Guest post by Lauren Clark: A life-changing trip to the deep south

I would like to welcome Lauren Clark, author of Dancing Naked in Dixie– “Smart, sassy fiction with a Southern twist.” Thank you for your wonderful post, Lauren!

Julia Sullivan lives at twice the speed of life, traveling to the far-reaches of the globe to bring Getaways magazine’s readers the latest on fabulous resorts and exotic new destinations. She’s quite content visiting different cities and meeting new people every day. The constant change doesn’t allow Julia to get attached to anything or anyone. This is her comfort zone, as Julia is still nursing wounds from her mother’s death and father’s abandonment.

As a travel writer, the five-star hotels and celebrity restaurants also have Julia a bit spoiled. Her view of the world skewed, as she doesn’t spend time in the ‘trenches.’ Though she’s aware of how the economy has impacted America, she’s still naive. The day-to-day struggles, especially in small towns, aren’t really on Julia’s radar.

Her trip to the Deep South is a bit of a shock because there’s no disappearing into a crowd, no skyscrapers, no blending into the scenery. The people of this Eufaula — in a very loving way — won’t let it happen.

Julia’s stop at the Citgo is a prime example. Elma broadcasts her arrival to the far reaches of Eufaula, all of fourteen thousand people. For those who don’t catch the news, her visit is also made public knowledge at the Honeysuckle Cafe. Julia is questioned and examined like an (adorable) alien who’s landed her space ship on the White House lawn.

When invited to dine with the Jordan family at their home, this very personal connection throws Julia even more off-balance. She sees the inner-workings of this family, the passion with which each member loves Eufaula and the Pilgrimage, and how much her visit really means to this historic community.

As Julia spends more time with Shug and his family, she discovers that progress may destroy this lovely city as she knows it. For the first time in Julia’s life, her assignment becomes more than words on a page. Her article, and how she chooses to write it, will affect the future of Eufaula and the people who live there.

For anyone who’s visited the Deep South — likely because of the intense heat of the summer — you know that everything operates at a much slower, more languid pace. People aren’t in such a hurry. Almost everyone is friendly, waves, and will offer a hand if you’re in trouble. Be prepared for a conversation while shopping at a store or having lunch at a cafe — it’s considered rude not to comment on the weather, church happenings, or make general small talk.

If you love comfort food, no region of the country does it better than in the South. From the golden fried chicken and fall-off-the-bone ribs to peach cobbler and fresh banana pudding, meals here are savored, shared, and celebrated. Often, in the evenings in my own neighborhood, everyone sits out on their porches to enjoy the occasional breeze and share a chilled glass of sweet tea with friends.

Pride in community, family name, and Southern history is fierce. College football has a cult following, especially in Alabama where there are no professional teams. From birth, children are dressed in orange and blue for Auburn University or crimson and white for the University of Alabama. There are many folks who will still argue that the Confederacy should have won the “War of Northern Aggression.”

Life in the South isn’t perfect — as Julia finds out — there are fire ants that bite and stinging insects that will attack when disturbed. The snake population is live and well, especially in the country. Tiny green lizards love to hang out on my azalea bushes. One occasionally makes it into my house. I still shriek in surprise when I see one, even after years of living here. (I grew up in Upstate NY).

Julia, at the outset of the novel, sees a visit to the Deep South as punishment. She announces loudly to her boss that she’d rather “dance naked” than go on assignment to Eufaula, Alabama. Realizing that she might lose her job, Julia makes the trip, and the visit ends up changing everything in her life for the better.

Have you ever had an experience similar to Julia’s? What good came out of it?

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