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Blog Tour for "Beneath the Veil of Smoke and Ash" by Tammy Pasterick - Excerpt and Interview

Updated: Nov 23, 2021

Author Bio

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 chocolate Labrador retriever.

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Book Title: Beneath the Veil of Smoke and Ash

Author: Tammy Pasterick

Publication Date: 21st September 2021

Publisher: She Writes Press

Page Length: 371 Pages

Genre: Historical Fiction

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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Book Excerpt

As Sofie followed the narrow trail at the edge of town that led to her favorite fishing spot, she heard the roar of an angry river. The morning’s thunderstorm had left the river swollen and had strengthened its already swiftly moving currents. She immediately spotted Pole leaning against a hazelnut tree with three carp on his stringer. Though he was a few months shy of his thirteenth birthday, he looked older due to his height and muscular build. His wavy, brown hair was disheveled, and his flannel shirt was covered in dirt.

“How did you catch three fish already?”

“I skipped my Slovak lesson. Couldn’t really see the point,” Pole said in his most rebellious tone.

“The point is to preserve our heritage. I like learning about our culture and language.”

“Your parents may be Slovak, but you’re American, Sofie. You were born here. Besides, I’m only half Slovak, and that’s not my favorite side. I like bein’ Polish better.”

“I know, Pole,” Sofie said sarcastically.

Pole’s defiant nature sometimes irritated her, but he had good reason to be bitter. His mother died two years earlier, and all he had left was a drunken father. John Stofanik worked at the mill and made Sofie’s father uneasy. He worried that Stofanik would fall into a pot of molten steel, or worse, he would be responsible for someone else’s death.

Pole was currently wearing a nasty shiner, and Sofie didn’t need to ask where it came from. Even if she did, Pole would invent a ridiculous story. He was ashamed of his father, and who could blame him? That drunk was the reason Pole rejected his Slovak heritage and embraced his mother’s Polish one.

“I saw your mama on her way to work this morning. Does she always leave that early?”

“Sometimes. She doesn’t seem to mind though,” Sofie said, trying not to sound angry. She resented the fact that her mother was more devoted to her job than her family. Mama had practically sprinted out the door that morning to impress the men from Pittsburgh. Sofie was still upset about the comment her mother had made about her hair. Suddenly, a disturbing thought popped into her head. Mama doesn’t think I’m pretty. Was that the reason she never paid her any attention?

“Must be paradise cookin’ and cleanin’ for Mr. Archer all day in a house like that. How’d she get so lucky?” Pole picked up his tin can full of worms and handed it to Sofie.

She grabbed the can and gave him a dirty look.

“I guess that was a stupid question. Who wouldn’t prefer a pretty lady washin’ their drawers over an ugly one? Your mama’s a looker.” Pole brushed some dirt off his knee and gazed across the river. “You know, you have her blonde hair and blue eyes.”

“I’d rather have a fat, ugly mother who loves me.” Sofie bit her lip and angrily baited her hook with a worm. The poor creature bore the brunt of her frustration.

“At least you’ve got your papa. He’s a good man. I’d trade my pop in any day for yours.” Pole sighed and stared at his fishing rod.

The two sat quietly for several minutes, tending their fishing poles. The top of her head growing warm, Sofie looked up to see an exceptionally bright sun beating down upon her. The sky over Riverton was usually filled with too much smoke to see the sun, but the morning’s thunderstorm had cut down the haze.

Sofie turned her attention to the river and watched the afternoon sunlight sparkle on its ever-changing surface. It was mesmerizing. The little twinkles of light danced among the currents, carrying her upsetting thoughts away with them downstream. Sofie inhaled deeply as she caught the scent of wild lilacs in the gentle breeze. She leaned toward the ground to smell the earthworms and wet grass. She was suddenly calm and content.

A strong tug at the end of Sofie’s fishing line interrupted her reverie. She tightened her grip on her rod and began to reel in what she imagined was an enormous beast. Beads of sweat formed on her forehead as she jerked her rod while fighting her way backwards up the riverbank. The fish was tenacious, yanking so hard on Sofie’s line she feared it might snap. She was encouraged when her adversary’s head emerged from the water several minutes into the battle, but it quickly fought its way back to its murky domain. Sofie cursed under her breath.

“Need a hand?” Pole asked from behind her.

“No, I’ve got him,” she said, grunting. Determined to conquer her dinner, Sofie gritted her teeth and gave her rod one last forceful jerk. She squealed as the fish sailed through the air and landed in the grass at Pole’s feet.

“That’s a monster!” he shouted.

Sofie leapt with joy at the sight of the carp. It was nearly as long as her arm. She rushed over to Pole to retrieve her prize.

“Let me put it on the stringer for you, Sof,” he said, holding the fish. “You catch your breath.”

As Pole busied himself with the stringer, Sofie found herself staring at her best friend instead of her fish. “How lucky would we be if we lived together in a house with my father and your mother?” she wondered aloud. “If she were still alive, of course. We’d have the perfect family.” Sofie had always wished for a mother as sweet and thoughtful as Pole’s. She often had freshly baked cookies waiting for them when they returned from fishing. And she gave the best hugs.

“Sounds nice, but there’s no use daydreamin’ about things that can never be.”

Sofie frowned, disappointed in Pole’s lack of imagination.

“Aww, come on.” He laid a hand on her shoulder. “I’m not tryin’ to be mean. I just think you’re better off keeping your head out of the clouds. You gotta deal with the reality you’ve got.”

Sofie thought about her awkward interaction with her mother that morning and her poor excuse for not wanting to visit the neighbors. It was nothing out of the ordinary. Mama was always looking for ways to avoid her family. Sofie doubted it would ever change.

“Wipe that frown off your face and look at the size of this fish you caught,” Pole said, holding up the stringer. “Wait until your papa sees it. He won’t believe his eyes.”

Sofie glanced at the enormous carp and then studied Pole’s face. “Why do you look so proud? You didn’t catch that fish.”

“No, but I wish I did.” Pole chuckled. “I’m proud of you, Sof. Now let’s hurry up and catch a few more. I can’t wait to get back to town to show off this beast.”

Sofie blushed as she shoved a hook through a worm. She suddenly couldn’t remember what had been troubling her minutes earlier.

Author Interview

What literary pilgrimages have you gone on?

I’m a voracious reader and a world traveler, but I haven’t gone on many literary pilgrimages. Although I did visit Ernest Hemingway’s home in Key West while on vacation in Florida this summer. It was a lovely house with dozens of cats roaming the grounds—apparently all descendants of Hemingway’s own cat.

Tell us the best writing tip you can think of, something that helps you.

I always remind myself that writing is revising. Whether I’m working on an essay, short story, or novel, I know there is always room for improvement. I find it especially helpful to walk away from a project for a day, week, month, or even a year to get some space and much needed clarity. Fresh eyes always spot the problems.

What are common traps for aspiring writers? Advice for young writers starting out.

Resist the urge to self-publish your novel as soon as you finish it. It most likely needs to be revised—several times. Hire an editor if you can afford it and then query literary agents for at least a year even if you think traditional publishing might not be right for you. The feedback I received over two years of querying agents was invaluable and helped me improve my novel.

If you could tell your younger writing self - anything, what would it be?

Be patient and persistent. I queried 95 literary agents over the course of two years before I decided to explore hybrid publishing. It was a long and frustrating journey, and the rejections were often painful. But I brushed myself off after every rejection, listened to the advice of agents who read my manuscript, and made several revisions to my novel. The process helped me become a much better writer and put me on the path to publication that made the most sense to me.

What other authors are you friends with, and how do they help you become a better writer?

Christy Maguire, Jennifer Jabaley, and Elizabeth Conte gave me great feedback on the final drafts of my novel. Suzanne Simonetti and Leslie Rasmussen, whom I met through She Writes Press, have given me great advice on book marketing and publicity.

Can you give us a quick review of a favorite book by one of your author friends?

The Sound of Wings by Suzanne Simonetti explores the inner lives of three very different women living in Cape May, New Jersey and follows the evolution of their unlikely friendship. Simonetti does a masterful job of weaving the stories of these passionate and artistic women together, showing how women's lives often intersect in surprising ways and how friendships form out of shared interests and shared pain.

After Happily Ever After by Leslie Rasmussen provides an honest and funny look at middle age and all the insecurities older women face. Maggie Dolan is managing a teenager while caring for an aging parent with dementia, and she desperately needs some support and attention from her husband. When she doesn’t get it, she embarks on a journey of self-discovery and makes plenty of mistakes along the way.

How did publishing your first book change your process of writing?

Publishing my first book has essentially brought my creative writing to a screeching halt. I’ve been focused solely on book marketing and promotion for the past several months and can’t wait to get back to working on my next book.

What was the best money you ever spent as a writer?

Working with She Writes Press has been the best investment I’ve made as a writer. (Hybrid publishing requires writers to help with the costs of publishing their books.) The experience has been very fulfilling, as I’ve become part of an amazingly supportive community of authors. I have no idea what my book’s sales will look like, but I’ve made lifelong friends at She Writes Press.

What’s the best way to market your books?

My book’s release is still a few weeks away, so I have much to learn about marketing. I have seen some great results with Facebook ads though.

What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?

My book started out as a genealogy project, so I was able to use a lot of the information I uncovered while researching the lives of my great-grandparents, who immigrated to America at the turn of the twentieth century to work in the steel mills of Pittsburgh. I also read excerpts from The Pittsburgh Survey, a sociological study conducted from 1907-1908, which chronicled the living conditions of immigrant families. Several books about the steel and coal mining industries in Pennsylvania in the early 1900s helped as well as did Google. I believe I spent three or four months researching before I started my novel, but I continued uncovering new information while writing and even throughout the editing process.

Do you view writing as a kind of spiritual practice?

I view writing as a healing process. One of the characters in my book struggles with a mental illness. Writing about her challenges helped me understand the people in my life who suffer from mental illness. I had several epiphanies while writing this book.

Have you read anything that made you think differently about fiction?

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini is a masterpiece. I knew very little about Afghanistan before starting that book, and I came away with a deep understanding of the country’s history, culture, and people. Hosseini taught me that fiction can be both entertaining and enlightening. His powerful novel moved me to tears and broadened my world view. That’s what every writer should aspire to do.

Do you read your book reviews? How do you deal with bad or good ones?

I do read book reviews. It’s an emotional roller coaster though. Some leave me feeling elated, while others make me want to crawl in a hole. I really wish I didn’t care about them, but I’m human. The good ones do, however, validate my hard work and motivate me to continue writing. It’s extremely satisfying to know that my writing has moved readers, taught them something new, or caused them to look at the world in a different way.

What is the most difficult part of your artistic process?

I have a tendency to obsess over word choice. When I find a passage particularly awkward, I sometimes spend hours rewording and revising only to find that I come back to the same few sentences I started with. This is when I know I need to walk away and revisit it in a few days or weeks.

Tell us about your novel/novels/or series and why you wrote about this topic?

As I mentioned before, Beneath the Veil of Smoke and Ash was inspired by a genealogy project. In the summer of 2012, I asked my ninety-year-old grandmother a few questions about her childhood and was presented with a scrapbook and several shoeboxes of old photos. I’m not sure why she had never shown me these treasures until the final months of her life, but I am so glad she did. She shared stories of her childhood with me and showed me pictures of her Lithuanian parents as well as her Slovak in-laws. I was so captivated by the images that I wanted to know what they were like and what sort of challenges they might have faced. I decided to recreate their world in a novel.

What is your favorite line or passage from your own book?

As he sat on the edge of the bed, waiting for his wife to fall asleep, Janos closed his eyes. The image of a stunning, seventeen-year-old blonde appeared before him. Her eyes were the color of the sky, and her smile was bright. She’d dropped her suitcase in the middle of the road, and Janos was helping her collect its contents. As they both reached for the same sweater, their hands touched and their eyes met. Janos trembled, certain that the earth had moved.

Despite all that had happened since, he did not regret meeting that enchanting beauty in the middle of a dirt road.

What was your hardest scene to write?

Sex scenes are always the hardest to write. I don’t want to be so descriptive that I make my readers cringe, but I want to convey what characters are feeling. There is a scene in my novel where a woman is repulsed by the man who is touching her, and that was very challenging to write.

Tell us your favorite quote and how the quote tells us something about you.

“It is never too late to be what you might have been.” —George Eliot

I worried about what I would do with my life after staying at home full-time with my children for almost a decade. I couldn’t imagine how I would reenter the workforce and wasn’t sure I wanted someone else dictating my schedule. I remembered the wisdom of George Eliot—his quote is on one of my favorite bookmarks—and decided to do something bold. I had always loved reading and writing and wondered whether I had the talent to become an author. I took a leap of faith and began writing my own historical novel. The journey has been immensely satisfying, and I love the fact that I can make time to go to my kids’ baseball and soccer games.

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