CAMELS & CHOCOLATE: THE ORIGINS

I’m Kristin Luna, journalist by profession, Southerner by birth, boss woman of this here blog. Pull up a chair, have a cup of coffee (or, uh, bourbon) and stay for a while, won’t you?

Kristen
Kristen
Kristen

THE GIRL BEHIND THE BLOG

I’m a Nashville-based writer specializing in all forms of journalism: travel, food, entertainment, entrepreneurship, lifestyles. But I do a whole lot more than produce magazine and online content. My husband Scott van Velsor (aka SVV) and I co-own three companies: Odinn Media, a media production agency specializing in tourism marketing; DMA-events, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit devoted to creative placemaking through community events and the installation of murals; and a real estate group, through which we buy and rehab investment properties. We’re also back at organizing media conferences, but more on that below.

I have held court at this corner of the Internet since 2007, which I’m pretty sure makes me a senior citizen in blogging years. In case you’re brand new to these parts, let me give you the briefest of rundowns on the past decade from Camels & Chocolate’s conception to the present:

2007

Happily ensconced in the magazine world in NYC, I’m a Conde Nast employee by day, red carpet correspondent by night. I work mad hours each week but it affords me to “live” in Hell’s Kitchen (in a converted studio with two roommates but who’s keeping tabs?) and accrue a bit of savings until my next big move…

2008

…which is to San Francisco. My long-distance Californian beau, SVV—whom I met in 2005 while we were studying abroad—coaxes me out to the other coast; obligingly, I follow. We live in a small two-bedroom bungalow but will wind up moving twice in the next two years: first down the valley to San Mateo and then back into the heart of the city in Pacific Heights.

I make my living freelancing for the first time after holding a string of in-house reporter and researcher jobs at magazines like Newsweek, Us Weekly, Entertainment Weekly and Lucky while in New York. Freelancing is both easier and harder than I expect: easier because I was kind of a baller at networking during my NYC years—and budding writers, take note: it is all about who you know—and harder because, well, what wasn’t made more difficult by the financial crisis of 2008?

Still, I survive by regular contributor gigs to top publications and writing the annual editions of the Frommer’s California, San Francisco and Los Angeles guides, which also enables me to get to know a good portion of the vast state that would be my home for four years. SVV also possesses a journalism degree so he does some freelancing of his own from time to time, but works on fancy homes (like, as in the multi-millions) for a high-end contracting company to make ends meet.

2009

A year and change after my move, SVV proposes; I am shocked but accept (duh). Thank God that worked out. We celebrate by me leaving him for Europe for three weeks. Hey, best to set the precedent for this pending union now, right? I also take off for five weeks in Africa solo right before the wedding; he counters by going to the Mojave Desert and breaking his wrist. I’d call us even.

2010

Fiancé SVV becomes husband SVV: We marry in an intimate ceremony beside California’s Muir Beach. After returning from a three-week honeymoon in Borneo, our first child is born the day we land. Meet Ella, six pounds of sass and the real boss woman around these parts. She’s a Maltese who thinks she’s human and is the actual dictator of our home to this day.

2011

SVV and I decide it’s high time for a change—San Francisco, it’s not us, it’s totally you—and where better to do that than 2,000 miles away in my homeland of Tennessee? We make the decision to leave in the fall when our lease is up but spend a good part of the year exploring the domain of the country we’re about to abandon: first, by skiing all winter at Tahoe; then, by going on a lengthy trip to Hawaii; finally, by traipsing around the national parks of the West by campground and trailer.

But fate has other plans. During our journeys, I get a call offering me a job for Semester at Sea, a study abroad program I first learned about when my sister did it. So we move Ella and our belongings to my parents’ home and—literally—sail around the world for four months. It’s the best farewell to the Pacific Coast we ever could have imagined.

2012

We buy our first house, a stately old Victorian in Tennessee. Little do we know, we’re biting off more than we can chew at times, but she is our dream home—at least, for now—and we get her for a steal, so we knuckle down and start the tedious renovation process.

I also go back on the ship for a second voyage, this time through Central and South America for a month, and when I return SVV and I go through a rigorous, summer-long, state-funded tech accelerator program to establish our micro-agency, Odinn Media. Through it, we offer myriad services to companies, from copywriting and photography to consulting and creative strategy.

Kristen and Scott
Kristen and Scott

2013

The call comes again for communications coordinator on Semester at Sea, this time for eight weeks in Europe. My sister and my parents join me on the first half of the cruise, SVV meets me for the remainder. It is an exhausting gig, but I’m glad I do it as it may very well be my last.

I continue to build my reputation as the go-to travel writer in Nashville and pull off a successful media and networking conference, KEEN Digital Summit, at the new Omni Hotel. It’s a whole lot of fun, but man, I’ve never worked so hard in my life. I decide event-planning is not my calling—at least, not at this phase in my life—and I go back to being a freelancer when it’s all said and done.

2014-15

I spend the better part of two year toiling away in an office as editor at Nashville Lifestyles while juggling a freelance career, copious amounts of travel and my own business, Odinn Media. The money, quite frankly, is not ideal, so at the end of 2015, I give my notice, almost two years after being recruited for that initial three-month position. I forget how much I love the freedom and flexibility of not having to check in with a staff every day, though truth be told, I did have a blast completely steering a creative product like a monthly magazine and quarterly special editions.

2016

The year that follows is both the toughest of my life and the most rewarding. Late in the night on Valentine’s Day, my dad has a major stroke. My mom and I spend five weeks in the hospital with him while SVV, my sister and her husband tend to the family business, an accounting firm my grandfather started more than 60 years ago. After Dad is finally out of the woods, it’s clear that he’ll never go back to work. SVV takes this as his sign to leave his job after five years and come work with me full-time, a transition that is natural after he’s served as my manager and agent for the better part of a decade.

2017-2018

Somewhere, along the way, SVV and I get into murals. Like really into murals. We love what a fresh coat of paint does to a dilapidated building and have seen tourism in so many small towns far from any interstate corridor thrive thanks to visionaries and robust public art scenes. So, in early 2018, we start our own mural program. This is not without trouble, mind you; no, we live in Manchester, Tennessee—world’s least-progressive city, where “change” is akin to a swear word—and a few old fuddy-duddies try to have us arrested for painting a gorgeous American flag on private property. This spins into a ton of regional and national press for us and is the best splash we could have asked for when launching a new business, particularly one in the nonprofit sector.

The community citizens themselves absolutely love what we are doing and beg for more; we oblige, and today DMA-events is thriving with more than a dozen murals throughout Coffee County and the eventual goal to raise that number to 40+. If you want to know a few of our favorite public art cities, look no further than Oklahoma City, Cincinnati, Memphis, Lexington and, of course, Nashville.

This year is also the year the second love of my life, my niece Charlotte Rose, is born, and I spend every spare second I can with this perfect little bundle of joy.

2019-present

Nowadays, our business is thriving, and we typically book out a year in advance, which is crazy to me (and for which I’m also extremely thankful). We’ve carved a niche in the tourism marketing space, helping small towns in the South and mid-sized cities throughout the Midwest develop robust and long-term marketing strategies. We love what we do and travel around 150 days a year, a lot of it by car now, since so many of our clients are in the drive market close to Nashville, where we live.

What else about Kristen

In 2019, we got tired of the Victorian and bought a gorgeous midcentury-modern house made out of cedar instead. This shook up our lives in the best of ways, and we moved cities, while landing an awesome commercial tenant to live in the Vic for three years (and hopefully longer after the initial lease expires). You can see the full gamut of what we do here.

And we’re also back in the conference-organizing game with Media Grits, an advanced-level travel media and tourism marketing conference we’re producing in Franklin, Tennessee. So, you know, nothing going on here whatsoever.

WHAT ELSE DO YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT ME?

I’m an unabashed Taylor Swift fan, and my wildest career dreams came true when I got to interview her for a cover story announcing the debut of her 1989 album. I’ve interviewed, literally, hundreds and hundreds of celebrities, but she ranks up there as my favorite. Some others I loved who immediately come to mind? Tom Hanks, Bill Nighy, Steven Tyler, Ben Affleck, Russell Brand. Least favorite? Richard Gere—just retire already.

I graduated with a Bachelor of Science in journalism and electronic media from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, though I did half my college years at Sewanee, studied abroad at the University of Edinburgh, and also completed a year post-grad program in international journalism at universities in Holland and Denmark. If you think going to journalism school at a public institution won’t afford you the possibility of a career in magazines, I challenge you to reconsider. My two years at UT were exactly what I needed to kickstart my career, and I am grateful for all my talented professors who sculpted and honed my writing skills.

I’ve written a lot about the journey to becoming a successful writer and how you, too, can pursue a career in journalism. For more information on this click here.

I’m a fitness buff: A college tennis player, I was a marathoner during my California years, and now get by doing everything from personal training to AcroYoga to Zumba to standup paddleboarding (we live near several lakes and each own a board). SVV and I are active travelers; we love diving above all else, but you’ll also find us skiing, hiking, running (…to the nearest bar) and engaging in a number of other active pursuits when we’re on the road.

What am I not? I’m not a backpacker. I’m not a nomad. I’m not someone who up and quit her job, abandoning her old lifestyle to travel the world without pause. I’m just a girl who has managed to balance a career with family life, home ownership and jetsetting—and I want to show you that you can do the same.

So…won’t you come along for the ride?

Nashville
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