What is there to do in Springfield Illinois?

Penny Zimmerman-Wills of Mason County may call herself a writer/editor, but she really does wear multiple hats. As if being as an artist and female business owner weren’t enough, Penny decided to squeeze in the task of writing 100 Things to do in Springfield Before You Die in 2015. Eighteen21.com met Penny to find out more about her book and what else she may have in store in the near future.


What is the book about? 

The book is a “bucket list” of 100 things to do in Springfield, although there are actually more than 100 things listed. It is divided into sections: food and drink, music and entertainment, sports and recreation, culture and history, land of Lincoln, and shopping and fashion. The book is intended to serve as a reference guide for both visitors and locals, and provide ideas on how to enjoy our city to the fullest. There are the obvious sites like Lincoln’s Home and the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, of course, but also many hidden gems like where to find the best fried chicken and the village homestead. And the book contains suggested itineraries based on season, for foodies, the best places to wine and dine, family fun, free for all, only in Springfield, and date night. 


How did you become involved with writing this book? 

The local tourism office notified me that Reedy Press, the publishing company, was looking for a local writer for a book about Springfield. They publish similar books in a “100 things to do” series of travel books on cities across the country, from St. Louis to San Antonio. I responded to the call for writers and the rest is history.


Why do you think this book is important?     

Springfield is a city rich in history, beautiful prairie, great food, wineries, art, museums, and much more. But I often hear people say: “there is nothing to do here.” I feel that sometimes tourists visiting our city enjoy its many offerings more than the people who live here. I think the book is important for not only visitors, but also residents to find there are great places to shop, dine, experience, and explore right in their own back yard. When was the last time you visited Lincoln’s Tomb and rubbed his nose for luck, or watched a movie at the Route 66 Drive In?  My hope is that people will use this book to have new adventures.


When did you begin researching/writing? 

The book came out in August 2016, and I began researching in the fall of 2015. I have written about Springfield for many years, as a food writer for Illinois Times, editor in chief of the former Springfield Magazine, and as a freelancer for many other local publications. So, I feel as if my research really began many years ago, but technically the entire process took about a year, from start to finish.


What was most challenging and what was most rewarding about this project? 

Visiting and researching each item that made the book was great fun, but very time consuming. And I definitely had more than 100 things to include in the book, so there are many great things I couldn’t include in the book. We were able to include extra things through sidebars and tips, but it was challenging to cut some items from the original list.

The most rewarding part for me is the feedback I have received from people. I have heard from readers who tell me they use it as a guide to have new experiences with their friends and family. And they often share their photos with me, so it’s fun to see them visiting the sites in the book. That’s what it’s all about.


What do people find most surprising about the book? 

I think people who have lived here their entire life are surprised there are many things in the book they have never heard of. When I mention things like picking blueberries in July at Jefferies Orchard, most people tell me they have never done that, or didn’t know anything about it. They are excited to try new things with their families. 


Is there anything that you discovered while working on this book? 

I discovered many things: small, interesting museums, undiscovered nature trails and lots of good coffee. I also enjoyed taking the time to stop and look at things in a new way.   


How many book signings/events have you done since releasing the book? 

My book launch party was in September 2016, and I’ve done about 20 book signings, markets and events, plus radio, TV, and print interviews. I will be signing my book this summer on select days at the Old Capitol Farmer’s Market, and continue to schedule book signings at different locations.


Are there any upcoming book signings? 

I will be having a book signing from 5pm to 7pm on June 29 at BUNN Gourmet, located in the Gables shopping center, 2941 Plaza Drive. 


What other projects are you involved in? 

In addition to freelance writing, I create upcycled planters and artwork for my other business, Pearl’s Vintage Goods. My items are sold at The Roost and Urban Sassafras, as well as select shows. 


Are you currently working on anything?

My upcycled planters will be available this summer on select days at the Old Capitol Farmer’s Market, in addition to my book. I continue to provide writing and editing work for clients. I have no plans for another book at this time, but it was a great experience.


Anything else you would like to share?  

Get out and discover Springfield.


For more information on the book, please visit Facebook www.facebook.com/100-Things-To-Do-In-Springfield-Before-you-Die-761689560625205.  You can also follow the book on Twitter www.twitter.com/100springfield, and check out photos on Instagram www.instagram.com/100thingsspringfield

Questions regarding the book or possible book signings can be sent to pennyzw@aol.com