Elizabeth Conte Author

Creating Beauty For The Mind

Author Interview: Tammy Pasterick

This month I am spotlighting Tammy Pasterick, author of the historical fiction: Beneath the Veil of Smoke and Ash.

Full disclosure, we met years ago at a writer’s conference and became friends. We were two green writers trying to get our books noticed by agents in a sea of three hundred writers. Since then, we have both made strides in the publishing world, but not without hiccups, rewrites, edits, and learning the ins and outs of publishing. If I knew then what I know now…But here we are. Tammy’s novel, Beneath the Veil of Smoke and Ash, is now published to great reviews, and my novel, Finding Jane, will be released on March 15th, 2022. I couldn’t be more proud to see my writer-friend accomplish publication and I want to share it with you.  

I am a historical book fan, as my first two novel are set in 19th century England. But I feel the market is flooded with the same topic–World War II. I am fascinated by the era, and the marketplace is delivering on stories about fabulous female heroes not to be forgotten in this important time in our history. But there are other time periods worthy of storytelling. And Tammy delivers! Her historical novel is set in Pittsburgh 1910, ‘the golden age of steel’, and uncovers the hardships of the many Eastern European immigrants who came to American for better opportunities. Her story follows the Kovac family, and those intertwined with them, who must endure the steel mills and coal mines to finally see their American dream come to fruition, but not without intrigue, tragedy, family drama…and love. This book will satisfy the lovers of historical dramas and open your eyes to a whole new world that is so rarely addressed–the everyday people who made America. Her debut novel, raw and insightful, draws you in and doesn’t let you go until the end. But the real draw is the personal insights to the multiple characters. I felt a part of their lives and struggles, many pulling at my heartstrings. It is a lovely read of a time, place, peoples, and cultures I knew little about. You won’t be disappointed.

But how did she bring this drama to life? I asked her and many more questions:
You had a lot of characters in your novel, Beneath the Veil of Smoke and Ash. Where did they come from? How did you create your characters, their personalities, and lives? 

My characters came mostly from my imagination, although their life circumstances were inspired by my great-grandparents, who immigrated to America at the turn of the twentieth century to work in Pittsburgh’s steel industry. When I began researching my family’s history in 2012, I had no intention of writing a novel. But I was so fascinated by Pennsylvania’s history and deeply moved by the sacrifices of the immigrants working in the steel and coal industries that I had to recreate their world in a novel. I like to tell people that my characters are fictional, but the world they lived in was not. 

You deal with a lot of deep issues in your book: mental illness, infertility, and sexual abuse. Did you find these difficult to write, as well as give them the sensitivity they needed in an era where they were ignored, misunderstood, and even brushed aside?

Yes. Writing about mental illness in a time when it was poorly understood was very challenging. Though it pained me to do it, I had to make my male characters—and even some of my female characters—completely unsympathetic to Karina’s struggles with “melancholy” and “infinite sadness.” Most people from the early 1900s would have little understanding of a woman’s unpredictable moods. Sexual abuse was also largely ignored, so it was necessary that Karina be portrayed as someone who has become accustomed to being abused by men and doesn’t see any way to avoid it. She doesn’t get to stand up for herself or seek recourse in the way that a contemporary character might, and that’s frustrating.

You did years of research for this book. Did you find out something during your research that you thought, that would make a great story?

I tried to include most of my fascinating research findings in Beneath the Veil of Smoke and Ash. I suppose that’s why the book is so long! Probably the most interesting discoveries I made were about the working conditions in the steel mills and coal mines. I was shocked to learn that mules were an integral part of coal mining in the early 1900s, so that’s why my story includes a mule named Gus. I was also intrigued by the lack of understanding of women’s mental health and reproductive issues, so those topics made it into the book.

I always like to ask what is unusual about a writer that readers would never know. What’s your hidden passion, or that is unusual about Tammy?

My hidden passion is skiing. It’s an unlikely hobby for a middle-aged woman living in Maryland, but I rediscovered skiing in my late thirties. I spent lots of time on Pennsylvania’s slopes as a teenager, but my tight budget during college and the years after made it difficult for me to continue with the sport. There were years when I never even put on a pair of skis. That all changed when my kids were in elementary school, and my husband and I were looking for a fun family activity to fill the boring winter months. We enrolled our kids in ski school, and they fell in love with the sport. Our family now skis in Vermont several times per year and has even made it as far as Canada and Montana. We’re planning trips to Colorado and Utah this winter.  

And lastly, I like to find out what others are reading. If you had to pick one book you loved the most what is the book?

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini is my favorite book. I’ve never been to Afghanistan and have few ties to Muslim culture, but I suppose that’s why I love this book so much. Hosseini eloquently describes the struggles of Afghans over the past several decades and does it through the eyes of two young, innocent boys who share a remarkable bond. He made me care deeply about a place and a people with whom I have no connection. That’s what brilliant writers do. The Kite Runner is a masterpiece.
For more information about Tammy and her writing: www.tammypasterick.com 

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