Link Love

January 31, 2016

link love on a sunday // midwestlovefest

  1. Animals in sweaters. Because, why not.
  2. Short, but solid read: “I do want my daughter to be kind. But I want her to remember to be kind to herself first.”
  3. Awesome life advice c/o Chris Pratt.
  4. Learn new things for 99 cents.
  5. Definitely going to try this smoothie recipe where you boil the veggies first (don’t knock it till you’ve tried it!).
  6. Aww, I love sloths.
  7. I want to believe.
  8. For fans of UnREAL, you’ll love this article on the history of The Bachelor.
  9. If traveling or in a pinch, this 7 minute workout will do just fine.
  10. Interesting post about body language and appearing confident.
  11. Be on the lookout for these 2016 design trends.
  12. What do you think of Zayn’s new song/music video with Gigi? Ah, young love.
  13. Did you know turmeric is awesome for digestion? Probably, but here are a few fun ways to incorporate the spice into your life.
  14. Such an inspirational post every 20-some should read weekly, on why now is the time to leave your old life behind and live in that big city.
  15. So, this deer situation is my dream/goal in life.
Cozy Chats

Chatting with Author Bree Housley

January 28, 2016

chatting with author bree housley People always tell job hunters that “it’s all about who you know.” I think that goes double for the advertising industry. It’s ALL about who you know. Who you know can essentially create a job, when there was none previously available. That said, who you know can also introduce you to someone who can introduce you to their wife, who happens to be a kick ass creative director at a huge agency, oh and a talented published author on the side and also happens to be named Bree Housley.

Bree is another huge role model for me. Writer #goals, basically. And I feel so honored she took the time to respond thoroughly and honestly to all my seemingly random interview questions, which I hope you’ll enjoy right about meow…

What attracted you to writing? Or, when do you first remember being interested in writing?

In third grade, we were asked to write a story on this weird flimsy paper where ¾ of the page was space to draw and then 4 lines were available to actually write words. My story was 25 pages. The rest of the class averaged around 5. I was pretty proud of that. Especially cuz I sucked at Heads Up, 7-Up. (Starting off early with the Midwestern references. Everyone played that, right?)

Tell us a little bit about your journey to this point—go as far back as you’d like!

I really started to love creative writing, especially dialogue, in Jr. High. But there was no Don Draper at the time, so I wasn’t really sure where that passion could lead in the “real world.” I mean, Angela Bower from “Who’s the Boss” was a pretty badass ad chick, but she was an Account Executive so my glimpse into the world of the creative department didn’t happen until much later.

When I graduated from Iowa State with a degree in Advertising/Marketing, I was completely unprepared. I had no portfolio. No connections. And only ONE copywriting class under my braided leather belt. Fortunately, I’d learned about Miami Ad School (MAS) through my summer internship in Fort Lauderdale. With a little help from my Floridian aunt and uncle, I was enrolled by the following January.

My plan at 21 was to finish MAS, get an amazing copywriting job, maybe invest in some pencil skirts, work at the same place until I turned 30, then become an author and make millions writing from my cottage somewhere by a lake. Wearing pants only sparingly. In reality, I stayed at MAS long enough to build a portfolio I was proud of, took a job at a mediocre agency with a few amazing people that mentored the shit out of me, got hired at a super cool Chicago agency, and just kept climbing my way up until I reached the point where I could freelance at all the big shops in town and control my own career.

Oh, and I became a published author at 33. And did not make millions. But I do wear pants only sparingly.

What was your family and upbringing like? Was creativity part of your childhood?

My family and childhood felt a bit like a Norman Rockwell painting, but instead of puppies and milkshakes, it was Jarts and Chef Boyardee. Oh, and I was sporting a major party-all-the-time mullet. (Special recipe: bang perm in the front; straight, long, and unbrushed in the back.)

My mom and dad were very hard workers, but never missed sitting down at the table for family dinner. We didn’t have much money, but I had no idea we didn’t have much money until later in life. If that doesn’t take creativity on their part, I don’t know what does. My dad is outwardly creative. He makes all kinds of whimsical sculptures out of scrap metal and you can always find doodles on anything resembling paper around the house. My mom has always been funny. But she’ll be the first to tell you she’s not. She’s also a big supporter of the arts and signed us up for dance classes when we were barely old enough to tie our own tap shoes. Again, this was when we were driving a tiny car that seemed to only run on Tuesdays and every other Saturday…but we felt like we had everything because we had shoes with taps on them!

We camped all over the Midwest on summer weekends. Marshmallow sticks, bubbles, and some woods to get lost in. It’s all we needed.

Who has had the biggest impact on your life as a writer thus far?

That’s hard to say. The writers I covet write nothing like me. I relish in everything Kurt Vonnegut, Tom Robbins, and John Irving. I suppose it’s more about how their writing makes me feel. It’s deep, darkly funny, and sometimes quite juvenile. I’d like to think that’s my style, too.

On a more personal level, there’s a good chance my memoir would’ve never been published without the unexpected support from New York Times Best-Selling Author, Jeffrey Zaslow. I reached out to him, completely blind, and asked if he’d consider writing a “blurb” for my book before my agent submitted it to publishers. (Yeah, welcome to the publishing industry. You have to beg established writers to give your book praise before a house will even pretend to take it seriously.) I got rejected or ignored by plenty of other authors who weren’t nearly as successful as Zaslow. He immediately responded, read my work, and wrote a blurb so beautiful that I forgot it was even about my writing. He stayed in touch as my book deal got finalized, popping in to get updates from time to time, and then one shitty Midwestern winter day, a few months before my book was released, my husband saw the following headline: Jeffrey Zaslow, ‘Last Lecture’ author, dies in car crash at 53.

The blurb he had written for my book:

“Bree Housley tells a story that is touching, funny and completely inspiring. Reading it, we can’t help but think about our own resolutions, our own losses, and the friends and loved ones who’ve given meaning to our lives.” 

Indeed. I still think of him often.

interview with author bree housley You’re originally from Iowa, correct? Do you think living and working in the Midwest has fostered or hindered your creativity?

Yes, I’m from a very small town in Eastern Iowa called Walcott. Don’t be fooled, it might be small in size, but it’s the “World’s Largest Truckstop.” (There’s a billboard and everything. Right next to the Truck-o-Mat.)

I attribute a lot of my creativity to growing up in a town where we had to create our own version of fun. In the summer, we’d spend the afternoon walking the railroad tracks, pretending we were on a journey like our crushes from Stand By Me. Except the only exciting things we ever found were pennies and trash. Oh, and we saw dead possum once.

I would never say living and working here hindered my creativity, but at the same time, I do think leaving for a bit added another level I couldn’t have unearthed if I’d stayed here my whole life.

How was Miami Ad School? Highly recommend for aspiring ad creatives or…pass?

I would not be where I am right now without Miami Ad School. At the time I attended, portfolio schools hadn’t really caught on yet. It almost seemed like an experiment. Class sizes were tiny and I learned more in a week than I’d learned in 4 years at ISU. It’s grown quite a bit since then and portfolio schools are practically a requirement to land a good job in Chicago. But like everything else in life, you can tailor the experience to your needs. I didn’t technically graduate from MAS. It was expensive and I knew I’d gotten what I needed after the first year, so I jumped out and started looking for a job instead of paying for another year. (“Jumped” sounds so much flashier than “dropped.”)

Do you have any words of wisdom for aspiring copywriters looking to break into the industry?

I sound like an old fist-shaker when I say this, but don’t expect too much too soon. This is a highly competitive industry, and with good reason. We get paid to make tiny movies. To write tiny books. To entertain the rest of the world by spending large sums of other people’s money. It’s a pretty great way to spend your days.

Also, listen to people who have been at it longer than you, but don’t be so intimidated by them that you don’t speak up when you have an idea or a new way of doing something. They are excited to learn from you, too. Especially in a time when new apps and computer-y things are popping up faster than you can say, “WTF is SMH?” (I thought it was “shit my head” for the longest time.)

Is freelance life good or do you miss the stability of a full-time gig?

Freelance is perfect for me. After you’ve been in the business for awhile, you learn a lot about your process and what works best for you. When you find it, you need to do all you can to protect it. Personally, I do not thrive in big brainstorm meetings or open office floor plans. Solitude is my best friend when I get an assignment. Well, solitude and sweatpants, anyway. Distraction works for some creatives. It cripples others.

Also, if you do it right, freelance can feel just as stable as full-time. It’s just a different kind of stability. I find comfort knowing there’s an exact start date and an end date. For the most part, YOU decide what’s next when you’re a freelancer. The rug can be pulled out from beneath you at any time when you’re a full-timer.

Best places in the Midwest to get inspired?

It’s easy to get inspired in Chicago. All you have to do is look out a window or go outside. Walking aimlessly while listening to music or finding an empty bench where I can stare at people for hours is like striking gold.

When I’m doing partner work, I enjoy bars vs. coffee shops. There’s a bar called the Pepper Canister downtown. Something about the dark Irish vibe, the server who gives you a knowing look when you pull out an assignment brief, and the frosty chalices of beer. Makes work not feel like work at all. 

Anything you’d change about the creative community here in the Midwest?

I can only speak for Chicago at the moment, but I feel like sometimes agencies try so hard to implement “creative” ways of working that they actually take a lot of creative freedom away from people. I’m a big believer in letting people work in whatever way results in the best ideas. Trying to capture creativity is ass backwards. Though I have a feeling that’s happening everywhere and not just the Midwest.

Do you think the Midwest influences your work? In what way(s)?

Very much. Midwesterners are extremely empathetic. It’s an invaluable tool I employ constantly in my writing. When concepting ideas for a campaign, you should be able to jump into the mind of pretty much anyone and figure out what will inspire them.

I worked at a truckstop restaurant for a few summers after high school. Figuring out how to talk to every kind of weirdo that walked in there was like the greatest bootcamp in understanding humans ever.

Would you ever love to write full-time or do you prefer the balance between an advertising job and a creative side hustle?

That dream of writing pantsless in a cottage on a lake will never fade. It would be my ideal. However, when it comes to advertising, there is something addictive about the instant gratification you experience when you think of an idea, sell it to the client, go on an amazing shoot, and then see it out in the world in a matter of weeks/months. I also love the kind of people you meet in advertising. Most of my best friends are ad junkies. Sometimes I don’t give the ad world enough credit. It’s stressful as hell, but the good times…they can be a kind of magic you can’t get anywhere else.

What’s one piece of advice you’d give your younger self?

Despite what the grown-ups say, it’s okay to be shy. One day you’ll make a career out of those weird thoughts bouncing around in your head. 

chatting with author bree housley What was your favorite and not-so-favorite part about writing and publishing your memoir, We Hope You Like This Song?

Favorite part is that it truly became a big part of my healing process in relation to Shelly’s death. When she died so unexpectedly, I went blank. And then I tried to jump right back into my life and not let it slow me down. Grief is a bastard and no one knows how to deal with it. Dedicating a full two years to thinking/writing about her and facing things I’d felt deeply guilty about was the therapy I didn’t even know I needed. The day I received the final pages of my manuscript, I sat next to her grave with my laptop and read her the first chapter. I wanted her to be the first to hear it.

Not-so-favorite? That would be the anxiety of putting all your shit onto 256 pages and knowing you can’t erase any of it later. After it was out of my hands, I had so many sleepless nights worrying that I remembered things incorrectly or that I’d accidentally offend someone. Thanks to Facebook, it’s not like the old days when people from childhood eventually dissolved into the ether. They know where to find you. And where to call you out for referring to them as a “butt munch.”

Any plans to publish another book?

Yes, I’d love to get book #2 out there. I’ve written a rough manuscript, but I need to find time to shape it and explore publishing options. I parted ways with my literary agent so I’ll be starting from square one. Enter whiskey and procrastination.

chatting with author bree housley Have any words of wisdom for someone looking to publish a memoir or novel?

Don’t talk about it. Do it. It will take a lot of time and rejection, but if you truly have something to say, get it out there. Some people think there is a specific path to getting published, but that’s not the case. I literally bought Getting Your Book Published for Dummies and started there. I know other authors who swear by going to workshops. There are a million ways to go, but standing in one place just talking about it gets you nowhere.

Do you think the publishing industry is dead? If given the opportunity, would you have self-published or did you enjoy working with a publishing house?

I’m torn on this subject. As a reader, I’ve been burned by self-published books full of errors and shoddy storytelling. I think it still needs some sort of “gatekeeping” system, but at the same time, that would go against everything it stands for.

I don’t think publishing houses are the perfect answer either. In recent years they’ve kind of been forced to turn against those who have always supported the lit world by choosing to publish “celebrity” memoirs over books written by talented, unknown authors. Sadly, it’s all about money. The week my book came out, I believe Brandy Glanville’s memoir took the top spot on the Bestsellers List. Or was it Snookie? Either way, you get my point. Excellent writers are getting turned down every day for something worthy of a spread in Us Weekly.

Amazon reviews sung the praises of your memoir. How does it feel to write a work that resonates with a wider audience?

Oh, how I wish I were one of those people who doesn’t care what others think. But alas, those reviews are everything to me.

I love nothing more than waking up to a new positive review or email from a fan. Learning that my words have helped someone get through the death of a friend or, on the other hand, brought them back in touch with someone they hadn’t talked to in years…that’s it. That’s everything. 

What kind of legacy do you hope to leave behind?

The fact that I can’t answer this is slightly worrisome.

Is the Midwest home?

Probably. I’m glad I’ve moved around in the past because I think it builds character, but I’m happy to be all nice and Midwest-y once again.

Are you creatively satisfied?

Yes. Every once in awhile it occurs to me that I’m being paid money directly for my brain. No better feeling than that.

How do you stay inspired?

Books, movies, music, podcasts. I’m a pop culture junkie. Live for it. 

Bubbler or water fountain?

La Croix.

Thin crust or deep dish?

Deep. Though I’d also marry a Tombstone Pepperoni if it asked.

Stop light or traffic light?

Is this a trick?

Anything we missed that you’d like people to know about you, your life and/or career?

I accidentally kissed a reporter on the mouth at a book reading event. Ahem, with an open mouth. So even when you feel like you’ve made it, you’re most likely about to do something real dumb. Embrace that.

Where can we find you?

Book: Visit the site or ask for it at your local bookstore. Or just be lazy and get it on Amazon or

Twitter: @breetheauthor

Instagram: @breethewriter


Portfolio: (fun flash site!) (less fun, more accessible.)

Thanks again for doing this Bree! And a very special HUGE congrats to her because she just gave birth to her daughter four days ago. 😯😍 Head over to her Insta to send her some love!


Books Worth Lusting Over | January 2016

January 26, 2016

books worth lusting over | january

Only six books this month! I know, I need to step up my reading game. Especially since I’m now part of a book club (possibly two if I join the one at work) and a writing club. Keeping that word game strong, yo.

    1. Strong Looks Better Naked: This will not be winning a Pulitzer anytime soon, but it was a bit entertaining (especially since I have been watching The Kardashians on and off from the beginning). Khloe (or whoever helped write this with her) gave very simple strategies to leading a healthier, happier life and, at time, I actually even wrote down some of her ideas. Not sure if they were supposed to be “a-ha moments” but they were for me (no judgement please! ha). However, a lot of the book seems very “stream of consciousness” writing, which I wasn’t a total fan of. It also seemed she quoted a lot of random spiritual people, which sort of got old. If you’re interested in reading this though, do it for the pop culture/water cooler discussion, not for the enlightenment.
    2. Spinster: Making a Life of One’s Own: Everyone made fun of me for reading this–whether they saw it on my coffee table or I told them I was reading a book called “Spinster.” However, I absolutely loved this book. It dipped into the history of some really incredible women who, if not mentioned in this book, I would have never stumbled upon. The author’s thoughts didn’t 100% match my own, but it was interesting to see marriage and love and relationships through the eyes of another woman.
    3. Man Repeller: Seeking Love. Finding Overalls.: Absolutely love Leandra Madine, and her book did not disappoint. This should be a must-read for all twenty-some females.
    4. Tales From the Back Row: Another fashion read (not sure what got into me!) that I was inspired to read after listening to an interview with the author on an episode of Oh Boy!. Though I liked the author in her interview, the book itself lagged at points. And though she made fun of the fashion world, I felt I couldn’t 100% relate to it–or her writing–without having experienced it myself. Give it 3.5 out of 5 stars, if I’m being honest.
    5. [currently reading] Hustle. Believe. Receive.: This book unexpectedly grabbed my eye during an unplanned visit to Barnes & Noble. I’ll give a full review in February when I’m done, but for now I’m enjoying the inspirational content.
    6. [currently reading] Black-Eyed Susans: This was recommended on my library’s home page, so I thought..why not? Again, full review to come after I’m done reading, but so far so good (definitely a book worth checking out if you’re into Dragon Tattoo- and Gone Girl-like killer themes).

What’s up next in your reading queue? For me it’s Murderous Minds, The Psychopath Test and a few other gems (because I’m normal like that).


Link Love

January 24, 2016

midwestlovefest weekend link love

Happy Sunday lovers 💕 Hope you are all having a wonderful weekend. My Saturday was super duper busy and included lots of relaxing, movies and the first ever writing group with a few of my good friends. Today’s going to be another busy day since it’s my meal planning and prep day, as well as my blogging/freelance work day. But if I can crank these things out, it makes for a super relaxing week ahead. So, it’s all worth it in the end, right?

Also have to mention, I’ve been mulling over designlovefest‘s post about going back to a more loosely-based blog style. I’m not saying I’m 100% going that route too, as I love having a blog that’s grounded in Midwestern roots + creative inspiration, but I will say it’s inspired me. Basically, I’m just throwing it out there because, knowing me, that inspiration will sink in and you’ll see the fruits of it here on the blog. Okay, enough of the side tangents. Enjoy these links!

  1. Been struggling to remain upbeat recently, but this article is a good place to start. Or this.
  2. One of my favorite singers of 2014-2015 got interviewed for Into the Gloss.
  3. Not sure if it’s age or what, but I actually think unedited is more sexy and rare nowadays. Leave Photoshop to the artists who use it for good (making the world around us prettier) not evil (making the people around us unrealistically and artificially “prettier”).
  4. This story makes me want to cry tears of happy joy.
  5. Ugh, people are so narrow-minded. You hear about it. You read about it, but to see it ignorance in action? Shame on them.
  6. How to fake it till you make it.
  7. 110% buying these bracelets when my budget loosens up a bit.
  8. Still struggling to set and achieve goals, while getting rid of the junk from 2015? Try using these printable cards.
  9. Great article on the 26 things you should be doing for yourself (c/o Cupcakes & Cashmere).
  10. Amy Schumer love.
  11. If you’re like me and loved Making of a Murderer, these need to be on your queue next (reco: start with The Jinx. It’s SO good).
  12. Love this look video on confidence (c/o swiss-miss)
  13. Wanderlusting harder because of this.
  14. Neighbors 2 actually looks pretty funny.
  15. More motivation to go vegan with my friend Dan next week.
  16. Sorry if you love this guy and equally sorry if you aren’t religious, but the essence of this “I am” speech is beautiful. Even if the individual giving said speech is, um, less than likable and believable (IMO, at least).

Tech Worth Lusting Over

January 20, 2016

the apps & podcasts I'm loving this month

Working in advertising, it’s partly my job, but mostly my passion to dig into what’s happening in the tech world. From apps to sites and podcasts, I thought I would start doing a monthly roundup of a few of the things I’ve been lusting over. Enjoy and please add anything you’re diggin’ in the comments!

  1. ColorStory: Brainchild of A Beautiful Mess (what can’t these ladies do!?), this app was released today and I’ve already downloaded it (for free) and purchased all the filters. Of course it has a huge range of filters and photo tools, but I especially love the vibe of the filters, as most of them are bright and airy and need no additional editing.
  2. Serial Podcast: I’m trying to give this a chance. I’m a bit disappointed because I’m not exactly sure what the point of the podcast is yet. Like, where is the drama? Or is this just me?
  3. Oh Boy Podcast: Created by Man Repellar‘s Leandra Madine, I thought this would be a podcast about fashion. WRONG. This is an inspirational, creative podcast that interviews men, women and everyone you basically aspire to be.
  4. BrightUps: Ever need a little mood lift? Download this app. Everytime I just need a little sumthin’ sumthin’ to get me through an especially bad day, I take a quick peep at this app. They’re quick and easy little antidotes or suggestions that will help make you smile.
  5. Duolingo: I’ve been wanting to re-learn Spanish over the past few years. I took Spanish classes from 9th grade through freshman year in college, but wasn’t taught in a way that was conducive to my learning style. That’s why this app is my jam. It gets me. The only thing I’ll say is, it helps to have a basic understanding of whatever language you’re trying to learn. Without knowing a few basic things, I feel like I’d be pretty damn lost. That said, it’s free and something you can easily do on commute.
  6. Snapchat: Had to throw this one on here because it’s really gone through a shift over the past year. Originally, I refused to download it because it seemed like an app “risky” people download to exchange sexts. Now? It’s a social media powerhouse and if you haven’t downloaded it yet, you’re essentially already behind (also, you can follow me @midwestlovefest!).
  7. Starbucks: It’s always crazy to me that people don’t know this exists, but…it does. Highly recommend downloading. It helps rack up points (12 points = 1 free drink/food item), makes it easy to grab a latte sans wallet and offers free weekly downloads (apps + songs).
  8. Giffage: If you’re as obsessed with gifs and giphy as me, you need to download this. It gives you a searchable keyboard so you can quickly add gifs to any (read: all) of your texts and emails.
  9. Rover: I’m already a big fan of this website (praying that doggy daycare is going to help get rid of a bit of Kero’s energy), but it’s also a great app to find pet care close to you.

Link Love

January 17, 2016

link love // midwestlovefest It’s been a weird, fast-paced week and this week is showing no signs of slowing down. Goals would be to read more, sleep more and exercise more. What are you’re plans for the upcoming week?

  1. How to forgive without forgetting.
  2. One intense-ass gaze, followed by a lot of forehead kisses and/or hair bug eating. Typical man.
  3. Gorgeous underwater abstract art (found via Swissmiss).
  4. Nature is insanely cool.
  5. Beautiful article on how we should be asking ourselves what in our live is worth the sacrifice and pain (c/o of The Skinny Confidential).
  6. Because it’s Kero’s first snow, I find this video is especially cute.
  7. If you haven’t watched this yet, you need to watch it now.
  8. Think I might do a post on this soon, and it probably started with reading her book and seeing her new healthy/fitness focus, but kind of loving Khloe K recently.
Cozy Chats

Chatting With Author Stefanie Lyons

January 14, 2016

chatting with author stefanie lyons Say what you want about advertising, but there are thousands of super talented people working in this industry. And while I’ve only been working as a copywriter/content write for a few years, I feel so blessed to have already met a plethora of those “holy shit, you’re good” kind of creatives. Such is the case with the insanely talented writer, Stefanie Lyons. She was a creative director at my previous ad agency, which essentially means she is the top creative dog; the person who guides the writing and art direction before the client sees it (aka my boss). But outside the “9-5” (in quotes because, as anyone in advertising can attest to, this isn’t your typical 9-5 job), she’s a passionate author who very recently published her first fictional work.

While some of these interviews will be (or have been) edited for consistency’s sake, I will say I did very little (read: no) editing to this particular one. Because when a writer that you admire agrees to be interviewed for your blog, you let her do her thing.

With all that said, I give you the wonderful Stefanie Lyons…

Tell us a little bit about your journey. Where are you from? What lead you to pursuing a career in advertising and creative writing, especially in Chicago?

I’m from a small town in Kansas. It’s a wonderful place to grow up as a creative person because there’s not a lot going on so I had to use my imagination. I didn’t have access to a lot of indie stuff (pre-Internet), but what I did have access to gave me the chance to explore deeply and really exhaust and dissect those things. Where there’s not a lot of stimuli around you, you live in your head. To this day I still love living in my head.

I ended up in advertising because I didn’t know how to sustain myself as a fiction writer without teaching. I’d spent my whole life in school, so teaching seemed like an awful notion. I chose advertising because someone told me I wouldn’t have to take any math courses to graduate. Sold! (I hated math.)

Why Chicago? Because my best friend at the time said, “If you want to start out in Chicago, I’ll go with you.” So that settled that.

What was your family and upbringing like? Was creativity part of your childhood?

Creativity was a huge part of my childhood. My parents were raised not to pursue this when they were growing up, but they were both creative souls, so they fostered it in us. I had a piano, guitar, clarinet, and notebooks filled with poetry. I wrote music and created parts for my friends, depending on what instrument they wanted to play. It was joyous. For Christmas one year—by my request—Santa brought me a dictionary, rhyming dictionary and a thesaurus. Best. Christmas. Ever.

What attracted you to writing? Or, when do you first remember being interested in writing?

I can’t say what attracted me, but I can say that I have always known I wanted to be a fiction writer. Not to just write, but become a writer of books. An author. I was a huge reader as a kid, but not only that, I wanted to know about the author of the book and what their life was like, so that was a pretty early clue to what was going on in my head.

Who has had the biggest impact on your life as a writer, thus far?

Judy Blume. Charles Bukowski. Theodore Dreiser. Anne Carson. In no particular order.

Do you think living the Midwest has fostered or hindered your creativity?

I’ve never left the Midwest, so I can’t say. I haven’t felt like it has hindered it, but maybe someday when I move, I’ll look back and have a better answer.

one of Stefanie's artist residences

one of Stefanie’s artist residences

Best places in the Midwest to get inspired?

These next few questions come to me at a particularly interesting time. I grew up in the Midwest and thought it was awful at the time, but now that I’m older, I’m realizing that all my creative inspiration as of late stems from this very thing—growing up in the Midwest–so it has taken on a new meaning for me. I’ve had a reawakening, so to speak.

So, to answer this question, there are a lot of places to get inspired here. In St. John, Kansas, there’s a river and rickety bridge near where I grew up that I call my Walden Pond. It’s poem-inducing.

I like to hibernate in hotels around the area. Or do Airbnb. Tryon Farm in Michigan City, Indiana is spectacular. They have walking paths and adorable Mid-Century Modern homes tucked into the landscape.

The latest and greatest inspiring spot for me is the Chicago Athletic Association Hotel’s lobby. They refurbished it from the 1890s and it’s gorgeous. It’s the perfect place to work on something of the historical fiction sort.

And Dark Matter coffee’s Star Lounge Coffee Bar is, in my mind, the last of the 90s-style coffee shops. So, it’s another great place to go and feel like I’m back in time while I write. Guess this is a thing for me—nostalgia—now that I’m writing up my recos.

Anything you’d change about the creative community here in the Midwest?

I’ve been a part of varying creative communities here in Chicago, and the one thing I can say is that while it’s a great way to meet people, it’s even cooler that you can shape your path here. If you’re the type that wants to create something or grow something into your own thing, there’s an audience here, but there’s also a lot of opportunity. It’s yours for the taking. I love that.

chatting with author Stefanie Lyons

Do you think the Midwest influences your work? In what way(s)?

The more pastoral parts of the Midwest now influence my work. I used to be stimulated by activity and the hubbub of city living. Now, I’m hugely inspired by watching a bird sitting on a branch or listening to the wind blow through the trees. I know, I sound like a douchebag, but that’s what getting older has done to me!

Would you ever love to write full-time or do you like the balance between a semi-traditional 9-5 job (advertising) and a creative passion?

Right now, this is the perfect balance for me. I love doing both, and I think they inform one another.

What’s one piece of advice you’d give your younger self?


chatting with author Stefanie Lyons

What was your favorite part about writing and publishing your latest novel, Dating Down?

Writing the novel was a lot of fun. And painful. And all-consuming. However, two times after it was finished, I had that “oh wow!” experience which made up for everything else:

  1. When the email arrived with the offer (and yes, in this day and age, the acceptance came out of the blue via email).
  2. When I saw the art department’s rough layout of the cover. Both times I was overwhelmed with excitement and disbelief, followed by an “oh crap, this is real” type of moment.

Do you think the publishing industry is dead? If given the opportunity, would you have self-published or did you enjoy working with a publishing house?

The publishing industry is going through transition, but it isn’t dead.

Personally, I had no desire to self-publish. I wanted my work to be out there, distributed through the regular channels. I’m old school like that. And I wanted an agent so I could make a career of this. And that “keep learning” part of my advice, I learned a ton from the editor and the publisher, and my debut novel group. It’s an entirely unknown world that you can only understand once you’ve journeyed through it, so I would’ve missed all of that. And it was a great process for me.

Any plans to publish another novel?

Hopefully. My agent is shopping my second one right now, so finger’s crossed.

Have any words of wisdom for someone looking to publish their work?

Never quit. Take classes. Keep learning. Explore the world with open eyes. And never quit.

What kind of legacy do you want to leave behind?

A big, fat, wonderful collection of stories, well told.

Is the Midwest home?

For now, totally.

Are you creatively satisfied?

That’s an interesting question. I’m going to answer this from a book/author POV and not an advertising one.

Satisfied, no. Fulfilled, yes. As a writer, I will never be satisfied. Once I accomplish one goal, it leads me directly to the next. It’s a limitless world out there—storytelling. Which is awesome. So I’m never able to hang up my hat and feel like it’s all good, all said and done. However, the process, the writing, the learning, the growing, my ability to stretch and create something newer, fresher, totally different from the last time (and hopefully better each time) that part is totally fulfilling. Do I feel satisfied? No, because there’s always a better version or another more creative story in me yet to come.

How do you stay inspired?

I don’t think it’s a matter of inspiration, because I think it’s more about hard work. I just do it. (Sorry, Nike. Don’t sue me.) I write and make time to write even when there’s seemingly no time. Because if I don’t write, I’m massively difficult to live with. I do get jolts of inspiration, usually from something I read in another novel, but mostly, for me, it’s just about hard work.

Although, I just downloaded a brainwave app that’s supposed to stimulate creativity, so if this works, then maybe I can work less hard.

Bubbler or water fountain?

Since I had to Google “bubbler” I’d definitely say water fountain. ☺

Thin crust or deep dish?

Thin crust. No question.

Stop light or traffic light?

Either. I don’t drive, so …neither really.

Where can we find you?

Follow me on Twitter and Instagram, check out my site or pick up my book at Barnes & NobleAmazon or your local library.

Huge thanks to Stefanie for agreeing to be interviewed!


Movies Worth Lusting Over | January 2016

January 12, 2016

movies to watch this january

Disclaimer: These “worth lusting over” posts don’t necessarily get my 100% reco. Yes, these are the movies I’ve watched over the past few months, but (as you’ll read) not all of them lived up to their lust-worthy hype…which is kind of a major bummer. That said, there are SO many movies I want to see this month and hopefully can positively report back on more great flicks in February.

  1. The Revenant: From the production to the acting to the…everything, this was a beautiful movie. Leo was more than deserving of Golden Globe for this piece of work (I heard he not only endured terrible temperatures, but also literally ate a raw elk heart). It’s a bit long (2.5 hours), but worth it because it’s one of those movies that feels like you’re eyes and mind are just reading a good book.
  2. Sisters: Originally, this was the only movie I was looking forward to in the winter. But after reading reviews, my hopes were dashed. Then again…it’s Tina Fey and Amy Poehler! I had to give them my money. Let’s just say it won’t be winning any awards this season, but it was a lighthearted film with a few good jokes.
  3. Trainwreck: One of my favorite movies ever. Not gonna lie, I love the feminist angle (for once the woman is the one who doesn’t want to settle down right away – thank you!), but more than that, I love the realness. Okay, and the jokes. Annddd the Amy.
  4. Southpaw: Jake Gyllenhaal is bae. There’s no other way to say it. Go watch this movie.
  5. Jurassic Park World: HARD pass. I was relatively excited to see this (I’m a huge Chris Pratt fan), but this was a major disappointment. I know a few people who enjoyed it for it’s entertainment value, but IMO, the plot and characters lacked any development, which made the whole movie seem ridiculous.
  6. Spy: Wasn’t expecting anything from this movie, but was very pleasantly surprised. Melissa is great (per usual), but it was the unexpected angle of the entire movie that really got me. A lot more off-the-cuff–in a smart way–then you’d think. Worth renting, I’d say.
  7. Inside Out: Okay, I really wanted to see this movie. Like, REALLY REALLY badly. And it did not disappoint (but has Pixar really ever disappointed anyone?). Not only is the storytelling impeccable, but who are these digital artists bringing these characters to life? It’s unreal. I can’t imagine how many hours of work go into one of those films…
  8. Pitch Perfect 2: Watched it because a few Packers are in it. And even those cameos couldn’t save this movie.
  9. Amy: Whether you listen or liked her music or not, everyone should watch this documentary. It is both terrifying to watch how the media can rip a person apart and deeply inspiring (Amy was one talented woman). I would definitely watch this again, especially if I was ever in a creative rut.

Any movies I missed or need to watch before my next roundup?


Link Love

January 10, 2016

link love It’s back! The post were I share all the inspirational, interesting and/or creative happenings I collect from around the web. May it start your week off on a good note.

  1. More Steven Avery updates (though I can’t even indulge in the conspiracy theories – there are just too many now).
  2. Who else loves Whine About It? Read this.
  3. This Conan video made me smile. She did great btw. If that was me, I would’ve been terrified (too much pressure).
  4. Wonderful point about Oprah Winfrey and her new WW ads, which I’m not sure how I feel about (since WW is a pretty solid, healthy weight loss program for those who need it).
  5. #LadyPower right hur.
  6. Bookmark worthy: how to get rid of negative energy.
  7. So, sharks are living in volcanos now. Yep, guess that’s a thing.
  8. New Sia song (penned and produced by Kayne).
  9. How to keep your New Year resolutions.
  10. Queen Bey vs Channing is everything.
  11. This is basically my dog. Except, not with a stuffed animal. And on my bed.
Cozy Chats

Chatting With the Talented Maria Guzman

January 7, 2016

I am very lucky to know so many creative, talented people who were or are currently living and thriving around the Midwest. And (if you’ve been reading my blog for awhile) you know I’m obsessed with interview-based blog posts, especially with creatives and artists. So it was only natural I make a little space here on Midwest Love Fest to feature these incredible people, starting with my best friend for the past 20-ish years (no, literally): Maria Guzman.

I have always been jealous of this lady’s INSANE artistic talent. Obviously I’ve known her for quite awhile–we even grew up essentially a few miles apart and our parents share an anniversary day–and from the time we were in kindergarten all the way through now, she has always blown people away with her ability. So, I felt it was only right that my first interview of this new series starts with her. With that, everyone who doesn’t know this lady already, meet the beautiful painter, Maria Claire…


Hey! Okay, so can you tell us a little about your journey thus far?

Well, I’m the youngest of three. I have two older brothers who got my butt in shape at a young age, which made me feel like I could always hang with the guys. I was a very anxious child, a trait that I think inhibited some of my creative tendencies for a long time because, well, I was a follower. And I always had to report back to my mother for everything. I remember in 6th grade, I quit piano because I had too much homework. Those anxious tendencies were bad growing up, which I regret because I wish I could play piano now.

High school was a game changer for me, in a few ways. I went on a service trip to Mexico, where we were building homes for families living literally in a dump yard, and had the realization that there seemed to be no reason why it wasn’t me living in that situation. Why did I luck out and get to be raised on a farm in the Midwest? Sure, my parents were working 365 days a year, but I had my needs met. So that was always in the back of my mind—that feeling that I need to do something because there’s really no reason I lucked out and had a better situation. The second game changer was caddying throughout high school because it got me a full scholarship to college. That impacted me in a lot of ways, especially work-wise–realizing that I could set a goal and actually achieve it.

I was then accepted into UMN Twin Cities and started taking sociology classes, which made me realize there are still a lot of prejudices that exist in the United States. Similar to that town we lived and volunteered at in Mexico. Our nation tries to keep all the bad things out of sight and out of mind, like they did with the garbage dump. Like, if we don’t see it, it’s not there. It’s just easier to ignore the problem. So I kind of refocused–going from global work to refocusing on more local issues in college.

Chatting with the talented artist, Maria Guzman

How, or when, did art become part of that?

Well, caddying was a large part of my time in high school, with the intention of getting a scholarship for caddying, which I did. So, in doing that, I didn’t necessarily have to think practically about what I was going to major in and what would make me money to pay off student loans after college. So I waffled back and forth between “Oh I want to do science! I want to do Spanish! Maybe I’ll do graphic arts!” Then I landed on Sociology and thought I might just minor in art since I always liked it, and needed to feed that side, and it ended up being easy enough to squish in a whole major in that time. So I did that.

Luckily, I  had one amazing professor my freshman year that really sparked my creative imagination again. Had I not had him I probably wouldn’t have pursed an art degree. He was very impactful. Honestly though, my art classes were some of my most stressful classes. They were the only ones I would pull all nighters for. They were the only classes that made me cry. They were the only ones were the professor would just tell me to stop “dicking around,” which is something my sculpture professor once told me in a critique. I mean, ultimately, those classes served to help me. They taught me that even if I hated something, if there’s one positive thing I can take away from the class or situation, or if there’s one thing I can learn, I will be happy.

Chatting with the talented artist, Maria Guzman

What was your time in art school like? Would you recommend it to someone looking to pursue a degree in the fine or graphic arts?

A lot of my art classes were repetitive and stressful, so I used them that way to toughen myself up. I wouldn’t have majored in studio art, and may have considered graphic art, if it weren’t for my scholarship. But, I followed my interests; I didn’t have to be practical.

I can’t speak to graphic art, but I was thoroughly disappointed with my education as a fine art major. There were very few history requirements, which is sad because there’s a lack of appreciation for art history and everything that came before us. Plus, that’s how all the past creatives learned to paint—by copying the masters that came before them. And I don’t know if there’s as much emphasis or importance placed on doing that now. There’s so much emphasis on pushing boundaries, but it’s not well-rounded enough. At least not in the program I attended. There also needs to be a stronger technical part to the education too, because there is a science to art; understanding paint and the chemical makeup of it, how it dries or how different mediums mix.

Ultimately, whether you go to school or not depends on what kind of artist you want to be. I learned some things from it—some things that have helped me progress–but I don’t think I needed to go to college to learn those things. If you want to be a true traditional artist and want to sell your work, I don’t think you need to go to school for that. Just learn how to market yourself.

Chatting with the talented artist, Maria Guzman

When do you first remember being drawn to (ha! puns) painting and art?

I always remember being surrounded by my cousins who are about 8 years older than me. They would come over from Belgium for the summer–I would go there every few years too–and we would do little art and crafts projects in watercolor. I remember in kindergarten being really frustrated by the assigned art projects, that there was a set thing you had to do, and I hated that everyone did the same thing. Now everyone dip your hand in the paint and put it on the felt [laughing] it was just the inability to be as creative as I wanted to be. Then again, I was too afraid to break the rules as a child.

From grade school on, I always incorporated art into my schoolwork. I would create the most elaborate projects, placing this enormous pressure on myself to do these creative things. But I always made it a part of my school life, somehow. Not sure exactly how it happened…I think my dad always had a creative edge to him. I remember my dad once teaching me how to draw a swing set on a piece of paper. So between him and having very creative cousins, it was always a fun hobby for me.

Chatting with the talented artist, Maria Guzman

Midwest inpso?

Definitely my parent’s home and their farm. I’m very influenced by that place in general. I always end up being drawn to places and buildings. Essentially, outdoor places. One of the most fun paintings I did in college was of a photo I had taken of an abandoned railroad track in Minneapolis. A few homeless people were living down there and you get a feel for the environment without having to add the people in the paintings…you get a feel for the type of people who live there.

Chatting with the talented artist, Maria Guzman

Do you think you could ever be a full-time painter or artist?

I don’t think I could ever do it full time because it would take the joy out of it for me. Yes, I would like to find a way to incorporate art into my life more, since I don’t paint as much as I would like to, but it’s the one thing that’s difficult for me to take constructive criticism on. And, honestly, I don’t really want to have to. When I paint it’s for me.

Have you ever sold anything, or would you?

I only ever sold one painting and it was really awesome. It was kind of a rush to make money from it, but it was one of the saddest things too because I put so much time into the project. So when I do paint, I want to keep it for my friends or family so I know where it’s going. Hopefully, one day I’ll be able to produce more so I don’t have an emotional attachment to the pieces.

Chatting with the talented artist, Maria Guzman

Chatting with the talented artist, Maria Guzman

How do you think creativity impacts or is incorporated into your day job as a Lead Housing Crisis and Housing Advocate?

I have to be creative in how I interact with people since I typically don’t work with people in my demographic. I’m currently working in Bridgeport (CT) where I’m the minority staff, so I have to be creative in how I connect with people, in order to gain their trust and understand how to best meet their needs.

Generally, having a creative mind helps with being able to problem-solve efficiently and affectively because I can see the smaller picture, or immediate issue, while also seeing how it fits into the bigger picture. It makes it easier to find the best solution based on those different moving parts, possibly better than people who don’t have that creative side and therefore have more of a one track mind.

One piece of advice for fellow or aspiring creatives?

Don’t put so much stress and pressure on yourself as a 12 years old. I wish I would’ve continued playing basketball and piano in 6th grade and not been so hung up on getting straight A’s. It’s not a big deal overall, but had I learned to let go of that stress earlier on in life—it took me till college to kind of get rid of all my anxiety—it would’ve made things a lot easier for me.

Chatting with the talented artist, Maria Guzman

Least favorite part of the creative process?

Figuring out what I’m going to do. I obsess over it. Once I get into it, I can’t stop thinking about it. It’s a weird addiction almost and once I get past the stressful point of figuring it all out, I can paint and be free and then it becomes stress relieving; a release.

Favorite part of the creative process?

The actual painting portion is my favorite part of the creative process. If I’m not getting into a painting within a day or two of starting it, I just need to come up with a new subject because that’s where it becomes stressful—if I have to rework it. It’s actually helped me learn how to think about the stressors of my life in general though–not getting hung up on the little things—and learning when to let go, step back and be done.

How did the Midwest, or where you grew up in particular, hinder or help your creative growth?

Growing up on a farm, the pastoral landscapes are near and dear to my heart. In fact, that was one of my first projects in intermediate painting class. We had to do a realistic painting and an abstract painting and I chose a farm.

The community that I grew up in, in general, I think was a supportive environment for pursuing whatever you wanted, but I think it did that in a way that wasn’t really focused on making money or that competitive aspect, it was just about being the best of the best. In my college art classes, things were competitive and you felt everyone was striving to be the next best thing. In my early high school years, there wasn’t that competitive environment, which helped foster a strong appreciation for the arts. And if I would’ve grown up in a city, there may have been more pressure and inability to develop on my own terms.

Chatting with the talented artist, Maria Guzman

In what way do you wish the creative community in the Midwest was different?

I wish it was more accessible and open. I don’t know in Appleton [our hometown in WI] where I could go and find an open studio. Why can’t there be a gym for artists? I wish there was more of a collaborative community, where people could share resources and show support. Have it be as important as after-school sports. That was always my dream–to run my own creative-based non-profit for at-risk youth, because the creative stuff is always the first thing to be cut from schools.

Also, the art community can be so exclusive and pretentious. It needs to be more open and welcoming to everyone, otherwise it defeats the purpose of what it’s supposed to be about. Who’s to say what’s good or bad?

Okay now for the REALLY important questions. Bubbler or water fountain?


T-ah-g or T-ay-g?

Very self conscious of my “A’s” because living on the East Coast it’s a challenge. Everyone makes fun of me! My boss seriously makes fun of me every time I let my Wisconsin accent slip.

Thin crust or deep dish?

Deep dish. All the carbs!

Stop light or traffic light?

Stop light.

Thank you so much for doing this! Now, if people want to internet stalk you, where can they find you?

Don’t dabble too much on social media, but you can follow me on Instagram.