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Conversations with Tom Sykes

Today we’d like to introduce you to Tom Sykes.

Hi Tom, thanks for joining us today. We’d love for you to start by introducing yourself.
In 2012, I awoke wearing a hardhat on a casino construction site in my seaside hometown of Atlantic City, NJ. The resort and its locals have always had a tough reputation. Over the years, prominent tabloids have awarded us the nation’s cleanest drinking water yet the least friendliest people. So, drink the water but go f@ck yourself. I joke… but there’s some grit, though we depend on the hospitality and tourism industry Ironic, I know. We’re a proud and passionate people rooted with loyalty, love, support and localism. We rely on the late night, the gambler, your vacation, the summer, the joy of sin. This all makes for a thick skin of compassion towards each other. No one can replace the breed of friend and family we have in Atlantic City, but that morning in construction boots during union coffee break, I couldn’t help but remember my love of the pen, the Film/TV Dramatic Writing degree I had earned at NYU, and my goal of leaving New York for LA. That’s not how it happened.

Instead of LA after NY, I found myself back in AC employed between social work at Covenant House and construction management, but as usual it was a blessing in disguise. The move actually had more purpose. If I had not returned to AC, I would have never have found my family, earned my boys, landed her, Monica, a longtime close friend who was a single mom with two sons. She was also the sister of my best friend. He’d eventually get over it, the fights would stop, I’d take on the kids, learn a little Spanish, and holiday dinners would become a lot more fun. Yeah, Monica and the boys were the best things that ever happened for me, but still, I wanted to write. I wanted LA. Monica and I made a plan. Having a little opportunity out west, I’d go first. We’d do the long distance thing with me bouncin’ back and forth for the boys, and in two years upon our oldest going off to college, she and the seventh grader would come join me full-time. (Yes, I said college and we were in our early 30’s. What can I say? We of AC start young.) The plan was very exciting, epic if I may say, but full of mixed emotions for all. You know how it is. With change there’s weather. The two years and the transition of the move, our new city of Santa Monica, them never having left AC before, a change of schools, lack of family and friends, etc. It was a lot of honeymoon and a lot of hardship. I learned it was often impossible to make everyone happy all of the time, but when you are Dad, you better keep trying.

And so the three of us, Monica, me, and our son nicknamed Hammer, slowly but surely settled into LA, embracing mountain hikes, new friends, high rent, happy hour football mornings, bike paths, kale, farmer’s markets, food trucks, small dogs in strollers, avocados, and my new church of the Pacific Ocean — scuba diving. We were becoming LA, even wearing pants and jackets on what was once considered a beach day. It was Californication and we loved it. Still do. During this time, an old friend who was working on an HBO show and I wrote a well-received TV pilot about surfing crews and Mexican gangs in Santa Cruz. It was a lot of fun; the creative process, the path it led us down, potentially having our own show. Some big dogs got involved and we made a quick splash around town, got a few free water bottles in some nice offices out of it, and almost had a green light. But that homer hit the top of the fence, fell back in the park. Still, we made some good contacts and I learned a lot about moving forward. Of course, that’s around the time Monica got pregnant. We like to keep it interesting. I continued pushing my own projects and took work as a freelance writer/project manager on anything from marketing to literary, film/TV to fundraising. Fortunately, thanks to the rollercoaster of LA and life, I met some great people that have led me to continue that writing today.

With literary agent Michael Broussard of LIT Writers & Representation, I’ve been able to work as a creative director, project manager, consultant, and ghostwriter. I often assist in sculpting and/or writing the book proposals/manuscripts of clientele, which are in large part pop-culture based social media influencers or reality television stars such as VH1’s Mob Wives, Brandi Glanville of Bravo’s The Real House Wives of Beverly Hills, or Josh & Heather Altman of Bravo’s Million Dollar Listing: LA. The unique personalities have been wildly diverse and I’m grateful to say how cool all have been in keeping the journey fresh. I also currently have my hands in a few projects of brilliant people such as performing any form of assistance on the multiple and random music videos of the extremely talented Adam Neustadter. I also serve as a producer and story consultant on his documentary True to You exploring the soul of Morrissey’s large and loyal LA Latino/multi-cultural fanbase. Then there’s my partnership with who I call the machine, the writer/director/award-winning YA novelist Andrew Avner of West Hollywood and Atlantic City, NJ. Together we created “The Family Vagabond,” an unscripted restaurant reality show being shopped by Bodega Pictures. Andrew and I are also taking work in Atlantic City and are currently in production on a fundraiser film for the non-profit organization CASA who provides court-appointed advocated to orphans.

Furthermore, I have been honored to write comedy with the hilarious stand-up Shannon Leigh who appears in LA, Vegas, and the East Coast. ‘Also, my screenplay, “The German”, I co-wrote with independent producers Airen De La Mater and Rob Milbauer is currently being shopped. Credit or no credit, green light or no green light, it’s an honor to bring projects to life with others. Oh, and money’s nice too, but I’m grateful for the fun of brainstorming and creating. And then there’s StudyHammer… we’ll talk more about that down the page. Now, with the arrival of Covid-19, my wife and three sons — a 25 years old, 19 years old, and a 4 years old — are living between Atlantic City, NJ and Santa Monica, CA… all I can say is… “Just put on the mask, keep the smile. Same team.” Whether AC or LA, I’ll turn the trending limited series off, encourage a walk on the boards, head for the pier, observe the life around us. “Check these people out… what do you think their story is?”

Would you say it’s been a smooth road, and if not what are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced along the way?\
Obstacles? Challenges? Ha. Besides self-induced, hmmm…

1) I’m a writer. Rejection is an old friend often good for a drink. The challenge becomes when faced with continuous rejection to find the fire of patience and persistence, the ability to pivot, adapt, and re-attack accordingly. Many projects need multiple people to say “yes” over a long duration of time. It can be very disheartening to have a brainchild not make the cut or to run the full marathon only to drop in the final stretch, never crossing the finish line. The challenge is then whether or not to rework the project, readdress your approach on getting it out there, or to not take no for an answer and bombard others with it as is. Knowing the difference between the three and the right time for each one is the trick, but only patience and persistence can get you there.

2) Social media. Ugh. In 2007, I was in a bad break-up. That was the year Facebook came out. So, I did not join as I didn’t want to be found. “I’d find you,” I’d say to my friends. Then that backfired when I had a couple of non-fiction book proposals up for publishing. Unfortunately, my tactic had worked. They couldn’t find me alright. In that aspect of publishing more and more it seems a strong social media presence is required potentially more than good writing. It reminds me of when I was in my 20’s and I dealt mostly in cash so to not earn credit card debt like my friends, but when I needed that credit, I was nowhere to be found on paper. Banks thought I was in the mob and I couldn’t get the backing. I had layed too low for my own good. Now, like it or not, social media is the way of the world. Social media has the power. In hindsight, I should have engaged into more of the social media scene so to build a presence and just have taken the stalking from the ex. Overall, she was cool, anyway.

3) Don’t lag on a project and get beat out. While in LA, I learned to just do your own thing, enjoy the process, follow your gut and don’t worry about others, I also experienced the opposite side as well, and it stings. Don’t sleep on yourself. If you have an opportunity or an idea, ten people also have that idea. Of those ten, five will make it happen. Of those five, three will do it really well. Of those three, two will get it out there. Of those two, only one will market it right. Be the one. Whatever project you’re thinking on right now, someone else is on it. Go to work. Go to battle. Finish it. See it through. Or… feel the sting when someone else does, which has a high percentage of happening anyway. Narrow that percentage. Get on it.

4) Say “yes”. I often hit walls and still do on simply having contacts and conduits to get work even seen and in front of people. Worse then rejection is a project that is never read. Many times at different points of life, my family and I would get into a comfort zone that was hard to break and we’d turn down offers for parties, social get togethers, kid playdates, events, etc. We learned we enjoy LA more and I discover more career opportunity when we are “yes” people. With traffic, prices, distances, strange folk and social statuses, LA can make it easy to say “no” to life and stick to your bubble. Say “yes.” Whenever we force ourselves from our couch or routine, we have a great experience and a potential work contact opens up. Say “yes” and show up. It’s half the game. You never know who you’ll meet.

Thanks – so what else should our readers know about your work and what you’re currently focused on?
I work as a freelance writer, project manager, and creative consultant. While my work with LIT Writers & Representation and Michael Broussard are often from reference/industry relationships and not from open submission, I am always eager to bounce around a new project. I am available for hire to help shape book proposals, ghostwrite manuscripts, or edit content. I am also available for other forms of writing such as web copy, biography, non-fiction or fiction, and Film/TV as well as serving as a story consultant on documentaries and both scripted/unscripted content. However, my time in LA has led me to new friendships which in return have forged new ventures outside of the typical entertainment industry. Meet my new business partner Dean Gebert, a now Santa Monica local via Atlanta, GA. Dean is our “tech guy” of the group. He’s great at what he does and is known for his help getting start-ups off the ground. To me, he’s a great friend and even more he’s like an uncle to my children.

One day my then high-schooler son, nicknamed Hammer, came home and said “I wish I didn’t have to study. I wish I could just unlock my phone with a study question every time I checked my phone so then I would trick myself into studying small bits throughout the day.” Our eyes lit up. At once, Dean and I were on it. After a few years of consultations on the science of learning, many emails with Apple, Dean’s genius design, and a lot of work with pricey developers, we now are just about to complete our app ready for market. STUDYHAMMER is an educational app that allows a user to have their cell phone quiz them in scheduled bite-sized bits throughout the day, whether at home, in class, or on the go. They can study with their buddies or work on the curriculum sent by a teacher in real-time or any set duration. How it works? A user or teacher/parent can build their own study guides full of study questions for any topic, set the times and amount of questions they want to send or receive per hour, and then through push notifications much like text messages, the user or the student will receive the study questions on their phone or tablet at the designated times.

The app also has a gaming feature that rewards users for their progress with the building of famous landmarks accompanied by fun facts for each to encourage interdisciplinary learning. Even more, there’s a ranking system so a user can compete with their friends or classmates. For the teachers and parents, there is a teacher portal where a teacher/parent can create their different study guides along with their email lists for as many students as they like. They can tailor specific study guides for individual students/classes and track the progress of every question answered correct, incorrect, skipped or shown, all displayed in charts and exported easily.

StudyHammer is currently entering a beta testing phase with aim to be launched for the public in full completion by end of summer 2021. The app will be available at a competitive price on the Apple Store as well as Google Play. It works on both iOS and Android as well as phones and tablets, with the teacher portal accessible through computer. With today’s educational system tossed in the struggles of pandemic and the abundance of information that our youth are confronted with today, we are certain StudyHammer can help students learn and teachers/parents properly and more easily teach their children in or out of traditional settings. It’s time to adapt to a new approach of education and build the right foundations for our youth amidst this world dilemma. Something good can come out of all of this and some of that good is StudyHammer, question by question, building block by building block. Ding! Time to study! Like our slogan says: STUDYHAMMER… Nail the Knowledge.

In terms of your work and the industry, what are some of the changes you are expecting to see over the next five to ten years?
“Just one beggar trying to show another beggar where to find bread.” – Father Stephen Siniairi

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