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Tara Moss: Facing the Fear

I’m gonna use the wedding of model and author Tara Moss, which took place March 20 2004, as an excuse to post an interview I did with her some years ago.

When I was ‘the sole dedicated comedy journalist in Australia’ – a description coined and used by comedians rather than one I devised and applied to myself – I was frequently called upon to promote Theatresports. In case you don’t know, Theatresports is essentially a series of games designed to keep actors’ improvisation muscles supple, and, ideally, should be a means to an end. However, for most Theatresports practitioners, it is an end unto itself, a kind of cult practiced by zealous fundamentalists. Every few months there is a new season with a few variations to make it different enough from the last season so as (they imagine) to be interesting to the innocent by-stander. However, by far the most exciting night for the not-so-devout is the annual ‘Celebrity Theatresports’ match, often involving genuinely famous-ish people who have never played Theatresport before, as well as people who used to play long before they were famous (and, more often than not, who can’t quite understand how they could have gotten roped into it again).

Having been asked to write a story to promote the Celebrity Theatresports match taking place May 12 2001, I cast my eye over the press release and made a simple demand: I’d write yet another story on Theatresports only on the condition that I choose the ‘celebrity’ to base the story around, and that it be Tara Moss.

I figured that I get to occupy the same rarefied atmosphere as curvaceous blonde models so infrequently that actually getting to talk to one was ample reward – particularly when writing for the sheer love it, rather than for money. (The article was for one of those free and thus exploitative ‘street’ publications that don’t pay contributors.) The publicist of this particular Theatresports event promised to check with Moss as to her availability. And within no time at all, Tara sent me an e-mail.

At the time I had a full-time publications job that, in addition to whatever other perks it offered, subsidised the writing I used to do for said free and exploitative ‘street’ publications. Thus, things like doing interviews, handing them in on time and so on were usually postponed so as to prevent them encroaching upon the day job. However, Tara Moss's e-mail informed me that she’d only be available for half an hour in two hours’ time because she had to spend the rest of her week finishing the final draft of her next novel. Clearly, there was no further discussion to enter into except “thank you; I’ll be the Allen Guinsburg-alike with the big beard and glasses”.

“Who is Allen Guinsburg?” Tara wanted to know in her next e-mail, seconds later. I so hope I wasn’t arrogant and condescending when I replied something like “Jewish beat poet who wrote Howl.” Yet, in hindsight, I can’t imagine that I behaved any different to the way Sam Seaborn behaves in that Season Two episode of The West Wing – the one in which the gorgeous blonde Republican, Ainsley Hayes, whom everyone has already dismissed on the strength of her looks and her job, proceeds to kick Sam’s butt all over the place on national television. In other words, typical ‘pride before the fall’ behaviour. “Oh, you mean Alan Ginsberg,” Tara’s next e-mail informed me. Despite the fact that Tara Moss is originally of Canadian extraction (and nowadays a naturalised Aussie!) whenever I remember that e-mail, I hear it in Ainsley Hayes’s ‘Valley Girl’ accent. I continue to remind myself, quite aptly, never, ever to judge a book by its cover.

In the couple of hours I had before the interview, I checked out Tara Moss’s homepage. A good thing, too. In addition to a photo gallery, it offered as samples of her work a couple of short stories – Psycho Magnet and Know Your ABCs – which meant that, in addition to going in somewhat less than utterly arrogant, I could go in somewhat less than utterly ignorant. Despite – or rather, irrespective of – being exceptionally beautiful, Tara Moss is a great writer. I’m happy to say I learnt some valuable lessons about myself, my prejudices and my fears, through the process of meeting and interviewing her. For the sake of balance, and because this article tends to draw accusations of ‘going in soft’, I will only add, three years later, as Tara Moss prepares to launch her books in various non English-speaking countries around the world, that she isn’t as talented a Theatresports player as she is a writer, model, MC, ambassador etc. And yet she approached it, as she does all her activities, with great gusto.

This story first appeared in Revolver in May 2001.

Facing the Fear

“I’m not afraid to make an ass of myself,” declares the rather gorgeous Tara Moss. “I’ve already moved beyond that idea of wanting to be perfect in front of people. It means nothing to me.”

The erstwhile model turned author, public speaker, light entertainment personality, MC, journalist and, most recently, celebrity Theatresports player, would have a hard time appearing as anything other than perfect before most people. That is perhaps why, when she first dared span the cross-cultural divide from catwalk to – well, virtually every other facet of the media – there was the danger of her being lumped in the same category as every soapie star who thinks it is high time to release a CD. What makes them think that they can just go ahead and do it? (See below for the answer.)

“Nobody believed I could write,” Tara admits. “They had no reason to because no-one had ever read my work.” That changed after Tara won first prize in the 1998 ‘Scarlet Stiletto Young Writer’s Competition’ with the story Psycho Magnet. Having loved “doing this thing called writing,” Tara explains that she was excited that “suddenly somebody else was acknowledging I might be good at it.” At the time, Moss was already three-quarters of the way through a novel. “I was writing it in my spare time, for me,” she says, “and no-one knew about it.” Before long five publishing houses were engaged in the bidding war that led to the 1999 publication of Fetish. It became a best seller. “This is dream-world stuff,” Tara confesses. “It just blew me out of the water.”

No surprises really, though. Prior to her modeling career, Tara was a prolific schoolgirl author. In addition to ‘novelettes’ written at age ten, Tara used to amuse classmates with horror stories inspired by Stephen King novels. Apparently, her friends looked forward to reading of their own “grizzly demise”. “They would suggest things,” Moss fondly recalls: “‘Run me over with the demonic car…’” This “childhood morbidity” still informs Moss’s writing; both Fetish and its soon-to-be-published sequel Split are serial killer whodunits that, as it happens, revolve around a supermodel psycho magnet. “It’s in our nature to want to get freaked out, to want to get scared by something,” Tara reasons. “I like to provide that through a novel.”

Moss did a staggering amount of research for Fetish: visiting the FBI Academy, reading case studies, interviewing police officers, and even befriending the world’s foremost forensic psychologist. “There are endless stories about what goes on,” she says. “Some of it is very disturbing, but some of it makes for compelling stories. I try to filter that into what I’m doing, both as a cautionary tale, and as an entertaining read.”

Moss also writes articles, having earned a Diploma in Journalism and joined various Writers’ Associations. “I find life fascinating,” she says, “and as a journalist you can go out and research life and write about it.” Tara’s other great love is public speaking, the “direct opposite” to writing. Working to a live audience, she says, is much more exhilarating than working to a moving camera. That she initially found the audience terrifying is precisely the reason why Tara pursued that vocation. “I wanted to conquer the fear,” she says.

Conquering fear is a constant theme in Moss’s work and she traces it back to her childhood. One of the books Tara loved as a child is Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are. “The important part about that book,” she explains, “is that the child befriended the monsters and then it was okay. First they were growling and scary, and the next thing you know he’s riding them around and having a great time.” Tara’s books are about “befriending darkness” and controlling it. “By putting it in my book, I control the ending. I give it a logic and I bring resolution.” For Tara it is important to “embrace the fear: Embrace it and learn to love it because then you become truly free.”

It is an interesting paradox that a person who has spent much of her life under bright lights and intense scrutiny should seek out darkness and fear in order to conquer it and hence be free. That she does so by writing stories and novels that, thus far, have featured main characters sharing her physical attributes and interests is an observation over which some other armchair (forensic) psychologist may ruminate. More important now is Moss’s involvement with Theatresports, for which she has undergone training both here and in Canada (place of origin of both Tara Moss and Theatresports). Thus far Tara has only performed in front of fellow students. However, her love of live audiences and her need to conquer fear has her primed for stage debut.

Having spent ten years being perceived “one-dimensionally on a page,” always having to be perfect to the point where any perceived blemish must be airbrushed out, Theatresports offers Tara the perfect antidote. “You’re out there, you’re naked, you’ve got nothing to go on,” she explains. “You’re just going ‘mold me, shape me, let’s have fun, tell me what we’re doing and I’ll get going.’ It’s fun and it’s freeing.” Although she takes life seriously, Tara’s approaches herself with a different attitude. “You’re just one little person on this planet for some brief little time, so just go out and enjoy it and have some fun.”

Postscript: The answer to ‘What makes them think that they can just go ahead and do it (release CDs, become authors, etc)?’ is irrelevant. A better question is ‘What makes you think you can’t?’ It’s easy. If you don’t believe me see for yourself when the likes of Tara Moss, Rove McManus, Peter Berner, Steve Bastoni, Adam Spencer, Wil Anderson and Julia Zemiro, to name but several, partake in Celebrity Theatresports at the Enmore Theatre, Saturday 12th May.

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