Tara L. 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 (a National Best Books Award finalist). She has published fiction, poetry, and essays in numerous anthologies and literary magazines (including Confrontation, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Natural Bridge, The Pedestal, Night Train, and The Caribbean Writer), and several limited edition illustrated chapbooks featuring her flash fiction have been published by The Feral Press. Awards for her work include first place in The Ledge Magazine‘s fiction contest and Pushcart Prize, Best New American Voices, and Best of the Web nominations.
As a reader, which writers do you feel closest to?
I have a special place in my writer’s heart for Rick Bass. His work reaches me on so many levels. Yasunari Kawabata continually amazes me on a deep level. And I am currently reading and admiring Kim Edwards’s The Secrets of a Fire King. Loving her voice and vivid imagination.
At different points as a writer, have you had mentors? Do you mentor?
In grad school at Emerson College, author and professor Jim Randall was a wonderful mentor who watched over my writing and my life, and even gave me a job in his rare and used bookstore (and told me I wasn’t a poet but a prose writer). Sadly, he passed away early in my career, so no, I didn’t have anyone to edit me or introduce me around or help my writing get more attention. I’ve had to work hard, as a result, to get my work published and noticed. So yes, I do mentor, knowing how important it can be and how even just the emotional support is helpful.
How do you stay creative? What are your tricks to get “unstuck”?
I used to worry about this much more when I was younger. When I was stuck, I’d feel lousy and spend lots of energy trying to get unstuck, as you say. As I’ve aged, I’ve learned that the creative muses don’t leave forever, just for a time, and the less you worry about it, the quicker they come back. Artists are always creating, even unconsciously. So when I am not producing, I know something is going on inside my mind that will work its way out eventually. I think the problem comes from outside influences and pressure to produce on someone else’s timeline, or to keep up with peers. Best to let all that go, if you can, and write for yourself, on your own deadlines. However, if you are in school or have a contract and a necessary deadline, I suggest a good, long walk and time alone. We don’t get enough quiet time to go into that inner place anymore.
Favorite exercises you would like to share?
When I teach, I almost always include Stace Budzko’s “Tell It Backward” exercise that appears in the Flash Field Guide. It’s remarkably effective at getting students to think about writing in a different way. It’s also a great way to take a story that isn’t working and see it from a different angle.
Tell us about what you are working on now?
I’m never working on just one thing. There’s an anthology I’m passionate about that’s being considered by a press at this moment, I’m writing short stories on the side, and I have an incomplete novel whose main objective is to make me feel guilty that I am not paying it more attention.
How long does it take you to write a flash fiction piece? Does it take longer or less long (or is there no rule) than long short stories?
Writing the first draft of a flash certainly goes faster than the longer stories. However, some take just as much editing time as the longer ones. Sometimes you get lucky and a flash turns out almost perfect. Sometimes it fails miserably. Most often, they need continual work to get every word and piece of punctuation right. But in general, I find they are easier to edit simply because you have less prose bulk to wade around in. Much easier to see the piece as a whole when it’s spread out in front of you, rather than an assemblage of piles of paper or a lengthy file you have to flip around in.
In your wonderful book of stories Where the Dog Star Never Glows you take us on many sensual, visual journeys. I have no idea where I am going, but I am going there with you . . . attached emotionally to the narrative voice. I do not want your stories to end, and yet they end just right. Are you aware, when you are writing, where a story will begin and end?
Thanks, Meg, that’s the best compliment you could give me, as a writer. Over the years I’ve been disappointed myself as a reader by some wonderful stories that just don’t seem to end right. It’s hard, when you invest yourself in one or more characters and love a voice and prose style, to have a feeling of being let down at the end of the journey. So yes, I work extra hard to have what I feel is the right ending, and hope others will feel the same way when they finish reading. Endings come to me in two fashions: either I know the ending initially and write to that place, or I am essentially winging it and know the beginning and write and feel my way to the end. Nothing is better than working on a story till it starts to flow, and almost writes itself. I love that moment of putting an emphatic period at the end of a sentence and knowing that this is it, that I’ve reached the whole point I have been writing to, and sometimes I even surprise myself at where I land.
Will you offer us a reading list?
Sure. I’ve read many fabulous books this past year, too many to mention, but the ones that floated to the top and remain in my memory the most? Matt Bell‘s The Collectors, Grace Dane Mazur’s Silk, Lydia Peelle’s Reasons for and Advantages of Breathing, Anthony Doerr’s Memory Wall, and Jiang Rong’s Wolf Totem.
The Fictionaut Five is our ongoing series of interviews with Fictionaut authors. Every Wednesday, Meg Pokrass asks a writer five (or more) questions. Meg is the editor-at-large for BLIP Magazine, and her stories and poems have been published widely. Her first full collection of flash fiction, “Damn Sure Right” is now out from Press 53. She blogs athttp://megpokrass.com.