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Smoking With Tara L. Masih

Interview by Tara Laskowski (Read the Story) March 26, 2013

Tara Lynn Masih

art by Ashley Inguanta

The details in this story seem very deliberate and carefully chosen. “I just had to stick” and the dog that was “really very sweet and gentle but rubbed its butt along the kitchen linoleum” and “pulsing bodies.” There is a sexual tension running through this piece that these details highlight. How much of this was organic in the writing of it and how much came out in revision?

They were mostly organic. I had no intentions of putting all that sexual tension in as I wrote, the details just surfaced. I didn’t even know the tension was there until you pointed it out! That’s what I love about writing fiction, what readers can find in your writing that you might not even know is there. I did have an image of a young woman in a tank top and short short jeans, the kind I grew up with in the ’70s, and I did want that sort of innocent sexuality to show up, but didn’t realize it was in the details beyond that clothing description and the contraband book.

I love the world you capture here with these young adults. What is it about sleepovers that always seem so magical?

I like to think of these sleepovers as some of our earliest attempts at emotional intimacy. We are slowly moving away from our families when we take part in them, yet not quite. We’re still very much under parental supervision and we quickly go back to our shelters, but for a night or a weekend, we get to experience the way another person lives. It’s almost like traveling to another country. And we get to spend a great deal of time with someone we have grown to like as a friend. But it can also be a challenge, too, to find things to do together and to get along for an extended period of time. So if you are in sync with the person you are spending time with, you experience the “magic” of true connection and having a buddy to help you navigate your way through those difficult but amazing years of puberty.

I think it’s interesting that the story is about the narrator’s experiences with this one friend and her family, but the very end of the story is a moment between her and her own brother. Can you talk a little about the ending and that decision?

Well, as an editor I’ve learned that most people write about the same topics. I’m sure there are millions of stories out there about sleepovers. I think the challenge a writer has to face is to say something different each time. For me, the underlying real story needed to be a deeper one than the outward narration of the weekend. So, I had an image of a small car, and a sister stealing it so she could give something to her brother that he wasn’t getting at home. I was hoping the reader would be left with an appreciation of her love for her brother, even though it’s through a misguided action. I was hoping the theft would put more weight on her gift, if that makes any sense.

What’s one detail that stands out to you most about your childhood best friend?

I had more than one best friend. I was never able to limit myself to one person and say she is it, no one else can be my friend. If I look back on what is common amongst them all, it’s that each one is very different in personality, but each one has a heart of gold.

What are you working on now?

Trying to find time to write a novel, but my son is getting ready for college and that is taking up most of my time. Soon, soon, I hope to have time to settle into something longer than flash!

About the Author

Tara Lynn Masih is a National Jewish Book Award Finalist and winner of the Julia Ward Howe Award for Young Readers for her debut novel My Real Name Is Hanna. Her anthologies include The Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Writing Flash Fiction and The Chalk Circle: Intercultural Prizewinning EssaysWhere the Dog Star Never Glows is her collection of long and very short stories, and shes published multiple chapbooks with the Feral Press that are archived in universities such as Yale and NYU. She founded the Intercultural Essay Prize in 2006 and The Best Small Fictions series in 2015.

Masih received a finalist fiction grant from the Massachusetts Cultural Council, an Inspirational Woman in Literature Award from AITL Media, and several national book awards including an IBPA Benjamin Franklin Award for her role as an editor.

About the Interviewer

Tara Laskowski

Tara Laskowski has been editor at SmokeLong Quarterly since 2010. Her short story collection Bystanders was hailed by Jennifer Egan as “a bold, riveting mash-up of Hitchcockian suspense and campfire-tale chills.” She is also the author of Modern Manners For Your Inner Demons, tales of dark etiquette. Her fiction has been published in the Norton anthology Flash Fiction International, Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, Mid-American Review, and numerous other journals, magazines, and anthologies. Tara lives and works in a suburb of Washington, D.C.

About the Artist

Ashley Inguanta is a writer, art photographer, installation artist, and holistic educator. Her work has most recently appeared in Atticus Review, Santa Fe Literary Review, and the anthology The Familiar Wild: On Dogs & Poetry. Her newest chapbook of poems, The Island, The Mountain, & The Nightblooming Field honors a human connection with the natural world.

This interview appeared in Issue Thirty-Nine of SmokeLong Quarterly.
SmokeLong Quarterly Issue Thirty-Nine
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