon., September 24
The Golden Notebook at 6:30pm

Tues., September 25
Point Street Reading Series at 7pm • With Blair Hurley, Delia Owens, Corey Brettschneider, and Suzanne Matson
Sat., October 6
Texas Teen Book Festival

Mon., October 8
Interabang Books at 7pm • With Samantha Mabry

Tues., October 23
Labyrinth Books at 6pm • With Tiffany D. Jackson, Claire Legrand, and Anica Mrose Rissi
Sun., October 28
Doylestown Bookshop at 1pm • With Emily X.R. Pan

Details coming soon
More information:
Congratulations to... Abbie, who won a signed ARC last month! 

This month, I'm giving away a signed hardcover of either A Room Away from the Wolves or Toil & Trouble (the latter signed only by me)... winner's choice!

I'll choose one subscriber, by the intuitive magic of randomness, after Tuesday, August 28 at 11:59pm Eastern to win. Keep an eye on your inbox, as it may very well be you! New subscribers must be signed up by the cut-off time in order to win.
[pre-order A ROOM AWAY FROM THE WOLVES graphic]
Pre-order A Room Away from the Wolves before September 4, and I'll send gifts in thanks!
Copyright © 2018 Nova Ren Suma, All rights reserved.

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A Room Away from the Wolves cover art © 2018 by Sarah J. Coleman.