Earlier this summer I cracked open the pages of Nina Sadowsky’s debut novel Just Fall for the first time and for hours I couldn’t put it down.
Recently I had the wonderful opportunity to interviewing Nina Sadowsky regarding her experiences writing Just Fall. If you’d like to read my book review over Just Fall you can find it here.
In the interest of not asking a bunch of questions Nina had already been asked in previous interviews, we agreed to lean towards questions that would build upon previous responses. Enjoy.
me: In previous interviews you’ve mentioned that the location details and some of the characters of Just Fall come from personal experiences, and that your major influences for story telling have been crime and thriller stories, particularly movies. You obviously have a lot of experience from your film writing career and life life in general that helped you to tell the story of Just Fall, but was there anything specific or new you hadn’t dealt with before that you had to research before you were able to write the story or characters of Just Fall?
Nina: I love research and do a lot of research actually that isn’t even specifically for writing but just because I want to learn about things, and sometimes it becomes useful later on down the road when I do go to write about something. For this story I researched St. Lucia. I was on the island itself in March post release, and before that I had visited there about 20 years ago. I had a lot of photos and vivid memories to go off of, but I had to research things like what the police force was called, the birds, flora and fauna, local police procedures, all of that.
I grew up in New York so I pretty much live and breath that, but did I have to research playground designs for Ellie’s job, which was something I had never even thought much about before. When you sit down to create a character there are basic questions you have to ask; gender, age, what they look like. But its when you go deeper that you begin to discover things.
Ellie is a girl who always felt sidelined, who felt invisible. Her childhood kind of got stolen from her, so the idea she would want to dedicate her life to a place that is a safe place for kids to play was important.
My favorite moment is when she saves the little boy and she starts thinking about where she’s at, in in life and in that moment. She has to really consider the danger she’s in and contemplate whether it is worth it to keep pushing forward. Despite all this she still decides to go back in and see if anyone else needs to be saved.
She has this instinct to care for children, even though she isn’t a young mother. I had to ask what her childhood was like, how she felt cheated, and what it would mean to her to try and expose this ring of child abductors/operatives.
I also did research in how people become conditioned to violence. When I was writing Rob’s story and who he was as a character, I wanted him to feel real. He is a victim but also a perpetrator. It was tricky. I wanted to create someone who was incredibly flawed. Someone who any normal citizen would see his actions and say “oh my god” but also would sympathize with his situation and would root for him.
me: You’ve mentioned before that a lot of the inspiration for Just Fall came from a time when you were struggling in a new marriage and the difficulties of combining two households with teenage children. Was there any part of the story of Just Fall that was your first moment of inspiration from which the rest of the novel grew?
Nina: The first thing I wrote was a sketch in my notebook, just a scene with a woman in a hotel room and a man with a knife in him. The first sentence from that scene has never changed. I didn’t yet know what this scene was, whether the woman had killed him or not, but I started writing it and said ‘I have this scene but it’s not a book’. Then I began to think about what things I was interested in exploring thematically.
I was newly married. People always say write what you know, and I’ve been married twice. I know all about expectations and being disappointed. I was interested in exploring that. I was feeling some of the same feelings. I was asking myself did I make a mistake? What have I taken on her? Where would I compromise myself to make this relationship work? I took the real emotions and questions I was asking in my own life at that moment like, but I wanted to tell them in as a thriller. I took that real grounded stuff and put it in the thriller context.
me: You actually have another book coming out later this year. Can you tell us anything about your upcoming book The Burial Society?
Nina: I’m happy to talk about it because I’m very excited about it. The story is set primarily in Paris, and I think it’s a story that will really resonate with people. Thematically it explores concepts of guilt and redemption, family secrets and the pain of family dynamics. The Burial Society is a story about a woman who helps others like abused women and whistle blowers find new lives escape the bad situations they are in.
The main character is living a rather lonely life as a sort of atonement, and what happens is she’s confronted with the arrival of family that represent her biggest failure. Their arrival is a big trigger for her, and when the father of the family is killed she finds herself pulled into the investigation to try and help uncover what happened. It’s a of an empowered woman who can make things right in a world gone wrong. The story runs on surface as a rip roaring, exciting thriller, with some mystery elements.
Some of the research I had to do for The Burial Society involved European culture and life, the dark web, DNA, and such. I also recently attended Thriller Fest where they had an entire seminar on FBI forensics and finger printing.
me: After spending much of your career working in screenwriting, how did you feel writing a novel for the first time?
Nina: I loved it. First of all I had no expectations. I’d written professionally for 10 years almost when I switched over from producing. I was frustrated, as you said at the top I was really losing what I love about writing and I decided to say the ‘hell with structure I’m gonna do what I want.’ I had fun with it because there was no deadline on it. The thing about film is it is intensely collaborative. I’m working now on Just Fall‘s adaptation. In film the script goes to the producer, where other 4 people who weight in. Then it goes to the studio and 3 new people weight in.
Each of their biases and objectives effect the outcome of the script. I have to weight what really matters versus whether I can sell them on this. The writing for film is a much more controlled process because there are so many more voices weighing in all the time. It can be great because you can get ideas you never would have heard of. I’m having all kinds of men and women from different backgrounds at and different points in their lives giving their perspectives and helping to build the story. You have to really learn what is going to be helpful, and be able to fight for what you believe in. When I work on a book I collaborate with 1 person, with a film it can be 7 to 10 other people.
me: Given how much your writing style is already influenced by your film career what kind of changes should readers anticipate for the film adaptation of Just Fall? What kind of changes would you like to see?
Nina: It’s been a fascination process. What I’m discovering is I’m going to have to depart more from the book than I originally thought. Going into it I think we all thought I could adhere closer to the structure of the book but visual medium is different. When you read something the way your mind processes it is different than when you see something. When we see something it is as if we experience it ourselves. One thing I loved with the book was opening with the archetypal blond, but in film I have to ask ‘does that opening work against theme of exploring what makes someone kill?’
I’m thinking about a whole new opening now. When you’ve written a book those characters have lived and breathed in your head. I’m approaching it as a pre-writing process and writing it all new. A film is a road map, there are rewrites the day before because an actress has a problem with a scene or a location falls through. A script is a living changing document, but when you get the galleys out its set in stone, and making any changes will cost you.
Thanks again Nina for this wonderful interview! It was truly a pleasure talking to you and I look forward to meeting you in person at the Midwest Writers Workshop. :3
For those of you who would like to learn more about the screenwriting or adaptation process Nina Sadowsky will be heading Midwest Writers Workshop panels/seminars on screenwriting, adaptations, and revision as well as attending a signing for her debut novel Just Fall.
You can also read Nina’s Screenwriting Tips for Novel Writers in her Q&A with Cathy Shouse.