An Interview with Writer/Director Anthony Laura and Actress Casey Hartnett

As a writer, and as founder and Executive Director of the Broadleaf Writers Association, I’m often given the opportunity to preview work before it reaches the public. Generally, that means a manuscript that requires editing before it’s sent out on submission, or an advanced copy of a book to be published. But I’m also fortunate to know a number of writers, producers, and directors working on either plays, screenplays, or both.

One of those is writer/director Anthony Laura, an artist I have come to admire both for his emotionally provocative scripts as well as the passion in which he brings them to reality. One of those works, The Girl with the Red Hair, is a play currently slated to premiere this winter, and I was honored to not only get the opportunity to read the script, but to interview both writer and lead actress.

Starring Casey Hartnett as Hayley Jones, The Girl with the Red Hair, is an exploration of the damage rendered by sexual abuse, of a mind in turmoil as it attempts to cope with experiences far too extreme to process. In the ever-deepening shadows of the girl she once was, who is Hayley Jones, and will it be enough to simply be a survivor?

With The Girl with the Red Hair, Anthony Laura captures the true struggle of Hayley Jones in a troubling yet empathetic light. With the added insight of Casey Hartnett’s approach to portraying Hayley, they remind us that a victim’s experience never ends. That the struggle of coping is a solitary and difficult journey that pits the mind with the heart in a fight neither can truly win.

An Interview with Anthony Laura and Casey Hartnett

 

Writing about or portraying an individual suffering from the ramifications of sexual abuse requires both accuracy and a gentle, yet firm, hand. How did you both prepare for this sensitive subject?

CASEY: We talked a lot about Hayley’s backstory and the specifics of what actually happened when she was nine years old. Then in my own crafting, I thought about the specifics of what happened right afterwards. Did I tell anyone? What did I say? How did those words come out of my mouth at such a young age? Who did or did not believe me? What became the dynamic in my family after all of this happened and how I did I deal with that as a teenager? All of these specifics had to be well-thought out in order to be as truthful as possible. The scariest thing is the idea that someone in the audience could really relate to having something as traumatic as this happening to them, so being as truthful and specific as possible with every little detail was really important to me.

ANTHONY: In both preparation and execution, we wanted to honor the specific difficulties of experiencing and continuing to live with such trauma.  The seeds of Hayley’s suffering with the abuse is sprinkled throughout the play, but the reveal happens quite late.  Due to this, Casey and I spoke about the physical manifestations and how the emotional repercussions were specific to Hayley.  I think what was most profound about Casey’s portrayal is how deeply you felt her pain, yet it always remained a bit at bay and hidden.  Many survivors suffer silently for years, whether it be from shame or fear, and continue to relive their trauma internally.  We wanted to illustrate the debilitating effect that repression can have and how much courage it takes to make the decision to speak it aloud.

The girl with the red hair is a pivotal character in Hayley’s journey. What does she represent to you?

CASEY: The girl with the red hair represents everything that Hayley wishes she could be. She represents this fantastical perception of perfection that no matter what Hayley does, feels so far away from being able to be achieved. There’s a hopefulness but also a hopelessness all at once in the girl with the red hair, and that combination is really heartbreaking.

ANTHONY: Azura has always felt like a bit of a guardian angel to me.  Through her optimism and innocence, a sense of hope is ignited in Hayley.  It’s one of the few times in the play that we’re left with Hayley at the end of a scene feeling at peace.  However, Hayley winds up putting her on a pedestal, believing her life would be better if she existed as her, until Coury accurately points out “Why can’t you just be yourself?”  It’s a feeling I think we can all relate to in viewing people in terms of their best qualities and assuming we are defective for having problems of our own and not maintaining our own expectation of perfection.

Despite the sensitive and emotionally raw nature of the script, there remains a good bit of humor. How do you manage to convey a sense of comedy in moments that are so deep in despair and pain?

CASEY: I think sometimes we have to laugh and find the humor in unsettling situations in order to maintain our sanity. I guess it’s almost like a defense mechanism that Hayley uses to hold onto what little control she does have of her situation. If she can tease Dr. Watkins maybe she’ll start speaking to Hayley as an actual person rather than a patient. If she jokes around with Nurse Janice, the time might go by a little quicker. I feel like in Hayley’s case, humor is used as an escape mechanism; an escape from the mania and the depression and the utter sadness that has enveloped her entire being so harshly for so many years. Sometimes laughter is a better cure than any medication.

ANTHONY: For me, levity tends to exist very often in the most painful of situations.  In fact, in my experience, the more painful the situation, the more we yearn and strive to make people laugh or help us laugh through the hard times.  We crack jokes to ease the tension every day.  Dolly Parton’s character in Steel Magnolias always had a line that stuck with me.  “Laughter through tears is my favorite emotion.”

Actors and directors both work to interpret a script into their vision of character, which is ultimately a collaborative effort. What have you gained the most from working with one another?

CASEY: Honestly, I think the biggest thing I’ve gained from working with Anthony has been a greater sense of trust and confidence in myself as an actor to go out there and tackle heavy material like this play. I’ve always been so subtle as an actor that being driven out of my shell to truthfully portray those moments of Hayley’s mania and heightened emotional life has given me the confidence to expand on the types of roles I want to play; and the roles that I actually believe I can play now. Because of this, when working on script revisions, if he asks me if I’d feel comfortable trying something new with Hayley, I have no reservations against saying, yes, yes let’s try it!

ANTHONY: I remember the first time I sat down with Casey and she told me her interpretation of Hayley.  I recall being in such awe of her empathy.  In the past two and half months, she has shown me a world within Hayley I never imagined.  A lot of that comes from how open and vulnerable she is on stage and how deeply invested she is with Hayley, but more importantly how giving she is with the other actors (and characters) around her.  Overall, what I continue to gain from working together with her is trust.  I think we both listen to each other with full attention and when that happens, the possibilities are endless.  There’s absolutely nothing more thrilling than exploring a character or situation together with a new and exhilarating idea that only comes from wanting to hear each other’s input and make the best possible product.  She always makes the work better.  Plus, she’s one of the kindest actors I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with.

Azura, the girl with the red hair, visits Hayley at one point and mentions the sadness in the song Puff the Magic Dragon. She says Hayley is like Puff without his roar. What do you think she’s trying to say to Hayley?

CASEY: When Azura tells Hayley she is like Puff without his roar and that she needs to get her roar back, I think she’s trying to tell Hayley to not let her current situation get her down and to embrace her flaws and her past because without all of those facets of Hayley, she wouldn’t be Hayley and that’s what makes her so unique and special. Maybe embracing all of these parts of Hayley instead of trying to bury them away will allow Hayley to feel whole again. I think Azura is just reminding Hayley that despite everything that has happened, it is possible for Hayley to feel happy again.

ANTHONY: Going back to the guardian angel comment earlier, Azura is letting Hayley know that everything she needs to be her best self exists inside of her.  Sometimes, especially through trauma, we lose a part of ourselves that even we forget existed.  Azura wants to assure Hayley that whatever she seeks in right within her grasp if she allows herself to fight.

Writing a play of this emotional magnitude is a challenge. What challenged you the most?

ANTHONY: I think the biggest challenge was in balancing and withholding.  I wasn’t interested in telling a story about these issues that would be too operatic.  I wanted it based in reality and, for me, in real life, we hide instead of show.  The other challenge, which I still strive for in the new run, is accuracy.  Many people who suffer from mental illness, whether it’s on a large or small scale, continue to feel inadequately represented when the portrayal is romanticized or emotionally inaccurate.  I think it further adds to the stigma that only elicits more shame and fear in those who suffer.  Maybe this is an obvious statement, but I think it’s important to treat everything as a documentary and show realistic portrayals so people suffering feel seen.

Bette Midler makes several appearances to Hayley. Was there any particular reason you chose her for the script?

ANTHONY: One reason is the difference in Ms. Midler’s presence on and off stage.  She always puts on a great show and makes you laugh with everything she does.  Yet, if you watch more of the intimate interviews with her, you’re overtaken by how candid she is with her struggles and how different her personality actually is from her stage appearances.  I think Hayley responds to the comfort of Bette, what she wants her to be, and that further enforces the theme of controlling ourselves and others.

Hayley has endured experiences that pushed her beyond her breaking point. Through her suffering, you tackle the issue of mental illness. What message did you hope to convey?

ANTHONY: We all know what it’s like and how easy it is to isolate when we feel others can’t understand how we’re feeling or what we’re going through.  I’ve experienced depression to the point where I would stay in my room and not eat for days.  As hard as that is, it’s also hard on those around you.  We want people to feel less alone.  We also hope that people who are on the outside of the disease can see this and understand that sometimes all you need to do is listen, that your support is all anyone needs.  I hope that we are able to articulate what people suffering have gone through and continue to go through and make them feel like the heroes they are for fighting this fight everyday of their lives.

Each character holds a key to unlocking the truth of Hayley’s journey. Was this something you planned, or did it come about through the writing process?

ANTHONY: A little of both.  There was definitely a lot of discovery during the writing process and the rewriting process.  I know that in my life, a lot of the truth I’ve learned about myself has come from the people closest to me and I wanted to show how each character had an effect on Hayley, whether that was manifested or based in reality.  The story is essentially about Hayley’s growth and acceptance of herself, but the underlying theme for me was that it’s never weak to ask for help.

What advice would you give other writers interested in writing about characters suffering through mental illness?

ANTHONY: I have always found that the most honest writing comes from finding a way in, knowing what your personal reason is for telling the story.  I don’t think that means you have had to experience mental illness but understanding the reason behind why you want to tell the story and who you want to reach can help in always having a foundation when the writing process takes its crazy turns.

As an actor, finding a sense of empathy for the characters you play is an important facet. What was it in Hayley that you were able to connect to?

CASEY: I was actually able to connect to a lot of parts of Hayley, including her sense of feeling misunderstood and her longing to be heard and believed. That’s probably a common thing for everyone, this desire to be understood and not judged for who you are and what you’ve been through, but I have both seen in others and personally felt a strong desire for that sense of understanding firsthand so I felt like I really wanted to take care of Hayley right off the bat. I wanted to let her know through my portrayal of her that hey, I see you and I understand what you’re going through and I’m going to protect you.

If Hayley could leave the audience with one message about mental illness, what would it be?

CASEY: I think Hayley’s message about mental illness would be just to not judge others or act like you really know what someone else is going through but to just be there for them and support them. To allow them to feel normal.

How has portraying Hayley adjusted your view of others, especially those suffering through despair, pain, and mental illness?

CASEY: Portraying Hayley has definitely made me more cautious of the way I speak to and about others. I’ve worked with very vulnerable populations like the homeless, so knowing those people and now knowing Hayley, I am just much more aware of when I am having judgmental thoughts and how to push those thoughts aside and really try to see and hear what other people have to say and learn about their perspective.

The progression of Hayley’s journey takes her further into paranoia and delusion. When dealing with portraying a character falling deeper into a broken mind, how do you walk the line between reality and parody?

CASEY: As Hayley falls deeper into her broken mind, everything feels real to her so by living in her world during the play, it’s portrayed as if everything is actually happening because the distinction between reality and fantasy has been blurred. So, if Hayley believes that this is all a reality, then I wanted to portray those instances as if they were real and not overdo them or make fun of them in any way.

What has challenged you the most about playing Hayley?

CASEY: I think the biggest challenge has been giving an ultimate truth and honesty to Hayley’s illness. It was really important to me that I understand mental health and sexual trauma as thoroughly as possible because it’s one thing for a character to feel misunderstood, but it’s another thing entirely for an audience member who identifies with Hayley to see a play and feel even more alone than when they walked into the theater.

Hayley struggles with sexuality on many levels, including her own sexual orientation. Given what you know, and have learned, of Hayley, how do you portray that sense of exploration beyond her dialogue?

CASEY:  Portraying Hayley’s sense of sexual exploration goes beyond her dialogue in the way of subtle hints in the underlying emotions during her interactions with several characters. She and Cortney have a few unspoken moments of attraction that act as saving graces for Hayley in a way; they comfort her and scare her all at once. With Coury, she is trying to find her sexual desire again but she has become numb to intimacy and can’t really understand why. Since she can’t explain it, it can’t be explained through the dialogue but Coury seems to acknowledge that it’s okay without ever having to say those exact words.

At one point, Hayley has a literal knee-jerk reaction to being touched. In another scene, she rebukes Eve’s advances by asking her to view her as a nine-year-old girl. How do you convey those moments to the audience, so that they see the connections to her past?

CASEY: Conveying those moments of Hayley still being affected by her past sexual traumas to the audience comes through in the emotional preparation of the work. I could ask Eve in a hypothetical, playful way to think of me as a nine-year-old girl, but that wouldn’t necessarily lead the audience to believe Hayley has actually been abused. Hayley’s quick temper and the way she gets so upset by Eve’s hyper-sexuality is evidence in itself for the audience to (hopefully) understand that something terrible happened to her when she was so young and it’s still greatly affecting her today and is most likely the cause for Hayley being in a psychiatric ward in the first place.

In Act Two, Hayley says, “Everything is so far away,” a perspective to which many can relate. What makes this perspective unique to Hayley? How is her “far away” different than everyone else?

CASEY: When Hayley says, “Everything is so far away,” her perspective has been radically shifted from feeling in control of the people around her during her manic phases to a total loss of control after Eve points out how she has betrayed all of them without her even realizing it. It’s like everything has taken a 180 degree turn in the wrong direction and Hayley feels completely lost and confused with no sense of an explanation as to why this happened. I would say that Hayley’s “far away” is different from everyone else’s because her mind literally cannot recall the exact details of what got her to this point. Her mental illness has created these blocks in her brain, it’s as if she blacked out and did a lot of regretful things that she can’t remember and therefore can’t apologize for.

Day Four: Sometimes you just gotta ask

I don’t know everything. Hell, I barely know some things. Life is a busy place full of an infinite amount of information that is constantly changing. Working through a manuscript is no different. I know some things. I’ll never know everything. At times, it’s like I know just enough to work my way through a world and it’s trials. I’m positive the characters laugh at me when they’re off set.

As I noted in the first post on this project, my lead character jumped ship and a feisty teenage girl took his place, altering the entire scope of the story and the genre in which it was to be. This left me a little shy on information when first I sat down to tell Agatha Blume’s tale. I mean, I had all but just met the girl. We hadn’t even had a thorough conversation. Next thing I know we’re starting a chapter with her brushing her hair and having a terse exchange with her mother. And then she drops the Keeper bomb and I stopped writing.

From Chapter Two (one revision, unposted):

It should have been the worst month of her life. All that time, just ticking away into boredom. But Agatha didn’t mind time. She could deal with time. It was the Keepers that bothered her.

Wait. What? Who the hell are the Keepers? Until that moment, I had never heard of them. I mean, I figures I knew who she was talking about, but I had never called them Keepers before. In the first run at Chapter Two, she didn’t mention anything about Keepers. But in a read through, in preparation for completing the chapter, there it was. Keepers. So, I had to stop. I had to find Agatha and ask her what the hell she was talking about.

Thus, I leave for you an interview with Agatha Blume. I get what she’s up to a bit better now. I know who the Keepers are and why she calls them that. Now I can continue.

An Interview with Agatha Blume

(for the purpose of figuring out what her deal is)

Hello, Agatha. I appreciate you taking the time to help me figure exactly who you are and what you’re doing in my story.

Sure.

Tell me a little about yourself.

Um, well, I’m sixteen—seventeen in, like, four months—and I’m a Junior in High School. Please don’t ask about college. I get enough of that from my mom. My best friend is Judy—or at least she was my best friend until I saw her out with Justin at the movies. Now, I don’t know. She knew I liked him. It’s like with my hair, you know? I told her I wanted to dye it blue, to be crazy or something, and then, like, the next day her hair’s blue. It looked good too. Justin texted me after school and was all ooh, it looks hot like I wanted to hear that. I just ignored it. Well, I had a sad emoji ready, but, I mean, what good would that have done, right? He obviously likes her more than me anyway. She’s so pretty. It’s stupid.

Gotcha. So, what about—

Gotcha? That’s your response to that? I tell you my best friend stole the boy I like away from me and you say “gotcha?” Whatever.

It wasn’t meant—

Just forget it, okay? I don’t even want to talk about it.

Fine with me. How about your mom? What’s your relationship like—

Don’t ask.

Technically, I didn’t. You like to interrupt people, don’t you?

(the glare she offers is intense, and yet somewhat humorous. As if it’s taking a great deal of concentration. She might have gas for all I know.)

I do not have gas! That’s gross. Delete that.

I was about to ask about your mother. 

Whatever. She’s fine. I love her. She does mother things, though. Annoying mother things all the time. I mean, she’s a good person, right? It’s not like I don’t realize that. She just … it’s like when I’m in my room, you know? And she just barges in. She’ll knock, of course, but then it’s like she just decides that’s enough for her to come in. I’m not twelve anymore. I need my privacy. And she doesn’t let me do anything. She used to ground me if I didn’t make all A’s.

Used to?

Well, I took care of that. I just make sure I always have A’s. It’s like keeping my room clean and stuff. I just make sure it always is when she comes in my room. If we don’t have anything to fight about…. (she shrugs)

Ah, I see. I get it. You make sure everything is the way she wants it; and if it isn’t, you just … fix it.

Yeah. Something like that.

So you correct it in time. I mean, “in time”. You actually go back and change things. Make sure you know the answers to tests and have homework done and so forth.

I don’t know what you’re talking about. (Clearly her body language says otherwise.)

It’s fine, Agatha. I know what you can do. I’m just trying to understand.

Well, understand quieter. The Keepers are watching.

The Keepers? I don’t have anything about Keepers in my notes.

Oh, well, I guess everything’s all fine then. I mean, if you don’t have them in your notes, they probably aren’t even real. Just some stupid kid with her stupid story. Whatever.

Fine. Tell me who the Keepers are.

(she seems very reluctant to talk about them, shifting in her seat, looking away as if watching someone from afar.)

I don’t know who they are. I just know they watch time. It’s, like, I don’t know. I saw one once, one of the first times I moved through time. I went back two days to try to find a, well, I had lost a ring of mom’s that belonged to her mom and she got super pissed and then cried all night about it. I thought if I went back to when I last had it I could make sure it didn’t get lost. When I got there—I was in the living room—I saw some shadowy person. Like he was there, but not entirely. Some tall looking guy, really pale, you know? Like vampire pale. He was talking to another Keeper somewhere. I never saw that one. He walked past me, almost through me really. It was like he didn’t even see me. He kept talking about an infringement in time–I think that was the word–but he couldn’t place the source. He definitely wasn’t friendly. He had some gun thing. Silver. Kinda big. I don’t know. But it scared me. I just stayed and lived the next two days again rather than risk it. I didn’t move through time again for a while.

When did you first move through time?

(she laughs) My thirteenth birthday. We had a dog named Rufus. He went on a rampage through the kitchen after Judy popped a balloon. Knocked into the kitchen table and the cake went splat all over the floor. I was inconsolable. It was a Minion cake. I love those guys. It was my first non-Princess cake, and I felt pretty adult about it. Stupid, I know. I’m still not even sure how it happened. I just had this idea later that if I could have stopped Judy from popping that balloon, Rufus would have been fine and my cake would have survived.

And what happened then?

I don’t know. It was, like, one minute I was in my bed crying, thinking about that moment, the next I was just there. Judy had the balloon, but hadn’t squeezed it yet, so I just knocked it out of her hand.

And your cake was saved?

Well, no, not exactly. I actually popped the balloon when I hit it, and, well, it all just happened anyway. Splat. Minion doom.

Did you try again?

No. I mean, I thought about it, but suddenly the cake didn’t seem such a big deal. I had moved through time, you know? Cake seemed kinda silly in comparison. The Keeper thing happened a few months later. I had done it a few times in between. I was always afraid of it, actually, so I never went far. Just enough to change simple things that seemed to matter at the time A few minutes the day I missed the bus. An hour the day I threw up in Justin’s pool. The most I ever went was twelve hours or so. It was when I went back two days that the Keeper showed up. Sort of.

So you don’t really know who they are. You just call them Keepers because of time?

Something like that. I don’t know.

You haven’t seen one since?

Maybe. I sometimes think so. A reflection here or there. In a car. In my dreams. I don’t know. Maybe I’m just seeing things. Maybe they don’t even exist, but I don’t want to take a chance. I figure if I keep it under twelve hours, forward or back, I’ll be okay. I think it’s like ripples, you know?

Ripples?

Yeah. Like, imagine you’re blind and standing about five feet into a pool. And someone gets in and the ripples on the water hit you. You can’t see so you probably have a good sense of feeling where it came from, or something. If someone jumps in, yeah, definitely. If they go in like halfway or something, probably. But, like, a toe dipped in and you’d never be able to tell. So, I don’t know, I just dip a toe in here or there.

That’s actually pretty damn clever, Agatha.

Thanks. (Her cheeks are red, she’s watching her feet sway. I don’t think she gets complimented all that often.)

So, just one more question: You said the Keeper you encountered wasn’t friendly. What do you think would happen if one of them were to find you, or discover what you can do?

(She ponders this one. I think she already has an answer, but she isn’t sure if she wants to say it.)

I don’t know. It won’t be good. That I know for sure.

How so?

Because. I mean, how many people do you know who can move through time? Imagine what would happen if a bunch of people could? Other than me, right? People would be moving through time all over the place to fix everything. And, you know, like the cake, it doesn’t always work out. Might even make it worse. Some things are just supposed to happen, right? So, the Keepers have to protect time. They won’t want me doing what I do, even as small as it is.

Oh, I see. You believe they are specifically interested in protecting time and nothing else? Almost angels of time, in a way.

Right. Right. Yeah, if angels carried weird gun things and hunted little girls who just wanted to keep their moms happy. That sounds logical. Good call.

Fair point. I guess we’ll stop there. I think I understand things better now. Somewhat, anyway.

How lovely for you. I’ll go see if I can sleep and not dream horrible dreams, thanks.

Thanks for your time, Agatha. See you soon.

Whatever soon is.

Here’s the latest revision of Chapter Two:

Chapter Two (Revised)

Forgetting the Wheel

Sometimes you forget how the car moves.  That’s when it helps to look at the wheel and remember that it spins.  Naturally, you then wonder how the wheel spins, and that’s when you look under the car and freak out.  I mean, there’s something keeping the wheels attached together, and then there’s all these little spinny things, and all of that goes somewhere up front, and that’s all attached to the mountainous nonsense under the hood, and, well, sometimes I get religion.  It must be a whole let better to just say, “Oh, hey the wheel spins,” and then let the rest fall into the hands of a suddenly all-knowing (and mechanically divine) God.

So, the present spins the future into the past, is something of what I’m getting at here, albeit in a disassociated car-to-God-analogy kind of way.

You are distracted from the bad analogy...

So, I was feeling nostalgic today, as I wrote a new bio for my publisher’s website, and I dug up an interview that the irreplaceable Russ Marshalek conducted, on behalf of the fantasmic book blog, Baby Got Books, when Anointed first came out. Here it is, in its grammatically correct entirety:

A completely non-biased and properly-punctuated interview with Zachary Steele, author-type person of Anointed: The Passion of Timmy Christ, CEO

Baby Got Books: Describe in 5 words the plot of Anointed. In another 5 words, tell me why i should read it again. Then, in 5 more words, tell someone who hasn’t read it why I should read it again.

Zach Steele:Reluctant man becomes corporate Christ.
Because it’s freakin’ funny, man.
You won’t get it anyway.

BGB: Who all would you say you ripped off in writing Anointed? And by ripped off I mean in terms of both intellectual content and money.

ZS:I ripped off a lot from God, you know. He’s pretty much the author of the Bible, right? So, I have to include him. Aside from the that, it was pretty easy pickings with Terry Pratchett, Christopher Moore, Kyle Watson (though you wouldn’t have heard of him) and some finely-detailed intellectual hotness from Marisha Pessl. As far as money, that’s pretty easy. I ripped off my publisher, but she won’t figure that out for a while, and likely all of my readers (once they’ve read it and realize what dreadful crap it is).

BGB: On a scale of 9 through 10, how awesome is Anointed?

ZS:All of my scales go to 11, so that’s pretty much where I’d put it. It completely redefines “awesome”. In fact, the use of “awesome” is now outdated and has been replaced by “Anointed”. As in, “Man, that sure was an Anointed movie, wasn’t it?” I would wager that, when I am old and fading away–or perhaps even dead already–people will still be discussing how Anointed completely altered the methodology of writing and saved the publishing industry. But I’m pretty modest about it all, actually. I’d rather not discuss it any further.

BGB: If you end up on Bill O’Reilly, and he’s all screaming in your face and cutting your microphone’s signal and stuff without listening to you at all, what will you have for dinner after?

ZS:After? How about during? I’ll be sidestepping his questions while waving a fork in the air and taking my time dining while he rants about stuff I surely won’t be listening to anyway. Steak au Poivre with Dijon Cream Sauce, garlic mashed potatoes, creamed spinach, a nice Chardonnay, and a bowl of cheese to throw at him when he stops talking. No wait. I wouldn’t do that to cheese. Maybe I could get a soufflé or something instead. After, I might go for an Icee.

BGB: In terms of your writing style, what books would you say influenced your second novel? oh wait you haven’t written it yet.

ZS: Ha! Good one coming from the man who hasn’t even written his first book yet! Look out David Sedaris! This guy’s a riot!

BGB: You solicited quotes about the book, aka “blurbs”, from your Facebook friends. Are you just too lazy to actually hunt down famous people?

ZS:”Don’t underestimate the value of doing nothing, of just going along, listening to all the things you can’t hear, and not bothering.” ~Winnie the Pooh~ There’s a famous quote for you. Happy?

BGB:Your press materials all begin with “Satan and the Antichrist walk into a bar”. Tell me a good joke about a pope and a rabbi. Or a pope and a rabbit.

ZS:The Pope (not ‘a’, you idiot) walks into a bookstore to look for a book about Catholicism, because he doesn’t understand any of his followers, but before he can make it to the section oddly marked “religion”, he is distracted by a sharp sound from the back of the store. When he goes to investigate, he finds a large cage with a fluffy, bouncy rabbit inside, and a sign atop the cage that reads, “Cadbury Rabbit, Bookstore Bunny”. The Pope smiles and leans to the cage and says to the rabbit, “Hello there, little rabbit. I am the Pope. How are you today?” To which, the rabbit bounds in a quick circle, stomps a foot in a loud thump, stares at the Pope, and says, “Nom, nom.” The end, joke over. A POPE AND A RABBIT? ARE YOU SERIOUS? Do you get paid to come up with these questions or did you pawn it off on an 8-year old?

BGB: How freakin’ awesome is your publicist?

ZS:Question #7 may answer that better than I can. It’s very difficult to answer this question though, now that Anointed has completely redefined what is understood to be “awesome” and taken over its use entirely. I suppose I can say that my publicist is less than Anointed, more Anointed than “awesome” (in its former form), but not as Anointed as my book minus me. Hope that helps.