Tara Masih is editor of The Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Writing Flash Fiction (a ForeWord Book of the Year) and author of Where the Dog Star Never Glows: Stories (a finalist in the Best Books 2010 Awards). She has published fiction, poetry, and essays in numerous anthologies and literary magazines. Several  limited edition illustrated chapbooks featuring her flash fiction have been published by The Feral Press. 

Short Story Collections

Where The Dog Star Never Glows
(Press 53, 2010)

reviewed by Michelle Reale

Interview with Tara Masih

The Short Review: How long did it take you to write all the stories in your collection?

Tara Masih: They were written over two decades — starting in grad school, and ending just last summer.

TSR: Did you have a collection in mind when you were writing them?

TM: As you can probably tell from the above answer, no. I was just working on individual stories I wanted to write at the time. I’m not even sure when I began publishing stories that I believed that they would one day be collected. I think I had my eyes more on a novel. But I was just drawn more and more to writing short stories.

TSR: How did you choose which stories to include and in what order?

TM: It wasn’t very difficult. I just picked stories I felt had fewer flaws than others and were ready to be collected together, and stories that fit together in tone and theme. Nature is a running theme throughout, and two stories I didn’t include, set in Boston, were very different in subject and style from the rest.
    I did want to include some of my flash fiction. I loved the structure of Jayne Anne Phillips’s Black Tickets and Stuart Dybek’s The Coast of Chicago. I didn’t see any reason why the collection had to be restricted to just longer pieces.
   For the order, the credit goes to novelist Lisa Borders. I felt I wasn’t objective enough or experienced enough to do it myself, so I asked for her help in ordering. She did a great job, was sensitive to the rhythms of the long vs. short pieces, and while the publisher, Kevin Watson, ended up dropping the final story and replacing it with a new one I had written (Delight), he kept her lineup. Incidentally, the new story was written for another publisher who seriously considered the manuscript but didn’t want the flash pieces, believing her audience preferred longer stories. So Delight was written in a mad rush to fill in the gaps when the flash was omitted. In the end, she declined, but I’m grateful for her feedback. Kevin kept in the flash, but loved that story, so we kicked out a weaker one and we now have this new final story, which pulls the whole collection together. I’m often told it’s a favorite. So there’s the lemonade from the initial lemony rejection.

TSR: What does the word "story" mean to you?

TM:  Shared experience filtered through a universal medium with the objective to entertain and enlighten and transport.

TSR: Do you have a reader in mind when you write stories?

TM:  Not at first, not while I’m writing and getting it all down. I write at that point for myself. I write through the voice I’m hearing in my head, and what I’m feeling in my gut. That sounds hokey, but it’s where it all comes from. However, at the final editing stage, I do put myself in the reader’s place, and try to figure out what someone else will make of what I’ve created. Does it make sense? Will they get it? Will something turn them off? And if so, is that a good or bad thing? But I don’t write for a specific audience or gender. Just the generic reader. My mother did used to tell me I was creating elephants on bicycles. And she was right. I had to learn how to make the transport bigger for my big elephant ideas, so the reader could at least follow most of what I was saying. And I’ve had to learn to write simpler stories, to shrink down the elephant, and to not pack every symbolic thing I can think of into every paragraph.

TSR: Is there anything you'd like to ask someone who has read your collection, anything at all?

TM: I always ask people willing to talk about it what their favorite stories are. It fascinates me to hear the variety in the answers, and the reasons. It helps me, as an author, to learn about connection. Which stories resonate more? I find it’s all over the place, which I suppose is a compliment, that the majority aren’t picking just the same few stories over and over. All the stories have connected to one person or another. And I have asked people who’ve never read flash before what they thought of the shorter pieces, and they’ve been remarkably receptive to them.

TSR: How does it feel knowing that people are buying your book?

TM: Naked. At least in the beginning. I feel much less vulnerable now that the book’s been out, received positive reviews, and gotten some small recognition. But that first month, waiting for early reviews and feedback (even from my husband, who had not read the whole collection), was excruciating. And I’m not sure Amazon and B&N have helped. Watching your rankings go up and down like an EKG is an experience in itself (and it really is like an EKG; Amazon now has this chart for authors that graphs your daily sales). You have to teach yourself how to handle all that. Finally, grateful. To think that people who don’t know me, may never have heard of me, will plunk down $14 or so in tough economic times ... well, you wish you could thank them personally.

TSR: What are you working on now?

TM: Recuperating from 8 months of promotion — trying hard to get a small press book noticed can be a full-time, emotionally exhausting process.

TSR: What are the three most recent short story collections you've read?

TM: Bonnie Jo Campbell’s American Salvage, Ron Rash’s Burning Bright, and Laura van den Berg’s What the World Will Look Like When All the Water Leaves Us. I loved how they all worked their stories around an underlying theme, rather than a more obvious one. All amazing writers. And while it’s selling as prose poetry, I have to mention Kim Chinquee’s collection Pretty, which reads like a flash collection.
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Find out what other authors, from Aimee Bender to Sana Krasikov, said about their collections, what the word "story" means to them, and how it feels to know that people are buying your books! More interviews >>>