Archive for Interview’ Category



Let’s Grind Out Hunger

Grind Out HungerWhat would it be like to provide hunger relief to children in need, provide a stable and safe place for kids with a passion for skateboarding and surfing, and then in turn, create a desire in these kids to pay it forward?

This is the goal of Danny Keith and his team at the non-profit agency Grind Out Hunger in Santa Cruz, California. Summed up in their mission statement: Grind Out Hunger [desires to] empower the youth by utilizing the passion of skateboarding, surfing, snowboarding, and music to take leadership in the fight against childhood hunger and malnutrition.

Inside a storefront on busy 41st Avenue, home to O’Neills Surf Shop, Freeline Design Surf Shop, Billabong, and RipCurl, Grind Out Hunger is the new haven for kids between the ages 8-14 who are surrounded by adults who want to take back the youth of our culture. Grind Out Hunger, which is 90% donation supported by local businesses such as Santa Cruz Warriors, Yogurtland, New Leaf, and Black China Bakery, received accolades from the City of Santa Cruz dedicating September 15th as Grind Out Hunger Day 2013, non-profit of the year by The Good Times magazine readers poll, and 2012 Aptos Chamber of Commerce Non-Profit of the Year. It is making a difference in the lives of hungry kids in Santa Cruz County via holiday food drives in schools, the empowerment of students to give back, and by connecting with the local food bank, Second Harvest.

When I walked into Grind Out Hunger, I was immediately met with a feeling of ease, fun, and support. A lounge where young people can hang out in chairs and sofas encompasses one area. Skateboard decks decorated in elaborate designs and colors line the walls. But, most eye-grabbing are the two giant, indoor skateboarding bowls (think X-games and those hilly skateboard ramps), where skateboarders donate a mere three dollars to skateboard, and all in a protective, positive environment.

I sat down with Danny Keith, the director of Grind Out Hunger, and with passion and energy, he described how this unique outreach to Santa Cruz youth came to fruition.
“I grew up in Salinas, where I saw a lot of poverty. My theory is that poverty sticks because it’s understandable and predictable. We need to empower the youth to prevent hunger in addition to feeding people.”

“Back in 2003, when I owned a local surf and skateboard shop, Christine Woodard with Second Harvest put a barrel to collect food for the local food bank. It didn’t mean much to me until I heard the statistic that 1 in 8 children in our community are going hungry. It hit me: if we empower the youth to solve a problem now, we get ahead of the curve and possibly they will not inherit a messed up community.”

With that knowledge, Danny began to work with Second Harvest and local schools, but saw that the problem only worsened.
“The more that I got into the schools and involved with the youth in Santa Cruz, the more that I saw challenges between administration, schools, and hungry kids. In 2009, I felt that I had to go to the frontline, and knew that I had to live life with purpose and passion, and not merely make money.”

He left his business, and soon approached the food bank to improve their social presence, and develop their website. From that point on, Danny succeeded in fulfilling the role of Chief Development and Technology Officer. There he worked with a team of individuals to bring awareness to the general public that 55,000 people a month were relying on Second Harvest’s resources to make ends meet. Continuing to engage the school system and with the youth driving the message, Grind Out Hunger has facilitated1.5 million healthy meals to Second Harvest to feed families. His dream was coming to fruition.

In time, the opportunity arose for Danny to become the Director of Corporate Sponsorships for the D-league basketball team, The Santa Cruz Warriors. He uses his business sense to connect with community members and creates an integrated experience for local organizations including other non-profits.

Grind Out Hunger recognizes local youth and celebrities/athletes who have a passion for fighting hunger, terming them Hunger Fighters. Local and national celebrities such as Top 40 artist Royalty, Chris Rene of The X-Factor, James Durbin of American Idol, and Cruzmatik, have joined in the cause, visiting local schools, and through their music, inspiring kids to raise their awareness in the fight against hunger. At New Brighton middle school, Danny helped the school organize their first food drive where they raised 200 meals. He challenged them to give bigger. The next year, they collected 2200 meals. Then in 2012 the school hit 9000 meals. Hunger Fighter Chris Rene performed at the school assembly to celebrate their valiant efforts and success, and sending the message to kids: you can help your community!

Danny isn’t satisfied with the status quo, though. In his words, “I’m not afraid to shake things up!” His vision for the storefront site is to give the 8-14 year olds of Santa Cruz a location where food literacy, nutrition, and food justice are priorities, and to offer positive role models to help them pursue their passions. In the works are Grind Out Hunger bucks where kids can earn currency for attending a lecture about healthy eating, donating time, or doing a good deed. Plans are also in the works for a media station where kids can use video cameras and technology to learn the art of videotaping skateboard stunts. “Not all children have the resources in their family to use technology, and we hope that through donations and people offering their time, we can develop their interests, and give them opportunities that they may want,” Danny shares.

Grind Out Hunger is making a statement in Santa Cruz County: that nurturing our youth, feeding the hungry, and paying it forward are priorities. “I want to reinforce positive decision making. Remember, you might need help some day.”

Want to donate?
Grind Out Hunger Location: 912 41st Avenue, Santa Cruz, California

Most of all, share this article with everyone you know, and help Grind Out Hunger one person at a time.

read more



Interview with Jordan Rosenfeld

I am thrilled to have my next guest, Jordan Rosenfeld, back on my blog. If you haven’t met Jordan, let me recap our relationship. I met Jordan several years ago at The East of Eden Writing Conference in Salinas, California. At that time, I was just writing my first novel, Out of Breath. So, while many writers were hoping to attract or pitch to an agent, I was hungry to learn the craft of fiction writing. Jordan was teaching a session on writing effective scenes based on her non-fiction book, Make A Scene. I learned SO much from her. A couple of years later, we reconnected when I completed Out of Breath, and Jordan edited my novel. Yes, we became friends despite that grueling process! All kidding aside, I attribute a great deal of what I know about fiction writing to Jordan as she shared her writing skills, hacked out unnecessary stuff (replacement word), and strengthened my manuscript monumentally!

What I want to focus on in this second interview is not only her accomplishment in writing yet another book, Forged in Grace, a psychological thriller, but also her incredible tenacity and business sense as an author. Just like her editing skills, her marketing skills are sharp, and I’m inspired to work hard based on her persistence. And…I am proud to call her friend. :)

Jordan, your novel Forged in Grace is such an amazing story. Can you share the initial response from readers, reviewers?

I’ve been really blown away by the support from my readers who have generously reviewed and commented about their love for the story. Readers find it deep and dark and sad and redemptive. They love and sometimes hate some of the characters, but in the end, most of them understand why each character has made the choices they made. There have been a few people who’ve had questions about why I made certain choices, but mostly I’ve been honored by positive reviews. It’s been interesting to hear what readers “see” that I didn’t intend—and to use their feedback as a deeper lens into my own process. Publishing my book has been one of the greatest experiences of my life, and not because of sales #s, but the relationships with readers.

Jordan, I love that, too—that someone can read our own words and derive something so different and meaningful—it’s so rewarding!

As authors, we hope that our books are well received. We can become addicted to checking our rank, sales, etc. How did this process affect you?

Oh I’m not immune at all to the rank checking! I actually didn’t care about the ranking so much in the early days as the sales. Now it’s about how to keep my book “alive” so that it doesn’t die that death of the book too soon forgotten because there are a gazillion other new shiny books out there—which there are, of course. I can’t even keep up with my own reading list.

I get it. I think you do a marvelous job of connecting with others, and this will keep your story alive.

On the days when sales are slow, I know I feel a bit of restless panic. How have you coped with the ups and downs of this?

I “cope” by simply trying out new marketing strategies, reminding people that the book still exists. I’m a very active twitter user, and I believe in blogging as a way of inviting readers to learn more about you and your work. Personally I’m still a big fan of social media as a way to “market” but not in a heavy duty way.

You are fantastic at this. I envy you, though, because I just can’t “do” Twitter :).

In my eyes, you are a marketing wizard: starting your own publishing company, reaching out to other writers, developing strategies to get your name “out there.” Can you describe how this process has been for you? What has been effective?

If you only knew how little I really know! I’ve been learning a lot from the true marketing whizzes out there like Rachel Thompson (Bad Redhead Media), and also our own Marketing Director at Indie-Visible, Stephanie Naman. And for the record, Indie-Visible is not actually a publishing company; we’re a writer’s collective of independent authors who come together to collectively promote. In the month when my book was first published, I found that the generosity of friends and colleagues helped sell books a lot. Then that period sort of wears off and you have to keep your book in people’s minds somehow—that’s what I’m striving to do in a variety of ways. Promotions: free days and discounts are helpful, but honestly the best marketing, I believe, is building a “voice” through one’s blog in which you offer something to readers, either something deeply personal, or something useful, that also convinces them to buy your book. I’ve had the good fortune to visit several book clubs in person, and more are on the horizon, but that’s been pure luck—I didn’t solicit those, they came to me. I think the more you can get people invested in your book in whatever way, by inviting them to tell you how they really feel, the better for your sales. Then there’s luck and chance, of course.  Word of mouth is insanely helpful. Every time a friend reposts a link about my book, I make a few sales. And also pricing one’s digital copy low enough to be competitive is huge. In the indie world, you can’t price more than about $2.99 unless you’re already in a bestselling slot.

Still, I respect your strong work ethic!

What was the biggest joy and strongest challenge in publishing a book?

It’s always a challenge to find readers and to do so in a way that doesn’t come across as harassment or too pushy. The biggest joy has been not sitting around in despair wishing some big 5 publisher would come find me, wasting all chances of connecting with readers,  but now getting regular reader interaction. One of the more profound experiences I had was a woman who contacted me whose son, also named Jordan Rosenfeld, had died tragically young. Her name was Sasha Rosenfeld, and there is a character called “Sasha” in the book. She felt as though her son was speaking to her through my book, in a sense, and it brought her comfort.

That gave me chills…I do love it when we get personal messages from our readers.

What advice would you give new/unpublished writers?

In a nutshell: Practice, Polish, Persist. Work the craft, don’t be lazy just because you now have the ability to self publish with ease. There are now so many independently published authors: rise above! Learn the craft. And once you do, hone your writing until it gleams and sings. And then keep at it, whatever “it” is. Whether you go it alone or find an agent…


You mentioned Twitter? Have you seen that using it has helped your voice be heard?

I am a huge fan now! When you learn how to use Twitter properly, it actually becomes a pleasure. A lot of people complain about not knowing what to say in those infamous 140 characters. I find it’s a lot like the pleasure of paring down the perfect sentence, to say just enough. And in these hectic lives of ours some don’t have more than that few seconds of time to read info, so it’s a good way to connect with the busy-busy people of the world.

Okay, okay…I’ll give it another whirl! 

What are your current projects, and what is bringing you the most delight?

Well, I was working on a novel I started for Nanowrimo several years ago, another novel of suspense called The Women in Red involving a dancer’s second chance at a dream that comes with a very high price. That one is close to done but I got derailed by a very personal novel, now called Don’t You Forget About Me, that draws on some of my own childhood experiences growing up in the late 70s early 80s amongst artist, drug addicts, and drug dealers. That novel has taken up much of the last 6 weeks of my life and is bringing much delight.

Sounds amazing, and it’s ironic: my current project Dancing My Father Home delves into my life in the ‘70s and ‘80s with my father. 

Anything else you want to share?

My new strategy for life and writing, or rather, the strategy I’ve been coming to all of my life is surrender. Don’t try to fight and battle and compete and win and strive. Surrender: Write what matters to you. Pursue your dreams. Seek balance. Invite ease into your life, not struggle. There is no hurry. And if there IS a real hurry, then go where you get the most pleasure, joy and meaning.

Beautiful advice from a beautiful person. All the best, Jordan, and thanks for being a guest on my blog again!


Forged in Grace

Fire almost killed her as a teen. Will rekindling a dangerous friendship finish the job? At age 15, a horrific fire left Grace Jensen scarred and highly sensitive to the pain of anyone she touches. Thirteen years later, living with her hoarder mother and half-in-love with her former doctor, her long-absent best friend, Marly Kennet, returns to town and convinces Grace to make a leap-of-faith trip to Las Vegas. There, Grace discovers she not only feels others’ pain, she can heal it. This healing gift soon turns darker when the truth of Marly’s past and the fire that scarred Grace is revealed, pushing the boundaries of loyalty and exposing both women to danger. With the intensity of a thriller, and a touch of magic realism, Forged in Grace leads to a dramatic climax in which she must choose between healing and revenge.



Forged in Grace KindlePaperback | Nook

Forged in Grace is also available on the iTunes ibookstore and smashwords

read more



Radical Devotion

On January 3rd, 2006 Steve McNitt, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker at El Dorado County Mental Health, married to his wife Susie of twenty years, father of Noah McNitt (then 12) and Caleb McNitt (then 10), received some heartbreaking news about his son, Caleb.

Caleb was diagnosed with Acute Mylogenous Leukemia (AML), which is generally regarded as an adult form of leukemia. They were told to expect some “near death experiences”, and that the survival rate for children is about 50/50.  From then the McNitt’s life radically changed, with trips to the hospital and doctors office as common as a trip to the grocery store.  The first bout of AML had Caleb in the hospital for one hundred and sixty one nights, including eight weeks in ICU. He had four rounds of chemotherapy, multiple operations, and more blood transfusions than they cared to count. Given the aggressive nature of the cancer they were told if Caleb could stay cancer free for three years he would be out of the woods. Each year had diminishing medical needs and increasing hope.  At the end of the three years they threw a huge party.

And he was cancer free… for twelve days.

Caleb relapsed. He needed more chemotherapy, full body radiation, and a bone marrow transplant. He had to be moved to Stanford University for the treatments and spent another one hundred days in treatment.

At the forefront of Steve’s life was ensuring that Caleb stay alive, but not just living…but LIVING.

The following is an excerpt of Steve describing this time:

It is impossible to have a “normal life” when you are in the hospital so many days. But we tried to do all we could. We had meals as a family as often as we could. And although it was sitting on hospital beds, eating fast food, hoping that we were not in the way of the nurses or the x-ray techs, it was a form of urban camping! I don’t recommend it, but we adapted to our environment and had adventures nearly every night. 

And we tried to laugh! We had fun questions for the doctors and nurses to answer each day to earn some chocolate. We played games, we learned to use our surroundings for fun, we made balloons out of the exam gloves, we put up a Nerf basketball hoop on the bathroom door, we put up pictures of sunsets, and we prayed each night for healing, peace and other families on the floor. 

And we knew that to keep our sanity we would have to make friends with the nurses. And the nurses were free entertainment in their humor and creativity in Caleb’s treatment. We asked about their lives to help forget about the mundane nature of ours. We looked at the pictures of their family and pets… and it helped us think about what was outside of those walls where normal families were living. And the nurses taught us secrets like where we could sneak onto other floors and take showers. I can tell you there is NOTHING more humiliating than being a man and sneaking onto the maternity ward to take a shower in one of the empty rooms!

Our lives grew into a “new normal”. Although exhausting, I got used to driving the fifty mile round trip after work to have dinner with the family. Noah got accustomed to getting scooped up and brought down to see what progress his brother made, and what new toys his brother might share. Susie’s “new normal” meant spending nights in a bed that was too small, woken up at midnight by the new nurse coming on shift, at 4:30am by the x-ray tech, and having her heart and imagination race when annoying alarms went off. 

Although it was a short season, the intensity of it made it seem like slow motion, the way a car accident seems to happen over the course of minutes not milliseconds. It truly made us stronger, more thankful, and put perspective on our lives. When I thought about things going poorly for me, my new motto was: “If that is the worst thing that happens to me this week, that is still a pretty good week!”

I’m honored to know you Steve. Your devotion and loving spirit are like a cool breeze on our hot summer days in El Dorado County.

Tell us how you coped with the stress of having a child with a potentially terminal illness? What specific coping skills worked better than others?

It has been said that you can live fourteen days without food, seven days without water, but not a minute without hope! The only way we COULD have survived was to have a heaping dose of hope. We originally looked to our doctors for this, but they could only give us a 50/50 chance. There was a lot of doom and gloom from them. They would probably call it “reality”, but we did not need reality, we needed informed hope. We looked to our friends for hope, and they ALL told us it would be okay. Of course we did not listen to them, after all what do THEY know?

We had to turn back to where we had found hope before Caleb got sick, to God. We leaned into the promises of God to “never leave us” and that there was a hope of Heaven (if the unthinkable did happen). We found comfort in praying to a power MUCH greater than ourselves, and our doctors. We know that other sincere people pray and their loved ones don’t make it. I am not sure why Caleb survived and others did not, but I am glad he did. I am not sure if we nudged God into a place where he spared Caleb’s life, but I do know that we had peace beyond all understanding along the journey.

The other way we coped was through laughter. After all, laughter is good medicine. We got to know the nurses (this is KEY to any long-term hospital stay: make the nurses like you and WANT to give you attention).  We did this through asking them questions, giving them candy, pulling pranks on them (like when I lured one in and Caleb shot her with Silly String), and helping them pull pranks on us. We told jokes, made fun of each other, drew targets on the windows and shot sticky things at them. We did the best we could through connections and laughter.

In the words of that great philosopher, Jimmy Buffet: “If we couldn’t laugh we would all go insane”.

I keep tearing up through this interview. I feel like my problems are very manageable! And, your perspective is A-MAZ-ING!

How did your relationship change within your family? All too often the stress of illness in the family can tear people apart. In your case, it seems to have had the opposite effect:

Early on Susie and I knew that no matter what happened to Caleb we would still be together, so we adopted a “no regrets” attitude. We agreed to not judge each other, to try and support one another, and to allow each other to grieve, rest, play or escape as needed. We had worked so hard to get Caleb through adoption that we had practice going through hard things.

With all the stress of the illness, the regular household, your other child, your own needs, and inexperience in dealing with something of this magnitude sheds light on how easily a couple could break up (and we watched a few as they separated, divorced, or blamed each other). However, we were committed to being committed.

I think it was hardest on our relationships with our other son, Noah. His needs were secondary, but we tried to keep some semblance of normalcy. We still did things with Noah, but it was never enough and it was disrupted by the needs of Caleb’s illness. We have good relationships now, but I think we will always wonder if Noah felt ignored (he says no).

It’s a tremendous balance, and when I see you with Susie, the love is SO evident…

6472618755_b244b2e25c_zYou are involved with the local high school’s Young Life, and, from pictures I’ve seen, I don’t know who had more fun: you or the kids! How do you make time for all of your commitments?

A few years ago Caleb asked me if I would help lead the local Young Life group. I initially said no, I did not want to cramp his space. But later when we talked I thought, how often does your fifteen year old ask you to spend MORE time with him? I could not pass it up! I have had fun getting to invest in the lives of the young people in our area. So many of them are craving commitment, boundaries, and unconditional positivity. I try to give them that. I can tell you that having gone through all that we have as a family has focused our priorities and given us clarity on some things. We care more about each other and less about our cars, careers, and fixing our house (unfortunately that one shows). We make time for people, because they are what matter the most. And, if we were all honest, we would say that we do not know how long we have them in our lives, so let’s celebrate the people that we have and love!

Beautifully said.


How is Caleb’s health now? Do you think you’ll ever fully relax or does the threat of his cancer resurfacing hover in your mind?

Caleb is healthy for now. Last year he completed his first Sprint Distance Triathlon (swim, bike, run). This year he competed on his high school swim team. He is off of all of his medications, and only goes to see the oncology team every six months— Woot Woot! All that having been said, we are learning to live with the threat of cancer. Most of the chemotherapy drugs he was given can cause other forms of cancer (cool side effect, eh?) So, relapse is something we dread, but we know itis a possibility. It makes us live more in the present, which seems like a better way to live. I mean, there are parents today who will get a phone call that their child has been hit by a car… they are not prepared for that news, who could be? In our case we know that we are likely to outlive Caleb. We know it is a possibility, but we try to stay in denial as much as possible, otherwise we will drive ourselves crazy!

I don’t know if that’s denial, as much as courageous acceptance.


What would you tell families and couples going through a child’s illness…pearls of wisdom, red flags to look for, things to avoid, and such?

When you fly on an airplane they tell you to put your own oxygen mask on before you put on your children’s, that way you can both live. When you are going through something hard remember that to take care of yourself in order to be good for those around. Take every situation with humor, even if it is awkward. Find hope… keep looking until you find it, then grab hold of it.

Wise words!

Steve, thank you so much for your time.  Truly, this is an example of Radical Compassion, Devotion, and Parenting. I’ve not only gotten to know you more completely, but you’ve shaken some things in me, and given me new perspective. Bless you and your family! You are a lovely human being, and I continue to wish Caleb a full, happy, and healthy life!

read more



Radical Dreams



My next interview is with Neil Pearlberg, a journalist/surfer/paddle board instructor/radio show host in Santa Cruz, California. I met Neil through John Mel, owner of Freeline Design Surf Shop. After the senseless shootings of two deputies in Santa Cruz, Neil and I sat down to discuss the violence in Santa Cruz, the drug culture in the surf community, and how my novel Out of Breath highlighted some of these issues. Neil wrote an article about this in the Santa Cruz Sentinel, weaving in my passion to reach others through Out of Breath (thank you, Neil!).

At the time, Neil’s column at the Sentinel, Perfect Write, was wrapping up. He’d been writing an upbeat column with a feel-good platform about Santa Cruz, the UC Santa Cruz, tourism, waves, skateboarding, and surfing. He didn’t shy away from difficult subjects, though, highlighting the drug culture that pervades the surfing community, and how individuals such as pro-surfer, Anthony Ruffo, sought to redeem himself and impact his peers and youth in the surf community after his incarceration and subsequent release.

A former commercial real estate agent turned journalist, Neil had a vision of hosting a radio show at local radio station, KCSO, an independently owned station that has been operating since 1947.
“People in Santa Cruz are born with a skateboard in one hand and a surfboard in the other. There are a plethora of topics due to the inventive nature of people in town, from crafting wooden surfboards to professional surfers,” Neil shared, wanting to showcase people he interviewed over his history with the Sentinel. He pitched the idea of his radio show to KSCO, and in March of 2013, his dream was realized, giving birth to a weekly Tuesday night slot from 7-8 p.m. titled Off The Lip Radio.

Thank you, Neil, for joining me on my blog. Tell us a little bit about yourself:
I’m from Brighton, England. I visited California in 1980, drawn to the beach and nice weather, and never went back. Before writing and radio, I did commercial real estate and coached high school surfing and soccer teams. I kept a blog about surfing, but felt that it was incredible that in a surf town, there was little written in our local paper, The Sentinel, about surfing. I met with the people at the Sentinel about this, and they offered me a column that I thought would run for a few months. Instead, it lasted for five years. I have hundreds of hours of interviews, and thank the Sentinel for the opportunity to meet and become friends with amazing people such as, Doug Haut, Johnny Rice, the Mel family, Jim Phillips, designer of Santa Cruz “Red Dot” logo and his infamous Screaming Hand, Shawn Thomson, world champion in surfing, originally from South Africa who wrote the movie Busting Down the Door, and Genie O’Mally, of Clear Mind and Healthy Planet who believes that Santa Cruz has worst methamphetamine culture in her travels all over world.

How do you feel life has shifted for you since the inception of Off The Lip Radio?
My life feels less complicated, and my quality of life is higher. I’ve found a way to earn income while enjoying myself and pursuing my passion. I love the exhilaration of face-to-face interviews that get you closer and next to the person. While we strive to keep it light on the show, and there’s lots of laughter on the set, I can ask hard questions to mayor Hilary Bryant such as, “Why did I find a needle on the beach?” I’ve covered everything from meth to Mavericks.

Neil with co-host Terry Campion and Santa Cruz Mayor Hilary Bryant

Neil with co-host Terry Campion and Santa Cruz Mayor Hilary Bryant

You mentioned in our time together the amount of laughter on the set…want to share?
We have sponsors that support the show, such as Chill Out Café on 41st Avenue, and my co-host, Terry Campion, and I arrange all the advertisements for our sponsors. We do the show live, so whatever we’re doing goes on the air. These have been so great, and this has unleashed a lot of creativity in me as I set these ads to music. But, there’ve been moments where we can’t contain our laughter as we make blunders, and reach for the silence button to regain our composure. {My note: I imagine it’s a lot like trying to not laugh in church, and the harder you try, the more you want to laugh!}

You’re also well known around the Santa Cruz area for your paddle boarding and yoga classes on paddleboards.
Yeah. I have a stand up paddleboard program (H2OYOGA) at Simpkins swim center so that people can be relaxed, warm, and not have to worry about safety issues that arise in the ocean. It’s a way to enjoy the California dream of living outdoors in the surf and being in shape.

Neil, your life sounds blissful, and you are truly living the California dream! I enjoyed our time together.
You can catch Neil’s show “Off the Lip Radio Show” every Tuesday night on KCSO radio from 7-8 pm, or listen online at or listen to the Podcast on the Off the Lip Radio Show Facebook Page.


read more



Radical Social Justice

melissa-lingo3My next interview is with the amazing, and lovely Melissa Lingo, director of The Trade, founded in 2010 by the owners of Hattori Hanzo Shears. Back in 2010, hairstylists were donating their shears to Hattori Hanzo Shears in order that they might be sent to countries where women could learn a trade to escape sexual exploitation.

Out of this, The Trade was born, a preventative and restorative organization which works with women living in slums who are abused and exploited, and who are coming out of sex trafficking or prostitution. They are given the tools to be self-sustaining, and in this case, taught cosmetology as an alternative to human trading and prostitution.

I met the director of The Trade, Melissa Lingo (who, by the way is ONLY 22!!) at a fundraiser in February of 2013 where she played the ukulele and guitar while singing with her band, Us. Melissa plans The Trade’s international trips and organizes the teams. She was then raising support to go to Brazil to start a new project, and serve on a team with four American stylists. Her experience is in prevention and abuse and while in Brazil, she helped with peer-counseling women escaping the sex trade, as well as supporting the volunteers, as this work is extremely emotionally taxing.
We sat down at a local Starbucks, and what a delight to talk with her more intimately. Her smile radiates hope, enthusiasm, and a soul filled with light and love. The following is our conversation:

melissa-lingo2Melissa, what a joy to meet with you. Please tell me how you developed a passion for rescuing people out of the sexual oppression and poverty?

I feel passionate for marginalized and exploited women. Even as a little girl, I would ask parents, “Why do we have things, and others don’t.” Women aren’t told everywhere that there is opportunity like women in America. I want to be that person. I struggled with self-esteem, and an eating disorder when I was younger, and the only way I was able to get out was help others. The beauty of helping women cross over from prostitution and sexual exploitation to cosmetology is that it provides a substantial income and also helps others feel beautiful.

Music is clearly central to who you are. Who lit the fire for you? Where do you see yourself going with your amazing talent?

I’m a fourth generation musician of women. My mom is Hawaiian and Portugese, so that influenced my style of music. I play the upright and electric bass, piano, guitar, ukulele, banjo, and I’m learning mandolin. My dream is to use my music as a platform to reach people. Music is always on the backburner. My purpose is to help others, so I bounce back and forth to is it helping others or selfish? (My note: NO! It’s not selfish, at all!!) When I went to India alone at 18, and volunteered in a daycare there, I played, “Let it Be” in the Himalayan mountains, and it was a moment of learning that music is the universal language. Even though we didn’t speak the language, we connected through music. I feel that God has given me this talent for a reason, and I try to use it for healing.

Tell us about The Trade:
So, every country is different, but in Brazil, we have ties to a pastor and the drug lords who respect this minister. Through the pastor’s wife, we reach out to local women. In other places, such as Cambodia, we work with Agape International Missions. They do all the hands on rescuing and offer counseling, whereas we do the restorative and educational component teaching women the trade of cosmetology.

How can people get involved?
People can go to and contribute. While on the website, you can buy a haircut voucher or a stylist can donate a haircut and the proceeds will go to the Trade. If your hairstylist isn’t on the list, urge them to do so. If you are a stylist, we are looking for volunteers to go abroad and teach skills. There are also opportunities for people to host an awareness event, such as a stylist hosting a cut-athon, a concert, or a fundraiser, such as the one you attended at the Mercedes dealership in El Dorado Hills, Ca.

Can you tell us a bit about your life as a musician?
I just recorded a new album and it will be released in June, titled “Made With Love”, and is available at I’d classify my music is Indie folk, in the vibe of quirky Nora Jones. My previous album is called Little Epiphanies, available anywhere you can download music, and CD’s are available at Mia Sorella, in Town Center, El Dorado Hills, Ca.
I’m also part of a band called “Us.” We get together now and then, and they are like a part of my extended family.
I’m also a wedding singer, called the Ukulady, and you can book me by emailing me at

Where can people see you perform?
Everything is out of town in the near future. The next two events for the Trade are June 7-8th, in Los Angeles for the Soroptomists, and I will be debuting new song, which will raise money for my August trip to Cambodia (this interview took place in May).

Readers: I don’t know about you, but I’m inspired, challenged, and impressed by what this amazing 22-year-old young woman is accomplishing. It makes me question any lazy, uncaring, and apathetic bone in me. 

Melissa- you are a gem, and the world is a better place because of your vision, willingness to dive in and correct a horrible problem, and all with a bright smile and joy in your heart. Thank you for your time, and blessings in your music and service through The Trade.



read more



Radical Revisiting

Interview with Anne Serling: Radical Revisiting, author of As I Knew Him, My Dad, Rod Serling

Anne, welcome to my website, and thank you for taking time in your busy life to share about this lovely tribute to your father, and open up about the grief involved in losing him. For those of you who don’t know, or are under the age of 40 (!), Rod Serling was the writer and creator of the 1970s science fiction show called The Twilight Zone. He was not only a brilliant author, but a loving, compassionate person, who, clearly, always made time for his true treasure: his daughter.

I understand, Anne, from our prior conversation, that you started this memoir about your father ten years after he died, at the young age of fifty. Can you talk about why it wasn’t the right time then:

Yes, I originally started another book: IN HIS ABSENCE. I couldn’t finish it. Even a decade after my father’s death, I was still raw. The memoir finally emerged-in part because, like my dad, I find writing cathartic and also because there had been things said about my dad that were absolutely untrue and described a man that wasn’t remotely familiar to me. I felt it was time to set the record straight who he was as a man and as a father.

The relationship between father and daughter can be so special and sacred. Can you talk about your relationship, and highlight what made yours and your father’s so unique:

It would not be an overstatement to say I adored my dad. Even as a teenager when that father/daughter relationship can become so strained, mine didn’t with my father. In part because my father and I shared a similar sense of humor–he always ALWAYS made me laugh. My mother used to say to me, “Stop laughing, you’re only encouraging him.” My father could make anyone feel comfortable and important. My friends adored him too. He was like having another friend along. He was fun.

Just as I wrote my first novel, Out of Breath, to reach out to others in their grief, did you also envision this as a novel to touch others. Can you discuss this?

It was very difficult at first to be so open about my grief. For so long I was embarrassed by it. I saw it as a weakness– that I couldn’t “get better”, I couldn’t move on. While writing the book, my editor told me after the first draft: “Your grief is so central to this book. You need to be more open.” She was right and so I just let it flow. I did a reading before the memoir was complete and a woman came up to me and told me her dad was dying and after hearing me read she knew she would be ok. That meant so much to me–that my words had touched her, had helped her. Since publication I have heard from so many people how it has helped them in some way navigate their own losses. Hearing that has been an unexpected gift for which I am deeply humbled and extremely grateful.

Did you rely on your own memories, or did you call upon others to help complete the picture of your childhood and relationship with your father?

I relied on my own memories. Otherwise they would not truly have been “mine.” I also had saved so many of my dad’s letters so our relationship was still “right there” in many ways.

Clearly, there is real value in opening up the vulnerable and painful places in our life, reflecting, and then making meaning out of this. What were the major obstacles in writing such a meaningful memoir?

Again, being so open about my grief and revisiting all of those unbearable–still even at this distance–dark days after my father died. That said, it was also a cathartic journey and a great release to go back there and write my way through and ultimately out.

How has this experience changed you as a woman, mother, wife, etc?

To quote my dad: “… somebody has given you money for words that you’ve written, and that’s terribly important. It’s a tremendous boon to the ego, to your sense of self-reliance, to your feeling about your own talent.”

To have a published book with wonderful endorsements has meant the world to me. To hear people say my dad would have been proud–and to know my words are helping other people–what greater gift is there? My husband has been extremely supportive of me and he’s a great ear to bounce things off of. In a sense it brought us closer and although my kids don’t live at home anymore I think they’re proud of their mom!

What else would you like to share?

That writing is tough–every writer knows that. It can frequently be a heart-wrenching process–putting yourself out there to a tough, subjective audience and rejection can eat away at you. Don’t give up! As the saying goes–”It takes only one ‘yes!’”

Thank you Susan for all you do!

Thank you, Anne, for this lovely opportunity to get to know you, the personal look inside your special relationship with your father, and I wish you best of luck and success with your memoir and in your future writings!


read more



Radical Faith

Interview with Liz Armstrong

If you are a fan of Anne Lamott, author of Traveling Mercies, Rosie, and Operating Instructions (three favorites of her many novels), then you will love the spirit and story of my next interview with my former priest, Liz Armstrong.

Now, when most people hear the word priest, they conjure up stodgy old men in white robes, a papal hat, swinging a censer filled with incense up and down the aisles of a church. Liz doesn’t quite fit that description. An Episcopal priest for 12 years, she divorced 2 years ago, ending a 27- year marriage, left her first congregation, started work as the sole priest at a new church, and has the “realness” of your buddy over a beer at the local bar. Like Anne Lamott, who says great spiritual truths in one breath, but a fan of punctuating her sentences with the f-word, Liz’s candor and speech patterns breathe life and a relaxed attitude about being honest with oneself.

I know…radical. It is Liz’s no-nonsense approach to life, her lack of rigid piety, and her ability to say just the right thing at the right time that drew me to pursue a friendship with her when she no longer held the role of my priest. Her struggles are common to man/woman, and while her faith is central to her being, it is the type of faith that I can get my head around when life is upside down.

Liz, thank you for joining me on and being open with the radical changes in your life, causing you to risk much for the sake of happiness, well-being, and integrity.

In a nutshell, can you fill in for our readers the major turnovers in your life in the past few years?

It was in early 2010 that my now ex-husband’s alcoholism/addictions came into sharp focus for me. I began to let my denial, rationalizations, and minimizing slip into the background, leaving me with a distinctly new vision of what my life was really like. After a separation, my husband’s two rounds of rehab, and many Al-Anon meetings, I realized that I had run out of gas when it came to making my marriage work. It was hard. Really hard. I was the assistant priest in a congregation where I had served for ten years and it was a public event. There were weeks and months when I barely had enough Good News to keep myself going much less preach it. But with the loving support of my boss, my close friends, and my family I made the giant step of initiating a divorce in 2011. I moved out of the home I had lived in for 25+ years, where I had done a lot of the raising up of two, now grown sons, and I moved into an apartment. It was so blissfully quiet and peaceful to live away from the chaos of what alcoholism did to our family system that I thought I was in heaven. (I wasn’t!). And then, two women priest friends of mine told me flat out that there was a position that I needed to put my name in for. “You are perfect for them and they are perfect for you,” they both said. After a bit I could hear that God was speaking to me through these two, trusted friends. So I did put my name in and after interviews and meetings, I was selected to be the new Vicar of a small church nearby. This church was meeting in a school auditorium and had office space next to the pre-school classroom. I went from a 350 people per Sunday congregation with staff to a 65 people per Sunday nomadic congregation that was getting over a 10-year spell of clergy leadership that did not culminate in building a church building. I moved again to be close to my new church, and I jumped into the new work before me. In my first six months I was on a new Music Director, had gotten a capital campaign underway, and the ball was picking up speed to truly build a church…I ignored all the advice about not making any changes in the first year in a new church. BTW, building starts in the next few weeks!

What were the main fears that held you back from breaking away from these changes prior to your decision?

Denial was the main thing that kept me from making changes. Once the denial was chipped away and I could see that there was a REAL problem of gigantic proportions, making changes began to be my best choice. Let me be clear, the alcoholic system was something I have a part in and it was cutting through the denial about my part that really gave me energy to change. I attended my Al-Anon home group each week. I got a sponsor. I worked the steps. I had a spiritual awakening (how embarrassed I am to admit that I was shocked to have a spiritual awakening!). I was never afraid of supporting myself or taking care of finances or any of those kinds of things. If I have fears, they are of being alone as I grow older, of missing out on a shared life. But I began to learn in a deep down, real way that I am never alone, that feeling afraid will pass just like other feelings, that I am as happy as I choose to be. I began to want a different life and I began to learn how I could choose and create that different life.

As a woman, what changes do you see in yourself that came with wisdom, experience, and taking risks?

Wisdom, for me, comes with living life honestly. Accepting who I am, who others are. Accepting things as they truly are. Well, let’s not forget that part about being open to learning. I can’t accept what I’m not willing to learn and see about myself and others and situations. The biggest change in my interior life has come out of taking the risk of loving myself just as I am and just as I am not. People in general are mostly not raised up in our culture to do that, and I think in a specifically limiting way women are not raised up to do that. I think women more than men are raised to be in denial, to rationalize. We’re raised to make things work, damn it! My life experience and wisdom now tells me that none of that is my responsibility or my job.

How did you factor in your faith, frustrations or anger with God (if any existed), and potential judgment by parishioners, the church, or family?

I took a vow…’til death do you part…and I came to understand that to break that vow was about being in a new moment in time with God, not about falling short or sinning. I may find out something different when I die, but for now I am content that I talked through all of that with God and got a green light. It didn’t feel self-serving or disloyal to a sacrament. It felt like shit happens in life and in the middle of shit storms God partners with us to make decisions we never imagined. I never felt deserted by God or angry at God. It was too clear what my part was in all of it. I realized at the age of 56 that I had grown up in an alcoholic home (duh, that explained a lot), that every romantic relationship (including two marriages) had been with alcoholic/addicts, and that if there were 10 men in a room I would invariably find the one attractive that was an alcoholic. To choose divorce meant coming to terms with the truth about the tools I have and don’t have for life and relationships and about my broken picker (relationship picker, that is). My faith is not separable from my me-ness. God and I have been at this a long time and I’m pretty sure God is rarely surprised by me (I do like to hold open the slight possibility of surprising God!). As for being judged…I totally get that someone will judge me for who I am or what I do no matter what. So be it. If family or friends were judging me my best hope is that we could always keep talking about it. I’ve got my plate full keeping self -judgment at bay…others will have to wait in line.

In the midst of the low times, what brought you through?

Al-Anon, prayer, friends, family. But really it’s only ever God that brings me through. I’m a Jesus person, so I just keep looking and making sure that Jesus is right here. And darned if he isn’t.

Looking back, how have you changed spiritually, emotionally, mentally from facing such monumental decisions, and putting your fears aside?

I left a long marriage. I left a home. I left a comfortable job. I took on a solo daily life. I took on a job that asks something of every part of my being…to be pastoral, liturgical, a visionary, a communicator, a preacher of Good News, an administrator, a money raiser, a non-anxious presence, a builder. How have I changed on the inside? I am so much less judgmental all the way around, of myself and others. I have dropped the sarcasm. I’m not angry and irritated every other second of the day about my expectations not being met. I’m learning how to feel my feelings (shocking!) and not to panic when I do feel my feelings. I feel lonely sometimes and sad sometimes and angry sometimes. But now I know that they are feelings, that feelings change, and that I have choices about how to act on my feelings. I’m bigger on the inside that I was before I made all of these major life changes. I’m more peaceful. I’m changing still. I like that. I like myself way more. I like that, too. Life is hard sometimes and good always. That’s a change. And I like that.

Note to Liz and the reader: Liz, reading your answers ministers in a way to me that is deep, timely, and profound. I am SO glad that I went with my gut, reaching out to hear you. Thank you for your spirit of acceptance. I am blessed to be part of your life!

read more



Radical Surf

Peter Mel: Mavericks Big Wave Tournament Champion, 2012


Imagine being out in the Pacific Ocean. The air is cool, foggy, hovering around fifty degrees—the water roughly the same. Now, picture a thirty-foot wall of water rolling your direction. Thrilling? Terrifying? Yes, and yes. This is the life of a Big Wave surfer, Peter Mel, who is my next guest on

Perched on the cliffs of that same Pacific Ocean, although conditions were a delightful sixty-eight degrees under a cloudless sky, I met up with Peter and his lovely wife Tara, as they looked on at their thirteen-year-old, John, competing in the Schlarpfest Fundraiser surf tournament.

Peter has not only succeeded in winning one of the world’s biggest surf contest, but has also appeared in documentaries, such as “Step Into Liquid” and “Riding Giants”, and most recently “Chasing Mavericks”, where he surfed waves for Hollywood actor Gerard Butler. To say that he’s our town’s celebrity is accurate. And yet the gentleness, ease, and humility in which he speaks of his success, as well as the rough ride along the way, had me feeling that I’d met with a friend about our mutual journeys as we consider our mortality, shifting priorities, and life in the mid-forties.
This wasn’t my first encounter with Peter. In fact, both he and his father, John, met with me five years ago to offer research for my first novel Out of Breath. From that point, I began a sweet relationship with the staff at the Mel’s surf shop, Freeline Design and Surf, and my curiosity and intrigue with the surf world ensued.


In my research, I learned that a number of the professional (and amateur) surfers were dealing with the fear and thrill of facing a thirty-foot wall of water by numbing those fears via drugs and alcohol. In the news in Santa Cruz, and the surrounding areas, it was common place to hear who in the surf world was being sentenced for using and/or dealing, who’d come clean, and who was setting up the next program to assist those gripped by addiction. As a therapist and an author who infused this drama into my novel, I wanted to examine this undercurrent in the surf culture, feeling a tie and love for my hometown, saddened to know that our community was gripped with addiction.

In my time with Peter, recently, we discussed the birth of his surf career, his disappointments as well as achievements, and his own battle with addiction. The longer we spoke, the more intrigued I became with the man who is not only radical in his relationship with the ocean, but a deep devotion to his children and wife. (Okay, ladies…deep sigh…). Thus, I asked the bigger question: “What is the biggest priority in life?”
Read on to learn more about Peter Mel, the man who won Mavericks, but who also has won the gift of life and family.

Peter, thank you for joining me and for being willing to share your story on I have so many questions, but I’d love to hear how you got started in the surf world:

My first time out, my dad took me just around the corner from here (he points to Pleasure Point), pushed me out on my board, and said, “Go to it!” I crashed, coughed, and hated it! [Imagine if we let our first failures dictate us!] It wasn’t until I was around eleven that my mom took me out to Capitola, and I got out there and was hooked.

In the past, you were a short board competitor, and now compete in Big Wave World Tour (In this competition, Peter uses a big wave gun, which looks like an oversized shortboard). You’ve faced walls of water up to thirty/forty feet high. What is the most frightening moment you had?

Seven years ago, I was in Tahiti in a very isolated spot for a surf competition. The closest hospital was nearly two hours away. I was tow surfed (readers: picture a jet ski leading a surfer into the wave while he holds onto ropes with his feet are strapped into the board because the wave is moving TOO fast to paddle into it!) The waves were 20-25 feet high, contained a lot of mass, and there was a shallow reef. I was slammed to the bottom by one of these waves and really hurt my right arm. My first reaction was, “My arm is crushed—my career is over.” I was terrified. It turned out I dislocated my elbow. That trip, there was a lot of stuff going on…it was my wake up call…that I wasn’t immortal, I had a wife and a family, and I got clean right after that.

As someone who has a healthy respect of the ocean and its power, I can’t imagine not letting my fear take over. Could you share how you prepare for a contest?

I use my fear to hyperfocus. I’m a freak about preparation: having safety people around, knowing the personality of the swell, getting information on what the tide is doing. I watch the surf forecast, as opposed to just showing up, which is something I did when I was a kid. I might check four or five different weather sites to get the local conditions, knowing how that will affect the surf. I’m trying to teach all of these things to my son, John, so that he can be the best for his competitions as well.

You mention John: what role do you play in your son’s surfing career?

I taught him, and I’ve coached him, but he’s thirteen, and I’m his dad, so…[we exchange knowing smiles and chuckles]. He’s at the point now where he travels alone to competitions. But, I try to teach him what I’ve learned and prepare him for the conditions that exist.

Speaking of parenting, what are the biggest challenges in life for you right now?

Keeping all of the different balls in the air: competing, my marriage, hands on parenting. My mindset is more relaxed now than in the past because I’ve dealt with my addiction and can focus more clearly on giving to my family. Finding the balance is always tricky when I go away.

I think a lot of people see the surf world and all your travels as glamorous, which, from talking to you, sound pretty amazing! But, what feels like your top priority right now.

My family. Investing in my marriage to Tara. Giving John my attention and support. Looking to the future of my dad’s surf shop, and how I might have a role in that. I’m still competing, like tomorrow I leave for Chile to compete. As I’ve gotten older, things have changed, and I’m looking at how I give to my family, and the healing that needs to take place.


Peter, thank you for sharing from your heart, as well as a look inside your world of Big Wave Surfing. For those of us hitting the middle of our lives, your ability to push yourself both professionally and as a man of character within your family and friends, is a source of inspiration :).

Photo credits: Anthony Solis,Tara Mel, and Tim McKenna
read more


2013 Guest Post

I was recently featured as a guest blogger at

This past December, I walked my father home in his dying days. In my blog and Facebook posts, my readers were privy to our last moments and his final words, “I love you, honey.” Watching someone slip away from Alzheimer’s disease took an enormous toll on me, and yet, I was blessed in the process. I received comforting words and prayers, and was so moved by the outpouring of support…a great deal of it from total strangers. As a grief specialist, it was amazing to be on the receiving end.

Birth and death are perhaps the two most transformative events that affect the living, causing us to reflect on our own mortality, quality of life, begging the question: am I living each day to the fullest?

I have been immersed in a great deal of soul searching since my father’s death…


read more



A conversation with my 65-year-old self…

My lovely writer friend, Terri Giuliano Long, invited me to take part in a fascinating blog post: Envision myself twenty years from now (65), with full knowledge of all that has happened between now and then—achievements, trials, and the wisdom gained along the way, and develop a conversation in which my 65-year-old self talks to current day Susan.

Timely? Absolutely. I’m hinging on some of the biggest changes of my life, and if ever I needed encouragement and hope for the future, it is now. Click the link below, and see for yourself.

More importantly, do this exercise! Take the time to see where you are…where you are headed…what bubbles up. You might surprise yourself!

read more

Page 2 of 41234