Book announcement

I’m too excited to give this a fancy buildup so I’ll just say it: I’m writing a book.

Here’s the announcement from the site Publishers Lunch:


Yeah, I can’t really believe it either.

There are a lot of things I don’t know yet — we’re at the beginning of a long, long process. Apparently, now that the publisher likes the idea, they actually want me to write the damn thing. So it’ll be awhile before you get to hold a copy in your hands — although, if you’re reading this, I do expect you to not only hold a copy in your hands one day, but actually, you know, BUY it.

I’ve been thinking about this book for a long time, as I’ve tried to untangle not just my own struggle to get in shape, but the struggle of so many others. I’ve touched on it a few times, most recently in my piece for ESPN on Jared Lorenzen, but there’s a lot more to talk about. It’ll be hard. Trying to make yourself better in some way is always hard.

But I’m thrilled for the chance to tell this story, and to find out what it’s like to write a book — something I’ve always dreamed of. I’ll keep you posted on how it’s going along and along. Thanks to everyone for the support all these years. And to all of you who asked “When are you going to write a book?” — finally, I have a decent answer.

The Hilton sisters and me

Well, I’m in a movie. It’s a documentary called “Bound By Flesh” and it tells the story of Daisy and Violet Hilton, conjoined twins who were sideshow sensations in the ’20s and ’30s — they sang, played several instruments, and appeared in the cult horror classic “Freaks.” Their long trip through the shadier parts of show business ended in the early ’60s, when they landed in Charlotte, broke and looking for work. They spent the last few years of their lives here, and when a Broadway show about them launched in 1997, I wrote a story about their time in town.

A couple of years ago, I got an email from a woman named Leslie Zemeckis. You know the work of her husband, Robert — he directed the “Back to the Future” movies, “Forrest Gump,” “Cast Away,” Denzel Washington’s “Flight.”  Leslie is a filmmaker, too, and she had decided to make a documentary about the Hilton sisters. She came to Charlotte to interview me and a bunch of other folks who knew about Daisy and Violet in one way or another.

The film came out a couple of weeks ago, and it turns out that Time Warner Cable has it on demand — you can also get through iTunes and Amazon and other places. So I checked it out. It’s an interesting look at two women who had a rough but fascinating life, defined by the little ribbon of flesh that connected them.

I’ve done interviews for this sort of thing before where I didn’t make the final cut. But I’m in this one, starting about an hour in, and Leslie lets me yap about the Hiltons quite a bit in the last half-hour. I’ll just have them send the Oscar straight to the house. I hate tuxes.

Here’s the trailer:


A bit of North Carolina trivia: The world’s most famous conjoined twins, Chang and Eng Bunker — they’re the reason people came up with the name “Siamese twins” — ended up living on farmland in Mount Airy. They married sisters and fathered 21 children.








Friends doing great work

dubberlyI’m lucky to have some really creative friends who are putting some amazing stuff out there in the world. I wanted to let you know about three things that you should really get ahold of now and in the near future.

– Jamie Dubberly was a year behind me in high school down in Brunswick, Ga., and even back then he was a killer trombone player and music nut — I remember a Saturday night driving around town with some buddies when he pulled out a cassette of a trombone player we just had to listen to. We were mostly listening to Journey and Rick James back then, but we gave in, and he was right: The guy was awesome.

Now Jamie is the awesome trombone player making records. He’s teaching and playing out in the San Francisco area, and he just finished a new CD with his group Orquesta Dharma. He funded the CD through Kickstarter — it’s the one and only Kickstarter project I’ve chipped in on, and it was worth every penny. Jamie’s idea was to blend traditional Latin rhythms and horn parts with the New Orleans second-line style. The record is “La Clave del Gumbo,” and it’s just great. It’ll be available on Amazon, iTunes and elsewhere Aug. 5; in the meantime, you can hear the tracks “Jazzy” and “La Esencia del Guaguanco” (plus a bunch of great older tracks) on Orquesta Dharma’s site. This music will make you happy. Go check it out.

Beth Macy is a wonderful writer (and even better person) who spent years writing features for the Roanoke Times in factorymanVirginia. One of the stories she covered for the newspaper was the impact of American jobs going overseas — especially in the furniture business, which used to be the big industry in southern Virginia and northern North Carolina. Most of the factory owners threw in with the Asian companies that were copying American furniture at a much cheaper price. John Bassett III — a black sheep of sorts in the Bassett furniture family — decided to fight. And that’s the story of Beth’s great book, “Factory Man.” You will love JBIII, and you’ll want to slap him every few pages at the same time. He’s a complex hero, and this is a complicated story, which makes it so nice that it’s in the hands of someone who can tell the story with style and grace and humor. Beth’s amazing. And if you don’t believe me, the New York Times says so, too.

“Factory Man” is one of the books caught up in the crazy war Amazon is waging against the Hatchette publishing company, so it shows up as unavailable on Amazon. But here’s a trade secret — lots of other places sell books! So try somewhere else for a change. Better yet, go to your local bookstore. “Factory Man” is out July 15.

ggrSomehow, in the middle of a busy spring, I forgot to write about how much I loved “Grandma Gatewood’s Walk.” My buddy Ben Montgomery, a fine feature writer for the Tampa Bay Times, tells the powerful story of the first woman to walk the Appalachian Trail — a 67-year-old great-grandmother who didn’t even tell her family she was going. Emma Gatewood was walking away as much as she was walking forward, and Ben spends time unraveling Grandma Gatewood’s past as he describes her struggles and adventures on the trail. Ben reports down to the dirt, and he writes like a singer, and you’ll get so swept up in the tale that you’ll forget you’re reading a book — which is the best feeling a work of art can give you.


Road trip: Milwaukee

We were in Wisconsin recently to take my wife’s parents up to see family — Alix’s dad grew up in Milwaukee, and they have lots of kin in and near the city. It was the first time I’d been there for more than a day or two. Milwaukee is a gorgeous old city, mostly because it didn’t tear down its brick and stone in favor of glass and steel. Downtown has dozens of buildings from the late 1800s and early 1900s, when Milwaukee was a national center for beer, meatpacking and tanneries. It must have smelled terrible back then. But it’s beautiful now.

We hit the lottery with our hotel. I picked the downtown Hilton Garden Inn because it was the cheapest hotel in the center city the week we were there. I checked to make sure it had good reviews, but I didn’t actually read the reviews, so we didn’t know until we got there that the hotel is a National Historic Landmark called the Loyalty Building. Among other things, the hotel used to be the headquarters of the Northwestern Mutual insurance company. The safes are still there on the first floor, with beautiful artwork on the doors.


Across the street from us was Downtown Books, one of those used bookstores where they had ladders in the aisles because the stacks are so high. We spent a couple hours (and 50 or 60 bucks) in there one morning while one of the regular customers came in and sprawled on the floor to play with the resident cat. We were also three blocks away from the Milwaukee Public Market, which resembles Seattle’s Pike Place Market all the way down to the big red sign outside. We had two good lunches there — one at the Green Kitchen inside, the other at Cafe Benelux catty-corner from the main market building. Our food highlight in Milwaukee, thought, was ice cream at the Purple Door. We tried lemon cardamom (interesting) and salted caramel (world-class).

Two favorite sights: The Grohmann Museum at the Milwaukee School of Engineering is devoted to art about the evolution of work. There’s a sculpture garden on the roof and three floors below, mostly paintings, that depict farmers and weavers and carpenters and steelworkers and such. The paintings are mostly Dutch and mostly stunning. Not far away, in the old Pabst Brewery complex, the Brewhouse Inn incorporated a lot of the old brewery structure — including the tops of the copper brewing barrels.


There’s also a restaurant where, as you might imagine, you can get PBR on draft.

But we spent a lot of time just strolling the Riverwalk downtown, where the Milwaukee River heads toward Lake Michigan. We took pictures with the Bronze Fonz, and Alix’s dad told the story of Gertie the duck right before we ran into a statue of her. I’d love to live in one of the condos overlooking the river — at least from May to October.


There’s a lot we didn’t do. We had already been to the Milwaukee Art Museum, so we skipped it this time. We didn’t go to the classic old German restaurants like Mader’s and Karl Ratzsch’s. The Brewers were on the road. But we filled the days without all those things. Milwaukee is a cool town.

Side notes from the road:

– On the way up we stayed in New Harmony, Indiana — one of those small towns where people tried to form a Utopian community back in the 1800s. Utopia didn’t take, but New Harmony is a beautiful small town, and the New Harmony Inn is simple and lovely and close to everything.

– Some of Alix’s family lives south of Milwaukee in Racine, where the traditional pastry is the kringle — a ring of crumbly layered goodness about as big around as a football. We tried kringles from Larsen’s Bakery (one apple and one pecan, if I remember right) and O&H (cherry, I think). Every bite of every one was heaven. They ship.






The Friday Wrap, 5/30/14

Hey everybody,


Sometimes I don’t like working from home. The one thing I miss the most about being in a newsroom is hanging out in the office with all those other ink-blooded souls — knowing all the inside jokes, dishing gossip, sorting out the meaning(s) of life. It’s not as fun at a desk by yourself, even if you can wear shorts and Crocs to write.

But yesterday afternoon, a big storm came up. Fred, our old yellow Lab, can’t hear much anymore, but he can hear thunder. Nothing scares him more than thunder. He got up from his bed when the first big thunderbolt hit and squeezed past my legs and under my desk. He curled up there for a few minutes. Then he got up and leaned on my knee so I could pet him. Eventually I just reached down and put my arm around him, and he stayed there for a long time while I watched the lightning and rain through the window. When it was over, he went back to his bed and drew a long sigh and went back to sleep.

So, yeah, sometimes it’s nice to work from home.


Leilani Munter, race-car driver and environmentalist (OnEarth magazine)

Lessons from Donald Sterling, or how to succeed in business by being a terrible person (Forbes)


Thursday night was the finals of the National Spelling Bee — it ended in a tie, which is so wrong, because a SUDDEN DEATH SPELLING MARATHON would’ve been fantastic. I went to the Bee 10 years ago to follow a Charlotte-area speller, a great kid named Marshall Winchester. It turned out to be one of the most dramatic events I’ve ever covered — more suspense than any sporting event. Here’s my story from 2004 (it has a little top on it from 2011, when I republished it on the blog I had at the Observer).


I’m going to try to stick a little something in here every week about stories in progress, my workspace, that sort of thing — the inspiration is Austin Kleon’s great book “Show Your Work!” (If you like that, definitely go get his book “Steal Like An Artist.”) You should figure out whatever process works for you — don’t worry about whether you’re doing it right, just do it — but it’s fun to see how other people set things up. I de-cluttered my desk the other day and so I thought I’d take a picture. If nothing else I’ll remember later how I wanted things to look before the mess took over.


Yeah, that’s a crappy picture. I’ll figure out a way to light it better next time.

GREAT READS (via my Twitter feed)


Man, I wish I knew what my old ’71 Buick LeSabre was up to.


Broken Twin, “Glimpse of a Time.” Reminds me of the Cowboy Junkies crossed with Kate Bush. Plus, a beautiful and creepy video.

Have a great weekend, y’all.









The Friday Wrap, 5/16/14

Hey y’all,


I spent most of the week grinding away on some stories that won’t be published for a while yet. In my newspaper life, most of the stories I wrote were published the next day — and then even faster than that as we moved into the digital age. That instant gratification felt good. But it feels even better to me to do something that might have a longer and deeper impact. Plus there’s just more flavor to the work when you give it some time. Bourbon tastes better than moonshine. Although I’ll grant that both can get you drunk.


Some Thoughts On Michael Sam, The NFL, And Manhood (Forbes)


Minus One (Sports On Earth) — I saw news this week that Devon Walker is graduating from Tulane. I was down there two years ago after he was paralyzed trying to make a tackle. This is the story I wrote back then. I still think about Devon a lot.


Mostly, Monday’s incredible episode of “Louie” that detailed, in detail that was raw and uncomfortable and true, what it’s like for an overweight woman to find love and happiness. As a fat guy, it echoed like a cathedral. Here’s one of many great interviews this week with Sarah Baker, the actress who got to speak the kind of dialog I’ve never heard on TV before.

GREAT READS (via my Twitter feed)


Sturgill Simpson, y’all. Like Merle Haggard on really good drugs.

Have a great weekend, everybody.