By Molly Snyder Senior Writer Published Oct 12, 2023 at 11:55 AM

Alverno College, for over 135 years, has strived to educate and empower women to realize their leadership, strength of voice and potential to lead in the working world. Alverno’s support of “The Future is Female” continues to showcase and exemplify these efforts by supporting the stories of grit, resilience and strength of character of present, past and future leading women in the Milwaukee community! #AlvernoStrong

Becky Franzel is a strategic copywriter at Catch-22 Creative (C-22), a woman run B2B advertising agency in Walkers Point. She's also an indie author of three books and hosts a weekly writing group at Lion's Tooth, a book store in Bay View

Her job as a strategic copywriter is to prepare copy for clients that communicates their message effectively to a specific audience. This includes writing scripts for online trainings, videos, engaging packaging copy and long-form copy.

"I believe anything can be interesting once you truly get to know it. My goal at C-22 is to truly get to know the products I'm writing about to explain why they're interesting. Sometimes it's not incredibly obvious, but once you do more research, even a disposable paper towel can contain a world," says Franzel.

Franzel authored three books, two of which convey the aftermath of losing her best friend and romantic partner to suicide, and the latter, a novel that she published in May, is called "Death's Intern Derrick." This one is about a guy named Derrick who starts working for Death Inc. and learns a lot about life, work and mortality in doing so.

"Being an indie author and hosting a writing group allows me to throw some words on a canvas Jackson Pollock style," says Franzel. "While the chaotic nature of my creative work is more fun, the carefully crafted found in my professional work has made me a much better writer. It’s all about balance."

OnMilwaukee recently had the chance to chat with Franzel and ask her the eight questions that are routinely asked in the series. The women chosen for this series are from many different walks of life, but have numerous things in common, including vision, passion, compassion and contribution.

1. What does active listening mean to you? Do you consider yourself a good listener, and if so, how has this helped you in your personal and professional relationships?

Overall, I think I’m a good listener, but I don’t think it’s a bad idea to constantly try to improve in this area. With that in mind I’ll say I’m an OK listener so I don’t get too cocky and I continue to work on this.

Active listening is incredibly important in my day job. Not only do I have to understand the intricacies behind how a product like a battery or a garbage disposal works, but I also have to understand what their ideal customer might be looking for when comparing similar products. I also have to keep in mind how our client wants to portray themselves, as I’m effectively their voice box. This, and I’ve only been here for exactly a month, and I’m working under a highly talented mentor who will be retiring in six months—I definitely have my ears finely tuned for some daily active listening and learning.

It's also important for my creative work. I want my stories to connect with people, and the only way to do that is to better understand the world around me, including those who live within it. The only way to learn the world is to listen. If I only listened to myself, if all my characters had only my own worldview, that would be an insufferable read, right? If the main character in my book was a nurse, it would be incredibly clear to any nurse reading my book if I didn’t understand what they do.

This is why a good group of diverse beta readers is such an integral part of the writing process. It’s amazing what different people will take from your stories, and it’s important to listen to their feedback, whether you implement it or not. Sometimes their interpretations can be way more interesting than what you originally intended – and exactly why you should always pay your beta readers. They’re worth their weight in gold. They’ve made all of my books way better.

In my own life, outside of work, I really do think everyone has a story worth listening to, and it’s a shame when everyone doesn’t get the captive audience they deserve. Everyone deserves that at least once in their life, I think – as long as they’re not propagating hate or hurtful information. I never got why people thought it was okay to hate on chatty Uber drivers for a while there, for example. I think it’s become kinda popular to be lonely or someone who hates interacting with other people, which is sad. I hope that changes soon.

2. What was the last subject you were curious about and then pursued to learn more? How did you pursue it?

Recently, I’ve been interested in how the music industry operates. I’ve always been told I go on book tour like a musician. I figured I could take a few pointers from the industry I’m ripping off. I pursued it mostly in the form of books, how-tos, as well as just asking friends who are in the thick of it, whether they’re working in the industry or working musicians themselves.

I’ve also gotten into typewriters recently. I’m unashamed to say that I’m highly influenced by what the people around me are excited about. I figure if someone is truly purely excited about something, there’s usually a good reason. When I heard about QWERTYFEST MKE and participated in their type-in to advertise the June event, I saw how excited people were about typewriters. A few weeks later, still reeling from that sweet, sweet secondhand excitement, I logged into Facebook Marketplace and found a Smith-Corona Clipper in Sioux Falls, Iowa. “Why couldn’t you just find one in Milwaukee, Becky? There are probably so, so many here.” Correct, there are, but in my opinion, all good used artifacts come from Iowa. I drove to Iowa to pick up my 1979 Chevy G-20 Gerring Conversion van in 2019. I drove to Iowa to buy my first used leather jacket in 2013, then subsequently lost it only a few hours later. If I wanted to find a good typewriter, I knew I’d have to make the journey to Iowa. Those are the rules.

I messaged Cory, my typewriter’s previous owner, and we set a date for me to pick it up. When I got there, I saw a pristine baby blue Pontiac Star Chief parked in front of a large warehouse, which was filled with, you guessed it, typewriters. He and his partner showed me around their property, which included a tiki bar drive-in movie theater, turkey vultures, a house they built by hand and space for a very specific rocket-shaped jungle gym they’re hoping to acquire soon.

If someone that cool is that excited about typewriters, if QWERTYFEST was filled with awesome people also super stoked on these typewriters, there’s gotta be something to 'em. And there is. Typewriters rule and have become an integral part of Death Intern Derrick’s marketing since. Now, in only three months, I have four typewriters.

3. If you can’t figure something out yourself, what source or person do you turn to first? How long do you wait before you ask for help? As a woman, do you think you wait longer to reach out?

If there isn’t a Milwaukee support group for women who have trouble asking for help, there should be. Is this a woman thing, or a Midwest thing, or both?

Honestly, I was going to lie and say “I ask everyone before I say anything definitively” but I need to be honest. I am working on this. When I first start in something, I am incredible at asking questions. I love asking questions. I am naturally an inquisitive person, but I’m also an incredibly anxious person who doesn’t want to waste anyone's time. I feel like the safe window is two weeks. But once those two weeks pass? I feel like a fool and that maybe I’m too slow of a learner if I’m still asking questions, which I admit is absolutely ridiculous.

Instead of asking questions, I will read a full book on a topic to understand one simple nuance. Even though it takes 200 times as long, my brain will convince me in the moment that this is a better use of my time.

I am actively working on this, because it’s not the best use of my time and sometimes I interpret things wrong by not asking questions. Now, especially in a new job where I have a mentor, I’ve been learning how to copywrite in the C-22 style and how to ask questions without feeling stupid. I’ll keep you updated on my progress.

4. What are your personal values? Who and/or what inspired them and how do these values affect your decision-making process? 

Good things should happen to good people, but sometimes it takes a bit of intervention, and sometimes you need to be that intervention. Tip your bartender or barista handsomely when you’re able. Give a five-star rating and review to your hairdresser or handyperson. Nerd out and share your favorite painter’s work to the point where people start asking, “OK but is Becky obsessed?” Seriously though, check out Andrea Guzzetta’s art. If you’re someone who walks away after your set and you don’t sit and listen to everyone else on the show, unless you have a really good excuse, I will immediately lose all respect for you on the spot, no matter how cool I thought you were before, and no, you can’t get that respect back. I’m a bit aggressive on this, but it’s been a fundamental part of my constitution for as long as I can remember.

I honestly have no idea where this comes from, but my mom says I’ve always been this way to a fault. I can be a bit of a prick like that, for better or for worse.

Often, this value guides how I execute my personal projects. As I mentioned before, I love to give people I respect a spotlight through my work, and I love to use my work to amplify their work. I’ve found that a community attitude towards art is way more fun and can make any piece way richer.

I also love to do this through my writing group. Pre-COVID, we used to host quarterly readings at Sugar Maple to celebrate things we wrote as a group, then we’d donate all ticket sales and a portion of tap sales to a local charity that’s also doing cool work. I just haven’t gotten around to planning one again recently, but I’d like to. Maybe I’ll do one again? Stay tuned.

5. Technology and online communication/meetings/social has definitely changed over the years. Do these things help or hinder your growth – or both?

A little bit of both, honestly. I think tech socially amplifies us—it’s easier to lose your filter when you’re not face-to-face with someone. This can be good when someone is trying to find out who they are, which is why I think identity is such an important thing to younger generations who grew up with this tech. I think that’s awesome. In an ideal world, if everyone was as cool, open-minded and accepting as I wish they’d be, the Internet would be a beautiful place to find out who you are by plugging into the global conversation and finding your people.

However, we unfortunately do not live in that idyllic world, and also, it’s incredibly easy to misinterpret someone when speaking to them through tech versus face-to-face. Everyone has their own communication style, and it’s difficult to read what someone is saying fully when you don’t understand their communication style first. I find it’s easier when you have someone’s body language to help as you’re getting to know them. But maybe that’s because I was someone who had a limited, pay-per-text T9 phone in high school when I was developing my social skills. “Back in my day…”

Also, some people just straight up suck. It’s unfortunate that, while awesome people find their awesome communities online, the jerks also find their own sucky destructive unproductive communities. I don’t know if we can avoid this through the nature of tech. It’s a double-edged sword. At what point do we let the bad limit the good, or do we let the bad proliferate to keep the good? Or is it a snake eating its own tail/Ouroboros situation?

I honestly hope people learn to listen versus immediately judge or police spaces that don’t involve them, but looking at interviews on topics like diversity or LBGTQ+ rights, for example, before this tech was introduced, maybe that’s more of a human problem than a tech problem. Tech has made it easier to centralize people around an idea vs a location, for better or for worse, and I think that amplifies the problems that already existed. I don’t think tech is causing these problems, but it sure is accelerating their growth.

6. Where is the farthest you’ve traveled and what is a thing or two you learned from the experience? And what surprised you?

When I was in high school I lived with a family in northern Spain for a short bit. Spanish wasn’t their first language as they were originally from Romaniaso so their native language was Romanian. When I asked the mother of the family when she knew she was fluent in Spanish, she told me "You don’t know a language until you dream in it." That always stuck with me.

I also learned how much could be communicated through body language, as she didn’t speak a lick of English and I did not study nearly enough in my Spanish classes to prep for this experience. I guess this ties back to active listening. Active listening is so much more than just listening to the words that are said. It’s about assessing the situation, reading the body language, and getting to know a person before you truly understand what they’re saying.

7. What are your favorite art forms? How do you challenge yourself to actively engage in the arts?

I’m fortunate to have a network of people who practice several art forms. I think this is common for writers—we are often drawn to other arts and fill our circles with other types of artists. I think, by nature, most of us are superduper nerds and appreciators, and a lot of us find inspiration through other mediums as well. Maybe that’s the same for other artforms, but I can only speak on my experience as a writer.

I also started out as a violinist. I’ve been playing for most of my life and used to be pretty intense on it when I had the time and resources. Because of those roots, I tend to gravitate towards live music. It truly is a special kinda auditory witchcraft when done right.

My writing group though: this is how I actively engage in the arts on a weekly basis. I’m fortunate to have a writing group filled with some of the most talented, most humble writers I know. We write every week based on a prompt we come up with collectively, then after 40 minutes of writing, we usually share if we want to. There are times even I don’t. There are times I show up and really am not feeling like writing, but the group usually snaps me out of it. I usually find myself leaving inspired. We also meet at mission-driven indie bookstore, Lion’s Tooth. It’s easy to find an artistic community at this shop, with the books they stock and the awesome events they host. It goes back to my values and how I go about my creative work, I suppose. I find inspiration through working with awesome people, and I’m very fortunate to have found enough of 'em to keep my calendar healthfully packed. 

8. How do you/your work move Milwaukee/Wisconsin/the Midwest forward?  

I don’t think I’ve been at Catch-22 long enough to make a large enough impact, however I really hope my writing group creates a space where writers feel comfortable to share, vent and have fun. We’ve been going for six and a half years strong, and in that time, we’ve developed an incredibly strong and supportive culture. I’m not sure I would have half of the motivation I do without this weekly group. I hope they can say the same.

Molly Snyder started writing and publishing her work at the age 10, when her community newspaper printed her poem, "The Unicorn.” Since then, she's expanded beyond the subject of mythical creatures and written in many different mediums but, nearest and dearest to her heart, thousands of articles for OnMilwaukee.

Molly is a regular contributor to FOX6 News and numerous radio stations as well as the co-host of "Dandelions: A Podcast For Women.” She's received five Milwaukee Press Club Awards, served as the Pfister Narrator and is the Wisconsin State Fair’s Celebrity Cream Puff Eating Champion of 2019.