Divine Downtown Digs

Divine Downtown Digs

Life on Another Level

By Deborah Salomon

Photographs by John Gessner

Back in the 1920s, a fella named Herb Beck decided, given the growing popularity of motor cars, to convert his buggy repair shop in downtown Southern Pines to an auto service center. The one-story brick corner location already had drive-through bays. Later, a second story was added that, according to a diagram provided by the Moore County Historical Association, became the Boy Scouts clubhouse.

Those grease monkeys and energetic boys should see it now. Industrial remnants — gone. Instead, Holly Floyd and husband Tyler Horney have created a “loft” living space rivaling anything Robert De Niro, Beyoncé and the late John Kennedy Jr. called home when factories became million-dollar condos in the SoHo, Tribeca and Meatpacking District of Manhattan.

“I wanted to create a gallery for my art,” Holly explains. Since her art includes enormous pottery urns, sparkling crystal vases and paintings ranging from Victorian portraits to Picasso-esque Cubism, the loft needed display cases, pedestals, spot lighting and angled walls which create the 4,000-square-foot maze.

Parisian lofts inhabited by starving artists it’s not. Rather, the door at the top of a long, steep staircase opens onto a Technicolor world strewn with eye candy. This loft is edgy-chic, with a surprise around each corner. Take the rooster motif. “I like chickens,” Holly admits. They are everywhere, from an enormous, stylized portrait to a thumbnail glass strutter in a wall-mounted shadowbox filled with other fascinating miniatures brought back from Europe and elsewhere.

This is a space choreographed by a woman secure in her tastes, with designer Awena Hurst to help realize them. 

Holly, who is Texas born, Lumberton raised, and Tyler, a Moore County native, purchased the downtown building in 2009 with the intention of converting the ground floor to retail space. “Why not live upstairs?” within walking distance of the Sunrise Theater and fine dining, she thought. In the past, Holly had lived at Loblolly, a quasi-Tudor Weymouth estate designed by Aymar Embury II, and also at The Roost, a Cape Cod cottage near Campbell House, home to the Arts Council galleries. Roost? Rooster?

Holly wanted their new home to vibrate with color and originality, starting at the front door, which opens into a hallway lined with showcases, ending at the living room, where the principal color is a hunter/leafy green accented by a green velveteen chair, pale green walls, and additional shades woven into settee upholstery. On the floor, a custom-hooked wool rug patterned with symbols: Holly’s monogram, butterflies representing her children, sunbursts, alpha and omega and, of course, roosters. Windows are covered with shutters and Roman shades decorated with birds.

The fireplace is faux, but the deck overlooking downtown has been outfitted for grilling. Watches can be set by Amtrak arrivals, surely less startling than police sirens punctuating SoHo nights.

In an era of kitchen extravaganzas, hers is modestly sized; one counter doubles as a minibar, with sink and refrigerator. Cupboards are gray-stained wormy maple with painted brick backsplash and a soffit display case filled with . . . roosters.

“This is a one-person kitchen,” Holly says: ample, simple and functional. It opens into the living room on one side and on the other, a small dining room with an expandable birdseye maple table. The sideboard is no-nonsense Welsh, while a dainty asymmetric crystal chandelier is shaped like palm fronds. Angled walls throughout the midsection pit turquoise against pale yellow.

Now look down. Most of the heavily knotted pine flooring is original to the building. Once considered inferior grade, a century later these imperfections add character. Wooden doors of assorted sizes from an antique door dealer in Virginia provide texture, although wall openings had to be tailored to their individual, sometimes irregular sizes.

The star of the living area has to be the pottery Holly has collected from Seagrove and elsewhere. Smaller pieces, like a Noah’s Ark crammed with animals or the familiar “ugly jugs,” are displayed in built-in cabinets. Enormous urns — one a 4-foot scarlet Christmas gift from Tyler — stand on pedestals separated by window seats.

A gentler green continues into the master suite, with a small sofa occupying a bay. Teddy bears on a mini chair were made from fur coats, one belonging to Holly’s mother, whose presence is felt throughout.

Something’s missing: multiple wall-mounted TV screens. A small screen on a swinging arm is tucked between the kitchen and living room. “Never the bedroom!” Holly exclaims. But she allowed one in the master bathroom “so I could see what’s happening in the world while I get ready.” Their only big screen dominates the man cave, originally a second apartment, with daring terra-cotta-hued walls and heavy antique case pieces. There’s a small office for Tyler and two guest bedrooms for children and grandchildren, where Holly’s palette veers uncharacteristically into blue. Birds perch on branches over one bed, a trompe l’oeil effect accomplished by decals Holly found online.

“I’m all about whimsy,” she admits, further illustrated by a powder room where the basin sits on a stained artist’s worktable. Globs of “paint” — decals again — appear to have been splashed against the wall.

After a year-long renovation, Holly and Tyler moved in last November. The only thing Holly misses is having a dog.

Repurposing commercial and industrial buildings, barns and carriage houses played out across North Carolina as cotton mills and tobacco warehouses became upscale residences. Occasionally, space “over the store” was available, saving its occupants a tedious commute. Downtown Southern Pines has several iterations, including a new-construction all-loft building and, on Broad Street, a legendary bordello over a bowling alley, reconfigured for a family with young children as a loft with roof garden near the park.

However, living day-to-day with fine art and museum-quality crafts requires a particular mindset. Holly Floyd has it, for her glorious, decorative “stuff.”

“I find it comforting,” she says. “Like memories brought back by Christmas tree ornaments.”  PS

Almanac March 2024

Almanac March 2024

March is a giggle of wild violets, a squeal of flowering redbud, a tea party in the making.

The earth is awakening. As purple blossoms spill across the softening landscape, cottontail rabbits follow. Mingling in sunny patches, they graze on heart-shaped leaves and tender grasses, feast on the freshness of this fragrant spring morning.

In the distance, a pregnant doe plucks clusters of crisp buds from magenta-studded branches. Munching to the tune of chattering squirrel, counter-singing wrens and white-throated sparrow, the deer hears a different kind of music: laughter. One ear back and one ear forward, she pinpoints the source, gently flicks her tail, resumes her browsing.

The children arrive skipping, bare feet in cool grass, eyes bright with life and color. Their pleasure is unmeasured; their vision is clear: wild violet shortbread.

Between cartwheels and somersaults, they gather purple flowers, linger in the sunlight, bask in the welcome, dewy warmth. As they dream up tea and cookies, guests of honor arrive on the wing: bluebird, robin, purple martin, warbler, swallow, towhee, killdeer. The old tabby is near. Early honeybees embrace early dandelions. Her ruby-throated highness takes her throne in a luminous redbud.

Soon, a heap of hand-picked violets becomes a spread fit for a court. Among wild giggles, the children don crowns, wriggle their toes in the soft grass, sink their teeth into the delicate sweetness as the birds sing spring is here.

Spring’s greatest joy beyond a doubt is when it brings the children out.    — Edgar Guest

Eye on the Sky

The days are growing longer still. Daylight saving time begins on Sunday, March 10. All the better for soaking up the soft and radiant magic of spring, which officially begins with the vernal equinox on Tuesday, March 19.

According to Scientific American’s “Sky Spectacles to Watch in 2024,” you’ll want to gaze due west aat sunset on Sunday, March 24, when Mercury will appear directly above the sun at twilight. Positioned at its “greatest eastern elongation” (greatest distance from our sun), Mercury will be about 19 degrees from the star that gives us life. A little wink from a tiny, not-so-faraway planet that isn’t always easy to spot. 

Nectar, Etc.

“The first day of spring is one thing,” wrote the late poet and author Henry van Dyke, “and the first spring day is another.” Such is the day that the earliest eastern tiger swallowtail glides across Carolina blue skies.

The first broods of our official state butterfly are on the move. With a wingspan up to 5 1/2 inches, this eye-catching swallowtail is recognized by its black and yellow tiger stripes and three-lobed hindwings. Most females have a low row of iridescent blue markings on their hindwings. However, they can also occur in a dark color phase, causing humans and male tiger swallowtails alike to mistake them for a different species.

Want to take a closer look? Attract swallowtails to your own garden with native pollinator plants they won’t be able to resist. And if you’re looking for suggestions, check out North Carolina Wildlife Federation’s list of native trees, shrubs and flowers here: ncwf.org/habitat/native-pollinator-plants.  PS

Out of the Blue

Out of the Blue

The Cat Who Came to Dinner

A welcome guest makes herself at home

By Deborah Salomon

In the past year both Lucky and Missy, my precious companion kitties, entered a pain-free eternal sleep. I estimated their ages at 15-16; I adopted them from the street 12 years ago. Coal-black Lucky had golden eyes and more dignity/intelligence than some politicians. Missy, my devoted dingbat, was happiest anchoring my lap.

I’m an animal person, a lifelong rescuer, whether a skittish retired racing greyhound or a starving mama trying to feed her kittens.

Finally, I was finished. Friends urged me to adopt again. But a young cat would outlive me — never a happy situation — and an older cat might incur massive health care bills.

“No,” I joked. “The only way I’ll adopt is if a homeless kitty knocks on my door one freezing night.”

The thermometer read 28 degrees that night in January. Crouched against the front door as though to draw warmth was the most beautiful cat I’ve ever seen: long, thick white fur, blue eyes, pink nose and mouth. I had noticed her outside several times but didn’t worry because she was wearing a collar. But I offered food anyway, which she gobbled.

And now, in dire straits, she turned to me. How could I refuse?

I opened the door. She scampered in, checked out the apartment and sat down where Lucky and Missy’s bowls had been. Poor baby wolfed down a whole can of cat food. While I prepared the litter box she curled up on the couch, exhausted, and fell asleep.

I named her Snowball, after my grandfather’s Samoyed.

I asked around. Several neighbors had seen her; nobody knew where she belonged.

Tests, inoculations and $200 later the vet certified her a healthy female, 2-3 years old, not microchipped.

I could feel her rib bones.

Cats have personalities as distinct as humans. I’m used to plain-Jane short-haired tabbies. This Princess Diana is a feisty little madam. Her primary activity is eating, which includes her mealtimes and mine. If food appears, she’s on it.

Mmmm, scrambled eggs. Grilled cheese. Tilapia. Tiny bits of baked potato with butter. She jumped on the counter and, with a delicate Barbie-pink tongue, pre-washed the vanilla ice cream dish.

At bedtime, she leans on my legs but, so far, doesn’t paw me awake, for which I am thankful. But you can’t jump on the computer, honey. That usually ends in disaster.

So far, Snowball shows no interest in going outside. Bad memories, I guess. No fear of strangers, either. My previous two dived under the bed when the doorbell rang.

Then, the litter box, a Charlie Chaplin tragicomedy. She’s not satisfied with fulfilling its purpose. Afterwards she performs an Irish Riverdance routine, which sends litter flying every which way. But so far scratch damage appears only on an old wicker chair.

Finally, after three weeks, Snowball has started to play with Missy’s ball-on-a-string, which makes me sad. Missy loved that toy. I will tuck it away and buy a new one.

Snowball is my first talking kitty. She talks almost constantly, with appropriate inflections, usually plaintive, as she follows me room to room. I thought food was her objective but maybe she is lonely, like I was before she leaned on the front door. But nothing — and I mean nothing — would tempt me to provide a playmate.

Lucky and Missy had a loving if subservient relationship. He was the boss, she the handmaiden. I can’t see Snowball bowing to any tomcat or sharing her new turf with another female.

So for now, the lady rules. She has found a “nest” in a closet corner where an old sweater fell. She takes long naps, enabling me to work. She chatters at the birds pecking the cornbread I throw on the grass under the window. I presume she means no harm when swiping me with those super-sharp little claws.

Maybe this mysterious princess is just what I needed.  PS

Deborah Salomon is a contributing writer for PineStraw and The Pilot. She can be reached at debsalomon@nc.rr.com.

Focus on Food

Focus on Food

Sláinte to Stew

The king of Irish cuisine

Story and Photograph by Rose Shewey

At the height of the Celtic Tiger, a time when Ireland’s economic growth was the envy of every Western nation, I was offered a job on the Emerald Isle. It was a no-brainer. I packed my bags, said my goodbyes and off I went to live and work in Ireland. To be more exact, I set up shop in picturesque Dún Laoghaire just south of Dublin, a town with a pretty port and a laid-back vibe and, as it turned out, right around the corner from Bono’s seaside residence — true story.

After my two-year stint there I can confidently share that a bunch of stereotypes floating about Ireland and the Irish have at least a couple of grains of truth to them. For one, Guinness does taste different on the island. Take this from a wine enthusiast. If I can tell the difference, you can, too. And, yes, drinking is a Celtic national sport. It is socially acceptable to drink at pretty much any point in time, with the exception of the time spent at your place of work — a minor constraint, but fear not, there is always lunch hour. So, that’s that.

More importantly — and this is a delicate one as far as stereotypes go — let’s talk about the legendary Irish cuisine. You’ve never heard of it? My point exactly. If the choices were soda bread and colcannon, I’d say Irish cooking was completely lost on me. But, fortunately, there is one dish the Irish know how to pull off. Their one saving grace — subjectively speaking, of course —  is a hearty stew.

A purist at heart and always in search of the most authentic and original version of a dish, I made a couple of discoveries. To begin with, Ireland has as many “classic” and “traditional” Irish stew recipes as it has pubs. That’s a lot. Andrew Coleman, author of The Country Cooking of Ireland, probably nailed it with his attempt to capture the true nature of this recipe. His version simply calls for four ingredients: mutton, potatoes, parsley and onion. Irish stew, in days long gone, would have consisted of what people had on hand — mainly potatoes. If they were fortunate enough to have meat to add to the stew, they’d call it a feast.

That said, the most memorable Irish stew I have tasted was at the Guinness brewery in Dublin. A little bit richer and bolder than its rural counterparts, the Guinness beef stew may not be the most historically accurate rendition of this celebrated dish, but it is by far the most satisfying.


Irish Beef Stew with Guinness

(Adapted from The Official Guinness Cookbook, serves 4-6)

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 pounds chuck steak, cubed

2 onions, sliced

2 celery stalks, finely chopped

5 carrots, cut into large chunks

2 tablespoon all-purpose flour

1 bottle Guinness Draught Stout (440 milliliters)

1 cup beef stock

2 tablespoons apple jelly

2 tablespoons tomato paste

2 teaspoons prepared mustard

2 sprigs fresh thyme

2 bay leaves

8 ounces baby potatoes

Salt and pepper, to taste

In large skillet, heat oil and brown meat in batches, about 10 minutes per batch. Set meat aside, then add onion, celery and carrots to the skillet and cook until slightly softened, about 5 minutes. Sprinkle vegetables with flour, stir and cook for about 2 minutes, add Guinness and beef stock along with the remaining ingredients, except for the potatoes. Add meat back to the skillet, cover with a lid and simmer for 2 hours. Lastly, add potatoes and continue to simmer for an additional hour. Serve with chopped parsley and bread.  PS

German native Rose Shewey is a food stylist and food photographer. To see more of her work visit her website, suessholz.com.

In the Spirit

In the Spirit

Dissecting a Cocktail

The Daiquiri

By Tony Cross

It’s hard for me to pick favorites in the cocktail realm, but I would be lying through my teeth if I didn’t say that the daiquiri is near and dear to my heart. It will forever be underrated. One of the simplest, yet most complicated cocktails to master, the daiquiri is a telltale way of judging how good (or satisfactory) your bartender is.

Dating back to 1898 in Cuba, the daiquiri was created by Jennings S. Cox, a mining engineer from New York. Cox threw the drink together with Bacardi rum, lemon, sugar and ice. He first called the drink a “rum sour,” but at the suggestion of a fellow engineer, later changed it to “daiquiri,” the name of a beach near Santiago de Cuba. The daiquiri recipe that is used today was printed in Charles H. Baker’s 1939 book, The Gentleman’s Companion, and is made using white rum, lime juice and sugar.

For a classic daiquiri, you need light Cuban rum, which is impossible to get here in the U.S., so use whatever rum you prefer. With that said, a quick word on the specs: Whether you’re using light or dark rum, try to opt for something higher proof, especially if you’re using simple syrup as the sugar. Simple syrup contains water, so watering down an 80 proof rum will yield, in my opinion, lackluster results. If you only have access to a lower proof rum, use a 2:1 ratio simple syrup or use granulated sugar instead. 



2 ounces rum

3/4 ounce lime juice

1/2 ounce simple syrup (2:1) or 1 tablespoon granulated sugar

4 drops salt solution (4:1) (optional)



In a cocktail shaker, combine all ingredients, add ice, and shake until vessel is ice cold. Strain into a chilled coupe glass. No garnish is necessary. If using granulated sugar, you may shake ingredients first without ice to dilute sugar into liquids.   PS

Tony Cross owns and operates Reverie Cocktails, a cocktail delivery service that delivers kegged cocktails for businesses to pour on tap — but once a bartender, always a bartender.

Character Study

Character Study

Portrait of an Artist

Getting the expression right

By Emilee Phillips

Wet hands glide across a lump of drab earth. They’re sticky and itching to go to work. It takes 2,200 degrees to transform clay into a sculpture, firing it into a form waiting to be finished, then seen.

The main studio is in the basement. Light coats of dust cover the floor, and buckets line the walls holding the raw materials of creativity. It’s utilitarian, not glamorous. The beauty lies in the fingertips of the artists.

Luke Huling, a professor of visual arts at Sandhills Community College, is always making something. Originally from Pennsylvania, Huling has moved wherever his jobs take him. He earned his Master of Fine Arts in ceramics from Indiana University, followed by residencies at the LUX Center for the Arts in Nebraska and the Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts in Tennessee. He’s been teaching at Sandhills for three years.

“I feel like I’m never 100 percent complacent with what I’m doing, but I feel like that makes a good artist because it means you’re always working. Always creating,” says Huling, who spends 12 hours a day teaching, sculpting or grading his students.

Ceramic art involves first sculpting the work, and then finishing it with paint and glazing. “I love being in the moment — having the ability to change whatever I want,” says Huling. He’s made everything from tabletop-sized works to life-sized sculptures. Neither texture nor detail is overlooked. Each piece evolves as Huling labors over the tiniest area until he achieves his desired effect. He often creates in series where repetition forms the connective tissue, distinguishing each individual sculpture by its emotion. Depending on its size, a piece can take him up to a month to complete.

Fascinated by human psychology, Huling explores the “emotional façades” most people hide behind. Being authentic is something he strives for. He uses a mirror to get the micro details just right in the expressions he’s modeling. “Humans are complicated,” he says with a grin, not discounting himself.

While he laughs about it now, Huling admits his mother put him in art classes as a child because his brother was athletic and he wasn’t. “Art stuck with me,” he says. “That was what I was good at.”

Prior to pursuing a career in the arts, Huling studied dental hygiene and credits the experience with helping him portray facial anatomy in his work. That’s nothing new. Sculptors from Michelangelo to Rodin to the present day have relied on anatomical research in their art.

In his most recent work, “Molted Mindset,” you’ll see faces being pinched by lobsters and other crustaceans. He uses the sea creatures to convey that even in times of stress you’re growing. The stimulus for a lobster to grow is stress or pain. He leaves the analogy open for the viewer to interpret, with each sculpture having a slightly different facial expression.

Left & Middle: Molted Mindset IV. Stoneware, underglaze, glaze. 18 x15 x16 inches. (Photographs courtesy of Luke Huling)

Right: Molted Mindset III. Stoneware, underglaze, glaze. 18 x15 x16 inches. (Photograph courtesy of Luke Huling)

Walk into his studio at Sandhills Community College, and there’s a chance you’ll hear podcasts playing in the background. “I’m a figurative artist,” he says, “so any insight into other’s psyche is interesting to me.”

To find a measure of success in the art world, you have to be willing to go where the work is. Huling and his creations — along with 10 other ceramic artists — were recently featured in Indiana University’s Grunwald Gallery of Art in an exhibition called “Derivations.”

“The way the exhibition came together was lovely,” says Grunwald Gallery’s director, Linda Tien, adding that IU’s ceramics program is well known for its figurative work. “There was quite a range of ways the figure was represented in the gallery. Luke’s work added to the diversity.”

Some pieces can be heavy, both in the literal and metaphorical sense. Huling is known to flip the script when asked about his art.

“I usually ask people to tell me what they see first,” he says. “There’s no right or wrong answer in art. That’s the beauty of it, it doesn’t necessarily have to add up.”  PS

Emilee Phillips is PineStraw’s director of social media and digital content.

Creators of N.C.

Creators of N.C.

Chapel Hill Magic

Daniel Wallace and a community of writers

By Wiley Cash

Photograph by Mallory Cash

It’s January, and I’m at the bar inside The Crunkleton on Franklin Street in Chapel Hill, where the winner of the 2023 Crook’s Corner Book Prize is about to be announced. Intrigue is high, but not for me. I served as judge for the prize, so I already know how the evening will turn out. I’m just thrilled to be among so many writers and book people for the first time since COVID shut down the public announcement of the prize not long after the 2020 winner was announced.

I’m also excited to be hanging out with my friend Daniel Wallace, who I met exactly 10 years before. How do I know it’s been 10 years? Because this is the 10th year of the Crook’s Corner prize, and I was the inaugural winner, and I met Daniel for the first time at the awards ceremony back in 2013. He’s been one of my favorite writers and people ever since.

In 2013 my wife and I had just moved back to North Carolina after my debut novel was published, and to win what has become an iconic Southern book prize meant the world to me, as did the kindness of the writers I met the night of the award ceremony, including Daniel, Lee Smith, Allan Gurganus, Elizabeth Spencer and Jill McCorkle. They made me feel like I belonged among them, and they set the tone for how I would treat and support the writers who came after me.

In the moments before this year’s prize winner is announced — it’s Texas native Bobby Finger for his excellent novel The Old Place — Daniel and I stand around the bar and catch up. I ask him about the upcoming March release of the paperback of his latest book, This Isn’t Going to End Well: The True Story of a Man I Thought I Knew, a nonfiction portrait of his brother-in-law William Nealy, who was well known as an impossibly cool outdoorsman who made a name as a cartoonist who drew paddling guides to countless white water rivers throughout the South. Daniel first met William when he was 12 and William was the cool, mysterious guy dating Daniel’s older sister Holly. To say that Daniel looked up to William is an understatement.

William died in 2001, and after Holly passed 10 years later Daniel discovered William’s journals while cleaning out their house. What he read inside changed his perception of William forever. Daniel’s book is the result of his attempts to make sense of William’s life and the effect it had on so many people, including Daniel.

I ask him what it was like to write a book of nonfiction after forging a career as a novelist. The crowd is growing in the bar, and we are talking over the noise of other conversations.

“I never wanted to do nonfiction,” Daniel says. “The joy for me in writing fiction is putting the characters in motion and seeing what one of them does, and how it affects the rest of the characters in the story. There’s this joy that I get from making discoveries while following my characters.”

“In writing about William, were you also discovering something?” I ask. “Was it similar to creating a character and getting to know him as you went along?”

Daniel sips his drink and thinks for a moment. “The process was similar to writing a novel even though I had all this material that was already there that I could just pick up and read. The character I was writing about — and I have to say that when I talk about William as a character I’m also talking about a person who was my brother-in-law and someone I grew up with — but when that person is part of your narrative, they do become a character. And even I became a character in this book.” He smiles. “Although I like to think of myself as being real. I don’t know what your impression of me is.”

My impression of Daniel Wallace has always been that he is not only real, but that he is also very kind and funny. Every time he sees my two daughters he has some type of trinket to give each of them, and he’s always gone out of his way to offer opportunities to other writers, including in 2015 when he invited me to serve as the Kenan Visiting Writer at UNC-Chapel Hill. As to his sense of humor, when I asked him for a sample syllabus, he sent me what he referred to as the “required syllabus for all creative writing students.” His novels were the only books on it.

My niece Laela, who’s a junior at the nearby North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics, is interested in publishing, so I’ve brought her along for the evening. When I introduce her to Daniel I tell her that I met him 10 years ago at the first Crook’s prize party and how that evening felt like the beginning of my career.

“It was a special night,” Daniel says wistfully. “Of course Wiley’s novel was the only submission that year, but we were all still really happy for him.”

We all laugh, but the conversation takes a serious turn when we reflect on what seems like the constant changes in Chapel Hill’s cultural landscape. Crook’s Corner is a great example. The restaurant opened just down Franklin Street in Carrboro in 1982 and quickly became a staple of the Southern food movement, garnering praise and culinary awards from publications and juries around the country. But, like many restaurants, Crook’s closed its doors during the pandemic, and for now they’re still closed, although there are rumors that it might reopen sooner rather than later.

Daniel followed William and Holly to Chapel Hill and moved there permanently in the early ’80s around the time Crook’s opened. He’s seen so many changes over the decades in a place that he chose because of its creative vibes and how welcoming it was to writers and artists.

“There was a simplicity to it then,” Daniel says. “Part of it I’m sure has to do with youth, but when you live in a place that doesn’t have a building over one-and-a-half stories tall, you feel bigger in that town, and you feel more real in a way that you might not feel now.”

Daniel had begun his undergraduate studies at Emory University, and when he transferred to Chapel Hill to be closer to William and Holly he found himself in a creative writing class led by Lee Smith.

“It was at 8 o’clock in the morning,” he says, “and of course Lee brought her trademark power, personality and joie de vivre to it, which made writing fun. And she was fun. I loved how she taught. It was an adventure with language and story and character that was very appealing to me.”

Daniel left UNC before receiving his degree and went to work for his father for two years in the import industry. But he couldn’t shake his desire to write, and he couldn’t forget his love for Chapel Hill.

“I moved back here because of the community,” Daniel says, “and because, of course, Holly and William were here, too. But a major part of that decision was that it’s hard to exaggerate the importance of going to Harris Teeter and seeing Lee Smith shopping. The life of a young writer looking out from this hole that they’re in is made so much brighter when you can see that real people have this real job, just like you want to do. You’re not intimidated as much by the possibility of entering that world when you have these roving mentors, these mentors that you haven’t even necessarily met yet, but you see them walking around. You see Doris Betts on the street corner, waiting for the light to change. It’s human, it makes writing a human act.”

The evening is almost over. The announcement has been made, and winner Bobby Finger has said a few words to the audience, as have I. I speak about the power of recognizing debut writers and how important it is to be a member of a community like the one Crook’s Corner and Chapel Hill’s writers have built over the years.

Daniel is gone by the time I step back into the audience. My niece and I find our coats and walk out onto Franklin Street, the cold winter air hitting our cheeks. I can see wonder in her face as we walk back to the car, something I’ve heard people refer to as the “Chapel Hill Magic,” the same thing Daniel felt in the early ’80s after riding his bike to The Cave to play pool with William.

The buildings are taller now, some of the old places have closed, and some of those old people are gone. But this little town, and people like Daniel Wallace, can still make you feel big.  PS

Wiley Cash is the executive director of Literary Arts at the University of North Carolina at Asheville and the founder of This Is Working, an online community for writers.



Color Me Blue

But save me from mellow marzipan

By Ruth Moose

I just saw a purple car. Truly. Welch’s Grape Juice purple. A muscadine grape purple. And that made me think of the old poem about a purple cow. How I’d rather see one than be one. Well, I’d rather see a purple car than own one.

Or the French’s mustard-colored yellow car. Or the kiwi green baby SUV. Where do these colors come from? The chocolate (not brown) but Hershey’s chocolate-colored car. I once asked my friend, who had just bought a cute little sort of bronze-ish, mandarin-colored car what the dealer called it.

“Oh,” she said with a laugh, “it’s called green tangerine.”

Imagine at some black tie and evening gown function, handing your keys to a parking attendant and telling him, “It’s the green tangerine one.”

When my family and I lived in Charlotte, our next door neighbors were the Beans. Both their cars were, of course, green. The green bean cars. I don’t know if they bought green cars on purpose or just liked the color green. Does it matter?

My own first car was an Opel. A perky, polished, gleaming emerald green. I loved that car. It had spirit, and I mourned when we traded it in for a Ford Country Squire station wagon. A station wagon that hauled a camping trailer to parks and campgrounds from Maine to Georgia. (We never made it to Florida before our sons turned teenagers and outgrew the overhead bunk, making the whole outfit too tight a fit for four adult-sized humans.)

An automotive generation or so ago, when my car turned over 200,000 miles and I went to the dealer’s lot to look for a new one, I didn’t even have to wander among the parked beauties set out for my admiration, screaming “Buy me! Buy me!” I had already spotted mine when I drove in. Right there on the front row. My car: a Carolina blue sedan. It was meant for me. It called my name, and as long as I owned it, never gave me a moment’s concern, not one worry.

I didn’t even have to test drive it. Just pointed the car out to the salesman. He got the keys and opened the door suggesting that I, at the very least, should sit in the driver’s seat. Try it out. I didn’t have to. The color had already sold me. Of course she was named Caroline. In my family, whether we admit it or not, we do name our cars. My Aunt Pearl called her last Pontiac Esmeralda. A friend just introduced me to her sleek, new gray Subaru, “Joan Didion.” Another friend called her car Betsy Cupcake because once, after we had a couple of inches of really pretty fluffy snow, she looked out in her driveway where the little car stood with snow on its roof like icing. She said it looked like a big, fat cupcake.

My grandfather, one of those baptizing-in-the-river Baptist preachers, had traveled to his churches and revivals in Davidson, Montgomery and Stanly Counties on horseback and later in a buggy. When he got his first car, a model something or other Ford, he was a terrible driver. Fortunately, there were few cars on the road and fewer still on the backroads he traveled. The story goes that one time he came home tired and probably distracted, drove straight into the garage (which was known as the car shed), then proceeded to drive straight out the back wall of the garage, all the while yelling “Whoa, Nellie! Whoa!”

Nellie did not stop. Nellie had been the name for all the horses he owned — horses with enough sense to know when they were home.

Maybe we name our cars for the horses held captive under the hood. As for the colors, Lord only knows what’s coming next. We could always ask Nellie.  PS

Ruth Moose taught creative writing at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill for 15 years and tacked on 10 more at Central Carolina Community College.

Omnivorous Reader

Omnivorous Reader

A Gift to Art and Us

The legacy of Fred Chappell

By Stephen E. Smith


That noun rarely comes to mind when considering the attributes a writer should possess in abundance. But what a writer does — the act of creating through fiction, poetry, drama, etc. — is something anyone could do who has the heart, the skill, and the courage to do it. And courage is what Fred Chappell, North Carolina’s former poet laureate and career-long creative writing teacher, instilled in his students during his 40 years as a professor in the Master of Fine Arts program at UNC Greensboro.

Fred died on Jan. 4 at age 87, and I suspect he would find this highfalutin’ courage stuff a trifle excessive. He would laugh and shrug it off as so much puffery. But in fact, courage was Fred’s greatest gift to his students. They had to demonstrate the fortitude to survive his graduate writing workshops. If you couldn’t take the criticism, you had no business pursuing a writing career. Moreover, you’d be unlikely to take the chances necessary to produce art that’s compelling in its originality. 

Fred taught by example, demonstrating great courage as a writer from his early Southern gothic novels to his last line of poetry, taking his readers into unexpected precincts, exploring new ground within the context of traditional verse and prose, while always challenging and surprising and delighting his readers.

Of the more than 30 books and hundreds of uncollected stories, poems and literary essays that might be reviewed in this space, one book stands out as both traditional, experimental and uniquely ambitious — Midquest: A Poem — for which Fred was awarded the Bollingen Prize.

Originally published as four chapbooks — River, Wind Mountain, Bloodfire and Earthsleep — the poems (each volume is presented as a single poem composed of shorter poems) appeared from 1975 through 1980, when Fred was in his 30s. Constructed around the elements of water, wind, fire and earth, the work that comprised Midquest was a startling achievement following Fred’s first volume of poetry, World Between the Eyes. When other poets were playing it safe with carefully controlled collections of verse, Fred suddenly expanded the national poetic palette by employing a startling range of forms. Reviewers labeled Midquest “a verse-novel,” but such descriptions don’t capture the variety of exploration and the sense of adventure evident in each “poem” in the collection.

The arrival of Midquest had an effect on late 20th century audiences similar to that of Leaves of Grass on 19th century readers. Within a familiar format, there’s an explosion of energy and constant exploration, all of it mingled with Fred’s depth of knowledge, range of diction, and implacable intellectual curiosity. Fred lays it all on the line and he makes it work. Midquest could only have been written by a poet of extraordinary courage.

The poem “Firewood,” which appears in Bloodfire, is nothing less than astonishing. A stream-of-consciousness foray through the mind of a persona who is chopping wood, it’s demanding of readers in its humorous wordplay and levels of philosophic allusions. As the persona hacks away at the heart of oak, he muses in some of the densest language imaginable. Here’s a bit of “Firewood”:

. . . we can

even half read the dark that sucks the fire away

& swallows, hearth being dug out of earth &

overpowering entropy of earth clouds from the

beginning the wild root mass of fire, it was sun

jammed into dirt that raised the tree, Lucretius’

seed of fire ignis semina is seed semina mortuis

(dirt we rose from, dirt we’ll never forget)

of death in that same split second, moment

split by the man’s hand hard as an iron wedge . . . .

And so the poem goes for more than 450 lines that engage, delight, mock, question, enlighten, challenge, amuse, and befuddle the determined reader, all of it sustained by an energy that’s part elegiac, folkloric, spiritual, and droll. If “Firewood” is a trifle demanding of the reader, it’s emotionally immersing and immensely satisfying as a work of art.

I was out of the MFA program and publishing books of poetry when I read “Firewood.” The sheer brilliance of the work left me with the knowledge that I’d never achieve such excellence but that I’d be compelled to try, even if it took forever. Fred’s Midquest had relegated me and my fellow poets to the status of neighborhood rhymesters.

If “Firewood” demonstrates a degree of exclusivity, “Cleaning the Well” from River is generous and inclusive — a narrative poem about a boy lowered into a well to clean out years of accumulated detritus:

Two worlds there are. One you think

You know; the Other is the Well

In hard December down I went.

“Now clean it out good.” Lord, I sank

Like an anchor. My grand-dad leant

Above. His face blazed bright as steel. . . .

Beginning his descent into the unknown, the persona imagines:

Ribcage of drowned warlock gleaming,

Rust-chewed chain mail, or a plangent

Sunken bell tolling to the heart

Of Earth. (They’d surely chosen an art-

less child to sound the soundless dreaming . . . .

What does the poet find? He discovers random objects right out of the possibilities of life:

Twelve plastic pearls, monopoly

Money, a greenish rotten cat

Rubber knife, toy gun,

Clock guts, wish book, door key,

An indescribable female hat.

Hauled back to the surface, the poet muses:

I had not found death good.

“Down there I kept thinking I was dead.”

“Aw, you’re all right,” he said.

Fred followed Midquest with more than 25 books — novels, short story collections, and volumes of poetry — material crafted with his unique combinations of precision, intellect, generosity, and courage. But Midquest remains a singular masterpiece, a poem every lover of great literature should read and cherish.  PS

Stephen E. Smith graduated with an MFA in creative writing from UNC Greensboro in 1971. He was one of Fred Chappell’s students, and a friend. Apprentice House Press will publish Smith’s memoir, The Year We Danced, on May 7.

PinePitch March 2024

PinePitch March 2024

Home Sweet Home

If you own a home in Pinehurst that’s 90 years old, or older, why don’t you put your castle up for consideration in the Historic Plaque Program? Sponsored by the Village Heritage Foundation, whose mission is to encourage the recognition, preservation and restoration of the village’s historic buildings, nominations are being accepted through April 15 for the class of 2024. Candidates may include residences, commercial, institutional or public buildings. Forms and information are available online at www.villageheritagefoundation.org and at the Tufts Archives, in the Given Memorial Library, 150 Cherokee Road, Pinehurst.

Curtain Call

There’s still time to get tickets for the Judson Theatre Company’s production of the coming-of-age, feel-good comedy Butterflies Are Free, starring Morgan Fairchild, at BPAC’s Owens Auditorium, 3395 Airport Road, Pinehurst. Opening night is Thursday, March 7, at 7 p.m. There are additional performances on Friday, March 8, at 8 p.m.; Saturday, March 9, at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m.; and Sunday, March, 10 at 3 p.m. For information and tickets go to www.judsontheatre.com or www.ticketmesandhills.com.


Kids 12 and under will get a chance to meet and greet the Easter Bunny at his (hers? its?) egg hunt, beginning on Saturday, March 23, at 11 a.m., at the Campbell House Park, 482 E. Connecticut Avenue, Southern Pines. Basket-toting little ones must be accompanied by an adult. The EB will be posing for pictures. For more information call (910) 692-7376.

The Fab Four

Take a walk down Penny Lane and experience The Beatles any way you want at “Yesterday and Today: The Interactive Beatles Experience,” at BPAC’s Owens Auditorium, 3395 Airport Road, Pinehurst, on Friday, March 15, from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.. The audience gets to choose the songs from the lads from Liverpool’s oeuvre as the show is happening. Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da. For information and tickets go to ticketmesandhills.com.

Mon Dieu, C’est Mort

Parisian private investigator Aimée Leduc has been framed for the murder of her daughter’s father — now she’s on the lam and must find the real killer to clear her name. New York Times bestselling author Cara Black will clue you in on her latest novel at The Country Bookshop, 140 N.W. Broad Street, Southern Pines, on Saturday, March 16, from 5-6 p.m. For information go to www.ticketmesandhills.com.

Women’s History Month

Buy some buttered popcorn and a white wine spritzer — or a shot of tequila — and settle in for a four-bagger of movies by female directors at the Sunrise Theater, 250 N.W. Broad Street, Southern Pines. How could you not start with Barbie, directed by Greta Gerwig? It shows on Thursday, March 7, at 7 p.m. Then, on Wednesday, March 13, watch Clueless, directed by Amy Heckerling. On Wednesday, March 20, American Honey, directed by Andrea Arnold, will run at 7 p.m. And last, but not least, on Thursday, March 28, Marie Antoinette, directed by Sophia Coppola, will light up the screen at 7 p.m. For information call (910) 420-2549 or visit www.sunrisetheater.com.

Doing 40 in a 25 Zone

Rondell Sheridan will have you laughing out loud when BPAC’s comedy series continues on Friday, April 5, at 7 p.m. at Owens Auditorium, 3395 Airport Road, Pinehurst. Best known for his role of Victor Baxter on the Disney Channel sitcom That’s So Raven, his one-man show, “If You’re Over 40 and You Know It, Clap Your Hands!” takes a hilarious look at the hurdles of life and love when you reach, you know, that age.

Knocking Out a Nocturne

Award-winning concert pianist Dr. Dominic Muzzi will highlight “Sunday with Chopin,” presented by Break a Leg Studios, on March 3 from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m., at the Village Chapel, 10 Azalea Road, Pinehurst. Tickets are $25 and can be purchased in advance or at the door. For more information go to www.tickettailor.com/events/breakalegstudios.

Bad Bogeys for a Good Cause

The 2024 Kelly Cup Golf Championship benefiting the Sandhills Children’s Center takes place on Monday, March 25, at 9 a.m., at the Forest Creek Golf Club, 100 Forest Creek Drive, Pinehurst. Teams must register, and space is limited. There will a lunch following golf, along with auctions of golf rounds and trips. For more information call (910) 692-3323.

You’re Killing Me

And speaking of women . . . the Sandhills Woman’s Exchange will present a dinner theater murder mystery titled “Drop Dead Disco” by the Encore Theatre Players on Wednesday, March 6, at 5 p.m., and again on Sunday, March 10, also at 5 p.m., at the Pine Crest Inn, 50 Dogwood Road, Pinehurst. The cost is $60 per person, and there will be a cash bar. For additional information call (910) 295-4677 or visit www.sandhillswe.org.

League of Women Voters

On Tuesday, March 26, the Moore County League of Women Voters will host its 40th anniversary celebration at 11:30 a.m. at Forest Creek Country Club, 200 Meyer Farm Drive, Pinehurst. The luncheon will feature guest speaker Jennifer Watson, a former mayor of Charlotte and co-lead for the Carter Center’s Strengthening Democracy Project honoring the life and legacy of Rosalynn Carter. Tickets are $55. For more info go to www.lwvmc.org.