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Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Interview with Charity Tahmaseb, 2nd Place Winner in the Winter 2019 Flash Fiction Contest

Charity Tahmaseb has slung corn on the cob for Green Giant and jumped out of airplanes (but not at the same time). She’s worn both Girl Scout and Army green.

These days, she writes fiction and works as a technical writer for a software company in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Her short fiction credits include stories in Deep Magic, Escape Pod, Cicada, and Pulp Literature. She’s been nominated twice for a Pushcart Prize Award, and her first novel, The Geek Girl’s Guide to Cheerleading, was a YALSA 2012 Popular Paperback pick in the Get Your Geek On category. She has a fondness for coffee, ghosts, and things fantastical.

She blogs (at least) once a week at

----------Interview by Renee Roberson

Read Charity's touching love story, Steadfast, here and then return for an interview with the author!

WOW: “Steadfast” is a beautiful journey between two well-developed characters. How did you know when it was ready for submission?

Charity: I knew the story was done. That doesn’t necessarily mean it was ready for submission.

In 2013, I did a year of “write 1/submit 1” where I wrote a story each week and also sent one out, although not necessarily the same story. In fact, never the same story. My stories need to sit for a while before they go anywhere.

It was a fabulous exercise in both writing (and getting better at it) and submitting (and getting better at that). Researching markets and submitting stories is a skill that any writer can learn. It gets easier with time and practice.

As for "Steadfast," the initial inspiration came from a call for submissions for retellings of Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tales. I started writing, then realized halfway through that it wasn’t a fantasy retelling and didn’t fit the submission guidelines.

So there it sat, half-finished for about six months. Then one day, I had the urge to revisit it. I let it be the contemporary retelling of "The Steadfast Tin Soldier" that it wanted to be, and everything fell into place.

WOW: That's a great story! I love the idea of writing and writing and submitting a story each week. You are correct in that researching and finding appropriate places to submit a story are valuable skills every writer should learn. Along those same lines, you’ve had several stories published in magazines and literary journals. Is there a common theme you keep coming back to in your stories—or do you find yourself writing about a variety of topics?

Charity: My subject matter varies, sometimes a lot, but I think a common theme does run through my fiction. I like stories about connection. I was going to say connection between people, but some of my characters aren’t human.

I have stories about a girl and her clock, a girl and her wolf, a girl and her alien--the list goes on. The more unlikely the pairing, the more fun it is to write.

WOW: Working as a technical writer for a software company is vastly different than writing fiction! How do you split your time between the two?

Charity: I work full-time as a technical writer. I reserve my lunch hour for writing, and I can get a surprising amount accomplished in that time.

My other “trick” is not sleeping in on the weekends. I get up as if I’m heading to work, but instead, I spend those early morning hours working on my fiction. It helps that the rest of my family loves to sleep in. Most weekend mornings, it’s just the cat and me.

WOW: I'm impressed by your discipline! You know how to blow the "I don't have time to write excuses out of the water!" You’ve published a YA novel, The Geek Girl’s Guide to Cheerleading, which won an award in 2012. Where did you get the inspiration for that story?

Charity: It was one of those “inspired by real life” stories. No kidding! In high school, I spent a single season as a varsity cheerleader. Truthfully, I wasn’t all that great at it, although I still managed to letter (how is a mystery, but I did).

It all started one cold day in November during French class when my friend Amy turned to me and asked, “Have you ever tried out for cheerleading?”

Fast forward a few decades (!) later. I mentioned to my friend Darcy how I thought the premise of a relatively geeky girl making the cheerleading squad could be a really fun YA novel.

She replied with: “If you don’t write it, I will.”

In the end, we wound up writing it together.

WOW: I love that. My own teenage daughter is a STEM girl and runner but does not consider herself coordinated enough for cheer. I'll have to pass your book along to her! Your project “Coffee and Ghosts” sounds fascinating! Could you tell us a little more about it, and where readers can learn more?

Charity: "Coffee and Ghosts" is the project of my heart. It’s a quirky, niche sort of project that can exist because of indie publishing.

It all started as the short story "Ghost in the Coffee Machine" (first published in Coffee: 14 Caffeinated Tales of the Fantastic). I’d previously done a great deal of research into ghosts for a novel that never went anywhere. I remembered a tidbit about catching ghosts in mason jars, and another aside about ghosts liking coffee (I don’t know if they do, but it sounded reasonable).

From there, my ghost catcher Katy, her grandmother, and rival Malcolm were born.

A few years later, I had the inspiration to write more stories in the "Coffee and Ghosts" world. Initially, I was going to write stand-alone stories, but a larger arc soon appeared, and I had three “seasons” on my hands. I like to think of "Ghost in the Coffee Machine" as the pilot episode for the series.

While I’ve written an entire series about ghosts, I don’t read horror. It scares me. Or rather, it scares me too much. So the stories in the Coffee and Ghosts world are just a little bit scary, a little bit romantic, and hopefully a lot of fun.

This summer, the entire series is being produced in audio with award-winning narrator Amy McFadden.

You can read more about the project (and try the first season for free) here:

WOW: Coffee AND ghosts? You are a writer after my own heart! I look forward to checking out the first season if this fun project. Thank you so much for being here today and giving us such valuable insight on your work and writing process!


  1. Renee--Thanks for doing this interview and for giving us the link to Charity's story.

    Charity--What a great love story. Your idea of getting up at work time on the weekend, so you can get some writing done while the rest of your family is snoozing is a smart one. I have writing friends who are retired from their day job--and they say they got more accomplished when they were squeezing writing time from their busy schedule.

    I've worn Camp Fire Girls blue, but I love the color army green. I've jumped out of airplanes (for fun) but have never had the Jolly Green Giant as a boss. There HAS to be a story there (a funny one).

    Joe Hill wrote a novel about a guy who buys a ghost ("Heart-Shaped Box"). I wouldn't call it scary--I'd call it exciting. Or perhaps it could be called horror. Your ghost series sounds like a can't-miss. Good luck!

  2. Sioux,

    Thank you so much for reading and commenting. Way back in the day, I was always a little jealous of Camp Fire Girls because they got to sell candy (how that was better than cookies, I don't know).

  3. Charity ~ That's SO fascinating that your story started as a retelling of a Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale! I didn't even pick up on that, but now I see that you were inspired by The Steadfast Soldier! My father read that to me when I was little. I love your story so much. It's a thrilling romance, and I just adore the role reversal from the original story, that she's the soldier and he's the ballerina.

    Your year of write 1/submit 1 is awesome I think researching and submitting is one of the hardest parts of the process. I tend to read the publication's archives and then debate whether or not they'd accept my exhausting process. I tend to be a one lover submitter and don't play the field and put my work out everywhere. It sounds like you do the same thing. What did your end of year numbers/acceptances look like?

    That's a great story about the inspiration behind your YA novel, and that you wrote it with a friend. I think it's amazing when writers collaborate, but I'm sure it must've been hard to do. I've collaborated before and find it hard to come together with one vision. Perhaps I'm too much of a control freak. I like that you based your novel on your real life. I'm writing a coming-of-age memoir right now and debating if I should make it fiction. Sometimes I feel all memoir is fiction anyway, because the way we choose to remember or pick and choose moments to piece together make it basically a fictional retelling of real life.

    Good luck on Coffee and Ghosts! I can't wait to check it out. :)

  4. Congratulations on your story, I needed a happy ending today! I am also jealous of your routine of getting up early on weekends, but I tend to write late at night when the house is quiet. I'm looking forward to reading Coffee and Ghosts!


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