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.
with Tara Masih
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.
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
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
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.
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.
does the word "story"
mean to you?
TM: Shared experience
filtered through a universal medium with the objective to entertain and
enlighten and transport.
Do you have a reader in mind when you write stories?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.