Tara West

YA paranormal/fantasy and New Adult author


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Self-Esteem Part III – Bullies

It all started when I learned to walk. Our next-door neighbor had a baby girl, Aimee, who was also my age. Our moms basically did everything together, from grocery shopping, to play-time, we practically lived at each other’s houses. Our big sisters were best friends. It only made sense that Aimee and I were friends as well. From toddler time to elementary school, Aimee and I were inseparable.

Aimee was also a bully. From a very young age, I learned to follow her orders. If she wanted me to do something, and I refused, she’d make me pay by pouting and screaming until I gave in. By the time my family moved, and I was assigned to a new school, I had already been conditioned to take other kids’ orders.

Not until freshman year in high school did I learn to stand up for myself. By this time, I had a new best friend, Heidi, who didn’t take crap from anyone. She was a good friend to have around, not just because we understood each other so well, but because when she was with me, nobody messed with me. Kinda pathetic, relying on someone else to fight my battles.

One day in Spanish class, another student did order me around in front of Heidi. We were working on an art project and a bully rudely told me to give her my pair of scissors. This was one of the tough kids, so rather than risk a confrontation, I handed her my scissors. Heidi snatched them back from her.

Completely ignoring the girl’s look of shock, Heidi said to me, “Don’t give her your scissors. She was being rude. When are you going to learn to stick up for yourself?”

The bully just sat in silence. So did I. She was probably intimidated by Heidi’s attitude. And me, I was embarrassed by Heidi’s attitude. Because Heidi was right. I did need to stick up for myself.

Later on in geography class, I didn’t have Heidi there to defend me when a girl named Dawn demanded I give her my extra pencil. I refused, telling her that since she was always rude to me, I wasn’t about to share. Her jaw dropped and she turned around. Everyone around us laughed at Dawn. I have to admit, it felt pretty awesome watching her turn ten shades of red.

Now that I’m an adult, I see how bullying takes many forms. As we age, we allow college professors, coworkers, and bosses to bully us, too. If kids allow bullies to taunt them in school, it won’t end there. It will just continue on into adulthood.

As a parent, I couldn’t let my kiddo go through the trauma that I suffered. Not every kid gets their own Heidi. They need to be taught how to defend themselves. She’s dealt with a few bullies so far this year, but my husband and I have already prepared her. Thankfully, she knows to stand up for herself. Unfortunately, not every kid is taught these life lessons.

But we as parents, brothers, sisters and friends need to do our part and help kids who are being bullied, not only do we need to teach them how to stand up for themselves, but we need to get school officials involved when necessary.

Heidi was the inspiration for AJ Dawson, one of the characters in my Whispers series. In SOPHIE’S SECRET, she teaches Sophie Sinora how to stand up for herself against a locker bully. In DON’T TELL MOTHER, AJ has to defend herself when her mother refuses to believe she has the power to see the future.

Heidi and I are still friends. She’s got four kids of her own now and teaches school. Her kids are lucky. I’m sure they’ve learned all about standing up for themselves from a great role model.

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I’m a McNally fantasy FAN GIRL!

Download your FREE copy of M. Edward McNally’s first book in The Norothian Cycle, The Sable City, on Kindle.

Free on iTunes, too!

A few months ago I reluctantly started reading a fantasy saga by M. Edward McNally. Reluctantly, because though I’d heard from so many readers that his books were awesome, I also heard they were a bit lengthy, as is any well-written fantasy where extensive world-building is required. Since my day job of designing book covers was taking up so much of my time, I barely had time to write my own books, let alone read. But I finally forced myself to make the time, and I was not disappointed.

After finishing all three of The Norothian Cycle novels, I am anxiously awaiting the fourth installment. In fact, if I may be so bold, without a doubt, M. Edward McNally’s books are the best fantasies I’ve ever read. In my opinion, they far surpass Rowling and Tolkien.

((Dodging wizard and hobbit turds!!))

I do not say this lightly, and I do not say this because M. Edward McNally is also my friend. I say this because it’s true. And though words cannot do justice to how strongly I feel about these books, I think the best way I can express myself is through art. And, so I present my very first fangirl art. Creating fan art is not something I do for comission. I will not take fan art requests. It is my way of giving back to an author who has thoroughly entertained and moved me in a rare way.

As a special treat for my blog readers, M. Edward McNally has also answered some of my FANGIRL questions! Squeee!!!

Matilda is my favorite character. She’s brave, clever and kicks ass! Click to enlarge.

TW: Your world-building is unlike any I’ve ever read. I love the little details from religion to culture. What’s amazing is that you’ve covered several different countries within this world. How long did it take you to come up with your civilization?

McNally: Heh. Well, this may be where I sound sort of psychotic, so if you want to go ahead and dial 9,1, and keep a finger above the phone, I’ll understand. 😉

Here’s the deal. Way Back-In-The-Day of the flannel-clad ‘90s, I was a grad student pursuing an English degree with a Creative Writing emphasis, with the goal of being a “professional” author. Having some shorts published in Midwestern lit journals, starting to shop around a bloated and pretentious “literary novel,” that sort of thing. At some point however, given that all my profs were professional, award-winning, agented authors with traditional deals, and they were all still teaching college full-time to make ends meet, I had to give serious thought to whether I was really just on the road to being a college prof, who wrote on the side. And given that after TAing a lot of writing courses I had come to believe that writing really can’t be “taught,” I knew I didn’t want to try and teach it for the rest of my life. So I finished that degree, but then switched to the History department (figuring I could at least teach that with a clearer conscience), and I quit writing fiction for almost ten years.

Baaaddd boy, John. Love his enchanting green eyes? That’s all I’ll say about him without ruining the saga. Just read!!!

Now, the thing about creative juices is if you try to throw a dam across them, they go to weird places. While I wasn’t writing, but was instead working in the history field, my main hobby became a scholarly, uber-nerdy exercise that amounted to building a whole world in my head and in a giant stack of notebooks, from scratch. It was sort of like a version of the computer game Civilization I played in my brain, in that I didn’t just make a map and start filling it with peoples and places and things. I made a map, and started filling it out with primitive tribes, then imagined or played out centuries of history as the groups evolved, interacted, made war and peace, took to the oceans, created their own places, etc., etc. And because I had been quite the D&D/Tolkien nerd in my youth, I didn’t just “play” with humans, but used a lot of the archetypal fantasy elements like orcs and elves and dragons, and of course, magic. My historical work, when I was doing that, was focused on Religious and Cultural Identity (mostly in Russia and the Balkan states) so those sorts of issues influenced the inventing or “playing through” of my own history, which was in turn informed by “real world Central Asian, Slavic, Middle Eastern, and even Polynesian cultures, as much as it was by the European motifs out of which most classic “Fantasy” is built.

So, yeah. The short answer is “about ten years.” And I never thought it would be the setting for stories, until some characters living in my head started insisting that it was. 😉

TW: Tilda, Zeb, Rhianne, John and Phin. Where did you get the inspiration for their characters? Do you actually know people like them?

McNally: Sweet, I can continue with long, droning answers. 😉

Tilda, aka Matilda Lanai of Miilark, was really my inspiration in a lot of ways. After the above mentioned decade or so, I had this meticulously constructed fantasy world, at an early-gunpowder/Age of Sail historical period, but there wasn’t exactly anything I could do with it.

And then, totally inexplicably, I just got an image in my head of a young woman in a vast field of steppe grass stretching to every horizon, slowly approaching a wounded warhorse, holding an apple in her hand.

I started writing fiction again because I had to find out who she was and what she was doing. Now I’m four books in, and I’m still finding out more about her every day. J

As to the specifics of character for Tilda, Zeb, Rhianne, John, Phin…Uriako Shikashe the samurai or Miss Horn the Minotaur, like every character in fiction they are some mixture of me, everybody I know, who I wish I could be, and who I wish other people were. 😉

TW: If you could live the life of any one character in your books, who would it be and why? I’d love to be Tilda because she is brave, clever and kicks ass.

McNally: I’d love to be as adventurous as Tilda too, to be able to change the whole path of her life on a dime…hmm. Now that I think about it, that is sort of what I did. Otherwise I’d be giving a lecture on Bulgarian History somewhere. 😉

Here’s an odd thing I’ve discovered. The “casual friend” sort of people who’ve read the books insist that Zeb is a stand in for me, in that he’s sort of an affable, well-meaning wisenheimer. With a bad haircut. People who know me a little better say Claudja Perforce reminds them of me, in that while she acts friendly, warm, and caring, it’s usually because she’s thinking two or three steps ahead, with a goal in mind. I’m not sure I’m wholly comfortable with either analogy, but there you go. 😉

TW: How many more Norothian Cycle books can we expect from you?

McNally: I’ve always been hesitant to say, as I’m a total “pantser” while writing, and I feel like saying a certain number might either force me to drag things out, which is the last thing I’d want to do, or else make me stop with more story to tell, which would be almost as bad.

That being said, I think it is a nine book series. Though as the epilogue of Book I hints, it may be up to the children of the main characters in the early books to see things through at the end. Sometimes a daughter had to finish her parents’ work. 😉

TW: NINE BOOKS! Happy FANGIRL dance!!! I think these books are better than any fantasy I’ve ever read, even Tolkien. What say you to that?

 McNally: I say if word gets out, people dressed as hobbits will be burning me in effigy. 😉

Seriously though, love Tolkien or hate him, find some of his prose dated or whatever, everybody has to acknowledge he fundamentally built the Fantasy genre as it is today, and everything else is different than his stuff only by a matter of degree. To be mentioned in the same sentence with JRR is wholly ri-donkulous. 😉

TW: When these books are made into blockbuster movies, will you still be my friend?

McNally: Absolutely. Just call my social secretary, and he’ll pencil you in. We’ll do lunch, week from Tuesday at Spago. 😉

Download M. Edward McNally’s first book in The Norothian Cycle, The Sable City for FREE, on Kindle!

Free on iTunes, too!

** Stock art from istock.com and dreamstime.com.

***The Norothian Cycle logo was taken from Ed’s book covers, created by Jack Wallen.


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Self-esteem part II – Your differences are what make you beautiful

I’ve never thought idol worship was healthy for young girls. That’s why when the Hanna Montana craze spread throughout the country, I discouraged my daughter from following the millions of other young girls.

Why?

Because I think a girl needs to focus on feeling good about herself as an individual, not try to follow in the footsteps of another. 

Why do you want to wear a Hanna wig and pretend to be her when you can take pride in being yourself?

Recently, though, Miley Cyrus did something that I think is worth admiration. She shared with the public that she has food intolerances, the same intolerances my daughter has.

My little girl was actually happy to learn that a Hollywood celebrity has the same dietary restrictions as her. And though I think girls should take pride in what separates them from others, every once in a while, a girl likes to feel like she belongs.

It’s hard for my daughter sometimes when the class has a pizza party or the kids’ parents bring in cupcakes and she can’t eat what they’re eating. Although, I think it gives her some perspective. Now she understands why the kid in the wheelchair feels left out when the other kids are on the swings.

In this country, we place so much emphasis on eating as part of reward and celebration. We equate good food with good behavior and success. Often times, teachers and other parents don’t take into consideration how the kid with food intolerances will feel when he/she is left out of the celebration. Many parents end up leaving my daughter off the Birthday party invites because it’s easier to not invite her than to accommodate her.

This is why kids with disabilities or restrictions, physical, emotional or mental, can feel so isolated and depressed. Though I tell my daughter she is unique and special, sometimes she would rather be like everyone else.

Her dietary issues are just one example of the many challenges kids face today. Sadly, young girls are bombarded with ads about body image at an early age. It’s so easy for a young girl to feel isolated or depressed because she thinks her breasts are too small or her nose is too big. It’s so easy for her to overlook the fact that nobody is perfect. Nobody. And those Hollywood celebs they idolize are most-likely air-brushed and professionally styled.

I tell my daughter to focus on what makes her special. Though she’s not at the age yet where body image is a big deal, I know it won’t be long. By then, I’m hoping she will have the inner strength to realize that her differences are what make her beautiful.