How did you get started in writing?
I started as a features writer in the Life department at the Chattanooga Free Press (now the Chattanooga Times Free Press) in 1990. I wrote profiles and travel stories, but mostly food. When the food editor retired, the position naturally fell to me. I began writing a weekly column called Side Orders, which I continue to write weekly after all these years.
I interviewed chefs and restaurateurs and slowly became known in Chattanooga as an expert on where to go, what to eat, what to cook, etc. It took some time, but now, 30 years later, I’ve established myself as one of the go-to people when people think about food in Chattanooga.
As readership turned from print to online, I’ve been asked to begin writing more food stories to augment the Times Free Press online food pages. It’s been interesting to see how newspapers have evolved and how they struggle to stay relevant. I think they’re doing it, though, in spite of all the competition. When I began writing as a career, the newspaper was the only game in town. No longer. I left my full-time position at the paper in 2011 and now write for multiple publications.
What area of writing do you specialize in now, and have you written any books or run a blog?
I haven’t written any blogs or books because I don’t have time. I write a weekly column for the Chattanooga Times Free Press; a monthly chef Q&A for the Times Free Press; and I’m a food writer for Chatter magazine, a publication of the Times Free Press.
I’m the food editor for WordSouth Publishing, a company that publishes trade magazines for telephone co-ops around the country; I write travel for WordSouth, too.
In addition, I’m a regular contributor to gonomad.com and yall.com and have just started writing for Southern Airways. I also write, on occasion, for Tennessee Home and Farm, Tennessee Lookout, Orlando Magazine, Mississippi Magazine and The Delta (Mississippi) magazine. All of my stories are travel and food related.
What’s your advice for struggling new writers?
I’m asked all the time how I got into food and travel writing. I got into it at a time when blogs were still far in the future and food writers were a scarce commodity. That’s no longer so.
With so many food and travel writers and bloggers out there, I would suggest writing about something else–business, entrepreneurship, alternative lifestyles–things like that. You may not feel comfortable with those topics, but keep at it and you may find yourself the big fish in a small pond, rather than the opposite. Also, get a good editor.
Most importantly though, do your research. Research before you pitch a story idea to an editor. Don’t send an email to an editor and tell them you want to write a story about wine.
Go into depth and tell them that the sale of wine has gone through the roof thanks to Americans drinking more and the price has increased tenfold as wineries are having trouble meeting demand. Talk to wineries and find out as much information as you can, then approach the editor.
Then, do your research on the back end and find out what kind of format your editor wants the story–Google docs? Word? And what about photos? Doing your research can help ensure future stories.
What has been your biggest professional struggle over the years?
Working with an editor with a different philosophy.
How do you combine food and travel stories?
I’m always looking for different angles that tie food in with my travels. As soon as Europe reopens and COVID-19 is in our rear-view mirror, I plan to go to Germany for a cooking class in a Bavarian farmhouse.
Also, I have a trip to the British Virgin Isles on my calendar to write about the street food in Tortola. I enjoy being able to combine my two loves–travel and food. I wrote this article about exploring the cheese markets in Holland, and this story that details the restaurants along Mississippi’s southern coast.
How is your relationship with food affected by you being a writer, or vice versa?
I love to cook and I always try my recipes out before printing them. I recently lost 60 pounds, so you can imagine how hard it is to try recipes and not gain the weight back. You’ll find me on the track seven days a week running several miles.
Do you have any favorite food/cooking/writing books that you would recommend?
I love local cookbooks from the church ladies, the Junior League and other organizations, like “Provisions and Politics,” a cookbook published by the James K. Polk Memorial Association in Columbia, Tennessee.
My favorite go-to book, though, is “Sonoma: A Food and Wine Lovers Journey,” by Jennifer Berry and Robert Holmes with text by Mimi Luebbermann.
Mimi lives on her Windrush Farm in Petaluma, California, and every time I open one of her cookbooks (she’s written several) I find myself sitting beneath her trellises, heavy with the scent of blooming lilacs, enjoying a farm meal and wonderful California wines.
This is the kind of book that you want to savor on a day at home, reading the stories about life in northern California, then making recipes from its bounty.
Any favorite kitchen products you adore?
I’ve just reintroduced myself to my air fryer and now it stays on my kitchen counter. It’s so much better than a toaster oven and beats a microwave hands down.
What about favorite food writers, chefs, or food-related TV shows/movies?
I love Great British Bake-Off. Other than that, I don’t watch much TV. But food should be fun, and the show is incredibly entertaining.
What do you snack on when you’re on deadline?
Salty and crunchy is my guilty pleasure. Give me some homemade nuts and bolts (the original recipes, please) and I’m your friend forever.
Anything else you’d like to add about being a writer who loves food, or being a writer in general?
I love to cook, I love to eat, and I love to write and share my discoveries with others. But sometimes I ask myself why I went into a profession (newspaper journalism) that has been rated as the top most-stressful job one can pursue with pay that’s below the national average.
Are we writers just gluttons for punishment? If you’re in it for the celebrity, look somewhere else. Celebrity is a gift that only a handful of writers achieve. I love getting lost in the details and meeting the challenge of finishing a story. It’s a beautiful thing when reader and writer can connect through words.