Food blogger Elizabeth Barbone and writer Tom Matthews attribute their achievements to their experiences at Mount Mary

Tom Matthews

Tom Matthews’ film career had its start at age 13, when he’d make creative short films others seemed to enjoy. These first steps, and a passion for creative writing in general, finally led to the sale of his first script to Warner Bros Entertainment, to become the 1997 motion picture “Mad City” starring Dustin Hoffman and John Travolta.

But it was a long journey from those childhood films, screened in front of family and friends in Beloit, Wisconsin, to selling a screenplay whose film would gross over $4.6 million in the first week alone.

Having moved to California at age 18 to study film, more than a decade passed between earning a B.A. in film production and selling his first screenplay. In those years, Matthews made a living as a magazine reporter and later as a publicist, writing screenplays in his spare time.

“I was always professionally employed as a writer but not doing the types of writing I actually wanted to do,” Matthews said.

But with the sale of the “Mad City” screenplay in 1994, Matthews’ career as a professional screenwriter took off. Matthews and his wife moved back to Wisconsin, and for five years, “it was just exciting and very lucrative,” Matthews said.

“When that petered out there was a big part of me that wasn’t willing to admit that I needed to get back to a more conventional job – to admit that that part of my life had run its course,” he said.

Though it was difficult for him to move on from the career he’d dreamed of so long and worked so hard for, he decided it was time to find a new path.

“I stalled probably longer than I should have,” Matthews said. “But it was really studying at Mount Mary that started the next chapter for me.”

Because of its focus on both creative and professional writing, the graduate writing program at Mount Mary looked like the perfect fit. Matthews earned his master’s degree in December 2008.

Matthews’ time at Mount Mary led to his next developments creatively and career-wise. A story he wrote while working toward his degree became a novel that was picked up by a major publisher, due out this year.

Matthews also took a semester of grant writing, “which (he) knew nothing about when (he) started it,” but six months after graduating, he got his first job as a grant writer at COA Youth and Family Centers in Milwaukee.

Following his work as grant specialist for COA and freelance writer for Milwaukee Magazine, he was able to land his current job with Aurora Health Care Foundation as its grant specialist.

“I love what I’m doing at Aurora,” Matthews said. “I really like the people I work with and they like me. My hours are pretty flexible so I’m not chained to a desk.”

With no intentions of returning to California, where he spent so much time in his early years, Matthews is enjoying the stability of his current work, along with the continued opportunities to let his creative talent shine, both at Aurora and during his own time.

Though writing a major hit can be lucrative, that isn’t the source of Matthews’ drive for creative writing.

“First and foremost, I write to entertain myself, and I’ve been lucky enough to have released them in various formats,” Matthews said. “You think, ‘They can read what I’m doing.’”

Elizabeth Barbone

Purple bowls, purple spatulas, purple KitchenAid – Elizabeth Barbone says she doesn’t have a favorite color, but if you visit her blog, Gluten-Free Baking, you might get a different impression.

She’ll tell you the story of how, although the color is her husband’s favorite, she ended up purchasing a number of purple cooking items when she needed to spice up her cooking setup. When she redesigned her website last year, she never asked for a specific color for the site, yet she was presented with a decked-out purple and white theme.

Barbone graduated from Mount Mary University in 2002, and since then has become a successful food blogger and author of three gluten-free baking cookbooks. Her blog showcases easy and delicious gluten-free recipes, many of which are also dairy-free, egg-free, nut-free, soy-free and grain-free.

Barbone said her education in technical writing helped her write understandable recipe instructions, a component that some cookbooks lack.

“The skills you learn at Mount Mary really become applicable to the real world,” Barbone said.

Barbone lives with her family in their home state of New York, but still appreciates her years at Mount Mary, where she studied after obtaining her degree in baking and pastry arts at The New York Culinary Institute of America.

“Mount Mary helped me to learn all the things I brought into my life,” Barbone said.

Barbone said the community of supportive women that she met while at Mount Mary helped to inspire her love of blogging.

“I love how many blogs are run by really smart and savvy women who have made careers out of blogging,” Barbone said. “I have friends who employ several folks and really these blogs are small businesses.”

Barbone did not set out to become a blogger; instead, she initially envisioned herself as a cookbook author. But as she saw how blogging could be a platform for the free expression of ideas, an outlet for change and an opportunity for self-employment, she made the transition from technical writing to blogging.

“The world of blogging took me by surprise,” Barbone said. “I was very much on the cookbook track, in the professional writing track. Folks were starting these things called blogs and to be honest with you, I didn’t get it … I wrote for print and blogging felt really different.”

Barbone has had severe food allergies her entire life, including an allergy to gluten. Managing her blog allows Barbone to earn a living from one of her favorite activities – baking – while catering to the gluten-free community.

“There are so many opportunities and many areas for growth,” Barbone said. “I love what I do.”

Branding her blog and becoming more business-savvy has become a priority for Barbone.

“It’s not enough to just create content,” Barbone said. “You need to have content in front of the right eyeballs.”

Barbone encourages students to pursue their goals.

“You know the way to get better is to just keep doing it,” Barbone said. “That is the most boring answer in the world, but it’s how you get better.”


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