Tara Ellison Talks Her Debut Novel
By Autumn Topping
Synchronized Breathing, the debut novel of former actress and Huffington Post columnist Tara Eliison, tells a story about a woman named Scarlett who gets the chance to start over and really re-discover her path in life, all in the midst of a messy divorce and a few more chaotic relationships along the way. With a toddler, no real job, and perhaps a little bit of a prayer, Scarlett moves back in with her mother (the scandalously funny CeCe), as she attempts to find out what she wants from life, and if maybe, just maybe, there is more to it than just men. Funny and sweet, Synchronized Breathing is a novel for women needing a good laugh, and for women who can relate to a character that has made some wrong choices in life. Tara, warm and open, took the time to talk to REAP about what inspired her to write Synchronized Breathing (including the inspiration behind the wildly crazy CeCe, and of course her own divorce), her love for Los Angeles, and what she has planned next.
Let's just start with the basics. Tell me about yourself, your background, your passion for writing.
Well, I have a bit of a nomadic upbringing. I was born in London, and then moved to our native Australia with my Mom, and then I moved for a while in Hong Kong, and then we moved to the states. So, I've lived… I'm really fortunate to have lived in a lot of really great places. I didn't think of it that way at the time. When I was a kid, I just felt we moved around a lot, but in retrospect, it was really a very unique education.
Yeah, it sounds like it!
[Laugh] I got to see a lot of different lifestyles and a lot of different cultures, and that really I think was a great feeder for my writing, using it as a little sponge… and a lot of info that you don't really realize you're sort of cataloging...to be used later in some writing. But then, I always loved writing and I was always drawn to it and found that it was a really good school for processing things. So, if I had a bad break up, I would just write in my journal…. I didn't keep a diary per se, but I definitely relied on writing to help me figure out how I felt. And, I didn't ever think of it as a career possibility; it was just something that I really enjoyed. Then, I started taking some writing classes years ago, and shared some of my writing with the women in the course, and I got a lot of positive feedback. That was really exciting. So I said, "Okay, well if I can make some of these ladies laugh at these little stories…" And then I ended up going through a miserable divorce as they mostly are.
I found myself with a lot of free time, and I felt at a bit of a loose end. I didn't know really what to do with myself until I started creating these little stories, and it sort of really grew from there. And, I started talking to other women and hearing their stories and it became something where I couldn't wait to get home and get back into this little world of these characters. I'd get up early, or I'd stay up late because sometimes when I couldn't sleep I'd get up and start writing. [Laugh] It just sort of began to consume me, and it was an 8 year journey to get this book done from the beginning.
When I first started… to finding a publisher…so many times I tried to put it away and forget about it because you know, it's a lot of work and I never thought I had the discipline and I'd be like, "Whom I kidding that I could write a book, like what makes me think that I have anything to say or that anyone will be interested in any of this?" But it was, it never let up, like this book needed an outlet; it needed to be born because I wouldn't be able to sleep at night. And that voice would be going, "Get up. Start writing. What are you doing?" I was never able to totally tune it out, so you have 8 years of a testament to my procrastination. [Laugh]
But finally, it's out there now for other ladies to read and hopefully, have a few laughs along the way. And well, I've had other women tell me that...although they haven't had a divorce, or they haven't had similar circumstances, that they could relate to the story, which made me feel happy because it isn't just a story for women going through a divorce. It's really a story for women and anybody starting over, or feeling like they want a chance to create something different, or make different choices. I think we can all sort of relate to that.
So, that makes me very happy when people take something positive away from the book.
For those who have not read your book, can you briefly tell them what Synchronized Breathing is about?
Synchronized Breathing is a story about a woman learning to make better choices. [Laugh] And learning to start over....It's sort of a delayed coming of age in a way....It's a journey for a woman that is not happy with the choices that she's made, and she really can't blame anybody but herself, and then she has to start to relearn she may not have the best role model to go on with her own mother -or she might be a really good role model depending on where you stand - but she has to learn. The Synchronized Breathing part is about...initially, she's looking for that connection for a lover, but at the end she realizes that she really needs to be able to breathe on her own and not have that emotional dependence on men.
Yes! I really did find it was, like you said, an older coming of age story, a nice path of self-discovery I thought.
Yes. Well, you know as women we sometimes get sidetracked, whether we have a career going or we're raising kids, and it's really easy to forget parts of yourself. And sometimes, it takes a catalyst of a divorce, or some other huge change in life to have this sort of reawakening, and it can be really a wonderful, positive thing. I mean, out of my divorce, I really realized my love of writing, and was able to create this book from that place. So, you really can discover gifts that you've forgotten, or just reawakened those parts of yourself that you've long forgotten. And that can be a positive.
Definitely! So, the inspiration for Synchronized Breathing, do you think that really comes down to your own experiences of divorce and finding your path to writing?
Well, the inspiration really, it did come in a way from my own circumstances and I used my life as a jumping off point, but it's not all my story. There are lots of--there is a lot of me in it, but I couldn't use my exact story because first of all, there are parts that aren't terribly interesting. [Laugh] In terms of making the story really fun and palatable and you know encapsulating, some fun lessons that I learned out of my divorce… That is, so I think my divorce was definitely an inspiration for the book, but it wasn't the sole inspiration. It was sort of a yearning I had to really connect with myself, and then hopefully connect with other women that have that sort of sense of longing feeling like, "Okay, well I did all those things that I thought I was supposed to do, but why do I feel like there is something missing?” That was a goal to hopefully connect with women that have that sense of something's missing.
In a story about life and then dating post-divorce (or in the midst of divorce as would be the case here), I found the setting of Los Angeles to be intriguing. So, why L.A.? Did you want to write about some of your own experiences of the city? I have to say you captured it perfectly, all with a nice side of humor there.
Well, I have a love affair with Los Angeles. When I was a little girl growing up in Australia, I just had to be, I had this mission to get to Los Angeles or California. I didn't really understand that L.A. was in California, just everything I watched on TV, or had read in the magazines, everything was American but specifically, California and Los Angeles. And, there's such a distinct type of person, and there's so many muses in L.A. All I need to do is leave the house, and if I go and get coffee, I encounter people that are just begging to be written about. There [are] so many, so many wild characters out here, and of course you hear stories and I've been here for many years myself, and I have a few stories of my own. But, it's really such a melting pot and because people can become successful quickly here, there is that sort of bad behavior and people seem to think that they can get away with a lot. There's that sense of entitlement when they do become successful, so … the comedic potential is so huge here. But I did want a love letter to Los Angeles because I do love it. I think it's really beautiful, and I feel very grateful to be able to live here and enjoy it on a daily basis.
One of my favorite aspects of the book, outside the setting, is your protagonist Scarlett. I love that she's this flawed female character with insecurities. You really capture her loneliness too after leaving her husband and the transformation she undergoes as a single mother. It really becomes a nice path for self-discovery, coming of age like you said. What was the influence for Scarlett?
Well again, I think I used some of my own feelings…feeling a bit lost and feeling that I had failed at something. That was a feeling I felt like I knew really well, but I also thought, "I can't be the only woman feeling like this. There must be other women out there that sort of have this sense of, okay what am I going to do now?" There were other people that really inspired me on this journey too. I wanted to tell a story of a woman figuring out who she was after this divorce, and trying to put those pieces back together, and maybe they didn't go so well to begin with. [Laugh] So, it was sort of holding the mystery of herself that she thinks is going to be in a man. She thinks that, that will sort of complete the picture, but she's mistaken in that. It really is a journey about uncovering and discovering herself. And that, that's the real gift in the story.
Okay, I have to bring up Cece, Scarlett's mother! Where did this colorful character come from? Her liveliness definitely jumps off the page…
[Laugh] Cece was the most fun to write. My own mother is wickedly witty. She says some very, very funny things, so she was definitely a muse for me….but I could have took it and ran with it. I mean, she's been a very good sport about it because Cece, she's not Cece for sure, but people would like to think she is and she's been very, very understanding about all of it, and had a good sense of humor. But, Cece would be my mother in her wildest dreams.
I wanted to keep [her] sort of real and not too far out, but still have a sense of wicked adventure and hopefully that comes across. But she's my favorite character by far. Really had a good time with her.
She definitely stands out.
I think you succeeded.
You can't define whether she tells the best advice or the worst. She's definitely not your typical mother.
For Synchronized Breathing, do you see a continuation, like a sequel to it? Do you think you're going to continue with these characters, or are you done?
I do have an idea of something fun to do with these characters next. I'm just toying with the idea of whether I should do that or not. So, I haven't decided. There's still going to be [more] there in the story I think. But I might do something else in between, another book in between. ‘Cause living in Los Angeles, there are so many things to write about. I have some ideas brewing at the moment that I'm kind of excited about, so I might have to let those come to life first before I revisit Cece, and Scarlett and the clan.
Changing gears a little, are there any authors or particular books that inspire you? Or, that you are influenced by?
Well, there are a number of books that I was reading that inspired this book....Helen Fielding [Bridget Jones’ s Diary]...I really wanted it to read like a girlfriend that's just sitting with you telling you her story, so I wanted it to have that sort of intimacy. And, that's why I did it in first person, so that it, you know, hopefully has that familiar tone of [a] friend sharing secrets. But in general, I'm typically in love with whoever I just read, so at the moment it would be Donna Tartt, The Goldfinch. I am so moved by that woman and her storytelling. I'm just obsessed with her. And then, Gone Girl with Gillian Flynn; I was obsessed with that, so I get really consumed with whatever books I'm reading. But, there's a particular flavor that I wanted Synchronized Breathing to have and that, that is sort of more of the commercial women fiction I guess would be the best way to describe it.
Yeah, a little bit of Chick Lit, maybe?
Yes, yes! Chick Lit. Are we allowed to use that term?
I think so…
I like Chick Lit! [Laugh] You're not supposed to say that! But it really is....and you want it to be fun and you want it to have a sort of…you know, it's not all about shoes ‘cause I know sometimes you get a Chick Lit book and it's all about the fashion labels and I wanted it to have little bit of that, but it's certainly got a lot more going on than just the fun fashion. Chick Lit I think is a good term.
Yeah, there are tons of different kinds of Chick Lit I think. For sure.
It's a broad term, isn't it?
Yes, very broad! What advice would you give to other aspiring others trying to make it, trying to get published?
The best thing I would say is to keep going because you're going to hear so much advice, and there are certain things that work for some people that wouldn't work for others. And, the best thing to do is keep going. If you keep your practice going of writing your pages, and set your goals for how many you want to do per day or per week, you feel like you're going to have a manuscript, and then you really have something to work on. I did so many drafts of this. The book changed completely I couldn't tell you how many times. I've done at least twenty drafts of this book. I had a completely different beginning with Scarlett giving birth at one point, and then a totally different ending. There are so many different pieces to this book, but it finally came together and I think that if you're starting out that, if you try to put all pieces together in your head, it's too overwhelming. I didn't think that I would be able to get through this process of writing a book. It was something I had to just gingerly take one step at a time. So, that would be my best advice: to just keep taking those steps even if you have to put away for a little while like I did. But you'll find that if you just keep going back to it and taking those steps, you'll really, before you know it, you'll have a book in your hands. And then, then that opens up a new whole world. And then you can look at submitting it to people, and getting editors to give your advice, and having people read it, and give their recommendation. But, just keep going! That's the most important tip.
What’s next for you? Do you have any other upcoming books on the horizon? Any writing projects or something else altogether?
Well, at the moment, I've been doing some advice columns almost if you will. I've been doing writing on the Huffington Post…and I have a few short stories that I'm working on, but I don't have a book anywhere near completion at this point. I wish I could share with you that I'm just sitting on the next thing, but it's still in the incubation process.
What is the best way for readers and fans to follow you? Or stay up to date with what you're doing?
Well, my website is taraellison.com. You can always follow me there. I'm on Twitter: @tellisonauthor. I'm also on Facebook that we have a page for Synchronized Breathing. So, any of those options would be good. I'm much more in the social media realm now than I ever was. I'm a bit of an introvert, so it does take a little bit of prodding, but it's really fun to get out there and hear some people that are reading...who are reading the book. That's really exciting!
Is there anything else you want to discuss before you go about Synchronized Breathing?
The key with this book is that it appeals to a certain type of woman. If you're a woman that feels like you've done everything right in life, and you've made all the right choices, and everything has been rosy in your life, well God bless you but it's probably not the book for you. Synchronized Breathing is more for people who have, you know, have some life experience and who have not necessarily thought that they figured everything out. So, yeah, I definitely didn't want to have a suave lead character because, I mean maybe…you can get to that level of suaveness or sophistication, but not that many people start out that way. So, I really wanted to unpack that journey of how does someone learn these lessons if you don't come into the world with really great role models intact? How do you learn these things? So, hopefully there's something in there on how do you learn to put yourself first, and how do you learn to take care of yourself when that hasn't been the message that you've received as a kid? So...that process of reinvention at a later date in life was really interesting to me, rather than you know, what some people learn as a teenager ( ideally people learn it earlier), but Scarlett learns it later, and I just thought that it was something to be explored, late bloomers. And that's why I dedicated the book to late bloomers because there's something to be said for learning these things later in life.
Well, I think that just makes her more human.
Okay, good! [Laugh] Then that makes me happy to hear, thank you!
You're welcome! Well thank you for taking the time to talk with me.
Absolutely! Thank you Autumn!
Again, to learn more about Tara Ellison head on over to her website: http://taraellison.com/ or follow her on Twitter: @Tellisonauthor. To purchase the book please visit this link at Amazon.
To learn more about Autumn Topping, check out her vintage inspired (yet modern) media blogzine: www.silverpetticoatreview.com