In Three Stages, we ask Massachusetts artists to shed light on their art-making process by focusing on three stages in the creative life of one work of art.
Here, writer and editor Tara L. Masih takes us through the writing process that produced the upcoming story collection Where the Dog Star Never Glows (Press 53, 2010).
Tara will read from the collection at Brookline Booksmith on February 23.
Inspiration for the stories in my debut collection came from many places: snippets of conversation shared and overheard; newspaper stories; and personal experiences, especially during travel. I look for stories in landscapes, in unusual facts, in the absurd, in research. But there are those special, all-too-rare stories that find me. I wish I could control that process, that sudden, electric realization that I have a story to write, a character to listen to, and something of import to translate from nebulous stirrings into coherent language. Louisa May Alcott had a Glory Cloak that she would wear, sewn by her mother, to inspire her to finish writing her books. I don’t have props, just drive. But I love that image of the writer cloaked in “glory” as she created one of our most enduring classics.
In the end, necessity is the most important part of inspiration for me. What made each story good enough to appear in this book was a feeling that it was necessary in some way that I start writing it, finish it, polish it as best I could, and then send it out into the world.
Sylvia Plath said that the worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt. Inspiration is the fun step, the addictive step I keep looking for. The challenge, once I start writing, is to keep self-doubt from interfering. It can be depressing when the brilliant passage I wrote in my half-sleep the night before turns out to be clichéd garbage the next morning. It can be a challenge to not get distracted with life to the point where inspiration turns into heavy responsibility or duty. The goal is to keep writing and finish the story even though it does now feel like duty and the early adrenaline rush is gone. Only in a few rare occurrences has inspiration carried me all the way through an instant first draft, even in the briefer flash form. More often than not, work intervenes, child and family interrupts, and I have to look to those obligations I’d rather ignore, like food and water and sleep!
I meet the challenge when I ignore self-doubt and give birth to that first complete draft, which in some cases is within hours, in other cases, years. But the challenge continues as I rework the draft, looking for all the ways I can show that “glint of light on broken glass,” as Chekhov advises.
I know when a story is complete when I simply cannot think of a way to improve it anymore, or know I’m incapable of taking it to any other place than where it ends. Feedback is crucial, because it’s hard to be objective about your own work, particularly fiction. I find trust is the final step in completion – trusting you’ve learned to separate the bad advice from the good, trusting your publisher to make insightful edits, trusting your decision to make it public, and then trusting readers with your creation. It’s not an easy thing, putting your work out there. It’s a very naked feeling, in fact. In retrospect, I suppose challenge appears at every stage. It can’t be compartmentalized into one area of the creative process. It continues, on to the next project that inspires.
Read about Where the Dog Star Never Glows in NewPages, where it is listed as a new & noteworthy fiction book.
On Feb. 23, 6:30 PM, there will be a launch party for the collection at Brookline Booksmith. This will be a party to celebrate the book’s launch and the local writers/mentors/teachers who helped it come to fruition. Come for champagne, wine, juice, chocolate-covered strawberries, and more. Reading and Q&A, with a prize for best question. 279 Harvard St., Brookline, MA.
Tara L. Masih grew up in the small harbor town of Northport, situated along the Long Island Sound. Much of her time was spent on the beaches and in the woods, and as a result her writing is often set within the framework of nature and place. Her fiction, poetry, and essays have been published in numerous literary magazines, including Confrontation, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Natural Bridge, New Millennium Writings, Red River Review, Night Train, and The Caribbean Writer, as well as in many anthologies. 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, a finalist fiction grant from the Massachusetts Cultural Council, and Pushcart Prize, Best New American Voices, and Best of the Web nominations. Tara judges the intercultural essay prize for the annual Soul-Making Literary Contest, and is editor of the acclaimed Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Writing Flash Fiction (2009). C. W. Post College presented her with the Lou P. Bunce Creative Writing Award upon graduation, and Emerson College, where she received her MA in Writing and Publishing, awarded her with a Bookbuilders of Boston Scholarship. Tara now works as a freelance book editor in Andover, Massachusetts.
Images (top to bottom): author photo, Tara L. Masih; quote from the story “The Burnings;” quote from the story “Delight;” quote from the story “The Guide, the Tourist, and the Animal Doctor;” quote from the story “Bird Man;” cover image from Tara L. Masih’s story collection WHERE THE DOG STAR NEVER GLOWS (Press 53, 2010).