M. Tara Crowl – Novelist

We recently met up with Tara in New York at a delicious cafe on Mott street to talk more about her upcoming book release, and to get to know her better in person. Her first book is coming out on September 1st, and we wanted to get the inside scoop on her process, routine, and what she’s been up to. Positive, kind, and generous in sharing her advice, Tara is incredibly open and easy to talk to. Her book, Eden’s Wishis about a twelve year old genie who wants to be free from the lamp she’s been kept in all her life and experience what the world is really like. Tara gave us a sneak peek of the book, and we couldn’t put it down. It is captivating, funny, and well-written. We can’t wait to watch where Tara and Eden’s Wish go next!

Name: M. Tara Crowl
Education: BA in Cinematic Arts and Advertising from the University of Southern California; MA in Creative Writing from Macquarie University
Follow: mtaracrowl.com / @mtaracrowl
Location: New York, New York

Carpe Juvenis: How do you define ‘Seizing Your Youth’?

Tara Crowl: Knowing that when you’re young is the time to take risks. As life goes on, your responsibilities will increase. There’s no better time than your youth to go after the things you dream about.

CJ: You majored in Cinematic Arts and Advertising at the University of Southern California. How did you decide what to major in?

MTC: USC has a great film program, so that was a major factor in my decision to go there. I really wanted to make movies, so initially I planned to study Production. But when I got there, I fell in love with the academic side of film—Critical Studies—and stuck with that. (I also learned that I was no good with a camera.)

Advertising was sort of a random thing for me to study. I took a couple of advertising classes and liked them, so I went with that as my minor. It’s a cool type of creativity—learning what people want, and then figuring out how to deliver it.

Although I’m not working in either of those fields now, I’m glad that I studied what interested me at the time. I think that because I loved what I was learning, I retained it and have been able to apply it in ways I wouldn’t have thought of back then.

CJ: After college you worked for an independent movie producer and a literary manager. You then worked in the motion picture literary department of a talent agency. What were these experiences like and what are your biggest takeaways from them?

MTC: Those jobs were two very different experiences within the entertainment industry, and I’m grateful for them both. Each was really challenging and enlightening.

Primarily, I learned about storytelling. During those days, I read and evaluated screenplays every day. When I read a script, I started to see the movie—or the lack of potential for it. That has absolutely contributed to the way I write.

But also, being on that side of the process, I learned the value of being a writer that people want to work with. I think it’s so important to be humble, hard-working, and communicative when you’re in a creative role.

CJ: Where does your love of storytelling come from? What stories have greatly influenced you?

MTC: I read constantly when I was little. I think books played a huge role in shaping my identity and the way I saw the world. And for as long as I can remember, I wanted to write books for kids like me. A couple years ago my mom found my journal from first grade, and I had written that I wanted to win the Newbery Medal one day!

The books I loved back then definitely influenced the way I write now. I hope so, at least, because I still think they’re brilliant. My favorite was A Wrinkle in Time. I loved the Baby-Sitters Club books, and everything by Roald Dahl. Harriet the Spy was one of my favorites too—and also a book called The Mennyms by Sylvia Waugh.

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CJ: You moved to Sydney, Australia, for a Master’s program in Creative Writing at Macquarie University. Wow! This sounds like such an incredible experience. What led you to your decision to go to graduate school for creative writing, and why Australia?

MTC: I liked my job at the talent agency, but something kept tugging at my heart, telling me that my childhood dream had never gone away. At that point I hadn’t studied writing at all, so the prospect of it was terrifying. But I got an idea for a middle grade book, and I took a stab at it. I sent the beginning to a few publishers, and there was some interest, so I decided to give it a real shot.

I knew I’d need to go to school for writing—because I had a lot to learn, but also as a way of fully committing to my dream. I looked at grad schools with the type of program I wanted to attend, and most of them were in places that weren’t appealing to me. One day I started to look internationally, and I saw a program at Macquarie University. Suddenly I knew it was where I was meant to go. I’d never been to Australia, or really even wanted to go there, but I just knew it was right. I applied, got in, and a few months later I went.

I think some of the people around me at the time might have thought it was a strange decision. But my parents were 100% supportive and encouraging. They always have been, and I’m so grateful for that. Leaving everything I knew to follow that dream was scary, but exhilarating—and ultimately, so rewarding.

CJ: We imagine you had a lot of amazing adventures in Australia. What were your favorite things to do there?

MTC: It really is an incredible place! Sydney is unbelievably beautiful, and it was such a special time for me personally. My life opened up and took on a whole new dimension while I was there. I remembered how big and beautiful the world is. I felt like a kid again.

For the second half of the year I spent there, I lived in an old house near the beach with a big backyard. I loved going for swims in the ocean, and then coming home and reading in the yard.

CJ: You started writing a book in Sydney that will be published in September called Eden’s Wish. Congratulations – that’s very exciting! How did the idea for this book come about, and what was your writing process?

MTC: Thank you! I was on a plane when I first came up with the idea for Eden’s Wish. For some reason I was thinking about genies, and I started imagining what a genie’s life would be like. There’s a certain allure to the whole thing—the wish-fulfillment aspect, I guess. But when I thought about it, I realized that a genie would be trapped inside an oil lamp until someone happened to rub it. Then, whenever you did get out, you’d have to spend the whole time granting someone’s wishes. You’d be able to give other people what they wanted, but have no power within your own life.

When I looked at it that way, being a genie seemed terrible. So I started to dream up the character of Eden, a twelve-year-old genie who loves the world and hates the life she was born into. And the story took shape from there.

I started writing the book during grad school, and turned in the first section as my thesis. Then I moved to New York and finished it while working various jobs to support myself along the way.

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CJ: Any tricks or tips for writing a book? Do you have a writing routine or a strict writing schedule?

MTC: One thing that’s important for me is taking the time to get to know my characters really well. Then when I place them in different circumstances, they kind of write themselves. My characters don’t come across strongly if I haven’t spent enough time developing them. And without compelling characters, a story isn’t worth reading.

My schedule varies, but I’m learning that you really do have to sit down and make yourself write every day, even when you feel like you have nothing. There’s something to be said for inspiration and the creative process, but at the end of the day, if you want writing to be your job, you’ve got to treat it like a job. You have to put in the time and the work necessary to create a quality product.

CJ: Every day in your life must look different depending on your projects and the time of year, but what does a Monday look like for you?

MTC: It does depend on which stage of a project I’m in, but basically, the day revolves around writing. I write at home a lot of the time, or in cafes—my fiancé owns a café, so I go there sometimes. I try to go to the gym in the morning, because sitting in a chair all day isn’t great for your body. And I usually do something social in the evenings. I like being alone in my head all day while I’m working, but if I don’t talk to people on my off time, I start to go crazy!

CJ: What should a young adult who wants to be a novelist do now to set him or herself up for success?

MTC: Well, the obvious advice is to read. You’ve got to read in order to learn language, story structure, and character development, and to be exposed to new ideas.

But I’d also say, soak in the experiences of your own life. Let yourself see and feel things, and then practice writing them down. That’s the only way you can write honestly—and in fiction, honesty is essential. The experiences that belong to you alone will give you a voice that’s unlike anyone else’s.

CJ: What are some books, resources, and websites that have influenced you – either personally or professionally (or both)?

MTC: Personally, the Bible. Personally and professionally, A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf.

CJ: When you’re not working on your next book or other writing projects, how do you like to spend your time?

MTC: Being with the people I love. Going out to eat or cooking at home, going to concerts and movies, exploring New York, traveling when I can.

CJ: What are you working to improve upon – either personally or professionally – and how are you doing so?

MTC: Professionally, using my time more efficiently. When you’ve got a creative job and you structure your own schedule, it can be hard to figure out what’s most effective for you. So I’m focusing on finding and establishing that.

Personally, I’m always trying to be better at loving the people around me. Through my work and through my life, I want to put the best things into the world that I possibly can.

CJ: What advice would you give your 20-year-old self?

MTC: So many things! I was an idiot when I was 20. Basically, be more conscious of what you do and how you treat people.

 Tara Crowl Qs

Images by Carpe Juvenis