Nina Sadowsky is a best-selling fiction author who didn’t pen her first novel – Just Fall — until she was in her 50s. Now, a television show based on that book is in the works, and her second novel – the Burial Society – is due out in 2017.
Nina’s journey to author-hood was partly fueled by an almost “stomp-her-foot” refusal to go quietly into midlife. She had worked in film and television her entire life, and had always enjoyed success as a pitcher, easily getting producers to fall in love with her work and ideas. But although as she got older and life experiences had rendered her smarter and better at her job, she suddenly felt like she wasn’t getting traction and was being dismissed – not something this strong-willed, intelligent, law-school educated woman from New York was going to lie down and take.
knew I had something to say and I wanted to be heard. So I decided to start writing a book. I took out all expectations of who I was writing for. I wrote purely for myself. It was a reclaiming of my essential creative nature
I had the privilege of getting to interview Nina about how she found the courage and drive to reinvent herself in her 50s. Her energy and confidence were evident, and her passion for using those things to lift up other woman palpable. Here are some of my favorite parts of that conversation:
Q. How does someone become a fiction author after 50? Tell me how “Just Fall” came to be:
A. “(The book) was a howl,” she says. “I knew I had something to say and I wanted to be heard. So I decided to start writing a book. I took out all expectations of who I was writing for. I wrote purely for myself. It was a reclaiming of my essential creative nature.
It was a metaphor for marriage – how things we see don’t line up with the picture we are creating in our mind. It all came out of a lot of real experiences I had in my 50s. I had been divorced and when I got divorced, I never thought I’d get married again. Then (Gary) came along and swept me off my feet. I thought I was getting a fairy tale, but it was a disaster. We blended a family of teens and we discovered it was hell on earth, not the heaven we thought. That idea — that all things end with a proposal or wedding – no one thinks about what happens afterward, at least not really. That’s what inspired “Just Fall.” I wrote the book while I was trying to figure it all out.”
“Just Fall” is a thriller set in New York and the tropical island of St. Lucia. It’s about a woman who gets married and then discovers that she has married a killer. I was motivated to read the book after doing this interview with Nina, and it’s a page-turner that hooked this hard-to-please fiction junkie from the start and is keeping me from getting some of my own work done.
When Nina wrote the book, she was working through the challenges of having remarried, creating a blended family with her two children and the two children of her new husband, Gary Hackman. Fortunately, Nina, Gary and their children, now ages 22, 21, 20 and 17, have found their groove and the family is experiencing more of the bliss they had anticipated.
Q. You talk about your age being a factor in what you were experiencing in Hollywood and the rejection you were beginning to feel in your career as a screenwriter and producer. Was Just Fall part of midlife crisis?
A. Awhile ago, I researched midlife crises and how women experience midlife crises and I think women do it much differently than men. When men hit it, they have their acting out or they go into despair. Women tend to take some action. They go back to school and many of them file for divorce. In our society, the idea is that you land a man and you depend on a man and there are laws written to protect that. An institutional dependence is built into our society but that is starting to shift. I think women are starting to look at 50 and say, “Hell, I’ve only got one shot at this, so they go after something they’ve always wanted. I’m not sure men have the same moxie.”
Q. You were teaching full time at USC’s School of Cinematic Arts during the time you wrote “Just Fall,” plus you were juggling the challenges that came with being a mother to a blended family of four teenagers. How did you find the time and the motivation to write?
t was essential to take fear out of the equation. That allowed me to do my best work. And it allowed be to be fearless in ALL the other things I’m doing now. I see my work getting better and better as a result
A. “I mostly wrote on the weekends, mostly Sundays. Like I said, I wrote just for me, just as a way to process things. I had accomplished a lot in film and television, but my voice felt increasingly silenced in an industry that is male dominated. I wrote the book without thinking of outcome, but purely to release my howling voice.. It was thrilling and liberating to do so. I didn’t let anyone read any of it until it was completely done.”
The bonus for Nina was the reaction the book got, first among her trusted friends and then among some connections she had in the publishing industry. Although she had decades of experience in television and film, having worked as an entertainment lawyer, producer, film executive, screenwriter, director and film producer, Nina knew nothing about the publishing industry. But she didn’t let that stop her. She relied on friends and friends of friends to make the connections she needed, and she dedicated a certain number of hours each day to learn.
Q. What did you have to learn?
A. “I had always been a writer and had success in TV and film, but writing the book was about reclaiming my essential creative nature. I didn’t even have a website before I published. I had to develop a Twitter following and an author Facebook page and learn about author events and agents and just be teachable and willing to work hard. But I’ve had to pinch myself with what’s happened because it’s amazing. And I had to let other people help me. I’m part of group we call the Wolf Pack – it’s a group of women writers who help each other. Shonda Rhimes (creator of Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal) is in the group and she tweeted for me. We all support each other. That’s why I want to help other women. It’s how it works – what it’s all about.”
Q. How did the TV show deal come about?
A. “As I was reinventing myself, I was losing my mother to Alzheimer’s. A friend sent me a book about healing through loss, and part of the book is about doing something new or something to honor the person you’ve lost. I’d also read Shonda’s book, “Year of Yes” and it inspired me. I was struggling, trying to have the courage to not just slink away from television, believing that I was too old. But these books inspired me when my mother was dying, so I made the decision, fueled by my grief, that I would push through and pursue it, do it for her. And for a woman over 50 in Hollywood to sell her first pilot – I cannot tell you how many odds I had to break to do that.”
Q. Tell us about the second book (due out in 2017).
A. “It’s titled “Burial Society,” which are organizations within some communities that consider it the greatest act of benevolence to care for the dying and the dead. I read about them and knew it had to be the title of a book. So Burial Society is about a woman with a fairly tragic past who runs an organization on the darknet that is like a witness protection society. She mostly rescues women in abusive situations – women and children. And she is in Russia rescuing a super model when she sees a family that she failed to rescue in the United States. If the first book was a metaphor for marriage, this one explores feelings of debt and obligation and family dysfunction and women’s empowerment.”
Q. What is your best advice for aspiring writers (especially those who want to become a fiction author after 50)?
A. “The biggest thing is to treat writing like a job. I think people wait for the muse, and get stuck in writer’s block. I don’t believe in writer’s block or the muse. I look at my week on Sunday and I look at what’s coming up and I book in writing time. It takes priority over most things. Some days, I’m not really inspired and not much quality work comes. But I still write. Writing is re-writing.
Also, for me, it was essential to take fear out of the equation. That allowed me to do my best work. And it allowed be to be fearless in ALL the other things I’m doing now. I see my work getting better and better as a result.”
NOTE: Nina “walks the talk” when it comes to helping other women. She has been very supportive of our efforts at Fiftiness, agreeing to talk about us through her social media networks so that other women can become a part of our community. It is our hope to have additional conversations with Nina and share the exciting news of her television show and upcoming second book as they come to fruition. Check out her website Thriller Author.
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