Nicole Weider: Countering Image Conscious with Image Conscience

Nicole Weider

Nicole Weider has a passion. A former fashion model, Weider has taken to the Internet with a message for young girls, urging them to reject the messages of promiscuity and unrealistic definitions of beauty. Through her website, Project: Inspired, Weider is not just reaching out to young teens -- she's waging a war on the top magazine in the industry: Cosmopolitan. Where most models would give their eye-teeth to be on the cover of the foundation of Kate White's masthead, Weider seeks to give the cover a different look -- from inside a plastic bag.


There have been several films in the past that follow the plot of "small town girl moves to Hollywood, discovers seedy life of vice." Movies like "Valley of the Dolls" come to mind. Did your real-life experience compare to these fictional representations?


Sara Groves: On the Evidence of Things Not Seen

Sara Groves

The segmentation of Christian music is, quite possibly, more varied than any other genre. There's Southern Gospel, Hymns, Worship Music, Gospel Rock. And then there's Sara Groves, one of a handful of unique voices out there who make artistic commentary on the world itself, from the perspective of a Christian. The music isn't your seven-eleven chorus or reflexively responsive corporate worship style; Groves thinks deeply on her subject, which requires the listener to do the same.

With her new album, Invisible Empires, Groves continues her line of interrogation, philosophy, and apologetics, with a hard look at technology and the increasingly faster pace of life in today's world, and how to cope with it through faith.

Why are you a Christian?

Wow. That's a big one.


Juan Williams: The Fight for Honest Debate

Juan Williams

"Political correctness can lead to some kind of paralysis where you don't address reality. I mean, look, Bill, you know I'm not a bigot, you know the kinds of books I've written about the Civil Rights Movement in this country. But when I get on a plane, I've got to tell you, if I see people who are in Muslim garb, and I think, you know, they are identifying themselves first and foremost as Muslims, I get worried. I get nervous."

If you have any interest in political news and hadn't heard of Juan Williams before October 19th, 2010, you certainly learned about him after October 20th. With the above statement, made on FOX News' The O'Reilly Factor, the NPR analyst found himself on the outs with the radio network he had called home, resulting in his quick dismissal.


Khaled Hosseini: The Kite Runner's Graphic Adaptation

Khaled Hosseini

Khaled Hosseini's The Kite Runner presents an eye-opening story of class struggles in Afghanistan, portrayed over the course of a few decades. After winning awards and being adapted into film, The Kite Runner, Hosseini's first novel, is has made the transition to the graphic novel format, available from Riverhead.

We shared a few moments with Hosseini to discuss this new form for his novel as well as some of the elements of his very moving story.

This is probably the first time I've seen a non-genre literary work adapted into the graphic novel format. How did the idea to use that medium come about?


Tom Batiuk: Still Funky After All These Years

Tom Batiuk

Bridging the gap between Archie and Zits, a comic strip was introduced about high school kids, which spoke to the modern events, issues, and styles of the seventies (and later, the eighties). Funky Winkerbean, the creation of cartoonist Tom Batiuk, has grown over the years from the joke-a-day strip around a central cast of students and teachers at the beleaguered Westview High (home of the Fighting Scapegoats) to a serial dramedy where the kids are now grown adults with teenagers of their own, dealing with heavy topics like cancer, the Iraq war, and school administration ethics.

As the strip approaches its fortieth anniversary, we spoke at length with Batiuk about Funky's origins and evolutions.


Exerting a Producer's Leverage: Dean Devlin

Dean Devlin first climbed to fame as an actor, but has delivered even greater entertainment from the other side of the Hollywood creative camera, in both writing, directing and producing. His career has given the world such films like "Stargate" -- which spun off into one of the longest based-on-a-film series on television -- and memorable films like "Independence Day" and "The Patriot."

More recently, Devlin has served as the executive producer for the TNT hit series, Leverage, now finishing it's fourth season and already renewed for a fifth.

We were fortunate to spend a few minutes with Dean talking about the Leverage series, and some other potential projects we might see in the future.

What was it about Roger and Chris's pitch that drew you into Leverage?


Kathryn Beaumont: Wonderland Days

Kathryn Beaumont - Alice

When Walt Disney was looking for someone to lend her voice to the animated heroine of "Alice in Wonderland," a young English girl who had recently come to America caught his ear. Kathryn Beaumont would become twice immortalized through the magic touch of Disney, once as Wendy Darling in "Peter Pan," but first and foremost as Lewis Carroll's plucky protagonist, Alice.

With the sixtieth anniversary of Disney's "Alice in Wonderland" upon us, we reminisced with Miss Beaumont about those days spent with Walt and his cadre of animation geniuses.

As I prepared to talk about your version of Alice, it occurred to me that most of the other leading Disney animated females fall into the Disney Princess pantheon. But Alice -- although the scene didn't happen in this particular adaptation -- is the only one of all of them to have been crowned a queen. So technically, I think you outrank the Disney Princesses.


Reginald Hudlin: Reinventing the Black Panther

Reginald Hudlin Black Panther

Reginald Hudlin has worn a lot of hats in his time. The East St. Louis native and Harvard graduate entered the entertainment industry with "House Party," and his career has even taken him into the upper echelons of management at BET. Among his many projects, Hudlin writes comics, garnering particular acclaim for his work on Marvel's Black Panther, which has recently been adapted to animation and released to DVD.

What is the road to Hollywood like from East St. Louis? Give the rest of us some hope, how do we pull this off?

(laughs) Well, the thing about roads to Hollywood is that there's no one path -- and usually they're impossible to re-create. In my case, I went to college on the east coast -- I went to Harvard. I shot a little short film at Harvard, and that little short film ended up catching the eye of an executive, and that became "House Party."


Neal Shusterman: A Moment to Unwind

Neal Shusterman

Even though Unwind is well in the published past, relatively speaking, it was nonetheless the major topic of discussion during a chat we had with author Neal Shusterman, whose latest venture, Everwild, has just been released into paperback.

What was on the author's mind while penning this disturbing and thought provoking novel? Where do things go from its ending? And what else does Shusterman have planned for the near future? Read on...

Unwind tells the story of an American society where the two sides in the abortion debate come to a grisly compromise which basically makes abortion illegal but allows parents to decide to have their teenagers parceled out for parts -- or "unwound" -- if they decide the kid was no longer worth the effort. It was a bit surprising that both sides in the war that sets things off actually agreed to it, and it's akin to the biblical story of two women fighting over the same baby.


Jimmy Gownley: To the Saddest Little Girl in the World

If you haven't yet heard of Amelia Rules!, you're missing out on one of the standouts of the comics medium. Written and drawn by Jimmy Gownley, this series about a middle-schooler in crisis is a clever mix of fun, philosophy, humor and poignancy that will, at times, have you laughing out loud and reaching for a tissue.

We sat down with Mr. Gownley to have a lengthy, in-depth discussion about Amelia, her world, and how her story takes more advantage of the comic book medium than nearly any other graphic novel on the shelves.

(And if you're out this Black Friday looking for the perfect Christmas gift for a young reader, any of the Amelia Rules! books should be something you consider, which is why we've provided helpful links along the way.)

The Simon & Schuster paperbacks are my first exposure to the Amelia Rules! work, so I don't know if it's reprints of prior works or if it's new ongoing material.


Graham Russell: Taking Air Supply from Dreams to Stardom

Graham Russell

Paul McCartney once sang, "You'd think that people would have had enough of silly love songs." Like McCartney, Graham Russell can say that he looks around and sees it isn't so. Thirty years after forming Air Supply with his partner Russell Hitchcock, fans are far from being "All Out of Love." As the group prepares a charity concert and international tour, we stole a few moments from Graham Russell's time in the studio to reminisce on the past and compare it to today.

First off, I want to personally thank you for creating the music that made it possible for even geeky nerds like me in high school to have a chance with the ladies.

(laughs) You're very kind! Thank you.

Air Supply became the musical face, so to speak, of romantic music for a generation. Did you intentionally set out to be soft rock balladeers, or did it just veer that way naturally?


Dr. Steve Gerali: To Save a Life

Steve Gerali

Overlapping with National Suicide Prevention Week this year is National TO SAVE A LIFE WEEK (September 6 - 12), which encourages churches, parents and teens to start the new school year looking at the issues of teen suicide, bullying, depression, body image, etc., and to start the conversation to let teens know they are not alone -- that help is available. To better understand the issues of teenage depression and suicide, we talked this week to Dr. Steve Gerali, author of What Do I Do When Teenagers are Depressed and Consider Suicide?, as well as a host of other publications focused on understanding the problems of adolescents.

As regards suicide prevention, let's open with the classic question of Cain: Are we our brothers' keepers?


Misha Collins: The Planning Behind The Random Act

Misha Collins

You may know Misha Collins from his recent stint on Syfy's "Stonehenge Apocalypse." You certainly know him from his recurring role on CW's Supernatural, where he plays the angel Castiel. But what you may not know is that he's a marathon runner, and he's putting his efforts into coordinating fandom's energy into making the world a better place, one random act of kindness at a time.

It's just the sort of subtle plan you'd expect from an angel.

What was the initial inspiration that motivated you to plan The Random Act charity?


Chloe Grace Moretz: You're a Hit, Girl!

Chloe Grace Moretz

It's a long way from the sunny meadows of the Hundred Acre Wood to the crime filled streets of gritty vigilantism, but plucky Chloe Grace Moretz has made the journey and become a sensation. Her mind-blowing performance in "Kick-Ass" (billed as Chloe Moretz) as the butt-kicking, potty-mouthed vigilante, Hit-Girl, made her the ostensible star of the film, stealing every scene in which she's featured. Then again, with roles in a string of suspense and horror films like "The Amityville Horror" and "The Eye," maybe it wasn't too much of a leap after all.

We caught up with the young star for a very quick conversation, and picked up on some of her exciting future plans.

This is a big departure for you from previous works, particularly voicing the very kid-friendly Darby on My Friends Tigger & Pooh. Was there any concern on your part, or of your parents, given the nature of the role of Hit-Girl?


Geoffrey Thorne: Writing the Wrongs That Propel LEVERAGE

I first encountered Geoffrey Thorne when his prose won second place in the Star Trek: Strange New Worlds VI competition. Unbeknownst to myself, I was to later follow his writing through television episodes of the hit TNT series, Leverage.

Now well on his way in the world of novels, television, and comics, we spoke with the author as he prepared to make the journey to the hip and happening San Diego Comic Con, where he'll be presenting his all-ages sci-fi adventure, Bigger Than Giants, as well as... Well, why don't we just let him tell us about it?

So you're heading off to the SDCC?


Audrey Assad: Heaven is Breaking Through

If the only Christian music you've heard from a Catholic source has been Gregorian chants or the hopped-up version of "The Lord's Prayer" that got radio play a handful of decades back, Audrey Assad is a delightful and inspirational surprise. With a style that draws from several classic rock influences and a voice that evokes the softer works of Sarah McLachlan and Joan Baez, Assad is preparing to release her newest album, The House You're Building. We sat down with the artist for a few moments to explore her feelings on faith and music.
Why are you a Christian?
Why am I a Christian? Well, I think that answer has morphed over the years several times. When I was five, I was a Christian because my parents were -- and I think there was something slightly real to that. I accepted Jesus into my heart at five years old, and that was what they taught me, and I believed it to be true.


Addison Road's Jenny Simmons: This is Me Under Construction

Jenny Simmons of Addison Road

The Jenny Chisolm Band no longer exists -- partly because Jenny Chisolm is now Jenny Simmons. Needing a new name, these college kids engaged in a battle of the sexes. Simmons suggested "Bloom," the title of her favorite Audio Adrenaline album, which was rejected as "too girly." Similarly, she vetoed all of the guys' "horrific" name suggestions. The debate took place backstage at a show, and happened to be overheard by one of the sound engineers, who volunteered that he didn't like any of their suggested names. He also volunteered that his wife had just had a baby boy, and that they had named him Addison. Since the band had already been circling around the themes of roads and journeys, the took one name and married it to the other, and Addison Road was born.


Alan Parsons: The Artist and Scientist of Sound Recording

Alan Parsons

I've just hung up the phone with Alan Parsons. I can see it in your eyes -- you don't believe me. But it's true, and now I can put another mark on the old "bucket list." The mad genius behind The Alan Parsons Project (as well as a key player to a few lesser known releases like Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon and The Beatles' Abbey Road) is releasing a DVD series, "The Art & Science of Sound Recording," which afforded me the opportunity to ask a miscellany of almost but not quite totally unrelated questions.

You just recently completed an event at the Spaghettini Grill and Jazz Club, where you debuted your new DVD release. Tell us a little about what this was all about.


Frank Beddor: There's Something About Alice

Frank Beddor Looking Glass Wars

Here's a take on Alice that's rather novel: Alice is grown, and returns to Wonderland, only to find that the Red Queen has taken control and imposed tyranny on the citizens. Card soldiers roam the streets, and the Hatter and her other friends form an armed resistance, with Alice as their leader.

But it's not Tim Burton's new sequel, "Alice in Wonderland" (which, more aptly, ought to have a "2" appended to the title). Rather, it's the plot of a series of novels and graphic novels, The Looking Glass Wars, penned by the producer of "There's Something About Mary," Frank Beddor. With all the hype surrounding the movie, everyone has Alice on the brain -- so it was a good time to sit down with Beddor and chat about Alice and Lewis Carroll and Wonderland... and who better than me to do it? (Well, probably a lot of people, but fortunately the pool of potential interviewers was limited to the staff here at Critical Blast, so there.)


Brian Herbert: The Chronicler Heir of Dune

Frank Herbert is regarded as one of the few holy names of the science fiction pantheon of authors. His 1965 novel, Dune is the bestselling science fiction novel of all time. His passing left behind big shoes and a tall shadow, but Brian Herbert has been more than up to the task of carrying on the Dune legacy. Working with author Kevin J. Anderson, he has added over a dozen more novels to the history of his father's creation, setting up a tradition of New York Times best sellers in his wake.

With so many years of Dune history still available to be explored, is there any planned end in sight for the franchise?


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