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  • Written by Kyle Spencer
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Dispatches from a Lost Soul in the Heart of Dixie

Written by Kyle SpencerAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Kyle Spencer

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On Sale: December 18, 2007
Pages: 304 | ISBN: 978-0-307-42769-4
Published by : Vintage Knopf
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Synopsis|Excerpt

Synopsis

Where does a single, twentysomething girl go for adventure when she’s been raised among Manhattan artists, drag queens, and intellectuals threatening to move to Cuba? If that girl is Kyle York Spencer, an aspiring newspaper reporter, she heads south, to North Carolina, to cut her chops at the Raleigh News & Observer.

Setting up shop in the Tar Heel state, Spencer finds herself interviewing everyone from skeet-shooting cowboys and Christian Rockers to the Human Carver--a serial killer--and the Smallest Woman in the World. Embraced by a sassy group of husband-hunting southern belles, she wonders whether sleeping with a Jesse Helms supporter is really part of the grand plan or if Mark, her best friend whose calls from LA provide a lifeline, is really the one. Picking up some valuable wisdom along the way, she learns that finding Mr. Right is far less important than surrounding yourself with the right people–and that making a home ultimately involves more than just deciding where to live.

Excerpt

From Chapter 1:

Who doesn't know what I'm talking about
Who's never left home, who's never struck out
To find a dream and a life of their own
A place in the clouds, a foundation of stone?


--DIXIE CHICKS

I'll have you know that I don't usually drink in semiprofessional situations. But seeing as this pig pickin' is being held in my honor, and a handsome man in a seersucker suit is eyeing me intently as he pours me a tasty mint julep from an icy pitcher, I've decided to leave my newspaper ethics at home.

I notice how pleasing his muscles look in his suit. And I'm sure he notices how stunning I look in my buttercup brown cowboy boots and my powder pink hat—the size of a Frisbee—which hangs over my head in a slightly funky, slightly elegant way.

I'm feeling rather relaxed as I gaze up from my cushioned lawn chair at this giant Italianate mansion in front of me. Green sheets of Japanese kudzu are dripping down the walls by the columned front steps, and two hundred purple rhododendrons line the brick walkway.

I'm nibbling delicately on a heaping plate of food: crackling, crisp pieces of pig, baked beans dripping with molasses, and pieces of fried okra that are soft in the middle and crunchy on the outside.

Meanwhile, all around me on the lawn, violas and snapdragons reach up out of the earth, and the fragrance of the hickory wood coals from the pig pit mixes with the minty smell of late afternoon. The scents wrap around me like a summer shawl, and a few feet away from me my new editor is telling everyone I'm the most exciting thing that has arrived in North Carolina since General Sherman.

Fortunately, I've been too busy to pay attention to this cornucopia of compliments—which I find rather embarrassing, considering that I'm really quite new at this. For a while, I was playing putt-putt with Michael Jordan—on the tarmac by the garage. He flew in last night to welcome me to his hometown state. Then I was chatting with the North Carolina Young Heifer Star of the Year. A few minutes ago, she ceremoniously threw off her jean jacket and tossed it my way—in case I got chilly. I blew her a few kisses and agreed to add the jacket—which happens to have a wonderful sequence of rhinestone inlay—to my collection of preferred outerwear.

I'm delighted to be here, but I must confess I have a bit of a hangover. The truth is, I haven't stopped partying since I crossed the state line. First, there was a cocktail party with Jesse and Dot Helms—who have put aside their general ire at the North to welcome me. Then last night, the raucous race car wanna-be Buckshot Jones dropped by my hotel room for a nightcap. We had a few whiskeys, then slid into his $200,000 Dodge and whizzed over to a racetrack in Durham to do some laps. My limbs would be aching a lot less if we hadn't stopped at the Have a Nice Day Cafe to gulp down these fruity alcoholic beverages from plastic cups in the shape of the state of North Carolina. I guess my insistence that Buckshot teach me the shag may also have something to do with it. At one point, I seem to remember I was air-bound on the dance floor.

Anyhow, I think Buckshot has a thing for me. But I told him that he didn't have a chance, seeing as I just moved to North Carolina and wanted to launch any new romantic liaisons slowly. He said he understood and gave me his red Winston Cup baseball cap as a welcoming gift—even though I refused to let him slip his hand down my blouse on the ride home.

Anyway, this is all to explain why I'm resting on this lawn chair rather than getting down with the bluegrass band by the pool.

Oh, look. There's Tammy Faye. You know—the former wife of that mischievous Charlotte preacher Jim Bakker. Tammy's famed for her mascara-drenched eyelashes—but that's old news. It's a little-known secret that Tammy has a fabulous shoe collection. The woman makes Imelda Marcos's shoe closet look like a used clothing store.

Since my arrival, Tammy and I have talked several times on the phone—and once in person. I chose to make contact with her as a means of gathering information about the state before I came on as a metro reporter at the Raleigh daily, where I am scheduled to start working in a few days. She's a great listener. And in addition to giving me historical background on North Carolina, she's been grilling me about my foibled upbringing in lower Manhattan. She loves the stuff.

"Not everyone grew up with a backyard and a car," I yell across the lawn, repeating a comment I made to her a few days before at the Hayes Barton Grill, where we were downing Bloody Marys. It made her cackle so hard she nearly fell off her chair.

She bumbles over and wraps her arms—lined with bangle bracelets—around me.

"Tammy, don't get me wrong, I'm not trying to elicit sympathy," I mumble, my head buried in her chest. "But I wouldn't mind some understanding—now that I've moved ten hours from home. And I have no family to speak of within six states."

"Darlin'? Tammy coos, "in that fabulous getup you've got on, you couldn't elicit sympathy if you wanted to."

We both chuckle and the mayor, a Bobby Brady look-alike sporting a patterned sweater with several yellow geese on it, overhears this. He pats me gently on the back and says: "We're going to take care of you, don't worry."

I smile at the mayor. And now that I have his ear, I decide to fill it with info about what attracted me to the South.

"Mayor," I begin, recalling the speech I wrote a few weeks before to use on occasions like this. "I've never interviewed a sheriff, kissed a man in a Stetson, or owned a pair of hiking boots, let alone worn a dress that wasn't black." I take a sip of my julep and bolt out of my lawn chair. Then I make a broad stroke in the air with one of my manicured hands and prepare for the grand finale of my speech. "But here I am ready to explore. Some people go to Europe to find adventure, take safaris in Africa or visit ashrams in India. For me, adventure has always meant the sticks."

Cheers erupt, even though I think a few people were slightly offended by the reference to 'the sticks.' And I realize that the entire picnic has been listening to my conversation. Several well-wishers rush to embrace me. I feel a wave of calm sweep over me as James Taylor grabs my hand and begins to whisper the lyrics to his hit "Carolina in My Mind" into my left ear. He and I slip into the Italianate mansion—together—to have a little private chat. And before you know it, we're kissing up a Carolina storm while Buckshot is outside tapping against the drawing room windowpane. "What the hell are you . . ."

"Are you doing?" my best friend Mark hollered as he banged his fist against the bathroom door. I stuck my tongue out and stared at myself in the mirror, did a clean-teeth, smudge check, and jammed my lipstick back into my pocket. I wasn't wearing a straw hat or a pair of cowboy boots. I had on my black leather pants, my Doc Martens, and the suede coat I bought in Spain with the fuzzy collar. I was in New York City, in the women's bathroom at Odeon, my foot on the garbage can, applying lipstick and talking to myself.

Mark had chosen the venue for my two-person farewell party. I guess he figured they didn't have brasseries—or anything else a girl from New York would want—in North Carolina. It was a ploy. And, frankly, it wasn't working.

"The whole idea of moving to North Carolina is making you sick to your stomach, isn't it?" Mark inquired, when I flung open the door and exited the bathroom. "Moving so far away from New York City—any city, I mean."

Mark—who was still living on the Manhattan block where he had learned to ride a two-wheeler—was having trouble coming to terms with my plan to take a reporting job in Raleigh. He had taken to pronouncing Raleigh as if he were saying "war-torn Bosnia." That's when he wasn't referring to it as "down there."

"You know you don't have to go down there?" he said. "You can always stay in one of my parents' apartments and freelance. In case you're worried about that."

"Worried? What are you talking about?" We were back at our table. I took a sip of my now warm beer. "When was the last time you had the opportunity to stick your tongue down James Taylor's throat?"

"What?"

I raised a brow. "Just forget it."

Mark and I have been best friends since we were fourteen. And he purports to know me well: the overdeveloped fantasy life, the way I tend to optimistically assume every man I meet is going to marry me, the way I embellish events for the sake of the story. These are the parts of my personality he finds most entertaining. He laughed for weeks in high school when I told him Darryl Strawberry was going to take me to the prom. I didn't think it was very funny, particularly since I ended up going with a kid from my AP history class who had failed gym—twice.

When Mark and I first met, I was not the semiadjusted person I am today. I wore black lipstick and yelled a lot. I don't remember why. But Mark says I was enormously angry with my parents. As for Mark, he was not the model of stability, either. He wore the same Hanes T-shirt every day and nibbled on little balled-up pieces of loose-leaf paper. Anxious is the word I would use to describe his general teenage mood. We've matured a lot since then. Now, when I get upset I try to "center myself" and "find my breath." When he gets worked up, I tell him: "You're not your thoughts. Let it go." Or sometimes I just tell him: "Don't worry. Girls think you're hot." He loves that last part. As for making me feel better, Mark says if I'm thirty-eight and still unwed, he'll marry me. Mark is my insurance policy. And I'm his.

Mark put his beer down and suddenly got somber. "Kyle, I think this North Carolina stuff is a pretense."

I furrowed my brow. "For what?"

"Maturing. I think you're trying to move on with your life, figure out what you want."

"So, what if I am?"

Mark threw his hands up in the air. "Then I have to do it too, numbnuts. Or else you're going to leave me behind. And the only woman in my life will be my sister. And she doesn't even know when my birthday is."

I looked at him intently. Jane Goodall, ready for another journey to Tanzania. "Mark, you've got to set me free! I'm a journalist! I'm supposed to be exploring foreign lands. That's my job."

Mark was silent for a second. He took a sip of his drink—then launched into a rendition of the Simple Minds tune from the movie The Breakfast Club: "Don't you forget about me."

Walk my way
Don't walk on by
Rain keeps falling,
Rain keeps falling down, down, down, down,
Don't you forget about me.


After three minutes of hellish singing, I jumped up. "Listen, I gotta go finish packing. I'll call you when I get there."

I grabbed my things, gulped down my drink, and flew out of there—leaving Mark gawking at some woman at the table next to us. I wasn't too worried about my best friend. He just had a little trouble with good-byes. But he'd figure things out on his own. I knew that. As for me, I was feeling so brave. So together. So girl-on-the-move. . . . But frankly, I was also feeling scared. What I hadn't told Mark—or anyone else, for that matter—but I can tell you, is this: Moving to North Carolina wasn't just an adventure, it was also an escape.

--------

If you feel like you entered this story through the back door, don't worry. You have. Let me fill you in. My name is Kyle Spencer. I'm twenty-seven, and dysfunctional would be a kind way to describe my family. I was raised in a loft in lower Manhattan by my father, a frustrated investment banker who worshiped Pablo Picasso, and my stepmother, Shelby, a bleached-blond underground theater actress whose stage name was Stardust.

In my world, avant-garde was a household word. Andy Warhol was a hero. And putting anything with artificial ingredients in your mouth was a sin. My childhood was populated by artists, drag queens, and intellectuals threatening to move to Cuba.

"That's it," my parents—philosopher-plumber friend Kevin would shout every time another Republican was elected to office, slapping his half-finished manuscript against our dining room table and waving his fork in the air. "I'm getting out of here!" As a recovering bank robber who had spent ten years behind bars, Kevin was lucky to be going anywhere. But since his troubled youth, he had matured. In prison, he started a world-renowned theater group that later became the focus of a feature-length film.

All I wanted was to be surrounded by manicured lawns, tree houses, and normal adult role models—like doctors, teachers, and policemen. I was not so lucky. Our neighbors were temperamental artists, people who experimented with mediums and musicians who gave us contact highs when their pot smoke drifted down the air shaft and slipped into my parents bedroom on Saturday nights, while we watched The Love Boat. Our dinner guests were people like Sur Rodney Sur, the artist who showed his works in his bathroom and wore a telephone cord around his neck as a piece of mobile art.

While this eccentricity might have appealed to other young people, it did nothing but disappoint me. Perhaps I would have felt differently about the nonconformity my parents found so appealing if it hadn't been coupled with a marriage that entailed a great deal of high-energy hysteria. There were few things my parents found more satisfying than a good knock-down-drag-out fight. You know. Beams out the window. Milk cartons across the room. Police bumbling into our house to talk about why plates were crashing against walls.

While other people celebrated birthdays and graduations, we hosted annual Divorce Week. The time once a year when my father, bleary-eyed and bloated, would announce from his spot on the guest bedroom bed that he couldn't hold on any longer to the abysmal relationship he had with "the histrionic shrew he had married." Or my stepmother would drag us to a friend's house, and announce along the way that she had made a terrible mistake marrying my father, a "passive-aggressive misogynist."

I tell you all this because I maintain a great deal of ire against the people I hold responsible for my miserable upbringing, ire which perhaps I should have unloaded by now. But I haven't. And this story is partially about that.

Here's a family Who's Who (a.k.a. "My Sob Chart"), in case you need help sorting out the kooks in my life.

1. Meet my father, George, a handsome WASP from Rochester, who left my mother and our Upper East Side apartment when I was three to join my stepmother—a bohemian from the West Village—because it was 1973 and he needed to be "free."

2. Say hello to my mother, a pretty WASP from Connecticut who fell apart when my father unexpectedly left. To cope, she joined the Upper East Side cocktail circuit, and almost forgot she had three kids. Having garnered a strong and unfounded sense of entitlement at an early age, I considered the level of attention I was receiving unacceptable. And at my father's prodding I left my mother's house at age eight and moved downtown.

3. In walks my stepmother, Shelby, a tall loquacious left-wing brunette, famed for her killer red lipstick, fake eyelashes, and six-inch heels. Shelby saved my neglected young soul by showering me with attention, French films, and chocolate-covered raisins. Among other things, she taught me to read, signed me up for my first writing class, and introduced me to "well-made" children's clothing—which was all she said a stepdaughter of hers should be wearing.

4. Welcome my half brother, Phillip, born when I was nine and rumored to have been a last-ditch effort to save my father and Shelby's failing relationship. Throughout his childhood, he paid back the favor by maintaining a level of low-grade anger toward everyone in the family and assumed the role of "problem child"—even though his IQ is probably double all of ours combined. He has since taken a great interest in the American military and harbors political beliefs that are perilously close to those held by members of the Christian Coalition.

5. Also in the picture is my older brother, George, who shares my father's name. He is six years my senior, and my mother's only son. George stayed with my mother when I went to live with my father, visiting my father only on weekends. Today, he is an artist who paints bloody-faced boxers and moonlights as a real estate mogul who buys dilapidated buildings in Brooklyn ghettos and fixes them up.

6. On the sidelines is my older sister, Elizabeth, seven years my senior. She escaped us all by practically moving in with her best friend, Gretchen, when my father first left—and never really returning.

A note: My mother doesn't figure in this story. When I told her I was writing an "exaggerated memoir," she begged to be left out. "Listen, Kyle, I know I was not the best mother to you when you were young. But it was the seventies. All the professionals were telling us how resilient you kids were. If I'm in that book, I know you're going to make me a whore or something."

Nor does Elizabeth. She works at Talbots and lives on Cape Cod with her husband and dog. She's so normal that basically she skews the whole story. So, I let her off the hook, too.

--------

A day after my talk with Mark, I sped into downtown Raleigh, almost out of gas, and parked my car in front of a large, picturesque town square. Curious but tired, I peered sheepishly out of my window. Above the square—and a little to the left—was the Raleigh skyline. Nothing towering or monumental, just a few gleaming office complexes and a cylinder-shaped Holiday Inn reaching toward the heavens. Lining the square were sidewalks—clean, wide, and roomy. And in the distance I spotted a snake-shaped railroad track that looped around the city. Raleigh would never be a beautiful city. But it had a slow, meandering pace that appealed to me.

I cracked open my window. The scent of lemons and lavender filtered through the afternoon air. It was so much fresher and cleaner than New York City air. I breathed a sigh of relief and pulled out a cigarette. Here, I thought, unbuckling my seat belt and throwing my safety club in the backseat, you could actually stroll down the sidewalk without bumping into one of those frenzied New York pedestrians ready and will- ing to ram her purse into your groin. I was looking forward to leaving behind those superdriven New Yorkers—so beautiful and so brilliant and so brutally ambitious they'd sacrifice their firstborn (and your life) for a walk-on in an afternoon soap opera. Not to mention the last container of milk at the grocery store.

With these thoughts floating through my head, I crushed my cigarette out and drove to the nearest gas station. Then I tanked up and headed out of town. I passed a Hardee's and an IHOP, and then a row of large, cube-shaped suburban homes showcasing faux Greek columns and Federalist porches. Eventually, I fell onto a rural road with long stretches of tobacco fields and potato patches that seemed to go on forever. I pictured myself, straw in mouth—frolicking through the pastures, making cheese or maybe milking cows, finding solace and serenity. I would be cool, collected. I would adopt a happy, slow-paced life in which I would read self-help books and do things like think about my inner self and achieve a permanent state of well-being.

Back in the city, I spotted the block-letter sign for my hotel. I pulled out my duffel bag and clicked back to reality. The hotel lobby had tangerine carpeting and a nightly happy hour and dance party in the bar, which was named Bowties. I resisted the urge to partake in the Bowtie happy hour and headed to my room. I inserted my card into the door slot and pulled open the curtains.

Here before me was the city where I would be living for the next two and a half years. The Raleigh Plastic Surgery Center and a Christian chain bookstore were staring up at me. I switched the lights off and noticed a twinkling from the Denny's below.

I centered my gaze on the glow from downstairs and thought of the chaos back in New York, the tension between Shelby and my father, the silent anger that oozed through our house, the way Phillip was growing tattoos on his arm and had just announced he wanted to spend the summer at a military camp in Texas.

It was during a family dinner—minus Phillip—a few weeks before in a crimson-walled Indian restaurant in the East Village that I realized how utterly unbearable the heaviness had become. We'd walked there together—the three of us. Me in the middle, because Shelby and my father could no longer bear to stand next to each other. My head snapped back and forth during the entire walk, and my mind juggled two separate thoughts and ideas as I tried to carry on two conversations at once while staving off whiplash. The two warring factions weren't just refusing to talk, they were refusing to acknowledge each other's existence.

Back in Raleigh, my hotel room felt peaceful and calm. Free of worry and stress. Safe. It buzzed with the hum of the air conditioner and the tap-tap sound of water in the bathroom sink.

"I'm home," I said to the highway that stretched before me. Then I slipped under the crisp hotel sheets of my king-size bed and fell into a restful sleep.

--------------------------------------------------------------
Grateful acknowledgement is made to the following for permission to reprint previously published material:

Bug Music: Excerpt from "Wide Open Spaces" by Susan Gibson, copyright © 1999 by Pie Eyed Groobee Music (BMI). Administered by Bug. All rights reserved. Reprinted by permission of Bug Music.

Universal Music Publishing Group: Excerpt from "Don't You Forget About Me" by Steve Schiff and Keith Forsey, copyright © 1985 by Universal-MCA Music Publishing, a division of Universal Studios, Inc., Songs of Universal, Inc. (ASCAP/BMI). All rights reserved. International copyright secured. Reprinted by permission of Universal Music Publishing Group.
Kyle Spencer|Author Q&A

About Kyle Spencer

Kyle Spencer - She's Gone Country

Kyle Spencer lives in New York City with her Northern fiancé.  She is still an avid fan of country music and returns to North Carolina regularly.

Author Q&A

Q: You call this an “exaggerated memoir.” How exaggerated is it?

A: Sort of exaggerated—somewhat exaggerated—I guess I just out-and-out lie sometimes. But not that often—and not about any of the BIG stuff. The feelings. The family trauma. The day I almost choked to death on a water skiing cord. The time the Smallest Woman in the World told me she was the most sought after bedmate at the state fair. That stuff ALL HAPPENED. It’s just that on occasion, I wanted to tell you I said something I didn’t really say—something I thought would have made everything really, truly funny and healing, and okay if I had said it. (Kind of like getting the chance to rewind your life and tell your ex-boyfriend he sucks in bed–right before he breaks up with you.) The thing is . . . being in rural North Carolina—for me, a hardcore urbanite—was so outlandish and unbelievable and exaggerated anyway, that it hardly seemed possible to tell the story without a little hyperbole.

Q: Why did you first decide to pursue journalism as a career?

A: I don’t really remember ever making the decision to pursue journalism as a career. What I do remember is that when I was about nine my father taught me how to read The New York Times on a crowded subway. He had an intricate folding trick that divided the paper up into sixteen sections and shrunk it to the size of a paperback book.

Both he and my stepmother were obsessed with politics. In fact, a lot of their domestic warfaring can be traced back to what began as seemingly innocent conversations about the merits of say, lead-based paint or the month the Spanish-American War ended. I cannot count the number of dinners during which my father would jump out of his chair—mid-sentence—to fetch a history of the world encyclopedia or a thesaurus to clear up one of these debates.

For me, becoming a reporter was never really a question–more like a given, an extension, really, of what I had been doing my whole childhood—gathering information, then listening to warring factions fight about it.

Q: You had an impressive start to your career: freelancing in Prague and interning at the Philadelphia Enquirer before taking the job at the Raleigh News & Observer when you were 27 years old. What advice would you give to other aspiring journalists struggling to hit the big time?

A: Work your ass off. In the beginning, you really have to be willing to swallow some pride—and know how to make a mean cup of coffee—which may well be what you’re doing in your first job or internship. My first newspaper job was at the Paris bureau of The New York Times. It was amazing to be brushing shoulders with foreign correspondents who were covering Bosnia and the Middle East. And of course, my French friends were enormously impressed. But the trade-off was I had to serve as personal manservant. I was picking up reporters’ tuna fish sandwiches and finding hotel rooms in Jerusalem with swimming pools. Then of course, I got a real job actually writing stories, but I had to go to the armpit of the world—the Philly ’burbs—to do it. The cream does eventually rise to the top. So hard work really pays off. But it takes a while until you get to be the cream.

Q: How has being a female affected your foray into journalism? What challenges or privileges has it brought?

A: I’m not averse to using what I’ve got. If Joe Editor likes a nice pair of legs I’m not shy about skirting it to work a few times a week. I mean, men do it all the time—bond with their bosses over common interests: golf, beer. Why can’t I bond with editors over our common interest: ME.

On a more serious note, this is a great time to be a woman in the newsroom, because there is a huge push to hire and promote us—and lots of amazing male editors with daughters our age who are totally psyched about seeing this generation of women rise professionally in ways their mothers and wives couldn’t. In my experience, they really get a kick out of it—and can be our biggest supporters.

Q: You moved to Raleigh with an idyllic sense of what life in “the country” would be like—birds chirping, acres of rolling green fields, peace and quiet—compared to the life you grew up with in New York City. How has your perspective of “the country” changed?

A: My perspective has indeed changed, but more on New York City than anything else. How do people live here? Okay, I currently do, but spending time in the South really opened my eyes to the great outdoors—not to mention how nice it is to hang around people with manners.

A lot of Northerners think that Southerners are insincere in their politeness. My response to that is: Who cares? I’d rather get a fake smile from someone on the subway than an honest growl. There is definitely too much honest growling going on in New York City.

Q: What was the best part of being a cub reporter and what was the worst?

A: The absolute best thing about being a reporter is when the subject of a story calls you up, yelling, and tells you he hated the story, or even better yet, you got it all wrong. Then you can be sure you’ve struck a chord. And as long as you’re certain that you’ve gotten all your facts right, that’s the moment you live for. It’s glorious.

Conversely, there are really very few serious reporters who want to hear the subject of a story say, “You did such a great job, I loved that story about me.” Then you know you probably did a blow job piece and screwed your readers out of the truth.

One time, I did a piece about the North Carolina Wildflower program. It was supposed to be a quick feature, but it turned out there was a huge debate raging in the state over whether or not the state should be using nonnative flowers in the program. Oddly enough, it was such a passionate topic a woman from the department of motor vehicles started crying during my interview with her. She was like, “Why are you doing this to us?”

When the story came out, she called me up and said, “I don’t like what you said about us, but I can’t imagine the other side liked what you said about them. I mean, whose side are you on?” “That’s the point,” I told her. “I’m not on anyone’s side.” What I didn’t tell her was I thought they were all freaks.

It was a good thing I didn’t. The following year, I got invited onto the annual state wildflower judging panel. I got to help judge the best wildflowers in the state—me and a bunch of big-haired garden party types. Of course, I was a total amateur at it, but it was pretty cool. I guess all that interaction with weirdness is what I love about reporting.

Q: After having lived in both the North and the South, how would you rather spend an evening: licking your fingers after a pig pickin’ or sipping dirty martinis at an art gallery opening in the East Village?

A: I love going out in the East Village or Williamsburg and watching all the crazy hipsters wearing funky outfits to gallery openings and dive bars. You know, lampshades on their heads, tattoos on their noses. People here really are walking art pieces. I missed that terribly when I was in North Carolina. There the khaki look is still going strong. The New York party scene is visual in a way no Raleigh scene could ever be.

But a lot of these New York walking art pieces suffer from awful cases of “me-itis.” Many of them are all about networking, so much so that some of the best networkers have lost the day job they were originally networking for. And they don’t even care. Thing is, people stalk the clubs, bars, and gallery openings wanting to know how you can help them get ahead . . . like the very millisecond they start talking to you. And when you can’t, they usually head abruptly away towards their next victim. New York can sometimes feel like a city of well-heeled vultures.

Bottom line is a lot of New Yorkers don’t have time to be nice. You don’t blame them. But that doesn’t mean you have to like ’em. Still, you can enjoy their crazy company and appreciate the good restaurants.

In Raleigh, going out was rarely an avante garde experience, but you generally had loads of fun. Partyyyyy is the name of the game. And people down there have time for that. No one wants to talk about work. And no one is trying to assess how much money you make or whether you might one day be famous. People there entertain a lot at home. They invite you over for barbecues, annual Christmas parties, clam bakes, and wine tastings. They are gracious in a way a lot of New Yorkers can’t even comprehend. The state motto for North Carolina is "To Be Rather Than To Seem." I think that says it all.

Q: If the Ten Thousand Angels Committee, your band of Southern girlfriends, met up with the New York-chic girls of Sex in the City, how different do you think their approaches to coping with the single/dating life would be?

A: Sling-back stilettos don’t go over well in North Carolina—but man bashing does. So, I’m sure they’d have that in common. Of course, Southern women talk much less freely about sex than their Northern counterparts, but that’s what I love about them. They’re not less promiscuous—just more discreet.

On a deeper level, I think the Sex in the City girls probably have a lot more respect for firebrand independence than a lot of Southern women do—or Southern men, for that matter. Perhaps that makes North Carolina seem very retro, but it isn’t necessarily the case. The thing is, Raleigh has a sense of community that a place like New York can never have. People do things for each other and rely on each other—simply because they’re neighbors. And they’re just not so concerned about the surface stuff. That need for social interconnectedness may seem so cheesy—so not cool—but it’s amazing to be a part of. Before, I admired supremely independent people—women who said, hell I don’t need men. But not anymore—I see them as unable to get real about what is good and wholesome about living. I guess Samantha would have a hard time convincing The Ten Thousand Angels that she doesn’t need their help.

Q: How have your family and friends reacted to the book (particularly those who scored starring roles)?

A: Well, I can tell you that my best friend Mark has already shopped for his Oprah outfit and is begging that his phone number be printed in the book. Every time I talk to him, he interrupts our conversation and asks: “Okay, you do make me sound hot, right?” My dad is too wrapped up in his Spanish soap operas to give the book much thought. But Lisa, my best friend in Raleigh, is bracing for the Southern backlash at home by planning weekly pig pickin’s and dis’ing New York City every chance she gets.

Q: You speak very candidly about your emotional life while you were in Raleigh—dealing with your eccentric family members, your father and stepmother’s divorce, your own relationships with men. How have these challenges and your self-imposed exile from New York changed you?

A: Being in North Carolina and dealing with my family from a distance helped me finally grow up. I had to go away to really see how badly things were on the home front, but going away also allowed me to get over it and be okay with the mistakes my parents had made.

Writing about that time away added a whole other dimension. I just cried and cried during the writing of some of the not-so-funny family chapters. But being able to get that all out on paper was really healing.

I did have some fear about doing it, though; fear mostly that I would hurt my father—and I talked to him about that a few weeks before I finished the book. We were sitting on a park bench outside his new apartment. He was smoking one of his cigars, and I remember waiting for him to ask me to cut some of the more personal stuff out. He reacted to that suggestion with utter amazement—as if I would be denigrating my own art if I altered it for his sake. “I know what your childhood was like for me,” he said. “But parents always wonder what it was like for their kids. This is you telling me.”

Q: Do you think these kinds of life-struggles (love, family, career) are common among the twenty-something set? Why or why not?

A: I hope everyone’s stepmother isn’t saddled with the tragic case of the sobs. And I certainly hope that most people don’t have to deal with a falling-apart family just when they’re starting to think about making their own. But I do think that at some point we all have to deal with what we want to be and how we are going to get there. I don’t mean in the professional sense but on a deeper, more personal level. Your twenties is definitely the time to ask those questions to say, “Okay, what do I need to do to get my shit together?” For me, the question became, “What am I going to do with this messy past?” And the way I eventually dealt with that question was to turn it into a story—one with a happy ending.

Q: For months you deliberated over taking a job at “the dream paper”—The Washington Post—or pursuing “the dream life”—writing a book in New York. Even though you’ve chosen “the dream life,” is journalism still calling?

A: I get the itch quite often and I don’t rule anything out, but the newspaper profession doesn’t lend itself to a stable personal life with a partner outside the business. I am currently head over heels for my very outside-the-business fiancé who lives in New York City with me. During my twenties, running around from paper to paper was great fun, but once the running around started to feel like running away, I knew it was time to put the focus on my personal life. “We”—my intended and I—take priority right now. Of course, when he read the book and checked out all the racy sex scenes with my exes, I thought I had lost him. Thankfully, he decided to be gracious about the whole thing and feign amnesia. It took me ten years of crazy dating to be able to have what I have with him. And hopefully, if all goes well, this is the happy beginning of the rest of my life. . . .

Praise

Praise

"A funny, sharp, insightful book, with bittersweet moments amongst hilarity, which made me want to pull on a pair of cowboy boots and head South!"- Sophie Kinsella, author of Confessions of a Shopaholic

"Imagine Flannery O'Connor and John Irving swapping tales after a few stout bourbons, and you've got this splendid, entertaining book."- Martin Clark, author of The many Aspects of Mobile Home Living

"A lively, irreverent twist on the ingénue-in-the-city genre—pure fun."- Lucinda Rosenfeld, author of What She Saw...


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