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Wednesday, 22 July 2020

Interview with Stephen McClellan...Author, World Traveler, and Educator

   My latest interview is with Stephen McClellan who is an author, husband, teacher, and crusader for ending human trafficking. I had the pleasure of meeting him over a year ago at Barnes and Noble where he was doing a book signing for his book To Dance in Chattanooga. The book title captured my attention, and I was in the area shopping and introduced myself. I started following him on Instagram and have been inspired by what he shares. 
   In our interview, he talks about his obsession with reading. He shares with me the challenges and joys of writing and how long he's been a writer. His love for all of humanity shines through.

Introducing Stephen...

What do you love about your life right now?

When I think about what I love, I think about what I’m grateful for. Sometimes I’ll reflect on how God has blessed me far beyond what I deserve, and I’ll think, “You own a house, you have a secure job, you have a beautiful wife, you have a loving family, you have supportive friends, and you have a dream in your heart. You couldn’t be in a better position to pursue your vision and reach your greatest potential. So, go do it.” That’s what I love about life the most right now—the opportunity to pursue who I am and who I was created to be.

In your brief introduction on your website you share this, “I may not know you (yet), but I already know this about you-you matter. Your life has meaning and value and purpose and worth. So just know that I think you belong and that you are already accepted here.” Just from reading that alone informs me that you are a caring guy who loves others for just who they are. Where did you learn this compassion? Did it happen over time or have you always been this way?

I have been blessed with extremely good role models throughout my life (most notably my family) who have influenced me to have a heart for people. I think if you are raised to love Jesus, then loving people is a byproduct of that faith. As I have grown older and pursed my own personal growth concerning my identity, however, I have found that one of my purposes on this earth is to instill value into people; to show them that their lives have meaning, purpose, and worth. Loving people is a mindset I constantly strive to maintain and improve every day.

How long have you’ve been writing? 

I have been writing on and off my entire life, although I didn’t grow serious with the craft until seven years ago when I was 25 years old.

Your first book To Dance debuted in December 2018. Was there a particular writer or book that inspired you to write?

I actually don’t remember anyone particular writer or book that inspired me to pick up the craft, but there were a couple noteworthy things that happened that influenced my journey. When I was in high school, I read Stephen King’s From a Buick Eight and that launched my obsession for not only reading his novels but for reading in general. Then, I went on a class trip to England and Scotland my senior year of college. This trip renewed my passion for writing and served as a catalyst for setting practical goals to begin taking writing more seriously.

Pic from Stephen McClellan Facebook Page

What are the joys of writing?

Someone once asked me how I knew I wanted to write, and I responded, “I can’t not write.” Meaning, I felt compelled, driven, destined to do it. So I definitely find joy in creating worlds that once only existed in my mind, the art of character and plot development, and instilling value and purpose through the themes of my books; but for me, one of the greatest joys of writing is the sense that I am fulfilling my calling and doing what I am supposed to be doing with what God has given me.

 Tell me about the challenges of being a writer and publishing your books.
I personally struggle with perfectionism and the tendency to make every scene vital in conveying a particular emotion (as if they were all dramatic parts of a movie where the music is playing and the actors are giving an inspiring speech). Sometimes, the most powerful writing is the most subtle, simple, and straightforward, which is something I need to zero in on. Also, I find it difficult at times to take the idea in my mind and convey it onto paper. This is probably one of the most obvious issue that authors struggle with, but it seems like ideas always sound better in my head than when I put them onto paper.

Publishing wise, I think earning representation by an agent and breaking into the bigger publishing houses is the biggest challenge. Besides being a good writer, there are so many things that need to fall into place for you in order to achieve that milestone.

Is there particular software you use?

I started using Scrivener two years ago, and I haven’t looked back since.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to be an author and what advice do you wish you knew before you started?

At its core, I believe you have to establish your conviction for writing—meaning, why you do what you do. If you have established a deeper purpose in why you believe in what you are doing, then not only will it add value and significance to your work, but you will be able to fall back on that when things grow frustrating or discouraging along the way.

One thing I would have done differently before I published my debut novel would be to make sure that the book was in the best shape possible before I sought a publisher. (To a certain extent, you may never reach this point, but you can still take several measures to make sure that, in your own power, your manuscript is in the best position possible to move forward.)

With each book you write and publish, you take the royalties you earned from them to fund local and global humanitarian projects and bring awareness to the causes. Which one are you helping with from the sales of your books right now?

The royalties from my debut novel, To Dance, are being reinvested into an organization called Compassion First. Based out of Indonesia, their goal is to eradicate sex trafficking in Southeast Asia. My royalties from my debut children’s picture book, The Bat and the Mule, will be reinvested into the Ovi Healthcare organization. They have several hospitals in Kenya and Bangladesh, and they take orphans off the street who are dying of life-threatening illnesses and diseases and nurse them back to health. Both of these organizations do beautiful work, and it’s an absolute pleasure to partner with them!

"What I love about life right now-the opportunity to pursue who I am and who I was created to be." Stephen

Is there one book that has made a big impact on your life and why? If you have more than one, please share.
One of the most impactful books I have ever read is called Wide Awake by Erwin McManus. The book focuses on how to awaken the inner hero in you and pursue your highest potential. It helped me refine my vision and expand my ability to pursue who I am and why I was created.

I know from reading your posts and stories on Instagram that you’re passionate about ending human trafficking/sex trafficking and raising awareness about it, what started that journey for you?

At the time I learned of Compassion First, I was praying about where to reinvest the royalties of To Dance. The stories of the organization resonated with my soul, and I knew that it was no accident they had been placed in my path. One of my passions is instilling value and purpose into people, particularly youth, so partnering with CF to help raise awareness and bring an end to slavery fell directly in line with who I am and what I am about.

Why do you think it still goes in our world today?

At the core, I believe we live in a fallen world where imperfect people hurt other people. But on a more practical level, it’s straightforward—people starve for money and power (both of which can be extremely destructive in the wrong hands).

How can others help end it? Sharing posts about the subject or donating money?

Those are both great options! As we have seen from everything happening recently in the U.S., social media can be a powerful weapon to raise awareness and end corruption when used properly. You can donate money to help fund missions, contact organizations about how to do your own fundraiser, share posts on all social media platforms, and even contact your state and local government officials to encourage their involvement in stopping corruption.

In your brief intro on your site, you talked about your passions: writing, traveling, and loving people and pursuing the person you were created to be. We’ve talked about your writing some. Where are some cool places you’ve traveled, and do you have a favorite? Also, I saw in a post that you used to teach in Indonesia, please share a little about your experience.

I’ve been fortunate enough to travel to several countries in Europe, South Africa, Iceland, and of course, Southeast Asia. My trip to South Africa was centered around serving the poverty-stricken in Cape Town and Worcester, so that trip will always hold a special place in my heart, although I would have to say that visiting Thailand was probably one of my favorite experiences overall.
I taught at a private school in Indonesia for two years called Cahaya Bangsa Classical School. The school was 95% Chinese-Indonesia, with the other five percent made up of Native Indonesian and Korean. While there, I taught World History, Old Testament, and Biblical Worldview to 7th, 9th, 10th, and 11th grades. I still consider those two years two of the most impactful years of my life.

If you could change one thing in the world, what would that be?

My hope would be for people to focus on significant problems and reinvest their resources into loving people within those areas rather than hating people outside of those areas. It’s absolutely staggering how quickly the world could improve if people actually joined forces to focus on problems that mattered.

What kind of legacy do you want to leave?

I value significance over success, so as Ralph Waldo Emerson said, I want to know that even one life breathed easier because I existed. Being a person of faith, I think you accomplish that by loving others as Jesus loved them and reinvesting the talents, gifts, and abilities that God has blessed you with into impacting others for the greater good. 

Tell me three fun facts about you.

-One of my favorite vacation spots is to rent a cabin in the mountains.
-I am crazy about mint chocolate chip ice cream and Hawaiian pizza.
-I love Alabama football.

Describe yourself in one word.


Who are your biggest supporters?

I feel humbled because there are so many people who have been influential in my journey, but top of that list are my wife (and family), a group of roughly five families that are our best friends, and my Instagram writing community.

Stephen and his lovely wife Megan

I share motivational quotes with my readers, is there one that you can share? It can be your own created quote or from someone else.

I love the quote by Howard Thurman — “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”

Please follow Stephen on his social media! 

Sunday, 1 March 2020

Interview with Anis Makojia...Pursuing his dream in City of Angels.

My latest chat is with Anis Maknojia, actor, visionary, and creative from Texas and living life and pursuing his dreams in the entertainment industry in Los Angeles. We talk about his transition from Lone-Star State to the City of Angels and his film Artifice. He also shares how he prepared for his role as Tony in the film.

Introducing Anis...

What do you love about your life right now?

 The freedom to pursue my passion and hobby as a business.

Alright, when I first talked to you on the phone the other week, I immediately knew from you saying ma’am that you were not from LA. When you made the decision to leave your home state of Texas was it easy was it to make the move and were there any challenges?

It wasn’t easy but I do adapt quickly to my surroundings and situations, but with the support from My parents and close friends back in Texas, I've been able to overcome a lot of the struggles I felt in transitioning from Texas to LA.
Just the fact of trying to adjust to an unknown place, with unknown people and uncertainty in the mind of where I’m headed was my biggest struggle.

Is there any advice you wished you knew before you moved out to LA to pursue your dreams in the entertainment industry?

After moving hereI quickly figured out it’s a big world out here and full of lots of talent which makes it highly competitive. But actually, I don’t see others around me as competition, more as an actual learning experience. I’ve found way to work alongside fellow peers and continuously to do so with more talented people in the industry.

You’re in the film Artifice, directed by Frederick Nah IVin the leading role as Tony, who is torn between a life in organized crime and the life he wants. Tell me a little more about the character Tony, and what does he want?

Tony is a guy that has made mistakes and done his fair share of criminal work for most part of his early adulthood leading into his mid-30s.
But the life of crime he was living didn’t feel right and felt things are starting to make sense in his life and wanted to live the life of crime behind. As fate would have it, a chain of unforeseeable events brought the dream of a better life crashing down into the ground and he ultimately felt it was his responsibility to make it right again. if he could, that is.

You had mention to me that the film was your idea and story. You’re visionary and creative behind it, what was your inspiration behind the film? 

My main inspirations came from my writing. I love to tell a good story. I think of creating a film as a canvas, upon which I paint my inspiration and my visions of a great story for the audience to enjoy and to be entertained by.

How did you prepare for the role of Tony?

I did have to prepare for it, being it was my first film, so I wanted to do it right. And with the help of Aaron Domingueza close friend of Frederick, he coached me into playing the role of Tony really well, actually better than expected.

 Was there a particular actor or film that inspired you to act?
Not really, the genre of action crime drama is large out there but I drew my inspiration from a lot of other films such as John Wick, Jason Borne, and actor Liam Neeson from their movies, etc. These characters helped me define Tony even more. 

What do you enjoy about acting and the challenges?

I just love being in the moment, and as an actor you’re able to let the moment take you away so you can give the best performance ever. I guess the thrill of it is what I enjoy, the personality and the characters that I play.

You’ve started your own film company Land Ahoy! Films and Artifice is the first one in association with Phoenix 4 Productions to be produced. What’s it like to see something that you visualize and then see it on screen?

It’s feels absolutely amazing, it’s a feeling like no other. Truly an experience of its own and can’t be substituted or replaced by anything else that you can experience in life. 

What’s next for Land Ahoy! Films?

 Currently as of this interview, I’m in post-production with another short film which I did with Frederick called With Interest, which is due to be out spring 2020. It's a short crime action-comedy that was written by myself and directed by Aaron Dominguez and produced by Frederick Tabiyus. It’s another Land Ahoy! and Phoenix 4 Production.

Keanu Reeves said, “Art is about trying to find the good in people and making the world a more compassionate place.” Do you agree and is that what you want to do with the art you make?

I totally agree with Mr. Reeves, the world is a big place but through compassion and kindness towards others it makes thworld feel a little smaller and brings us closer as a human race regardless of the race, sex, and even age, no matter where you’re in this world. 

How do you visualize your future within the next year?

I definitely want to do a feature film of my own and be part of a big production as a lead talent. 

Tell me three fun facts about you.

Humorous (sometimes dark humor), spontaneous, and out for the next adventure.

Describe yourself in one word.


I enjoy sharing quotes with my readers. Do you have one you can share that motivates you and inspires you?

 Don’t just think you can, know you can and you will see the difference that mindset can make physically and mentally.” Anis Maknojia.

Thank you for reading!
Follow Anis on social media
Land Ahoy!Films

Tuesday, 25 February 2020

Chat with Grace Aki...Find out what's popping for her in New York!

Grace is an actor, writer, comedian, and one of the best storytellers I have the pleasure of knowing. I wasn't surprised she decided to start her own podcast. I mean, if anybody should have one, she should. She's engaging, funny, heartwarming, and tells it like it is kinda girl. I talk to her recently about her show Tell Me On A Sunday which is premiering on Sunday, March 1, and here's what she had to say.

What do you love about your life right now?
I love getting to perform and premiere my storytelling podcasts. 

How excited are you for your upcoming podcast?
Very! I didn’t want to do one arbitrarily. Once I decided I wanted it to be about people telling stories I was ready to go. 

Was there a particular podcast or someone that inspired you to become a podcaster?
I certainly love Guys who like Musicals and Las Culturistas. They inspire me for sure. 
Tell me about the topics and what we should expect from your show.
Anything from theatre, film, and pop culture, to childhood. Because the guests are from different backgrounds, so are the topics! 
How do you decide which guests you’ll have on the show? 
I honestly decided based on well... who said yes and who I felt had an interesting way of telling stories. Just because someone has a good story doesn’t mean they’re good at telling it! 
If there’s any advice that you would give to someone who wants to start their own podcast i.e. myself among others, what would that be?
Don’t do it just to do it. Do it because you feel there’s a need for what you have to say. There’s a million out there, ask yourself “Why now, Why me, Why this” 
I’ve looked up info on podcasting, and the information is overwhelming. What advice would you tell someone to ignore if they want to do their own podcast show?
Don’t get scared that you don’t have a full recording studio. Do your research and if need be hire a consultant with a good track record, I have recs! 
Who are your biggest supporters?
My friends and family, of course, I built a little base in NY but the south will always be my home. 
What do you want listeners to get from tuning into your show?  
I want them to have a break from their day, whether that’s morning or night, and feel like they’re at a coffee shop with me and a friend. No agenda, just humor, and heart to hearts. 
In one word, describe your podcast.
Three fun facts about your show.

  1. You’ll hear from the guy who discovered Metallica.
  2. There’s a lot more insight into my life in NY that is very honest and funny. 
  3. I talk about my parents without their approval so that may be fun!
Subscribed to her podcast here! Thank you for reading!
Follow Grace on social media! I promise she'll be one of your favs!
Tell Me On A Sunday IG
Learn about her here in one of my other interviews with her.

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