Today, an Author Chat with Tammy Pasterick, who draws on her own family history of Eastern European immigration and extraordinarily challenging times in the industrialization of America in the early 1900s. A fascinating story.
Beneath the Veil of Smoke and Ash
It’s Pittsburgh, 1910—the golden age of steel in the land of opportunity. Eastern European immigrants Janos and Karina Kovac should be prospering, but their American dream is fading faster than the colors on the sun-drenched flag of their adopted country. Janos is exhausted from a decade of twelve-hour shifts, seven days per week, at the local mill. Karina, meanwhile, thinks she has found an escape from their run-down ethnic neighborhood in the modern home of a mill manager—until she discovers she is expected to perform the duties of both housekeeper and mistress. Though she resents her employer’s advances, they are more tolerable than being groped by drunks at the town’s boarding house.
When Janos witnesses a gruesome accident at his furnace on the same day Karina learns she will lose her job, the Kovac family begins to unravel. Janos learns there are people at the mill who pose a greater risk to his life than the work itself, while Karina—panicked by the thought of returning to work at the boarding house—becomes unhinged and wreaks a path of destruction so wide that her children are swept up in the storm. In the aftermath, Janos must rebuild his shattered family—with the help of an unlikely ally.
Impeccably researched and deeply human, Beneath the Veil of Smoke and Ash delivers a timeless message about mental illness while paying tribute to the sacrifices America’s immigrant ancestors made.
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Thanks for stopping by! Tell us a little about yourself, Tammy. Does writing energize or exhaust you and how do you wind down / recharge?
Writing energizes me whenever I’m alone in a quiet house with no disruptions. It exhausts me when I’m in a coffee shop or library with people all around me. I usually recharge by taking my dog for a walk or going to my kids’ soccer and baseball games. Spending time outdoors clears my head, and that’s when I get my best ideas.
If you could go anywhere for a year to be inspired for your next book, what setting would you choose and what would you write?
My next book is set in Germany during World War II, so I’d love to live in the German Alps for a year. The villages of Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Mittenwald, and Berchtesgaden are so charming and peaceful. I’m happiest when I’m surrounded by snow-capped mountains, and there’s a chill in the air. I can’t think of a better place to write.
As a writer, what would you choose as your mascot/avatar/spirit animal and why?
What does literary success look like to you?
The publishing industry is really tough—there are so many books on the market, and people aren’t reading as much as they used to. I recognize that I won’t make much money from writing novels. My greatest hope is that my stories move people and cause them to view the world through a different lens.
How important is working with your editor or beta readers, and how would you describe your relationship?
My beta readers are essential to my writing process and have had a huge influence on the final version of my novel. Some are family and friends, while others are people I hired. Reading is highly subjective, and it’s tough to decide whether you need to change a scene or character because a reader doesn’t like it. My general rule is that if multiple beta readers raise the same issue over and over again, it’s time to make some revisions. There’s no doubt that my novel improved over the past few years because I was open to having people critique it.
If you have pictures on your writing desk or desktop, what are they and why did you choose them?
I have pictures of my husband, children, and dog on my desktop and in my home office. I also have lots of photos from our family vacations. I like being surrounded by images of happy people and exotic places.
And please share some things about Beneath the Veil of Smoke and Ash: What was your work schedule like when writing this book?
My work schedule revolved around my kids’ schedules. I wrote when they were at school or soccer practice, although writing in the car with a view of the soccer field wasn’t always productive. I got very little writing done on the weekends and during the summer when my house was full of people.
How do you select the names of your characters?
I actually used the Social Security Administration’s website to choose my characters’ names. It tracks the popularity of baby names as far back as the 1880s. I also visited Ancestry.com and several genealogy websites to research common Slovak, Polish, Italian, and English names at the turn of the twentieth century.
Which scene or chapter in the book is your favourite? Why?
I don’t want to include any spoilers, but my favorite scene is when two characters reunite after being separated for several years. It’s very moving because their bond is so special. I also like the scenes in the coal mine. They’re very dramatic.
What was the most difficult part of your artistic process for this book?
The historical details were the most challenging part of writing this novel. I wanted to portray an accurate picture of the lives of immigrants, and I wanted to recount the discrimination they faced. I read excerpts from The Pittsburgh Survey, a sociological study conducted from 1907-1908, which chronicled the living conditions of immigrant families. It helped me understand the time period, the anti-immigration sentiment, and the steel industry in general.
How long did it take you to research and write this book; were there any “wrong turns” along the way?
It took me two and a half years to write the first draft of my novel. I then queried agents and made revisions over the next two years. It was a long process, but I’m grateful I listened to the advice of agents and beta readers. I ended up rewriting and reorganizing my opening chapters, cutting one character, and completely rewriting another.
A native of Western Pennsylvania, Tammy Pasterick grew up in a family of steelworkers, coal miners, and Eastern European immigrants.She began her career as an investigator with the National Labor Relations Board and later worked as a paralegal and German teacher. She holds degrees in labor and industrial relations from Penn State University and German language and literature from the University of Delaware. She currently lives on Maryland’s Eastern Shore with her husband, two children, and a chocolate Labrador retriever.
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