I was always a passionate and voracious reader and I think I’d always wanted to write, and specifically to write books. I just didn't believe I could do it—I didn't know if I could weave a coherent story, didn't think I had good enough ideas, didn't believe I’d have the self-discipline to get the thing done. In the meantime I fell in love with the theatre, and therefore buried even the knowledge of my desire to write. But all that time studying and working in the theatre was fabulous training for me as a writer. As an actor you work so hard to understand the vision of the playwright and the deepest motivations of every single breath of the character you’re playing, to get under and into their skin, and obviously these are also things you need to do as a writer. And I think being an actor gave me a good ear for dialogue and for how a story has to be shaped, how to create conflict. Ultimately, I wasn't happy as an actor; the business is crappy and even when I was working, I wasn't getting enough creative satisfaction from it. I wanted, needed, something that more directly expressed what I had to say. Around that time, someone who I’d let read some random stuff I’d written asked me if I’d ever thought of being a writer and all of a sudden I just knew that was what I was supposed to be doing…and that’s what put me on the path.
Falling Under is a tremendously evocative novel to have read; could you describe for us the emotional experience of having written it?
With Falling Under, I decided to take the gloves off and go for it, and be very instinctual. I knew the general conflicts and issues I wanted to write about, but I didn't really know where it was going to go. I just gave myself permission to go as crazy and raw as I wanted to and see what happened. It was terrifying and exhilarating, fun and frustrating. The book goes to some very dark places and you’d think maybe this might have messed me up...given me some hard days…but those parts were the most fun because I was being the most true, the most creative, and the most courageous.
Your portrayal of the classic, tormented artist is very thorough, even without delving too deeply into the technical aspects of Mara's particular milieu. How much of your own experience as an artist in theatre informed the creation of this aspect of the story?
Bottom line, it’s the creative process. I mean, if you’re making music, creating a character for stage or film, writing a book, painting; whatever it is, the technical aspects and skills needed are different, but what happens inside—that massive, sometimes magical-feeling effort to pull out something you want to express and then put it into a form people can relate to—I think it’s very much the same thing. I will say that for me, the descriptions of Mara’s artistic process are actually closer to my experiences as a writer than as an actor. The difference there is that as an actor you’re interpreting someone else’s words and vision, not your own.
It's said that all fiction is at least partially autobiographical; in terms of emotional and family history, how much of yourself might readers find in Mara?
As writers, we write what we’re passionate about and what we’re preoccupied with…so I think with any book, an immense amount of who the author is, on an essential level, goes into character and story. But it’s fiction.
Mara’s life story is completely different from my own, but I do come from a divorced family, and have strong feelings about what happens to kids when families break up. There’s also a lot of research that shows kids of divorced families (all different types of divorces) deal with anxiety and depression and a host of other issues. This information helped when I created Mara, and obviously there’s commonality here and there with my own experience, emotionally speaking. She also has my sense of humor!
The name Mara means "bitter" according to some sources. Were you aware of this when choosing a name for your character?
Honestly, I just liked the name and I had the vague thought it had something to do with the sea! I wouldn't have purposely chosen a name that meant “bitter” because I don’t really see Mara as bitter.
Your book was released first in print, back in 2008, and reached the Kindle in September of last year. What was that process like? Do you have plans to make the title available in any other digital formats?
It’s been really exciting and fun having Falling Under out as an ebook. With the economic crisis in 2008, it was a tough year to be launching a debut novel—especially a dark-ish book that is so hard to define and describe. Re-launching Falling Under in ebook format has given it a second life a chance to reach a new readership—the very passionate and growing ereading community. The response has been amazing, and I’m really grateful. There was quite a bit of work involved in getting the book formatted and orchestrating the design of the new cover, but I’m thrilled with the result.
Falling Under is currently only available on Kindle through the Kindle Select program, but it was available through the other ebook stores (B&N, Kobo, Sony, Smashwords, Diesel, the iBookstore, etc) and will be again soon.
Your website says that you're hard at work on your next project. Could you tell us a little bit about it, like whether it's a play or another novel?
I’m working on a new book and I've got two others sitting on the shelf that I’d like to pick back up and revise. The one I’m working on is about a teenage girl who gets sent on a wilderness trip against her will. She’s a fairly sheltered, “normal” middle class girl and expecting a camp-like experience, but the trip turns out to be much more hard-core than she expected and she finds herself surrounded by a really rough group of people with serious emotional and psychological problems. The whole thing is so much worse and so much more intense than she expected, and the book is about how she gets through it.
Wow. You just forced me to summarize it, which I haven’t done in awhile! This book may turn out to be best for the YA market, but I’m not positive about that. Even though it’s about a teen, I’m not trying to deliberately cater to a certain age of reader—I’m just writing the story the way I need to write it.
How would you compare working on a second novel to the experience of drafting the first? Can fans expect news on your next book any time soon?
This will actually be the 5th novel I've written. There was one before Falling Under, which I thought was great when I wrote it, but now realize should remain in the drawer. And there have been two written since Falling Under, both of which have been put aside at the moment and are awaiting revisions. As to how it is working on successive novels…I wish I could say it gets easier, but it doesn’t. I think you get better at the brass tacks writing stuff, and you refine your voice and style, but it doesn't get any easier to do. I will say that with this book I have an outline and I know much more specifically where it’s going, so that helps.
As to when fans might see a new novel…I hope to finish the one I’m working on this summer, but then it will need revisions. I will keep you posted!
I'd like to thank author and playwright Danielle Younge-Ullman for having taken the time to participate in this interview, which previously appeared elsewhere in November of 2012