Monday, May 23, 2016

Meet Ali Larsen, Author

Ali Larsen is a self-published author. She writes mostly about life, love, and the relationship between the two. Visit her website at

1. Have you always been interested in writing, or did your desire to write develop over time?

I've always had some interest in writing, for as long as I can remember. When I was little kid, I wrote poetry and works of fiction. My book Stand By Me was actually written over the span of 10 years. But, as I grew older and wiser, I started writing based on personal experiences. My commitment to writing definitely developed over time.

2. I noticed that you publish in PDF format and sell your own books on your website. Why do you publish and distribute independently instead of through big retailers?

I actually considered trying to get my work published, but I wanted to try selling it all myself first. I figured having it up myself was a good way to gauge if anyone would actually purchase my writing. I chose the PDF format because I see it as a very universal file type that anyone would be able to view.

3. As someone who writes both poetry and prose, how do you decide which genre is the best for the ideas you want to express?

My writing sort of chooses me. Whenever I have an idea, it usually comes to me formed already. I'll think of a couple rhyming sentences, and then I'll write a poem. Or I'll think of a couple lines and know it would work as prose instead. The real challenge is deciding between prose and articles. For that I just see what sounds better at the end. Then I make whatever changes I need to.

4. Who are some authors, artists, musicians, or other people who inspire you creatively?

I would say one of my biggest inspiration is Gerard Way (formerly of My Chemical Romance). He always had an attitude that said "it's okay to be a little messed up." I've always felt different, so his message really stood out to me. But my biggest inspiration is the author Christopher Gutierrez. He made an entire career out of telling stories about his life. They aren't even well written, but it's because he always delivers powerful messages with them. He's an amazing author. Every time I feel like my writing isn't very good, he reminds me that it doesn't have to be. It just has to have a whole lot of heart.

5. What projects are you currently working on?

I'm currently working on two novels. One is a sort of autobiography about the places I've been and the people I've known. The other is about the challenge of living with a mental disability. I was diagnosed as bipolar when I was teenager. It's been rough journey into adulthood. Obviously, it affects personal relationships, keeping a job, and everything else. I want the message of the book to be that it's okay to be a little messed up.

Thanks, Ali!

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Meet Jeffery Craig, Author

Jeffery Craig is the author of the Reightman & Bailey Series. He's released two mysteries in the series so far, with a third book soon to appear. Jeffery lives in South Carolina and runs a local art and gift gallery with his husband. Learn more about Jeffery's work by visiting, as well as his author page on Amazon.

1. How did you come up with the idea for your new mystery series, and did you have any issues writing it?

I've been thinking about this series for several years, and I've jotted down notes every time a new idea popped into my mind. I never did anything with those ideas. One evening, a friend pressed me to go ahead and start writing, and the next morning I sat down and wrote the prologue and the first chapter. I had a strong sense of the main character already, and the murder kind of wrote itself! The hard part was solving that murder and bringing the environment and the characters to life while doing so. There was a lot going on politically and socially in this part of the United States that provided some good fodder--I guess it was perfect timing.

When I started writing, my worry was I wouldn't be able to find enough words, but the opposite turned out to be true. In the space of about six weeks, I had over 700 pages, and suddenly I had two books to wrangle instead of one. After a lot of editing and re-writing, Done Rubbed Out and Hard Job were born, and the next few books of the series were outlined.

2. Your two protagonists seem like an interesting and unlikely pair. Would you tell us more about them?

Both of the protagonists are pretty complex. Toby Bailey is a young gay man who has opened his dream business--a high-end spa. He was raised in a small southern town, and in many ways, he's pretty naïve. When he finds his business partner (and former lover) naked and dead on a massage table, his whole world is turned upside down. Not only does he have to deal with a very personal loss, but that loss happens in a horrific way. On top of that, he's a prime suspect and isn't sure what to do.

Melba Reightman is the lead homicide detective on the case, and the senior detective in the city police department. She came up the ranks the hard way and learned to deal with the good 'ol boy network in a southern city and everything that represents. She's tough, smart, and capable. Her last few years have been rough; she divorced her cheating husband, her daughter has left home, and frankly, her job isn't providing much personal satisfaction. She doesn't have many friends. She's also grumpy, short-tempered, and experiencing the onset of menopause. She's seen it all, and her view of life is cynical and more than a little sarcastic. She also had a fixation on her large, overstuffed purse... it's a security blanket of sorts.

The differences between the two provide a lot of good tension, and when combined with the rest of the vivid characters, gives the series a lot of depth.

3. What are some of the unique challenges of writing in the mystery genre?

I think the most obvious challenge is that of leaving a trail of clues that lead the reader the direction you want them to go, without being too obvious or pointing toward the murderer too quickly. I would write about 60-70 pages and then go back to make sure I hadn't missed anything. I reworked that aspect a lot. The clues had to be laid out in a realistic manner. I didn't want there to be any "ah ha!" moments until the very end. In this series, the crimes serve a dual purpose. They move the story along, but also provide the framework for character growth and evolution. I guess the best way to think about it is to realize this isn't just a simple set of mysteries, but is an ongoing picture of how people and events we encounter throughout life change us in unexpected ways.

4. Why did you decide to self-publish your books?

That's a great question! I did a lot of research and talked to a lot of people that have made and are making a career for themselves writing fiction. I learned the publishing world has changed dramatically in the last 10 years, and is expected to change more rapidly in the next 10. Even in the traditional publishing world, the expectations are very different now. I was under the assumption your agent and publisher took care of everything once the book was written and acquired. I learned that's just not the case anymore. Unless they're fortunate enough to be picked up by one of the big three or four publishers, a new, unknown author has to write a good book, have it edited, and have at least a concept if not a full design for the cover, and is expected to do a lot of the PR and marketing. But all of these things have to be done against a slow timeline that the author doesn't have much influence over.

As an indie author, I do all of the same things, but I'm in control (for good or for bad) of most of the process. The biggest challenge is learning as you go, and I have made some spectacular mistakes. Thankfully, there are so many great tools out there now, and terrific forums and groups that are willing to share the things they have learned. These folks--along with new ways of buying books--have totally sparked a new revolution, and it's fun and exciting to be a part of the indie movement. Seeing how things have changed, and experiencing and dedication of the people following the same path, is what ultimately decided me.

5. How do you find the time to write and keep up with your day job of running an art gallery/shop?

I'm one of the co-owners of the gallery, and focus on specific parts of the business. I don't have to be there every day, except for certain times of the year when every hand is needed. I'm fortunate that I'm able to divide my focus and can plan my time. The more difficult thing to do is to find time to write a new book while trying to promote the finished books. I have to really be ruthless with my time and set certain days and hours aside to complete each task. It helps to have deadlines! I book my editor in advance and know I have to have a finished manuscript into her hands by the date agreed or life will be unpleasant! At the end of the day, I really try to focus on telling the best story I can, with messages and themes that are important to me and that--hopefully--resonate with others. Getting that story into the hands of a reader is the best feeling ever.

Thanks, Jeffery!

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Meet Troy Conrad, Filmmaker and Photographer

Troy Conrad is an award-winning filmmaker and the creator/co-producer of improvised stand-up show Set List: Stand-Up Without A Net. He has photographed comedy in seven countries, and his images for the upcoming Comedy Central series Roast Battle have additionally been published in Playboy.

Samples from the series can be found via the Instagram hashtag #hallseries and at

A photo posted by Troy Conrad (@troyconrads) on

1. How did you come up with the idea for the Hall Series?

Last August at The Comedy Store in Hollywood, I took a picture with a fisheye lens of the all the headshots on the wall, and something about it looked very different... it felt like I was surrounded by these pictures on the wall. A couple weeks later, Brian Moses was walking through the hallway and I took his picture, and it looked really cool. Then I wanted to see what it looked like as a portrait. Joey Diaz was the first person I asked to stand in the hallway and pose. I loved how he looked. To me, it felt like the pictures of the comics surrounding him were giving him the nod, pushing him forward. I'm very honored that The Comedy Store liked these shots enough to make them a part of the club. Starting on May 10th, they will be on permanent display in the entrance to the Main Room.

2. What sets the photos in this series apart from other portraits?

The thing that gives these pictures a different feel is the imagery surrounding each comic in the shot. There are vintage headshots on the walls of legendary comics--some of those photos go back as far as 30 or 40 years. There is a feeling of reverence being in that hallway, and these portraits seem to capture that feeling of reverence as if the viewer is there.

3. How many photos have you taken for the Hall Series so far, and what are the plans for expanding on the series over time?

I’ve taken over 80 photos of Paid Regular performers at the Comedy Store, and the collection is growing all the time.

4. What other projects have you done involving filming and/or photographing comics and comedy?

I started as a filmmaker, and directed a film called Runyon: Just Above Sunset starring Eddie Pepitone which won awards at the two festivals it was submitted to. I created and co-produce the improvised stand-up show, Set List: Stand-Up Without A Net. With the show, Paul Provenza and I have traveled the world, and I've photographed the show as well as other shows in seven countries. I've also done a lot of photos of comics in New York and Los Angeles. When I saw Roast Battle at the Comedy Store, I was hooked from the beginning. I knew someone needed to be capturing stills for that show, which is unparalleled worldwide for its high level action. I'm there for that show every Tuesday night.

A photo posted by Troy Conrad (@troyconrads) on

5. What makes The Comedy Store a vital and interesting venue after 40+ years?

The Comedy Store is vital because of its integrity. There are three rooms that are bustling every night. It's run incredibly well right now. It's a place that is welcoming to comics, and very hard to get into as a Paid Regular performer. But everyone wants to be there. There is so much personality there that makes it interesting. Roast Battle is so unique. Ari Shaffir's "This is Not Happening" is still running there. Joe Rogan is there all the time. Chris Rock came in to practice for the Oscars. Dave Chappelle pops in, and Louis CK drops in. Last night John Bishop just came in from the UK and did his first show in the US in the Main Room. I love watching Joey Diaz. He's one of the real humans of comedy. He's so unfiltered and raw, and is pure joy to watch. He's raised the bar for so many comics there.

The Paid Regular Hall Series Exhibit debuts at The Comedy Store on Tuesday, May 10th 2016 from 8 p.m. until 10 p.m. and will be on permanent display thereafter. More info at

Thanks, Troy!

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Meet Robert, Owner of My Matcha Tea

My Matcha Tea is Australia's premier tea shop. They sell premium grade Matcha Tea blends to customers worldwide. Matcha Tea 100% pure, organic certified, vegan friendly, stone ground green tea leaves. Learn more about the shop's offerings by visiting their catalog at

Our interview is with Robert, the owner of My Matcha Tea.

1. For people who haven't tried matcha before, what are your favorite things about this type of tea?

My favorite thing about My Matcha Tea is definitely the boost of energy I get from it. Within the first seven days of drinking My Matcha Tea, I found myself more focused and engaged in what I was doing.

2. How do you choose the teas that you offer for sale in your shop?

We work closely with tea distribution farms in Japan. We look for farmers that show a real passion for the tea they grow. Our tea loving farmers are the best in the world when it comes to creating the perfect matcha tea blend.

3. What distinguishes matcha from other green teas and organic teas?

The most obvious thing that separates matcha is the look of the tea powder. It is ground into a super fine powder between granite stone, and packed fresh. The thing that gives matcha tea its bright green color is that it is grown under shade for two weeks, causing the plant to produce more antioxidants than regular green tea.

4. How did your shop first come to be, and what inspired its creation?

My Matcha Tea was created by a noticeable lack of premium matcha tea available in Australia. We wanted to make it easy and affordable for people all over the world to engage easily in this traditional Japanese art.

5. What else would you like our readers to know about My Matcha Tea?

If you've thought about trying matcha tea, now is the time. We offer a range of affordable premium tea blends with a global satisfaction guarantee.

Thanks, Robert!

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Meet Mark Coppens, Sarasota Florida Realtor

Mark Coppens is a real estate agent based in Sarasota, Florida who specializes in helping people buy and sell coastal properties. He and Jamie Murdick are known as The SRQ Duo, and they offer all-inclusive residential real estate services to those interested in buying, leasing, or selling in the Sarasota area.

1. How did you first become interested in a career in real estate?

After college I spent some time in the U.S. Army as an Infantry Officer. Among others, the Army afforded me an opportunity to get an MBA, which introduced me to the world of marketing and advertising. I fell in love with negotiating deals and launching sales campaigns around the world. After serving my nation, I became very successful in closing transactions for several Fortune 500 companies at the executive level. During that time, I had bought and sold many personal properties, and for the most part, was extremely disappointed with real estate agents. Let's face it--most agents are lazy. It's true. There's a reason why real estate agents are respected less than lawyers and car salesmen, according to surveys. Generally, agents will do the minimal amount of effort in order to get a sale or close a deal. They say that 10% of licensed agents close 90% of all transactions. So I saw an opportunity. I'm an outgoing type "A" personality, with an education in marketing & advertising, and proven track record of negotiating successful high dollar / high stress contracts. If I could take my unique background, add the advantage of looks and charm, and put in 110% effort--I could really crush it. Plus, I love design and homes. I really do. I'm an HGTV addict.

2. You are half of your agent team, The SRQ Duo. Would you tell us about your other half?

My partner and fiancé Jamie Murdick is an Emmy® Award winning graduate of the Walter E. Cronkite School of Journalism at Arizona State University. Jamie brings our team expertise on modern multimedia combined with years of experience in advertising, marketing, and sales. Like me, Jamie worked in corporate America and has led successful campaigns globally. She is a connoisseur of elegance, style, and sophistication--which lend to her success in luxury real estate, and complements my design skills. She distracts you with her stunning looks while expertly negotiating for her clients with cunning determination. When you choose The SRQ Duo as your agents, you will get the services of us both, each having strengths in differing yet complementary areas. Jamie and I are engaged to be married next April, in 2017, at the Ca D'Zan Mansion on the grounds of the Ringling Museum in Sarasota.

3. What are some of the qualities that draw people to the Sarasota area?

Sarasota (airport code SRQ) is one of the most desired year-round resort communities in the world. A perfect blend of world-renowned beaches, arts and entertainment, championship golf, award-winning dining, and beautiful weather; Sarasota Real Estate is comparable to destinations like Scottsdale, Palm Springs, and Miami all in one. Properties are in high demand, with the neighborhoods of Longboat Key, Lido Key, Siesta Key, Downtown, West of Trail, and Bird Key among some of the most desirable in the nation.

Situated on the sparkling blue waters of the Gulf of Mexico, Sarasota's beauty was noted by John Ringling, of the famed Ringling Circus. Mr. Ringling brought cultural influences and visitors from around the world, and in doing so, left his permanent mark on the composition of the city.  

With professional theatres, ballet, opera, and an orchestra, the city boasts more refined entertainment choices than most large-scale metropolitan areas. Boutique shopping downtown, in Saint Armand's Circle, and on Siesta Key provides unique finds for the most avid of consumers.

The area boasts some of the nation's best golf courses, with challenging options at a range of prices. If you're into other sports, SRQ is within an hour of professional soccer, hockey, football, and baseball--with two spring training facilities within a fifteen-minute drive. The marina and beach complexes provide ample watersports, fishing, and boating opportunities, with international yachting on par with our neighbors on the east coast of the state. The weather favors outdoor activities year-round. From running and biking the Legacy Trail, to crew at the world-class rowing complex at Benderson Park, Sarasota offers numerous choices for even the bravest of adventurers. We love Sarasota!

4. In keeping your agency team smaller and more tightly focused than many others, what unique benefits do you offer your clients?

Our brokerage, Merrick Damon Real Estate, is a top rated boutique real estate agency in the southeastern United States. Because we're agents with a regional boutique firm, we can focus on a select number of clients, offering personalized full-service that is responsive and focused. Quite simply, we out-hustle the large and slow nationwide firms and deliver superior results. Unlike bigger firms, you will not have to deal with field agents, assistants, transaction coordinators, closing agents or other parties in between. The SRQ Duo will be your sole point of contact throughout the entire process to help you buy or sell homes in Sarasota, Siesta Key, Longboat Key, Lido Key, Bird Key, Lakewood Ranch and West of Trail.

5. What else would you like our readers to know about your agency and the services you provide?

Jamie and I met in Abu Dhabi, and had our first dinner in London and our first date in Dubai. We literally travel the world in order to connect with buyers and investors of our clients' properties. From Hong Kong to Paris, and Ottawa to Rio De Janeiro, The SRQ Duo goes above and beyond to sell our listed properties.

We also represent buyers and annual renters. We will meet with you in person, or over the phone for long distance clients, and do an in-depth analysis of your wants and needs. Based on your detailed criteria, we will canvas multiple sources of listed and unlisted properties to narrow your search down to a manageable number of homes. These homes will be presented to you for consideration and potential showing. We understand that your time is very valuable, and will only show properties that you want to see. Once you have found the new home and lifestyle that you've dreamed of, we will begin the difficult task of negotiating the best price.  

Jamie and I take pride in our work and in getting our clients the best deal--as a buyer or seller. We are extremely responsive, pay great attention to details, and understand that buying or selling a home, particularly a luxury home, should be a low-stress, enjoyable occasion. We treat our clients with great respect & care, and pledge that our service will be the best real estate experience you've ever had.

If you're thinking of buying or selling a home or condo in the Sarasota or Lakewood Ranch areas on Florida, please contact Jamie & Mark "The SRQ Duo":

Jamie & Mark Coppens
The SRQ Duo | Merrick Damon Real Estate
Phone: (941) 444-0436

Thanks, Mark!