Time and Space in Just Fall: An Interview with Nina Sadowsky

Nina Sadowsky

After my book blast for Just Fall, I followed up with Nina Sadowsky about the unique setting and chapter sequences she used in the book. Here are her answers.

Michael Niemann: The story opens with a sensuous description of a beach and a hotel. Tell me about the setting. Did you go to St. Lucia to research the setting?

Nina Sadowsky: The opening of the book came out of a personal experience. My husband and I were newly married and trying to blend a family of four teenagers (two mine and two his). It wasn’t going well. In particular, my stepson was very angry and acting out in hurtful ways. He wouldn’t speak to me or eat anything I cooked, he refused to be at our house when my children were there, he was beastly to my husband and awful all around. The situation was stressful for everyone. I needed my husband to back me up about his son’s bad behavior, but he was terrified by the anger and resentment flowing from his son and afraid of driving him further away. My husband and I went away to Laguna Beach for what was supposed to be a weekend of re-connection and repair: cocktails on the beach, romantic dinners, and also a relaxed place in which to parse our problems. But even the weather didn’t cooperate. Our sunny weekend getaway was socked in by fog, the beach was out of the question, we even ended up going to the movies just to stay warm. But even worse, we weren’t talking about the problems our blended family was causing, I suspect because we both were afraid that bringing it up might prove too explosive for our relationship to withstand.

The Sunday we were to leave, I stood on the hotel room balcony watching a group of young men play football on the beach. I glanced back at my husband who was lying sprawled on the bed and for the briefest moment imagined he was dead. I grabbed my ever-present notebook and scribbled that scene down: a woman in hotel room with a dead man.  When I took that scribble home and began to think about shaping it into a novel, I decided wanted to explore the perils and pleasure of intimacy, how it can be incredibly fulfilling but also incredibly scary, not to mention difficult to maintain. I became obsessed with the secrets we keep from each other during the courtship process, and even the secrets we keep from ourselves about why we feel attraction to another.  I’d been to St. Lucia years ago, but it was always a place that stayed in my mind and as I started the process of creating a story around these themes I decided it was the perfect location. I supplemented my memories and collection of  photographs with research about the island as it is now.

MN: Ellie, the protagonist, finds herself in that paradise but might as well be  in hell. How important was the juxtaposition of the beauty of the setting and the shock of her new husbands dark past  to the story.

NS: Very.  One of the things I wanted to play with thematically is that things are not always as they appear. In Just Fall, St. Lucia appears to be a paradise but is seething with criminal activity and New York, a city which is frequently depicted as dark and dangerous, is by contrast used as the backdrop to the most shining moments of my protagonists’ love affair.  I also wanted to use the island metaphorically; islands are isolated and my characters feel isolated by their experiences and conflicting emotions. That is also the reason there is very little technology at play in the story.  I deliberately stripped my characters of reliance on smart phones and computers because of my belief that when we are undergoing an overwhelming challenging emotional time we feel very alone. I wanted my characters lack of technological connectivity to mirror their psychological states.

MN: The chapters alternate between Now and Then. It reminds me of the movie Memento.  What made you choose this form to tell the story?

NS: My decision about the novel’s structure came from two avenues. The first was wanting Ellie to be an “every woman” to whom readers would relate.  Having introduced her with a dead man about whom she appears pretty impassive, I decided to juxtapose that scene against the scene that follows where we see her in the perfect, final moments of crystallized hope just before her wedding, surrounded by her hairdresser, bridesmaids and champagne.  So much of our pop culture focuses on the proposal or the wedding as the endpoint of the story that I hoped readers would identify with Ellie at her wedding and then come to understand why she does the heinous things she does (while also subverting the cultural expectation of “and they lived happily ever after”).  The second reason was that having worked extensively in film and television, disciplines that adhere to pretty rigidly codified structures, it was fun to throw structure into a blender. The NOW sections are linear, but the THEN sections are not and were placed to illuminate character and ratchet up suspense. I index carded the entire book and moved the pieces around on our dining room table for months to create the final structure.

MN: I sense a strong cinematic quality in the writing. The opening is a distant omniscient view. I can almost see the camera sweep. How has your experience in screen writing and movie production influenced your fiction writing?

NS: Working in film and television production for most of my career has certainly influenced my writing.  I close my eyes before every scene and try to imagine it visually by thinking about what each department of a film crew would have to bring to the a day of filming that scene.  So I think about location, production design, costume design, hair and make-up, lighting, etc. and try to imagine the scene as completely as I can.

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