Anastasia Zadeik is a writer, editor and oral storyteller. After graduating summa cum laude from Smith college, with a degree in psychology, she had an international career in neuropsychological research while raising children. She now serves as director of operations and board member for the San Diego Writers Festival. Her debut novel, Blurred Fates, a domestic thriller, deals with the fallacy of memory amidst the resonance of trauma.
Here are some details excerpted from our video conversation.
Shelley: As a writer, much of what you do is in private. And there’s usually such a long period of gestation and so many steps in the process before your book is birthed into the world. Can you tell us a little bit about your writing and publication process?
Anastasia: So I actually wrote the first draft of this book 10 years ago. And at the time my mother had been diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s, my stepdaughter came to live with us and she didn’t want to be with us. And about a year after she came to live with us, her mom died of a heroin overdose. So there was a lot going on in my life, a lot going on behind the scenes. And I lived in a neighborhood that was really perfect on the outside. This is where the idea came for the book, back in the early two thousands. People didn’t really talk about mental health issues, trauma, you know, even Alzheimer’s disease.
My mom was young, quite young. She was just in her early sixties. And so it was people didn’t understand what was going on with her. So my outside life and my inside life were not the same. And so that’s where the germ of the idea came from, a woman whose interior life is so different from her exterior life. Some of the things that she’s holding onto are things that she hasn’t even allowed herself to think about. There are secrets that she’s kept from her spouse and from everyone she knows, but there’s also secrets she’s keeping from herself as a psychological protective mechanism. And so I wrote the first draft in nine months, and then I gave it to some beta readers and I got some feedback.
Then I went to a writer’s conference and I heard from the keynote a really important piece of information, which was that you should end each chapter with something unresolved to make sure that your reader turns the page from chapter to chapter. I went back in, and realized that every one of my chapters was like, it’s own little short story, had a beginning, middle and end. And the endings were often tying things up with a little bow. So there was there was no incentive for the reader to keep going. It was like, Oh, okay, good. So in the second rewrite, I changed the structure of the novel and in so doing, I did not realize at the time and did not realize until very recently that I had created a thriller. It was not intended to be written that way.
But when I started trying to tie the threads together and trying to make unresolved issues go from chapter to chapter and then weave back in some of the issues that I had left unresolved early, sprinkling little answers throughout the book, that led to the revelations that come at the end of the book. I wasn’t doing it intentionally at all, but I turned it into a thriller. I worked on it for about four years. I ended up putting it in a drawer and it lived there for three years and I really didn’t do much to it at all. Then pulled it out again to go to another writer’s conference. And at that writer’s conference, I brought a portion of it and received some really great feedback from other writers and they encouraged me to to pull it back out.
And so I did, and then it went to a developmental editor that was a former big five editor. She wrote me back with seven single space pages of notes. I made all those changes. Then I gave it to another round of beta readers, made those changes and then did the copy editing and then the proofreading. And so, once I pulled it out of the drawer, I’ve been working on it not every day, but certainly, fairly consistently. As you know, it takes a lot of time, even when you think you’ve got it finished.
The older I get, the more I realize that most things in life are practice. I mean, you practice yoga, you practice law, you practice medicine. Everything’s a practice. We continue to get better at things to learn things. And I’ve learned a lot in the publishing process alone. I’ve learned more than I realized I didn’t know.
Shelley: You’ve had a career working in neuropsychological research. You have such skill at revealing how a person’s psychological situation might affect their decision making. One topic is related to the role of memory and another is the experience of PTSD and triggering. Could you tell us about your background in neuropsychology and to what degree it played a role in how you saw your character, Kate?
Anastasia: I worked for a company that was conducting clinical research in the field of memory. And so we were primarily studying two things. One was memory disorders, like Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, fronto-temporal dementia. We ran clinical drug trials for companies that were looking at compounds to see if they were helpful not curing, but stalling disease, and and making it possible for people with those memory disorders to live productive lives longer. Of course, that involved my becoming more well versed in memory itself, how memories are formed, how they’re lost. One of the most fascinating things to me is how a memory can be misremembered, stored in that misremembered form and remembered as truth because you’ve rehearsed that memory over and over. And every time you talk about it or think about it, you’ve reinforced that pathway in your brain that then convinces you that that’s what really happened.
That to me was always fascinating. When I would go to my four brothers and sisters and we would talk about something that happened in our family and we would all remember it completely differently. The kernel of the story was the same, but based on our birth order, based on how old we were, when it happened, based on what was going on in our life at the time, we just, we saw the world differently. And I think that that can be true in all relationships. But for me, it created the idea of an inciting incident as something that is not fully remembered. It triggers memories kept buried for decades. Yet they’re both moving forward with trying to figure out what to do with their relationship. Two characters operate off of not only different information, but differently faulted information. If that makes sense.
Shelley: I love that. The beginning of my first novel, Copy Boy, was based on stories told to me by my father for my whole life. And I just manipulated it the way I wanted to, changing things radically. And when he read the book, he said, That’s not what happened, but it’s the truth.
Anastasia: Absolutely, this book is not in any way autobiographical, but it’s informed by my own life experiences. And my story gives readers permission to talk about such topics that are still somewhat cloaked in secrecy with a little bit of stigma. When you give people the opportunity to reflect on them through a character, it’s freeing. It’s not about them.
Shelley: Epigenetic research suggests we can inherit the trauma of our parents. Our DNA can change according to life events and our children can inherit that changed DNA. So experience really does get in the body, in the bloodstream, of a family.
Anastasia: It does. And you know, nowadays, some of the research that they’re doing on things like cognitive behavioral therapy, shows that the way you think affects brain chemistry. You can change your brain chemistry by the way you think. So, if you are processing something the wrong way, that could become more solidified in your brain chemistry. It’s not just our nature and nurture, it’s not just our DNA and our experiences, but all of that is shaped by the people around us, the experience, you know? So when you’re in a marriage or a family and your behavior is influenced by the behavior of others, it’s almost impossible to tease out. And that’s why my novel’s title is Blurred Fates.
Shelley: The book begins with the diagnosis of a contagious disease. You wrote this well before the pandemic, but this book lands on readers at a time when we’ve all been thinking about contagion and righteous or not-righteous treatment of potentially contagious disease. So it probably wasn’t intentional, but it sure lands in an interesting time,
Anastasia: I had not even thought about that, Shelley. That’s an interesting thought. A trauma can be stored in your body, like a virus. So it’s there, just waiting for a moment of weakness to burst out and a lot of times you don’t see it coming until it’s already like there. And in that way, I think it is sort of similar to the COVID thing in the sense that so many people are walking around with COVID before they know they have it. And that’s true for a lot of viruses.
Shelley: You’re a part of the San Diego Writer’s Festival and So Say We All, an oral storytelling organization. I have friends who assert that most writers are introverts, that they have to be to spend so much time alone just to get the dang thing written. What is your take on the solo versus communal work of a writer?
Anastasia: So I am an introvert through and through. I have extrovert qualities in that I’m kind of outgoing and talkative, but social situations deplete my energy and I have to go and be by myself to restore it. And what I’ve learned through my therapy sessions was, I never thought of myself as an introvert until about eight, ten years ago, right? When I was writing this book, actually, and my therapist said, An extrovert takes energy from the room and an introvert is depleted by it. When an extrovert leaves a party, they want more, it fills them up. Whereas an introvert is like, Okay, I gotta go home.
I gotta be by myself or I gotta go for a hike or I gotta do something by myself. So for me, the writing process has been great in that you are by yourself when you’re writing, it’s you and your computer, you and your piece of paper and pen, so that replenishes me. And it gives me the energy to do the community stuff, which replenishes me in a different way. But I often will leave a meeting and go for a walk or leave a meeting and go for a hike by myself because I do need that sort of space to to fill back up. But I find that the community stuff has really made me more empathic person. It’s made me understand human nature better.
Shelley: What are the other books that will sit on the bookshelf next to Blurred Fates? What are the books that share its DNA?
Anastasia: I would have it on a shelf with Wally Lamb and Elizabeth Berg and people who are telling stories about family, the psychological, inner workings of family. But also it could be on a shelf with Gone Girl, Girl on a Train, The Golden Couple, domestic or psychological thrillers, where you might have the unreliable narrator, you might have, the twisty multiple perspectives where where something’s going on and then you hear from the other person and then, oh no, that’s not it exactly.
Shelley: Where would you like your readers to find you, if they’re looking at best places to get your book?
Anastasia: So you can find me on my website, which is my name, which is very hard to spell. So I will spell it for you. ANASTASIAZADEIK.com. And I’m on Instagram and Facebook and Goodreads under Anastasia Zadeik. I’m on Twitter, but I don’t tweet. So if you go there, don’t expect to see much.
Shelley: Thank you so much for joining us. I really appreciate the time you’re spending so soon after your launch. Congratulations. It’s a fantastic book.
I grew up in California’s Central Valley, the daughter of Dust Bowl immigrants who made good on their ambition to get out of the field. I recently retired from teaching writing at Sacramento State University and still consult with writers in the energy industry. I co-direct Stories on Stage Sacramento, where actors perform the stories of established and emerging authors, and serve on the advisory board of 916 Ink, an arts-based creative writing nonprofit for children. I’ve also served on the Writers’ Advisory Board for the Belize Writers’ Conference. Copy Boy is my first Jane Benjamin Novel. Tomboy (She Writes Press 2022) will be my second. The third, Working Girl, will come out in November 2023. My writing has been a finalist in the Sarton Book Awards, IBPA Benjamin Franklin Awards, Killer Nashville’s Silver Falchion Award, the American Fiction Awards, and the National Indie Excellence Awards. I and my husband live in Sacramento with an aging beagle, Ernie, and many photos of our out-of-town sons and their wonderful partners.
To find out more about Shelley Blanton-Stroud and her books, and to sign up for her newsletter, go here. https://shelleyblantonstroud.com