This year, I attended my very first ThrillerFest. One of the highlights was meeting the other debut novelists. Among them was Nina Sadowsky. It’s always fun to meet another Nina! I recently listened to her psychological thriller JUST FALL on Audible (yep, I am still listening to audio books, and loving them!) Wowzers! JUST FALL was sexy, frightening and totally thrilling! I found myself rooting for some characters at one moment, and then hating them in others! And the ending…well let’s say, there were so many twists and turns, I definitely didn’t see it coming! I am super excited to have Nina as a guest on NOT EVEN JOKING today. She discusses family, marriage and some of the inspiration behind JUST FALL.
LOST IN LAGUNA
by Nina Sadowsky
The weekend was supposed to be a fun, sexy, newlywed escape, a chance for my husband and I to sip cocktails on the beach, stroll through town hand in hand, luxuriate in hotel sex. I prayed we would reconnect. We had been married just three months and I was afraid I had made the biggest mistake of my life.
My husband and I met online. Each of us had one failed marriage and two teenagers. We discovered that my two children and one of his were at the same small, progressive private school, our daughters, in fact, in the same grade. We learned that we shared similar values about the importance of family. Our politics aligned. We both had a love of travel, fine food and wine, indie movies. We both possessed addictions to morning coffee and abandoned law degrees. I discovered that he, a native of Los Angeles, religiously read The New Yorker, a staple in this New York native’s home.
After a few dates, over sushi and sake, we declared our exclusivity. To celebrate we spontaneously checked into the Beverly Hills Four Seasons Hotel, not even stopping for toothbrushes, emerging decadently rumpled the next morning. He told me he loved me shortly thereafter. I was more cautious and would only reward him with “I big like you.”
When we were together for three months, he became ill. The doctors at first couldn’t diagnose him. He was tested for infectious diseases and various viruses. He got sicker and sicker. Finally we learned that a routine teeth cleaning had caused a bacterial blood infection, compromising a heart valve. He needed open heart surgery. The surgery was scheduled. I told him I loved him for the very first time.
He asked me if he could take me away for a few days before the operation and I agreed. On that trip that he proposed, diamond ring at the ready. We had been dating for four months. I accepted, although I must confess a small part of me whispered, “I can’t say no now, not with him having open heart surgery next week. I’ll say yes and then see how it goes.”
That being said, the fear and anxiety I felt when he was wheeled into the operating theatre told me that my feelings were deeper than I had allowed myself to acknowledge.
The surgery went fine. We set a wedding date over a year away, but when the house I had been renting went on the market, we decided we might as well move in together.
So there we were, the happy couple, realizing we actually barely knew one another, installed in a home with four teenagers possessed of decidedly mixed emotions. I felt for the kids, I really did. Divorce and remarriage are life events that affect children enormously, but over which they have no control. I did my best to stay flexible during the inevitable awkward and uncomfortable eruptions over differing styles about everything from meal-time to TV-watching to homework to discipline.
But we were figuring it out. Or so I thought. Until our wedding. Maybe it was the formality, the “real” of it, hitting him, I don’t know, but my stepson, a kid I had thought of as delightful, that I knew as a boy scout and a good student, turned into a monster. He threw the nice clothes we bought him for the wedding into the garbage. He wouldn’t speak to my children or even be at our house when they were there. He refused to eat anything I cooked. He got into a fistfight at school. He fought with his dad. He ignored me. He smashed down his bedroom door. He broke rules about parties, and it was me who had to call a boy’s mother when the kid puked his guts up at our house at 2 a.m.
Uncomfortable with anger in general, I was thoroughly flummoxed by this rage in my own household. I understood my husband was in a terrible position: his child, someone he loved without reservation, was being hateful to his new wife and her children. I was empathetic, but also furious. Protect me, protect my children, protect our marriage, these were the things I wanted to scream. But I stayed silent. We were new and fragile.
Our weekend in Laguna Beach was designed to allow us a brief respite from this dilemma. And a neutral place to puzzle out our next steps. But Laguna did not cooperate. The weather was chilly and overcast. We shivered and contemplated the purchase of cheap sweatshirts, ducked into a movie just to stay warm. We ate nice meals and strolled the tourist traps, but the weight of my stepson’s anger shrouded us as heavily as the fog. Both of us were reluctant to start the conversation that we were fearful could end it all.
Late Sunday afternoon, sun slanting in, I stood at the window of our beach side hotel room, staring out at the water below. A cadre of toned young men tossed a football back and forth on the sand. I turned to look at my husband who was sprawled on the bed, eyes closed, one arm flung over his face. All my fury and worry coalesced into an image of violence; I imagined the man on the bed to be quite dead. I grabbed my notebook and scribbled down the scene as I envisioned it. This became the opening scene in my first novel, JUST FALL.
Marriage is a courageous choice under any circumstances, particularly so when blending a family. Peeling back the layers of a person, exposing the whole of not just his individual psyche, but also those of the people that “come with,” is a brave and bold task. Agendas and perspectives aren’t always aligned. Interests and loyalties can compete. Laying yourself bare to need is terrifying.
My husband and I finally spoke, stalled in traffic, on the way home from Laguna. We shared our fears and agreed we needed to be a united and loving front. We would insist on civility. Practice love even when we weren’t feeling it. Lead with compassion. Assure my stepson we would be there for him as well as for each other. We pulled into our driveway holding hands.
As we put compassion into action, I took the scene I had scribbled in Laguna and went to work on the novel that became JUST FALL. The book became a metaphor for the pleasure and perils of intimacy that marked our first year of marriage. As we figured out how to be a pair, we were frequently misaligned, our agendas at odds. Our deepest fears were laid bare; we were vulnerable and often alienated from one another. We saw each other’s ugly sides. We loved each other too. All of these emotions became translated into a world of killers and con men, desperadoes and detectives.
Gradually, my stepson came around. He’s still a picky eater but loves most of what I cook. I helped him with his college essays and when he got his first acceptance, he made a pointing of telling both me and my husband that he couldn’t have done it without us. The day he left to start his freshman year, we told one another we loved each other for the very first time. Reinventing my relationship with this young man is one of the things I am proudest of in my adult life.
As for my husband, he is grateful that there is peace in our home. And also that writing is the process by which I exorcise my demons, leaving him free to sleep without one eye open.
Nina R. Sadowsky is an entertainment lawyer (in recovery) who has worked as a film and television producer and writer for most of her career. JUST FALL is her first novel.
She has written numerous original screenplays and adaptations and done rewrites for such companies as The Walt Disney Company, Working Title Films, and Lifetime Television. She served as President of Production for Signpost Films, a film financier and foreign distributor, where she worked on such projects as the Academy Award nominated “The House of Sand and Fog.” Sadowsky served as executive producer for the hit film “The Wedding Planner,” starring Jennifer Lopez and Matthew McConaughey, produced “Desert Saints,” an independent film starring Kiefer Sutherland, produced the supernatural thriller, “Lost Souls,” which marked the directorial debut of Academy Award winning cinematographer Janusz Kaminsky for New Line Cinema, produced the telefilm “Northern Lights,” starring Diane Keaton for The Disney Channel, and served as executive producer for the animated half hour comedy pilot, “Quints” for UPN. She also produced “Jumpin’ at the Boneyard” starring Tim Roth, Jeffrey Wright and Samuel L. Jackson, which was featured in the Sundance, Montreal and Torino film festivals.
She serves as adjunct faculty at USC’s School of Cinematic Arts program, teaching both writing and producing.
JUST FALL (Ballantine, March 2016)
By Nina Sadowsky
Perfect for fans of Patricia Highsmith and Gillian Flynn, this sexy and seductive debut novel asks: How can you find out that the person you love is a killer . . . and continue to love him anyway?
Ellie Larrabee’s life is perfect. She’s thriving at work, living in a fabulous apartment, and engaged to the man of her dreams. To all appearances, Ellie and Rob Beauman are a golden couple—blessed with good looks, success, and romantic chemistry that’s off the charts. Surely their future together promises nothing but happiness.
But on what should be the most wonderful day of her life, moments after saying “I do,” a shocking secret threatens to shatter Ellie’s happily-ever-after. She learns that the man she just married and loves with all her heart hides a dark past beneath his charismatic exterior. And the more harrowing truth she uncovers, the deeper Ellie is swept into a vortex of betrayal and uncertainty from which she may never escape.
On the island paradise of St. Lucia, Ellie isn’t basking in honeymoon splendor—she’s grappling with the chilling realities of her violently derailed life: Rob has blood on his hands and some very dangerous people on his trail, and only Ellie stands between him and the lethal destiny he’s facing. Rob never dreamed that Ellie would be dragged into the deadly world he’s trapped in—or used as a pawn against him. And Ellie could never have imagined how far she’d be forced to go to save the man she loves.