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June 19, 2018

Rutherford County Schools

Growing up in Murfreesboro, M. Tara Crowl could be described as curious.

That curiosity led the 2004 graduate of Blackman High School to Los Angeles, where she majored in cinematic arts at the University of Southern California and then briefly worked in the entertainment industry, before graduate school in Australia.

She earned a master of arts degree, met her future husband, and after a year Down Under, relocated to New York City.

Crowl has since written two middle grade books — “Eden’s Wish” and “Eden’s Escape” — and started work on a young adult novel.

But her curiosity was recently piqued when she was chosen by Steve Madden to participate in his new Self Made campaign.

Madden is self-made entrepreneur who, in 1990, according to his bio, developed one of the most iconic brands of footwear with only a $1,000 investment. With an unparalleled drive, he transformed his authentic brand of shoes into a multi-billion-dollar company.

He is the self-described definition of Self Made.

He shared the details of his own personal journey in a Netflix documentary, “Maddman: The Steve Madden Story,” and now he and his team have created a social media campaign, Self Made, in an effort to share the stories of others.

“The men and women of Self Made have proven their entrepreneurship – just like Steve himself – through ambition, fearlessness and relentless dedication. By celebrating these self-starters, we hope to inspire you to believe in yourself and be Self Made,” according to an online description of the campaign.

Being an author is isolating, so Crowl said it has been an “enjoyable change” of pace interacting with a collection of young professionals who all come from various backgrounds. There’s a startup founder and a personal trainer along with partners in a private jet company and a Miami nightclub as well as the owner of a swimwear company.

Crowl’s husband and his business partner, Henry Roberts and Giles Russell, were part of the program as well. They own a pair of restaurants, Two Hands NYC, in Manhattan.

“I see that industry a little bit,” Crowl said, “but lots of other things, I don’t ever really get to meet people.”

Not a bad turn-of-events for someone who never even thought about moving to New York until her curiosity led her to “try something new.”

Even writing had been mistakenly dismissed as unrealistic.

“I wanted to write books when I was a kid,” concluded Crowl, whose journey from her hometown and Los Angeles to Australia and back to New York led her to realize “that deep down it’s still what I wanted to do.”

The day after the Madden hosted a roundtable event with all the entrepreneurs, Crowl spoke with Rutherford County Schools about her experience.

Keith Ryan Cartwright: You recently met with Steve Madden and the other participants of his Self Made program.

Tara Crowl: We (had) a roundtable (discussion) at a restaurant in midtown with all the entrepreneurs who were participating in the program and Steve came.

There was a moderator who introduced us and we all went around and gave a little bit of information about ourselves and what we do. It was interesting because there was such a variety of people doing different things. It was cool because I don’t really have the opportunity that often to be with people who work in so many different fields but are all kind of doing their own thing.

Tell us about what the Self Made program is.

Steve started his (shoe) company 27 years ago with $1,100 dollars selling shoes from the trunk of his car, so he’s inspired by his own entrepreneurial roots and those who take similar, exciting risks to develop their own businesses. Now he’s created this program to tell the stories of people who are self-starters and entrepreneurs. That’s what this program is. They select certain people and they tell our stories.

And so you were selected as bestselling young adult author.

It was a little interesting because when I think about what I do I don’t necessarily think of myself as an entrepreneur, but when I think about it, I am taking risks and creating, forging my own path and building my own career and, to some extent, it is about building my brand. I realized it is the same thing.

When everyone participated in the roundtable, did you learn something from a particular story that you felt you could apply to your own career?

Yeah. A lot of people talked about the importance of authenticity. It came up during a conversation about social media, but then it kept coming up. We were also talking about how balance your desire to follow trends and give people what they want, but also be true to yourself and create product that feels true to and is the most excellent thing you can produce. That’s pretty obvious from my perspective, in writing, because I think in order to resound at all it has to feel really true to you as the author. It was cool for me to hear that coming from people who are working in so many different areas — like from Steve Madden, who is a designer and runs this company, and hearing it from someone who has created an urban dance league and someone who is a drummer and all these different people talked about how authenticity is so important.

Isn’t it fascinating to think where books can take people, and in your case, an opportunity for an author to share and experience in the stories of other entrepreneurs in New York City?

Books can kind of take on a life of their own — you kind of don’t know what it’s going to end up or where you are going to end up with it.

Are you currently working on your third book?

Yes but not in the same series. Those books [“Eden’s Wish” and “Eden’s Escape”] are middle grade, which is like ages 8 to 14, but right now I’m working on a young adult (book), which is high school-aged.

You first thought about being a writer while you were still in Murfreesboro, but you did not think it was realistic, so what one piece of advice would you give students who are thinking to themselves, ‘I want to be a writer.”

I would tell them to write and just write as much as they can. Every bit of it is practice and practice is what you need to become a good writer. It’s not just about having the skills. So much of committing yourself to it and practicing it and getting better and better at it, so I would tell them to write about everything — write about their lives, write about their families and their friends and all the things around them. Right now those things might seem very exciting to them, but eventually they’ll realize how special and how unique those things are. That’s what makes a good writer, is when they have that core of knowing who they are and also having the ability to write about it.