Gone To Carolina

by J.D. Rhoades

      When Pari wrote her tribute to her home state of New Mexico the other day, my first thought was “Whoa.  Gorgeous place. I need to see this someday.”

     My second thought was “I am SO stealing this idea.”

     Because as much as Pari loves New Mexico, I love North Carolina. All my books are set here. I’ve lived all my life in various cities and small towns across the state. I grew up in the pretty little town of Southern Pines, right next door to the golf mecca of Pinehurst.

     I went to college at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. lived for a short time in the capital city of Raleigh (where I worked the camera for the morning farm show and the afternoon news at WRAL-TV), then returned to UNC-Chapel Hill for my law degree.

      I practiced law “down east” in Greenville and in Wilmington (still far and away my favorite city in North Carolina)

before returning back to my home area to live and raise my family.

You want mountains? We got mountains.


You want beaches? We got those.


      You want big  cities? You can have them. But we have Charlotte if you absolutely insist.


    Oh, and we also play a little basketball.


As I wrote a few weeks ago, it’s hard for some folks to understand just how much passion can be stirred up by the web of rivalries between the state’s major universities. Often, when I meet somebody new and they tell me they’re an NC State fan, a Wake Forest fan,  or God forbid, a Duke fan, I tell them that I never hold a person’s religion against them. I’m only partly joking.

      It’s a place steeped in history. One of the first English speaking colonies in the New World was established on Roanoke Island in 1508, only to mysteriously disappear, leaving behind only some abandoned houses and the word CROATAN carved on a nearby tree. (The Lumbee Indians of Southeastern North Carolina claim that they’re descended from the survivors of the so-called “Lost Colony” who fled inland from the marauding Spaniards and  intermarried with Native Americans). In April 1776, North Carolina was the first state to authorize its delegates to the Continental Congress to vote for independence. The fall of Fort Fisher  below Wilmington sealed the fate of the Confederacy by closing its last open port, and General Joseph Johnston surrendered the last major Confederate Army to General William Sherman near Durham on April 26, 1865. In the twentieth century, the first powered flight was made by the Wright Brothers on the barren, windy dunes of Kill Devil Hill on the Outer Banks. In February 1960, the Woolworth’s lunch counter in Greensboro was the site of the first of many “sit-ins” protesting segregation.  One of the protestors relates that while there were some tense standoffs, at one point a “little old white lady, 75 or 80 years old” walked up,  put her arms around two of them and said “I’m so proud of you boys. Your should have done this 10 years ago.” It’s people like that that make me love my state. And I know a lot of them.

      But my love for this place doesn’t mean it  doesn’t sometimes have its dark side. I was driving to court in Chapel Hill  a couple of years ago when I heard a story on the radio about a project in nearby Chatham County that was helping low income people replace their failed plumbing. In some cases, people were getting indoor plumbing for the first time in their lives. It really struck me at that point what a weird state I live in.  I was coming from an area where muti-million dollar homes are common. A few miles away from me were great universities and the hi-tech scientific center known as the Research Triangle Park.  And a few miles away, people were very excited about getting to go to the bathroom indoors.

     We’ve had some high profile crimes, like the mass shooting a few years ago where an Army Sergeant,  for reason no one can explain, walked into Luigi’s restaurant in downtown Fayetteville and stated shooting, killing four people (including the restaurant owner) and wounding six others. More recently, in the little town where I now live, another man, for reasons known only to himself, walked into a nursing home on a quiet Sunday morning and started shooting, killing  eight and wounding three  before being wounded and captured by  a young police  officer.

    It’s those kind of contrasts that make this a fascinating place to be a writer. And we boast of quite a few. There’s Our Alex, of course. Even though she’s one of those Granola-eating California hippies, and even though she’s left our borders for a time,  I’ve adopted her and put in the papers for her to become a naturalized Carolina girl. She just has to pick a basketball  team and declare a barbecue preference, and we’re good to go.

      In the mystery field, we also boast Margaret Maron, Sharyn McCrumb, John HartSarah Shaber, Katy MungerLillian Jackson Braun, Jeffery Deaver, David Terrenoire, and a lot more that I’m sure folks will remind me of in the comments.

    One of the first explorers sent by Sir Walter Raleigh to scout out the coast of Carolina for a potential colony wrote in his report to Queen Elizabeth, “it is withal, Madam, the goodliest land under the Cope of Heaven.” In the antebellum era, a more cynical observer looked at our position between the wealthier and more poltically powerful states of  Virginia and South Carolina and described the state as “a vale of humility between two mountains of conceit.”

     You know what? He was right. And I like that just fine.

     So tell me about your home state, the light side and the dark. What you love, and what you don’t.

34 thoughts on “Gone To Carolina

  1. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Dusty

    Oh boy, you make me want to come back to North Carolina again!

    How difficult is it to be adopted by a state? Maybe I should be putting in papers, too, before the UK sinks under the weight of its own corrupt bureacracy ;-]

  2. Cornelia Read

    My home state is New York, as is my birth city. I wish I were rich enough to live in Manhattan again. Someday, maybe. If I win the Powerball.

    I’ve now written two novels about New York. The first one was set upstate, which is not exactly my spiritual homeland. I started that one by saying "There are people who can be happy anywhere. I am not one of them."

    The one that’s coming out March 30th is set in Manhattan, and it starts out:

    So here’s what I love about New York City: if someone acts like a dumb asshole and you call them on acting like a dumb asshole, the bystanders are happy about it.

    Anywhere else I’ve ever lived, they just think I’m a bitch.

    Also, in Manhattan the Chinese food is excellent and they deliver, which to me counts as pretty much the acme of human achievement, to date. Especially with free cold sesame noodles.

    I’m sorry, but if you pick up your phone and all you can get them to bring you for sustenance is crappy lukewarm national-chain pizza, you do not live in civilization.

  3. JD Rhoades

    I’m sorry, but if you pick up your phone and all you can get them to bring you for sustenance is crappy lukewarm national-chain pizza, you do not live in civilization.

    Hon, where I live, we don’t even have that.

    Oh, Zoe, we have some corrupt bureaucracy here, too. We’re just nicer about it. I’ll send you the application.

  4. PK the Bookeemonster


    Light Side: Big Sky Country, The Last Best Place, small per capita, a writers’ community in and around Missoula, if you want to see what some of the state looks like – rent A River Runs Through It (filmed near Livingston)

    Dark Side: Custer’s Last Stand and okay, we apparently had the Unibomber for a few decades …

  5. Cornelia Read

    Well, in NYC the barbecue sucks and it’s tough to get the Carolina vinegar-based version anywhere (had some of the ketchup kind in Maine the other night.) But there is a small place in Boulder, Daddy Bruce’s, where they serve an homage to NC Q that I just wrote about very fondly. Daddy Bruce’s dad, whom I guess would be Daddy Daddy, became well known for serving his barbecue for free to (ultimately) several thousand people in Denver, every year. They named a school after him.

  6. Mark Terry

    The train station looks just like the one that was in my town in Michigan (Davison) where I grew up. It since got moved to a "historical village" called Crossroads Village in Flint, Michigan and spruced up.

  7. Cornelia Read

    Whoops, meant to say DDB did that on Thanksgiving.

    “You can’t beat love,” Daddy Bruce said. “Nothing beats love. If you give just one thing, you get three things back. That’s why I do it.”

    And I’m not sure how he started cooking in this style, since he was from Arkansas. But he learned the recipe from his grandmother.

  8. Dru Ann

    Having just visited Charlotte for the first time, I’ve decided when I retire, that’s where I’m going.

    Cornelia, just those few paragraph have me adding your book to my list.

    What I like about NYC is I don’t need a car to get around; it only costs me $2.25 to go from the Bronx to Brooklyn; gotta love take out and deliveries; the best Chinese food can be found in every borough and if I’m hungry for something else at 2 o’clock on the morning, there is always a store open.

  9. Jude Hardin

    I grew up in the south end of Louisville, Kentucky. I haven’t lived there for almost twenty years, but I still call it home.

    I have a friend with a beach house on Topsail, Dusty. Love it down there!

  10. Brenda Buchanan

    Barbecue in Maine? Not so much.

    If we’re talking food (which seems to be a trend on this blog), Maine is the place for seafood, of course. Everyone knows about our mussels and tiny, sweet shrimp, lobster and fish chowder. Less known but no less great are fresh smelts and sardines.

    Maine has many non-culinary pluses as well. It smells great both at the shore and in the woods. It looks good from first light to moonlight. It’s not too noisy, even in the cities (because they aren’t really cities).

    And then there are the writers, historic and contemporary. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Nathaniel Hawthorne. Harriet Beecher Stowe. Edna St. Vincent Millay. E.B. White. Robert P. Tristram Coffin. Sandy Phippen. Ruth Moore. May Sarton. Tess Gerritsen. Stephen King. Richard Russo. Jennifer Finney Boylan. Phil Hoose. Richard Ford. Cathie Pelletier. Joe Hill. Sandy Phippen. Betsy Sholl. Kate Barnes. Robert Chute. And so many more.

  11. Robert Gregory Browne

    My home state is pretty dreary. The weather is brutal, sometimes gets as low as 60 degrees and as high as 85. The wind is always blowing. Something they call the trades. And there’s so much green it’s almost as annoying as the blue of the ocean that surrounds it.

    God, I’m so glad I got out of that place.

  12. BJ Wanlund

    Dude, I am stunned you forgot barbecue. Oh well, living in NC is pretty nice other than that (oh, and nice job quoting the unofficial UNC-CH theme song by the incomparable James Taylor in the title).


  13. JD Rhoades

    BJ, I did mention Q in passing, but you’re right, probably should have given it more space. And as for that AJmes Taylor song: it was never one of my favorites, but if you went to UNC, you heard it so many times on so many occasions, you eventually get teary whenever you hear it.

    Rob: and to hear the pundits at Fox News tell it, it’s not even in America!

    Brenda: always wanted to get up to Maine. My wife has relatives up that way, and everyone raves about how lovely it is.

  14. JD Rhoades

    Cornelia: got to love a place that names a school after a barbecue king. These people have their priorities straight.

    Dru Ann: the subway was one of my favorite parts of NYC, too. New Yorkers look at me funny when I say that, but it’s a pretty amazing deal.

    Jude: I love Topsail Beach, too. Went to an amazing book event down there once, and got put up in a house on the beach. Heaven!

    Mark, the train station’s got a lot of history to it. It’s where the rich folks from New York and Connecticut used to debark in the 20’s when they came down to "summer" in Pinehurst. A trolley ran from the station to the Carolina Hotel.

    PK: When my Dad was out west, he asked for directions to the "Custer Battlefield." The Native American guy behind the counter answered, "you mean the Little Bighorn battlefield? We won that one, you know, so we got to name it."

    BTW, the little yellow house is where we used to live in Wilmington. Great place, two blocks from the river.

  15. Stephen Jay Schwartz

    Hey Dust,
    I’ve been to NC and loved it. I didn’t get a chance to hit the mountains, though. I was struck by how lush and green everything was. Charming place.
    I grew up in New Mexico and didn’t appreciate it until I left. I had to travel West until the Pacific Ocean touched my toes.

  16. toni mcgee causey

    Dusty, I love NC. We stayed there for about a month a few years back when Carl had a construction job there. It was unusual for me to go with him, but a month-long job in the summer was do-able, and that was one of the most peaceful, happiest months. I was constantly in awe of how beautiful the place was–as lush and green as Louisiana, and the people were just as open and friendly. If I ever had the luxury of picking a second place to live, a home-away-from here, it would be there, somewhere around the Charleston area, but far enough out to be in a small town.

    I can’t believe, though, in all the time we were there, we never thought to try the bar b que. Clearly, we missed out. We’ll have to come back.

  17. Rae

    What a beautiful post, and loved the story about the old gal and the ‘sit-inners’.

    My home state is northern Idaho. (Northern and Southern Idaho are distinct cultural, geographical and political regions, and regard each other with surly disdain.) I love the beauty, the space, and the small number of inhabitants. The cost of living is miniscule compared to the San Francisco Bay Area, and you can easily find a parking spot at the Home Depot at 1:00 on a Saturday afternoon. Bliss 😉

    The dark side of northern Idaho is that it’s been the home of some truly nasty bigots, most notably the Aryan Nations. And some of the right wing politicians truly are nut jobs – and they get re-elected.

  18. Gar Anthony Haywood

    Hey, J.D.:

    I’m the male version of a homegrown, granola eating California hippie, but for reasons I won’t go into here (there’s too many of them to count), life keeps giving me little hints that I am meant to someday live in Asheville, NC. It’s weird, and I can’t explain it, but I think I’m going to wind up there before I pass on.

    And I suspect I’m going to love it. Go figure.


  19. tess gerritsen

    Dusty, what gorgeous photos! NC and New Mexico are two of my favorite states. But here in Maine, I think I have a few bragging rights as well.

    Mountains. Oceans. Forests. Lobster.

    And a population of only a million. (Half of whom seem to be writers.)

  20. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Gar, the reason Asheville calls you is that it’s a mini San Francisco in the NC mountains. I LOVE it. Totally psychedelic. Hippies everywhere. Some truly fun architecture. Sensual treat.

    I don’t know, Dusty, I enjoy being the fish out of water, here, but aside from the Atlantic, which is wonderful, I think California is too much my soul to ever call myself anything else. Case in point: basketball and BBQ are just not ever going to happen for me.

    PS. You call that a mountain?

  21. Berenmind

    Gar. You and my brother must have been talking. He has been going on and on about retiring from Marin County, Calif. to Asheville. So I guess Alex is right. It is a mini SF…..artsy and cool without the pressure of being tragically hip…..(read: more affordable)

    I have never been to North Carolina. Now I feel that I must go. (Thanks J.D.) I have also wanted to visit Savannah, Georgia, so maybe I will link the two states on a trip. What are the absolute WORST months to travel there? Seems like spring is the ticket with all of the azaleas and rhodies.

    I live in North California. I love my state. For me it has everything and it’s all within 2.5 hours from the Bay Area of San Francisco where I live. Coast, forest, mountains, lakes, Great food. Great writers! Great arts scene. Football. Basketball. Baseball. and ahem……HOCKEY!! Go Sharks. The only thing we don’t have is Santa Barbara. Sigh.

    I have lived in Oklahoma (Oy) , L.A. (too much striving and driving), San Diego (perfect weather, too conservative) and Manhattan (LOVED IT,Cornelia). But I think I will hang up my spurs and stiletto Louboutins in San Francisco. Like Tony, that’s where my heart resides.

  22. Berenmind

    Alex. I am laughing. That’s EXACTLY what I said when I saw the mountain pic. I thought Dusty put it in there as a joke. (Kidding J.D.)

    : )

  23. Judy Wirzberger

    "By the rivers gently flowing, Illinois, Illinois. O’er the prairies verdant growing, Illinois, Illinois."
    Chicago, the mighty, muddy Mississippi, log cabins in Springfield, fishing and hunting, and gigging for frogs, barbeque Sundays, and sweat dripping Saturdays at the swimming hole. Malls, malls, malls when there’s nothing to do but watch the grass grow or catch fireflies. Snow at Christmas, thunder and lightening and roaring tornadoes. And basements, to dance and party. Cumulus clouds hiding rabbits and elephants. A nice place to be from.

  24. JD Rhoades

    Gar, Alex: my son just picked UNC Asheville for college, in part for the reasons Alex describes. He took the mountain pic. And yes, that is a mountain. A very very old one. I’d originally thought of using this shot, which gives you some idea of how lovely they can be.

    Tess, lobster’s definitely a big selling point. Love me some lobsters.

    Beren, August is the worst time to be here, unless you’re either at the beach or in the mountains, and even then, it’s only just bearable. Spring is AMAZING, with all the trees in bloom.

  25. JD Rhoades

    Toni: yep, that’s the Blue Ridge Mountains, where most of LoTM was filmed. Ironically, a few years later, COLD MOUNTAIN. much of which takes place in North Carolina, was filmed in Romania, because the NC mountains were too built up.

  26. Nancy Laughlin

    I’ve lived in three states, four if you count NY, but I was two when we left. I have no memories from that time.
    I grew up in California, and I’ve never lived anywhere that I’ve loved more. This state is perfect in my opinion. I love the hot, hot, dry summers. I love the greenery everywhere: the trees, flowers, grass, etc. I love the ocean and the mountains. I love the small towns and the big cities.

    What I don’t like are the long commute hours, how expensive it is to live here, and that after three years in my current apartment, I don’t know one neighbor’s name.

    Iived for two years in both Santa Fe, NM and Cedar Rapids, IA.
    Santa Fe was a fascinating town. I liked a lot about it, the art, the history, the adobe buildings and the Navajo artists selling their wares in the town square. I liked the mountains, the food and the summer thunderstorms. But after two years, I left literally craving greenery.

    Cedar Rapids left like a small town despite having around 100,000 people. My neighbors came and introduced themselves the week I moved into my apartment. That shocked me! I loved the thunderstorms and even enjoyed the snow. I hated the cold and the summer humidity. I also hated the low pay.

    I think like Alex, California is in my soul. At least northern CA is.

  27. Fran

    Heh, my Lillian grew up in Danville, VA, and she keeps talking about bringing me back out to the "Right Coast" to show me around. Ever we make it out that way, you can count on us stopping by your stomping grounds to look around!

  28. Mikaela

    Tsk. Nothing beats Stockholm. Stockholm has everything. Beaches? Check. Nature? Oh yeah. A lot. History? Yup. Nightlife? Oh yes. The best of all? All of it are easily accessible with bus, train or ferry. Or you can walk.


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