Though you’re not quite sure he would if he really knew you, if he knew the things you’ve done and the family you have and the sad, dark, panicky places that come out and haunt you at night. He would never understand how being happy makes you sad. How the happier you are the more you know the sky is about to explode into tiny, sparkling shards of glass that will pick up speed as they fall to the earth and slice right through you leaving your skin with little holes in it, leaving your heart bleeding.
. . .
And there are nice things that you’ve never had before, like hugs, kisses on the cheek, ice cream at 3 a.m. And laughter, lots of laughter. It bubbles up and spills over, stains you with regret for what you’ve missed.
You are young and in love and finding out what it feels like to smile for no reason, and draw pictures of bumble bees with Lucas’s laughing face, and make love on sun-filled afternoons, and sleep with your head on his shoulder and strands of your hair falling across his chest.
(from Falling Under, pages 242-243)
Danielle Younge–Ullman’s writing is so beautiful, poetic, and honest that it’s not surprising her debut novel, Falling Under, grabbed hold of me from page one and made me wish I took a day off from work to curl up on the couch and devour the book in one sitting.
Falling Under is the story of a troubled but talented artist, Mara Foster. She was traumatized at a young age by her parents’ fights and eventual divorce, her mother’s coldness and hostility, and her father’s alcoholism. She goes from one troubled relationship to another, the only constant being her friendship with Bernadette, and even that wasn’t trouble-free.
The book is mostly told in the first person, and Younge–Ullman does a wonderful job portraying Mara’s vulnerability and the anxiety that has made her unable to leave her house some days. The narrative is not for the faint of heart; there is strong language and many descriptive sex scenes, but the rawness, the harshness is necessary to see and feel what it’s like to be Mara.
Inserted between the first-person scenes in the present are scenes told in the second person, detailing Mara’s past: her parents’ break-up, her falling out with Bernadette, her affair with an older artist, her first love. Mara is haunted by her first love, and the tragedy that occurs prevents her from having a normal relationship with Hugo, a man she meets in a gay bar while Bernadette is trying to impress a former girlfriend. The scenes with Hugo, a normal guy trying to begin a relationship with a messed up girl, offer some comic relief, as Mara doesn’t know how to handle the situation. But it’s sad, too, because Mara is unable to just enjoy Hugo’s company until she revisits the ghosts of her past, ghosts that also have prevented her from fully expressing herself in her art. Younge–Ullman also weaves in scenes with Eric, a man Mara sleeps with from time to time, and Sal, a former lover who buys and sells the paintings full of geometric shapes that Mara cranks out like a robot.
It’s hard to put into words just how much I loved this book. I grew attached to Mara, rooting for her all the way. Younge–Ullman does an excellent job portraying Mara’s pain, actually making me feel the hurt in some scenes. The character seemed so real to me, maybe because I identified with her, having known what it’s like to be so depressed that you can’t do the one thing you live for. (For Mara it was painting, for me it was writing. But that’s all in the past now.) I couldn’t believe this was Younge–Ullman’s first novel, and I can’t wait for her next one.
After interviewing Kate Veitch, author of Without a Backward Glance, she put me in touch with Danielle Younge–Ullman. (Thanks so much, Kate!) And I’m so happy she did because Danielle is a gem. Despite a busy schedule that involved a book festival and finishing her next novel, Danielle agreed to an interview, which I’ll share with you all now.
What prompted you to write Falling Under? How did the character of Mara come about? Was she inspired by anyone?
There were a few things at play when I was working on the premise for Falling Under. My first attempt at a book was a lighter, funnier book, but with some darker, more serious subplots in it. It was those subplots that I liked best and that other people seemed to respond to, so that gave me a clue about the direction I wanted to go in with my next book.
At the time I was also pondering the effects of traumas experienced in childhood, specifically divorce, on a person when they become an adult and have to navigate adult relationships. The question I was mulling was how do you grow up to have any faith or trust in the world, in things turning out well, when from an early age you know everything and everyone you count on can fall apart? This is not a neurotic perception for a kid, or an adult–it’s a fact.
As all of this was whirling around in me, I began to see Mara–this brilliant, talented young woman who was so overcome and trapped by her fears that she could barely leave her house. This is how the creative process seems to work for me–I just start asking myself questions, thinking about issues and events that I’m curious about and/or feel strongly about, and then, finally, I start to “see” and “hear” my story, my characters. When they finally appear it feels like magic, but it’s the result of a process where I’m pulling things together and digging around inside. Mara kind of just appeared.
The one thing that is rather autobiographical about Mara is the way she worries–I’m a big worrier, and it’s very easy with my vivid imagination for me to go to the worst-case-scenario. I function perfectly well in the world and have a good sense of humor about this aspect of my character, but as I was creating Mara, I imagined someone who had the same kind of anxiety and worry in her, but multiplied by a thousand and with a different, much more difficult personal history. So Mara is not based on anyone–as I said, she just appeared, but she does have this one central thing in common with me.
Was it hard to write from Mara’s point of view? The story is so full of pain and vulnerability, it hurt to read some parts of it.
Honestly, that deep, raw stuff is . . . not exactly easy to write, but when I get in that zone it flows out. Before I ever realized I was a writer, I kept journals and poured my heart and soul out with no self-censoring. I did this on and off for years and unwittingly taught myself to write. To write from Mara’s point of view, I really just had to get myself fully into her headspace and then do the same thing.
I will say, though, that I was bawling my eyes out as I wrote the final quarter of Falling Under. The story took some turns I really didn’t expect, and I was just a mess.
What do you think about the cover of Falling Under? I loved it, from the image of the woman to the scratchy writing. I was drawn to it immediately, and after reading the book, I think it’s a perfect fit.
I love the cover–I really think it suits the book well, and it’s also very sexy and eye-catching!
How long did it take you to write the book? Could you describe your writing process?
It took a little under a year to write the first draft of Falling Under and then another three-ish months to edit before I shopped it to agents.
My writing process is still . . . in process. I think in the first question I gave an idea of how I start out, but after that I often write a first scene, then do an outline. I stick to the outline for a few chapters, then tend to go wildly off in a different direction and write until I’m so far off the outline that I’m stuck. Then I write a new outline based on what I’ve got so far, write until I’ve gone off it and am stuck again, etc. I do this until the book is done. It’s a very messy process, and I wish I could write an outline that I could stick to, or just give up and write without one, but it doesn’t seem to work that way. I need to write the outline, and I need to feel free to ignore it, too.
Are you writing another novel? Will it be different from Falling Under in terms of writing style?
Yes! I just finished the first draft of my new book, and I can’t tell you how relieved I am to have it done. I don’t think the style is drastically different, but I’m not using the second person POV as I did for half of Falling Under and I’m following two characters’ POVs in this one, instead of one, so it’s a bit more complicated.
I’ve seen a few bloggers listing books that made them cry. Has a book ever driven you to tears? The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan and Marley and Me by John Grogan are a couple that did it to me.
Many books have made me cry! I first read Jane Eyre when I was 11 years old, and I remember it totally slayed me–blew my mind, made me bawl my eyes out, everything. I went straight to Wuthering Heights after that. What else . . . The Time Traveler’s Wife, A Prayer for Owen Meany, Fugitive Pieces . . . the list is much longer, but there are a few that stand out.
Thanks, Danielle, for making time for me! I can’t wait for your next book. Wishing you much success!
Danielle is offering a copy of Falling Under to one lucky reader. If you’re interested in this amazing book, please comment on this post. Remember to leave your email address, especially if you don’t have a blog or your blog profile isn’t available. If I don’t have a way to contact you if you win, your entry won’t be counted! The deadline for this giveaway is Friday, Nov. 14, 2008.
**Please note that this giveaway is now closed**
Disclosure: I received a copy of Falling Under from the author for review purposes. I am an Amazon associate.
© 2008 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.