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Saturday, December 26, 2015

[To You, From Me] Discovering Your WHY In Life


It's a question as a child I found myself asking or thinking quite a bit when I would be told something or see something going on around me. Maybe you were the same way or still find yourself asking that simple yet profound question today.

When I was reflecting on the year that has been 2015 for my brand and me I couldn't help but smile at what we have been able to do and think about the work that still lies ahead. Every day I can honestly say I get up excited about what Conversations and I are accomplishing: the people I connect, the interviews I am able to host and the events that bring me together with like-minded individuals. For me, the reason I have been able to experience a measure of success and growth is because I have been singular in my vision of creating great content that brings people enjoyment and inspiration. When people ask me how I am able to do what I do to the extent that I do it, I share the above with them. THAT is my WHY.

What about you? As you look at where you are and what you want, do you find yourself asking why you do what you do or why isn't it happening for you the way you think it should? The answer to that question is pivotal, and in the conversation I had with fitness trainer and model Branden Nicholson we discussed how identifying your why will help you stay focused on what you want and help guide you in getting there.

As you go throughout this issue and read the conversations featured or see those that are being spotlighted remember that each of them, just like you, had a goal or vision. They have been able to get to where they are simply because their actions have answered their why. Going into a new year that is what I want you to reflect upon: Is your Why clear? Do you know what your endgame is and how you are going to get there? This might mean a change in direction, but even that is good if it will bring you one step closer to your goals and dreams.

Here's wishing you a purposeful 2016, and may all that you desire and work towards find success.

Cyrus Webb, Editor-In-Chief
Conversations Magazine

Conversations Magazine's 25 Recording Artists You Should Know (2016)

For the past 9 years music has been an important aspect of Conversations Magazine. Both online and in print Editor-In-Chief Cyrus Webb has worked to showcase not just nationally-recognized artists bur those rising stars that are introducing amazing music to the world.

As 2015 comes to a close and a New Year approaches, here are 25 recording artists of different genres that along with the title of one single by them we have come to love that we believe you'll want to add to your playlist as well:

25 Recording Artists You Should Know (in no particular order)

  1. Andra Day, "Rise Up"
  2. Chelsea Crites, "What Goes Around"
  3. Ricky Jarman, "Get to Know Ya"
  4. Woodson Michel, "Whoa"
  5. Antonique Smith, "Higher"
  6. Kevin Garrett, "Refuse"
  7. Andromeda Turre, "All Or Nothing"
  8. March to May, "Embers"
  9. Bob Sima, "Be the Change"
  10. Jake Worthington, "That's When"
  11. Jason Little, "Let Me Know"
  12. A.J. Kross, "Wreck Me"
  13. Keith Robinson, "Love Somebody"
  14. Sasha Brown, "Good Life"
  15. Troy Petty, "Unfinished"
  16. Summer Franklin, "I Told You So"
  17.  Cheri Maree, "Time to Shine"
  18. Julie Geller, "Hey Girl"
  19. Matt Farris, "She's Done"
  20. Wolf Critton, "Jane Doe"
  21. Young Marco, "Gone Long Gone"
  22. Chandra Currelley, "You're Just Right"
  23. Kyle Lettman, "Moving Too Fast"
  24. Donica Knight, "Love Ain't A Prize"
  25. Antoine Dunn, "I'm Gonna Love You"

Cyrus Webb Presents...10 Books You Need to Read In 2016

by Cyrus Webb

I read A LOT of books, and thankfully because of the work I do I get to enjoy some titles before they are officially released to the world. Though there were some amazing reads that came out in 2015, I am really excited about 2016 and what it has in store for readers.

Here are 10 books (7 fiction and 3 non-fiction) that I have read and enjoyed and I believe you should definitely add to your reading list in 2016. Some might have been released after I compiled Conversations' top books of 2015. Others you might have to pre-order and wait a little while before being able to enjoy it. Either way trust me when I say that each one is worth the time and your support.

Cyrus Webb Presents... 10 Books You Need to Read in 2016
(listed in no particular order)

  1. The Restaurant Critic's Wife by Elizabeth LaBan (Lake Union)
  2. Best Friends Forever by Kimberla Lawson Roby (Grand Central Publishing)
  3. Given Not Taken by Kenneth Thomas, Sr. (Jozef Syndicate)
  4. The Way I Used To Be by Amber Smith (McElderry Books)
  5. Angels Burning by Tawni O'Dell (Gallery Books)
  6. Writers on Writing by Antoinette Kuritz and Jared Kuritz (Nightstand Press)
  7. The Four Purposes of Life by Dan Millman (New World Library)
  8. A Better Life by Michael Jenet (Motivational Press)
  9. Karma's A Killer by Tracy Weber (Midnight Ink Books)
  10. Hustle. Believe. Receive. by Sarah Centrella (Skyhorse Publishing)

10 Books to Help You Develop and Advance Your Business in 2016

by Cyrus Webb

I am asked quite a bit what has helped me in building my business and brand over the past 10 years, and I have to say that reading books that were designed with the entrepreneur and visionary in mind has been the key. Sure associating with like-minded individuals and learning and growing along the way have been instrumental as well, but these are qualities that have been reinforced for me in books that I have enjoyed, many of which I have read over and over again.

Heading into a new year I wanted to share with you 10 books that have helped me in developing and advancing my business. Though some of them might appear by the title to be specific to a particular profession or passion please don't let that stop you from giving it a try. I found that each book on this list has principles that can be applied to whatever your interest might be.

10 Books to Help You Develop and Advance Your Business in 2016
(listed in no particular order)

  1. The Martha Rules by Martha Stewart (Rodale)
  2. Pitch Your Business Like A Pro by Victor Kwegyir (VicCor Wealth Publishing)
  3. Swimming With Sharks (10th Anniversary Edition) by Bernadette Giacomazzo & MJ Deskovic (Smashwords)
  4. Be An Icon by Kenneth Nkemnacho (Kenneth Vision Media)
  5. The ABCs of Success by Bob Proctor (Tarcher Books)
  6. Venture Mom by Holly Hurd (American Management Assoc.)
  7. Commit to Win by Heidi Reeder (Plume)
  8. The Not so Common Sense Guide For Authors by Omegia "O" Keeys (Passionate Writer Publishing)
  9. The Anatomy of Buzz by Emanuel Rosen (Currency Books)
  10. The Definitive Guide to An Unpredictable Career In Comedy by Joe Randazzo (Chronicle Books)

Tony Lindsay Presents... Author Nathan C. Heard

Writers are introduced to the craft of writing through a variety avenues: reading, experience, teaching, and mimicking. Writers often copy the skill sets of those they admire. It has been argued that all these inroads are necessary in the creation of a writer. Through the classic 1968 novel, ‘Howard Street,’ it becomes obvious that Nathan C. Heard travelled all these roads.

The setting of the novel is Newark, NJ. In an area coined Howard Street; modern black vernacular represents the area as the ‘hood. A place were pimps, muggers, gangs, thieves, prostitutes, crooked cops, rapist, and the disillusioned roamed. An area of the city where society had turned a blind eye, on Howard Street innocence is exploited. The naive are hardened to the disillusioned. Weakness is prayed upon like chicken for wolves. The golden rule was considered a weakness, “A man can’t fool with the Golden Rule in a crowd that don’t play fair.” There was no fair play in the novel, no silver lining or happy ending only the fatalistic reality of those surviving through the exploitation of others. To write the starkness of the harsh and brutal existence, empathy does not suffice; one must experience this life style to write about it as Heard did. The reader leaves ‘Howard Street’ knowing it was based on first hand experience.  To write such explosive text, to capture the nuisances, the attitudes of those who survive the life style, one must learn how to convey the consciousness of a “streeter.” Heard acquired this skill through reading.

He read Baldwin, Ellison, Wright, Baraka, Hughes, Mailer; it was the reading of these greats that shaped ‘Howard Street’ into the pillar of street lit that it has become. Any writer who decides to write in the genre would be well served by reading this work. As Heard recognized, one must read those that came before. To be able to relay an experience effectively a writer must see it done. A motif of the text is sibling rivalry; the two brothers Lonnie (Hip) and Franchot (Shots) are in constant conflict throughout the novel; through their relationship Heard examines the never-ending conflict between “squares” and “streeters” or the exploiters and exploited, or the “lames” and those “living the life.” With words he illustrated what was important to each, what each valued and how these values were in conflict; this cold not have been accomplished if he had not seen in done in text prior to writing ‘Howard Street.’

After reading the greats, Heard horned his craft further by reading writing craft books; this acquired knowledge eventually led him to teaching positions at California State University and Rutgers. As a writer, Heard quickly acknowledged that mimicking the greats would only get him so far; it was through being taught the skill of writing through the crafts books that he felt empowered enough to share his work.

‘Howard Street’ reflects the pensive, concise, caring work of an experienced observant writer; the work confronts topics of: police brutality and corruption, segregation, street life, family, white liberalism, homosexuality, the black church, the power of community, addiction, prostitution, the duality of black males, peer pressure, pimping, and the destruction of innocence. There are no innocents that survive ‘Howard Street’ that is the most disturbing reality of the text. The reader hopes for one surviving lamb but all are devoured. The novel, ‘Howard Street’ is not a tale of redemption, few are redeemed; it is a hardboiled reality based tale that lays bare the socio-economics of a hustlers’ life. It is a must for any student of literature.

Tony Lindsay is an award-winning author and adjunct professor at Chicago State University. He can be reached at or on Facebook at

[Article] From Worthless to Great Value

by Glenda L. Hunter

There is a place called Worthless. I know it exist, because I have been there. Matter of fact I have unpacked my suitcase and stayed there a while. I did not find it to be a very cheerful place. I did find it hard to get out of once I was unpacked. I stayed for a very long time. It must have been some kind of valley. I could hear people screaming at me from two sides. On the left side I heard people saying words that repeated my worthlessness. All of which I knew all too well. I even held them close and took them as my own. For the longest time I could not even hear what was being said from the right side. I could see the people but they were not screaming.

While walking in this valley I called home I stumbled into a citizen that said she was leaving. I was shocked I didn't know that was possible. She said to listen to those talking on the right side, the ones in that far away city. I wished her good travel as I miserably found my way back home. I became very weary from all the screaming I began to focus hard on that far away city. I could barely hear their words. I was amazed at what I did hear. They were not words I had heard before but they drew me to them. Those people did not scream but spoke in what seemed to be a whisper. It seemed they were speaking to me but I knew it could not be because they said I was valuable. I have never been told that before. I sorrowfully traveled that lonely path back to the place I called home.

As I tried to sleep that night I could only think of those relaxing wonderful words I had heard. The hour was very early when I rose from my bed. It was with great determination I faced that day. I decided I would start my journey to that far away city. I pulled out my ear plugs that I had used when I could not stand another word and started on my journey. I did not take time to pack a bag. The feeling of urgency was upon me. I quickly left my house to be greeted by those awful words again. They caused me to slow my pace and wonder should I really do this. I struggled as I took a few more steps but the longer I listened the more insignificant I felt.

The feeling of defeat started to creep in. Then I remember my ear plugs I had them in my pocket. I pulled them out and quickly put them to good use. I almost smiled at the quiet they brought. I saw other people struggling along the same road I had chosen. I took out my ear plugs for a moment to talk to one poor soul. It did not take long before I inserted them again to block out the words of defeat I began to hear. I could not allow myself to listen to such words any longer if I was going to reach my destination. I kept an eye on the distant city as I approached a very slippery slope. I took a long, long look and sat down. Tears came to my eyes I was just sure I would never be able to make it up that slope. I fell asleep dreaming how wonderful it would be to reach that city. Then I saw smiling faces assuring me I could finish the journey and conquer the mountain. I woke from my sleep and leaped to my feet to try again. I kept my ear plugs tightly in place not to hear another discouraging word.

I kept telling myself I will make it, I will make it. It was such a hard trek but I kept pushing. I have arrived I told myself as I took a step facing that great city. The giant sign to the city read GREAT VALUE. Just the words made me smile. It also read “Do not carry any baggage you will be given all new things.” I was glad to read that. I took out my ear plugs as I looked around. A person came quickly to my side. I started to move away when she told me there was no need to fear. Then it started a shower of wonderful words coming from every direction. I could not believe my ears. I knew I would love this place.

I have not forgotten those I saw along the slippery slope that had stopped and given up. I know it is hard to hear me but I would like to send you a message. You are valuable. Get up, keep pushing we are cheering for you. It is a ruff climb but I know you can do it. It is worth the struggle. We are waiting for you. Matter of fact there are a lot of people here waiting for you. Greatness is yours to have. Keep climbing. You can do it.

Glenda L. Hunter is the award-winning author of AN UNSPEAKABLE SECRET, OUT OF THE DEPTHS and the children's book IT FINALLY HAPPENED and JUNIOR GOES TO SCHOOL. Find out more about her at

Friday, December 25, 2015

Cat Hair in My Coffee by Just Jennifer

I am a busy mom with 2 of my 3 children still at home. I also have a household to run alone, a full-time job, and this writing gig. My life is hectic. My home is usually messy, my laundry is never quite finished (I wash it, it just doesn't get put away), and I'm sure I've forgotten what color my hair once was (brown? Surely not this speckled grey color). Don't judge kids are healthy and, except for the occasional rant, quite
happy. But this morning started out all wrong.

At 6 a.m. on a Saturday morning, I woke up to the family cat, Annabelle, screeching outside my bedroom door. I jumped out of bed, enthusiastically ready to start my day (or saying a few choice words and's really all about perception). I was awake and I was moving, so I thought I might as well get some coffee brewing.

Being that the little one (as I refer to the youngest of the brood) was still asleep, I made sure to tiptoe past her bedroom. As I finished starting my brew and sat on my favorite end of the couch I heard it: the familiar sound of the little one tossing and turning. For those of you who are parents, you know the sound. And what do we do? We sit very still, we hardly breathe, we slowly reach for the television remote and turn it off....anything that might keep her asleep for another 30 minutes. That's what good parenting is, right? Ensuring your children get enough sleep? Ok, stop judging me. I
heard the little one settle down and made my way to the kitchen for my cupful of morning

I walked into the kitchen and grabbed my favorite hand warmer mug and poured my dark
roast cup of love. Yes, I love coffee. I love it like I love wine, but that's another
story. As I lifted my own personal bit of joy in the mornings to my lips, I saw it: a
big, bold, arrogant cat hair in my coffee. What did I do? I scooped it out and drank my

The point of all this is to simply say that a cat hair in my coffee is minor. It's
nothing. Whether the house is clean, the laundry is folded, or the little one stays
asleep long enough for me to indulge in my morning brew peacefully...these are the small
things in life. Take them as such. Simply scoop the cat hair from your coffee, take a
satisfying drink, and save your energy for the big things. But, that's just my opinion.

(*** Just Jennifer is proud to call Mississippi home and welcomes your feedback on this topic. Email your thoughts and questions to Jennifer at You can also find her on Facebook at (The views expressed here are those of Just Jennifer and do not necessarily reflect the thoughts of Conversations Media Group or Shadow Play Entertainment.)

Mellie Miller & Dawn Miller: Appreciating Their New Normal

by Cyrus Webb

It's been my pleasure over the years to interview family members on Conversations LIVE the radio show, but this one was the first time I sat down with a mother and daughter for the web-series to discuss their journey to sharing their stories with the world. Mellie Miller and her daughter Dawn Miller are both authors who I have interviewed before on the radio, but our conversation during my visit to Atlanta at Dream Cafe was not just deeply personal but powerful because you could see how what they had gone through had changed them.

Mellie is known for her fiction, but a few years ago she released her non-fiction book Cancer and the Warrior's Way.  Dawn made her entrance into the world of books with her deeply personal autobiography Darkness Before the Dawn, sharing the terror she faced due to a poisonous marriage that threatened every aspect of who she was. Here you will read some of the highlights of those conversations, and how they now face the day with renewed optimism and courage.

Mellie Miller in her own words: "Cancer is a very scary thing, and what scared me the most about the whole process was what I didn't know about what was going to happen. You know there's going to be surgery. You don't know what's going to happen after it. You don't understand exactly what chemotherapy is going to do or radiation is going to do.

"As soon as they made the diagnosis I was in surgery in like a week and a half. Everything was just thrown at you in such a rush that you don't have time to understand it. It's just like being caught up in a dream. Afterwards I thought people need to know. I wanted to let people know that it's tough, but there's hope. Don't you dare give in. You say 'I'm winning this fight.' Once you give in to the self-pity you lose the mental force to push yourself on each day.  You need the mental fortitude to keep once step ahead.

Dawn Miller in her own words: "It's a continuing thing. It's not suddenly one day you're no longer upset or anxious. It's a gradual process, and I have to give so much credit to my fiance' for building me up. We communicate with each other, and it's okay. I think just having someone tell you that you're okay just the way you are cements the idea in your head that what you're thinking about in your head makes a big difference.

"This horrible marriage had completely reduced me to someone I didn't even recognize. It was a real eye-opener that this was a new normal. That it was normal for me to fall to pieces in the middle of nowhere, but then it was something to work on."

Stay connected with Mellie Miller at Dawn Miller can be found at

*     Photo courtesy of Shadow Play Entertainment, taken by Kym Swain

[Essay] The Fashion Industry: Abuse in Disguise

by Linda Appleman Shapiro

After observing for many years the media’s portrayal of fashion with regard to the female body, I feel compelled to speak about what I perceive to be abusive. In fact, I find myself wondering why so many of us question why seemingly reasonable – albeit impressionable – female teenagers and young adults are obediently parading about attempting to replicate what the fashion industry insidiously dictates.

I would further add that fashion photographers – more often than not – dress and pose male models as up-scale businessmen at work, dining, sailing or golfing, always appearing handsome, pleasant, and appealing, while female models are posed/dressed to look afflicted: facial expressions pained, bodies anorectic and cloaked in anything but flattering apparel, and always, always, with a subliminal sexuality that speaks of rage rather than a full range of emotions that would more readily be recognized as being “natural.”

None of this helps to promote the health or beauty of female sexuality and we, their elders, should not be surprised when we then see how an industry is able to influence not merely how our girls and young women dress but, consequently, how they then behave.

Once again, if female models are to be gainfully employed, it is apparent (at least to those who agree with me) that they must choose to perpetuate dramatically posed, often unappealing stances which, at best, reflect a coerced sexuality with eyes blackened and/or pained, lips parted wide enough to fit a football, in bodies bent and twisted into perplexing puppet-like positions. Perhaps that is precisely how our so-called pop culture’s perspective parades its bird’s eye view of what constitutes beauty and trickles down to the young people we see strutting about.

We should not then be surprised to find them losing their innocence all too quickly, becoming out of touch with their natural beauty and, ultimately, misguided as to the effective roles they might play in society’s ever growing need for propriety and sanity.

How welcoming it would be to see women – beautiful, natural-looking women – smile and dress in a style complementary to their figures and reflective of their day-to-day lives, as opposed to a moment in time when a photographer has purposely distorted their stance and a camera’s lens has captured the dis-grace of our female gender. I challenge the fashion industry to photograph women as wives, significant others, stay-at-home or working mothers, secretaries, executives, physicians, educators, politicians, astronauts – the many and varied roles in which woman of the 21st century are proving their strengths and sensibilities! We have never been – and hopefully never will be – the stick-figure mannequins created by the perverted eyes of a confused culture.

Yet, addressing or even displaying perversions of all sorts makes money. And the fashion industry is, I suppose, no different than other industries where money is often the root of all evil. With those who have the power to make the decisions regarding fashion, their power is in the lens of a camera. How they dress a model and what contorted positions they direct her to twist her body into is how the photographer captures what we then see.

However, what we see is an illusion, a distorted image of reality where skinny, dramatic, and intensely posed women appear waxen, wanting, and wanton instead of full-bodied, fleshy, and flirtatious.

The question that should be asked is why we allow the fashion industry to focus on the extremes of skinny to the point of anorexia or obesity to the point “fat” to gain our attention. Surely, we should know that either end of that spectrum is never healthy and always speaks of a life that is totally out of balance. Perhaps if we learn to place our values where they belong, those so-called messengers will devote themselves to delivering different images (e.g. different messages).

Here’s where I submit to the old axiom that all things in moderation is what should be the goal. What we need are new definitions for what is beautiful and new people in the fashion industry who won’t insist on starving their models in order to present what they believe to be fashionably preferable. That, coupled with an admiration for beauty that is real and attainable, will offer more of us a positive self-image which will allow for greater emotional and physical health and a far greater respect for bodies and how we choose to clothe them.

*Linda Appleman Shapiro has been a behavioral psychotherapist/addictions counselor/life coach for more than 30 years. She is also the author of the memoir SHE’S NOT HERSELF: A Psychotherapist’s Journey Into and Beyond her Mother’s Mental Illness. This essay is from a book of essays yet to be published: UNICORNS EAT STRAWBERRY ICE CREAM: A Psychotherapist Explores How Myths Create Our Realties. Linda can be reached at

Beverly Johnson: The Face That Changed It All

by Cyrus Webb

Many of us know Beverly Johnson because of the headlines, the face and the fame she has acquired over the years, but few of us really know the woman behind it all---and the story as to how she became to be the woman the world now recognizes. That is until now.

This year Beverly Johnson (along with acclaimed writer Allison Samuels) gave us the New York Times Bestseller THE FACE THAT CHANGED IT ALL. It's a look not only at the success that Beverly has achieved but the price that has come along with her life both publicly and privately.

For me the book is full of revelations that I was completely unaware of. We learn about her childhood, growing up in a time when the world was changing and being in a home where those changes weren't always understood and dealt with. We're able to learn of the strong work ethic of her father and what that taught Beverly about achieving things for herself.

Some recognize Beverly instantly for being the first African-American woman on the cover of Vogue---and that is indeed a major accomplishment. In the book, however, we are also able to take the road that would lead her to fame, one hard-fought situation at a time. Regardless of what we might believe Beverly allows us to know that being in the public life is not all fun, games and parties. It's a daily struggle that can make or break you. In the chapter SEX, DRUGS, AND ROCK AND ROLL she shares this: "What was clear was that the fashion industry had the potential to crush even the best and strongest of us. Your life was not your own... It sounds fun, and it can be for a time, but it can also emotionally stunt you, leaving you ill-equipped to face the future."

Fame didn't come easy for Beverly. She talks about in the book about the lack of places for women of color not just in modeling but acting, and how it was another one of the things that many women had to contend with. Ironically this is a conversation that continues to our day. It's just one of the comparisons you will see as you are looking at her path then and the path of other models and actresses now.

We also see the journey that Beverly had to travel when it came to her family, namely her marriage and kids. This was something I knew NOTHING about before reading the book, but it once again reminds us that no matter who you are we all have to deal with the troubles that life throws our way. What matters is what you are able to learn and how much you are able to grow moving forward.

Regardless of what your profession or what you think you know about the celebrity life or even more specifically Beverly Johnson, this book is definitely well worth your time. It allows you to see the woman in her totality: flaws and all, and I think it will motivate you to not just be your best but to bring your best to everything you do.

Follow Beverly on Twitter at @beverlyjohnson1 and get your copy of her bestselling book on Amazon or your favorite bookstore.

Conversations' Top 12 Books for Young Readers in 2015

Conversations Book Club founder Cyrus Webb is committed to encouraging reading among individuals of all ages, and when he finds out about books that are entertaining and deliver powerful messages, he loves to share.

During 2015 he read hundreds of books, and after compiling his list of Top 100 Books for Adults for the year he then set his sight on books he could suggest for young readers and those in the young adult category. "There are lots of books out there," Webb says, "but I wanted to choose 12 books that not just give you something you will enjoy but also give you something you can share with others.

Here are Conversations' Top 12 Books for Young Readers in 2015 
(listed in no particular order)

  1. Princess Lydia and the Fire Breathing Dragon by Denise Byers (DanDeeLion Publishing)
  2. Rumplepimple by Suzanne DeWitt Hall (I Promote Books)
  3. The Haunting of Sunshine Girl by Paige McKenzie (Weinstein Books)
  4. Yard War by Taylor Kitchings (Wendy Lamb Books)
  5. Junior Goes to School by Glenda L. Hunter (unknown)
  6. Traffick by Ellen Hopkins (McElderry Books)
  7. Confessions of an Imaginary Friend by Michelle Cuevas (Dial Books)
  8. I am Lucille Ball by Brad Meltzer (Dial Books)
  9. When My Grammy Forgets, I Remember by Toby Haberkorn (Baypointe Publishers)
  10. All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely (Atheneum)
  11. The Keeper by David Baldacci (Scholastic Press)
  12. Nancy Clancy Soccer Mania by Jane O'Connor (Harper)

Conversations' 25 Most Inspirational Books of 2015

Media Personality, Top 500 Reviewer and Conversations Book Club founder Cyrus Webb is excited to reveal this year's list of Most Inspirational Books.

"There's so much darkness around us," Webb, 40, says. "Through its book club, radio show and the pages of the magazine Conversations is glad to share with the world that there are those who are letting their light shine. This year's book selections are proof that if we don't give up that the best of who we can be is yet ahead."

Conversations' 25 Most Inspirational Books of 2015 (listed in no particular order)

  1. FIND A WAY by Diana Nyad (Knoff)
  2. THE WORK by Wes Moore (Spiegel & Grau)
  3. BE A GOOD IN THE WORLD by Brenda Knight (Viva Editions)
  4. THREE MORE WORDS by Ashley Rhodes-Courter (Atheneum)
  5. CLEARING CLUTTER by Alexandra Chauran (Llewellyn)
  6. LIVE MORE, WORK BETTER by Gayle Hilgendorff (Bascom Hill)
  7. STEP OUT OF YOUR STORY by Kim Schneiderman (New World Library)
  8. HOW TO LIVE AN AWESOME LIFE by Polly Campbell (Viva Editions)
  9. MINDFULNESS A TO Z by Arnie Kozak (Wisdom)
  10. ELGIN BAYLOR by Bijan C. Bayne (Rowman & Littlefield)
  11. DISAGREE AND STAY IN LOVE by Liz Super Librarian (Livre Publishing)
  12. MY GIFT OF NOW by Elynne Chaplik-Aleskow (Mill City Press)
  13. BE THE BEST YOU CAN BE (Chicken Soup for the Soul) 
  14. TATTERED AND MENDED by Cynthia Ruchti (Abingdon Press)
  15. THE POWER OF BEING YOURSELF by Joe Plumeri (Da Capo Press)
  16. ONE OF EVERYTHING by Donna Carol Voss (Vantages Books)
  17. LETTERS FROM MY FATHER'S MURDERER by Laurie A. Coombs (Kregel)
  18. ONE RIGHTEOUS MAN by Arthur Browne (Beacon Press)
  19. BOUNCING FORWARD by Michaela Haas (Enliven/Atria)
  20. EXPECT A MIRACLE by Jenny Long (Sports Illustrated Books)
  21. PURSUING YOUR PURPOSE by Carl Mathis (Unknown)
  22. THE BOYS IN THE BOAT by Daniel James Brown (Viking)
  23. HEALING THE WRITER by Dan L. Hays (Virtual Book Worm Publishing)
  24. HAPPINESS A-Z by Louise Baxter Harmon (Viva Editions)
  25. FROM CHAOS TO CLARITY by Alex Bratty (Sojourn Publishing)

Conversations' Top 100 Adult Books of 2015

Conversations Book Club President and media personality Cyrus Webb is excited to share his Top 100 Adult Books of 2015. The list, compiled from books Webb read between December 2014 and November 2015 are an eclectic mix of non-fiction and fiction by authors that are both recognizable and rising stars in the industry.

"That is what Conversations has done since the listing began," says Webb. "I read authors of all interests and backgrounds and thanks to that I am able to share books that are not just wide-ranging but are written from individuals around the world." Though some of the books listed might have been intended for younger audiences, Webb sees them with great messages for readers of all ages.

Below are the Top 100 Adult Books of 2015, separated into Fiction and Non-Fiction but not listed in any particular order:

Conversations' Top 50 Adult Fiction Books of 2015 (listed in no particular order)

  1. "The Wiregrass" by Pam Webber (She Writes Press)
  2. "Rules for Stealing Stars" by Corey Ann Haydu (HarperCollins Publishers)
  3. "Seize The Day" by Curtis Bunn (Strebor Books)
  4. "The Santangelos" by Jackie Collins (St Martin's Press)
  5. "Drained" by Dan O'Brien (Dan O'Brien Presents)
  6. "Food Whore" by Jessica Tom (William Morrow)
  7. "The Secret Chord" by Geraldine Brooks (Viking)
  8. "Through Waters Deeps" by Sarah Sundin (Revell)
  9. "Missing Melissa" by Alretha Thomas (Diverse Arts Collective)
  10. "The Hunted" by Matt De La Pena (Delacorte Press)
  11. "Crazy Little Thing Called Love" by Beth K. Vogt (Simon and Schuster)
  12. "The Sex Girl" by Alice Carbone (Barnacle Book)
  13. "Caged Bird" by Josuanne Denis-Frasier (UrbanEdge Publishing)
  14. "Cookie's Case by Andy Siegel (Open Road)
  15. "Twisted Entrapment" by N'Tyse (Strebor Books)
  16. "Don't Jump" by Vicki Abelson (Random Content)
  17. "Bittersweet Dreams" by V. C. Andrews (Pocket Books)
  18. "South of Everything" by Audrey Taylor Gonzalez (She Writes Press)
  19. "A State of Treason" by David Thomas Roberts (Defiance Press)
  20. "Scared of Beautiful" by Tiffany Campbell (Shaunta Kenerly Presents)
  21. "The Cavendon Women" by Barbara Taylor Bradford (St. Martin's Press)
  22. "The Conciliators " by James J. Kaufman (Downstream Publishing)
  23. "The Rose Society" by Marie Lu (Putnam)
  24. "The Burning Man" by Solange Ritchie (Morgan James)
  25. "When No One Came" by Skyy Banks (Urban Edge Publishing)
  26. "The Inn at Ocean's Edge" by Colleen Coble (Thomas Nelson)
  27. "Wouldn't Change A Thing" by Stacey Campbell (Strebor Books)
  28. "The Terrorist's Holiday" by Andrew Neiderman (Open Road)
  29. "Stand Your Ground" by Victoria Christopher Murray (Touchstone)
  30. "Losing Faith" by Adam Mitzner (Gallery Books)
  31. "Filthy" by Isiko Cooks (Peter Mack Presents)
  32. "Traffick" by Ellen Hopkins (Margaret K. McElderry Books)
  33. "Movie Star by Lizzie Pepper" by Hilary Liftin (Viking)
  34. "Another Way" by Holli Kenley (Loving Healing Press)
  35. "Geronimo Hotshot" by Robert Blake Whitehill (Calaveras Media)
  36. "We All Looked Up" by Tommy Wallach (Simon and Schuster)
  37. "Contract City" by Mark Falkin (Bancroft Press)
  38. "Sky Key" by James Frey (Harper)
  39. "Bad Blood" by Mary Monroe (Dafina Books)
  40. "Shadows of Ladenbrooke Manor" by Melanie Dobson (Howard)
  41. "High Society Gangster II" by Thomas Long (Streetwise Publishing)
  42. "Preschooled" by Anna Lefler (Full Fathom Five)
  43. "Bounce" by Noelle August (William Morrow)
  44. "Smoke" by Catherine McKenzie (Lake Union)
  45. "Circled" by Anne McAneny (Farrington Press)
  46. "Pleasantville" by Attica Locke (Harper)
  47. "(Tom Clancy) Under Fire" by Grant Blackwood (Putnam)
  48. "The Light of Hidden Flowers" by Jennifer Handford (Lake Union)
  49. "The Boys in the Boat" by Daniel James Brown (Viking)
  50. "Art in the Blood" by Bonnie Macbird (Collins Crime Club)

Conversations Top 50 Adult Non-Fiction Books of 2015 (listed in no particular order)
  1. "Ordinary Light" by Tracy K. Smith (Alfred A. Knopf)
  2. "Great Is the Truth" by Amos Kamil (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
  3. "The Missing Kennedy" by Elizabeth Koehler-Pentacoff (Bancroft Press)
  4. "How to Live An Awesome Life" by Polly Campbell (Viva Editions)
  5. "The Face That Changed It All" by Beverly Johnson (Atria Books)
  6. "The Kindness Diaries" by Leon Logothetis (Reader's Digest)
  7. "Legends: The Best Players, Games, and Teams in Football" by Howard Bryant (Philomel Books)
  8. "Just Show Up" by Kara Tippets w/ Jill Lynn Buteyn (David C. Cook)
  9. "It's Never Too Late" by Chris & Debbie Atkinson (Next Century Publishing)
  10. "Out Of Orange" by Cleary Wolters (Harper One)
  11. "Live More, Work Better" by Gayle Hilgendorff (Bascom Hill)
  12. "Step Out of Your Story" by Kim Schneiderman (New World Library)
  13. "Be the Best You Can Be" by Chicken Soup for the Soul (CSS Publishing)
  14. "Pass It On" by Jim Burns & Jeremy Lee (David C. Cook)
  15. "Creating A Beautiful Mess" by Ann Gadzikowski (Redleaf Press)
  16. "Tweets and Consequences" by Mike Schlossberg (Strategic Media Books)
  17. "Infinite Words" by Zane (Atria Books)
  18. "Master Thieves" by Stephen Kurkjian (Public Affairs Books)
  19. "The Mommie Dearest Diary" by Rutanya Alda (unknown)
  20. "Corruption Officer" by Gary L. Heyward (Atria Books)
  21. "A Splash of Kindness" by John Starley Allen (Cedar Fort)
  22. "Pound for Pound" by Shannon Kopp (William Morrow)
  23. "Eye on the Struggle" by James McGrath Morris (Amistad)
  24. "Be A Good in the World" by Brenda Knight (Viva Editions)
  25. "Pursuing Your Purpose" by Carl Mathis (Unknown)
  26. "Expect A Miracle" by Jenny Long (Sports Illustrated)
  27. "Bouncing Forward" by Michaela Haas (Enliven)
  28. "One Righteous Man" by Arthur Browne (Beacon Press)
  29. "Letters from My Father's Murderer" by Laurie A. Coombs (Kregel)
  30. "One of Everything" by Donna Carol Voss (Vantages Books)
  31. "Elgin Baylor" by Bijan C. Bayne (Rowman & Littlefield)
  32. "Mindfulness A to Z" by Arnie Kozak (Wisdom)
  33. "Tattered and Mended" by Cynthia Ruchti (Abingdon Press)
  34. "My Gift of Now" by Elynne Chaplik-Aleskow (Mill City Press)
  35. "Disagree and Stay in Love" by Liz SuperLibarian (Livre)
  36. "From Chaos to Clarity" by Alex Bratty (Alex Bratty Books)
  37. "Happiness A-Z" by Louise Baxter Harmon (Viva Editions)
  38. "Healing the Writer" by Dan L. Hays (Virtual Book Worm Publishing)
  39. "The Work" by Wes Moore (Spiegel & Grau)
  40. "Find A Way" by Diana Niyad (Knopf)
  41. "Venture Mom" by Holly Hurd (American Management Assoc.)
  42. "Hope and other Luxuries" by Clare B. Dunkle (Chronicle Books)
  43. "The Power of Being Yourself" by Joe Plumeri (Da Capo Press)
  44. "Clearing Clutter" by Alexandra Chauran (Llewellyn Books)
  45. "Three More Words" by Ashley Rhodes Courter (Atheneum)
  46. "Keep A Knockin'" by Charles Connor (Waldorf Publishing)
  47. "Somewhere There Is Still A Sun" by Michael Gruenbaum (Aladdin)
  48. "Walking Out the Other Side" by Alan S. Charles (SJC Publishing)
  49. "Elena Vanishing" by Elena and Clare B. Dunkle (Chronicle Books)
  50. "Not From Here" by Allan G. Johnson (Temple University Press)

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Conversations' Inspirational Anthem of 2015: Rise Up by Andra Day

by Cyrus Webb

This has been a year of highs and lows for so many, and at times it might appear that the bad days or the "down times" as my good friend Rob Pennington calls them might be in the majority. For me it has helped to remember that every day that I am here is an opportunity to right a wrong, bridge a divide and even grow as an individual.

One of the things that has always helped me when I am looking for some motivation is music.

I began the year with CONQUEROR by Estelle and Jussie Smollett on repeat, loving the message of anything being possible, and in November of this year I was sent the Youtube commercial of Beats by Dre featuring Serena Williams and the song RISE UP by recording artist Andra Day.

If there is a song that I believe everything in the world can relate to, it IS this one. What Andra Day does by beginning the song "You're broken down and tired of living life on a merry-go-round" is to acknowledge that every day is not great and there are times it seems as though the cycle of events aren't getting any better. What made this song unique for me is that she makes it about US. TOGETHER we can do amazing things, and that is what she is able to articulate so well in this song.

"When the silence isn't quiet," Andra sings, "and it feels like it's getting hard to breathe. And I know you feel like dying, but I promise we'll take the world to it's feet." That in itself tells me that no matter how dark the moment might be or how alone we will find at times there is always going to be someone who knows, understand and appreciates where we are---and can help us move forward. "All we need is hope," she reminds us, "and for doubt we have each other."

The message and the delivery couldn't be more perfect, and for that reason RISE UP by Andra Day is my Inspirational Anthem of 2015.

Get the single for yourself on Amazon along with her album Cheers to the Fall. Stay connected with Andra through her website at

Jose Maysonet: Overcoming fear by staying focused on his goals

by Cyrus Webb

For Jose Maysonet failure is not an option. That is why daily he can be found perfecting his craft, working on the next project and staying focused on the road ahead.

I met up with Jose while I was in New York in 2015 filming episodes for my television show and web-series Cyrus Webb Presents. Before that he had been a guest on Conversations LIVE the radio show. "It's been a wild journey," he says when discussing the projects he has been a part of like SURVIVING THE UNDEAD and SONS OF GOD. Though he is appreciative of the opportunities he has been afforded, his attention is definitely not behind him. "I'm looking more towards the future than the past. I'm proud of myself, but it's not enough for me. I want to make my loved ones proud of me. That's what keeps driving me forward."

The desire to be in front of the camera came early for Maysonet. He says he knew he wanted to be an actor when he tried out for Westside Story and instead of getting the character he wanted he was offered the lead. "I wasn't prepared for that at the time," he says, but having the control of the crowd was addicting to him. That is what keeps him moving forward, getting that reaction from his work and getting better along the way. "I'm doing this on my own," he says, even with that being the case he is acting and producing on two projects: Surviving the Undead and Sons of God. He realizes that the hard work, dedication and drive will take him far.

Thanks to social media and the fans he is garnering it is also becoming a bit surreal. Maysonet recalls an experience where a 5 year old girl came up to him and asked to take a picture with him. "Then her parents came over and asked for autographs. The response is really empowering. That fuels me forward to keep pushing through."

Though his credits on camera are adding up, Maysonet says he's very critical of himself. "When I see a picture or a video of myself I usually don't like it," he says. Part of the fun, though, is that he is able to play characters that are so different from them, characters that he is finding others are loving to hate. the response though has been amazing. i play the antagonist and people tell me that they love my acting but hate my character. that's going to "I think the thing I relish the most is the challenge. It's interesting to be someone else. Maybe that is what I like the most."

Along the way he has found that just by him staying the course and doing the work he loves he has been able to inspire others to go for their own goals and dreams. "It's very honoring and humbling to me," he says, "when someone says because of what you did I'm doing something that I always wanted to do or try. I wasn't trying to do that, " he adds, "so it's a very surreal experience.

As for having to deal with fear, Jose Maysonet says to him there is no such thing. "I don't have the fear. I'm never nervous before an audition. I'm dying to show people what I can do."

Stay connected with Jose on Facebook at and Twitter at as well as his website

Photo credit: John Barreyro

Branden Nicholson: Using His Life As An Example of Endless Possibilities

by Cyrus Webb

Out of the years that I have been profiling individuals on the radio and in this publication, few have inspired me like Branden Nicholson.

As a fitness model and trainer he has done amazing things in his life, and used his own everyday situations as an example to others as to what they can do in their own lives. Every year we talk about making changes. For some it will be issues of weight. Others will look to improve their finances. Still others will be looking for love. In order to be successful in whatever it is you want to do, however, an important question has to be asked: Have you identified your Why?

The question might seem strange to some, but it is one that each of us no matter where we are in life have to consider.

Every day we make decisions about things that we do or don't do. These decisions then affect not just ourselves but those around us. How many of us have seen something and said "I want that" or "I wish I could do that" The obvious question to ask is "Why?" The answer will determine if we are willing to do the work necessary to get what we say we want.

Nicholson has not only identified his why, but it literally affects each and every aspect of his life. Today he is literally affecting the lives of individuals around the world through his coaching and motivational tips, but the journey began with himself and the question of Why.

Through B. Nick Fitness, he has dedicated his life to not just getting his clients in the best shape possible but stimulating them mentally to face the challenges in front of them. His love of fitness and wellness came years ago when he snapped his right femur bone in half.

"I was rushed to the hospital and had three major surgeries that left me with a 28 inch rod in me with four screws to hold it in place," he says "I was in the hospital for over 2 months. I could not walk for a full year." During this time Nicholson went through the doubt that so plagues so many. "I went from people and coaches calling me everyday to everyone giving up on me including the doctors. I was told I would never return to the football field and would never be able to walk again in life."

Some would have allowed that diagnosis to end any hope they had. Not Branden Nicholson. "Through all of this God was showing and telling me that this is not where I was going to end up at. I used my pain to push me through prosperity. I beat all odds against me.I am here to tell you that when you are going through pain I know exactly what you are feeling, because I have been there. I will tell you this much: If you work through your pain, the other side is your reward. I learned that pain isn't permanent, you can get through this because you are bigger and better then your pain. I proved everyone wrong that tried to stop me and kill my dreams to walk again. Nothing is impossible. I got this far using my pain. God showed me He had a bigger plan for my life."

That plan has included the work that B. Nick Fitness is doing through in-person training and online. "There's nothing like this," says Nicholson. "Through social media I'm helping people that I can't reach change their lives by getting in shape and motivating them to get on the right track and stay there."

This is when the Why is so important. "What keeps me motivated is knowing that I have people looking up to me. My clients and family look to me for support and assurance. My whole personal experience also motivates me." He also realizes the importance of focusing on what is important. Though many are impress by the physical appearance, Nicholson says that you can't be defined by what people see. "That comes and goes," he explains. "You can look healthy on the outside and be crappy on the inside. It has to start within. That is your base. If the base isn't grounded it all falls apart. You have to stay focused and grounded. It's all about discipline."

Through the pictures of his clients that he shares online we know the approach that Branden Nicholson uses is paying off in the lives of others. "That's the best feeling in the world," he told me. "Even when I was playing ball I never felt like this. Just to be a part of someone's life is big. When I get the chance to see them that's a thrill for me. I came into this industry saying that if I can change one life then this is the job for me. It's all about progression and taking one step at a time. All the lives I continue to change I give all the glory to God."

Because of his inspiring approach to life I asked Branden to partner with Conversations Media Group in sharing some of his motivational tips with our audience. He agreed, and the result is what we call "31 Days of Inspiration". We have been sharing these tips both in print as well as online through social media. Many of them have to do with self-reflection. Others address issues of faith and some even tackle the importance of the company you keep.

Through the "31 Days of Inspiration" it is our hope that you will be able to find that inner strength to push forward even when the odds seem against them. Nicholson has this message for anyone going through a trial or situation where they feel there is no hope: "I'm telling you not to give up but to push through it. Pain is temporary.It may last for a minute, hour, day or even a year, but eventually it will subside and something else would take its place. But if you quit that will last forever! " 

So what is your Why? What will drive who you become? Begin to answer that question now and watch the shift that occurs in everything you say and do. For more information about Branden Nicholson visit

*     Photos provided by Branden Nicholson

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Actress and Recording Artist Antonique Smith: Pushing Herself Into Her Dreams

Recording artist/actress Antonique Smith is on a high like you wouldn't believe---and it doesn't seem to be going anywhere any time soon.

Her first single HOLD UP WAIT A MINUTE was nominated for a Grammy in 2015, and people around the world are talking about her emergence on the musical scene as well as her new movie STOCK OPTION that premiered at The International Black Film Festival. Among her other achievements for the year was her performance for Pope Francis during his visit to the States and the release of her EP LOVE IS EVERYTHING.

Before HOLD UP many knew Antonique as a star on Broadway and as an actress who played Faith Evans on the hit movie NOTORIOUS, but music has always been a part of who she is.

I asked Antonique what the ride of the single and her journey has been like. "I’m so grateful," she told me. "I’ve been dreaming about this moment since I was a little girl. I'm so grateful that everybody is supporting and embracing it.”

Though she has always believed in herself, Antonique told me that the competitive nature of the industry wore her down a bit. "Through the years after seeing how difficult the industry is I lost some of the belief I had in myself because of the rejection and the Nos." She then added: "The majority of what you get are the Nos. The tiny Yeses you get are what people normally see." She says it's been a long road but her family, friends and fans have all made it worthwhile.

With the challenges of the industry I was curious as to where the tenacity she has comes from. “I believe that my gift was an answer to a prayer of 7 year old Antonique," she told me. "I think that God gave me something to share with the world. That is what keeps me going. This is the only thing I have wanted to do.”

Talking about the live performance, she says "That's my favorite thing. I love looking into people's eyes and feeling what they are feeling. To have that connection with people is priceless."

And this is only the beginning for her. “I’m going to keep going until I can’t go any more," she says. "I continue to push."

You can get the EP LOVE IS EVERYTHING which includes the singles HOLD UP WAIT A MINUTE and HIGHER on Amazon and other online retailers. Stay connected with Antonique Smith on Twitter at and on Facebook at

Actor Chris Greene: Seeing the Results of 'Acting' on Faith

by Cyrus Webb

2015 has been good for actor Chris Greene. He has been able to find his voice in front of the camera and bring the best of himself to a variety of characters in television shows like Sleepy Hollow, Satisfaction, Complications and on what's been called one of the most powerful episodes of Being Mary Jane yet.

"I've been very fortunate," Greene says when reflecting on his work. "It is a struggle just like any other career, but at the end of the day it's been a great outlet for me. Something about acting---getting to imitate everyday life---is the most gratifying thing. Being able to bring what I have been able to observe has been fantastic. It's the greatest job in the world."

When did he first realize acting was something he wanted to do? Greene says the seed was planted early. "My father collected movies. The movie that got me excited about acting was Independence Day (with Will Smith). To see how his presence was on the screen made me say I want to affect people like that. From that point it was like let me look into acting and see what it was all about." Green said it all came together for him at the age of 19 when he was an extra on set. "Once I got on an actual set I was like this is what I want to do with the rest of my life." And that seed has been flourishing ever since.

When it comes to seeing the response to his work from fans, Greene says it's "a little odd, but not in a bad way.. It takes a little getting used to but, it's also very flattering to know that people are influenced by what you are doing. Your goal as an actor is to set out and tell a certain story and portray a certain being, When the people get it, it's gratifying." This has served the actor/director well when it comes to being a part of a variety of projects. "Part of this business is that you get cast off of how you look," he says. "I think as an actor my goal is to accept your type and go in and show people I'm not just this guy.I'm an actor. I feel like I can play everything to the best of my ability. It's good to be well-rounded because life is well-rounded."

Considering some of the productions he has been a part of and the success of shows like Complications some might expect Greene to be more "Hollywood" than he is. He credits his ability to take it all in stride to his family and friends. "My focus has been to keep that small circle around me that was there in the beginning," he explains. "It keeps you from wanting to mimic anyone else." His being a father, it seems, is the greatest role he has snagged over the years---and it has affected him the most. "My daughter has saved my life in every sense," he says. "I was told when you have a child it is going to change you. She is everything. She has become my motivation. She's allowed me to look at stuff differently."

That might also explain why his idea of what success is has evolved over the years. "Starting out it was more about being famous. Now for me it is about inspiring other people and having them enjoy my art and my passion. That, in turn, helps me enjoy the job even more." Greene says it means a lot to him to know that he affected someone in a positive way and can leave behind something for future generations (including his daughter) to be inspired by.

It is clear that Chris Greene has gotten to where he is because he hasn't been afraid to take chances. It is something else that like his love of movies he got from his father. He says that his dad told him you don't want to be on your deathbed and talk about the things you wanted to do instead of the things you had done. This has helped him to keep a balanced view of fear in mind. "My outlook on fear is totally different," he says. "I've found that for me fear is more of a motivator. When I get scared it makes me want to do it more just to not feel that way. I know that if I don't take the step to get past the fear I'm going to always go to the edge and not look over. Eventually you have to at least look over. For me fear can be motivating or crippling, and I don't want to be crippled by the possibility of what if."

Greene says he tries to encourage others to surround themselves with individuals that will push you and encourage you to use your own passion. If you can do that, he says, fear will be more of an obstacle you go over instead of a roadblock.

Keep up with what's to come for Chris Greene online on Twitter at, Facebook or Instagram:

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Actor Tyler Lepley: Working Hard at Success Everyday

by Cyrus Webb

He may have only been in the industry for a few years, but already actor Tyler Lepley is making his mark on television and the hearts of fans everywhere. As Benny Young on the hit drama The Haves and the Have Nots, we have seen him realize a dream of being a business owner and the nightmare of being accused of a crime you didn't commit. Through it all Tyler allows us to not just see a character but a part of himself as well.

I asked him about the experience and the response to the show. "The first thing that comes to mind is when I stepped on set," Tyler told me. "I've only been acting for about a year and a half, and it was like nothing I have ever seen before. Everyone checked their egos at the door when we were running lines and as we filmed the show that bond was solidified. The whole thing has been a blessing. It's one thing to be able to put something together and another to get the love from the fans." Those with The Haves and the Have Nots are getting both.

Tyler told me that the character Benny has been easy to relate to, but so have other characters as well. "I've seen people who don't have a lot find peace and happiness, and I've seen people who have money who are very unhappy." He says these are issues that are going on in life everyday.

This experience has an actor began in an unlikely way. "I had failed NFL dreams," Tyler says. He was naturally gifted at football but that wasn't enough. It came so easy to him that he admits he failed to work at it. "Sometimes your gift is your curse." After football Tyler went into personal training which led him to  modeling and acting. What was different this time? "I thought about the football dream and why I didn't succeed," he told me "The truth was I didn't work at it. I wasn't going to make that mistake again." As he began booking the first things in his new career he made sure to work very hard, even though it was something he was gifted at. "Everything happens for a reason," he says. "It's up to us to figure out that reason."

One of the things viewers of The Haves and the Have Nots have gotten to enjoy is Tyler's character Benny's interaction with his sister Candace (played by Tika Sumpter). "It's crazy to watch her be that snake and then come home and see that she does love someone," he told me. "Sometime the things about someone who is rebellious is it's a way to protect themselves. "A lot of it is a wall," he says. "It's a shield." At the end of the day, though, with Candace and Benny it's all going to go back to love. "When you see characters act like that you're able to dive into that creation. It's a big privilege."

When I began watching the show their were two things that struck me about the character Benny: the power of the dream and the issue of faith. "Benny wanted to be able to have that towing service," Tyler explained. He could relate to the feeling behind that. "It's such a realistic dream. Growing up I wanted to be someone who could provide for his family. I have to there for my family. It's one thing to chase a dream and another to realize what a dream takes." The journey is not always easy. "When you are going towards a dream sometimes you have to go through the dark to get to the light." Tyler says it is fun to play that dream and to remember that sometimes hard times have to come in order to realize your dream.

The next thing we discussed was Benny and faith. It's obvious from the very first episode of Season One that he doesn't share the excitement his mother Hannah (played by Crystal Fox)  has when it comes to God. Tyler explains it this way: "I'm a God-fearing person, but it took for me to get a little older in order to realize what that means. A lot of times when things aren't going well for you it's easy to look up at the sky and curse and ask God why me. When you're going through those trails and tribulations you get to understand what is on the over side of that darkness. For Benny the chips seem to be stacked against him. He's trying to find that path. It's hard for him to find that faith with everything going on. I can say that Benny now is Tyler Lepley four or five years ago."

With the first season coming to a close and the audience continuing to grow I was curious as to how Tyler was able to stay true to himself in the face of success:  "First of all it's all about staying grounded," he answered. "That means keeping my relationship with the Lord and the friends around me. You should always keep in mind that what got you to this point is what you should stick to. I'm not just soaking up the limelight. I'm still growing and auditioning. I have to remember who Tyler Lepley was before all of this. I know that just as quickly as it was given to me it can be taken away."

Stay in touch with Tyler Lepley on Twitter at Tweet using the hashtag #HAHN.

Actress Renee Lawless: Enjoying the Success That Comes From Loving What You Do

by Cyrus Webb

She may have become known to many through her work on stage, but since 2013 actress Renee Lawless has solidified herself as one of the unforgettable stars of the runaway hit The Haves and the Have Nots.

In the first 10 minutes of the first episode we saw her character Katheryn Cryer as the strong matriarch of her family, however, the show has also revealed another side of the woman whose cutting retorts and strength masks a world of hurt and pain. Now three seasons in millions have made the show must-see television and Renee couldn't be happier.

I asked about her thoughts of the first episode. Her answer? "This is going to be a hit, and I'm a part of it." Renee went on to tell me that they expected high numbers on the first one and as we have continued to grow that's what has really been more overwhelming. The drama is groundbreaking as the Oprah Winfrey Network's first scripted drama and the first of three projects created by Tyler Perry that appear on the channel. The importance of the moment is not lost. "Not too many people get to be at the start of something great," Renee said to me.

Renee Lawless' place in the spotlight is something that has been in the works for quite some time. "Even as a young child I was singing the loudest in church plays," she told me. "I always dreamed of being a movie star." When she began in theater, it just felt right to her. "This is my home," she said of the experience. "This is where I want to be." She knew in high school that no matter where she went that performing would be a part of her life. "I've been on stage many years, but my ultimate goal was always TV and eventually film." The Haves and the Have Nots has made that dream come true. She said that to not only have achieved her ultimate goal of being a series regular and a star of a series is an experience she is loving.

It was really intriguing to talk with Renee about how she has brought Katheryn to life. "I knew all these layers before you all did," she told me. "With any new television drama everyone is brought in in the middle. It's up to the characters to bring you in. The one thing that I love about Katheryn is that she's a very multi-layered person, it's like peeling back layers of an onion. She's like a hollow oak tree: outside she's a strong pillar of strength but on the inside she's rotting and hollow. What her husband and children and life have given her has made her a very lonely person. It's basically what it means to have and to have not."

Renee then gave an example that I think resonates with everyone. "Even though she's worth 50 million dollars she's a woman who's over a certain age, who doesn't like getting old, who is dealing with cancer and problems with her kids. Not many can relate to being worth 50 million dollars, but 50 million people can relate to what she's going through. She in many ways is one of the most relatable characters because she has all of these layers. She's just like me."

Though things are going well for Renee and she is doing what she loves, it hasn't happened without a real commitment to her craft. "I worked very hard and long and got many more rejections than I've had successes," she told me. "I do this because I love it, not for the award or the paycheck that it affords me." Speaking of the world that actors live in she adds: "Our career is very unsure. If you're just doing it for the fame and glory you're not going to go very far or last." Her next words are great reminders for all of us with a dream. "You have to love what you do in order to truly be successful at it."

May those words resonate with us as we identify our passion in life and vow to pursue it.

Renee's website is and you can follow her online at

Monday, May 25, 2015

Author Glenda L. Hunter: The Journey From Victim to Survivor

by Cyrus Webb

She's an author, poet and speaker---but most importantly a survivor. .

Glenda L. Hunter, a resident of Clinton, Mississippi, is one of those individuals who has been able to use her life to not only help other people but show what it means to celebrate the gift that life is. This, however, has not been an easy road for her. At a young age she had her innocence taken away from the very man who should have been there to protect her: her father. As a result of the abuse she suffered, Glenda developed alters or multiple personalities that would become a part of her life not just through childhood but adulthood as well. With courage and conviction she has shared her story in two books: AN UNSPEAKABLE SECRET and MOMMY TWINKLE EYES. Her goal? To let others know what is possible for them, regardless of their circumstances.

We met each other initially in 2011 through a mutual friend, and it has been my pleasure to see the amazing results of Glenda sharing her story with the world. I was privileged enough to be her first radio interview and to host her first book-signing. When I was thinking about  those who I had met that celebrated the gift of life and would be great examples for all of us I knew that she would have to be apart of this issue.

In describing how the abuse began, Glenda says this in her book AN UNSPEAKABLE SECRET: "Fear was always gripping my body because I was never sure what was going to happen. When he became mad, he was like a monster out of control... Dad was quick to tell me how bad I was. No longer was I his special girl.. Somehow I had become an awful person who couldn't do anything right. I wasn't sure what had changed to make me this kind of a person."

That can be painful to read, let alone believe of yourself. Glenda explained how she has been able to now break her silence and share her story. "I felt like other people probably struggled with the same thing that I had struggled with," she told me. "I had looked for books to help me get better and that's why I wrote mine so I could get my story out there and help others."

A large part of the healing she has experienced today has come from seeking help. Glenda told me that she didn't begin to really understand that she wasn't alone in what she had experienced and felt until therapy. "It was then that I realized a number of people have suffered from that (meaning abuse)." Coupled with dealing with the abuse, however, was the Multiple Personality Disorder. Not finding anyone who was talking about it the way she had experienced gave Glenda courage to move forward with sharing her own experiences. "I found the courage because I wanted someone to write a book from their point of view to say this is what it's like to be multiple. I'm putting it out there for people to say here's the story, and I hope it will be beneficial to you."

That is exactly what it is doing. "It has helped people to open up to me," Glenda shares. "Some have never shared with anyone before. The fact is that (the abuse) affects them in their lives many years after." The communication about it is helping others to understand what the person has gone through and is going through.

Faith is such an important factor to Glenda Hunter's survival as well. When you are abused and mistreated it is easy to feel as though you don't matter. She experienced those very feelings about herself.

That is not the person she is today.

"Getting through the therapy and working through the issues has helped," she says. "When you are degraded in numerous ways you carry that with you until you can work through that to say 'I am worth something'." She has also come to a revelation about herself and all of us. "God has made us all very special," she says. "He has made us all unique. We all have a place and a purpose. I want other to know that they have worth outside of what has happened to them."

Glenda's third book WHO ME? WORTHWHILE? YES, YOU! shares how we can begin to look at ourselves and our circumstances differently. She admits it's not easy and might take time, but it is definitely possible and worth it. "You might ask 'How can God love me with all of this in my background?' The wonderful thing is that He does. He loves you as equally as He does anyone else."

In WHO ME she goes on to say this: "I have always felt like I was not good enough for anything. Therefore, everything I tried I did in fear. I was afraid that if people really found out who I was they certainly would not like me. Everything I worked for would be over. Being fearful can cause you to always be looking over your shoulder wondering what was going to happen next. You become afraid that something bad was waiting down the line for you, therefore, you chose to stand still. When fear controls you, you do not move far or at all. Let God help you get over the fears that cause you to shudder whenever you think of facing the world. The world can be scary enough place without carrying added, unnecessary fear. What will you do with your fear? I have chosen. Let God handle those kinds of fears in my life. It is not always easy but worth the effort."

In sharing a part of herself, Glenda Hunter is giving us all something to reflect on when we look at our lives. What does she want everyone who has suffered in silence with the abuse to know? "I want them to know they are worthwhile," she says. "Even though you have had to hold that secret in or been a victim you don't have to stay a victim. You can be a victor. I want them to look within themselves and say I do love who I am. I am important."

Glenda's three adult books AN UNSPEAKABLE SECRET, MOMMY TWINKLE EYES and WHO ME? WORTHWHILE? YES, YOU! as well as her children's book IT FINALLY HAPPENED and book of poetry OUT OF THE DEPTHS are all available on and Barnes and Noble online. .

You can stay in contact with Glenda on Facebook here. Her website is

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Tani of Ink Bottoms: Turning A Dream Into a Stylish Reality

by Cyrus Webb
Tani had every reason to give up on her dream. She a mother of three, works full-time and had people tell her it would never work, but three years later she is still high-stepping in her vision and seeing the work put into INK BOTTOMS pay off.

"I couldn't have imagined it in a million years," she told me as we discussed the journey that began for her in 2012. Thanks to social media and word of mouth she is building a brand that is not just proving that hard work pays off but that allows women to look good in a stylish yet affordable way.

"I've been a shoe lover since I was a little girl," Tani explained. "I wanted an affordable shoe that would allow me to not just step out in style but wouldn't cost a fortune. When I couldn't find what I wanted, I decided to created it myself."

That was the birth of INK BOTTOMS: a shoe that looked good but was affordable for all. For Tani it's not just a pair of shoes. "Fashion to me is art," she says. "I'm in it because this is what I love to do." She says he best expresses her feelings and emotions through fashion.

Though things are going well now that doesn't mean there won't moments where fear tried to creep in and stop her. "At one point I said I can't do this," she confessed. "I said to myself 'Who am I?'" Regardless of the doubt and even the naysayers Tani says she found the strength and the courage to push forward. "I decided not to let anyone stop me."

And shoes for women is just the beginning. Already Tani is working on more of the brand including a line for men. "You can't let anyone stop you from pursuing your dream," she says. "If you surround yourself with negativity everything will crumble, including your business. You have to be strong, stand tall and believe in yourself."

Stay connected with everything Ink Bottoms at

Saturday, May 23, 2015

[Opinion] What Do I Owe You?

by Just Jennifer

When two people are in a relationship, they owe it to one another to provide certain benefits. Love, support, financial help, respect, companionship, and honesty are only a few of the benefits that should be expected from your mate. But what about dating? As a 37 year old single mother, I've had my fair share (and possibly someone else's share) of dating. I've had amazing dates and dates that I was sure would end in me being chopped up and served at his next dysfunctional family dinner. True, I love to eat and whoever takes me out will spend a decent amount of money on my dinner, but I've often be left with the question: what do I owe him? 

Ladies, if a man takes you on a nice date, spends his hard-earned money to feed you a delicious meal, flatters you with compliments, and provides a nice evening away from your life and problems, what do you owe him? Do you owe him a second date? How about a sexual favor? He did spend his money on you, right? Wrong. Dead wrong. Listen to me and listen hard: you owe him manners at the table, you owe him the privilege of sitting next to a lovely lady and enjoying a meal. You only owe him the wonderful company of you...or the hot mess of you...whichever category you prefer. Should you choose to go home with him, more power to you. As an adult, that's your choice. But it's most certainly not OWED to him. And men....

I didn't forget you, Gentlemen. What do you owe us? If you take a woman to a nice dinner, you enjoy her company, and it ends up in a fun night of adult entertainment, what do you owe her? Do you owe her a light bill? How about a father figure for little Tommy? Now it's your turn to listen: Nope...not at all...please don't do it. You owe nothing. The fact is that she agreed, as well as you did, to be an adult and involve herself with your manly ways. Stop feeling as if you are now obligated to be her main squeeze! 
Now continue on with your dating. Be sure to remember that you are owed nothing. For all the ladies who already know this, disregard. For all the gentlemen who never push a lady on the first date, you've got my utmost respect. For all those in on, you crazy fools! That's just my opinion, though. ***

*** Just Jennifer is proud to call Mississippi home and welcomes your feedback on this topic. Email your thoughts and questions to Jennifer at You can also find her on Facebook at (The views expressed here are those of Just Jennifer and do not necessarily reflect the thoughts of Conversations Media Group or Shadow Play Entertainment.)