Tara Lynn Masih has won multiple book awards in her role as editor of The Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Writing Flash Fiction and The Chalk Circle: Intercultural Prizewinning Essays. She is also author of Where the Dog Star Never Glows: Stories and Founding Series Editor for The Best Small Fictions annual anthology. Her award-winning fiction, poetry, and prose has been heavily anthologized. Her debut novel, My Real Name Is Hanna, won a Skipping Stones Honor Award. For this segment of our Author Interview Series, we asked Tara about her new novel, what inspired her writing, as well as a host of other questions. Here’s what she said:
TELL US ABOUT MY REAL NAME IS HANNA.
Hanna is written for both young readers and adults. So far, mostly adults are reading it, but I hope they pass it on to their children! It’s a brief novel set in Ukraine that covers roughly three years during World War II. It’s narrated by a young Jewish woman who reveals to her daughter, for the first time, what her real name is. You have to read the entire novel to find out why she’s been living under a different name.
WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO WRITE MY REAL NAME IS HANNA?
The powerful documentary No Place on Earth, about the Stermer family who sought refuge in the underground gypsum caves of Ukraine during the Holocaust. The film is riveting, and both tragic and triumphant. I wanted to retell the story in novel form. My novel family is fictional, the town is fictional, but many of the historical events and the survival skills were taken from Esther Stermer’s autobiography and from interviews with survivors.
WHAT SURPRISED YOU MOST WHEN DOING YOUR RESEARCH?
I had no idea that the largest amount of Jews murdered during the Holocaust was in Poland and Ukraine. Millions. Almost no one survived in the District of Galicia, which makes the Stermer story all the more remarkable. Much of the area’s dark history was kept hidden while under Soviet rule. In the 1990s, when Ukraine declared itself independent, historians could finally do their jobs and perform research to preserve Holocaust history; the research is still taking place as we speak. I was told by someone at one of the museums that there are many villages they have still not gotten to in order to record interviews and gather information and memorabilia. The country is vast. Many live in very remote places and many don’t want to look back. So research for me was a challenge, but I had some help from other authors, and from museum reference librarians and my editor.
DO YOU MARKET YOURSELF? WHAT (SPECIFICALLY) DO YOU DO TO BUILD/MAINTAIN YOUR READERSHIP?
Yes, as a small press author, I have to market myself. Mandel Vilar Press does quite a bit for their authors, which I’m grateful for, but in today’s market, all authors now have to contribute their own efforts to publicity. My social media platform of choice is Goodreads; I love the site and it’s been very good to me. I highly recommend it to authors. But like any platform, you have to be comfortable with it and use it regularly. Also, I discovered NetGalley this year and used it for this project. It was one of the best marketing tools we used for my book. It drew a great deal of attention to Hanna by garnering many early reviews that would not have been gathered otherwise, which led to it landing on one of Goodreads’ recommended fall reading lists.
BASED ON YOUR EXPERIENCES IN THE INDUSTRY, WHAT ADVICE CAN YOU OFFER WRITERS?
Develop a thick skin. It’s a tough business, and it’s only getting tougher with fewer journals offering space for reviews and fewer presses to sell to as they merge with the Top Five. Be grateful for small advancements in your career, and don’t compare yourself to other authors. Take your own measure, and always be in the moment when you are writing. That’s the most magical part of the whole process. Recalling that creative high, knowing you have access to it again, will help carry you through the stressful rejections and pitfalls of publishing.