For something a little bit different today, I’m interviewing author A.E. Hayes about Shattered: Memories of an Amnesiac! I know, it sounds like science fiction, despite my own medical knowledge about traumatic brain injury gleaned from my years of editing a medical journal on rehabilitation. So I was instantly intrigued about, well, everything about this.
ABOUT THE BOOK
“You’ve been captive far too long,” she whispered. “So I’m releasing you.”
The universe was bathed in white light, and as I touched the azure and ruby stars dancing above my head, the crack within me split and fractured into madness.
I felt the shatter. But I was powerless to stop it.
A.E. Hayes wakes up in a bright hospital room on the afternoon of August 24, 2010, with no idea of who she is or what has happened to her. When her doctors begin saying words such as “traumatic brain injury” and “retrograde amnesia,” she realizes that she cannot remember anything at all – including the man sitting beside her who claims to be her husband.
Guided by numerous doctors, hospitals, trauma units, her husband, a mysterious person known only as Starlight Boy, and an equally mysterious voice inside her head that tells her to seek the truth, Hayes sets out to uncover the answers about her rare condition. But is her amnesia truly all there is to her story? Through various sources, Hayes must learn about her startling and often traumatic past – and how that past may permanently alter the future.
Raw and riveting, Shattered: Memoirs of an Amnesiac leads readers down a path of darkness, mystery, and redemption – where heroes are often villains, fiction routinely gives way to fact, and how, ultimately, the truth can be both the disease and the cure.
Though your academic degree is in writing fiction, I know from my own professional experience that writing nonfiction is another beast. How do you balance the difference in writing styles?
Writing nonfiction — especially a memoir — was absolutely a massive undertaking. I’m very used to writing fictional pieces, in which the characters come into my head, take over, and create a fantastical fictional playground. And I’m quite used to a distanced form of nonfiction, since I worked as a music magazine writer and as a newspaper editor. But writing a memoir — a story that is one-hundred percent true about my life and the events that have occurred — forced me into a different head space. But telling the truth was the key to balance. With fiction, I do have to tell the truth as my characters would tell it — if character X says she didn’t have an affair, but character Y says she did, those are their truths, and I must be honest to those characters and write out those events. But with nonfiction/memoir, I had to tell the truth as it actually occurred in this very human, real life. The only things that were not one-hundred percent factual were names, some locations, and some identifying characteristics (I’m really not a fan of lawsuits). But the events were all true, and I couldn’t have made them up if I tried. Since these things did occur to me, I could rely on my own experiences to guide me, and I think that made the process a little easier (despite the amnesia, which I will get to in the next question).
One doesn’t usually think of “amnesia” and “memoir” as compatible. What inspired you to take on this project?
There are a lot of myths and rumors surrounding amnesia, as well as my other health conditions (both mental and physical). When it comes to amnesia, a lot of people have this soap-opera notion of how it works: a person has an accident, and then cannot remember his/her life from day to day. The person relies on others for basically everything. The person’s life is ruined. It’s compelling and intriguing and, as portrayed on TV or in film, kind of fun to watch. But in real life? It’s not completely like that. Anterograde amnesia (the more common form of amnesia) is when a person cannot form new memories due to a severe, traumatic brain injury, though they can, in some cases, retain past memories. My form of amnesia, retrograde amnesia, means that I cannot remember anything that occurred prior to my own traumatic brain injury. I woke up in a hospital room thinking that Toby — my husband — was a stranger, and it took me a year to fully trust him. People manipulated my naïve state to get me to do the things they wanted because I would believe everything. I couldn’t tie my shoes, eat with a fork, or put on eyeliner. I was sent to a mental institution to be taught how to interact with other human beings. So it was traumatic — not just because of the brain injury, but because the world around me stopped being “real.” I didn’t feel like a person.
But amnesia is a fascinating subject to so many people. My goal with this memoir was to tell the truth about it — that it’s fascinating, sure, but it’s also scary and weird and isolating to deal with. It does more than just change your life — it changes the lives of those who love you. But after seven years — my injury was in 2010 – I wouldn’t say my life has been ruined. In fact, I have a decent life, no matter what happened to me in the past. And I felt compelled to show readers that amnesia — along with other health conditions — isn’t soap-opera fodder or the end of the world. It’s another Thing on the List of Things that people sometimes have to deal with. It’s survivable, it’s real, and it’s human.
What sorts of research did you have to do to gather information?
An absolutely incredible amount, to be honest. While most people can write a memoir from memory (hence the term), I could only write seven years of the memoir from the things I could recall. Therefore, I had to figure out twenty-eight years of my past in order to write an honest story. And that was a process. I started by going through journals — fortunately, I’ve been a meticulous record-keeper, and have notes about my life going back to the age of four — and piecing together the most important events about my life. Then, I talked to family members and friends — people I have known for most of my life, and people who had nothing to lose by telling me the truth. After that, I had to go the painful route — police reports and hospital records. That wasn’t fun, as no one wants to read about the times they were harmed, or how severe their injuries happened to be, but it was necessary for me to tell a truthful story.
I had attempted to write this memoir back in 2010, only three months after my amnesia, but I was in such a terrible mental state that I could not. So the idea had been percolating for years, but 2017 was the right year to do it. It took quite some time to research, write, proof, have edited, proof again, and then have it published, but I feel as though the effort was worth it.
Any advice for other potential memoir writers?
Tell the actual truth of your story. I think that writers want to be seen as heroes most of the time — but in reality, we all mess up. We’re human, and that’s what we do. If you frame yourself as a hero (in the “I can do no wrong” sort of way) and not as a human, no one will believe you. Life is a messy thing; don’t be afraid to share the mess. One of the things I constantly tell readers, as well as other writers, is that I realize that I’m both the victim and the villain in my own tale. I’m not always likeable. And I think that’s good. There are times when I shouldn’t be liked, and for me to tell the truth, I had to share those times. The moment I falsify even one detail is the moment I’m doing my readers a disservice, and such an egregious error cannot be permitted. Truth is paramount, and readers are smart – they don’t want to be lied to. And they’ll know.
What’s next for you after all these unique experiences, either in writing or in life?
A lot of things, actually! Professionally, I am currently engaged in several writing projects. I’m finishing a literary fiction novel that will be released in April 2018, and am working on a story for a paranormal graphic novel anthology called The Eynes Anthology (which will also be released in the spring of 2018). I’ll be in York, PA on October 21st at a book signing to promote Shattered, and in November, plan to write the first book of my three-part science fiction/dystopian trilogy, The Keeper of the Key. I’m also a member of the Eastern Shore Writers Association, and will be attending various events with fellow authors, editors, agents, and publishers this winter.
Personally, I’ll be continuing treatment for my health conditions (mostly for iron-deficient anemia and thrombocytopenia, as well as thyroid cancer which has left me with a dangerously high level of thyroid stimulating hormone in my body). I’ll also be having surgery in November, but it should help me a bit, and I’m — looking forward to it? Perhaps that sounds odd, but at this point, anything that prolongs my life is something I look forward to. I’ll also be spending time with friends and family, especially my six-year-old son, visiting St. Michaels in order to find peace by the water, and drinking my weight in coffee (it can be done!). And, of course, I’ll be engaging in weekly therapy sessions to try to recover some of my past. With amnesia, that doesn’t happen regularly, but my therapist is a patient person, and she has been very helpful as I have tried to navigate my way through memory loss and how to function as a normal human being (well, normal is a stretch. “Human being” is probably where I should leave that…).
And finally, leave us with a short excerpt from Shattered that shows us why we should check out this book!
Absolutely! This excerpt is from October 2010, after I had left a very well-known mental institution that taught me how to do things such as tie my shoes, talk to human beings, dial the phone, and so forth. Once I arrived home, a friend of mine who had been in love with me tried to convince me of something that wasn’t true — or was it? Was the man who took me home from the hospital actually a kidnapper? Because while this friend was trying to convince me about how I felt and who I loved, I also was hearing a voice inside my head that was trying to help me through the trauma. It was hard to know how to trust. And when you’re an amnesiac, hearing a voice, and being manipulated by several people in your life — how do you move on? This is one excerpt that explores the complexity of the situation:
I was never myself—or, at least, the self that I was trying to become during my tenure at Brook Lane. As my twenty-ninth birthday approached, I didn’t understand what that number really meant. I didn’t look twenty-nine. And I knew I didn’t act twenty-nine. Besides, I was watching my life as though I were in a perpetual dream—I was stuck behind a plate of glass, with every action controlled by the voice. She seemed to know some things I had yet to learn—not necessarily memories or life skills, but how to get men and women to do whatever she wanted them to do.
When Starlight Boy came over that Monday in the late morning, we both fell into each other’s arms as though we had done it a million times before. And we had, he told me, but I just didn’t remember. The voice allowed me to be there for that, but only for a moment. Then, she threw me behind the glass again as Starlight Boy picked me up, kissed me, and held me on the couch, our limbs tangled and woven together.
Why was I allowed to watch this? When had I lost all control? When had my brain become so separated from itself?
Since I hadn’t seen Starlight Boy since the amnesia, we spent the entire day on the couch, cuddled up, conversing and kissing. It didn’t go further than that. He worried about my physical and mental health once I told him about the occasional paralysis in my legs and the voice that sometimes entered my head. And I thought to myself that he would run away. If so, then I needed to push him away. But I couldn’t. I could tell we loved each other and that the love went far beyond physical attraction. We had a history, and no matter what other people told me, Starlight Boy was not manipulative and cruel. He loved me and wanted to keep me safe.
“Don’t listen to Toby,” he said when I expressed concern about supposedly loving two men at once. “I’m closer to being your real husband than he is. You can consider me your husband, you know. I’ve done so much more for you.”
Was he? Had it all been a lie—Starlight Boy was my husband, and Toby was a kidnapper?
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
A.E. Hayes has been featured under various pseudonyms in myriad novels, anthologies, poetry collections, and music magazines. She is currently finishing her sixth fiction novel, On Common Ground (with a tentative release date of March 2018), as well as writing a paranormal science fiction story for the upcoming graphic novel The Eynes Anthology. A.E. was most recently featured in the anthologies Love Across the Universe and Crazy Little Spring Called Love. She studied English and Writing at Hood College, where she earned her B.A., and later studied Fiction Writing at The Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. A.E. resides in Maryland with her husband and son, and when she isn’t writing or singing opera, she spends her time drinking far too much coffee, pretending she’s a Cylon, and staring at the water in St. Michaels, plotting ideas for her many future projects. She is also a member of the Eastern Shore Writers Association. Please visit her website, aehayes.com, for future updates and publications.