TaraEllison | Backstory
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Paddling out there with the Big Boys…

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I don’t know exactly how or when the idea to write a book first came to me. It’s been there for as long as I can remember, coiled in the back of my brain, waiting. Sometimes it lay dormant for many years and sometimes it whispered to me in the night, like a siren’s call that was becoming harder to ignore.

If I had a measure of clarity, I could have figured this out ages ago and saved myself years of floundering, wondering what to do with my life. But to be fair, who has clarity in their early twenties? In the end, those difficult years filled with career angst and bad boyfriends provided plenty of material to work with.

When I look back, perhaps there were signposts pointing me in directions other than the one I was interested in going. I didn’t see the signs at the time, or I wasn’t ready to see them. I wanted to be an actress (never mind the fact that acting jobs were few and far between). I had come all the way to America from Australia and surely there was a reason for all of this traveling. I expected it to pay off, damn it!  Sometimes fate would place me in unusual circumstances and expose me to mentors and other talented, colorful characters, but it was only later that I realized how fortuitous those events actually were. Some significant moments in life become illuminated only in hindsight.

Here’s one of them: In ‘96 or ‘97 I had dinner with a writer friend of mine from New York. After dinner we went to visit his buddy, another successful writer. Over a glass of wine, I listened to these world-class raconteurs and drank in the splendor of the way they played with language. They served up beautifully constructed, witty sentences and lobbed them effortlessly at each other. It was intoxicating. As the evening was winding down, this older gentleman asked me what I did for work. I told him that I was pursuing an acting career but so far had been fantastically unsuccessful at it. Then, without thinking, I blurted out that what I really wanted to do was write. Where I got the nerve to tell an accomplished writer that I longed to join the ranks of his profession remains a mystery. I half expected him to fall off his chair with laughter. But he didn’t. Instead, he treated this lofty declaration with kindness and grace. He said, “You seem like a bright girl. Too bright to be content just pursuing an acting career.”

“Ooooh,” I said, backtracking under the weight of my statement. After all, a statement that grand required a bold commitment behind it – and I wasn’t big on commitments. “I would love to write a book but I don’t know if I have the courage to paddle out there with the Big Boys.”

“Aha… “ he nodded. “You have it in you. You’re a writer or you wouldn’t have phrased it quite that way,” he said, with a satisfied smile.

I thanked him and was quietly thrilled that he even considered it a possibility.

I didn’t think about it again until I happened to drive by the apartment building years later and remembered the exchange. By that time I was deep in the process of writing Synchronized Breathing and had long since given up any acting aspirations. I wanted to yell out the window that after all these years I was finally paddling!

Who knows where that fellow is these days. I doubt he’d remember me, nor could he possibly know the impact of his words on an impressionable  young woman, but the point is that sometimes other people can see our path and where we’re headed before we can. And sometimes we need to let go of old dreams before new ones can come to life.

What is your ‘Paddle out there with the Big Boys’ moment?

 

Los Angeles, the muse that trumps them all

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Los Angeles has always been a muse to me. Long before I lived here, I would fantasize about what it might be like. As a girl growing up in Sydney and Hong Kong, American culture ruled my heart. I conceived all sorts of creative plots about how I might get to LA – since LA was clearly the center of the universe. When I was 10 or 11, I wrote to Aaron Spelling and told him he needed to do a children’s version of Charlie’s Angeles (I was obsessed) and that he needed to cast me and my girlfriends in the roles. I helpfully included photos of us – a beautiful Eurasian friend, a feisty brunette and me – and added Charlie’s Angels stickers to the pitch to make it look like an official letterhead. This mammoth effort, I felt sure, would result in tickets to Hollywood, if not a series. Alas, I checked the mail each day, but there was no response from Mr Spelling.

It took a while but I finally got here.

Years and years of acting classes and auditions followed. I got small acting jobs here and there but to my dismay they weren’t handing out TV or movie roles on every corner, as I had hoped – at least not to me – although I came very close a few times. This meant that I juggled years of unfulfilling waitressing gigs and temp jobs and then finally switched gears and found fairly consistent work as a makeup artist. Life in LA is like that, full of twists and turns – which is what can make it so mesmerizing. Opportunities can fall right into your lap and alter the course of everything.

There are so many colorful characters and outrageous scenarios that are uniquely LA. In this town, you can be at a movie with a date and then at a restaurant afterwards, you discover that the leading actress from the film (whom your date happens to know) is dining at the next table. This has happened to me. I was on my third (and last date) with an agent who left me at the table to hob-nob with a table of celebrities while I drank wine and plotted my escape. (To be fair, this escape did not hinge on the schmoozing aspect, it was not going anywhere regardless of his antics.)

Stories like that abound in LA and for years I have been observing and soaking up funny LA moments like a sponge. I started writing Synchronized Breathing as a creative outlet but also because I desperately needed a bit of humor in my life. SB is my first novel and I will be sharing the story here of how it came to life and all the steps along this very long and arduous journey to publication (11.11.13).

I hope you’ll join me!

 

 

 

 

The Wrong-Way Around Cake

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This picture was taken from my 9th Birthday. We were living in Hong Kong at the time. My mother had painstakingly sewn my Wonder Woman costume by hand, all my friends showed up and the party was a great success. I love this photo but when I look at it closely, I am irritated by the fact that the cake is facing away from me. That seems so odd – it was my birthday! But what I suspect really bothers me about it is that it represents the way I concluded I was supposed to live my life – as if for the benefit of everyone else.

I was an agreeable girl and never wanted to rock the boat or be unpleasant. This image reminds me of how much work I had in front of me – even to learn to have my own birthday cake facing me. That simple life lesson: to always have your own damn cake facing you – became a simple but powerful metaphor for a lot of things I was going to have to learn (or unlearn) as I got older.

It took many years to develop out of that mindset but I’m happy to report that now when it’s my birthday and my cake, I make sure it’s facing me.

 

 

The Wonder Years

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Los Angeles, circa 1991

This was taken on the set of the television show The Wonder Years. I earned my SAG card playing an Earth Mama. If I’m not mistaken, the episode was called The Wedding.
It was a good lesson on the ups and down of the business. I was so excited to get the job but due to time constraints, my best scene got cut from the shooting schedule before we even had a chance to shoot it. On the other hand, I got to spend two days on a set in a fun costume – and was paid for it.