Month: April 2017

An Interview With Writer J.J. Hemmestad




J.J. Hemmestad is the author of Visions of a Dream; here is a link to her website:


Q: What is Visions of a Dream about?

A: My story begins after Alexander the Great is king and as he takes his army to conquer the Persian King Darius III in Asia Minor in order to liberate the people from his oppressive rule.While there, he begins a spiritual journey that takes him through the universe of his mind, and answers as well as questions are revealed to him through his closest, most intense relationships (one with his closest officer Hephastion, and one with a Persian girl named Baphomet, who is fictional). He was inclusive of all people, and immersed himself in each culture he liberated, dressing like them, worshiping their god in their temples, and allowing them the freedom to retain their beliefs. He believed that each religion ultimately worshiped the same god. The end rift with his Army came when they insisted on spreading the Macedonian/Greek culture and were offended that he adapted to other cultures; and they mutinied.


Q: What made you interested in Alexander the Great?

A: I watched an A&E Biography about Alexander in the 90’s and I found his perseverance and persistence so familiar that I began to research him (especially through Arrian). In one of his battles he was hacked on the head with a cleaver that split his helmet in two, but he persisted.


Q: What made you start writing in the first place?

A: Writing was and is therapy for me. In 1990 (I was 19) my car was hit by a city bus – I sustained a severe brain injury, was in a coma, paralyzed, and the doctors thought that I would never recover. Within months I was walking again though and my husband and I eventually had seven kids (when the doctors told us we wouldn’t be able to). Reading was especially hard for me to learn again. In addition to my injuries I had severe PTSD and writing helped me cope. I used to have several stories going at one time, but my Alexander the Great story was the one I gained the most from. After my TBI I was essentially personality-less and the traits that I admired in someone I found myself adapting, which was the case with Alexander.

Q: What kind of day job or income source do you have and how does it influence your writing?

A: I’m a mother of seven kids, so I had to write through any turmoil and amount of noise. I learned to have intense focus, which was also something that was not supposed to have been possible with my severe brain injury. Sometimes I got up very early in the morning to write, too. Now three of my kids are adults and I only have four at home and I have a good routine I stick with. I’m also on disability due to my brain injury and my husband works full time.


Q: Who are some of your favorite characters from literature?

A: My ultimate favorite characters are Heathcliff and Catherine from Wuthering Heights because they have to fight through so much and though their love gets warped in the end, it extends beyond death. I also love Frankenstein by Mary Shelley because people freak out so much when they see the creature and he’s banished, which is therapeutic to read because I felt very much like that after my accident.


Q: What have you done to promote your book?

A: I’ve hired a publicist, who has gotten many interviews; it’s a new thing for me but I’m very glad I did it. I was interviewed last year by a newspaper for my novella, Truth be Told, and I found that publicity is the most effective tool to gain readers.


Q: What made you chose Turtle Shell Publishing?

A: I spent 20 years writing, but only a few years trying to get published (split into different time periods), and I often felt belittled or taken advantage of by the publishing world. I knew I wanted to have a small publishing home which was run by a woman, which is exactly what I found with Turtle Shell Publishing. I can also talk to her about how exactly I would like my books to appear and my oldest son Bradley Hemmestad has the freedom to create the cover art for my books (Truth be Told was also published through Turtle Shell, formally Faith by Grace Publishing).


Q: What makes your writing style unique?

A: I write what I feel, from my heart, and I write in the sense of the story that I’m telling, so my writing styles shift because I want to be faithful to the characters and the story itself.


Q: What is the oddest piece of advice anyone has given you about writing?

A: No one has ever really given me advice because I’ve been writing on my own, not connected to people who may otherwise advise me. But I’ve taken many writing courses through the Iowa Writer’s Workshop (I’ve earned a BLS from The University of Iowa and am currently working on my Master’s Degree in Literature through Northern Arizona University), and what I’ve learned about writing has been invaluable.


Q:  If Alexander The Great could meet Donald Trump, what advice do you think he would give him?

A: Great question! I think Alexander would give the advice that he lived himself, which is that sincere, pure interest in a culture other than your own overcomes any fear of that culture. Also, he would advise Trump to think less about his pride and how favorably he’s seen as a leader and find his center (the source of his inspiration), and let that be his guide. Alexander knew his spiritual core and was willing to learn even greater wisdom than what he thought he had. He was never stagnant in his beliefs, but he was always evolving.


Please note; Eliza’s interviews are done by email. All answers are unedited and come right from the lovely fingertips of her subjects.


An Interview With Saxophonist Kyle Cripps



Kyle Cripps is a New Orleans based saxophone player for the bands One Love Brass Band Smoke and Bones; here is a link to One Love’s website:

Q: What made you want to be a musician in the first place?



A: Though most of my family is not music-oriented, my mother was a painter and an art teacher and always encouraged having music and art in the house. My sister was a few years older than me and had already started playing flute and we had a keyboard in the house that I’d mess around on, so when I was finally old enough I was able to join the school band.

I had a knack for playing pretty quickly and was one of the top players in school. After a few years I also learned that I had perfect pitch, which I more or less took as a sign that I should maybe try and pursue a life doing music. By high school I was spending less and less time on other subjects and more and more time playing. Around this time I started to write a lot of original music, and would hurriedly get home from school and hole up in my room all night to do so, often at the expense of my actual school work.

I had some teaching experience before I got to college but my dream was always to perform so when I got to college I knew that was the route I had to go. I was definitely tempted to take the “safer” education route but my roommate was an education major and that life seemed totally unappealing to me (earlier hours, more emphasis on classical music, more work away from the instrument).

The short answer is that it was the first thing I noticed I had a natural talent for. I was very involved in athletics and had an athletic body but my natural skills were not quite as obvious as they were for music, so it just kinda made sense for me to try and take it as far as I could. Having a mother who pursued a career in painting helped, and she always assured me she’d support me going that route. It’s something I know is not a common thing for a parent and I was very lucky in that regard. She was also the one making sure I practiced every day on the few days where I didn’t really feel like playing.





Q: What made you chose the sax?


A: The summer before 4th grade my school had a day where perspective music students could come try all the instruments to see what they liked. I had already started falling in love with 90s rock and hip hop and wanted badly to play drum set but unfortunately my parents were against the loud drums in the house and when the music teacher at school informed me I’d have years of learning timpani and snare and xylophone before ever getting behind a drum set I started looking at other options.

The saxophone ended up being my first choice simply because it was the easiest instrument to get a note out of that day. I don’t necessarily chalk that up to natural ability, as I still find sax to be the easiest of the winds to play at first, but it was definitely a match from the very first moment.


Q:  What gave you the idea for a brass/reggae fusion band?



A: I grew up at the beach in New Jersey and had always loved hearing Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, and the 90s stuff I had mentioned, Sublime, Reel Big Fish, etc. and had always wanted to be in a band like that. At the time, I had been living in New Orleans for about 3 years and was looking to start a new project of my own. New Orleans is chock full of brass bands but I had been trying to find something a little different.

One night I was hanging with some friends and got re-introduced to the Skatalites. I had been familiar with them but this particular night was inspiring for some reason and I decided it might be fun to set up some sort of instrumental ska outfit but still being kinda new in town I didn’t know too many people interested in that style, especially on drums. A few months later I ran into my drummer friend Boyanna and mentioned all this to her only to learn that she had coincidentally been trying to put together a similar concept but in the style of a traditional New Orleans brass band. Another few months later we had assembled a crew of people to try out some ideas. Though the relationship between Caribbean and New Orleans rhythms seemed like a natural fit together (there are a lot of stories about how ska originated because Jamaicans could pick up New Orleans radio stations from Jamaica), it was a pretty unique concept and there were a lot of details to be ironed out, so the band didn’t play our first gig until about a year later. We’ve had several personnel changes and our sound has greatly evolved since then but that was the original idea.



Q: What was your criteria for choosing band members?



A: At first we were simply looking for people who were available enough to come and just try out some ideas without the intention of actually doing any immediate gigs. This was harder than it might seem, most musicians here are gigging regularly and expect when they come to rehearse it will be rehearsing for a specific gig, not just “jamming” and seeing what sticks. That’s rare for real pros.

After the band got off the ground, we realized we had to find the right personalities to fit together, which was actually even harder. We have some complex arrangements which require at least some ability to read sheet music, and that’s not a skill most players here have. I’ve also made it a point to ask everyone that came to try it out whether or not they actually liked ska and reggae before playing with us, as it is a unique style and if you approach it like it’s a jazz or funk band it won’t sound right IMO.

Another big thing for me is actually being friends with everyone in the band. I’ve been in lots of bands that are together just to make money and never hang out other than when we’re on the gig together and to me, it can be very obvious. This doesn’t always effect the music negatively but I always appreciate a band that actually looks like they are having a ton of fun on stage and I’ve tried to cultivate that with every group I play with.



Q: What kind of day jobs have you had and how did they influence your music?



A:  I haven’t actually had a non-music day job since I left Philadelphia in 2008. I taught music at a school down here when I first moved but got out of that around 2011, so I’ve been purely freelancing for about 6 years.

The last few years I lived up north I had a few interesting jobs but I was still in undergrad so it was pretty much relegated to the summers. I had a pretty consistent job at a game and hobby store that I had started working for in high school. It was a family-run business operated by some amazing people and they worked with me a ton to make sure I could do gigs around my hours at the store. This was one of my first real jobs and since we were dealing with toys and games and most of our customers were kids, it really hit home to me how to always have fun with what you’re doing. I think that’s influenced how I make music now; fun is a big big priority for me when picking gigs and who to play with.

Later, I cooked burgers and cheesesteaks for a few summers, worked very briefly serving and had just one shift as a bartender. I didn’t enjoy it and wasn’t very good at it so I quickly decided it was something I’d prefer to stay away from. I kind of randomly fell into my last non-music job the last year I lived in Philly, working as a customer service rep for a video distribution company. Only after I arrived for my first day did I learn that company primarily dealt in adult movies.

It was a fascinating job; most of my coworkers were involved in some creative endeavor (writers, artists, one other musician) and were super diverse. The customers ranged from incredibly sweet (because I was hooking them up with porn) to incredibly rude and/or stupid and I have several insane customer stories. This company also worked really well with me to allow me to get to my gigs on time and everything.

I guess the main thing from those jobs that affect my music now is knowing that lifestyle, and remembering to look back on it the next time I feel like I’m on a gig that I don’t enjoy so much or is maybe less glamorous than I’d like it to be. At the end of the day I’d rather be on a terrible gig than back in that office or behind a hot grill all day, or even teaching little kids the notes on the piano.


Q: What makes Smoke and Bones unique?



A: Smoke n Bones is definitely unique to the New Orleans area because of the style we play. I wouldn’t necessarily say the style of our music is unique, we play mostly R&B and soul kinda stuff, but there aren’t many bands here doing it quite the way we do it. Most R&B kinda bands here aren’t as vocal-driven, usually only having one, maybe two vocalists and the band is there for solos and that kinda stuff. We use four vocalists and I even use a vocoder on certain songs. The emphasis is on stronger songs themselves without the need for long winding solos.


Q: Who are some of your musical influences and how can we hear it in your music?




A: Originally my influences were more rock oriented, Nirvana, Green Day, Weezer, Sonic Youth, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden. As I got older I gained more of an interest in jazz, mostly saxophonists, John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins, Wayne Shorter, especially Eddie Harris (more on him shortly), Thelonius Monk, Miles Davis, Charles Mingus, Herbie Hancock. Also a lot of reggae, Marley and Tosh, but also Desmond Dekker, Eek-A-Mouse, The Ethiopians, The Melodians, Mighty Diamonds, Toots & The Maytals, Sublime. Once I got to college in the city I was exposed to a lot more experimental styles, a lot of free jazz, Alice Coltrane, Pharaoh Sanders, John Zorn, and really started to learn more about 70s funk and R&B, James Brown, Earth Wind and Fire, Funkadelic, Curtis Mayfield, Marvin Gaye, Jimmy Smith, Sly Stone, Ray Charles. These were increasingly becoming my strongest influences but music in Philadelphia is not so heavy on funk and R&B (at least most of my peers weren’t interested in doing any of that) so I felt like an outsider and it was hard to create music in that vein.

My influences after moving to New Orleans are probably most present in my playing now, obviously the music here is front and center no matter if you like it or not. The Meters, Dr John, Galactic, Chocolate Milk, James Booker, and also others from out of town but related, Shuggie Otis, Soulive, Ohio Players, D’Angelo, Erykah Badu. These all heavily influence my keyboard playing more than anything.

Eddie Harris is probably my biggest overall influence, he played several instruments, mainly sax and piano and recorded many many albums in a wide variety of styles. He also wrote several music exercise/etude books I worked a lot out of. He started with mostly straight-ahead jazz but evolved into some more pop stuff, then went off into funk and R&B, even getting into some spacey free-jazz at times. He is also notable for being a pioneer of the electrified saxophone, which enabled him to use effects pedals to alter the sound of his horn. This is something I’ve tried to incorporate into my sax playing for years now, but it’s difficult to set up and not always necessary. I’ve been lucky, my bandmates in Smoke n Bones have more or less given me full reign to be as expressive as I want in that regard.


Q: What is the most challenging thing about promoting your music?



A:  There are several challenging things about promoting my music here. Primarily it is that I have very little real training on that side of things. I had a couple of business classes in college but they were either poorly taught or had them for too short a time to get too good at any specific aspect. I’ve really had to learn on the fly the little bit that I do know.

Another problem specific to New Orleans is that it’s such a self-contained place that many bands don’t feel the need to expand outside of the local clubs because the pay can be relatively good (compared to other cities) and everyone in the band is almost certainly in at least one other band. We all spread ourselves a little thin to pay the bills and can only devote so much time to one project musically, let alone on the promotion side.

The clubs themselves also have a built-in tourist audience nearly all the time and while it can be nice to make money primarily that way, it’s much harder to actually create fans that will come back and see subsequent shows (we’re mostly playing to people who A. have likely been drinking and are prone to forgetting or B. are only in town for a few days and will likely never see us again or C. are only in the club because a lot of clubs don’t charge cover and there’s a crowd). I try not to book One Love Brass Band in certain clubs because we’d only play to tourists and we’re at the stage where we really need actual fans that will come back to see us again and buy our CD. There’s definitely value to doing those clubs (getting the band tighter, putting even some money in our pockets, increasing our visibility) but with that band I think we get more value out of playing different spots and actually gaining fans.

New Orleans is also kind of in its own world, the nearest major city is at least 5-6 hours away, so touring can be especially more expensive.

Another thing is that my two primary original bands play styles that aren’t so prevalent here. Most of the major publications/festivals in the area really try to promote music that is primarily New Orleans-influenced and as such it’s hard to break through if you’re doing something different.

All of these things make it really tough to promote a band here. Using the internet has become more and more valuable in this regard though.


Q: What is your strangest performance story?


A: I have a few really strange performance stories but my favorite one is probably when I played with a brass band by the pool for an out of town swingers meet up. This group was about 50-60 swingers who rented out a giant mansion in the treme with a massive pool and hired a brass band for their orgy party. We needed a password to get in to the house, and once we entered mostly everyone was naked/having sex and consuming all kinds of substances. I played in just my brass band hat and my undies and did my best not to fall in the pool with my sax. We weren’t allowed to take pictures but they had their own private photographer there; I never found out their contact info and I greatly regret it because I’m sure there’s a few amazing shots of me in there.


Q: If you could create your own music festival, comprised entirely of local New Orleans bands, who would you include and why?



A:  New Orleans is a town that hosts a ton of festivals, so it’s really difficult to imagine something different than what already occurs and I’m going to cheat a little on this question. In April we have French Quarter Festival, which is heavy on local acts, and the Jazz & Heritage Festival, which strangely enough is not nearly as heavy on local acts. If it were up to me I would have more jam-oriented acts (Medeski Martin & Wood, Soulive, The Meters, Chocolate Milk, Skerik, Les Claypool, Trombone Shorty, Jon Cleary, Charlie Hunter, Nth Power) but force the bands swap members on a rotating basis. We already do this quite a bit during the week between Jazz Fest weekends (it’s two weekends long) but I’d maybe try to do it in one giant venue with several rooms (I’m not sure a venue that size exists here). A lot of clubs here will host mash-up events with some absolute giants who rarely play together getting thrown into something and they often just wing it. The results aren’t always as good as a super tight band but some of my fondest memories here are seeing random people thrown together during jazzfest week making magic happen.


Please note; Eliza’s interviews are done by email. All answers are unedited and come right from the lovely fingertips of her subjects.

An Interview With Actress Tenesha Lang






Tenesha Lang is an actress who appears in the film Wrong Package; here is a link to her reel:



 Q: What made you interested in acting?


A: Watching ANTM tv show .. The episode of them acting out scenes with Taye Diggs Lol a funny episode by the way.. also watching Eva Pigford .How she went from becoming a model to an Actor , she was seen on many TV shows such as House of Paynes, her own modelling show, and films . And after seeing that I knew that’s what I wanted to do.. oh and YaYA Dacosta she also is another actor and model whose career changed justs from being on that show .. so they both inspired me to go on out there and try , you can only get a yes or no . And when I stepped my foot out there, I booked a stage play being the leading Actress a film called OverPass being the leading Actress. A tv show Windy City live dancing with DLOW, modelling opportunites . And so much more To greatful and blessed.


Q: What Famous role would you most like to attempt and why?


A: The famous role would be is speaking role on Chicago PD, Or Empire, And Tyler perry shows .. it seems to get you on your way in life .. after booking a role . I feel that you made it .. your in the system and justs wait by your phone to get more calls for shows


Q: What kind of day job do you have and how does it influence your work?


A: I am currently working for homecare and betweentimes I might be on set working as a police officer in chicago PD. And I also might be doing hair , or resumes and also demo Reels it influence me more .. because I get more opportunities to see when and where there’s a downfall .. and if you stay with a hustle there’s no need to look back


Q: What is Wrong Package about?


A: a guy name Ethan who orders a package on a late night tv show and he thinks that it is going to change is life .. But he learns that when life sends you the wrong package you have to make the bests of it

Q: How did you get involved with the project?


A:  I saw an ad in Craigslist looking for Actors . And submitted my information and got booked .. and added friends on Facebook ..


Q: What role did you play?

A: I was a Extra playing in two scenes

I did the phone operator in a business officer and the club goer scene


Q: What does Chicago have to offer aspiring actors that other cities do not?


A: Opportunities to find ways of getting better at it , and also to pursue your dreams


Q: To what method of acting do you ascribe?


A: Acting classes and to learn as much as possible on making justs a piece a paper with lines coming to life . Justs on becoming that character and making it believeable


Q: What is the oldest role for which you have auditioned?



A: The oddest role was the character Pamela from the stage play “When love Exists” I was a loving Wife he loves her husband . Had her own furniture company businesss and strayed away from God and dislikes her mother .. I played a scene when I was called out my name .. and I also got choked lol it was a very hard scene to do .. and I had to think twice on that role before I accepted it


Q: What makes you watchable?


A: I’m funny, outgoing , spontaneous , sexy , cute , diva , model and actor, in fun and I give people that energy to live a little it’s okay. I also influence others to see that it’s not that hard to go after your dreams and become your dream




Please note; Eliza’s interviews are done by email. All answers are unedited and come right from the lovely fingertips of her subjects.

An Interview With Actor Ashutosh Sharma

AshutoshSharma1 (1)


(This interview was originally posted on

Ashutosh Sharma is an actor who appears in the film Chased; here is a link to his YouTube page:




Q: How did you get your first acting job?


A: I got my first acting job from Craigslist. I was studying in Long Beach State University doing my Masters in Computer Science. I went to Universal Studios, Hollywood once and realized how close I am to the entertainment capital of the world. I had to explore the industry Los Angeles is known for. Now I needed some place to start, after some research I found that Craigslist would be the easiest approach. Applied to some ads and got a role in the commercial for Hyde hotels. The commercial didn’t got aired, but it gave me the confidence I needed to start in the industry.


Q:  What is “Chased” about?


A: Chased is a story of guy hiking in the mountains. While taking some rest he heard a gunshot. Curious, he went on to check out the situation and finds a dead person surrounded by men with guns and badges. There is another guy kneeling down on the ground, muffled, he was going to be the next target. The hiker takes out his phone to get a video, his alarm rings giving out his location and making him another target. The hiker runs for his life for now he is being hunted, he is being “Chased”. The story is all about weather he survived, if yes how? if not, what happened?


Q: What role do you play?


A: I played “The Hiker”. The role required someone innocent. Someone the audience would love to be connected and pray for the survival. I can not explain the role in more detail without a spoiler. The role required various emotions and believability. It was my first short film and I was so glad to have landed this role.



Q: What was the most challenging thing about the role?


A: The most challenging thing as an actor was the character itself. As an actor I knew the whole story and the character arc/development. There are two phases in the role with drastic contrast. I couldn’t afford let one phase overshadow or amalgamate the other. They both had to be strong and different in their own way and required a switch. Moreover, we only had a day and half for the whole shoot (including preparations).


Q: What kind of day job or income source do you have and how does it influence you as an artist?


A: I am a Scientist. I work for a company in Culver City. Very flexible with time, I can decide my own schedule for the day. The job makes me financially independent and allows me to work for the art and not for the money. It’s a huge advantage as I am free to say no to projects I don’t like even if they are paid and say yes to projects that I like, even if they are not paid. This independence let’s me explore and experiment with my personality type on screen and understand where I suit the most.


Q: What is the strangest thing any acting teacher has ever told you?


A: “Acting is a business, you have to be it’s CEO. Doesn’t matters if you are the most talented actor in the world.” This concept was very strange when I started in the industry but now it’s very obvious and clear to me as I grow as an actor.


Q: What do you do if you have had a great day and you have to play a scene in which you are unhappy or angry?


A: This is very common in acting. As an actor you train yourself to feel different emotions. To remember all the life experiences that you can utilize to deliver a single line. I think it’s easy to be angry or upset on camera even though you had a wonderful day. However, the opposite is very difficult. It’s not human nature to show true happiness while you are upset or distracted about something. The acting is in the actor’s eyes. That shine in the eyes when you are happy is very tough to duplicate when you are very upset about something. This is where training comes in effect. You learn to cultivate and relive the happy moments of your life and experience that on camera while you perform.


Q: What kinds of characters are the easiest for you to play?


A: I have noticed that I am natural with Sophisticated, learned roles like a doctor or a rich, stubborn businessman. Negative roles comes easy to me where I am condescending, dominating and all powerful. In contrast and I wonder why, I am also good with romantic roles. I guess it’s mostly in my smile and my everyday behavior. Lastly I can do situational comedies.



Q: What famous role could you have nailed?


A: Norman Bates (Psycho)

Tony Stark (Iron Man)

Ethan Hunt (Mission Impossible)

Hans Landa (Inglorious Bastards)


Q: Who will you thank in your Oscar speech?


A: Wow, this question is so beautiful I feel the urge to just go out act and find something that will take me to the Oscars. I think i will have to decide that based that phase of my life. I still have a lot to do to be there and I am pretty sure that I will come across people during the journey who will mark their presence in the Thank you List. For now I think it would be my parents who never stopped me from following my dreams and my best friend who gives me the feedbacks after my every performance, even the auditions.


Please note; Eliza’s interviews are done by email. All answers are unedited and come right from the lovely fingertips of her subjects.

An Interview With Writer Todd Tavolazzi

Todd Head Shot

Todd Tavolazzi is the author of, Looking Into the Sun; here is a link to his Amazon page:

Q:  What is Looking Into the Sun about?

A: It is a novel that follows a freelance war reporter and a young Hollywood movie star, researching his next role, into Syria to rescue Syrian children from a besieged Syrian town.

Q:  What is your personal connection to the story?

A: As a military strategic planner, I was tasked with studying the Syrian conflict in 2013. Through open source reporting, both print and video, I found that there was much more going on there than was being reported in the mainstream media. One of the reasons was that the Syrian government had kicked out all of the journalists. But there were still a small group of dedicated journalists, both amateur and professional, who would smuggle themselves across the border of Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey into Syria to report on what was going on.

I saw video reporting from brave reporters from many news agencies, but several from Vice News were harrowing and compelling. They showed a snapshot in a 15-20 minute blocks of what civilians were enduring inside Syria. The biggest shock I discovered was the atrocities not only against civilians, but against children. There were heartbreaking videos of wounded and dying children – suffering every day from the conflict.

I had two small children at home at the time and it made me angry that this sort of situation was not given more global attention. So, I decided that I would formulate a story based on the things I had discovered from those brave journalists and use the story as a vehicle to raise awareness and hopefully funds for charity organizations to help Syrian children.

Q: What makes Angus Conn worth reading about?

A: I created the Angus Conn character from a few different journalist personalities, both men and women, who have a deep connection with the region and are professional war correspondents. The thing that made this type of character interesting to me – and what I wanted to convey in the story – was not only this type of journalist’s dedication – but a sense that there is nothing else these types of people can do in their lives. They were born with a deep desire to find the truth and do everything they can to expose it and make more sense of the world. I also wanted Angus to be desperate that his efforts were not amounting to much – but he pushes on and continues his work, but eventually must decide whether he is going to go against his journalistic principles of “report the story, don’t be the story.” He decides he can no longer stand by and just report…he decides that if he has to “be the story” to save Syrian children from this conflict, then that is what he will do…along with his movie star companion. I thought that would be a compelling story that I’d like to read or see on a movie screen. Hopefully, others feel the same way.

Q: Who inspired the character of Jake Westin?

A: Jake, like Angus, is more of a stereotypical idea of a privileged Hollywood socialite. He’s not really based on any one real person in the world – just the embodiment of typical nihilistic, ignorant youth. And I mean ignorant in the most literal sense – because before I studied the conflict in Syria in depth, I was also ignorant of what was going on there. I needed a character that represented the classic ignorant person who is eventually shown the truth and comes to terms with it in his own way – and, I believe, is formed into a more enlightened and caring person on the other end of the experience.

Q: You are in the Navy; do security clearances and such limit you in terms of what you can write about?

A: My book is a novel and the stories, experiences, information, and impressions that congealed in my brain to form the story all came from unclassified material. I had no knowledge of any classified information or operations that dealt with Syria as I was writing. I purposefully made the story centered on humanitarian issues to get at the heart of what matters most there, the unnecessary violence against civilians, and particularly children.

Q:  You are donating proceeds from the book to Save the Children; what made you pick that organization?

A: I wanted to tell the story to raise awareness and more importantly, stimulate action. I wanted people to be know about the situation, get mad, and then take action. For most people, the action part of it is limited. So, I wanted to make the point that even a little bit helps. Even a small donation to a charity that helps Syrian kids or refugee families helps. So, my publisher (Pandamoon Publishing in Austin, Texas) agreed to donate 10% of all profit to Save the Children. To date, I have donated all of my author royalties from the book to Save the Children and will continue to do so. I also had great support from a local book store in Norfolk, VA (The Book Exchange) where they initiated a charity book sale and donated all funds from their book sales (over $1900) to Save the Children for Syrian kids.

I chose Save the Children because they have one of the highest percentages of their revenue go to children’s programs (89%). I wanted to make sure that the money that was raised for Syrian children actually benefitted them and did not go mostly to an organization’s salaries.

Q: Who are some of your writing influences and how can we see that in your work?

A: I have always enjoyed reading Tom Clancy, Frederick Forsythe, John LeCarre, and Robert Ludlum. But I know I can’t write like them. I wanted my writing to be quicker, to the point, and exciting. I enjoy writing dialogue and keeping the chapters short, something I appreciate as a reader (sometimes I don’t have time to get through a twenty or thirty page chapter – my chapters run about 5-8 pages to keep the story nimble and fast). I also try to keep the loose, fresh, and compact styles of Chuck Palahniuk and Ernest Hemingway in my mind as I write – not to emulate them – but to appreciate them and think how I can keep my writing a bit lighter, fearless, and less bogged down.

Q: What have you done to promote your book?

A: I have done a few podcast and local radio interviews, I did several book signings in my local area when the book was published in February 2016, and my publisher has been relentlessly promoting on Facebook and Twitter along with all of their other fabulous titles. I also try to drive people to my blog site ( where I have a few blog posts on why I wrote the book (to help Syrian kids) and who I am (a Navy pilot who got mad about the world situation and wrote a book to try and help). But both the physical book and e-book are available on Amazon.

Q: How did you get your book optioned for a film?

A: As I wrote the novel, I had always seen the story very clearly in my head as a movie. The novel is not structured like a film, but the scenes were very vivid for me as I wrote (probably due to all the video I had watched as I researched the topic). When the book was published, I set out to write a screenplay adapted from the novel. It took me about a month to hammer it into shape (which meant cutting a lot of things out, re-arranging a few important scenes for pacing, creating a few new scenes to show character development, and killing lots of darlings). But in the end, I had a script just short of 120 pages and I shopped it around via query letter to a lot of managers, agents, and producers with very little response (no surprise there). I also posted it on InkTip and noticed that an independent producer downloaded the logline and synopsis. I researched a bit about him, waited a few weeks to follow up and finally contacted him via e-mail. He mentioned that he was, indeed, interested in the premise and asked to read it.

Two short months of pulling my hair out waiting for the verdict, he asked to option it for film. The producer is Eric J. Adams from Sleeperwave Films – he produces award winning features with a conscience. My material was right up his alley and he understood exactly where I wanted to go with the material right away. He too agreed to donate a portion of backend profits to a charity organization.

Recently, we found an award-winning Egyptian director interested in directing the film. We also found a Syrian actor named Mohab Alshocough who is in a refugee camp in Greece. I have a few extraordinary souls, humanitarian volunteers helping refugees in Greece, helping me get our script to him to read. We want him to know that we haven’t forgotten about the Syrian people and we want him to help us tell their story through our film. We hope it will raise his spirits and give him hope in a desperate time.

We are now looking for funding for the film. We believe that this universal type of story will resonate with everyone – but for now – I need it to resonate with investors so we can make it and share it with the movie going public.

I have another novel about 3/4 complete but have put it on hold to write screenplays for a while. I have written three other feature-length screenplays with varying levels of interest from producers and managers (a few are on InkTip now…hint…hint). So, it’s an exciting time for me to be honing my craft (I was recently offered an opportunity from an independent production company to adapt a novel for them…it’s very flattering to have people take notice of my work and hope to keep the momentum going). I’m going to keep writing things that compel me and work to get that passion and emotion on the page through character and story.

Q:  If you could have any actor in Hollywood accompany you on a mission who would it be and why?

A: That’s easy…Clint Eastwood…Pale Rider, the Man with No Name, the Outlaw Josey Wales, Gunny Highway, and Dirty Harry all rolled into one…no question…Clint Eastwood.

That’s my frivolous answer…I believe that people like George Clooney (well known for his compassion for this cause – and other worthy causes like Darfur) and Jennifer Garner (already an Ambassador for Save the Children) embody the mind and heart of the compassion I’m trying to foster with this book and film project.

Please note; Eliza’s interviews are done by email. All answers are unedited and come right from the lovely fingertips of her subjects.