Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Q&A with Anastasia Zadeik


Photo by Captured Forever Photography



Anastasia Zadeik is the author of the new novel The Other Side of Nothing. She also has written the novel Blurred Fates. She lives in San Diego.


Q: You write that your new novel was inspired by family experiences. Can you say more about that, and about how you created your cast of characters?


A: About 12 years ago, my nephew attempted to take his own life. I was out of the country and my sister did not want to “ruin my trip,” so she didn’t tell me what had happened until I returned home.


I was heartbroken to learn about the suicide attempt, but also about how alone my sister had felt in the aftermath, dealing with a world she didn’t understand and events she never imagined: agreeing to place her son into a medically-induced coma, sitting by his bedside for days wondering if he would be okay, being asked to leave the room when he was being brought out of the coma in case she was “the reason.”


Making matters worse, friends and family who didn’t know what to say said nothing at all, avoiding her instead of rallying around her. “Suicide isn’t a casserole kind of situation,” she told me.


Shortly after this, I learned from my daughter that she’d been struggling with profound depression for years. I was shocked. “But you have everything going for you and you seem so happy,” I said. She replied, “You, of all people, should know what we show on the outside isn’t always what’s going on inside.”


She was right. I’d been masking my own depression behind “I’m fine, how are you,” for decades. I hadn’t wanted to talk about my own struggles, but now, on the other side, I wanted her to talk to me about hers.


When I began writing The Other Side of Nothing, I initially planned it as a dual perspective story with a mother (Laura) and daughter (Julia) grieving a shared loss in entirely different ways.


My intention was to show readers how little Laura and Julia understood about each other, and then, hopefully, show them coming together and gaining empathy for each other as they both heal.


However, as a pantser, I allow my characters to tell me who they are and what they are going to do. Before I could plot it all out, Julia fell in love with a young man at the residential psych facility where she was being treated.


Sam was a brilliant but enigmatic 23-year-old photographer with bipolar disorder. His mother, Arabella, who, unlike Laura, takes a very involved approach towards her son’s life, quickly became the third perspective.

Q: The writer J.J. Elliott said of the book, “In this profound story of love and loss, Anastasia Zadeik tackles the complexities of mental health from every angle and perspective, taking readers on an unforgettable journey that explores what we can and cannot control.” What do you think of that description?


A: This is one of those quotes that makes it all worthwhile; when a reader gets it, particularly when the reader is also a writer.


My goal in writing this book was to give readers an inside view into not only what it’s like to be someone with a mental illness, but also what it’s like to be someone that loves someone with a mental illness and not be able to “fix” them.


So many parents, partners, siblings, friends, and children want to believe that love with conquer all, but even love has limits. This doesn’t mean love isn’t powerful. It is. But there are situations, like mental illness, when love isn’t enough.


I also wanted to discuss self-determination and the complexity of giving decision making to someone who is struggling to make sense of the world around them. And I wanted to take my characters, and therefore my readers, on journeys that were not only physical but emotional, psychological, and philosophical. I would say JJ nailed it!


Q: How was the book's title chosen, and what does it signify for you?


A: The Other Side of Nothing was the first working title I gave the book. At the time, it was a reference to the feeling of nothingness often reported by those suffering from depression. My initial plan was to show the main character moving toward the other side of that feeling—to feeling something, maybe even everything.


A few months into the writing of an early draft, I found myself contemplating the interplay of darkness and light in the book and renamed it Capture the Light. I added perceptions and/or descriptions of light in each chapter, and this title remained on the manuscript until it went to my publisher.


Worried Capture the Light sounded too much like a how-to photography book, she encouraged me to come up with some alternatives, one of which (and the one she loved the most by far) was the original title, The Other Side of Nothing.


During the final phase of editing, I realized that this title has multiple meanings. Perhaps most meaningful to me is the idea that Half Dome is most interesting because of what is missing. The rock becomes extraordinary because of the empty space where half of it should be—the something shaped by the nothing.


I believe this is true for so many of us; we are often shaped by what is missing. Lost loved ones, lost opportunities, lost innocence, lost trust, lost hope.


Q: What do you hope readers take away from the novel?


A: I hope that the novel will open up conversations about mental illness and that people might come away with more empathy for those impacted by it.


I also hope that people will take to heart the message about remembering to live for each moment—that a life of meaning is, as Camus would say, a “succession of presents,” which I like to believe refers to both definitions of the word present: the now and a gift.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I am just getting started on my next novel, which will be a traditional mystery.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: One thing I learned in writing the book is that while things have improved over the last several years, we still have a long way to go in terms of understanding the underpinnings of mental illness, what works treatment-wise, how to make treatment available in a timely, affordable, and effective manner, and how to rid our society of the stigma still attached.


Having said that, I also learned that there are resources available to families and other loved ones. For example, I learned that 988 is not only for those feeling suicidal, but also for family members, friends, and colleagues who might need advice and support in helping a loved one in trouble (dial 988 or go to 988lifeline.org).


In addition, organizations like the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) and the National Institute for Mental Health (NIMH), among others, offer resources for individuals, families, and communities on their websites (see nami.org; afsp.org, and nimh.nih.gov).


If we, as a society, make an effort to learn more about these topics so that we can talk about them more comfortably, we can help remove the stigma and save lives.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Anastasia Zadeik.

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