“We Are All Broadcasters”: Q&A with Michelle Gielan on Her New Book, Broadcasting Happiness

Michelle Gielan, author of Broadcasting Happiness. Photo: Dartise Johnson.

Disclosure: BenBella Books, Inc. provided me with a copy of Broadcasting Happiness. No obligations were implied or inferred from this gift.

You’ve been there. You’re having a great day, and then you turn on the news and something horrible has happened: wildfires blazing across a drought-ravaged countryside, earthquakes toppling buildings and destroying lives, yet another mass shooting in yet another school, one more act of injustice leading to a week-long riot. Or maybe you turn on the computer and check Facebook, and somebody has posted a rant about their work or co-workers (and maybe we can relate). Or maybe it’s on Twitter. Or if it’s not Twitter or Facebook the news, maybe you’re in line at the grocery store, and the person in front of you is being rude to the clerk. Or the clerk is complaining about the working conditions or the customers. Or maybe the one complaining is you.

We all know the saying: happiness is an inside job. Each of us is responsible for our own emotions. And yet, the truth is, whether intentionally or not, every one of us influences others with our thoughts, our words, and our actions. Knowing this fact empowers us to consciously choose our interactions, and use our influence to make a positive impact on the world. This is the crux of Michelle Gielan’s new book Broadcasting Happiness, released August 11.

Most books about happiness (and I’ve read a lot, believe me) focus primarily on the self. What’s interesting about Broadcasting Happiness is that it acknowledges our greater role in the world, our power to affect change in our workplace, our communities, and our families, as well as ourselves. The ideas in Broadcasting Happiness are real-life applications of my strongly held belief that we all should “give what you need” (a tenet of my own personal manifesto).

Michelle’s introduction to her book could have been written by almost any of us. She tells of the time when, as a news reporter for CBS, she was covering the funeral of a ten-year-old child, a random victim of random violence.

“I was tired of it. As I sat in that church in Englewood … I was surrounded by a black congregation that was tired, too. Yet amidst the emotional exhaustion there were stories of hope, and those stories changed the trajectory of my life.”

Shortly after this experience, she left her job at CBS.

“It was not because we were telling negative stories or because of the long hours and early mornings,” she writes. “And it wasn’t lost on me what I would be giving up — broadcasting to millions of people every time that red light went on over the camera. I left because I had seen another light. This book is about that story.”

From the moment I started reading Broadcasting Happiness, I was filled with questions about the concepts and ideas Michelle was sharing. I was delighted to have the chance to ask her a few questions about new book, below. Thank you so much, Michelle, for your time!

Q: Let’s start by defining “happiness,” at least for the purposes of this interview.

A: In our work, we define happiness as “the joy we feel growing towards our potential.” This moves happiness beyond the momentary pleasure we get from a chocolate bar. We can grow in any domain of life from work to parenting to our tennis game, and find joy through the ups and downs along the way.

Q: You worked as a reporter many years ago in Chicago, and you say in your introduction in your book that attending the funeral of a ten-year-old child, yet another random victim of random violence, changed the trajectory of your life. Tell us about that briefly, and how that eventually led to your writing Broadcasting Happiness?

A: The funeral was for a 10-year-old girl struck by a stray bullet from gang gunfire while at her own birthday party at home. Sitting in the pews of the church, I saw another story unfolding beyond the violent, sensational one we reported the night of the shooting. That one centered on a strong community supporting the mother and a neighborhood becoming safer each day (by the stats) due to coordinated efforts by police and citizens. It was a story of progress and hope, and that story had the potential to spur even greater positive change, instead of leaving viewers feeling helpless and depressed. Seeing that, I knew there was a better way tell news stories so I traded in my anchor desk at CBS News for a research lab and to study under Dr. Martin Seligman, the founder of the field of positive psychology.

But while there I had an epiphany. We are ALL broadcasters. As parents, friends, and colleagues, we all broadcast messages to people throughout the day, and that changes how others see life, not to mention a full range of business and educational measures including stress, profitability and intelligence.

Q: And that’s the core idea in your book. All of us — not just the traditional media — are “broadcasters” (“even if we don’t say a word”), and what we broadcast out into the world has an impact. Further, you say, “Our stories are predictive not only of happiness, but also of business, educational, and health outcomes”; that “small shifts in the way we communicate internally and with others can create big ripple effects.” Do you really believe that every person, regardless of title or role in society, has the ability to impact the world around them, for the negative or for the positive?

A: Too often we forget how powerful we are as individuals to shape how other people see the world. Each one of us constantly broadcasts to other people — whether consciously or unconsciously — verbally or non-verbally — and those messages influence their brain. Message such as “I am stressed,” or “I don’t deserve to be here,” are very different than “We can overcome this together,” and “I am grateful.” What’s your broadcast to your family, colleague or friends?

Our research shows that consciously changing those messages can raise business and educational outcomes, including sales, by 37%, productivity by 31%, and reduce the negative effects of stress by 23%. At one of our clients, Nationwide Brokerage Services, when employees changed the story from “If you’re having fun, you’re not working hard enough,” to “Broadcasting a positive mindset and prioritizing happiness fuels my success and connection with others,” the insurance agency tripled revenues from $350 million to more than $1 billion in just a few years. We’ve seen over and over that change like that can occur when people at any and all levels speak up and change their broadcast.

Michelle on "Over the Hump." Photo: Michelle Gielan.
Michelle on “Over the Hump.” Photo: Michelle Gielan.

Q: One strategy you talk about in your book is the concept of the “Power Lead,” which is starting a conversation or other moment of connection by saying something positive. Can you give an example, and why is that so effective in fueling happiness and performance?

A: We have a million chances a day to deepen connection with others or shortchange ourselves that chance. Each time we begin a new conversation, meeting, email or phone call, starting with a power lead — a small positive fact or story — positively changes the trajectory of the interaction. It primes other people to be positive, and often they match what you’re broadcasting by sharing something positive as well. The perfect time to use the power lead is the next time someone says “How are you?” Try skipping “fine” or “tired” and saying something meaningful and positive. If you asked me today I might say “I’m doing great! I had breakfast with my son, and he was being really funny.” One manager I worked with started off meetings with three things he was grateful for: one about life in general, one about the team, one about someone specific on the team. He said that 45-second habit changed the tone of the meeting and improved productivity dramatically. In a study[1] where a manager was asked to deliver one piece of praise to one person on the team each day for 21 days, that team’s entire productivity jumped by 31%! Moments of connection directly relate to many business outcomes.

Q: Most of us are not members of traditional media, but many of us are active on social media, thus making a greater case for your suggestion that we are all broadcasters. I do like the idea of posting positive stories, but what about the argument that social media isn’t representative of true life, that people are becoming more depressed because they are comparing the truth of their own lives with the filtered and polished versions of other people’s posted lives? Where is the balance between positivity and truth/reality?

A: Social comparison that leads to unhappiness is the downside of social media. In addition, surfing the web often comes at the cost of face-to-face time with friends and family. The upside is that it is possible to use social media in a way that increases happiness.

First, following celebrities or people you don’t regularly see in person often doesn’t add to our happiness. The best use of social media is to deepen existing close relationships or create new ones. Catching up on pictures of your good friend’s kids ahead of a visit across the country to see her is a great way to deepen your time together. Following near-strangers can leave us feeling detached and lonely.

Additionally, being choosy about our friends based on what they broadcast is very healthy. The reason is that your feed influences your brain. A study from Cornell University[2] found that when researchers manipulated the news feed of more than 689,000 Facebook users, those who saw positive stories were substantially more likely to share positive ones themselves. The same holds true for negative stories. That study and a number of others show how we are more interconnected that we often think, and what we consume fuels our broadcast.

Q: In our life offline, I say over and over that we need to release negative people from our lives, but the reality is, it’s not that easy. These people might be family, co-workers, or other people from whom it is difficult to extricate ourselves without challenging repercussions. Aside from ignoring or “muting” those people, what can we do?

A: Too often we work with those negative people or we might find ourselves married to them! (That second case is definitely more challenging!) No matter who they are, we don’t need to let them have power over our mindset. I advocate a strategic retreat in three-parts: Retreat, Regroup, and Renter. Just like you wouldn’t show up for battle in your bathing suit, you need to be battle ready when engaging with negative people.

Sometimes the most effective way to deepen a conversation is to retreat from it. If the conditions are not in your favor, for instance the person is riled up or you’re out in public, choose to pause the conversation and regroup.

You’ll continually be frustrated by negative people if you’re not practicing positive habits (quick behavioral changes you can make in your life to increase your levels of positivity and reduce stress) to buffer against the negative. The best way to mentally regroup is to refocus your attention on the life-giving parts of your reality by counting your gratitudes, praising or thanking someone special in your life, or reviewing positive pictures you might have shot recently. These simple acts buffer your brain against the effects of negativity and stress.

When you reenter, make sure conditions are in your favor and minimize the length of time you interact with that person until you establish a track record of positive encounters. Keep your communications short and sweet, and hopefully soon you’ll together start to rewrite the script of your encounters or at minimum protect yourself from the consequences of being exposed to someone else’s negativity.

Michelle as keynote speaker for Training magazine. Photo: Michelle Gielan.
Michelle as keynote speaker for Training magazine. Photo: Training magazine.

Q: Who is more powerful — negative people or positive people?

A: I love this question because the answer is surprising! This is by far the most asked question when I give talks at companies. The answer is: It is not that either negative people or positive people are more powerful when it comes to setting culture at our companies and influencing the happiness levels of our families — it is the most expressive person that wins. Often the most expressive person on our team at work for instance, is the most anxious or negative person, and they bring everyone down. Instead of trying to change their minds, focusing on being more expressive about the positive or getting others to speak up can drown out the influence these Negative Norms have on everyone.

Q: You mention in the book that you suffered from depression for a year. I know that’s a fact that will resonate with so many readers, many of whom are looking for a way out. What were the first steps you took to start turning that around?

A: It was one of the hardest years of my life, but I am so thankful for it. Two things: Exercise daily and constantly doing what I call fact-checking. Every time my brain served up a story that was leading to unhappiness, I fact-checked it to find an equally true set of facts that illuminated a new story. For instance when I started stressing about how my job as a software developer was going nowhere, I uncovered new facts including that I had written a few lines of code that made it into the next project build or how no one at the company got a promotion in the first year so it was unreasonable for me to expect one. That helped change my thinking and the associated feelings. In my book I present fact-checking as a strategy you can use with other people if they are holding on to negative or stressful thoughts, but I first came to understand how powerful fact-checking can be by doing it with myself. After a while my brain became better at automatically seeing the positive side of life, the meaning embedded in every moment, and the things to feel grateful for, and I could more easily rewrite the thoughts that were at the root of the depression.

Q: You say several times in the book that social connection is the greatest predictor of happiness. Do you think much of society’s collective unhappiness is more about disconnection? Is one of our greatest problems simply that we are not connecting?

A: There is no greater prediction in the research of our levels of happiness than the breadth and depth of our relationships. You don’t need a ton of friends, just a few deep and meaningful relationships with others. These days with technology and over-scheduling, we are forgetting to invest time in simple connective moments with others. Even five minute meaningful conversations with other people not only fuel us in the moment but also build up a reserve of social capital so that when hard times strike, we can draw down on that bank account.

Overall, it is about being intentional about your broadcast choices. Choose not to engage in negative, gossipy conversations. Focus less on the problem and more on what can be done to solve it. When others come to you to complain, fact-check the story with them or use your leading questions to shift the focus of the conversation. Set the tone of conversations to positive using a power lead. Teach your kids an optimistic explanatory style. Continually build social capital with others through connective experiences. And turn off the radio or TV when all that is being transmitted is garbage. The clearer you are about your intentions and how you will connect with others, the more you’ll reap the advantages of broadcasting happiness.

[1] “Increase Your Team’s Productivity–It’s FRE(E),” Margaret Greenberg and Senia Maymin, Positive Psychology News Daily, last modified October 4, 2008, http://positivepsychologynews.com/ news/margaret-greenberg-and-senia-maymin/200810141081.

[2] Kramer, A. D. I., Guillory, J. E., and Hancock, J. T. “Experimental Evidence of Massive-Scale Emotional Contagion through Social Networks.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 111, no. 24 (2014): 8788-90.

Michelle Gielan, Founder of the Institute for Applied Positive Research and an Executive Producer of The Happiness Advantage special on PBS, is an expert on the science of positive communication and how to use it to fuel success. To find out more about Michelle’s book, visit the Broadcasting Happiness website (while there you can also take a test to determine your personal Success Scale score). You can also find out more about Michelle at GoodThink, and find her on Facebook and Twitter.

Michelle with Arianna Huffington. Photo: Michelle Gielan.
Michelle with Arianna Huffington. Photo: Michelle Gielan.

Also published at my Huffington Post blog.

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“Follow the good work”: Aidan Turner on Poldark, Acting, and Happiness

Photo: Mammoth Screen Ltd.
Aidan Turner as Ross Poldark. Photo: Mammoth Screen Ltd.

I have to say, PBS has a way of bringing us some handsome and talented Irishmen. My proof? A few years back, it was Northern Ireland’s fabulous singer and actor Damian McGinty, whom I love (and whose mailing list you should join, so you don’t miss out on future news of his tours and CDs, I’m just saying). And now, Masterpiece Theatre and PBS (and the BBC, which, by the way, #savetheBBC and #backtheBBC!) have blessed us again with another talented actor from the Emerald Isle.

This time, it’s Dublin’s Aidan Turner in Poldark, a 2015 revival of an old PBS favorite: in the 1970s, Masterpiece produced the Winston Graham books into a much beloved series starring Robin Ellis in the title role (see my recent interview with Robin here).

I was delighted to have the chance to chat with Aidan earlier this week, just in time for the Poldark season one finale episodes airing on PBS this Sunday. Handsome but humble, gracious and grateful, from all appearances, in the twenty minutes we had together, he’s everything you’d hope he would be.

Here’s the transcript of our chat. My heartfelt thanks to Aidan for his time!

Photo: BBC
Photo: BBC

Q: As an author, I found this assessment in an LA Times article on Poldark interesting: “It’s a story in which character, more than chance or fate, drives the narrative.” I know that in preparing for the role of Ross Poldark, you studied art, read about iron mines, did online research that led you from interest to interest. Is all that reading studying for character purposes or are you also a curious person who loves learning?

A: It’s everything, really. I’m interested in what I do in every capacity and if it’s studying for the character or the times, or reading about the author, or other books that maybe Winston has written, or, just everything is, everything helps for me in preparation, do you know. But I think every actor’s the same. They tend to put a lot of work in. You tend to take your inspiration from as many places as possible. With preparation for Poldark, it was just trying to absorb as much as I could in as many different ways as I could, like reading the novels, reading the scripts again, even if it’s physical stuff like making sure my horse riding technique was really good. It’s all the little things that matter, you know, for me, getting in shape was a thing, working on the accent was a thing. Yes, just all those things matter a great deal to me when preparing for the role and then doing it, because you obviously want to do a good job. And when the camera turns over and you start shooting, there isn’t time to do those things. You need to have all that homework done. So for me, that’s always been a thing.

Aidan as Poldark. Photo: Andy Rose.
Aidan as Poldark. Photo: Andy Rose.

Q: What is it about acting that you love? Is it the chance to be someone else?

A: Well, I love it sort of in every capacity. I love going to theater, I love seeing plays, I love storytelling, I love the movies, and I love what I do. I find it challenging, and exciting when you read a script that you have an interest in, you attach yourself to, it’s interesting to find out what you come up with, with the character and the role. I don’t know, the whole world just kind of excites me a little bit, do you know. It’s challenging, you don’t always get it right, and you learn, you know, there’s a lot of learning, too. You mess things up or you don’t hit the mark on certain things, and then six months down the road you realize why that happened, if you review things. I don’t know. I just like everything that kind of goes along with it. A lot of stuff I don’t like as well, but for right now, I’m enjoying myself.

Q: You have an energy about you that suggests you don’t like to be bored, that you like new challenges. With that in mind, is it hard to keep a character fresh and interesting (for yourself) over multiple seasons of a show?

A: I think it’s always down to the story and the writing, and it’s a testament to Winston Graham; he writes really good characters. Debbie Horsfield is a fantastic writer, and her screenplays are really well constructed, well written, well thought-out. So it’s easier with a show like this, because there’s just so much there, all the time, you know, you’re being challenged and offered new ideas and new journeys to go on with your character all the time. So it doesn’t become staid, and it doesn’t become boring at all, or any of those things, and you don’t feel you have to fight too hard to stay on the journey, you know, and stay true to the show. That’s why, as an actor, you try to follow the good work and the good writing all the time, because that tends not to happen that that’s the case, where you’re in a show that maybe has a weak premise, or doesn’t have all those important faculties, all those really important parts behind it, it might be a bit more difficult. But with a show like Poldark, I think we’re lucky, because we have a great team in place.

Aidan on the set of Poldark, with his horse, Seamus. Photo: Andy Rose.
Aidan on the set of Poldark, with his horse, Seamus. Photo: Andy Rose.

Q: Earlier this year you filmed the screen adaptation of Sebastian Barry’s novel The Secret Scripture [with director Jim Sheridan, and alongside Rooney Mara (Girl With the Dragon Tattoo), Theo James (Divergent, Insurgent, Downton Abbey), Eric Bana (The Time Traveler’s Wife, Star Trek), Jack Reynor (Transformers: Age of Extinction), and of course Vanessa Redgrave (too many films to mention!)]. You’ve said you would take any job on The Secret Scripture just to work with Jim Sheridan. What was it about Jim that made you want to work with him? Did the reality of it live up to your hopes and expectations?

A: Yeah, he’s always been a huge hero of mine. I mean, he’s obviously a very acclaimed and very successful Irish director, but he’s an international director. I mean, he’s been nominated for Oscars, and his movies are, all of them I think, are massive pieces. You know, he’s an incredible person. So I think just to witness what he’s like on set as a director was something I wanted to do. Even if my friend was in something and I could just tag along for a day I’d be happy enough doing that, but to be offered a part in one of his movies was a huge thing for me. And I was a fan of Sebastian Barry, the playwright and screenwriter who wrote The Secret Scripture also, so it’s one of those jobs that just was very very easy to agree to do. And yes, he did, he lived up to all the expectations. He’s … I think he’s a genius, to be honest, and one of the greatest directors I’ve ever worked with. And he’s a great man, and he’s funny as hell, and the best storyteller I think I’ve ever met.

Q: How did his directing help you improve as an actor?

A: It’s kind of hard to know … you’re put in a place, you know, you meet the director, and you’re just inspired differently, sometimes you’re forced to think differently about things, and feel things in different ways and … I don’t know. Some people are very talented and know how to work with actors really well and they know what makes them tick, and they know how to bring out great performances. I think Jim is one of those very special directors that just really knows actors, and he knows the game, you know, he’s just one of those people who’s got it all, you know, he’s multi-talented.

Aidan behind the scenes on the set of Poldark. Photo: Andy Rose.
Aidan behind the scenes on the set of Poldark. Photo: Andy Rose.

Q: And now you’re working on the BBC One three-part series TV adaptation of the Agatha Christie classic, And Then There Were None, in the role of Philip Lombard, a military man and world traveler with a mysterious past. Are you still in progress with that, or is that done?

A: We’ve only just begun, really. We’re about two weeks down, and about six to go. So yeah, it’s going very well. It’s going really well. Great cast, you know, Sam Neill and Charles Dance, and Miranda Richardson is in it, we have a really strong, strong cast. It’s a great story, it’s one of Agatha Christie’s most famous stories. Yeah, and it’s fun to do it. It’s fun to work with a big cast, a big ensemble, and there’s a lot of talent, a lot of lovely people, and we’re having a great time.

Q: How did you get involved with And Then There Were None?

A: It’s just one of those things that comes along, you’re sent the script, and you’re asked if you want to respond, if you want to be in it, and when I read it, I thought, “Yeah, this is great, it’s a great adaptation.”

Q: So you didn’t have to audition for this one?

A: Yeah, I didn’t have to audition for this one, but you know, I don’t get offered a lot of things. A lot of things, I do have to audition for, and like to audition for, too, you know. It’s nice to be offered things. But at the same time, when you audition, it’s nice, too, because you show them what you can do, and if they don’t want to be a part of that, then you all know where you stand. Whereas sometimes you’re offered something and then you go to the first day of shooting and it’s like, “Oh, God, now [this is] the first time they’re going to see this character; I hope they like it.” So it’s kind of bittersweet sometimes, being offered something.

Q: You narrated for BBC Radio 4’s A History of Ideas series, the podcasts about “How Should We Live Together?” Did any of the ideas in that series particularly resonate with your own views on life?

A: Yeah. There were a lot of interesting ideas. I haven’t listened back, it’s been a while since I revisited that at all but, again, just so well written and it was a real honor to be asked to do them. Steven Fry had done some, and Gillian Anderson was a part of it too. Yeah, just very interesting, well written, funny, witty pieces of prose that I was delighted to be a part of. They’re the fun jobs when they come along, you know, and they happen so fast sometimes. I think it was two days before I got asked to do it, and a day later it’s all done, it’s one of those kind of things. It’s interesting work. All the interesting stuff is fun.

Aidan Turner models a Vivienne Westwood-designed t-shirt for the Save the Arctic collection, shot by celebrity photographer Andy Gotts MBE.
Aidan models a Vivienne Westwood-designed t-shirt for the Save the Arctic collection, shot by celebrity photographer Andy Gotts MBE.

Q: And you’re also involved with Greenpeace’s Save the Arctic campaign. How did you get involved in that, what’s your interest in that particular cause?

A: Yeah, it just sounded really interesting. They approached me in Iceland. Vivienne [Westwood] had written a letter to some people that she wanted to be involved in the campaign, and it made a lot of sense, and it seemed like something that I wanted to be a part of, and represent the cause in any way and help out. It was something I felt like I wanted to do. And I know the photographer, and we just sort of got it done, really. It’s a really worthwhile thing. I’m glad I did it.

Q: Is the environment one of your pet causes?

A: I mean, I think everyone should care.

Q: They should.

A: I think so.

Q: You mentioned in your Irishman Abroad interview that it’s not going to be like this forever; in a few years you’ll settle. What does that mean? What does the future look like?

A: (Laughs.) I don’t know. It’s so funny when you have these, you do interviews and stuff, and things are said, and then you’re questioned on it again. I don’t really know. I guess during the course of that interview in particular, it’s an Irishman Abroad, is a whole sense of being an Irish man away from home, living and working out of the country. I don’t know, maybe everyone’s the same, you sort of feel when you’re a person who travels a lot and works a lot in different countries and bases yourself in different places that there is always this yearning and this kind of feeling that one day you’ll get home and sort of settle, and this will all be fleeting and over. But the fact is, as an actor, by definition, what we do, we’re just always around at different places, in different countries, with different people, and that’s just the way it is. But, I guess, I don’t know, there is that feeling that you’ll settle down one day, but probably, it probably may never happen. The funny thing is, it’s difficult as it seems like it’s probably the end of your career. You know, you have to keep working, you have to keep traveling. I guess what I kind of meant was just missing home is something that I have from time to time. You miss friends, you miss family, you want to get home, and you want to have your roots somewhere. But at the same time, I’m very happy doing what I’m doing, and I feel very privileged to work, and to travel, and to do all those things.

Aidan on the set of Poldark.
Aidan on the set of Poldark. Photo: Andy Rose.

Q: So at this point in your life, you’re 32, what do you think success looks like, what is happiness, what is a well-lived life?

A: I don’t know. I mean, it’s hard to answer for anybody else. I’m happy with what I’m doing now, I’m happy with where I’m at and where I’m going, and I’m generally quite a happy person. That’s a difficult question, really. I don’t know what happiness is. I feel I have great friends around me, I have a strong family unit, and I feel very privileged and lucky to have all that. So I don’t really question it. I just kind of feel grateful for it all.

Q: An easier question, then: Have you conferred with Martin Freeman about getting yourself on an episode of Sherlock[Martin was Aidan’s co-star in The Hobbit movies, of course, and also stars as Dr. Watson on Sherlock.]

A: (Laughs.) I don’t think I’ve ever asked Martin to get me on Sherlock. Probably should have done because I love the show, but maybe that time has passed now. I might throw him an email.

Q: Yes, tell him Pam said you should be on Sherlock.

A: (Laughs.)

Aidan as Poldark. Photo: Andy Rose.
Aidan as Poldark. Photo: Andy Rose.

Q: Do you feel like you’re at a point in your career where you can afford to be a little more picky about the roles you take on?

A: I don’t know if anything changes that, necessarily, I’ve said kind of the same thing all the time, it’s just about the good work. The scripts come in, and if they’re well written and the ideas are good, and the people involved are people I’d like to work with, and all those little things are in place, then I’ll consider putting myself up for it, and if not, I won’t. You know, every six months, things sort of change, and you do a job, and you feel different about the next job you want to do, whether you want time off, or whatever. So it’s kind of too hard to say, really. Nothing has really changed for me. I still meet for jobs, and I still audition for things, like every other actor. I’m just a working actor, that’s all.

Q: I’m going to quote you back to you again. You said: “The longer I am away from home, the more proud I am of being Irish.” Tell me about that?

A: I guess you think about it more. When you’re away from home, it’s just something that’s more present, because you just have to talk to a stranger in the street, and in seconds they know you’re Irish, and it comes back around again, and then you think about stuff like that. So, I don’t know. It’s just something I am proud of. It’s hard to get into, to be honest, over the phone.

Aidan as Poldark. Photo: Mammoth Screen Ltd.
Aidan as Poldark. Photo: Mammoth Screen Ltd.

Q: One last question, about Poldark. You’re starting filming again in September, is that correct? How long will you film?

A: Yeah, it’s going to be longer than it was last year. We’re going to start September, I think first week of September, something like that, or second week of September. I think we run until … I think we go until like the first week in April. We’ve two extra episodes this season, which is amazing. The shoot is probably seven and a half months or something like that. A bit longer than last year. But looking forward to it, can’t wait to get back there. I love shooting the show, I love Cornwall, and adore everyone in the show, so it’ll be fun.

… And that was the end of our chat! Thank you again, Aidan, I really enjoyed chatting with you. My best wishes to you for much success — keep following the good work and the good writing! And when you get that role on Sherlock, give me a call.

Everyone in the U.S., don’t forget to watch Poldark episodes 7 and 8, the season finale, this Sunday on PBS! (And send your local PBS station a donation while you’re at it, if you’re so inclined!)

Aidan mostly eschews social media, but does have an official Twitter account.

Find Poldark on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

My deep thanks to all who supplied photos for this article. Find Andy Rose, photographer, on Facebook and Twitter, and check out his Poldark-themed wares at his website and on Etsy.

Also published on my Huffington Post blog.

Check out Pam’s books!

Join Pam’s mailing list!

“One Day At A Time”: Q&A with Robin Ellis, the “Original Ross Poldark,” on Poldark, Cooking, and Life

Robin Ellis as Ross Poldark (center), with Angharad Rees as Demelza Carne (left) and Judy Geeson as Caroline Penvenen (right) in the original Poldark series, c. 1975. Photo credit: BBC
Robin Ellis as Ross Poldark (center), with Angharad Rees as Demelza Carne (left) and Judy Geeson as Caroline Penvenen (right) in the original Poldark series, c. 1975. Photo credit: BBC

Masterpiece Theatre has done it again — literally. Since early March, millions of people around the world have been captivated by the story of Ross Poldark in Poldark, Masterpiece’s adaptation of Winston Graham’s series, set in Cornwall in the late 18th century. Smoldering Ross Poldark, born a rebel in his elite world, has returned from the American Revolutionary war to find his fiancée, thinking him dead, has become engaged to his cousin. The country and its people face severe hardships; Poldark’s father has died and left his estate and mine in ruins. The story is captivating, the acting mesmerizing. And the breathtaking landscape of Cornwall is a character unto itself.

But this new telling of the Poldark saga stands on the shoulders of the original series, which forty years ago also enchanted the world, led by the “original Poldark,” Robin Ellis.

When my local PBS station, KCTS 9, announced the imminent airing of the new series, I borrowed the DVDs of the original series from a Poldark-loving friend. I hadn’t seen the show when it first aired, but instantly I could see why the world had been so enthralled by Robin and Masterpiece’s original version of Poldark. After watching a few episodes of the new series, in which Robin has a cameo as Reverend Halse in episodes 3 and 6, I knew I wanted to chat with him. Robin graciously agreed to answer my many questions, and his wife, Meredith Wheeler, sent me a plethora of gorgeous photos. My tremendous thanks and best wishes to both Robin and Meredith!

Meredith Wheeler & Robin Ellis on their terrace. Photo courtesy Meredith Wheeler & Robin Ellis
Meredith Wheeler & Robin Ellis on their terrace. Photo courtesy Meredith Wheeler & Robin Ellis

Q: Forty years ago, you were the swoon-worthy Ross Poldark in Masterpiece Theatre’s original series, Poldark, based on the novels by Winston Graham. I’ve read that it was so big, you had some “Beatle-esque” moments. What was it like, going from being a relatively “regular” guy to being an instant star? Was it challenging?

A: The world was a bit different forty years ago. There wasn’t as intense a celebrity culture as there is today. It was like the difference between enjoying a warm summer’s day and enduring a heatwave. I enjoyed the attention (I’m an actor!) which only occasionally got too hot.

Robin with Poldark author Winston Graham in Robin and Meredith's back garden in London, c. 1990. Photo credit: Meredith Wheeler
Robin with Poldark author Winston Graham in Robin and Meredith’s back garden in London, c. 1990. Photo credit: Meredith Wheeler

Q: The original Poldark had an immense following. You’ve said that part of the appeal in, for example, Spain was that the country had two TV channels at the time it was aired, one of which was a government channel. Obviously you were joking (in part). But even today, with hundreds of channels available to people on TV and online, the new series is capturing audiences’ attention worldwide. What do you think it is about the Poldark stories that has such enduring appeal? 

A: People love to be told good stories (I do). These stories endure because they feel authentic. People can identify with them regardless of the fact they take place in a different era. And Winston Graham’s characters don’t come over as manipulated by the puppet master. You feel they have a say in how they run their lives —for better or worse. It helps that the well researched setting happens to be extraordinarily beautiful and cinematically ravishing.

Aidan Turner, the "new Poldark," with Robin, the "original Poldark." Photo credit: Nick Kenyon. Poldark fans, see Nick's website for tons more fabulous Poldark photos!
Aidan Turner, the “new Poldark,” with Robin, the “original Poldark.” Photo credit: Nick Kenyon. Poldark fans, see Nick’s website for tons more fabulous Poldark photos!

Q: I understand that neither Debbie Horsfield (the writer who adapted Graham’s books for the new series) nor Aidan Turner (the “new Ross Poldark”) watched the original series before creating their own interpretations of Graham’s stories. In some cases the end results are quite different, both from Horsfield’s/Turner’s new interpretations, as well as from the fact that four decades have passed and times have changed. What are your thoughts on the new series? 

A: It’s big, it’s beautiful and it’s terrifically acted.

Aidan Turner and Robin Ellis. Photo credit: Nick Kenyon
Aidan Turner and Robin Ellis. Photo credit: Nick Kenyon

Q: Along those lines, in my opinion the new Ross Poldark has in some ways a different personality/characterization than the original Ross Poldark. I don’t want to lead the witness here by telling you the differences I see — what differences do you see?

A: Ross Poldark is a wonderful character to play. He was born an elite but he hates elites and gets into fights with his own kind, sometimes with dire results. He’s bold but sometimes his choices of action get him into trouble and threaten his family and loved ones. In other words, he’s flawed. Like all great characters, there is never a definitive way to play them — no two Hamlets are alike — they reflect the people who play them. Aidan Turner is giving a tremendous and committed performance as Ross. I tried to do the same forty years ago. Ross is that kind of character. You go for it — it allows you to!

Director Ed Bazalgette (crouching with glasses) confers with Robin before the scene is filmed. Photo credit: Nick Kenyon
Director Ed Bazalgette (crouching with glasses) confers with Robin before the scene is filmed. Photo credit: Nick Kenyon

Q: How was it, revisiting Poldark for the new series, this time as Reverend Halse? Did you come at it with a different perspective on acting and life?

A: Not really, it still made me nervous and it still gave me delight. At the end of the day you have to come up with the goods. That hasn’t changed. I found I still cared about coming up with the goods!

Left: Robin and Alexander Arnold who plays Jim Carter in the new series. Middle: Sitting in his trailer awaiting the call. Right: The end of the first day's shoot at Horton Court near Bristol (where some of Wolf Hall was filmed, too!). Photos credit: Meredith Wheeler
Left: Robin and Alexander Arnold who plays Jim Carter in the new series. Middle: Sitting in his trailer awaiting the call. Right: The end of the first day’s shoot at Horton Court near Bristol (where some of Wolf Hall was filmed, too!). Photos credit: Meredith Wheeler

Q: It’s been nearly a decade since your last role (as Tom Lyell on Wallander). Did acting in the new series give you a craving to do more acting again?

A: I wouldn’t describe it as a craving but it whetted my appetite!

Left: Robin's first cookbook. Right: Cooking in his own kitchen. Photos credit: Meredith Wheeler
Left: Robin’s first cookbook. Right: Cooking in his own kitchen. Photos credit: Meredith Wheeler

Q: Speaking of whetted appetites, I was so delighted to learn that these days, your work revolves around the culinary arts! I understand you’ve loved cooking since you were a child, but a medical diagnosis about fifteen years ago gave new life to your passion for the art form. Tell us more about that? 

A: Sixteen years ago I was diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes. I have collected recipes for years — I learned that from my mother. I started writing up the recipes I cooked every day. Like characters in plays no two versions of a recipe are the same. I found a voice in the writing of them and enjoyed it. People had said to me, “You must write cookbook.” “But there are too many cookbooks,” I thought, “I’m an actor anyway, not a cook.” After I was diagnosed, it felt different. Perhaps a cookbook of recipes describing the way we eat, suggested Meredith, might be a little different and useful to people. Now it made more sense and we presented the idea to a publisher who agreed to run with it.

Left: Robin in his red apron. Right: Robin's second cookbook. Photos credit: Meredith Wheeler
Left: Robin in his red apron. Right: Robin’s second cookbook. Photos credit: Meredith Wheeler

Q: What is it about cooking that you love?

A: The dailyness of it. I cook twice a day for us and it keeps me on my toes, so to speak.

Q: As you noted above, you’ve built on that love of cooking by writing some cookbooks! You have two books out, and a third in the works, is that right? Tell me a bit about each? How did you decide on the recipes to include? Where can people buy them?

A: Meredith eats what I cook each day, though she’s not diabetic. Delicious Dishes for Diabetics, the first, describes the way we eat chez nous every day. It attempts to demonstrate that a diagnosis of diabetes doesn’t mean the end of enjoying your food. The recipes in the book can be enjoyed by everyone — it is not exclusively for diabetics. Healthy Eating for Life is an extension of the first. Mediterranean Cooking for Diabetics is a combination of the two plus new stuff and photos in a bigger paperback format.

Robin with students from a cooking workshop. Photo credit: Meredith Wheeler
Robin with students from a cooking workshop. Photo credit: Meredith Wheeler

Q: Not one to let any grass grow under your feet, you lead cooking workshops too! Who are the classes for (is it only for diabetics?), where do they take place, how long do they last, what do people learn? What made you want to lead these workshops?

A: They are open to all. They take place in a beautiful B&B in our village. There is a demo kitchen in an annex. They last four days and we all cook together and then eat what we cook. It’s a hands-on affair. No lecturing. I met the owner one day at the market and she told me about the new kitchen and I heard myself saying, “Well one day maybe I could run a workshop there….” Voila! That’ll teach me!

Q: Don’t you think Poldark would have been the kind of man who would have liked to cook? He can do pretty much everything else!

A: He’d have to choose time when Prudie was in town — she’d have been shocked to find him at the stove. Did men cook in those days? Very doubtful but if you think of him as I did, as a man out of his time, then anything is possible.

Robin's memoir, reissued with a new chapter in April 2015 -- just released as an audio book, too!
Robin’s memoir, reissued with a new chapter in April 2015 — just released as an audio book, too!

Q: Speaking again of Poldark and of books, you have a memoir out, as well, Making Poldark, with a new expanded version out this year. Am I correct that you first wrote it in 1978, updated it once in 2012 and then it again this year? In the process of going back to update the original text, did you feel you had new perspectives on your time as Poldark and the pivotal role it played in your life? What did you see or understand now, that you might not have seen forty years ago?

A: It has been updated and added to four times I think. It now has a chapter explaining how I became involved in the new go-around of Poldark. I have always felt indebted to Poldark and recognised the large part it has played in my life professionally and personally. I call them “Poldark Perks” and there are many. Appearing in the new version and the revival of interest in me and the first Poldark is yet another “Poldark Perk.” It goes on!

The best "Poldark Perk" -- Robin's wife Meredith! In another interview, Robin told The Express: "I met my wife, Meredith, when she interviewed me in New York in 1986 as part of a trip to celebrate the 15th anniversary of Masterpiece Theatre. I looked into Meredith's eyes and there you go. It was love at first sight."
The best “Poldark Perk” — Robin’s wife Meredith! In another interview, Robin told The Express: “I met my wife, Meredith, when she interviewed me in New York in 1986 as part of a trip to celebrate the 15th anniversary of Masterpiece Theatre. I looked into Meredith’s eyes and there you go. It was love at first sight.”

Q: What’s next? What are you looking forward to?

A: One day at a time — I am looking forward to tomorrow, while inhabiting today.

Q: Finally, some questions I like to ask people, starting with: What is success?

A: I don’t find questions like these easy! Success might be the feeling I had about supper tonight. I made a curry sauce for left-over guinea fowl. In fact I didn’t like the first sauce, so I tried a tomato based one. I was still doubtful about it. In the end I liked it and so did Meredith — success?! One day at a time.

Robin at home in his kitchen, writing his blog. Photo credit: Meredith Wheeler
Robin at home in his kitchen, writing his blog. Photo credit: Meredith Wheeler

Q: What is happiness?

A: Waking up…phew!

Q: What are the elements of a life well-lived?

A: Too early to say — I am still living it!

My thanks again to Robin and Meredith for their time! It was a delight chatting with you! I wish you both continued success, happiness, and lives well-lived.

Find out more about Robin, his life, his books, and his cooking workshops at his website, and follow him on Twitter and on Facebook.

Also published on my Huffington Post blog.

Check out Pam’s books!

Join Pam’s mailing list!

Q&A: Halfway Star Quinton Aaron on the Film, Acting, James Bond, and His Foundation

Quinton Aaron as Byron in Halfway. © Halfway Film LLC, 2015
Quinton Aaron as Byron in Halfway. © Halfway Film LLC, 2015

The past three weeks I’ve been interviewing key players in the upcoming film Halfway, written and directed by Ben Caird and produced by Jonny Paterson. Today, I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to chat with the film’s star, Quinton Aaron!

Many will remember Quinton from his lead role in The Blind Side with Sandra Bullock, for which he received several nominations including Black Reel Award, Best Breakthrough Performance; Teen Choice Awards 2010, Breakout Male Actor; and MTV Movie Awards 2010, Best Breakout Star. Quinton has also appeared on shows such as Law & Order and One Tree Hill, as well as a smattering of others.

In Halfway, Quinton plays the role of Byron, a recently released convict who finds himself caught between two worlds. Byron’s urban criminal past haunts his new life as the only black man in a predominantly white, conservative Wisconsin farming town. The film chronicles Byron’s struggles as he adapts to his new life on probation, while trying to elude the very real threat of falling back into his old life of crime.

Quinton on the set of Halfway with writer/director Ben Caird. © Halfway Film LLC, 2015
Quinton on the set of Halfway with writer/director Ben Caird. © Halfway Film LLC, 2015

Q: How long have you been acting? What made you want to be an actor? How did you get started?

A: I’ve been acting for as long as I can remember. I grew up on the stage when I was in high school in New York and have just always wanted to be an actor. I’ve been imitating actors from my favorite movies ever since I could talk. I remember being a kid and loving the James Bond movies, I think because I wanted to be a secret agent at that time as well as an actor (and I looked great in a tux!). As I got older, I started to realize that I enjoyed the discipline associated with performance, and that led me to start acting more and more. I joined an organization for teenagers called Teens in Motion, and was lucky enough to be afforded some opportunities to develop that love for acting with them.

Q: What was your first reaction to this script, when Jonny [Paterson, the producer] approached you with it? 

A: As soon as I heard about the story and got the gist of what it was and who the character was, I felt it was a project I could really get behind. One of the cool and defining things about the movie is that is has a strong causal message that resonated with me when I read the script. It’s about a young man who has just been released from prison and finds himself up against a very real set of circumstances: does he take the second chance that has been afforded to him, or does he take the easier route and revert back to a life of crime?

When I observe some of the problems that we create for ourselves in our communities I have felt in the past that we, in a sense, imprison ourselves by feeling a sense of duty to stay committed to the world that we come from, instead of being brave enough to branch out and recognize that that might not be what is best for us. In Halfway, my character Byron maintains ties with his best friend, Paulie (played by Marcus Henderson), and finds it incredibly difficult to make that decision to move on with his life, because he’s a loyal guy but also because it’s how society has sort of trained young men like my character to behave.

Quinton as Byron on the set of Halfway, waiting at Mills Market in Montfort, Wisconsin. © Halfway Film LLC, 2015
Quinton as Byron on the set of Halfway, waiting at Mills Market in Montfort, Wisconsin. © Halfway Film LLC, 2015

Q: What were some of the challenges in taking on this role?

A: We shot the movie over four weeks on the Lepeska family farm in Montfort, WI — a part of the world I had never been to before! So the biggest challenges for me on this project were to try and learn about farm life, manual labour, how to feed calves while adjusting to the smell of being around animals all day and other things of that ilk. It was a very unique experience in that sense and I owe a great deal of thanks to the Lepeska family who went out of their way to show me the ropes. Also, working with the director, Ben Caird, to understand how my character would maneuver in this very alien environment was challenging, but for all the right reasons. Ultimately, I love what I do and am very grateful for the opportunity to grow as a person as well as a performer in each role that I take on.

Q: What did you love about this role?

A: Not only the story that is being told through my character’s eyes, but the message that I hope he can deliver to folks who watch it. If an audience can resonate with Byron, like I did in many ways, they might make better decisions under difficult circumstances. As our producer, Jonny Paterson, said in his interview a few weeks ago, a great outcome for us would be for young men and women who are about to be released from prison to watch the film and resonate with Byron and thus make better decisions when they find themselves released back in to their community. Do they want to be another statistic and fall back into their old ways, or do they want to be stronger and braver and take on the second chance that is afforded to them?

Quinton on the set of Halfway with writer/director Ben Caird and producer Jonny Paterson. © Halfway Film LLC, 2015
Quinton on the set of Halfway with writer/director Ben Caird and producer Jonny Paterson. © Halfway Film LLC, 2015

Q: Did this story impact you personally? If so, how?

A: I haven’t actually seen the movie as of yet, as I’ve asked to wait until it’s finished before I do and so it’s tough for me to answer the question from that perspective. However, from the perspective of having lived as Byron for four weeks in rural Wisconsin and speaking the words that Ben Caird scripted for me, certainly the story impacted me personally. I have a deeper appreciation for how lucky I am to be in this fotunate position to do what I love. To have seen the world through the eyes of Byron was an incredibly sobering experience at times. I’d also say that I have a new found respect for farmers and those hard working Americans who live in rural communities and do an amazing job of farming the food we eat and the milk we drink! I think before I made Halfway that I took certain things for granted in my own life that now, in hindsight, I am more grateful for.

Q: What message do you hope viewers come away with?

A: Everyone has made mistakes in their past, but when life gives you a second chance, take it and move forward with a positive perspective!

Q: How have your past successes changed how you approach a movie and a role?

A: Not too much. I’m the same person, very appreciative of opportunities that I’m afforded and I always approach roles in the same way; not taking anything for granted. The Blind Side was a wonderful opportunity for me, which opened many doors and allowed for me to collaborate with Academy Award winners. It has given me the chance to pursue a career that I’d always dreamed of, since those days watching James Bond and for that I will always be truly thankful. But, while it was a great start for me it definitely isn’t my ending. There’s a lot more to come and I hope that with Halfway audiences are able to see that there is much more to me than just Big Mike.

Quinton on the set of Halfway. © Halfway Film LLC, 2015
Quinton on the set of Halfway. © Halfway Film LLC, 2015

Q: You have a foundation, The Quinton Aaron Foundation, with a mission “to provide hope, encouragement, confidence and resources to children on the brink of suicide or battling the damaging effects on self-esteem and confidence caused by the actions or words of others.” When did you form this foundation, what inspired you to tackle that mission, and what are your goals for the foundation?

A: I formed the foundation in 2012 with a mission inspired by own experiences. I was bullied as a child for my size, crooked teeth, awkwardness etc. After working on The Blind Side, I found myself speaking to a lot of kids for a lot of different organizations, trying to inspire them to follow their dreams, and the majority of kids who came to talk to me wanted to know about how they should deal with bullying. Many of them were going through the same sorts of things that I went through and as a result I felt I had a duty to try and use my experiences to help them. So, The Quinton Aaron Foundation was formed and we continue to go from strength to stregth with a very clear focus on this mission.

Quinton on the set of Halfway with cinematographer Benjamin Thomas. © Halfway Film LLC, 2015
Quinton on the set of Halfway with cinematographer Benjamin Thomas. © Halfway Film LLC, 2015

Q: What are your career goals? Would you like to try writing, directing, producing as well, or is acting your primary passion?

A: Acting is definitely my primary focus, but I’m certainly interested in producing as well. I like being creative and although I don’t consider myself a writer, I do enjoy coming up with ideas and developing them with writers who I like and want to work with. On the producing side, with Halfway my first experience of working more in that capacity (albeit in an executive producorial capacity) I’ve really embraced it. It’s been awesome to work closely with Jonny on this film and I think I’ve learned a lot about what it takes to actually get a movie made. It’s an experience I’ll always carry with me.

Q: What types of roles or movies would you love to be in?

A: Well as I mentioned earlier, I’d love to be James Bond one day!

007, are you listening?!? Thank you so much, Quinton, for your time!

Read the rest of the interviews in this series:

Find Halfway on Facebook and Twitter.
Find Quinton Aaron on Twitter and Facebook.
Find out more about The Quinton Aaron Foundation here.

Q&A with Nathan Jackson

I owe Nathan (and a couple others) a huge apology. A while back I was doing these Q&As and collected answers from some amazing people. Then I had some medical issues that derailed my focus and I never got back on track. However, about eight months too late, I’m finally getting this up! Ladies and gentlemen, Q&A with the inspiring author, fellow happiness addict, and wannabe billionaire philanthropist Nathan Jackson!

Q: Three adjectives that describe you?
A: Funny, compassionate, curious

Q: What are your passions in life?
A: Reading, writing, people, gaming, making a difference

Q: You do work with Sustainable Seattle. What is that, what is your involvement with it, and why?
A: I am a board member of Sustainable Seattle because I believe that the only way to move forward is to focus on the needs and desires of people.  Sustainability has an automatic connection to environmental concerns, but it misses the most important part of meeting our needs, meeting the needs of the people.  We are an organization dedicated to collaboration, stewardship and social justice.

Q: Part of the Sustainable Seattle project is the Seattle Area Happiness Initiative. How is did happiness get bundled up with a sustainable city project?
A: Happiness is not just a feeling; it is a sense of wellness and true contentment.  We as a society have never really looked at contentment and wellness as real goals.  We are too concerned with material goods and “keeping up with the Jones’s.”  This is why we have such a huge disparity between the rich and the poor.  The rich think that if they got their next million they would finally be happy, but with that next million they are still unsatisfied.

Only through looking at happiness as a collection of different domains: psychological well being, material well being, community vitality, cultural vitality, health, governance, environmental quality, time balance and education can we get to a place that leads to real contentment.

Q: What are the elements of a happy life? What makes you happy? What can other people do to make themselves happier?
A: A happy life is one that is first and foremost about building and maintaining healthy relationships.  Relationship with others, our environment and the most neglected relationship, with ourselves.

What makes me happy is helping others live up to their potential.  What makes me happy is knowing that I have been a part of something that helped others.  What makes me happy is dancing, music, spending time doing nothing with people I care about.

First step in becoming happy is to choose to make your own happiness a priority in your life.  Happiness is not a feeling, but a state of being.

Q: You are also an author. Tell us about your works, past, present, future. What are you working on most right now?
A: I wouldn’t call myself an author since I do not follow the number one rule of every writer I’ve ever read, “Not a day without writing.”  I am working on mostly a novel about a group of high school teens in a very atypical neighborhood based on my hometown.  It is a story about what real friendship is all about and an experiment in writing without editing.

I’m only editing grammar, spelling and consistency.  I’m letting the chapters and story flow in whatever shape it wants.  I have chapters that involve gaming, love, homelessness, education reform, evil PTA’s and a founding of a town.  It is really fun and I’m writing it to prove to myself that a novel is something I can complete.  I’m actually really enjoying the process and the characters are so much fun to write.

I’m at the point where I cannot just throw them around anymore.  I have to sometimes stop myself from making a character say something that would not come out of their mouth, or if it does I write the reactions from the others to reflect the strangeness of what they just said.  I’m having fun and that really is what writing is all about.

Q: Where do you get the inspiration for your stories?
A: My stories come from my reading, my life, and my imagination.  I’ve been making up stories and characters all my life.  My brother and I used to play “choose your own adventure” stories when I was younger.  He was the game master and their were no rules and most of the time I ended up getting squished by Grimlok the Transformer T-Rex.

Q: What one book do you wish you’d written, and why?
A: The one book that I wish I had written would most likely be “The Outsiders.”  The book is timeless because it deals with the fundamental question of humanity “What am I worth?  Where do I belong?  What really matters?”  I must have read that book 30 times.

Q: Describe a favorite childhood memory.
A: One day I was climbing a tree and I must have been 20 feet up easily.  My mother was upset because I hadn’t cleaned my room before I went outside.  She was at the bottom of the tree yelling at me to come down right now.  “Right now?” I said.  “Now!” she said.  So I jumped out of the tree.

Q: Music you’re listening to these days?
A: Coheed and Cambria, Lapfox, Muse, Lady Gaga

Q: Hobbies, secret talents, goals, dreams?
A: Hobbies: gaming, reading, cooking,drawing, dancing and singing.  Secret talent?  I can understand where almost anyone is coming from.  I can see their intent even when I disagree with their actions.

Goal: To live a life worth living.

Dream:  To live a life day to day that is meaningful, fun and never looking forward, but being fully present at this very moment.

THANK YOU, Nathan!!

Q&A: Multifaceted Man Roni Weis

News junkie, traveler, political podcaster, blogger, social media consultant: Multifaceted Roni Weiss does it all, and he has something to say about it too!

Q: Tell us a little about your background and current state of affairs?

A: Born in NY, grew up outside of Seattle, went on a unique accelerated education path (college at 10, associate’s with Honors at 12, high school diploma at 15, double degree in English Lit and Drama at 18). After I graduated, I moved to Hollywood, was miserable, considered law school, decided not to go and then started working with kids and traveling in 2004. In 2007, I started teaching English abroad (Italy, Taiwan, France, Chile) and was all over the world from then up until recently. Now, I’m transitioning into social media consulting and content creation, with some freelance writing, as well.

Q: You describe yourself as a news junkie. What makes you passionate about news?

A: I’m passionate about learning. Part of the reason is that the more information you have, the better able you are to connect to others. A lot of news stories also offer a great jumping off point to have serious conversations about bigger issues.

Q: What do you think about the state of journalism today? When I was in journalism class, we were taught never to editorialize, but I often feel “these kids today” didn’t learn that. And at the same time, what passes as “news” is often more entertainment or sensationalism. Agree? Disagree? What do we do about this?

A: Two aspects to this:

  1. News is generally a business. People vehemently defend NPR, because they feel like NPR doesn’t have to kowtow to the desires of companies. NPR aside, the whole point of the capitalist structure is supply and demand. If people want infotainment, they’ll get it.
  2. Regarding being “in the story”: Americans don’t want the smartest, most qualified person to be president. They want someone they can drink a beer with. In the same way, I don’t think a lot of Americans care as much about hard news. They want someone they can relate to, spoonfeeding them how to think about it. On the positive side, there’s no such thing as being completely objective, so there is a benefit to acknowledging that. I get annoyed when I see AP stories that are clearly in one camp, even though I’m sure some see them as objective.

Q: You recently visited Iraq. What were the main reasons for wanting to go?

A: I really wanted to go to Baghdad and other parts of Iraq, but it’s sort of a pain. Not to mention people would think it was crazy dangerous. So I did what I could and went into Kurdistan (Northern Iraq). By the point where I was ready to do it, I had been hitchhiking all around Turkey and was convinced, based on my experiences and what I’d read online, that it was perfectly feasible for me to do so into Iraq. Since I had solid hosts in Cizre, I had arranged that I could come back to them at some point, including that day, if I didn’t have a good time in Iraq.

My experience wasn’t what I wanted it to be and I ended up leaving the same day, hitchhiking out. I don’t know anyone else who has done a hitchhiking day trip into Iraq.

And I didn’t spend a dollar the whole day. That’s always a good feeling to me.

Q: When Rick Steves went to Iraq, and now reading about your own travels, each time I think “Yes, but they’re men.” I have a feeling that as a woman I would have a very different experience if I traveled there alone. Am I right or is that naive? What do you think a woman traveling solo to Iraq could expect?

A: If I was a woman, I would not travel how I do. Plenty of women say there are lots of safe ways to hitchhike and safe places to do so. Perhaps, but I hitched a lot in Turkey, and from everything I’ve read, men have a great time and women are putting themselves in a great risk for danger. Women are targets, pure and simple. We can question the societal reasons for this or debate about what to do, but the cold reality is that women need to take more precautions then men. This can be taken to ridiculous extremes. I’m of the mind that in most parts of the world, you can walk around safely alone during the day. Night, especially in unlit, rundown, sparsely walked areas and being in the cars of strangers are wholly different matters.

Q: You also do social media consulting. These social media trends seem to come and go so fast. What’s the next big thing? Dare to venture a guess on where we’ll be in ten years?

A: I don’t buy that these trends are coming and going that fast. Facebook has been around for a few years now and I don’t think it’s going anywhere. Once you bust into every demographic, you have staying power. Twitter is also on the rise. I see new accounts there every day. The one risk with Twitter is that they still don’t have a viable financial model. Everyone wonders how this massive site with all these people is going to make money. They operated at a loss in 2010. They’re getting more into sponsored tweets, so maybe they’ll be laden enough with ads to work. But unlike Facebook, you can access Twitter in a lot of other ways, so maybe they’ll clamp down on that. They already bought TweetDeck.

Beyond the forums themselves, businesses are increasingly seeing the benefits of social media, with special offers on places like FourSquare and Twitter. Businesses and consumers are going to have an even tighter relationship.

I think a “social media boycott” might be something we see soon. If a company does something that pisses people off, that there will be a movement to try to talk people into unLiking them and unfollowing them.

Q: You host TTOT, Travel Talk on Twitter. What is that, when, how do people get involved? How is Twitter uniquely qualified for this sort of conversation? Or is it?

A: TTOT is a weekly Twitter event on Tuesdays at 9:30 AM and PM GMT. We throw 5 questions up and people answer them. You follow the #TTOT hashtag to see the questions and the answers of others. More info: http://facebook.com/TravelTalkOnTwitter

Twitter gives you a chance to talk to people live online that you otherwise wouldn’t. It isn’t a web forum, where there can be huge gaps in between when people respond. It isn’t a big chat room, where you really get drowned and need to keep up with the conversation. It also, with its limited number of character, theoretically keeps people to the point more than they would in other online venues.

Q: Tell me about onceaboutapodcast.com?

A: When I was attending the University of Washington, there was a 5-minute theater festival called Once Upon A Weekend, brought to the U by Shanga Parker, the head of the undergrad department. He stopped producing it right when I got involved. When I asked about it happening again, he told me that I should get some people to help me produce it. I was 16 when I created the “Once Upon A Weekend Committee”, instituting myself as Chairman.

The process for Once Upon A Weekend was that a topic went up on Wed., scripts were due Thurs., handed out to actors and directors on Fri., rehearsed and performed on Sat. I loved this play festival deeply and missed it greatly when I graduated. I tried finding ways to produce it elsewhere, but no dice.

I tried to adapt the project to my lifestyle and modern times by putting it in audio podcast format. It was rife with problems, as I had no budget and was not in the same building as the people I was working with. I still love both OUAW and OUAP, but I can’t do either with the lack of resources that I currently have (both professionally and financially).

Q: The fact that you go into great detail about your education on your website makes me think you might have something to say about education. What do you think about our current system? If you were to try to fix it, what would you try? Or is it not broken?

A: That’s a real tough nut to crack. I waver on how much I really think that teachers are generally people that deserve to be lauded. I’m not a fan of hero worship. You strip away someone’s humanity when you lionize them. And in the case of putting a whole profession on a pedestal, you turn it into a holy cow. Look at the whole education debate: the left will talk about their mothers who are teachers (*cough* Jon Stewart *cough*) and how much they sacrifice on a daily basis, while the right says that bad teachers are bringing us down. Are we seriously blind enough to not remember that we had good, bad and mediocre teachers during our lives?

I am someone who believes in local empowerment. I would like if a principal had the authority to reward teachers that are good and get rid of the ones that aren’t. How many professions reward you for just being around a long time? That trend died a while ago. It used to be that people would just get paid to not do much because they had worked for a company long time and outlasted their value. I’ve had teachers that I’ve loved dearly who fit that mould (mostly because their classes were dead easy). Let’s put them to professional rest before they’re just hanging around waiting for their retirement.

I don’t know how we can be paying more to get a higher quality of teachers, but perhaps that’d be good.

Wow, I really do have a lot to say…

All right, a few more points:

* Not everyone should/will own a home, not everyone should/will go to college. Let’s accept that and treat people with respect. For the latter, we need to allow for trade schools without labeling. People have skilled manual labor jobs. We need those people. Not everyone needs to be a lawyer. God forbid.

* Being well-rounded mentally is a good thing. Being well-rounded physically because you’ve cut out P.E. classes is not. Studying for standardized tests is not necessarily going to help kids in the real world. Real world projects based on what someone might be doing in life seems like a way to go. A balance between letting kids do what they want and exposing them to a variety of subjects sounds great to me.

* I’ve been told that a lot of my perceptions of education are off. Working with middle school kids in France made me very curious about the idea of single-sex classes for some subjects, as I found the girls to be completely different when they were in a class by themselves. I’m told this is happening in some places in the States more than I thought. I also criticized our language programs, as I recall taking two years of Spanish in high school and that was that. Seemed to me that Europe did it earlier and was more effective at it. I still am not convinced of the quality of our language programs. I feel like they should be either more intensive or dropped, as we have a lot of people that don’t remember anything they studied, language-wise. Does that really help? With some subjects, a bit of exposure helps. I’m not convinced that it necessarily works the same way with unretained, unpracticed language skills.

Q: Dreams, goals, interests, special talents?

A: I want a better sense of Africa. As I write this, I’m on a plane to Senegal. So that should help. My plan was to do Egypt-South Africa overland in 2012, but I might end up doing a different sort of a trip (or series of trips), depending on how things shake out.

I’d love if Don’t Worry About The Government, my weekly political podcast was bigger, or put me in a position to be doing some political commentary elsewhere. In fact, I’m realizing that maybe I should start looking into that.

Special talents? I’m charming as hell. And when I tell people that, they hate me. So I guess I have talents for both being charming and making people hate me.

Q: What makes you happy?

A: Girls. Which I guess should probably read ‘women’. But ‘girls’ sounds like a fun night out barhopping, whereas ‘women’ sounds weighty and difficult.

Connect with Roni!


Shameless self promotion: Don’t forget to check out my (Pam Stucky’s) book, Letters from Wishing Rock (a novel with recipes) too!

Download a FREE excerpt here.

in print:

Third Place Books, Lake Forest Park, WA
Darvill’s Bookstore, Orcas Island, WA
Poor Richard’s Book Shoppe, Gastonia, NC

Buy for iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, iTunes
Buy for Kindle
Buy for Kindle in the UK
Buy for Nook
Buy for Sony eReader
Buy at GoodReads

Don’t have an e-reader? Get a free Kindle reading app!

Q&A: Traveler Brendan van Son

Whoops! Life got a little crazy for a bit there and I missed a few Q&As! Let’s get going again!! First up is Brendan van Son!

Brendan is a travel writer and photographer from Alberta, Canada. You can see some of his work on his website Brendan’s Adventures.  You can also check him out facebook and twitter.

Q: Start out by telling us a bit about yourself. Since you’re a traveler I’ll ask you my favorite, the Border Crossing Question: Who are you, where are you going, and what do you have to declare?

Border crossings make me nervous.  This is exactly how I respond to those questions when I’m at a border.
Security: Who are you?
Me: Brendan Todd van Son, age 26, I am a cancer… but not to society, just as a star sign.
Security: Where are you going?
Me: Ummm, I don’t mean to sound rude, but I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t be at your border asking for entry to your country and not be going to your country, duh.
Security: Do you have any thing to declare?
Me: I have a big back, but I’m not going to declare anything, unless you think it’s necessary that I declare 8 dirty t-shirts, 4 pairs of pants, 1 pair of shoes, 5 pairs of socks and 2 jackets.
Security: Thats a lot of clothes for one guy to have, but I have to ask… you never declared any underwear.
Me: Get off my back, I’ll go shopping when I get into your country!

In all seriousness, I usually get into countries pretty easily because I am Canadian.  Although the last time I went through the US I got strip searched. I guess they don’t like seeing multiple stamps from places Colombia, like Venezuela and Antarctica (I could be smuggling penguins).

Q: What’s your current status – full time travel blogger/writer? Other?

Oh how I hate the word blogger.  What does that even mean? I am a full time writer and photographer.  Some days I make my money from selling articles to newspapers and magazines, and some days I make it from selling photos.  It goes pretty good most of the time, I rarely have to sell my body for money to pay the rest of the bills.

Q: When did you first get interested in travel and where was your first trip? Were you in a group or by yourself?

I was never really interested in travel until I was 8, although before that I was a big fan of going to the lake and building sandcastles.  We went on a big family road trip from Western Canada all the way to Tijuana.  It wasn’t until recently that I began to wonder if we made that entire trip so my parents could run drugs back from Mexico in out tent trailer.  I feel so used.

Q: If the above was not solo, where was your first solo trip? Do you like solo or group travel better, and why?

I kind of had two first solo trips.  I went on a school exchange to Japan when I was 13, but that was kind of with other people, although I was on my own a lot and at home with a family by myself.  On a side note, why don’t we all have fancy toilets like Japan?  That technology hit there about 20 years ago, why has it not made it to us yet? I blame, Obama, didn’t he promise we’d get those in his campaign?  My first solo backpacking trip was when I was 21.  I backpacked across Central America for 4 months.  That trip really defined my life.

Q: What is the draw of travel for you? What has travel taught you?

I hate traveling, I hate how hard it is sometimes, and I especially hate getting food sick.  But boy do I love being able to tell people that I travel for a living.  No, in all seriousness, travel is a challenge.  But it has a way of forcing you not to simply avoid challenges but rather confront them head on.  I love how travel forces you to grow at a rapid pace as a person.  The person I was before traveling, and the person I am now are completely different; I am very proud of the person I am now.  I think the reason so many people love travel, especially solo travel, is that it allows them to break free from the things about themselves that they are not happy with and allows become a person they are truly proud of.

Q: Favorite places in the world? Anyplace you never want to return to? Places you’re dying to get to?

How dare you ask me which place is my favourite.  That’s like me asking you which of your boyfriends you prefer, not fair.  If you really need an answer, well, Antarctica definitely sits high on my list along with Guatemala.  I don’t think that there’s any place I wouldn’t return to if offered.  Each place has something different to offer, if you were to ask my least favourite country so far I’d probably tell you El Salvador.  I’m not really dying to get anywhere really, I’m kind of going with the flow knowing that I’ll eventually end up everywhere I want to go.

Q: Some people might say that people who travel a lot are trying to escape something in their own lives. Agree? Disagree? Partially agree?

Yeah, that’s a fair question, and I used to think I was escaping from having to make a life decision on a career.  I am a man.  Commitment scares me.  The thought of doing one thing forever horrified me unless I knew I loved doing it.  I knew I loved travel so I started looking for a way that I could do what I loved doing forever.  I’m still working on it.

Q: What percentage of the year would you say you are traveling? Does that disrupt your social life at home?

Over the past 2 years I’ve spend a total 730 days traveling.  Even when I went home for a month to grace people with my presence I was traveling all over to see everyone.  My friends and family back home are great, I’m sure that I have the best friends and family in the world.  Any time I go home it’s like I never left, we just all fall back into place.  Finding a girlfriend who puts up with me, on the other hand, is impossible.

Q: Best travel packing tip? Do you pack differently now than you did before?

The first time I packed for a trip I had everything laid out on the floor ready to go months in advance.  Now, I just toss my favourite things in my bag a couple hours before a flight.  You can buy everything you need on the road, don’t stress too much about making sure you have all the right things.  My best packing tip is to do it BEFORE your going away party and not when you get home from it.  If I had a dollar for every time packed my mom’s iron… well, I’d have a dollar… and an iron.

Q: Hobbies, interests, dreams, goals, special talents?

Hobbies: dancing the macarana or any other dace that has set movements.  Interests: I am very interested in girls, I’d like to hold one’s hand someday. Dreams: I had this messed up dream last night where I was batting cleanup for the Yankees, but when the pitcher pitched he threw a ham sandwich at me.  What is that supposed to mean?  Goals: 13. Oh and 28 assists. Special Talents: I can make a farce out of even the most serious questions.  Is this interview almost over?  Remembering that dream about the sandwich has made me hungry.

Q: Life is too short to _______________? Expand on your answer.

Answering so many questions.  Seriously, this is your trick to keep me occupied so I won’t can’t finish my novel isn’t it?  You’re trying to maintain your spot on the book shelf aren’t you?  I’m on to you Miss Stucky!

Q: What is something you know now that you didn’t know then?

I know now that I can not eat 71 pieces of Sushi without feeling sick.  I think that my limit is either 69 or 70, I plan on finding that out next week at some point, I’ll keep you updated.

Q: What makes you happy?

Wahoooooo last question!!!! I am soooooo HAPPY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  Oh, I forgot to answer the question.  Sushi, sushi really makes me happy.  Oh and also when one of my favourite sports teams doesn’t finish last.  Oh and I also recently found out that talking about myself in very long interviews makes me happy too.


Shameless self promotion: Don’t forget to check out my (Pam Stucky’s) book, Letters from Wishing Rock (a novel with recipes) too!

Download a FREE excerpt here.

in print:
Poor Richard’s Book Shoppe in Gastonia, NC

Buy for iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, iTunes
Buy for Kindle
Buy for Kindle in the UK
Buy for Nook
Buy for Sony eReader
Buy at GoodReads

Don’t have an e-reader? Get a free Kindle reading app!

Q&A: Actor Candis Phlegm

Candis Phlegm is an example of the awesome power of Twitter. Someone else (I think it was @BadAstronomer) tweeted about a web series that sounded fun, so I went to watch it online. I saw that the actors had Twitter accounts so I followed them. And thus did I stumble upon Candis, who is, as they say, made of awesome.

Q: I found you through www.awkwardembraces.com. Tell us about Awkward Embraces – what is it, where did the idea for it come from, what is your involvement in it?

A: Awkward Embraces is a comedy web series about a nerdy/geeky girl (“Jessica”) trying to navigate the dating scene in LA and her two best friends (“Lyndsey” and “Candis”) try to help her find dates, as well as having their own dating mishaps and adventures. The idea for the show was a combination of the creator’s (Jessica Mills) desires to make acting projects for herself as well as showcase the talents of Lyndsey Doolen (“Lyndsey”) and myself. In season 1 I was an associate producer in addition to my acting duties. For season 2, I’ve added writing credits to my duties and I’m so excited to see how our audience reacts to them!

Q: Be honest: Did you guys just create Awkward Embraces so you could direct hot actors to take their shirts off?

A: Ha! No, I don’t think that was the initial plan, but it seems to be an indirectly amazing result! Honestly, at one point Jessica called together a group of people she wanted to work on a sketch comedy project with. After that meeting, Lyndsey, Jessica, and I talked about doing a project with the three of us if the sketch comedy thing didn’t pan out. A few months later, Jessica told us she wanted to film the episode called “Donut Girl” as part of a webseries. The show just evolved from there.

Q: Some of the stuff in Awkward Embraces is pretty “adult.” Did it ever, and/or does it still, embarrass you to think of your parents or siblings watching that?

A: That’s an interesting question. I was inclined to tell you that it has been the most risqué project I’ve been involved with, but to be honest, the first webseries I was cast in was very over the top with lots of sexual overtones. I played a “hooker hopeful” on a show called “Whorified: The Search for America’s Next Top Whore.” It’s a send up of all the reality competition shows with some silly, raunchy, and plain gross out humor in it. With that said, I do still get a little freaked out when I think of my dad watching Awkward Embraces episodes where I improvise tag lines such as “tiny penises need love too.” My parents still think of me as their cute little five-year-old girl most of the time and the part of me that wants them to keep thinking that is probably embarrassed.

Q: In the series, your character is very uninformed about geek stuff. Is the same true of you? If not: Fox Mulder or Malcolm Reynolds? Or other?

A: I like the way you worded this. Most of the time, Lyndsey and I are asked if we’re “geeks in real life” and I don’t like that question. Lyndsey and I are both of the school where you don’t label yourself or put yourself in one box. I’m definitely informed about a variety of “geek” things. I like to consider my tastes very well rounded, but I guess you could say I have some “geek tendencies” or “nerd sympathies.” My favorite movie (as a whole) is the Star Wars Trilogy (4-6, the only one that matters!), then my number two favorite is Back to the Future. So, even from a young age, I’ve been very into science, science fiction, and fantasy. I also live for Superman, Wonder Woman, Batman, and the X-Men. I didn’t grow up reading the comics – but I loved/love any and all television and movie adaptations I could/can possibly watch involving those characters. Re: Fox Mulder vs. Malcolm Reynolds – I’ve never been an X-files fan, so I’d have to say Malcolm Reynolds, based on my recent introduction to Firefly, as well as my decade long adoration for Nathan Fillion. However, if you really want to know who my ultimate sci-fi leading man is – I’ve got to go with David Tennant as Doctor Who. I fought watching the series for so long because I thought it might be “too geeky” for me – but at the incessant prodding of one of my best friends – I finally gave the series a chance over Christmas 2010, and was smitten with Tennant after about three minutes. He’s such a charismatic actor and very pleasing to look at and hilarious – so any future resistance would definitely have been futile.

Q: What is your acting history, and what are your acting goals? Who would you love to act with?

A: I remember being too frightened to audition for an elementary school musical production called “Bedlam in Bunnyville.” Once rehearsals for that show were underway, I remember being eaten with jealousy and regret once I saw how much fun the children that were cast were having. I’ve always loved singing but have always been painfully shy. I finally mustered up the courage to audition for one of the small singing roles for the Christmas program that same year. I’ll never forget being in art class and having to sing my audition where all of my classmates could hear. This operatic voice that I’d never shared with anyone just came pouring out of me and I could hear everyone in the class stop and listen. My teacher was so shocked and impressed, that she gave me an unplanned solo for the show. When I went back to my table in art class, one of my classmates said “you should be on Star Search!” so I think it all started from there. I had always wanted to be on television or be some sort of performer and all I needed was the instant gratification and the praise to show me that I might actually be good at it. When junior high hit, I tried my hand at acting, and in high school, I decided to change my career focus from Neonatologist to Actor once I started going to prose/poetry and one-act play competitions and winning. Something just clicked and realized I wanted to do something really fun with my life and let my five-year-old self have a chance at that dream of being on television. As for acting goals – my perfect career would involve me having a successful leading role on a television drama. During summer hiatuses, I’d do a few movies and when time permitted during the regular season, I’d do some comedic guest spots on sitcoms here and there. That would be the life! There are so many people I would love to act with, but to name a few: Kenneth Branagh, Emma Thompson, Joel Edgerton, Tina Fey, Al Pacino, Robert DeNiro, Laurence Fishburne, and Michael Caine. I’d also love to work with my two favorite directors: Paul Thomas Anderson and Christopher Nolan.

Q: Of all the things you do for the series – acting, writing, whatever else (which is …?) what do you like best and why?

A: I love acting the most. It’s what makes me happiest in life and is what I believe is my soul’s purpose. I don’t think I’m good at anything else, to be honest. Ha! I do enjoy writing, but I find it so much more difficult because it’s not my first inclination and I don’t think it always comes naturally to me. Or, perhaps a combination of acting and writing is my soul’s purpose? This is going to sound so egotistical, but I love a lot of the improvised lines that I come up with for the show. Technically, my brain wrote them for me to act, so now I don’t think I can’t say that writing isn’t in my soul because I think I have a good relationship with dialogue. I just hear these funny things in my head that I want to say or hear others say and somehow I’m able to put it on paper and get a few chuckles and this pleases me. However, if someone held a gun to my head and said I could only choose one to like best – I’d go with acting…I could still improvise every now and then and congratulate myself internally for my writing. Ha!

Q: I live in Seattle. You live in California. As I write this it’s drizzly and cold in May. Please tell me you get sick of the sunshine? Are you a California native, and if not, when and why did you move there?

A: You know, sometimes I DO get sick of the sunshine. I’m a native Texan, and while we do have our fair share of sunshine, we also get all of the crazy weather that the north east doesn’t want at random times of the year! I miss the random thunderstorms and below 50F temperatures for no apparent reason in July. I’m a weather weirdo. I definitely don’t like to be hot, no matter what state I’m in. I’m happy if it’s around 72F all day, maybe a little cooler every now and then. I moved to California in the summer of 2008 to pursue my acting career and it’s one of the best things, if not the best thing, that I’ve ever done with my life. It’s just so much easier to meet other “creatives” and make your way into the industry out here. There’s a hopeful and a helper on every corner – you just have to be on the right corner and talk to the right people and be prepared for anything.

Q: From what I can tell, the main characters work at a publishing company. Is that correct? What was the inspiration for that – does one of you have a background working in publishing?

A: Yes, the ladies of Awkward Embraces DO work at a publishing company – a romance publisher to be exact. This was actually my idea. In season 1, we were trying to figure out what the girls did for a living and I just threw that out there because it’s a job that I always thought would be so fun to do and dramatize. I think there’s so much that you can do comedy-wise with that sort of occupation and it just happened to be a good fit for the show. I don’t know that I could work in publishing – I read at a snail’s pace, so I’m pretty sure my business would fail or I’d be fired for not getting things read on time.

Q: How did you and the other two principals in Awkward Embraces meet?

A: We three met in college. Jessica and I are the same year and Lyndsey came in a year later. I never acted with Jessica in school, but Lyndsey and I ended up doing two shows together. It still shocks me that we’re all in LA and working on the same project. I thought once college ended, that would be the end of any alliances, especially acting wise, I had then. The universe really showed me, didn’t it?

Q: Dream guest actor(s) for Awkward Embraces?

A: Oh dear. There are just so many people that I think would make a good fit geek/nerd wise, and whom I’d personally love to act with. On the geek/nerd side – I’d love to have Wil Wheaton, Jim Parsons, and Tina Fey. If we’re talking love interests for myself – well the list goes on and on. I “joked” about Daniel Craig in an interview from season 1, but I think if we had enough money and enough MAGIC we could make it happen. I’d also die to have Lee Pace and Ian Somerhalder make appearances.

Q: Do you have a job other than working on Awkward Embraces? Doing what?

A: Unfortunately, I do have a day job. I’m not getting paid for Awkward Embraces and rarely get paying acting jobs, so I’ve got to do the desk job shuffle for a while until something pans out or I win the lottery. I’m an office assistant right now – I’m not changing the world, but I’m paying my rent and that saves my world, so you know…

Q: Hobbies, interests, goals, dreams, secret talents?

A: My hobbies mainly involve watching television and movies. (I’m so boring!) I would read more if I didn’t read so slowly – I just wanted to put that out there – I don’t want people thinking I hate books or anything. I’m interested in a lot of things. I like to collect postcards, and honestly, I prefer them blank. I also like postage stamps and I used to collect CDs. I’m a huge music lover! I like the sports my dad would never watch: volleyball and tennis. I like to volley. I like rackets. I like trying to whack things – even though I think I have the least amount of upper body strength of any human being ever in history. Ever. Badminton! My perfect life would involve daily Badminton matches! One of the goals I have and will never achieve is being an Olympic athlete. I wanted to be a gymnast for the longest time – Mary Lou Retton was my hero as a kid. Then I wanted to be an Olympic swimmer when Ian Thorpe and Michael Phelps became popular. I’ve always thought being a Track & Field Olympian would be cool too. I just want to be the best at something, I think. My ultimate goal as a little girl was to be a Dallas Cowboys Cheerleader and I think with enough MAGIC I could make that happen one day too. I don’t think I have any secret talents. I can’t whistle to save my life. You know, wait a minute, maybe a few of my impressions are secret talents? I don’t show them to anyone, but they make me laugh. Some of my favorites are: Jensen Ackles as “Dean Winchester” from Supernatural, and singing like Stevie Nicks. I’m usually pretty good at imitating male voices. I don’t know what that says about me. I’m great at creating character voices, most of which I never show to anyone either. I suppose I’m saving them for “The Candis Phlegm Show” – whenever the heck I can get enough MAGIC to make that happen.

Q: Your twitter handle is @thebullmonkey. Please explain.

A: I’m so used to it by now, (some form of bullmonkey has been my online persona for many years) that it still amuses me when people are clueless as to what it means. I’m really into astrology, so the bull is representative of my Taurus western astrological sign and the monkey is my Chinese astrological sign. I think it suits me. I’m the perfect combination of the shy and methodical Taurus and the charming and mischievous monkey.

Q: What makes you happy?

A: This is probably the second toughest question of the bunch. Sometimes I wonder if I have the right definition of happy. I’ve always found happiness in recreational things. Watching my favorite television shows and movies and eating delicious foods makes me happy. But there are other things, deeper things, I suppose that fall on the list. My dad’s laugh, my mom’s laugh, my laugh, laughing babies, finding money in public laundry machines, random acts of kindness, compliments on my appearance from strangers, being able to read people, listening to my favorite music, daydreaming, light traffic days, ice water, ice cream, believing that there’s a higher power looking out for me, good talks with friends, making people laugh.

Q: The Border Crossing Question: Who are you, where are you going, and what do you have to declare?

A: And so we arrive at the toughest question of the bunch. I’m not sure how to answer this. I keep rereading it and trying to figure out what the best way to answer it is. Oh, this is so hard! Hmmm…Okay, I’ll just see what happens….I am Candis Phlegm, I’m going places, and I declare it to be true.


Shameless self promotion: Don’t forget to check out my (Pam Stucky’s) book, Letters from Wishing Rock (a novel with recipes) too!

Download a FREE excerpt here.

in print:
Poor Richard’s Book Shoppe in Gastonia, NC

Buy for iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, iTunes
Buy for Kindle
Buy for Kindle in the UK
Buy for Nook
Buy for Sony eReader
Buy at GoodReads

Don’t have an e-reader? Get a free Kindle reading app!

Q&A: Rachel, Traveler + Amazing Woman

How do I get to meet and know so many brilliant people?! Here’s yet another of my favorites. (Yes, dear reader, you are one of my favorites too!) Competitive horse-back rider, loud laugh-er (I totally want to know more about her loud laughing), vegan: That’s Rachel, world traveler and another of the unmatchable ladies from ZipSetGo.com!

Q: Tell us a little about your background.

A: I grew up in a small town in Ohio, but always wanted to be different. I was vegetarian before I even knew why it was a good idea, I chose to be an equestrian instead of a cheerleader, and then decided to go to a small private college instead of where my friends were going. I graduated from college with a degree in public relations. After studying abroad 3 times, and doing a mission trip in my undergrad years, sitting in an office at a marketing firm just wasn’t making me happy. Luckily, I landed a job in meeting and incentives, and now can travel the world and use my degree at the same time!

Q: You love to travel. Where did that love come from?

A: I have always wanted to get out and see the world, and have new experiences, but was very wrapped up in competitive horse back riding until I went to college. My parents were both traveled before they had kids, and I loved to read about exotic locations. My favorite professor (Latin), asked me to go to Italy with her, and I jumped at the chance. I lived in Florence, and from there it was all over, I was hooked.

Q: Where was your first out-of-country trip, and at what age? First solo trip, and what age? Do you prefer group or solo travel, and why?

A: My first out of the country was technically Canada, we would go as a family to vacation, and I would also have competitions there. My first ‘big’ trip was to Europe in college, and went back the very next summer. I enjoy traveling with people I like, even if it’s just one other person. After traveling for work and experiences amazing things, but not having someone you care about to share the moment, solo travel loses its appeal to me.

Q: You work in the “performance improvement industry” – what does that mean, and what was your path to that career?

A: I work for an incentive company, in the travel department. I help to reward top earners with great travel, not a bad gig!

Q: You say you like to immerse yourself in culture. How do you go about doing that, and how do you do it in a way that you’re immersing yourself in an area’s true culture rather than the culture they’ve created for tourism purposes?

A: I don’t think it’s always possible to immerse yourself in the culture, I have certainly been guilty of taking touristy vacations, and especially if I am working on a trip, it’s nearly impossible to be very local. However, if I do it my way, I like to spend at least a month in a destination. Instead of touring Europe and collecting passport stamps, I would rather live in a place, make local friends, and know how to get around without an map (which is quite an accomplishment for me!). Any time you know locals of course it’s easier – in Ecuador my family had lived there for 50 years, so we got an authentic experience. The same with El Salvador, I actually lived in a hut how they lived (minus eating wild boar of course). Basically, I am the anti-cruise. Live there, stay local, make local friends, eat at local places. There should be a fine – punishable by an inside cabin cruise – if anyone with any sort of intelligence eats at a TGIFridays ANYWHERE.

Q: If there were no boundaries on travel – meaning, you could travel backward or forward in time or anywhere space – where and when would you go?

A: Eek! What a question! Backward I would have to choose the renaissance in Florence, since it’s what inspired me to travel in the first place. I have a major thing for Michelangelo (read the Agony & the Ecstasy and you will know what I am talking about).

Q: Aside from travel: hobbies, interests, goals, dreams, secret talents?

A: Hmm…hobbies. I like being involved in my community and volunteering – I have the cutest little sister from Big Brothers Big Sisters. My interests are having as much fun as I can – I am pretty professional at having a great time with friends. I would also count live music, dining at local haunts, and NPR as interests. Goals? Stop wrecking my car, learn a language, make more time to read, and keep traveling as much as I can. Talents? Match-making, endurance shopping, walking long distances in heels, and loud-laughing.

Q: If you could be a master of any skill you don’t currently have, what skill would it be and why?

A: Teleportation. You should see my new-ish car. It is jammed-up in three different sections. I managed to get scratches on my hood (?), lost a side mirror, and crunched in a door. The world would be a safer place if I could teleport.

Q: How long have you been a vegan, and what made you make that choice? Does being vegan present difficulties when traveling, and how do you deal with those challenges?

A: I have been veg since 8th grade..so..12 years! I was a weird kid. I think I was actually smarter then, I am just digressing now. I decided to do a project on factory farms, and I think I wanted to rebel against my super-carnivorous family. Now I like it for a whole host of reasons – it’s healthy, it’s good for the planet, and I would never want to be a part of harming anything. Honestly, I really don’t even think about it anymore. The world is way more excepting of vegetarian choices than the USA is – other countries eat vegetables and fruit. We don’t. I usually don’t tell my hosts that I am vegetarian, and just sort of eat what I can. If I am at a business function I try to check out the menu, and let them know ahead of time so there isn’t a huge awkward ‘what-a-tree-hugger’ moment in the middle of dinner.

Q: Since travel is your job, does it ever become work you dread, or do you still love it all?

A: I absolutely still love it. I get anxious if I am not gone enough!

Q: What makes you happy?

A: My friends & family. At the end of the day, I truly believe it’s who you are with, not where you are that matters. Travel blasphemy? I don’t even mind 🙂

Connect with Rachel!


Shameless self promotion: Don’t forget to check out my (Pam Stucky’s) book, Letters from Wishing Rock (a novel with recipes) too!

in print:
Poor Richard’s Book Shoppe in Gastonia, NC

Buy for iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, iTunes
Buy for Kindle
Buy for Kindle in the UK
Buy for Nook
Buy for Sony eReader
Buy at GoodReads

Don’t have an e-reader? Get a free Kindle reading app!

Q&A: April Mescher, Traveler + Amazing Woman!

Thursdays at 3:30 p.m. eastern time on Twitter is time for #TNI – “Traveler’s Night In”! It’s an ultra-fast-paced ninety-minute Q&A (open to everyone!) in which twitterers answer 10 travel-related questions on the theme of the week. It’s through #TNI that I have been lucky to meet so many fabulous travel-passionate people, including the spectacular April Mescher, an executive at ZipSetGo.com.

Q: Tell us a little about your background.

A: I am an executive of an online travel community called ZipSetGo.com as well as the VP of Travel for a performance improvement company. I graduated high school knowing what I wanted to be “when I grew-up” so I went to Travel School and earned my degree in hospitality management. While going to night school full time – during the day I worked for a leisure travel agency and a major hotel brand in their international reservations department. After graduation I went to work for AAA for a few years until I was recruited into the performance improvement industry where I have spent the last 14 years of my career. I can’t imagine doing anything else – I love it!!

Q: You love to travel. Where did that love come from?

A: I am a natural explorer and love digging into the history and culture of the places I go. Travel for me is as natural and is as basic of a “need” as eating or breathing is for others. I have to do it – and if I don’t I am not myself and struggle to stay focused in the day-to-day tasks I need to complete. I know several other travelers that describe their need to explore the same way – it’s a must do vs. would like to….

Q: Where was your first out-of-country trip, and at what age? First solo trip, and what age? Do you prefer group or solo travel, and why?

A: 18 to Mexico – my parents weren’t much into international travel. My father was in the service and said he saw enough of the world when he was sailing around in it. We spent our family vacations in the USA seeing and exploring this great country.

My first solo trip was to Greece – it was amazing and one of the places I hope to get back too

I love to travel w/ my friends, but there is nothing like taking a trip solo. Each time I go solo I learn something new about myself so I like both for very different reasons.

Q: You call yourself an “action junkie.” What happens if you’re forced to slow down? Is it ever a good thing?

A: If I am forced to slow down – I usually get sick….

As weird as it sounds -I am super busy and always on the go – I guess I am use to the pace so when I take a “time-out” I end up sick.

Q: You’ve committed yourself in 2011 to push yourself outside your comfort zone. Why? What paths has that taken you down, and what are you learning?

A: The first thing I did was sign up for an art class on Saturday mornings. I am not an artistic person so I knew going into it that it would be about my personal best not being the best. At the end of my first eight-week course on “glass mosaic” I realized I am not as bad as I thought and that I could create something very artistic. And so I signed up for another class on painting – all different types of paints and textiles to paint on and with – it’s a blast!

Second thing I did was get enrolled in a fitness program. What I am learning is – I still HATE to work out and I will never love it or look forward to doing it – but I do look and feel better so it’s worth it. I also have found time in my day to workout – all be it 5:30 am in a boot camp class 3 days a week but I am sticking with it and liking the results.

Q: If there were no boundaries on travel – meaning, you could travel backward or forward in time or anywhere space – where and when would you go?

A: Future – to see what I will be missing when I die.

Q: Aside from travel: hobbies, interests, goals, dreams, secret talents?

A: I love to camp, garden and I am an avid reader. Also – I love all things AS SEEN ON TV! Have you tried the Egg Genie or Salad Shooter – LOVE THEM!

Q: Life is too short to…

A: NOT EAT DESSERT. So many diets and weight loss strategies have people yo yo dieting…. I say if you have a craving for something have it – chips, pie, cakes… etc… JUST DON’T EAT THE WHOLE THING!

Q: Favorite places in the world? Anyplace you never want to return to? Places you’re dying to get to?

A: Favorite place – USA
I want to return to Greece and New Zealand Iceland is #1 on my bucket list!

Q: The Border Crossing Question: Who are you, where are you going, and what do you have to declare?

A: April Mescher, hotel for vacation, t-shirt’s I bought for my kids

Q: What makes you happy?

A: Family, Friends, Traveling and connecting w/ people all over the globe through #TNI

Connect with April!


Shameless self promotion: Don’t forget to check out my (Pam Stucky’s) book, Letters from Wishing Rock (a novel with recipes) too!

in print:
Poor Richard’s Book Shoppe in Gastonia, NC

Buy for iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, iTunes
Buy for Kindle
Buy for Kindle in the UK
Buy for Nook
Buy for Sony eReader
Buy at GoodReads

Don’t have an e-reader? Get a free Kindle reading app!